Main No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Get ready for the ultimate Jack Reacher experience: a thrilling new novella and eleven previously published stories, together for the first time in one pulse-pounding collection from Lee Child.

No Middle Name begins with “Too Much Time,” a brand-new work of short fiction that finds Reacher in a hollowed-out town in Maine, where he witnesses a random bag-snatching but sees much more than a simple crime. “Small Wars” takes readers back to 1989, when Reacher is an MP assigned to solve the brutal murder of a young officer found along an isolated forest road in Georgia—and whose killer may be hiding in plain sight. In “Not a Drill,” Reacher tries to take some downtime, but a pleasant hike in Maine turns into a walk on the wild side—and perhaps something far more sinister. “High Heat” time-hops to 1977, when Reacher is a teenager in sweltering New York City during a sudden blackout that awakens the dark side of the city that never sleeps. Okinawa is the setting of “Second Son,” which reveals the pivotal moment when young Reacher’s sharp “lizard brain” becomes just as important as his muscle. In “Deep Down,” Reacher tracks down a spy by matching wits with four formidable females—three of whom are clean, but the fourth may prove fatal. Rounding out the collection are “Guy Walks into a Bar,” “James Penney’s New Identity,” “Everyone Talks,” “The Picture of the Lonely Diner,” “Maybe They Have a Tradition,” and “No Room at the Motel.”

No suitcase. No destination. No middle name. No matter how far Reacher travels off the beaten path, trouble always finds him. Feel bad for trouble.

Praise for No Middle Name
 
“Captivating . . . classic [Lee] Child . . . This volume demonstrates what his fans already know: he’s a born storyteller and an astute observer.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“Lee Child, like his creation, always knows exactly what he’s doing—and he does it well. Time in his company is never wasted.”Evening Standard
Year: 2017
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Language: english
Pages: 634
ISBN 10: 0399593578
ISBN 13: 9780399593574
File: EPUB, 373 KB
Download (epub, 373 KB)

You may be interested in

 

Jack Reacher 01-22 epub

File: ZIP, 36.21 MB
 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
About the Book


Published together for the first time, and including a brand-new adventure, the complete Jack Reacher short story collection

Jack ‘No Middle Name’ Reacher, lone wolf, knight errant, ex-military cop, lover of women, scourge of the wicked and righter of wrongs, is the most iconic hero of our age.

A new Reacher novella, Too Much Time, is included, as are those previously only published as individual ebooks: Second Son, Deep Down, High Heat, Not a Drill and Small Wars; and so is every Reacher short story that Child has written so far. Read together, they shed new light on Reacher’s past, illuminating how he grew up and developed into the wandering avenger who has captured the imagination of millions around the world.





CONTENTS


Cover

About the Book

Title Page

Too Much Time

In a hollowed-out town in Maine Reacher is witness to a random bag-snatching, landing him in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Second Son

As a thirteen-year-old on an army base in the South Pacific, Reacher discovers his sharp ‘lizard brain’ is as important as his muscle.

High Heat

Reacher is a teenager roaming the streets of New York during the heatwave of 1977, with the notorious Son of Sam killer on the loose. And then, the power grid goes down.

Deep Down

The young military policeman Reacher is sent to Washington under cover, to investigate which, of four women officers on the fast track, is leaking secrets.

Small Wars

Reacher, in his military days, is sent to investigate the cold-blooded murder of a young officer in Georgia – what could connect this to his own brother Joe, and a secretive unit of pointy-heads from the Pentagon?

James Penney’s New Identity

In the dry desert of Southern California, a man is sacked and goes on the run. Why are the cops so hot on his trail? And who is the tall military policeman, built like a weightlifter, who offers him a ride?

Everyone Talks

A rookie detective is sent into a hospital ward to question a man with a gunshot wound – a giant, with hands as big as catchers’ mitts, a drifter, carrying only a folding toothbrush.

Not a Drill

Reacher plans a pleasant hike on a wilderness trail through Maine’s ancient forests – but finds the trail is suddenly closed by county police. What is there in the woods that no one must see?

Maybe They Have a Tradition

Caught out on Christmas day in a freezing snow storm in East Anglia, Reacher seeks shelter in an isolated country house.

Guy Walks into a Bar

Just a few minutes before the terrifying opening of Gone Tomorrow, Jack Reacher stops at a bar in lower Manhattan and notices a rich young Russian girl who seems to be in danger.

No Room at the Motel

Christmas Eve, and it’s snowing in a part of America that doesn’t often see snow. Reacher meets a distressed young couple, desperate to find a room for the night.

The Picture of the Lonely Diner

Reacher saunters out of the subway below the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, and walks straight into an FBI stake-out.

Read on for an extract from The Midnight Line

About the Author

Also by Lee Child

Copyright





NO MIDDLE NAME


The Complete Collected Short Stories




Lee Child





TOO MUCH TIME




SIXTY SECONDS IN a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, fifty-two weeks in a year. Reacher ballparked the calculation in his head and came up with a little more than thirty million seconds in any twelve-month span. During which time nearly ten million significant crimes would be committed in the United States alone. Roughly one every three seconds. Not rare. To see one actually take place, right in front of you, up close and personal, was not inherently unlikely. Location mattered, of course. Crime went where people went. Odds were better in the centre of a city than the middle of a meadow.

Reacher was in a hollowed-out town in Maine. Not near a lake. Not on the coast. Nothing to do with lobsters. But once upon a time it had been good for something. That was clear. The streets were wide, and the buildings were brick. There was an air of long-gone prosperity. What might once have been grand boutiques were now dollar stores. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Those dollar stores were at least doing some business. There was a coffee franchise. There were tables out. The streets were almost crowded. The weather helped. The first day of spring, and the sun was shining.

Reacher turned into a street so wide it had been closed to traffic and called a plaza. There were café tables in front of blunt red buildings either side, and maybe thirty people meandering in the space between. Reacher first saw the scene head-on, with the people in front of him, randomly scattered. Later he realized the ones that mattered most had made a perfect shape, like a capital letter T. He was at its base, looking upward, and forty yards in the distance, on the crossbar of the T, was a young woman, walking at right angles through his field of view, from right to left ahead of him, across the wide street direct from one sidewalk to the other. She had a canvas tote bag hooked over her shoulder. The canvas looked to be medium weight, and it was a natural colour, pale against her dark shirt. She was maybe twenty years old. Or even younger. She could have been as young as eighteen. She was walking slow, looking up, liking the sun on her face.

Then from the left-hand end of the crossbar, and much faster, came a kid running, head-on towards her. Same kind of age. Sneakers on his feet, tight black pants, sweatshirt with a hood on it. He grabbed the woman’s bag and tore it off her shoulder. She was sent sprawling, her mouth open in some kind of a breathless exclamation. The kid in the hood tucked the bag under his arm like a football, and he jinked to his right, and he set off running down the stem of the T, directly towards Reacher at its base.

Then from the right-hand end of the crossbar came two men in suits, walking the same sidewalk-to-sidewalk direction the woman had used. They were about twenty yards behind her. The crime happened right in front of them. They reacted the same way most people do. They froze for the first split second, and then they turned and watched the guy run away, and they raised their arms in a spirited but incoherent fashion, and they shouted something that might have been Hey!

Then they set out in pursuit. Like a starting gun had gone off. They ran hard, knees pumping, coat tails flapping. Cops, Reacher thought. Had to be. Because of the unspoken unison. They hadn’t even glanced at each other. Who else would react like that?

Forty yards in the distance the young woman scrambled back to her feet, and ran away.

The cops kept on coming. But the kid in the black sweatshirt was ten yards ahead of them, and running much faster. They were not going to catch him. No way. Their relative numbers were negative.

Now the kid was twenty yards from Reacher, dipping left, dipping right, running through the broken field. About three seconds away. With one obvious gap ahead of him. One clear path. Now two seconds away. Reacher stepped right, one pace. Now one second away. Another step. Reacher bounced the kid off his hip and sent him down in a sliding tangle of arms and legs. The canvas bag sailed up in the air and the kid scraped and rolled about ten more feet, and then the men in the suits arrived and were on him. A small crowd pressed close. The canvas bag had fallen to earth about a yard from Reacher’s feet. It had a zipper across the top, closed tight. Reacher ducked down to pick it up, but then he thought better of it. Better to leave the evidence undisturbed, such as it was. He backed away a step. More onlookers gathered at his shoulder.

The cops got the kid sitting up, dazed, and they cuffed his hands behind him. One cop stood guard and the other stepped over and picked up the canvas bag. It looked flat and weightless and empty. Kind of collapsed. Like there was nothing in it. The cop scanned the faces all around him and fixed on Reacher. He took a wallet from his hip pocket and opened it with a practised flick. There was a photo ID behind a milky plastic window. Detective Ramsey Aaron, county police department. The picture was the same guy, a little younger and a lot less out of breath.

Aaron said, ‘Thank you very much for helping us out with that.’

Reacher said, ‘You’re welcome.’

‘Did you see exactly what happened?’

‘Pretty much.’

‘Then I’ll need you to sign a witness statement.’

‘Did you see the victim ran away afterwards?’

‘No, I didn’t see that.’

‘She seemed OK.’

‘Good to know,’ Aaron said. ‘But we’ll still need you to sign a statement.’

‘You were closer to it all than I was,’ Reacher said. ‘It happened right in front of you. Sign your own statement.’

‘Frankly, sir, it would mean more coming from a regular person. A member of the public, I mean. Juries don’t always like police testimony. Sign of the times.’

Reacher said, ‘I was a cop once.’

‘Where?’

‘In the army.’

‘Then you’re even better than a regular person.’

‘I can’t stick around for a trial,’ Reacher said. ‘I’m just passing through. I need to move on.’

‘There won’t be a trial,’ Aaron said. ‘If we have an eyewitness on the record, who is also a military veteran, with law enforcement experience, then the defence will plead it out. Simple arithmetic. Pluses and minuses. Like your credit score. That’s how it works now.’

Reacher said nothing.

‘Ten minutes of your time,’ Aaron said. ‘You saw what you saw. What’s the worst thing could happen?’

‘OK,’ Reacher said.

It was longer than ten minutes, even at first. They hung around and waited for a black-and-white to come haul the kid to the police station. Which showed up eventually, accompanied by an EMS truck from the fire house, to check the kid’s vital signs. To pass him fit for processing. To avoid an unexplained death in custody. Which all took time. But in the end the kid went in the back seat and the uniforms in the front, and the car drove away. The rubberneckers went back to meandering. Reacher and the two cops were left standing alone.

The second cop said his name was Bush. No relation to the Bushes of Kennebunkport. Also a detective with the county. He said their car was parked on the street beyond the far corner of the plaza. He pointed. Up where their intended stroll in the sun had begun. They all set out walking in that direction. Up the stem of the T, then a right turn along the crossbar, the cops retracing their earlier steps, Reacher following the cops.

Reacher said, ‘Why did the victim run?’

Aaron said, ‘I guess that’s something we’ll have to figure out.’

Their car was an old Crown Vic, worn but not sagging. Clean but not shiny. Reacher got in the back, which he didn’t mind, because it was a regular sedan. No bulletproof divider. No implications. And the best legroom of all, sitting sideways, with his back against the door, which he was happy to do, because he figured the rear compartment of a cop car was very unlikely to spontaneously burst open from gentle internal pressure. He felt sure the designers would have thought of that consideration.

The ride was short, to a dismal low-built concrete structure on the edge of town. There were tall antennas and satellite dishes on its roof. It had a parking lot with three unmarked sedans and a lone black-and-white cruiser all parked in a line, plus about ten more empty spaces, and the stove-in wreck of a blue SUV in one far corner. Detective Bush drove in and parked in a slot marked D2. They all got out. The weak spring sun was still hanging in there.

‘Just so you understand,’ Aaron said. ‘The less money we put in our buildings, the more we can put in catching the bad guys. It’s about priorities.’

‘You sound like the mayor,’ Reacher said.

‘Good guess. It was a selectman, making a speech. Word for word.’

They went inside. The place wasn’t so bad. Reacher had been in and out of government buildings all his life. Not the elegant marble palaces of D.C. necessarily, but the grimy beat-up places where government actually happened. And the county cops were about halfway up the scale, when it came to luxurious surroundings. Their main problem was a low ceiling. Which was simple bad luck. Even government architects succumbed to fashion sometimes, and back when atomic was a big word they briefly favoured brutalist structures made of thick concrete, as if the 1950s public would feel reassured the forces of order were protected by apparently nuclear-resistant facilities. But whatever the reason, the bunker-like mentality too often spread inside, with cramped airless spaces. Which was the county police department’s only real problem. The rest was pretty good. Basic, maybe, but a smart guy wouldn’t want it much more complicated. It looked like an OK place to work.

Aaron and Bush led Reacher to an interview room on a corridor parallel to the detectives’ pen. Reacher said, ‘We’re not doing this at your desk?’

‘Like on the TV shows?’ Aaron said. ‘Not allowed. Not any more. Not since 9/11. No unauthorized access to operational areas. You’re not authorized until your name appears as a cooperating witness in an official printed file. Which yours hasn’t yet, obviously. Plus our insurance works best in here. Sign of the times. If you were to slip and fall, we’d rather there was a camera in the room, to prove we were nowhere near you at the time.’

‘Understood,’ Reacher said.

They went in. It was a standard facility, perhaps made even more oppressive by a compressed, hunkered-down feeling, coming from the obvious thousands of tons of concrete all around. The inside face was unfinished, but painted so many times it was smooth and slick. The colour was a pale government green, not helped by ecological bulbs in the fixtures. The air looked seasick. There was a large mirror on the end wall. Without doubt a one-way window.

Reacher sat down facing it, on the bad-guy side of a crossways table, opposite Aaron and Bush, who had pads of paper and fistfuls of pens. First Aaron warned Reacher that both audio and video recording was taking place. Then Aaron asked Reacher for his full name, and his date of birth, and his Social Security number, all of which Reacher supplied truthfully, because why not? Then Aaron asked for his current address, which started a whole big debate.

Reacher said, ‘No fixed abode.’

Aaron said, ‘What does that mean?’

‘What it says. It’s a well-known form of words.’

‘You don’t live anywhere?’

‘I live plenty of places. One night at a time.’

‘Like in an RV? Are you retired?’

‘No RV,’ Reacher said.

Aaron said, ‘In other words you’re homeless.’

‘But voluntarily.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I move from place to place. A day here, a day there.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I like to.’

‘Like a tourist?’

‘I suppose.’

‘Where’s your luggage?’

‘I don’t use any.’

‘You have no stuff?’

‘I saw a little book in a store at the airport. Apparently we’re supposed to get rid of whatever doesn’t bring us joy.’

‘So you junked your stuff?’

‘I already had no stuff. I figured that part out years ago.’

Aaron stared down at his pad of paper, unsure. He said, ‘So what would be the best word for you? Vagrant?’

Reacher said, ‘Itinerant. Distributed. Transient. Episodic.’

‘Were you discharged from the military with any kind of diagnosis?’

‘Would that hurt my credibility as a witness?’

‘I told you, it’s like a credit score. No fixed address is a bad thing. PTSD would be worse. Defence counsel might speculate about your potential reliability on the stand. They might knock you down a point or two.’

‘I was in the 110th MP,’ Reacher said. ‘I’m not scared of PTSD. PTSD is scared of me.’

‘What was the 110th MP?’

‘An elite unit.’

‘How long have you been out?’

‘Longer than I was in.’

‘OK,’ Aaron said. ‘But this is not my call. It’s about the numbers now, pure and simple. Trials happen inside laptop computers. Special software. Ten thousand simulations. The majority trend. A couple of points either way could be crucial. No fixed address isn’t ideal, even without anything else.’

‘Take it or leave it,’ Reacher said.

They took it, like Reacher knew they would. They could never have too much. They could always lose some of it later. Perfectly normal. Plenty of good work got wasted, even on slam-dunk successful cases. So he ran through what he had seen, carefully, coherently, completely, beginning to end, left to right, near to far, and afterwards they all agreed that must have been about all of it. Aaron sent Bush to get the audio typed and printed, ready for Reacher’s signature. Bush left the room, and Aaron said, ‘Thank you again.’

‘You’re welcome again,’ Reacher said. ‘Now tell me your interest.’

‘Like you saw, it happened right in front of us.’

‘Which I’m beginning to think is the interesting part. I mean, what were the odds? Detective Bush parked in the D2 slot. Which means he’s number two on the detective squad. But he drove the car and now he’s doing your fetching and carrying. Which means you’re number one on the detective squad. Which means the two biggest names in the most glamorous division in the whole county police department just happened to be taking a stroll in the sun twenty yards behind a girl who just happened to get robbed.’

‘Coincidence,’ Aaron said.

Reacher said, ‘I think you were following her.’

‘Why do you think that?’

‘Because you don’t seem to care what happened to her afterwards. Possibly because you know who she is. You know she’ll be back soon, to tell you all about it. Or you know where to find her. Because you’re blackmailing her. Or she’s a double agent. Or maybe she’s one of your own, working undercover. Whichever, you trust her to look out for herself. You’re not worried about her. It’s the bag you’re interested in. She was violently robbed, but you followed the bag, not her. Maybe the bag is important. Although I don’t see how. It looked empty to me.’

‘Sounds like a real big conspiracy going on, doesn’t it?’

‘It was your choice of words,’ Reacher said. ‘You thanked me for my help. My help in what exactly? A spontaneous split second emergency? I don’t think you would have used that phrase. You would have said wow, that was something, huh? Or an equivalent. Or just a raised eyebrow. As a bond, or an icebreaker. Like we’re just two guys, shooting the shit. But instead you thanked me quite formally. You said, Thank you very much for helping us out with that.’

Aaron said, ‘I was trying to be polite.’

Reacher said, ‘But I think that kind of formality needs a longer incubation. And you said with that. With what? For you to internalize something as that, I think it would need to be a little older than a split second. It would need to be previously established. And you used a continuous tense. You said I was helping you out. Which implies something ongoing. Something that existed before the kid snatched the bag and will continue afterwards. And you used the plural pronoun. You said thanks for helping us out. You and Bush. With something you already own, with something you’re already running, and it just came off the rails a little bit, but ultimately the damage wasn’t too bad. I think it was that kind of help you were thanking me for. Because you were extremely relieved. It could have been much worse, if the kid had gotten away, maybe. Which is why you said thank you very much. Which was way too heartfelt for a trivial mugging. It seemed more important to you.’

‘I was being polite.’

‘And I think my witness statement is mostly for the chief of police and the selectmen, not a computer game. To show them how it wasn’t your fault. To show them how it wasn’t you who just nearly screwed up some kind of a long-running operation. That’s why you wanted a regular person. Any third party would do. Otherwise all you would have is your own testimony, on your own behalf. You and Bush, watching each other’s back.’

‘We were taking a stroll.’

‘You didn’t even glance at each other. Not a second thought. You just chased after that bag. You’d been thinking about that bag all day. Or all week.’

Aaron didn’t answer, and got no more opportunity to discuss it, because at that moment the door opened and a different head was stuck in. It gestured Aaron out for a word. Aaron left and the door snicked shut behind him. But before Reacher could get around to worrying about whether it was locked or not, it opened up again, and Aaron stuck his head back in and said, ‘The rest of the interview will be conducted by different detectives.’

The door closed again.

Opened again.

The guy who had stuck his head in the first time led the way. He had a similar guy behind him. Both looked like classic New England characters from historic black-and-white photographs. The product of many generations of hard work and stern self-denial. Both were lean and wiry, all cords and ligaments, almost gaunt. They were wearing chino pants, with checked shirts under blue sport coats. They had buzzed haircuts. No attempt at style. Pure function. They said they worked for the Maine Drug Enforcement Administration. A statewide organization. They said state-level inquiries outbid county-level inquiries. Hence the hijacked interview. They said they had questions about what Reacher had seen.

They sat in the chairs Aaron and Bush had vacated. The one on the left said his name was Cook, and the one on the right said his name was Delaney. It looked like he was the team leader. He looked set to do all the talking. About what Reacher had seen, he said again. Nothing more. Nothing to be concerned about.

But then he said, ‘First we need more information on one particular aspect. We think our county colleagues went a little light on it. They glossed right over it, perhaps understandably.’

Reacher said, ‘Glossed over what?’

‘What exactly was your state of mind, in terms of intention, at the moment you knocked the kid down?’

‘Seriously?’

‘In your own words.’

‘How many?’

‘As many as you need.’

‘I was helping the cops.’

‘Nothing more?’

‘I saw the crime. The perpetrator was fleeing straight towards me. He was outrunning his pursuers. I had no doubt about his guilt or innocence. So I got in his way. He wasn’t even hurt bad.’

‘How did you know the two men were cops?’

‘First impressions. Was I right or wrong?’

Delaney paused a beat.

Then he said, ‘Now tell me what you saw.’

‘I’m sure you were listening in, the first time around.’

‘We were,’ Delaney said. ‘Also to your continued conversation afterwards, with Detective Aaron. After Detective Bush left the room. It seems you saw more than you put in your witness statement. It seems you saw something about a long-running operation.’

‘That was speculation,’ Reacher said. ‘It didn’t belong in a witness statement.’

‘As an ethical matter?’

‘I suppose.’

‘Are you an ethical man, Mr Reacher?’

‘I do my best.’

‘But now you can knock yourself out. The statement is done. Now you can speculate to your heart’s content. What did you see?’

‘Why ask me?’

‘We might have a problem. You might be able to help.’

‘How could I help?’

‘You were a military policeman. You know how this stuff works. Big picture. What did you see?’

Reacher said, ‘I guess I saw Aaron and Bush following the girl with the bag. Some kind of surveillance operation. Surveillance of the bag, principally. When the thing happened they ignored the girl completely. Best guess, maybe the girl was due to hand the bag off to an as yet unknown suspect. At a later stage. In a different place. Like a delivery or a payment. Maybe it was important to eyeball the exchange itself. Maybe the unknown suspect is the last link in the chain. Hence the high-status eyewitnesses. Or whatever. Except the plan failed because fate intervened in the form of a random purse-snatcher. Sheer bad luck. Happens to the best of us. And really no big deal. They can run it again tomorrow.’

Delaney shook his head. ‘We’re in murky waters. People like we’re dealing with here, if you miss a rendezvous, you’re dead to them. This thing is over.’

‘Then I’m sorry,’ Reacher said. ‘But shit happens. Best bet would be get over it.’

‘Easy for you to say.’

‘Not my monkeys,’ Reacher said. ‘Not my circus. I’m just a guy passing by.’

‘We need a word about that, too. How could we get ahold of you, if we needed to? Do you carry a cell phone?’

‘No.’

‘Then how do folks get ahold of you?’

‘They don’t.’

‘Not even family and friends?’

‘No family left.’

‘No friends either?’

‘Not the kind you call on the phone every five minutes.’

‘So who even knows where you are?’

‘I do,’ Reacher said. ‘That’s enough.’

‘You sure?’

‘I haven’t needed rescuing yet.’

Delaney nodded. Said, ‘Let’s go back to what you saw.’

‘What part?’

‘All of it. Maybe it ain’t over yet. Could there be another interpretation?’

‘Anything’s possible,’ Reacher said.

‘What kind of thing would be possible?’

‘I used to get paid for this kind of discussion.’

‘We could trade you a cup of county coffee.’

‘Deal,’ Reacher said. ‘Black, no sugar.’

Cook went to get it, and when he got back Reacher took a sip and said, ‘Thank you. But on balance I think it was probably just a random event.’

Delaney said, ‘Use your imagination.’

Reacher said, ‘Use yours.’

‘OK,’ Delaney said. ‘Let’s assume Aaron and Bush didn’t know where or when or who or how, but eventually they were expecting to see the bag transferred into someone else’s custody.’

Reacher said, ‘OK, let’s assume.’

‘And maybe that’s exactly what they saw. Just a little earlier than anticipated.’

‘Anything’s possible,’ Reacher said again.

‘We have to assume secrecy and clandestine measures on the bad guys’ part. Maybe they gave a decoy rendezvous and planned to snatch the bag along the way. For the sake of surprise and unpredictability. Which is always the best way to beat surveillance. Maybe it was even rehearsed. According to you the girl gave it up pretty easily. You said she went down on her butt, and then she sprang back up and ran away.’

Reacher nodded. ‘Which means you would say the kid in the black sweatshirt was the unknown suspect. You would say he was due to receive the bag all along.’

Delaney nodded. ‘And we got him, and therefore the operation was in fact a total success.’

‘Easy for you to say. Also very convenient.’

Delaney didn’t answer.

Reacher asked, ‘Where is the kid now?’

Delaney pointed to the door. ‘Two rooms away. We’re taking him to Bangor soon.’

‘Is he talking?’

‘Not so far. He’s being a good little soldier.’

‘Unless he isn’t a soldier at all.’

‘We think he is. And we think he’ll talk, when he comes to appreciate the full extent of his jeopardy.’

‘One other major problem,’ Reacher said.

‘Which is?’

‘The bag looked empty to me. What kind of a delivery or a payment would that be? You won’t get a conviction for following an empty bag around.’

‘The bag wasn’t empty,’ Delaney said. ‘At least not originally.’

‘What was in it?’

‘We’ll get to that. But first we need to loop back around. To what I asked you at the very beginning. To make sure. About your state of mind.’

‘I was helping the cops.’

‘Were you?’

‘You worried about liability? If I was a civilian rendering assistance, I get the same immunity law enforcement gets. Plus the kid wasn’t hurt anyway. Couple of bruises, maybe. Maybe a scrape on his knee. No problem. Unless you got some really weird judges here.’

‘Our judges are OK. When they understand the context.’

‘What else could the context be? I witnessed a felony. There was a clear desire on the part of the police department to apprehend the perpetrator. I helped them. Are you saying you’ve got an issue with that?’

Delaney said, ‘Would you excuse us for a moment?’

Reacher didn’t answer. Cook and Delaney got up and shuffled out from behind the crossways table. They stepped to the door and left the room. The door snicked shut behind them. This time Reacher was pretty sure it locked. He glanced at the mirror. Saw nothing but his reflection, grey tinged with green.

Ten minutes of your time. What’s the worst thing could happen?

Nothing happened. Not for three long minutes. Then Cook and Delaney came back in. They sat down again, Cook on the left and Delaney on the right.

Delaney said, ‘You claim you were rendering assistance to law enforcement.’

Reacher said, ‘Correct.’

‘Would you like to revisit that statement?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Aren’t you?’

‘No,’ Delaney said.

‘Why not?’

‘We think the truth was very different.’

‘How so?’

‘We think you were taking the bag from the kid. The same way he took it from the girl. We think you were a second surprising and unpredictable cut-out.’

‘The bag fell on the ground.’

‘We have witnesses who saw you bend down to pick it up.’

‘I thought better of it. I left it there. Aaron picked it up.’

Delaney nodded. ‘And by then it was empty.’

‘Want to search my pockets?’

‘We think you extracted the contents of the bag, and handed them off to someone in the crowd.’

‘What?’

‘If you were a second cut-out, why wouldn’t there be a third?’

‘Bullshit,’ Reacher said.

Delaney said, ‘Jack-none-Reacher, you are under arrest for felonious involvement with a racketeer-influenced corrupt organization. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to the presence of an attorney before further questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, then one will be appointed for you, on the taxpayers’ dime.’

Four county cops came in, three with handguns drawn and the fourth with a shotgun held at port arms across his body. Across the table Cook and Delaney merely peeled back their lapels to show off Glock 17s in shoulder holsters. Reacher sat still. Six against one. Too many. Dumb odds. Plus nervous tension in the air, plus trigger fingers, plus a completely unknown level of training, expertise, and experience.

Mistakes might be made.

Reacher sat still.

He said, ‘I want the public defender.’

After that, he said nothing at all.

They handcuffed his wrists behind his back and led him out to the corridor, and around two dogleg corners, and through a locked steel door in a concrete frame, into the station’s holding area, which was a miniature cell block with three empty billets on a narrow corridor, all the far side of a booking table that was currently unoccupied. One of the county cops holstered his weapon and stepped around. Reacher’s handcuffs were removed. He gave up his passport, his ATM card, his toothbrush, seventy bucks in bills, seventy-five cents in quarters, and his shoelaces. In exchange he got a shove in the back and sole occupancy of the first cell in line. The door clanged shut, and the lock tripped like a hammer hitting a railroad spike. The cops looked in for a second more, like people at the zoo, and then they about-turned and walked back past the booking table and out of the room, one after the other. Reacher heard the steel door close after the last of them. He heard it lock.

He waited. He was good at waiting. He was a patient man. He had nowhere to go, and all the time in the world to get there. He sat on the bed, which was a cast concrete structure, as was a little desk, with an integral stool. The stool had a little round pad, made of the same thin vinyl-covered foam as the mattress on the bed. The toilet was steel, with a dished-in top to act as a basin. Cold water only. Like the world’s lousiest motel room, further stripped back to the unavoidable minimum requirements, and then reduced in size to the barely bearable. The old-time architects had used even more concrete than elsewhere. As if prisoners trying to escape might exert more force than atom bombs.

Reacher kept track of time in his head. Two hours ticked by, and part of a third, and then the youngest of the county uniforms came by for a status check. He looked in the bars and said, ‘You OK?’

‘I’m fine,’ Reacher said. ‘A little hungry, maybe. It’s past lunchtime.’

‘There’s a problem with that.’

‘Is the chef out sick?’

‘We don’t have a chef. We send out. To the diner down the block. Lunch is authorized up to four dollars. But that’s the county rate. You’re a state prisoner. We don’t know what they pay for lunch.’

‘More, I hope.’

‘But we need to know for sure. Otherwise we could get stuck with it.’

‘Doesn’t Delaney know? Or Cook?’

‘They left. They took their other suspect back to their HQ in Bangor.’

‘How much do you spend on dinner?’

‘Six and a half.’

‘Breakfast?’

‘You won’t be here for breakfast. You’re a state prisoner. Like the other guy. They’ll come get you tonight.’

An hour later the young cop came back again with a grilled cheese sandwich and a foam cup of Coke. Three bucks and change. Apparently Detective Aaron had said if the state paid less than that, he would cover the difference personally.

‘Tell him thanks,’ Reacher said. ‘And tell him to be careful. One favour for another.’

‘Careful about what?’

‘Which mast he nails his colours to.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Either he’ll understand or he won’t.’

‘You saying you didn’t do it?’

Reacher smiled. ‘I guess you heard that before.’

The young cop nodded. ‘Everyone says it. None of you ever did a damn thing. It’s what we expect.’

Then the guy walked away, and Reacher ate his meal, and went back to waiting.

Another two hours later the young cop came back for the third time. He said, ‘The public defender is here. She’s going through the case on the phone with the state guys. They’re still in Bangor. They’re talking right now. She’ll be with you soon.’

Reacher said, ‘What’s she like?’

‘She’s OK. One time my car got stole and she helped me out with the insurance company. She was in my sister’s class in high school.’

‘How old is your sister?’

‘Three years older than me.’

‘And how old are you?’

‘Twenty-four.’

‘Did you get your money back for your car?’

‘Some of it.’

Then the guy went and sat on the stool behind the booking table. To give the impression of proper prisoner care, Reacher supposed, while his lawyer was in the house. Reacher stayed where he was, on the bed. Just waiting.

Thirty minutes later the lawyer came in. She said hello to the cop at the desk, in a friendly way, like a person would, to an old high school classmate’s kid brother. Then she said something else, lawyer-like and quietly, about client confidentiality, and the guy got up and left the room. He closed the steel door behind him. The cell block went quiet. The lawyer looked in the bars at Reacher. Like a person at the zoo. Maybe at the gorilla house. She was medium height and medium weight, and she was wearing a black skirt suit. She had short brown hair with lighter streaks, and brown eyes, and a round face, with a downturned mouth. Like an upside-down smile. As if she had suffered many disappointments in her life. She was carrying a leather briefcase too fat to zip. There was a yellow legal pad poking out the top. It was covered with handwritten notes.

She left the briefcase on the floor and went back and dragged the stool out from behind the booking table. She positioned it outside Reacher’s cage and climbed up on it, and got comfortable, with her knees pressed tight together, and the heels of her shoes hooked over the rail. Like a regular client meeting, one person either side of a desk or a table, except there was no desk or table. Just a wall of thick steel bars, closely spaced.

She said, ‘My name is Cathy Clark.’

Reacher said nothing.

She said, ‘I’m sorry I took so long to get here. I had a closing scheduled.’

Reacher said, ‘You do real estate too?’

‘Most of the time.’

‘How many criminal cases have you done?’

‘One or two.’

‘There’s a large percentage difference between one and two. How many exactly?’

‘One.’

‘Did you win?’

‘No.’

Reacher said nothing.

She said, ‘You get who you get. That’s how it works. There’s a list. I was at the top today. Like the cab line at the airport.’

‘Why aren’t we doing this in a conference room?’

She didn’t answer. Reacher got the impression she liked the bars. He got the impression she liked the separation. As if it made her safer.

He said, ‘Do you think I’m guilty?’

‘Doesn’t matter what I think. It matters what I can do.’

‘Which is?’

‘Let’s talk,’ she said. ‘You need to explain why you were there.’

‘I have to be somewhere. They need to explain why I would have given up my co-conspirator. I delivered him right to them.’

‘They think you were clumsy. You intended merely to grab the bag, and you knocked him over by mistake. They think he intended to keep on running.’

‘Why were county detectives involved in a state operation?’

‘Budgets,’ she said. ‘Also sharing the credit, to keep everyone sweet.’

‘I didn’t grab the bag.’

‘They have four witnesses who say you bent down to it.’

Reacher said nothing.

She said, ‘Why were you there?’

‘There were thirty people in that plaza. Why were any of them there?’

‘The evidence shows the boy ran straight towards you. Not towards them.’

‘Didn’t happen that way. I stepped into his path.’

‘Exactly.’

‘You think I’m guilty.’

‘Doesn’t matter what I think,’ she said again.

‘What do they claim was in the bag?’

‘They’re not saying yet.’

‘Is that legal? Shouldn’t I know what I’m accused of?’

‘I think it’s legal for the time being.’

‘You think? I need more than that.’

‘If you want a different lawyer, go right ahead and pay for one.’

Reacher said, ‘Is the kid in the sweatshirt talking yet?’

‘He claims it was a simple robbery. He claims he thought the girl was using the bag as a purse. He claims he was hoping to get cash and credit cards. Maybe a cell phone. The state agents see that as a rehearsed cover story, just in case.’

‘Why do they think I didn’t run too? Why would I stick around afterwards?’

‘Same thing,’ she said. ‘A rehearsed cover story. As soon as it all went wrong. You saw them grab your pal, so you both switched to plan B, instantly. He was a mugger, you were helping law enforcement. He would get a trivial sentence, you would get a pat on the head. They anticipate a certain level of sophistication from both of you. Apparently this is a big deal.’

Reacher nodded. ‘How big of a deal, do you think?’

‘It’s a major investigation. It’s been running a long time.’

‘Expensive, do you think?’

‘I imagine so.’

‘At a time when budgets seem to be an issue.’

‘Budgets are always an issue.’

‘As are egos and reputations and performance reviews. Think about Delaney and Cook. Put yourself in their shoes. A long-running and expensive investigation falls apart due to random chance. They’re back to square one. Maybe worse than that. Maybe there’s no way back in. Lots of red faces all around. So what happens next?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Human nature,’ Reacher said. ‘First they shouted and cussed and punched the wall. Then their survival instinct kicked in. They looked for ways to cover their ass. They looked for ways to claim the operation was in fact a success all along. Agent Delaney said exactly that. They dreamed up the idea the kid was a part of the scam. Then they listened in when Aaron was talking to me. They heard me say I don’t live anywhere. I’m a vagrant, in Aaron’s own words. Which gave them an even better idea. They could make it a twofer. They could claim they bagged two guys and ripped the heart out of the whole damn thing. They could get pats on the back and letters of commendation after all.’

‘You’re saying their case is invented.’

‘I know it is.’

‘That’s a stretch.’

‘They double-checked with me. They made sure. They confirmed I don’t carry a cell phone. They confirmed no one keeps track of where I am. They confirmed I’m the perfect patsy.’

‘You agreed with the idea the kid was more than a mugger.’

‘As a hypothetical,’ Reacher said. ‘And not very enthusiastically. Part of a professional discussion. They flattered me into it. They said I know how this stuff works. I was humouring them. They were making shit up, to cover their ass. I was being polite, I guess.’

‘You said it was possible.’

‘Why would I say that, if I was involved?’

‘They think it was a double bluff.’

‘I’m not that smart,’ Reacher said.

‘They think you are. You were in an elite MP unit.’

‘Wouldn’t that put me on their side?’

The lawyer said nothing. Just squirmed on her stool a little. Uneasiness, Reacher figured. Lack of sympathy. Distrust. Even revulsion, maybe. A desire to get away. Human nature. He knew how this stuff worked.

He said, ‘Check the timing on the tape. They heard me say I have no address, and the mental cogs started turning, and pretty soon after that they had hijacked the interview and were in the room with me. Then they left again later, just for a minute. For a private chat. They were confirming with each other whether they had enough. Whether they could make it work. They decided to go for it. They came back in and arrested me.’

‘I can’t take that to court.’

‘What can you take?’

‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Best I can do is try for a plea bargain.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Completely. You’re going to be charged with a very serious offence. They’re going to present a working theory to the court, and they’re going to back it up with eyewitness testimony from regular Maine folk, all of whom are either literally or figuratively friends and neighbours of the jury members. You’re an outsider with an incomprehensible lifestyle. I mean, where are you even from?’

‘Nowhere in particular.’

‘Where were you born?’

‘West Berlin.’

‘Are you German?’

‘No, my father was a Marine. Born in New Hampshire. West Berlin was his duty station at the time.’

‘So you’ve always been military?’

‘Man and boy.’

‘Not good. People thank you for your service, but deep down they think you’re all screwed up with trauma. There’s a substantial risk you’ll be convicted, and if you are, you’ll get a long custodial sentence. It will be far safer to plead guilty to a lesser offence. You’d be saving them the time and expense of a contested trial. That counts for a lot. It could be the difference between five years and twenty. As your lawyer I would be delinquent in my duty if I didn’t recommend it.’

‘You’re recommending I do five years for an offence I didn’t commit?’

‘Everyone says they’re innocent. Juries know that.’

‘And lawyers?’

‘Clients lie all the time.’

Reacher said nothing.

His lawyer said, ‘They want to move you to Warren tonight.’

‘What’s in Warren?’

‘The state pen.’

‘Terrific.’

‘I petitioned to have you kept here a day or two. More convenient for me.’

‘And?’

‘They refused.’

Reacher said nothing.

His lawyer said, ‘They’ll bring you back tomorrow morning for the arraignment. The courthouse is in this building.’

‘So I’m going there and back in less than twelve hours? That’s not very efficient. I should stay here.’

‘You’re in the system now. That’s how it works. Nothing will make sense ever again. Get used to it. We’ll discuss your plea in the morning. I suggest you think about it very seriously overnight.’

‘What about bail?’

‘How much can you pay?’

‘About seventy bucks and change.’

‘The court would regard that as an insult,’ she said. ‘Better not to apply at all.’

Then she slid down off her stool and picked up her overstuffed bag and walked out of the room. Reacher heard the steel door open and close. The cell block went quiet again.

Ten minutes of your time. What’s the worst thing could happen?

Another hour went by, and then the young cop came back in. He said the state had authorized the same six dollars and fifty cents for dinner that the county would have spent. He said that would get most anything on the diner’s menu. He recited a list of possibilities, which was extensive. Reacher thought about it for a moment. Chicken pot pie, maybe. Or pasta. Or an egg salad. He mused out loud between those three. The cop recommended the chicken pie. He said it was good. Reacher took his word for it. Plus coffee, he added. Lots of it, he emphasized, a really serious quantity, in a flask to keep it warm. With a proper china cup and saucer. No cream, no sugar. The cop wrote it all down on a slip of paper with a stub of a pencil.

Then he said, ‘Was the public defender OK?’

‘Sure,’ Reacher said. ‘She seemed like a nice lady. Smart, too. She figures it’s all a bit of a misunderstanding. She figures those state guys get a bit over-enthusiastic from time to time. Not like you county people. No common sense.’

The young cop nodded. ‘I guess it can be like that sometimes.’

‘She says I’ll be out tomorrow, most likely. She says I should sit tight and trust the system.’

‘That’s usually the best way,’ the kid said. He tucked the slip of paper in his shirt pocket, and then he left the room.

Reacher stayed on his bed. He waited. He sensed the building grow quieter, as the day watch went home and the night watch came in. Fewer people. Budgets. A rural county in an underpopulated part of the state. Then eventually the young cop came back with the food. His last duty of the day, almost certainly. He was carrying a tray with a china plate with a metal cover, and a white fluted fat-bellied plastic coffee flask, and a saucer topped with an upside-down cup, and a knife and a fork wrapped in a paper napkin.

The plastic flask was the key component. It made the whole assemblage too tall to fit through the horizontal pass-through slot in the bars. The kid couldn’t lay the flask down on its side on the tray. It would roll around and the coffee would spill out all over the pie. He couldn’t pass it upright on its own through a regular part of the bars, because they were too close together for its fat-bellied shape.

The kid paused, unsure.

Twenty-four years old. A rookie. A guy who knew Reacher as nothing worse than a placid old man who spent all his time on his bed, apparently relaxed and resigned. No shouting, no yelling. No complaints. No bad temper.

Trusting the system.

No danger.

He would balance the tray one-handed on steepled fingers, like a regular waiter. He would take his keys off his belt. He would unlock the gate and slide it open with his toe. His holster was empty. No gun. Standard practice everywhere in the world. No prison guard was ever armed. To carry a loaded weapon among locked-up prisoners would be just asking for trouble. He would step into the cell. He would hook his keys back on his belt and juggle the tray back into two hands. He would turn away, towards the concrete desk.

Which relative positioning would offer a number of different opportunities.

Reacher waited.

But no.

The kid was the kind of rookie who got his car stolen, but he wasn’t totally dumb. He put the tray on the floor outside the cell, just temporarily, and he took the coffee pot off it, and the cup and saucer, and he placed them all on the tile the wrong side of the bars, and then he picked up the tray again and fed it through the slot. Reacher took it. To get a drink, he would have to put his wrists between the bars and pour on the outside. The cup would fit back through. Maybe not on its saucer, but then, he wasn’t dining at the Ritz.

The kid said, ‘There you go.’

Not totally dumb.

‘Thanks,’ Reacher said anyway. ‘I appreciate it.’

The kid said, ‘Enjoy.’

Reacher didn’t. The pie was bad and the coffee was weak.

An hour later a different uniform came by to collect the empties. The night watch. Reacher said, ‘I need to see Detective Aaron.’

The new guy said, ‘He isn’t here. He went home.’

‘Get him back. Right now. It’s important.’

The guy didn’t answer.

Reacher said, ‘If he finds out I asked but you didn’t call him, he’ll kick your ass. Or take your shield. I hear there are budget issues. My advice would be don’t give him an excuse.’

‘What’s this all about?’

‘A notch on his belt.’

‘You going to confess?’

‘Maybe.’

‘You’re a state prisoner. We’re county. We don’t care what you did.’

‘Call him anyway.’

The guy didn’t answer. Just carried the tray away and closed the steel door behind him.

The guy must have made the call, because Aaron showed up ninety minutes later. About halfway through the evening. He was wearing the same suit. He looked neither eager nor annoyed. Just neutral. Maybe a little curious. He looked in through the bars.

He said, ‘What do you want?’

Reacher said, ‘To talk about the case.’

‘It’s a state matter.’

‘Not if it was a simple mugging.’

‘It wasn’t.’

‘You believe that?’

‘It was a credible way to beat surveillance.’

‘What about me as the second secret ingredient?’

‘That’s credible too.’

‘It would have been a miracle of coordination. Wouldn’t it? Exactly the right place, at exactly the right time.’

‘You could have been waiting there for hours.’

‘But was I? What do your witnesses say?’

Aaron didn’t reply.

Reacher said, ‘Check the timing on the tape. You and me talking. Picture the sequence. Delaney got a hard-on for me because of something he heard.’

Aaron nodded. ‘Your lawyer already passed that on. The homeless patsy. Didn’t convince me then, doesn’t convince me now.’

‘Beyond a reasonable doubt?’ Reacher asked.

‘I’m a detective. Reasonable doubt is for the jury.’

‘You happy for an innocent man to go to prison?’

‘Guilt and innocence is for the jury.’

‘Suppose I get acquitted? You happy to see your case go down in flames?’

‘Not my case. It’s a state matter.’

Reacher said, ‘Listen to the tape again. Time it out.’

‘I can’t,’ Aaron said. ‘There is no tape.’

‘You told me there was.’

‘We’re the county police. We can’t record a state interview. Not our jurisdiction. So the recording was discontinued.’

‘It was before that. When you and I were talking.’

‘That part got screwed up. The previous stuff got erased when the recording was stopped.’

‘It got?’

‘Accidents happen.’

‘Who pressed the stop button?’

Aaron didn’t answer.

‘Who was it?’ Reacher said.

‘Delaney,’ Aaron said. ‘When he took over from me. He apologized. He said he wasn’t familiar with our equipment.’

‘You believed him?’

‘Why wouldn’t I?’

Reacher said nothing.

‘Accidents happen,’ Aaron said again.

‘You sure it was an accident? You sure they weren’t making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear? You sure they weren’t covering their tracks?’

Aaron said nothing.

Reacher said, ‘You never saw such a thing happen?’

‘What do you want me to say? He’s a fellow cop.’

‘So am I.’

‘You were, once upon a time. Now you’re just a guy passing by.’

‘One day you will be, too. You want all these years to count for nothing?’

Aaron didn’t answer.

Reacher said, ‘Right back at the beginning you told me juries don’t always like police testimony. Why would that be? Are those juries always wrong?’

No response.

Reacher said, ‘Can’t you remember what we said on the tape?’

‘Even if I could, it would be my word against the state. And it ain’t exactly a smoking gun, is it?’

Reacher said nothing. Aaron gazed through the bars a minute more, and then he left again.

Reacher lay on his back on the narrow bed with one elbow jammed against the wall and his head resting on his cupped hand. Check the timing on the tape, he had said. He ran through what he remembered of his first conversation with Aaron. In the green bunker-like room. The witness statement. The preamble. Name, date of birth, Social Security number. Then his address. No fixed abode, and so on and so forth. He pictured Delaney listening in. A tinny loudspeaker in another room. In other words you’re homeless, Aaron had said. Delaney had heard him say it. Loud and clear. How long did he take to spot his opportunity and come barging in?

Too long, Reacher thought.

There had been the bravura bullshit about PTSD and the 110th, and some lengthy dickering from Aaron about whether his testimony would be helpful or hurtful, and then the testimony itself, careful, composed, coherent, detailed, clear and slow. Then the private chat afterwards. After Bush had left the room. The speculation, and the semantic analysis backing it up. You said, Thank you very much for helping us out with that. And so on. All that stuff. Altogether seven minutes, maybe. Or eight, or nine.

Or ten.

Too much time.

Delaney had reacted to something else.

Something he heard later.

At ten o’clock in Reacher’s head there was the heavy tramp of footsteps in the corridor outside the steel door. The door opened and people came in. Six of them. Different uniforms. State Police. Prisoner escorts. They had Mace and pepper spray and tasers on their belts. Handcuffs and shackles and thin metal chains. They knew what they were doing. They made Reacher back up against the bars and stick his hands out behind him, through the meal slot. They cuffed his wrists, and held tight to the link, and squatted down and put their hands in through the bars, the same way he had poured his coffee, but in reverse. They put shackles around his ankles, and linked them together, and ran a chain up to his handcuffs. Then they unlocked his gate and slid it open. He shuffled out, small clinking steps, and they stopped him at the booking desk, where they retrieved his possessions from a drawer. His passport, his ATM card, his toothbrush, his seventy bucks in bills, his seventy-five cents in quarters, and his shoelaces. They put them all in a khaki envelope and sealed the flap. Then they escorted him out of the cell block, three ahead, three behind. They walked him around the dogleg corners, under the low concrete ceilings, and out to the lot. There was a grey-painted school bus with wire on the windows parked next to the wrecked SUV in the far corner. They pushed him inside and planted him on a bench seat in back. There were no other passengers. One guy drove and the other five sat close together up front.

They got to Warren just before midnight. The prison was visible from a mile away, with bright pools of arc light showing through the mist. The bus waited at the gate, idling with a heavy diesel clatter, and spotlights played over it, and the gate ground open, and the bus drove inside. It waited again for a second gate, and then shut down in a brightly lit space near an iron door marked Prisoner Intake. Reacher was led through it, and down the right-hand spur of a Y-shaped junction, to the holding pen for inmates as yet unconvicted. His cuffs and chains and shackles were removed. His possessions in their khaki envelope were filed away, and he was issued with a white jumpsuit uniform and blue shower shoes. He was led to a cell more or less identical to the one he had just left. The gate was slid shut, and the key was turned. His escort left, and a minute later the light clicked off and the block was plunged into noisy and restless darkness.

The lights came back on at six in the morning. Reacher heard a guard in the corridor, unlocking one gate after another. Eventually the guy showed up at Reacher’s door. He was a mean-looking man about thirty. He said, ‘Go get your breakfast now.’

Breakfast was in a large low room that smelled of boiled food and disinfectant. Reacher lined up with about twelve other guys. The kid in the black sweatshirt was not among them. Still in Bangor, Reacher figured, at the state DEA’s HQ. Maybe talking, maybe not. Reacher arrived at the serving station and got a spoonful of bright yellow mush that might have been scrambled eggs, served on a slice of what might have been white bread, with a melamine mug half full of what might have been coffee. Or the water left over from washing the previous night’s dishes. He sat on a bench at an empty table and ate. The inmates all around him were a mixed bunch, mostly squirrelly and furtive. The back part of Reacher’s brain ran an automatic threat assessment, and found nothing much to worry about, unless tooth decay was contagious.

When breakfast was over they were all corralled out for a compulsory hour of early-morning exercise. The jail part of the installation was much smaller than the prison part, and therefore it had a correspondingly smaller yard, about the size of a basketball court, separated from the general population by a high wire fence. The fence had a gate with a bolt but no lock. The guard who had led them out took up station in front of it. Beyond him a wan spring dawn was coming up in the sky.

The bigger part of the yard was full of men in jumpsuits of a different colour. Hundreds of them. They were milling about in groups. Some of them looked like desperate characters. One of them was a huge guy about six-seven and three hundred pounds. Like a caricature of an old Maine lumberjack. All he needed was a plaid wool shirt and a two-headed axe. He was bigger than Reacher, which was a statistical rarity. He was twenty feet away, looking in through the wire. Looking at Reacher. Reacher looked back. Eye to eye. The guy came closer. Reacher kept on looking. Dangerous etiquette, in prison. But looking away was a slippery slope. Too submissive. Better to get any kind of hierarchy issues straightened out right from the get-go. Human nature. Reacher knew how these things worked.

The guy stepped close to the fence.

He said, ‘What are you looking at?’

A standard gambit. Old as the hills. Reacher was supposed to get all intimidated and say nothing. Whereupon the guy would say you calling me nothing? Whereupon things would go from bad to worse. Best avoided.

So Reacher said, ‘I’m looking at you, asshole.’

‘What did you call me?’

‘An asshole.’

‘You’re dead.’

‘Not yet,’ Reacher said. ‘Not the last time I checked.’

At which exact moment a big commotion started up in the far corner of the big yard. Later Reacher realized it was precisely timed. Whispers and signals had been passed through the population, diagonally, man to man. There was distant shouting and yelling and fighting. Searchlights sparked up in the towers and swung in that direction. Radios crackled. Everyone rushed over. Including the guards. Including the guard at the small yard’s gate. He slipped through and ran into the crowd.

Whereupon the big guy moved the opposite way. In through the unattended gate. Into the smaller yard. Straight towards Reacher. Not a pretty sight. Black shower shoes, no socks, an orange jumpsuit stretched tight over bulging muscles.

Then it got worse.

The guy snapped his arm like a whip and a weapon appeared in his hand. From up his sleeve. A prison shiv. Clear plastic. Maybe a toothbrush handle sharpened on a stone, maybe six inches long. Like a stiletto. A third of its length was wrapped with surgical tape. For grip. Not good.

Reacher kicked off his shower shoes.

The big guy did the same.

Reacher said, ‘All my life I’ve had a rule. You pull a knife on me, I break your arms.’

The big guy said nothing.

Reacher said, ‘It’s completely inflexible, I’m afraid. I can’t make an exception just because you’re a moron.’

The big guy stepped closer.

The other men in the yard stepped back. Reacher heard the fence clink as they pressed up tight against it. He heard the distant riot still happening. Manufactured, therefore a little halfhearted. Couldn’t last for ever. The searchlights would soon swing back. The guards would regroup and return. All he had to do was wait.

Not his way.

‘Last chance,’ he said. ‘Drop the weapon, and get down on the ground. Or I’ll hurt you real bad.’

He used his MP voice, honed over the years to a thing of chill and dread, all floating on the unhinged psycho menace he had been as a kid, brawling in back streets all over the world. He saw a flicker of something in the big guy’s eyes. But nothing more. Wasn’t going to work. He was going to have to fight it out.

Which he was suddenly very happy about.

Because now he knew.

Ten minutes of your time. You saw what you saw.

He didn’t like knives.

He said, ‘Come on, fat boy. Show me what you got.’

The guy stepped in, rotating on the way, leading with the shiv. Reacher feinted to his left, and the shiv jerked in that direction, so Reacher swayed back to his right, inside the trajectory, and aimed his left hand inside-out for the guy’s wrist, but mistimed it a little and caught the guy’s hand instead, which was like gripping a softball, and he pulled on it, which turned the guy more, and he slammed a triple right jab to the guy’s face, bang bang bang, a blur, all the while crushing the guy’s right hand as hard as possible, shiv and all. The guy pulled back, and the sweat on Reacher’s palm greased his exit, until Reacher had nothing but the shiv in his grip, which was OK, because it was a pick not a blade, sharp only at the point, and it was plastic, so Reacher put the ball of his thumb where the tape ended and snapped it like turning a door handle.

So far so good. At that point, about three seconds in, Reacher saw his main problem as how the hell he was going to make good on his promise to break the guy’s arms. They were huge. They were thicker than most people’s legs. They were sheathed and knotted with slabs of muscle.

Then it got worse again.

The guy was bleeding from the nose and the mouth, but the damage seemed only to energize him. He braced and roared like the kind of guy Reacher had seen on strongman shows on afternoon cable in motel rooms. Like he was psyching himself up to pull a semi truck in a harness or lift up a rock the size of a Volkswagen. He was going to charge like a water buffalo. He was going to knock Reacher down and pummel him on the ground.

The lack of shoes didn’t help. Kicking barefoot was strictly for the health club or the Olympic Games. Rubbery shower shoes were worse than none at all. Which Reacher supposed was the point of making prisoners wear them. So kicking the guy was off the menu. Which was a sad limitation. But knees would still work, and elbows.

The guy charged, roaring, arms wide as if he wanted to catch Reacher in a bear hug. So Reacher charged too. Straight back at him. It was the only real choice. A collision could be a wonderful thing. Depending on what hit who first. In this case the answers were Reacher’s forearm and the big guy’s upper lip. Like a wreck on the highway. Like two trucks crashing head-on. Like getting the guy to punch himself in the face.

The prison sirens went off.

Big picture. What did you see?

The searchlights swung back. The riot was over. The prison yard went suddenly quiet. The big guy couldn’t resist. Human nature. He wanted to look. He wanted to know. He turned his head. Just a tiny spasm. An instinct, instantly crushed.

But enough. Reacher hit him on the ear. All the time in the world. Like hitting a speed ball hanging down from a tree. And no one has muscles on his ear. All ears are pretty much equal. The smallest bones in the body are right there. Plus all kinds of mechanisms for maintaining balance. Without which you fall over.

The guy went down hard.

The searchlights hit the fence.

Reacher took the big guy’s hand. As if to help him up. But no. Then as if to shake respectfully, and congratulate him warmly on a valiant defeat.

Not that, either.

Reacher drove the broken shiv through the guy’s palm, and left it sticking out both sides, and then he stepped away and mingled with the others by the door. A second later a searchlight beam came to rest on the guy. The sirens changed their note, to lockdown.

Reacher waited in his cell. He expected the wait to be short. He was the obvious suspect. The others from the small yard were half the big guy’s size. So the guards would come to him first. Probably. Which could be a problem. Because technically a crime had been committed. Some would say. Others would say offence was the best kind of self-defence, which was still mostly legal. Purely a question of interpretation.

It would be a delicate argument to make.

What’s the worst thing could happen?

He waited.

He heard boots in the corridor. Two guards came straight to his cell. Mace and pepper spray and tasers on their belts. Handcuffs and shackles and thin metal chains.

One said, ‘Stand by to turn around on command and stick your wrists out through the meal slot.’

Reacher said, ‘Where are we going?’

‘You’ll find out.’

‘I’d appreciate sooner rather than later.’

‘And I’d appreciate half a chance to use my taser. Which one of us is going to get what he wants today?’

Reacher said, ‘I guess neither would be best for both of us.’

‘I agree,’ the guy said. ‘Let’s work hard to keep it that way.’

‘I still want to know.’

The guy said, ‘You’re going back where you came from. You have your arraignment this morning. You have half an hour with your lawyer beforehand. So put your street clothes on. You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. You’re supposed to look the part. Or we ain’t being constitutional. Or some such thing. They say jail uniforms look like you’re already guilty. That’s where prejudice comes from, you know. The judicial system. It’s right there in the word.’

He led Reacher out of the cell, small clinking steps, and his partner crowded in from behind, and they met a team of two state prisoner escorts, in an airlock lobby, halfway in and halfway out of the place, where responsibility was handed over from one team to the other, who then led Reacher onward, out to a grey prison bus, the same kind of thing he had ridden in on. He was pushed down the aisle and dumped on the rearmost bench. One of the escorts got in behind the wheel to drive, and the other sat sideways behind him with a shotgun in his lap.

They retraced the journey Reacher had made in the opposite direction less than twelve hours previously. They covered every yard of the same pavement. The two escorts talked all the way. Reacher heard some of the conversation. It depended on the engine note. Some of the words were lost. But he got plenty of gossip about the big guy found knocked down in the small yard that morning. No one was yet implicated in the incident. Because no one could understand it. The big guy was a month away from his first parole hearing. Why would he fight? And if he didn’t fight, who would fight him? Who would fight him and win and drag him back to the small yard like some kind of trophy?

They shook their heads.

Reacher said nothing.

The drive back took the same duration, just shy of two hours, the same night and day, because their speed was not limited by visibility or traffic, but by a slow-revving engine and a short gearbox, good for stopping and starting in cities and towns, but not so good for the open road. But eventually they pulled into the lot Reacher recognized, next to the stove-in wreck of the blue SUV, and Reacher was beckoned down the aisle, and off the bus, and in through the same door he had come out of. Inside was a lobby, lockable both ends, where his chains and cuffs were taken off, and he was handed over to a two-person welcoming committee.

One person was Detective Bush.

The other person was the public defender, Cathy Clark.

The two prisoner escorts turned around and left double quick. Anxious to get going. Back later. Couldn’t keep a bus standing idle. They gave the impression they had many different jobs that day. Many bits and pieces. Maybe they did. Or maybe they liked a long lazy lunch. Maybe they knew somewhere good to go.

Reacher was left alone with Bush and the lawyer.

Just for a second.

He thought, you got to be kidding me.

He tapped Bush high on the chest, just a polite warning to the solar plexus, like a wake-up call, enough to cause a helpless buzzing in all kinds of retaliatory muscles, but no real pain anywhere else. Reacher stuck his hand in Bush’s pocket and came out with car keys. He put them in his own pocket, and shoved the guy in the chest, quite gently, as considerately as possible, just enough to send him staggering backward a pace or two.

He didn’t touch the lawyer at all. Just pushed past her and walked away, head up and confident, under the low ceilings, through the dogleg corridors, and out through the front door. He went straight to Bush’s car, in the D2 slot. The Crown Vic. Worn but not sagging, clean but not shiny. It started first time. It was already warmed up. The prisoner escorts were already beyond it. They were on their way to their bus. They didn’t look back.

Reacher took off, just as the first few wait a damn minute faces started showing at doors and windows. He turned right and left and left again, on random streets, aiming at first for what passed for downtown. The first squad car was more than two whole minutes behind him. Starting out from the station house itself. A disgrace. Others were worse. It was not the county police department’s finest five minutes.

They didn’t find him.

Reacher called on the phone, just before lunch. From a pay phone. The town still had plenty. Cell reception was poor. Reacher had quarters, from under café tables. Always a few. Enough for local calls at least. He had the number, from a business card pinned up behind the register in a five-and-dime even cheaper than the dollar stores. The card was one of many, as if together they made a defensive shield. It was from Detective Ramsey Aaron, of the county police department. With a phone number and an e-mail address. Maybe some kind of neighbourhood outreach. Modern police did all kinds of new things.

Evidently the number on the card rang through to Aaron’s desk. He answered first ring.

He said, ‘This is Aaron.’

Reacher said, ‘This is Reacher.’

‘Why are you calling me?’

‘To tell you two things.’

‘But why me?’

‘Because you might listen.’

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m a long way out of town by now. You’re never going to see me again. I’m afraid your uniformed division let you down badly.’

‘You should give yourself up, man.’

‘That was the first thing,’ Reacher said. ‘That ain’t going to happen. We need to get that straight from the get-go. Or we’ll waste a lot of energy on the back and forth. You’ll never find me. So don’t even try. Just give it up gracefully. Spend your time on the second thing instead.’

‘Was that you at the prison? With the parolee that got beat up?’

‘Why would a parolee be in prison?’

‘What’s the second thing?’

‘You need to find out exactly who the girl with the bag was, and exactly who the kid in the sweatshirt was. Names and histories. And exactly what was in the bag.’

‘Why?’

‘Because before you tell me, I’m going to tell you. When you see I’m right, maybe you’ll start paying attention.’

‘Who are they?’

Reacher said, ‘I’ll call again later.’

He was in the diner down the block. Where his lunch and his dinner had come from. The safest place to be, amid all the panic. No one in there had ever seen him before. No cop was going to come in for a coffee break. Not right then. Out of the question. And the police station was the eye of the storm, which meant for a block all around the squad cars were either accelerating hard to get away and go search some other distant place, or braking hard as they came back in again, all negative and disappointed and frustrated. In other words there was visual drama and emotion, but therefore not very much patient looking out through the car windows at the immediate neighbourhood surroundings.

The phone was on the wall of a corridor in the back of the diner, with restrooms left and right, and a fire door at the end. Reacher hung up and walked back to his table. He was one of six people sitting alone in the shadows. No one paid him attention. He got the feeling strangers were not rare. At least as a concept. There were old photographs on the wall. Plus old-time artefacts hung up on display. The town had been in the lumber business. Fortunes had been made. People had been in and out constantly for a hundred years, hauling loads, selling tools, putting on all kinds of mock outrage about prices.

Maybe some part of the town was still working. A lone sawmill here or there. Maybe some people were still coming by. Not many, but enough. Certainly no one stared in the diner. No one hid behind a newspaper and surreptitiously dialled a phone.

Reacher waited.

He called again, a random number of minutes after the first hour had gone by. He cupped his hand over his mouth, so the background noise wouldn’t sound the same twice. He wanted them to think he was always on the move. If they thought he wasn’t, they would start to ask themselves where he was holed up, and Aaron seemed a smart enough guy to figure it out. He could step right in and pull up a chair.

The phone was answered on the first ring.

Aaron said, ‘This is Aaron.’

Reacher said, ‘You need to ask yourself a transportation question. Six guys took me to Warren last night. But only two guys brought me back this morning. Six guys was a lot of overtime in one evening. Overkill, some might say, for one prisoner in a bus. Especially when budgets are an issue. So why did it happen that way?’

‘You were an unknown quantity. Better safe than sorry.’

‘Then why didn’t I get the same six guys again this morning? They don’t know me any better now than they did last night.’

Aaron said, ‘I’m sure you’re going to tell me why.’

‘Two possibilities. Not really competing. Kind of interlinked.’

‘Show me.’

‘They really, really wanted to get me there last night. It was important I went. My lawyer put in a reasonable request. They said no. They signed off on an unnecessary round trip that did nothing but waste gas and man hours. They assigned six guys to make sure I got there safe and sound.’

‘And?’

‘They didn’t expect me to leave again this morning. So they didn’t assign escorts. So when it came to it they had to scramble an odd-job crew who already had a bunch of other stuff to do today.’

‘That doesn’t make sense. Everyone expected you to leave again this morning. For the arraignment. Standard procedure. Common knowledge.’

‘So why the scramble?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘They weren’t expecting me to leave.’

‘They knew you had to.’

‘Not if I was in a coma in the hospital. Or dead in the morgue. Which normally would be a surprise event. But they knew well in advance. They didn’t arrange round trip transportation.’

Aaron paused a beat.

He said, ‘It was you up at the prison.’

Reacher said, ‘The guy didn’t even know me. We had never crossed paths before. Yet he came straight for me. While his pals staged a diversion far away. He was coming up for parole. My guess is Delaney was the guy who busted him, way back in the day. Am I right?’

‘Yes, as it happens.’

‘So they made a deal. If the big guy took care of me, under the radar, then Delaney would speak up for him at his parole board hearing. He would say he was a reformed character. Who better to know than the arresting officer? People assume some kind of a mystical connection. Parole boards love all that shit. The guy would have walked. Except he didn’t get the job done. He underestimated his opponent. Possibly he was badly briefed.’

‘You’re admitting felony assault.’

‘You’ll never find me. I could be in California tomorrow.’

Aaron said, ‘Tell me who the girl was. And the boy in the sweatshirt. Show me you know what you’re talking about here.’

‘The boy and the girl were both stooges. Both blackmailed into playing a part. Probably the girl had just gotten busted. Maybe her second time. Maybe even her first. By the state DEA. By Delaney. She thinks he’s making up his mind about whether to drop it. He proposes a deal. All she has to do is carry a bag. He proposes a similar deal to the boy. A minor bust could go away. He could get back to Yale or Harvard or wherever he’s from with his record unblemished. Daddy need never know. All he has to do is run a little and grab a bag. The boy and the girl don’t know each other. They’re from different cases. Am I right so far?’

Aaron said, ‘What was in the bag?’

‘I’m sure the official report says it was either meth or OxyContin or money. One or the other. A delivery, or a payment.’

‘It was money,’ Aaron said. ‘It was a payment.’

‘How much?’

‘Thirty thousand dollars.’

‘Except it wasn’t. Think about it. What makes me exactly the same as the boy and the girl, and what makes me completely different?’

‘I’m sure you’re going to tell me.’

‘Three people in the world could testify that bag was empty all along. The girl and the boy, because they had to carry it, so they knew it was light as a feather, and then later me, because it sailed up in the air a yard from my face, and I could see there was nothing in it. It was obvious.’

‘How are you different?’

‘He controls the boy and the girl. But he doesn’t control me. I’m a wild card running around in public saying the bag was empty. That’s what he heard. On the tape. That’s what he reacted to. He couldn’t let me say that. No one else was supposed to know the bag was empty. It could ruin everything. So he deleted the tape and then he tried to delete me.’

‘You’re arguing ahead of the facts.’

‘That’s why he asked how people get ahold of me. He found out he could put me in a potter’s field and no one would ever know.’

‘You’re speculating.’

‘There’s only one way this thing works. Delaney stole the thirty grand. He knew it was coming through. He’s DEA. He thought he could get away with it if he staged a freak accident. I mean, accidents happen, right? Like if your house sets on fire, and the money is all in the sofa. It’s an operating loss. It’s a rounding error. It’s the cost of doing business for these guys. They don’t trust their mothers, but they know that shit happens eventually. One time I read in the paper where some guy lost nearly a million dollars, all eaten up by mice in his basement. So Delaney figured he could get away with it. Without getting his legs broken. All he had to do was put on a bold face and stick to his story.’

‘Wait,’ Aaron said. ‘None of that makes sense.’

‘Unless.’

‘That’s ridiculous.’

‘Say it out loud. See how ridiculous it sounds.’

‘None of that makes sense, because OK, Delaney might know thirty grand is coming through, but how does he get access to it? How does he dictate who carries what in a bag? And when and where and by which route?’

‘Unless,’ Reacher said again.

‘This is crazy.’

‘Say it.’

‘Unless Delaney is walking on the dark side of the street.’

‘Don’t hide behind flowery language. Say it out loud.’

‘Unless Delaney is himself a link in the chain.’

‘Still kind of flowery.’

‘Unless Delaney is secretly a drug dealer as well as a DEA agent.’

‘Thirty grand might be about right for the kind of franchise fee he has to pay. For the kind of dealer he is. Which is not big. But not small-time either. Probably medium-sized, with a relatively civilized clientele. The work is easy. He’s well placed to help himself out with legal problems. He makes a decent living from it. Better than his pension is going to be. It was all good. But even so, he started to get greedy. This time he wanted to keep all the money for himself. He only pretended to pass along his boss’s share. The bag was empty from the get-go. But no one would know that. The police report would list thirty grand missing. Any gossip about what eyewitnesses saw would make it sound exactly like a freak robbery. His boss might write it off as genuine. Maybe Delaney planned to do it once a year. Kind of randomly. As an extra little margin.’

‘Still makes no sense,’ Aaron said. ‘Why would the bag be empty? He would have used a wad of cut-up newspaper.’

‘I don’t think so,’ Reacher said. ‘Suppose the kid had blown it? Suppose he missed the tackle? Or chickened out beforehand. The girl might have gotten all the way through. The real people might have taken the bag. Newspaper would be hard to explain. It’s the kind of thing that could sour a relationship. Whereas an empty bag could be claimed as reconnaissance. A dry run, looking for surveillance. An excess of caution. The bad guys couldn’t complain about that. Maybe they even expect it. Like employee of the month competitions.’

Aaron said nothing.

Reacher said, ‘I’ll call again soon,’ and he hung up the phone.

This time he moved on. He went out the back of the diner, and across one exposed street corner, and into an alley alongside what might once have been an elegant furniture showroom. He scouted out a phone on the back wall of a franchise tyre shop. Maybe where you called a cab, if the shop didn’t have the right tyres.

He backed into a doorway, and waited. The police station was now two blocks away. He could still hear cars driving in and out. Speed and urgency. He gave it thirty more minutes. Then he headed for the tyre shop. For the phone on the wall. But before he got there a guy came out the back of the building. From where the customers waited for their cars, on mismatched chairs, with a pay machine for coffee. The guy had buzzed hair and a blue sport coat over a checked shirt, with tan chino pants below.

The guy had a Glock in his hand.

From his shoulder holster.

Delaney.

Who pointed the gun and said, ‘Stop walking.’

Reacher stopped walking.

Delaney said, ‘You’re not as smart as you think.’

Reacher said nothing.

Delaney said, ‘You were in the police station. You saw how basic it was. You gambled they couldn’t trace a pay phone location in real time. So you talked as long as you wanted.’

‘Was I right?’

‘The county can’t do it. But the state can. I knew where you were. From the start. You made a mistake.’

‘That’s always a theoretical possibility.’

‘You made one mistake after another.’

‘Or did I? Because think about it for a minute. From my point of view. First I told you where I was, and then I gave you time to get here. I had to hang around for hours. But never mind. Because here you are. Finally. Maybe I’m exactly as smart as I think.’

‘You wanted me here?’

‘Face to face is always better.’

‘You know I’m going to shoot you.’

‘But not yet. First you need to know what I said to Aaron. Because I gambled again. I figured you would know where the phone was, but I figured you couldn’t tap in and listen. Not instantly and randomly anywhere in the state. Not without warrants and subpoenas. You don’t have that kind of power. Not yet. So you knew about the call but you didn’t hear the conversation. Now you need to know how much more damage control will be necessary. You hope none at all. Because getting rid of Aaron will be a lot harder than me. You’d rather not do it. But you need to know.’

‘Well?’

Reacher said, ‘Let’s talk about county police technology. Just for a moment. I was safe as long as I was talking. They’re basic, but it’s not exactly the Stone Age in there. At least they can get the number after the call is over. Surely. They can find out who owns it. Maybe they even recognize it. I know they call that diner from time to time.’

‘So?’

‘So my guess is Aaron knew where I was pretty early. But he’s a smart guy. He knows why I’m yapping. He knows how long it takes to drive from Bangor. So he sits tight for an hour or two, just to see what comes out of the woodwork. Why not? What’s he got to lose? What’s the worst thing could happen? And then you show up. A crazy theory is proved right.’

‘You saying you got reinforcements here? I don’t see any.’

‘Aaron knew I was in the diner. Now he knows I’m a block or two away. It’s all about where the pay phones are. I’m sure he figured that out pretty early. My guess is he’s watching us right now. His whole squad is watching us, probably. Lots of people. It’s not just you and me, Delaney. There are lots of people here.’

‘What is this? Some kind of psy-ops bullshit?’

‘It’s what you said. It’s a gamble. Aaron is a smart guy. He could have picked me up hours ago. But he didn’t. Because he wanted to see what would happen next. He’s been watching for hours. He’s watching right now. Or, maybe he isn’t. Because maybe he’s actually a dumb guy all along. Except did he look dumb to you? That’s the gamble. I have to tell you, personally, I’m betting on smart. My professional advice would be close your mouth and lie down on the ground. There are witnesses everywhere.’

Delaney glanced left, at the back of the tyre shop. Then right, at the derelict showroom. Ahead, at the narrow alley between. Doors and windows all around, and shadows.

He said, ‘There’s no one here.’

Reacher said, ‘Only one way to be sure.’

‘Which is?’

‘Back up to one of the windows and see if someone grabs you.’

‘I ain’t doing that.’

‘Why not? You said no one is here.’

Delaney didn’t answer.

‘Time to cast your vote,’ Reacher said. ‘Is Aaron smart or dumb?’

‘He’s going to see me shoot a fugitive. Doesn’t matter if he’s smart or dumb. As long as he spells my name right, I’ll get a medal.’

‘I’m not a fugitive. He sent Bush and the lawyer to meet me. It was an invitation. No one chased after me. He wanted me gone. He wanted some bait in the water.’

Delaney paused a beat.

He glanced left. Glanced right.

He said, ‘You’re full of shit.’

‘That’s always a theoretical possibility.’

Reacher said nothing more. Delaney glanced all around. Old brick, gone rotten from soot and rain. Doorways. And windows. Some glassed and whole, some punched out and ragged, some just blind holes in the wall, with no frames left at all.

One such was on the ground floor of the nearby derelict showroom. Chest-high above the sidewalk. About nine feet away. A little behind Delaney’s right shoulder. It was a textbook position. The infantry would love it. It commanded most of the block.

Delaney glanced back at it.

He edged towards it, crabwise, his gun still on Reacher, but looking back over his shoulder. He got close, and he sidled the last short distance, diagonally, craning backward, trying to keep an eye on Reacher, trying to catch a glimpse inside the room, both at once.

He arrived at the window. Still facing Reacher. Backing up. Glancing over his shoulders, left and right. Seeing nothing.

He turned around. Fast, like the start of a quick there-and-back glance. For a second he was face-on to the building. He went up on his toes, and he put his palms on the sill, Glock and all, temporarily awkward, and he levered himself up as high as he could and he bent forward and stuck his head inside for a look.

A long arm grabbed him by the neck and reeled him in. A second arm grabbed his gun hand. A third arm grabbed his coat collar and tumbled him over the sill into the darkness inside.

Reacher waited in the diner, with coffee and pie all paid for by the county police department. Two hours later the rookie uniform came in. He had driven to Warren to get the khaki envelope with Reacher’s stuff in it. His passport, his ATM card, his toothbrush, his seventy bucks in bills, his seventy-five cents in quarters, and his shoelaces. The kid accounted for it all and handed it over.

Then he said, ‘They found the thirty grand. It was in Delaney’s freezer at home. Wrapped up in aluminium foil and labelled steak.’

Then he left, and Reacher laced his shoes again and tied them off. He put his stuff in his pockets and drained his cup and stood up to go.

Aaron came in the door.

He said, ‘Are you leaving?’

Reacher said yes, he was.

‘Where are you going?’

Reacher said he had no idea at all.

‘Will you sign a witness statement?’

Reacher said no, he wouldn’t.

‘Even if I ask you nicely?’

Reacher said no, not even then.

Then Aaron asked, ‘What would you have done if I hadn’t put guys in that window?’

Reacher said, ‘He was nervous by that point. He was about to make mistakes. Opportunities would have presented themselves. I’m sure I would have thought of something.’

‘In other words you had nothing. You were gambling everything on me being a good cop.’

‘Don’t make a whole big thing out of it,’ Reacher said. ‘Truth is, I figured it would be about fifty-fifty at best.’

He walked out of the diner, away from town, to a left-right choice on a county road, north or south, Canada one way and New Hampshire the other. He chose New Hampshire and stuck out his thumb. Eight minutes later he was in a Subaru, listening to a guy talk about the pills he got to ease his back. Nothing like them. Best thing ever, the guy said.





SECOND SON





1


ON A HOT August Thursday in 1974, an old man in Paris did something he had never done before: he woke up in the morning, but he didn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t. His name was Laurent Moutier, and he had felt pretty bad for ten days and really lousy for seven. His arms and legs felt thin and weak and his chest felt like it was full of setting concrete. He knew what was happening. He had been a furniture repairman by trade, and he had become what customers sometimes brought him: a wormy old heirloom weakened and rotted beyond hope. There was no single thing wrong with him. Everything was failing all at once. Nothing to be done. Inevitable. So he lay patient and wheezing and waited for his housekeeper.

She came in at ten o’clock and showed no great shock or surprise. Most of her clients were old, and they came and went with regularity. She called the doctor, and at one point, clearly in answer to a question about his age, Moutier heard her say ‘Ninety’, in a resigned yet satisfied way, a way that spoke volumes, as if it was a whole paragraph in one word. It reminded him of standing in his workshop, breathing dust and glue and varnish, looking at some abject crumbly cabinet and saying, ‘Well now, let’s see,’ when really his mind had already moved on to getting rid of it.

A house call was arranged for later in the day, but then as if to confirm the unspoken diagnosis the housekeeper asked Moutier for his address book, so she could call his immediate family. Moutier had an address book but no immediate family beyond his only daughter Josephine, but even so she filled most of the book by herself, because she moved a lot. Page after page was full of crossed-out box numbers and long strange foreign phone numbers. The housekeeper dialled the last of them and heard the whine and echo of great distances, and then she heard a voice speaking English, a language she couldn’t understand, so she hung up again. Moutier saw her dither for a moment, but then, as if to confirm the diagnosis once again, she left in search of the retired schoolteacher two floors below, a soft old man who Moutier usually dismissed as practically a cretin, but then, how good did a linguist need to be to translate ton père va mourir into your dad is going to die?

The housekeeper came back with the schoolteacher, both of them pink and flushed from the stairs, and the guy dialled the same long number over again, and asked to speak to Josephine Moutier.

‘No, Reacher, you idiot,’ Moutier said, in a voice that should have been a roar, but in fact came out as a breathy tubercular plea. ‘Her married name is Reacher. They won’t know who Josephine Moutier is.’

The schoolteacher apologized and corrected himself and asked for Josephine Reacher. He listened for a moment and covered the receiver with his palm and looked at Moutier and asked, ‘What’s her husband’s name? Your son-in-law?’

‘Stan,’ Moutier said. ‘Not Stanley, either. Just Stan. Stan is on his birth certificate. I saw it. He’s Captain Stan Reacher, of the United States Marine Corps.’

The schoolteacher relayed that information and listened again. Then he hung up. He turned and said, ‘They just left. Really just days ago, apparently. The whole family. Captain Reacher has been posted elsewhere.’





2


The retired schoolteacher in Paris had been talking to a duty lieutenant at the navy base on Guam in the Pacific, where Stan Reacher had been deployed for three months as Marine Corps liaison. That pleasant posting had come to an end and he had been sent to Okinawa. His family had followed three days later, on a passenger plane via Manila, his wife Josephine and his two sons, fifteen-year-old Joe and thirteen-year-old Jack. Josephine Reacher was a bright, spirited, energetic woman, at forty-four still curious about the world and happy to be seeing so much of it, still tolerant of the ceaseless moves and the poor accommodations. Joe Reacher at fifteen was already almost full grown, already well over six feet and well over two hundred pounds, a giant next to his mother, but still quiet and studious, still very much Clark Kent, not Superman. Jack Reacher at thirteen looked like an engineer’s napkin sketch for something even bigger and even more ambitious, his huge bony frame like the scaffolding around a major construction project. Six more inches and a final eighty pounds of beef would finish the job, and they were all on their way. He had big hands and watchful eyes. He was quiet like his brother, but not studious. Unlike his brother he was always called by his last name only. No one knew why, but the family was Stan and Josie, Joe and Reacher, and it always had been.

Stan met his family off the plane at the Futenma air station and they took a taxi to a bungalow he had found half a mile from the beach. It was hot and still inside and it fronted on a narrow concrete street with ditches either side. The street was dead straight and lined with small houses set close together, and at the end of it was a blue patch of ocean. By that point the family had lived in maybe forty different places, and the move-in routine was second nature. The boys found the second bedroom and it was up to them to decide whether it needed cleaning. If so, they cleaned it themselves, and if not, they didn’t. In this case, as usual, Joe found something to worry about, and Reacher found nothing. So he left Joe to it, and he headed for the kitchen, where first he got a drink of water, and then he got the bad news.





3


Reacher’s parents were side by side at the kitchen counter, studying a letter his mother had carried all the way from Guam. Reacher had seen the envelope. It was something to do with the education system. His mother said, ‘You and Joe have to take a test before you start school here.’

Reacher said, ‘Why?’

‘Placement,’ his father said. ‘They need to know how well you’re doing.’

‘Tell them we’re doing fine. Tell them thanks, but no thanks.’

‘For what?’

‘I’m happy where I am. I don’t need to skip a grade. I’m sure Joe feels the same.’

‘You think this is about skipping a grade?’

‘Isn’t it?’

‘No,’ his father said. ‘It’s about holding you back a grade.’

‘Why would they do that?’

‘New policy,’ his mother said. ‘You’ve had very fragmented schooling. They need to check you’re ready to advance.’

‘They never did that before.’

‘That’s why it’s called a new policy. As opposed to an old policy.’

‘They want Joe to take a test? To prove he’s ready for the next grade? He’ll freak out.’

‘He’ll do OK. He’s good with tests.’

‘That’s not the point, Mom. You know what he’s like. He’ll be insulted. So he’ll make himself score a hundred per cent. Or a hundred and ten. He’ll drive himself nuts.’

‘Nobody can score a hundred and ten per cent. It’s not possible.’

‘Exactly. His head will explode.’

‘What about you?’

‘Me? I’ll be OK.’

‘Will you try hard?’

‘What’s the pass mark?’

‘Fifty per cent, probably.’

‘Then I’ll aim for fifty-one. No point wasting effort. When is it?’

‘Three days from now. Before the semester starts.’

‘Terrific,’ Reacher said. ‘What kind of an education system doesn’t know the meaning of a simple word like vacation?’





4


Reacher went out to the concrete street and looked at the patch of ocean in the distance up ahead. The East China Sea, not the Pacific. The Pacific lay in the other direction. Okinawa was one of the Ryukyu Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands separated the two bodies of water.

There were maybe forty homes between Reacher and the water on the left hand side of the street, and another forty on the right. He figured the homes closer to him and further from the sea would be off-post housing for Marine families, and the homes further from him and nearer the water would be locally owned, by Japanese families who lived there full-time. He knew how real estate worked. Just steps to the beach. People competed for places like that, and generally the military let the locals have the best stuff. The DoD always worried about friction. Especially on Okinawa. The air station was right in the centre of Ginowan, which was a fair-sized city. Every time a transport plane took off the schools had to stop teaching for a minute or two, because of the noise.

He turned his back on the East China Sea and walked inland, past identical little houses, across a four-way junction, into a perfect rectilinear matrix of yet more identical houses. They had been built quick and cheap, but they were in good order. They were meticulously maintained. He saw small doll-like local ladies on some of the porches. He nodded to them politely, but they all looked away. He saw no local Japanese kids. Maybe they were in school already. Maybe their semester had already started. He turned back and a hundred yards later found Joe out on the streets, looking for him.

Joe said, ‘Did they tell you about the test?’

Reacher nodded. ‘No big deal.’

‘We have to pass.’

‘Obviously we’ll pass.’

‘No, I mean we have to really pass this thing. We have to crush it. We have to knock it out of the park.’

‘Why?’

‘They’re trying to humiliate us, Reacher.’

‘Us? They don’t even know us.’

‘People like us. Thousands of us. We have to humiliate them back. We have to make them embarrassed they even thought of this idea. We have to piss all over their stupid test.’

‘I’m sure we will. How hard can it be?’

Joe said, ‘It’s a new policy, so it might be a new kind of test. There might be all kinds of new things in it.’

‘Like what?’

‘I have no idea. There could be anything.’

‘Well, I’ll do my best with it.’

‘How’s your general knowledge?’

‘I know that Mickey Mantle hit .303 ten years ago. And .285 fifteen years ago. And .300 twenty years ago. Which averages out to .296, which is remarkably close to his overall career average of .298, which has to mean something.’

‘They’re not going to ask about Mickey Mantle.’

‘Who then?’

Joe said, ‘We need to know. And we have a right to know. We need to go up to that school and ask what’s in this thing.’

Reacher said, ‘You can’t do that with tests. That’s kind of opposite to the point of tests, don’t you think?’

‘We’re at least entitled to know what part or parts of which curriculum is being tested here.’

‘It’ll be reading and writing, adding and subtracting. Maybe some dividing if we’re lucky. You know the drill. Don’t worry about it.’

‘It’s an insult.’

Reacher said nothing.





5


The Reacher brothers walked back together, across the four-way junction, and into the long concrete street. Their new place was ahead and on the left. In the distance the sliver of sea glowed pale blue in the sun. There was a hint of white sand. Maybe palm trees. Between their place and the sea there were kids out on the street. All boys. Americans, black and white, maybe two dozen of them. Marine families. Neighbours. They were clustered outside their own places, at the cheap end of the street, a thousand steps from the beach.

Reacher said, ‘Let’s go take a look at the East China Sea.’

Joe said, ‘I’ve seen it before. So have you.’

‘We could be freezing our butts off in Korea all winter.’

‘We were just on Guam. How much beach does a person need?’

‘As much as a person can get.’

‘We have a test in three days.’

‘Exactly. So we don’t have to worry about it today.’

Joe sighed and they walked on, past their own place, towards the sliver of blue. Ahead of them the other kids saw them coming. They got up off kerbstones and stepped over ditches and kicked and scuffed their way to the middle of the road. They formed up in a loose arrowhead, facing front, arms folded, chests out, more than twenty guys, some of them as young as ten, some of them a year or two older than Joe.

Welcome to the neighbourhood.

The point man was a thick-necked bruiser of about sixteen. He was smaller than Joe, but bigger than Reacher. He was wearing a Corps T-shirt and a ragged pair of khaki pants. He had fat hands, with knuckles that dipped in, not stuck out. He was fifteen feet away, just waiting.

Joe said quietly, ‘There are too many of them.’

Reacher said nothing.

Joe said, ‘Don’t start anything. I mean it. We’ll deal with this later, if we have to.’

Reacher smiled. ‘You mean after the test?’

‘You need to get serious about that test.’

They walked on. Forty different places. Forty different welcomes to forty different neighbourhoods. Except that the welcomes had not been different. They had all been the same. Tribalism, testosterone, hierarchies, all kinds of crazy instincts. Tests of a different kind.

Joe and Reacher stopped six feet from the bruiser and waited. The guy had a boil on his neck. And he smelled pretty bad. He said, ‘You’re the new kids.’

Joe said, ‘How did you figure that out?’

‘You weren’t here yesterday.’

‘Outstanding deduction. You ever thought of a career with the FBI?’

The bruiser didn’t answer that. Reacher smiled. He figured he could land a left hook right on the boil. Which would hurt like hell, probably.

The bruiser said, ‘You going to the beach?’

Joe said, ‘Is there a beach?’

‘You know there’s a beach.’

‘And you know where we’re going.’

‘This is a toll road.’

Joe said, ‘What?’

‘You heard. You have to pay the toll.’

‘What’s the toll?’

‘I haven’t decided yet,’ the bruiser said. ‘When I see what you’ve got, I’ll know what to take.’

Joe didn’t answer.

The guy said, ‘Understand?’

Joe said, ‘Not even a little bit.’

‘That’s because you’re a retard. You two are the retard kids. We heard all about you. They’re making you take the retard test, because you’re retards.’

Reacher said, ‘Joe, now that’s an insult.’

The big guy said, ‘So the little retard talks, does he?’

Joe said, ‘You seen that new statue in the square in Luzon?’

‘What about it?’

‘The last kid who picked a fight with my brother is buried in the pedestal.’

The guy looked at Reacher and said, ‘That doesn’t sound very nice. Are you a psycho retard?’

Reacher said, ‘What’s that?’

‘Like a psychopath.’

‘You mean do I think I’m right to do what I do and feel no remorse afterwards?’

‘I guess.’

Reacher said, ‘Then yes, I’m pretty much a psychopath.’

Silence, except for a distant motorbike. Then two motorbikes. Then three. Distant, but approaching. The big kid’s gaze jumped to the four-way junction at the top of the street. Behind him the arrowhead formation broke up. Kids wandered back to the kerbs and their front yards. A bike slowed and turned into the street and puttered slowly along. On it was a Marine in BDUs. No helmet. An NCO, back from the base, his watch finished. He was followed by two more, one of them on