Main Jack Reacher 11 Bad Luck and Trouble

Jack Reacher 11 Bad Luck and Trouble

From a helicopter high above the empty California desert, a man is sent free-falling into the night…. In Chicago, a woman learns that an elite team of ex–army investigators is being hunted down one by one.... And on the streets of Portland, Jack Reacher—soldier, cop, hero—is pulled out of his wandering life by a code that few other people could understand. From the first shocking scenes in Lee Child’s explosive new novel, Jack Reacher is plunged like a knife into the heart of a conspiracy that is killing old friends…and is on its way to something even worse. A decade postmilitary, Reacher has an ATM card and the clothes on his back—no phone, no ties, and no address. But now a woman from his old unit has done the impossible. From Chicago, Frances Neagley finds Reacher, using a signal only the eight members of their elite team of army investigators would know. She tells him a terrifying story—about the brutal death of a man they both served with. Soon Reacher is reuniting with the survivors of his old team, scrambling to raise the living, bury the dead, and connect the dots in a mystery that is growing darker by the day. The deeper they dig, the more they don’ t know: about two other comrades who have suddenly gone missing—and a trail that leads into the neon of Vegas and the darkness of international terrorism. For now, Reacher can only react. To every sound. Every suspicion. Every scent and every moment. Then Reacher will trust the people he once trusted with his life—and take this thing all the way to the end. Because in a world of bad luck and trouble, when someone targets Jack Reacher and his team, they’d better be ready for what comes right back at them… BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Lee Child’s Blue Moon.
Dell Publishing
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Jack Reacher Book 11
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Lee Child
Bad Luck And Trouble


The  man  was  called  Calvin  Franz  and  the  helicopter was a Bell 222. Franz had two broken legs, so he had to be  loaded  on  board  strapped  to  a  stretcher.  Not  a difficult  maneuver.  The  Bell  was  a  roomy  aircraft, twinengined,  designed  for  corporate  travel  and  police departments, with space for seven passengers. The rear doors  were  as  big  as  a  panel  van’s  and  they  opened wide. The middle row of seats had been removed. There was plenty of room for Franz on the floor. 

The helicopter was idling. Two men were carrying the stretcher.  They  ducked  low  under  the  rotor  wash  and hurried, one backward, one forward. 

When  they  reached  the  open  door  the  guy  who  had been  walking  backward  got  one  handle  up  on  the  sill and ducked away. The other guy stepped forward and shoved hard and slid the stretcher all the way inside. 

Franz was awake and hurting. He cried out and jerked around a little, but not much, because the straps across his  chest  and  thighs  were  buckled  tight.  The  two  men climbed  in  after  him  and  got  in  their  seats  behind  the missing row and slammed the doors. 

Then they waited. 

The pilot waited. 

A third man came out a gray door and walked across the  concrete.  He  bent  low  under  the  rotor  and  held  a hand  flat  on  his  chest  to  stop  his  necktie  whipping  in the wind. The gesture made him look like a guilty man proclaiming his innocence. He tracked around the Bell’s long nose and got in the forward seat, next to the pilot. 

“Go,”  he  said,  and  then  he  bent  his  head  to concentrate on his harness buckle. 

The pilot goosed the turbines and the lazy whop-whop of  the  idling  blade  slid  up  the  scale  to  an  urgent centripetal  whip-whip-whip  and  then  disappeared behind  the  treble  blast  of  the  exhaust.  The  Bell  lifted straight  off  the  ground,  drifted  left  a  little,  rotated slightly,  and  then  retracted  its  wheels  and  climbed  a thousand;   feet.  Then  it  dipped  its  nose  and  hammered north, high and fast. Below it, roads and science parks and  small  factories  and  neat  isolated  suburban communities  slid  past.  Brick  walls  and  metal  siding blazed  red  in  the  late  sun.  Tiny  emerald  lawns  and turquoise  swimming  pools  winked  in  the  last  of  the light. 

The  man  in  the  forward  seat  said,  “You  know  where we’re going?” 

The pilot nodded and said nothing. 

The  Bell  clattered  onward,  turning  east  of  north, climbing a little higher, heading for darkness. It crossed a highway far below, a river of white lights crawling west and  red  lights  crawling  east.  A  minute  north  of  the highway the last developed acres gave way to low hills, barren  and  scrubby  and  uninhabited.  They  glowed orange  on  the  slopes  that  faced  the  setting  sun  and showed dull tan in the valleys and the shadows. Then the  low  hills  gave  way  in  turn  to  small  rounded mountains.  The  Bell  sped  on,  rising  and  falling, following  the  contours  below.  The  man  in  the  forward seat  twisted  around  and  looked  down  at  Franz  on  the floor behind him. 

Smiled briefly and said, “Twenty more minutes, maybe. 


Franz didn’t reply. He was in too much pain. 


The  Bell  was  rated  for  a  161-mph  cruise,  so  twenty more minutes took it almost fifty-four miles, beyond the mountains,  well  out  over  the  empty  desert.  The  pilot flared  the  nose  and  slowed  a  little.  The  man  in  the forward seat pressed his forehead against the window and stared down into the darkness. 

“Where are we?” he asked. 

The pilot said, “Where we were before.” 



“What’s below us now?” 



“Three thousand feet.” 

“What’s the air like up here?” 

“Still. A few thermals, but no wind.” 



“So let’s do it.” 

The  pilot  slowed  more  and  turned  and  came  to  a stationary hover, three thousand feet above  the  desert floor. The man in the forward seat twisted around again and  signaled  to  the  two  guys  way  in  back.  Both unlocked their safety harnesses. One crouched forward, avoiding Franz’s feet, and held his loose harness tight in one hand and unlatched the door with the other. The pilot was half-turned in his own seat, watching, and he tilted  the  Bell  a  little  so  the  door  fell  all  the  way  open under its own weight. 

Then he brought the craft level again and put it into a slow clockwise rotation so that motion and air pressure held  the  door  wide.  The  second  guy  from  the  rear crouched  near  Franz’s  head  and  jacked  the  stretcher upward  to  a  forty-five  degree  slope.  The  first  guy jammed  his  shoe  against  the  free  end  of  the  stretcher rail to stop the whole thing sliding across the floor. The second  guy  jerked  like  a  weightlifter  and  brought  the stretcher  almost  vertical.  Franz  sagged  down  against the  straps.  He  was  a  big  guy,  and  heavy.  And determined.  His  legs  were  useless  but  his  upper  body was  powerful  and  straining  hard.  His  head  was snapping from side to side. 

The first guy took out a gravity knife and popped the blade. Used it to saw through the strap around Franz’s thighs.  Then  he  paused  a  beat  and  sliced  the  strap around  Franz’s  chest.  One  quick  motion.  At  the  exact same  time  the  second  guy  jerked  the  stretcher  fully upright.  Franz  took  an  involuntary  step  forward.  Onto his broken right leg. He screamed once, briefly, and then took a second instinctive step. Onto his broken left leg. 

His  arms  flailed  and  he  collapsed  forward  and  his upper-body  momentum  levered  him  over  the  locked pivot  of  his  immobile  hips  and  took  him  straight  out through the open door, into the noisy darkness, into the galeforce rotor wash, into the night. 

Three thousand feet above the desert floor. 

For  a  moment  there  was  silence.  Even  the  engine noise seemed to fade. 

Then the pilot reversed the Bell’s rotation and rocked the  other  way  and  the  door  slammed  neatly  shut.  The turbines spun up again and the rotor bit the air and the nose dropped. 

The two guys clambered back to their seats. 

The man in front said, “Let’s go home now.” 


Seventeen  days  later  Jack  Reacher  was  in  Portland, Oregon, short of money. In Portland, because he had to be  somewhere  and  the  bus  he  had  ridden  two  days previously had stopped there. Short of money, because he  had  met  an  assistant  district  attorney  called Samantha in a cop bar, and had twice bought her dinner before twice spending the night at her place. 

Now she had gone to work and he was walking away from  her  house,  nine  o’clock  in  the  morning,  heading back to the downtown bus depot, hair still wet from her shower, sated, relaxed, destination as yet unclear, with a very thin wad of bills in his pocket. 

The  terrorist  attacks  of  September  11th,  2001,  had changed Reacher’s life in two practical ways. Firstly, in addition  to  his  folding  toothbrush  he  now  carried  his passport  with  him.  Too  many  things  in  the  new  era required  photo  ID,  including  most  forms  of  travel. 

Reacher  was  a  drifter,  not  a  hermit,  restless,  not dysfunctional, and so he had yielded gracefully. 

And secondly, he had changed his banking methods. 

For many years after leaving the army he had operated a system whereby he would call his bank in Virginia and ask  for  a  Western  Union  wire  transfer  to  wherever  he happened  to  be.  But  new  worries  about  terrorist financing had pretty much killed telephone banking. So Reacher had gotten an ATM card. He carried it inside his passport  and  used  8197  as  his  PIN.  He  considered himself  a  man  of  very  few  talents  but  some  varied abilities, most of which were physical and related to his abnormal  size  and  strength,  but  one  of  which  was always  knowing  what  time  it  was  without  looking,  and another of which was some kind of a junior-idiot-savant facility with arithmetic. 

Hence  8197.  He  liked  97  because  it  was  the  largest two-digit prime number, and he loved 81 because it was absolutely the only number out of all the literally infinite possibilities whose square root was also the sum of its digits.  Square  root  of  eighty-one  was  nine,  and  eight and  one  made  nine.  No  other  nontrivial  number  in  the cosmos had that kind of sweet symmetry. Perfect. 

His  arithmetic  awareness  and  his  inherent  cynicism about  financial  institutions  always  compelled  him  to check  his  balance  every  time  he  withdrew  cash.  He always remembered to deduct the ATM fees and every quarter  he  remembered  to  add  in  the  bank’s  paltry interest  payment.  And  despite  his  suspicions,  he  had never been ripped off. Every time his balance came up exactly as he predicted. He had never been surprised or dismayed. 

Until  that  morning  in  Portland,  where  he  was surprised,  but  not  exactly  dismayed.  Because  his balance was more than a thousand dollars bigger than it should have been. 

Exactly  one  thousand  and  thirty  dollars  bigger, according  to  Reacher’s  own  blind  calculation.  A mistake,  obviously.  By  the  bank.  A  deposit  into  the wrong  account.  A  mistake  that  would  be  rectified.  He wouldn’t be keeping the money. He was an optimist, but not  a  fool.  He  pressed  another  button  and  requested something  called  a  mini-statement. A  slip  of  thin  paper came out of a slot. It had faint gray printing on it, listing the last five transactions against his account. Three of them  were ATM  cash  withdrawals  that  he  remembered clearly. One of them was the bank’s most recent interest payment.  The  last  was  a  deposit  in  the  sum  of  one thousand and thirty dollars, made three days previously. 

So there it was. 

The  slip  of  paper  was  too  narrow  to  have  separate staggered  columns  for  debits  and  credits,  so  the deposit  was  noted  inside  parentheses  to  indicate  its positive nature: (1030.00). 

One thousand and thirty dollars. 


Not  inherently  an  interesting  number,  but  Reacher stared at it for a minute. Not prime, obviously. No even number greater than two could be prime. Square root? 

Clearly  just  a  hair  more  than  thirty-two.  Cube  root?  A hair less than ten and a tenth. Factors? Not many, but they included 5 and 206, along with the obvious 10 and 103 and the even more basic 2 and


So, 1030. 

A thousand and thirty. 

A mistake. 


Or, maybe not a mistake. 

Reacher took fifty dollars from the machine and dug in his  pocket  for  change  and  went  in  search  of  a  pay phone. 

He found a phone inside the bus depot. He dialed his bank’s  number  from  memory.  Nine-forty  in  the  West, twelve-forty  in  the  East.  Lunch  time  in  Virginia,  but someone should be there. 

And  someone  was.  Not  someone  Reacher  had  ever spoken to before, but she sounded competent. Maybe a back-office  manager  hauled  out  to  cover  for  the  meal period. She gave her name, but Reacher didn’t catch it. 

Then  she  went  into  a  long  rehearsed  introduction designed  to  make  him  feel  like  a  valued  customer.  He waited it out and told her about the deposit. 

She  was  amazed  that  a  customer  would  call  about  a bank error in his own favor. 

“Might not be an error,” Reacher said. 

“Were you expecting the deposit?” she asked. 


“Do  third  parties  frequently  make  deposits  into  your account?” 


“It’s likely to be an error, then. Don’t you think?” 

“I need to know who made the deposit.” 

“May I ask why?” 

“That would take some time to explain.” 

“I  would  need  to  know,”  the  woman  said.  “There  are confidentiality  issues  otherwise.  If  the  bank’s  error exposes one customer’s affairs to another, we could be in  breach  of  all  kinds  of  rules  and  regulations  and ethical practices.” 

“It might be a message,” Reacher said. 

“A message?” 

“From the past.” 

“I don’t understand.” 

“Back in the day I was a military policeman,” Reacher said. “Military police radio transmissions are coded. If a military  policeman  needs  urgent  assistance  from  a colleague  he  calls  in  a  ten-thirty  radio  code.  See  what I’m saying?” 

“No, not really.” 

Reacher  said,  “I’m  thinking  that  if  I  don’t  know  the person who made the deposit, then it’s a thousand and thirty  bucks’  worth  of  a  mistake.  But  if  I  do  know  the person, it might be a call for help.” 

“I still don’t understand.” 

“Look at how it’s written. It might be a ten-thirty radio code,  not  a  thousand  and  thirty  dollars.  Look  at  it  on paper.” 

“Wouldn’t  this  person  just  have  called  you  on  the phone?” 

“I don’t have a phone.” 

“An e-mail, then? Or a telegram. Or even a letter.” 

“I don’t have addresses for any of those things.” 

“So how do we contact you, usually?” 

“You don’t.” 

“A credit into your bank would be a very odd way of communicating.” 

“It might be the only way.” 

“A  very  difficult  way.  Someone  would  have  to  trace your account.” 

“That’s my point,” Reacher said. “It would take a smart and  resourceful  person  to  do  it.  And  if  a  smart  and resourceful  person  needs  to  ask  for  help,  there’s  big trouble somewhere.” 

“It  would  be  expensive,  too.  Someone  would  be  out more than a thousand dollars.” 

“Exactly.  The  person  would  have  to  be  smart  and resourceful and desperate.” 

Silence on the phone. Then: “Can’t you just make a list of who it might be and try them all?” 

“I  worked  with  a  lot  of  smart  people.  Most  of  them  a very long time ago. 

It would take me weeks to track them all down. Then it might be too late. 

And I don’t have a phone anyway.” 

More silence. Except for the patter of a keyboard. 

Reacher said, “You’re looking, aren’t you?” 

The woman said, “I really shouldn’t be doing this.” 

“I won’t rat you out.” 

The  phone  went  quiet.  The  keyboard  patter  stopped. 

Reacher knew she had the name right there in front of her on a screen. 

“Tell me,” he said. 

“I can’t just tell you. You’ll have to help me out.” 


“Give me clues. So I don’t have to come right out with it.” 

“What kind of clues?” 

She asked, “Well, would it be a man or a woman?” 

Reacher smiled, briefly. The answer was right there in the question itself. 

It  was  a  woman.  Had  to  be.  A  smart,  resourceful woman,  capable  of  imagination  and  lateral  thinking.  A woman  who  knew  about  his  compulsion  to  add  and subtract. 

“Let me guess,” Reacher said. “The deposit was made in Chicago.” 

“Yes, by personal check through a Chicago bank.” 

“Neagley,” Reacher said. 

“That’s the name we have,” the woman said. “Frances L. Neagley.” 

“Then forget we ever had this conversation,” Reacher said. “It wasn’t a bank error.” 


Reacher  had  served  thirteen  years  in  the  army,  all  of them  in  the  military  police.  He  had  known  Frances Neagley for ten of those years and had worked with her from  time  to  time  for  seven  of  them.  He  had  been  an officer, a second lieutenant, then a lieutenant, a captain, a major, then a loss of rank back to captain, then a major again.  Neagley  had  steadfastly  refused  promotion beyond  sergeant.  She  wouldn’t  consider  Officer Candidate  School.  Reacher  didn’t  really  know  why. 

There was a lot he didn’t know about her, despite their ten-year association. 

But  there  was  a  lot  he  did  know  about  her.  She  was smart  and  resourceful  and  thorough. And  very  tough. 

And  strangely  uninhibited.  Not  in  terms  of  personal relationships.  She  avoided  personal  relationships.  She was  intensely  private  and  resisted  any  kind  of closeness, physical or emotional. Her lack of inhibition was  professional.  If  she  felt  something  was  right  or necessary,  then  she  was  uncompromising.  Nothing stood  in  her  way,  not  politics  or  practicality  or politeness or even what a civilian might call “the law.” At one  point  Reacher  had  recruited  her  to  a  special investigations unit. She had been a big part of it for two crucial years. 

Most people put its occasional spectacular successes down to Reacher’s leadership, but Reacher himself put them down to her presence. She impressed him, deeply. 

Sometimes even came close to scaring him. 

If  she  was  calling  for  urgent  assistance,  it  wasn’t because she had lost her car keys. 

She worked for a private security provider in Chicago. 

He  knew  that. At  least  she  had  four  years  ago,  which was the last time he had come into contact with her. She had left the army a year later than he had and gone into business  with  someone  she  knew.  As  a  partner,  he guessed, not an employee. 

He  dug  back  in  his  pocket  and  came  out  with  more quarters.  Dialed  long  distance  information.  Asked  for Chicago. Gave the company name, as he remembered it. 

The  human  operator  disappeared  and  a  robot  voice came  on  the  line  with  a  number.  Reacher  broke  the connection and redialed. A receptionist responded and Reacher asked for Frances Neagley. He was answered politely and put on hold. Altogether his impression was of  a  larger  operation  than  he  had  imagined.  He  had pictured  a  single  room,  a  grimy  window,  maybe  two battered  desks,  bulging  file  cabinets.  But  the receptionist’s measured voice and the telephone clicks and the quiet hold music spoke of a much bigger place. 

Maybe  two  floors,  cool  white  corridors,  wall  art,  an internal phone directory. 

A  man’s  voice  came  on  the  line:  “Frances  Neagley’s office.” 

Reacher asked, “Is she there?” 

“May I know who’s calling?” 

“Jack Reacher.” 

“Good. Thank you for getting in touch.” 

“Who are you?” 

“I’m Ms. Neagley’s assistant.” 

“She has an assistant?” 


“Is she there?” 

“She’s en route to Los Angeles. In the air right now, I think.” 

“Is there a message for me?” 

“She wants to see you as soon as possible.” 

“In Chicago?” 

“She’ll be in LA a few days at least. I think you should go there.” 

“What’s this all about?” 

“I don’t know.” 

“Not work related?” 

“Can’t be. She’d have started a file. Discussed it here. 

She wouldn’t be reaching out to strangers.” 

“I’m  not  a  stranger.  I’ve  known  her  longer  than  you have.” 

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware of that.” 

“Where is she staying in LA?” 

“I don’t know that either.” 

“So how am I supposed to find her?” 

“She said you’d be able to track her down.” 

Reacher asked, “What is this, some kind of a test?” 

“She said if you can’t find her, she doesn’t want you.” 

“Is she OK?” 

“She’s worried about something. But she didn’t tell me what.” 

Reacher kept the receiver at his ear and turned away from  the  wall.  The  metal  phone  cord  wrapped  around his  chest.  He  glanced  at  the  idling  buses  and  the departures board. He asked, “Who else is she reaching out to?” 

The guy said, “There’s a list of names. You’re the first to get back to her.” 

“Will she call you when she lands?” 


“Tell her I’m on my way.” 


Reacher  took  a  shuttle  from  the  bus  depot  to  the Portland airport and bought a one-way ticket on United to LAX. He used his passport for ID and his ATM card as a debit card. The one-way walk-up fare was outrageous. 

Alaska Airlines would have been cheaper, but Reacher hated Alaska Airlines. They put a scripture card on their meal trays. Ruined his appetite. 

Airport  security  was  easy  for  Reacher.  His  carry-on baggage amounted to precisely none at all. He had no belt, no keys, no cell phone, no watch. All he had to do was dump his loose change in a plastic tray and take off his  shoes  and  walk  through  the  X-ray  hoop.  Thirty seconds, beginning to end. 

Then he was on his way to the gate, coins back in his pocket, shoes back on his feet, Neagley on his mind. 

Not  work  related.  Therefore,  private  business.  But  as far  as  he  was  aware  she  had  no  private  business.  No private  life.  She  never  had.  She  would  have  everyday trivia, he guessed, and everyday problems. Like anyone. 

But he couldn’t conceive of her needing help with any of  that  kind  of  stuff. A  noisy  neighbor? Any  sane  man would sell his stereo after one short conversation with Frances Neagley. Or give it away to charity. Drug dealers on her corner? They would end up as a line item on an inside page of the morning newspaper,  corpses  found in  an  alley,  multiple  knife  wounds,  no  suspects  at  this time. A stalker? A groper on the elevated train? Reacher shuddered.  Neagley  hated  to  be  touched.  He  didn’t really  know  why.  But  anything  except  brief  accidental contact with her would earn a guy a broken arm. Maybe two broken arms. 

So what was her problem? 

The past, he guessed, which meant the army. 

A  list  of  names?  Maybe  chickens  were  coming  home to  roost.  The  army  seemed  like  a  long  time  ago  to Reacher. A different era, a different world. 

Different rules. Maybe someone was applying today’s standards  to  yesterday’s  situations,  and  complaining about something. Maybe a longdelayed internal inquiry had  started  up.  Reacher’s  special  investigations  unit had  cut  a  lot  of  corners  and  busted  a  lot  of  heads. 

Someone, maybe Neagley herself, had come up with a catchphrase:  You  do  not  mess  with  the  special investigators.  It  had  been  repeated  endlessly,  as  a promise, and a warning. Deadpan, and deadly serious. 

Now  maybe  someone  was  messing  with  the  special investigators.  Maybe  subpoenas  and  indictments  were flying  around.  But  in  that  case  why  would  Neagley compromise him? He was as close to untraceable as a human  being  in  America  could  get.  Wouldn’t  she  just play dumb and leave him be? 

He  shook  his  head  and  gave  it  up  and  got  on  the plane. 

He  used  the  flight  time  figuring  out  where  in  LA  she would hole up. Back in the day it had been part of his job  to  find  people,  and  he  had  been  pretty  good  at  it. 

Success  depended  on  empathy.  Think  like  them,  feel like them. 

See  what  they  see.  Put  yourself  in  their  shoes.  Be them. 

Easier  with  AWOL  soldiers,  of  course.  Their aimlessness  gave  their  decisions  a  special  kind  of purity. And they were heading away from something, not toward  something.  Often  they  would  adopt  a  kind  of unconscious geographic symbolism. If their route into a city was from the east, they would hole up on the west. 

They would want to put mass between themselves and their  pursuers.  Reacher  would  spend  an  hour  with  a map  and  a  bus  schedule  and  the  Yellow  Pages  and often  he  would  predict  the  exact  block  he  would  find them on. The exact motel. 

Tougher  with  Neagley,  because  she  was  heading  for something.  Her  private  business,  and  he  didn’t  know where  or  what  it  was.  So,  first  principles.  What  did  he know  about  her?  What  would  be  the  determining factor? Well, she was cheap. Not because she was poor or  a  miser,  but  because  she  didn’t  see  the  point  in spending  a  buck  on  something  she  didn’t  need.  And she  didn’t  need  much.  She  didn’t  need  turn-down service  or  a  mint  on  the  pillow.  She  didn’t  need  room service or tomorrow’s weather forecast. She didn’t need fluffy robes and complementary slippers heat-sealed in cellophane. All  she  needed  was  a  bed  and  a  door  that locked.  And  crowds,  and  shadows,  and  the  kind  of anonymous  low-rent  transient  neighborhoods  where bartenders and desk clerks had short memories. 

So, scratch downtown. Not Beverly Hills, either. 

So where? Where in the vastness of LA would she be comfortable? 

There  were  twenty-one  thousand  miles  of  surface streets to choose from. 

Reacher asked himself, Where would I go? 

Hollywood, he answered. A little ways south and east of the good stuff. 

The wrong stretch of Sunset. 

That’s where I would go, he thought. 

And that’s where she’ll be. 

The  plane  landed  at  LAX  a  little  late,  well  after  lunch. 

There had been no meal service on board and Reacher was  hungry.  Samantha  the  Portland  prosecutor  had served  him  coffee  and  a  bran  muffin  for  breakfast,  but that seemed like a long time ago. 

He didn’t stop to eat. Just headed out to the taxi line and got a Korean guy in a yellow Toyota minivan who wanted  to  talk  about  boxing.  Reacher  knew  nothing about  boxing  and  cared  less.  The  sport’s  obvious artificiality  turned  him  off.  Padded  gloves  and  above-the-belt  rules  had  no  place  in  his  world. And  he  didn’t like talking. So he just sat quietly in the back and let the guy  ramble  on.  He  watched  the  hot  brown  afternoon light through the window. Palm trees, movie billboards, light  gray  traffic  lanes  striped  with  endless  twin  tracks of  rubber.  And  cars,  rivers  of  cars,  floods  of  cars.  He saw  a  new  Rolls-Royce  and  an  old  Citroen  DS,  both black.  A  bloodred  MGA  and  a  pastel  blue  ’57

Thunderbird,  both  open. A  yellow  1960  Corvette  nose-to-tail  with  a  green  2007  model.  He  figured  if  you watched  LA  traffic  long  enough  you  would  see  one  of every automobile ever manufactured. 

The driver took the 101 north and exited a block from Sunset.  Reacher  got  out  on  the  off-ramp  and  paid  the fare.  Hiked  south  and  turned  left  and  faced  east.  He knew  Sunset  had  a  dense  knot  of  cheap  places  right there,  both  sides  of  the  boulevard,  covering  about three-quarters of a mile. The air was southern California warm and smelled of dust and gasoline fumes. 

He stood still. He had a potential mile-and-a-half walk ahead of him, down and back, and a dozen motel desks to  canvass.  An  hour-long  task,  maybe  more.  He  was hungry. He could see a Denny’s sign ahead and on the right.  A  chain  diner.  He  decided  to  eat  first  and  work later. 

He walked past parked cars and vacant lots boxed in by hurricane fencing. 

Stepped  over  trash  and  softball-sized  tumbleweeds. 

Recrossed  the  101  on  a  long  bridge.  Entered  the Denny’s lot by cutting across a grass shoulder and the drive-through lane. Walked past a long line of windows. 

Saw Frances Neagley inside, sitting alone in a booth. 


Reacher  stood  for  a  moment  in  the  parking  lot  and watched  Neagley  through  the  window.  She  hadn’t changed much in the four years since he had last seen her.  She  had  to  be  nearer  forty  than  thirty  now,  but  it wasn’t  showing.  Her  hair  was  still  long  and  dark  and shiny.  Her  eyes  were  still  dark  and  alive.  She  was  still slim  and  lithe.  Still  spending  serious  time  in  the  gym. 

That  was  clear.  She  was  wearing  a  tight  white  T-shirt with  tiny  cap  sleeves  and  it  would  have  taken  an electron  microscope  to  find  any  body  fat  on  her  arms. 

Or anyplace else. 

She  was  a  little  tan,  which  looked  good  with  her coloring. Her nails were done. Her T-shirt looked like a quality  item.  Overall  she  looked  richer  than  he remembered  her.  Comfortable,  at  home  in  her  world, successful,  accustomed  to  the  civilian  life.  For  a moment he felt awkward about his own cheap clothes and his scuffed shoes and his bad barbershop haircut. 

Like  she  was  making  it,  and  he  wasn’t.  Then  the pleasure of seeing an old friend swamped the thought and he walked on through the lot to the door. 

Went in and stepped past the Please Wait to Be Seated sign and slid straight into her booth. She looked up at him across the table and smiled. 

“Hello,” she said. 

“To you, too,” he said. 

“Want lunch?” 

“That was my plan.” 

“So let’s order, now you’re finally here.” 

He said, “You sound like you were waiting for me.” 

“I was. And you’re about on time.” 

“Am I?” 

Neagley smiled again. “You called my office guy from Portland, Oregon. 

He  saw  the  caller  ID.  Traced  it  to  a  pay  phone  at  the bus  depot.  We  figured  you’d  head  straight  for  the airport. Then I figured you’d take United. You must hate Alaska  Airlines.  Then  a  cab  ride  here.  Your  ETA  was easy enough to predict.” 

“You knew I would come here? To this diner?” 

“Like you taught me, back in the day.” 

“I didn’t teach you anything.” 

“You did,” Neagley said. “Remember? Think like them, be them. So I was being you being me. You’d figure I’d head  for  Hollywood.  You’d  start  right  here  on  Sunset. 

But there’s no meal on United from Portland, so I figured you’d  be  hungry  and  want  to  eat  first.  There  are  a couple of possible places on the block but this one has the biggest sign and you’re no gourmet. So I decided to meet you here.” 

“Meet me here? I thought I was tracking you.” 

“You were. And I was tracking you tracking me.” 

“ Are you staying here? In Hollywood?” 

She shook her head. “Beverly Hills. The Wilshire.” 

“So you came out here just to scoop me up?” 

“I got here ten minutes ago.” 

“The Beverly Wilshire? You’ve changed.” 

“Not  really.  It’s  the  world  that  has  changed.  Cheap motels don’t do it for me anymore. I need e-mail and the internet and FedEx service now. 

Business centers and concierges.” 

“You make me feel old-fashioned.” 

“You’re improving. You use ATMs now.” 

“That was a good move. The bank balance message.” 

“You taught me well.” 

“I didn’t teach you anything.” 

“Like hell.” 

“But it was an extravagant move,” Reacher said. “Ten dollars and thirty cents would have worked just as well. 

Maybe even better, with the period between the ten and the thirty.” 

Neagley said, “I thought you might need the airfare.” 

Reacher said nothing. 

“I  found  your  account,  obviously,”  Neagley  said. 

“Wasn’t  too  much  more  trouble  to  hack  in  and  take  a look. You’re not rich.” 

“I don’t want to be rich.” 

“I know. But I didn’t want you to have to respond to my ten-thirty  on  your  own  dime.  That  wouldn’t  have  been fair.” 

Reacher shrugged and let it go. Truth was, he wasn’t rich.  Truth  was,  he  was  almost  poor.  His  savings  had eroded to the point where he was starting to think about how  to  boost  them  back  up  again.  Maybe  a  couple  of months of casual labor were in his future. Or some other kind  of  a  score.  The  waitress  came  over  with  menus. 

Neagley ordered without looking, a cheeseburger and a soda. Reacher matched her for speed, tuna melt and hot coffee.  The  waitress  retrieved  the  menus  and  went away. 

Reacher said, “So are you going to tell me what your ten-thirty was for exactly?” 

Neagley answered him by leaning down and pulling a black  three-ring  binder  out  of  a  tote  bag  on  the  floor. 

She  passed  it  across  the  table.  It  was  a  copy  of  an autopsy report. 

“Calvin  Franz  is  dead,”  she  said.  “I  think  someone threw him out of an airplane.” 


The  past,  which  meant  the  army.  Calvin  Franz  had been  an  MP  and  Reacher’s  exact  contemporary  and pretty  much  his  equal  all  the  way  through  his  thirteen years  of  service.  They  had  met  here  and  there  in  the way  that  brother  officers  often  tended  to,  rubbing shoulders in different parts of the world for a day or two at a time, consulting on the phone, crossing paths when two or more investigations had tangled or collided. 

Then  they  had  done  a  serious  spell  together  in Panama.  Quality  time.  It  had  been  very  short  but  very intense, and they had seen things in each other that left them  feeling  more  like  real  brothers  than  brother officers. 

After  Reacher  had  been  rehabilitated  from  his temporary  demotion  disgrace  and  given  the  special investigations  operation  to  build,  Franz’s  name  had been near the top of his personnel wish list. They had spent the next two years together in a real unit-within-a-unit hothouse. They had become fast friends. Then as often  happened  in  the  army,  new  orders  had  come  in and  the  special  operation  had  been  disbanded  and Reacher had never seen Franz again. 

Until that moment, in an autopsy photograph punched into a three-ring binder laid flat on a sticky laminate table in a cheap diner. 

In life Franz had been smaller than Reacher but bigger than  most  other  people.  Maybe  six-three  and  two-ten. 

Powerful upper body, low waist, short legs. Primitive, in a  way.  Like  a  caveman.  But  overall  he  had  been reasonably  handsome.  He  had  been  calm,  resolute, capable, relaxing to be around. His manner had tended to reassure people. 

He  looked  awful  in  the  autopsy  photograph.  He  was laid  out  flat  and  naked  on  a  stainless  tray  and  the camera’s flash had bleached his skin pale green. 


But then, dead people often looked pretty bad. 

Reacher asked, “How did you get this?” 

Neagley said, “I can usually get things.” 

Reacher  said  nothing  in  reply  to  that  and  turned  the page.  Started  in  on  the  dense  mass  of  technical information. The corpse had been measured at six feet three  inches  in  length  and  weighed  a  hundred  and ninety pounds. 

Cause of death was given as multiple organ failure due to massive impact trauma. Both legs were broken. Ribs were  cracked.  The  bloodstream  was  flooded  with  free histamines. The body was severely dehydrated and the stomach held nothing but mucus. There was evidence of  rapid  recent  weight  loss  and  no  evidence  of  recent food  consumption.  Trace  evidence  from  the  recovered clothing  was  unexceptional,  apart  from  unexplained ferrous  oxide  powder  ground  into  both  pant  legs,  low down,  on  the  shins,  below  the  knee  and  above  the ankle. 

Reacher asked, “Where was he found?” 

Neagley said, “In the desert about fifty miles north and east  of  here.  Hard  sand,  small  rocks,  a  hundred  yards off  the  shoulder  of  a  road.  No  footprints  coming  or going.” 

The waitress brought the food. Reacher paused as she unloaded  her  tray  and  then  started  his  sandwich,  left-handed,  to  keep  his  right  grease-free  for  turning  the autopsy pages. 

Neagley  said,  “Two  deputies  in  a  car  saw  buzzards circling. Went to check. Hiked out there. They said it was like he had fallen out of the sky. 

The pathologist agrees.” 

Reacher  nodded.  He  was  reading  the  doctor’s conclusion, which was that a free fall from maybe three thousand feet onto hard sand could have produced the right amount of impact and caused the internal injuries observed,  if  Franz  had  happened  to  land  flat  on  his back,  which  was  aerodynamically  possible  if  he  had been  alive  and  flailing  his  arms  during  the  fall. A  dead weight would have fallen on its head. 

Neagley  said,  “They  made  the  ID  through  his fingerprints.” 

Reacher asked, “How did you find out?” 

“His wife called me. Three days ago. Seems he kept all our  names  in  his  book.  A  special  page.  His  buddies, from back in the day. I was the only one she could find.” 

“I didn’t know he was married.” 

“It was recent. They have a kid, four years old.” 

“Was he working?” 

Neagley  nodded.  “He  set  up  as  a  private  eye. A  one-man  band.  Originally,  some  strategic  advice  for corporations.  But  now  mostly  background  checks. 

Database stuff. You know how thorough he was.” 


“Here in LA.” 

“Did all of you set up as private eyes?” 

“Most of us, I think.” 

“Except me.” 

“It was the only marketable skill we had.” 

“What did Franz’s wife want you to do?” 

“Nothing. She was just telling me.” 

“She doesn’t want answers?” 

“The cops are on it. LA County sheriff, actually. Where he was found is technically part of LA County. Outside of  the  LAPD’s  jurisdiction,  so  it’s  down  to  a  couple  of local deputies. They’re working on the airplane thing. 

They  figure  it  was  maybe  flying  west  out  of  Vegas. 

That kind of thing has happened to them before.” 

Reacher said, “It wasn’t an airplane.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

Reacher said, “An airplane has a stall speed of, what? 

A hundred miles an hour? Eighty? He’d have come out the door horizontal into the slipstream. 

He’d have smashed against the wing or the tail. We’d see perimortem injuries.” 

“He had two broken legs.” 

“How long does it take to freefall three thousand feet?” 

“Twenty seconds?” 

“His  blood  was  full  of  free  histamines.  That’s  a massive pain reaction. 

Twenty  seconds  between  injury  and  death  wouldn’t have even gotten it started.” 


“The broken legs were old. Two, three days minimum. 

Maybe more. You know what ferrous oxide is?” 

“Rust,” Neagley said. “On iron.” 

Reacher  nodded.  “Someone  broke  his  legs  with  an iron bar. Probably one at a time. Probably tied him to a post.  Aimed  for  his  shins.  Hard  enough  to  break  the bone  and  grind  rust  particles  into  the  weave  of  his pants. 

Must have hurt like hell.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

“And they starved him,” Reacher said. “Didn’t let him drink.  He  was  twenty  pounds  underweight.  He  was  a prisoner,  two  or  three  days.  Maybe  more.  They  were torturing him.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

Reacher  said,  “It  was  a  helicopter.  Probably  at  night. 

Stationary hover, three thousand feet up. Out the door and  straight  down.”  Then  he  closed  his  eyes  and pictured his old friend, tumbling, twenty seconds in the dark,  cartwheeling,  flailing,  not  knowing  where  the ground  was.  Not  knowing  exactly  when  he  would  hit. 

Two shattered legs trailing painfully behind him. 

“Therefore it probably wasn’t coming from Vegas,” he said. He opened his eyes. “The round-trip would be out of  range  for  most  helicopters.  It  was  probably  coming north and east out of LA. The deputies are barking up the wrong tree.” 

Neagley sat quiet. 

“Coyote  food,”  Reacher  said.  “The  perfect  disposal method. No tracks. 

The airflow during the fall strips away hairs and fibers. 

No  forensics  at  all.  Which  is  why  they  threw  him  out alive.  They  could  have  shot  him  first,  but  they  didn’t even want to risk ballistics evidence.” 

Reacher was quiet for a long moment. Then he closed the  black  binder  and  reversed  it  and  pushed  it  back across the table. 

“But you know all this anyway,” he said. “Don’t you? 

You can read. 

You’re testing me again. Seeing if my brain still works.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

Reacher said, “You’re playing me like a violin.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

Reacher asked, “Why did you bring me here?” 

“Like you said, the deputies are barking up the wrong tree.” 


“You have to do something.” 

“I  will  do  something.  Believe  it.  There  are  dead  men walking, as of right now. You don’t throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale.” 

Neagley said, “No, I want you to do something else.” 

“Like what?” 

“I want you to put the old unit back together.” 


The old unit. It had been a typical U.S. Army invention. 

About  three  years  after  the  need  for  it  had  become blindingly obvious to everyone else, the Pentagon had started  to  think  about  it.  After  another  year  of committees and meetings, the suits and the brass had signed  off  on  the  idea.  It  had  been  dumped  on someone’s  desk  and  a  mad  panic  had  started  to  get  it going.  Orders  had  been  drawn  up.  Obviously  no  sane CO  had  wanted  to  touch  it  with  a  stick,  so  a  new  unit had been carved out of the 110th MP. 

Success was desirable but failure had to be deniable, so  they  went  looking  for  a  competent  pariah  to command it. 

Reacher had been the obvious choice. 

They thought his reward was promotion back to major again, but the real satisfaction for him was the chance to do something properly for once. 

His way. They had given him a free hand in personnel selection.  He  had  enjoyed  that.  He  had  figured  that  a special  investigations  unit  needed  the  best  the  army had to offer, and he had figured he knew who and where they  were.  He  had  wanted  a  small  unit,  for  speed  and flexibility,  and  no  clerical  support,  to  prevent  leaks.  He had figured they could do their own paperwork, or not, as they deemed necessary. In the end he had settled on eight names in addition to his own: Tony Swan, Jorge Sanchez,  Calvin  Franz,  Frances  Neagley,  Stanley Lowrey,  Manuel  Orozco,  David  O’Donnell,  and  Karla Dixon.  Dixon  and  Neagley  were  the  only  women  and Neagley was the only NCO. The others were all officers. 

O’Donnell and Lowrey were captains and the rest were all  majors,  which  was  totally  screwed  up  in  terms  of  a coherent  chain  of  command,  but  Reacher  didn’t  care. 

He  knew  that  nine  people  working  closely  would operate laterally rather than vertically, which in the event was  exactly  what  happened.  The  unit  had  organized itself  like  a  small-market  baseball  team  enjoying  an unlikely  pennant  run:  talented  journeymen  working together,  no  stars,  no  egos,  mutually  supportive,  and above all ruthlessly and relentlessly effective. 

Reacher said, “That was all a long time ago.” 

“We have to do something,” Neagley said. “All of us. 

Collectively.  You  do  not  mess  with  the  special investigators. Remember that?” 

“That was just a slogan.” 

“No, it was true. We depended on it.” 

“For  morale,  that  was  all.  It  was  just  bravado.  It  was whistling in the dark.” 

“It was more than that. We had one another’s backs.” 


“And  now  and  always.  It’s  a  karma  thing.  Someone killed Franz, and we can’t just let it go. How would you feel if it was you, and the rest of us didn’t react?” 

“If it was me, I wouldn’t feel anything. I’d be dead.” 

“You know what I mean.” 

Reacher  closed  his  eyes  again  and  the  picture  came back: Calvin Franz tumbling and cartwheeling through the darkness. Maybe screaming. Or maybe not. His old friend.  “I  can  handle  it.  Or  you  and  I  together.  But  we can’t go back to how it was. That never works.” 

“We have to go back.” 

Reacher opened his eyes. “Why?” 

“Because  the  others  are  entitled  to  participate.  They earned that right over two hard years. We can’t just take it away from them unilaterally. They would resent that. It would be wrong.” 


“We  need  them,  Reacher.  Because  Franz  was  good. 

Very  good.  As  good  as  me,  as  good  as  you.  And  yet someone  broke  his  legs  and  threw  him  out  of  a helicopter.  I  think  we’re  going  to  need  all  the  help  we can get with this. So we need to find the others.” 

Reacher looked at her. Heard her office guy’s voice in his head: There’s a list of names. You’re the first to get back to her. He said, “The others should have been a lot easier to find than me.” 

Neagley nodded. 

“I can’t raise any of them,” she said. 


A  list  of  names.  Nine  names.  Nine  people.  Reacher knew  where  three  of  them  were,  specifically  or generically.  Himself  and  Neagley,  specifically,  in  a Denny’s  on  West  Sunset  in  Hollywood.  And  Franz, generically, in a morgue somewhere else. 

“What do you know about the other six?” he asked. 

“Five,” Neagley said. “Stan Lowrey is dead.” 


“Years ago. Car wreck in Montana. The other guy was drunk.” 

“I didn’t know that.” 

“Shit happens.” 

“That’s for damn sure,” Reacher said. “I liked Stan.” 

“Me too,” Neagley said. 

“So where are the others?” 

“Tony  Swan  is  Assistant  Director  of  Corporate Security  for  a  defense  manufacturer  here  in  southern California somewhere.” 

“Which one?” 

“I’m  not  sure.  A  start-up.  Something  new.  He’s  only been there about a year.” 

Reacher  nodded.  He  had  liked  Tony  Swan,  too.  A short, wide man. 

Almost  cubic  in  shape.  Affable,  good-humored, intelligent. 

Neagley said, “Orozco and Sanchez are out in Vegas. 

They  run  a  security  business  together,  casinos  and hotels, on contract.” 

Reacher  nodded  again.  He  had  heard  that  Jorge Sanchez had left the army around the same time he had, a  little  frustrated  and  embittered.  He  had  heard  that Manuel Orozco had been planning to stay in, but overall it wasn’t a huge surprise to find that he had changed his mind.  Both  men  were  mavericks,  lean,  fast,  leathery, impatient with bullshit. 

Neagley  said,  “Dave  O’Donnell  is  in  D.C.  Plain-vanilla private detective. 

Plenty of work for him there.” 

“I guess there would be,” Reacher said. O’Donnell had been the meticulous one. He had done the whole unit’s paperwork,  pretty  much  single-handed.  He  had  looked like an Ivy League gentleman, but he had always carried a switchblade in one pocket and brass knuckles in the other. A useful guy to have around. 

Neagley  said,  “Karla  Dixon  is  in  New  York.  Forensic accounting. She understands money, apparently.” 

“She  always  understood  numbers,”  Reacher  said.  “I remember that.” 

Reacher  and  Dixon  had  spent  the  occasional  hour trying 







mathematical theorems. A hopeless task, given that they were both rank amateurs, but it had passed some time. 

Dixon  was  dark  and  very  pretty  and  comparatively small, a happy woman who thought the worst of people, but inevitably she had been proved right nine times out of ten. 

Reacher  asked,  “How  do  you  know  so  much  about them?” 

“I keep track,” Neagley said. “I’m interested.” 

“Why can’t you raise them?” 

“I don’t know. I put calls out, but nobody’s answering.” 

“So is this an attack on all of us collectively?” 

“Can’t  be,”  Neagley  said.  “I’m  at  least  as  visible  as Dixon or O’Donnell and nobody has come after me.” 



“You  called  the  others  the  same  day  you  put  the money in my bank?” 

Neagley nodded. 

“It’s  only  been  three  days,”  Reacher  said.  “Maybe they’re all busy.” 

“So what do you want to do? Wait for them?” 

“I want to forget all about them. You and I can stand up for Franz. Just the two of us.” 

“It would be better to have the old unit back together. 

We  were  a  good  team.  You  were  the  best  leader  the army ever had.” 

Reacher said nothing. 

“What?” Neagley said. “What are you thinking?” 

“I’m thinking that if I wanted to rewrite history I’d start a lot further back than that.” 

Neagley folded her hands together and rested them on the black binder. 

Slim  fingers,  brown  skin,  painted  nails,  tendons  and sinew. 

“One question,” she said. “Suppose I had gotten ahold of the others. 

Suppose I hadn’t bothered to try that thing with your bank.  Suppose  you  found  out  years  from  now  that Franz  had  been  murdered  and  the  six  of  us  had  just gone  ahead  and  fixed  it  without  you.  How  would  you feel then?” 

Reacher shrugged. Paused a beat. 

“Bad, I guess,” he said. “Cheated, maybe. Left out.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

Reacher said, “OK, we’ll try to find the others. But we won’t wait forever.” 

Neagley had a rental car in the lot. She paid the diner check  and  led  Reacher  outside.  The  car  was  a  red Mustang  convertible.  They  climbed  in  together  and Neagley  hit  a  button  and  dropped  the  top.  She  took  a pair  of  sunglasses  from  the  dash  and  put  them  on. 

Backed  out  of  her  slot  and  turned  south  off  Sunset  at the next light. Headed for Beverly Hills. 

Reacher  sat  quietly  beside  her  and  squinted  in  the afternoon sun. 


Inside  a  tan  Ford  Crown  Victoria  thirty  yards  west  of the  restaurant  a  man  called  Thomas  Brant  watched them go. He used his cell phone and called his boss, a man  named  Curtis  Mauney.  Mauney  didn’t  answer,  so Brant left a voice mail. 

He said, “She just picked up the first one of them.” 

Parked five cars behind Brant’s Crown Victoria was a dark  blue  Chrysler  sedan  containing  a  man  in  a  dark blue  suit.  He  too  watched  the  red  Mustang  disappear into the haze, and he too used a cell phone. 

He  said,  “She  just  picked  up  the  first  one  of  them.  I don’t know which one it is. Big guy, looks like a bum.” 

Then he listened to his boss’s reply, and pictured him smoothing  his  necktie  over  the  front  of  his  shirt,  one-handed, while he held the phone with the other. 


Like  its  name  suggested,  the  Beverly  Wilshire  Hotel was on Wilshire Boulevard, in the heart of Beverly Hills, directly opposite the mouth of Rodeo Drive. It was made up  of  two  large  limestone  buildings,  one  behind  the other, one old and ornate, the other new and plain. They were  separated  by  a  valet  lane  that  ran  parallel  to  the boulevard.  Neagley  nosed  the  Mustang  into  it  and stopped  close  to  a  knot  of  black  Town  Cars  and Reacher said, “I can’t afford to stay here.” 

“I already booked your room.” 

“Booked it or paid for it?” 

“It’s on my card.” 

“I won’t be able to pay you back.” 

“Get over it.” 

“This place has got to be hundreds a night.” 

“I’ll let it slide for now. Maybe we’ll take some spoils of war down the track.” 

“If the bad guys are rich.” 

“They are,” Neagley said. “They have to be. How else would they afford their own helicopter?” 

She left the key in and the motor running and opened the heavy red door and slid out. Reacher did the same thing on his side. A guy ran up and gave Neagley a valet stub. She took it and tracked around the hood of the car and  took  the  steps  up  to  the  back  of  the  hotel’s  main lobby.  Reacher  followed.  Watched  her  move.  She floated, like she was weightless. She ghosted through a crowded  dogleg  corridor  and  came  out  in  a  reception area the size and shape of a baronial hall. There was a check-in  desk,  a  bell  desk,  a  concierge  desk,  all separate.  There  were  pale  velvet  armchairs  with beautifully dressed guests in them. 

Reacher said, “I look like a bum in here.” 

“Or like a billionaire. Nowadays you can’t tell.” 

She  led  him  to  the  counter  and  checked  him  in.  She had  reserved  his  room  under  the  name  Thomas Shannon,  who  had  been  Stevie  Ray  Vaughan’s  giant bass  player  back  in  the  day,  and  one  of  Reacher’s favorites.  He  smiled.  He  liked  to  avoid  paper  trails, whenever possible. He always had. 

Pure  reflex.  He  turned  to  Neagley  and  nodded  his thanks and asked, “What are you calling yourself here? 


“My  real  name,”  she  said.  “I  don’t  do  that  stuff anymore. Too complicated now.” 

The clerk handed over a key card and Reacher put it in his shirt pocket. 

He  turned  away  from  the  desk  and  faced  the  room. 

Stone,  dim  chandeliers,  thick  carpet,  flowers  in  huge glass vases. Perfumed air. 

“Let’s make a start,” he said. 

They started in Neagley’s room, which was actually a two-room suite. 

The living room portion was tall and square and stately and had been done up in blues and golds. It could have been a room in Buckingham Palace. There was a desk in the window with two laptop computers on it. 

Next  to  the  laptops  was  an  empty  cell  phone  cradle and  next  to  that  was  an  open  spiral-bound  notebook, new, letter-size, the kind of thing a high school student might buy in September. Last in line was a thin stack of printed  papers.  Forms.  Five  of  them.  Five  names,  five addresses,  five  telephone  numbers.  The  old  unit,  less two dead and two already present. 

Reacher said, “Tell me about Stan Lowrey.” 

“Not much to tell. He quit the army, moved to Montana, got hit by a truck.” 

“Life’s a bitch and then you die.” 

“Tell me about it.” 

“What was he doing in Montana?” 

“Raising sheep. Churning butter.” 


“There was a girlfriend.” 

“She still there?” 

“Probably. They had a lot of acres.” 

“Why sheep? Why butter?” 

“No call for private eyes in Montana. And Montana was where the girlfriend was.” 

Reacher nodded. At first glance Stan Lowrey had not been  an  obvious  candidate  for  a  rural  fantasy.  He  had been a big-boned black guy from some scruffy factory town  in  Western  Pennsylvania,  smart  as  a  whip  and hard  as  a  railroad  tie.  Dark  alleys  and  pool  halls  had seemed to be his natural habitat. But somewhere in his DNA there had been a clear link with the earth. Reacher wasn’t  surprised  he  had  become  a  farmer.  He  could picture  him,  in  a  raggedy  old  barn  coat,  knee-high  in prairie grass, under a huge blue sky, cold but happy. 

“Why can’t we raise the others?” he asked. 

“I don’t know,” Neagley said. 

“What was Franz working on?” 

“Nobody seems to have that information.” 

“Didn’t the new wife say anything?” 

“She isn’t new. They were married five years.” 

“She’s new to me,” Reacher said. 

“I  couldn’t  interrogate  her,  exactly.  She  was  on  the phone,  telling  me  her  husband  was  dead. And  maybe she doesn’t know anyway.” 

“We’re going to have to go ask her. She’s the obvious starting point here.” 

“After we try the others again,” Neagley said. 

Reacher picked up the five sheets of printed paper and gave  three  to  Neagley  and  kept  two  for  himself.  She used  her  cell  phone  and  he  used  a  room  phone  on  a credenza.  They  started  dialing.  His  numbers  were  for Dixon  and  O’Donnell.  Karla  and  Dave,  the  East  Coast residents,  New  York  and  D.C.  Neither  one  of  them answered.  He  got  their  business  office  machines instead,  and  heard  their  long-forgotten  voices.  He  left the  same  message  for  both  of  them:  “This  is  Jack Reacher  with  a  ten-thirty  from  Frances  Neagley  at  the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Get off your  ass  and  call  her  back.”  Then  he  hung  up  and turned  to  where  Neagley  was  pacing  and  leaving  the same kind of message for Tony Swan. 

“Don’t you have home numbers for them?” he asked. 

“They’re  all  unlisted.  Which  is  only  to  be  expected. 

Mine is, too. My guy in Chicago is working on it. But it’s not easy these days. Phone company computers have gotten a lot more secure.” 

“They must be carrying cell phones,” he said. “Doesn’t everyone now?” 

“I don’t have those numbers either.” 

“But wherever they are they can call in and check their office voice mail remotely, can’t they?” 


“So why haven’t they? In three whole days?” 

“I don’t know,” Neagley said. 

“Swan  must  have  a  secretary.  He’s  an  assistant director of something. He must have a whole staff.” 

“All  they’re  saying  is  that  he’s  temporarily  out  of  the office.” 

“Let me try.” He took Swan’s number from her and hit nine for a line. 

Dialed.  Heard  the  connection  go  through,  heard Swan’s phone ringing on the other end. 

And ringing, and ringing. 

“No answer,” he said. 

“Someone answered a minute ago,” Neagley said. “It’s his direct line.” 

No answer. He held the phone at his ear and listened to the patient electronic purr. Ten times, fifteen, twenty. 

Thirty.  He  hung  up.  Checked  the  number  and  tried again. Same result. 

“Weird,” he said. “Where the hell is he?” 

He  checked  the  paper  again.  Name  and  number.  The address line was blank. 

“Where is this place?” he asked. 

“I’m not sure.” 

“Does it have a name?” 

“New Age Defense Systems. That’s how they’ve been answering.” 

“What  kind  of  a  name  is  that  for  a  weapons manufacturer?  Like  they  kill  you  with  kindness?  They play Pan pipe music until you save them the trouble and slit your wrists?” He dialed information. Information told him there was no listing for New Age Defense Systems anywhere in the United States. He hung up. 

“Can corporations be unlisted, too?” he asked. 

Neagley  said,  “I  guess  so.  In  the  defense  business, certainly. And they’re new.” 

“We  have  to  find  them.  They  must  have  a  physical plant somewhere. At least an office, so Uncle Sam can send them checks.” 

“OK,  we’ll  add  that  to  the  list.  After  the  visit  to  Mrs. 


“No, before,” Reacher said. “Offices close. Widows are always around.” 

So Neagley called her guy in Chicago and told him to track  down  a  physical  address  for  New  Age  Defense Systems.  From  the  half  of  the  conversation  Reacher could hear it seemed like the best way to proceed was to  hack  into  FedEx’s  computer.  Or  UPS’s,  or  DHL’s. 

Everyone  received  packages,  and  couriers  needed street addresses. They couldn’t use post  office  boxes. 

They  had  to  hand  stuff  across  the  transom  to  actual people and get signatures in return. 

“Get  cell  phone  numbers,  too,”  Reacher  called.  “For the others.” 

Neagley  covered  the  phone.  “He’s  been  on  that  for three days. It isn’t easy.” Then she hung up and walked to  the  window.  Looked  out  and  down  at  the  people parking cars. 

“So now we wait,” she said. 

They waited less than twenty minutes and then one of Neagley’s  laptops  pinged  to  announce  an  e-mail incoming from Chicago. 


The  e-mail  from  Neagley’s  guy  in  Chicago  contained New Age’s  address,  courtesy  of  UPS.  Or  actually,  two addresses. One in Colorado, one in East


“Makes  sense,”  she  said.  “Distributed  manufacture. 

Safer that way. In case of attack.” 

“Bullshit,”  Reacher  said.  “It’s  about  two  lots  of senators.  Two  lots  of  pork.  Republicans  up  there, Democrats  down  here,  they  get  their  snouts  in  the trough both ways around.” 

“Swan  wouldn’t  have  gone  there  if  that  was  all  they were into.” 

Reacher nodded. “Maybe not.” 

Neagley opened a map and they checked the East LA address.  It  was  out  past  Echo  Park,  past  Dodger Stadium,  somewhere  in  the  no  man’s  land  between South Pasadena and East LA proper. 

“That’s  a  long  way,”  Neagley  said.  “It  could  take forever. Rush hour has started.” 


“Rush  hour  in  LA  started  thirty  years  ago.  It’ll  finish when the oil runs out. Or the oxygen. But whatever, we won’t make it over there before they close. So it might be better to save New Age for tomorrow and go see Mrs. 

Franz today.” 

“Like you said in the first place. You’re playing me like a violin.” 

“She’s closer, is all. And important.” 

“Where is she?” 

“Santa Monica.” 

“Franz lived in Santa Monica?” 

“Not on the ocean. But still, I bet it’s nice.” 

It was nice. Way nicer than it could have been. It was a small  bungalow  on  a  small  street  trapped  halfway between the 10 and the Santa Monica airport, about two miles  inland.  On  the  face  of  it,  not  a  prime  real  estate location.  But  it  was  a  beautifully  presented  house. 

Neagley drove past it twice, looking for a place to park. It was a tiny symmetrical structure. 

Two  bay  windows  with  the  front  door  between  them. 

An  overhanging  roof  with  a  front  porch  below.  Twin rocking chairs on the porch. Some stone, some Tudor beams,  some  Arts  and  Crafts  influences,  some  Frank Lloyd Wright, Spanish tiles. A real confusion of styles in one  very  small  building,  but  it  worked.  It  had  a  lot  of charm.  And  it  was  totally  immaculate.  The  paint  was perfect. It gleamed. The windows were clean. 

They  shone.  The  yard  was  tidy.  Green  lawn,  clipped. 

Bright  flowers,  no  weeds.  Short  blacktop  driveway, smooth  as  glass  and  swept  clean.  Calvin  Franz  had been a thorough and meticulous man, and Reacher felt he  could  see  an  expression  of  his  old  friend’s  whole personality displayed right there in a little piece of real estate. 

Eventually  a  pretty  lady  two  streets  away  pulled  her Toyota  Camry  out  of  a  curbside  spot  and  Neagley swerved the Mustang right in after her. She locked it up and they walked back together. It was late afternoon but still faintly warm. Reacher could smell the ocean. 

He asked, “How many widows have we been to see?” 

“Too many,” Neagley said. 

“Where do you live?” 

“Lake Forest, Illinois.” 

“I’ve heard of that. It’s supposed to be a nice place.” 

“It is.” 


“I worked hard for it.” 

They turned together into Franz’s street, and then into his  driveway.  They  slowed  a  little  on  the  short  walk  to the door. Reacher wasn’t sure what they were going to find. In the past he had dealt with widows a lot fresher than  one  of  seventeen  days’  vintage.  Very  often  they hadn’t  even  known  they  were  widows  until  he  had shown up and told them they were. He wasn’t sure what difference the seventeen days were going to make. 

Didn’t know where in the process she was going to be. 

“What’s her name?” he asked. 

“Angela,” Neagley said. 


“The kid is called Charlie. A boy.” 


“Four years old.” 


They  stepped  up  on  the  porch  and  Neagley  found  a bell  push  and  laid  a  fingertip  on  it,  gently,  briefly, respectfully,  as  if  the  electric  circuit  could  sense deference.  Reacher  heard  the  sound  of  a  muted  bell inside the house, and then nothing. He waited. About a minute and a half later the door was opened. Apparently by nobody. Then Reacher looked down and saw a little boy  stretching  up  to  the  handle.  The  handle  was  high and the boy was small and his stretch was so extreme that the arc of the door’s travel was pulling him off his tiptoes. 

“You must be Charlie,” Reacher said. 

“I am,” the boy said. 

“I was a friend of your dad’s.” 

“My dad’s dead.” 

“I know. I’m very sad about that.” 

“Me too.” 

“Is it OK to be opening the door all by yourself?” 

“Yes,” the boy said. “It’s OK.” 

He looked exactly like Calvin Franz. The resemblance was uncanny. The face was the same. The body shape was  the  same.  The  short  legs,  the  low  waist,  the  long arms.  The  shoulders  were  just  skin  and  bone  under  a child’s  T-shirt  but  somehow  they  already  hinted  at  the simian  bulk  they  would  carry  later.  The  eyes  were Franz’s own, exactly, dark, cool, calm, reassuring. Like the boy was saying, Don’t worry, everything will turn out fine. 

Neagley asked him, “Charlie, is your mom home?” 

The boy nodded. 

“She’s  in  back,”  he  said.  He  let  the  handle  go  and stepped away to let them enter. Neagley went first. The house was too small for any one part of it to be really in back  of  any  other  part.  It  was  like  one  generous  room divided into four quadrants. Two small bedrooms on the right  with  a  bathroom  between,  Reacher  guessed.  A small  living  room  in  the  left  front  corner  and  a  small kitchenette behind it. That was all. Tiny, but beautiful. 

Everything was off-white and pale yellow. There were flowers in vases. 

The  windows  were  shaded  with  white  wooden shutters.  Floors  were  dark  polished  wood.  Reacher turned  and  closed  the  door  behind  him  and  the  street noise disappeared and silence clamped down over the house. A  good  feeling,  once  upon  a  time,  he  thought. 

Now maybe not so good. 

A woman stepped out of the kitchen area, from behind a half-wide dividing wall so abbreviated that it couldn’t have  offered  accidental  concealment.  Reacher  felt  she must  have  gone  and  hidden  behind  it,  deliberately, when the doorbell rang. She looked a lot younger than him. 

A little younger than Neagley. 

Younger than Franz had been. 

She was a tall woman, white blonde, blue-eyed like a Scandinavian, and thin. She was wearing a light V-neck sweater and the bones showed in the front of her chest. 

She was clean and made up and perfumed and her hair was  brushed.  Perfectly  composed,  but  not  relaxed. 

Reacher could see wild bewilderment around her eyes, like a fright mask worn under the skin. 

There  was  awkward  silence  for  a  moment  and  then Neagley  stepped  forward  and  said,  “Angela?  I’m Frances Neagley. We spoke on the phone.” 

Angela Franz smiled in an automatic way and offered her hand. Neagley took it and shook it briefly and then Reacher  stepped  forward  and  took  his  turn.  He  said, 

“I’m Jack Reacher. I’m very sorry for your loss.” He took her hand, which felt cold and fragile in his. 

“You’ve used those words more than a few times,” she said. “Haven’t you?” 

“I’m afraid so,” Reacher said. 

“You’re  on  Calvin’s  list,”  she  said.  “You  were  an  MP

just like him.” 

Reacher shook his head. “Not just like him. Not nearly as good.” 

“You’re very kind.” 

“It’s how it was. I admired him tremendously.” 

“He told me about you. All of you, I mean. Many times. 

Sometimes  I  felt  like  a  second  wife.  Like  he  had  been married before. To all of you.” 

“It’s how it was,” Reacher said again. “The service was like a family. If you were lucky, that is, and we were.” 

“Calvin said the same thing.” 

“I think he got even luckier afterward.” 

Angela  smiled  again,  automatically.  “Maybe.  But  his luck ran out, didn’t it?” 

Charlie  was  watching  them,  Franz’s  eyes  half-open, appraising.  Angela  said,  “Thank  you  very  much  for coming.” 

“Is there anything we can do for you?” Reacher asked. 

“Can you raise the dead?” 

Reacher said nothing. 

“The  way  he  used  to  talk  about  you,  I  wouldn’t  be surprised if you could.” 

Neagley  said,  “We  could  find  out  who  did  it.  That’s what  we  were  good  at. And  that’s  as  close  as  we  can come to bringing him back. In a manner of speaking.” 

“But it won’t actually bring him back.” 

“No, it won’t. I’m very sorry.” 

“Why are you here?” 

“To give you our condolences.” 

“But you don’t know me. I came later. I wasn’t a part of all that.” Angela moved away, toward the kitchen. Then she changed her mind and turned back and squeezed sideways between Reacher and Neagley and sat down in  the  living  room.  Laid  her  palms  on  the  arms  of  her chair.  Reacher  saw  her  fingers  moving.  Just  a  slight imperceptible  flutter,  like  she  was  typing  or  playing  an invisible piano in her sleep. 

“I  wasn’t  part  of  the  group,”  she  said.  “Sometimes  I wished I had been. It meant so much to Calvin. He used to say, You do not mess with the special investigators. 

He used it like a catchphrase, all the time. He would be watching  football,  and  the  quarterback  would  get sacked, something real spectacular, and he would say, Yeah  baby,  you  do  not  mess  with  the  special investigators. He would say it to Charlie. He would tell Charlie to do something, and Charlie would moan, and Calvin  would  say,  Charlie,  you  do  not  mess  with  the special investigators.” 

Charlie looked up and smiled. “You do not mess,” he said,  in  a  little  piping  voice,  but  with  his  father’s intonation, and then he stopped, as if the longer words were too hard for him to say. 

Angela said, “You’re here because of a slogan, aren’t you?” 

“Not  really,”  Reacher  said.  “We’re  here  because  of what  lay  behind  the  slogan.  We  cared  about  one another. That’s all. I’m here because Calvin would have been there for me if the shoe was on the other foot.” 

“Would he have been?” 

“I think so.” 

“He  gave  up  all  of  that.  When  Charlie  was  born.  No pressure from me. 

But  he  wanted  to  be  a  father.  He  gave  it  all  up  apart from the easy, safe stuff.” 

“He can’t have done.” 

“No, I guess not.” 

“What was he working on?” 

“I’m sorry,” Angela said. “I should have asked you to sit down.” 

There was no sofa in the room. No space for one. Any kind of a normalsized sofa would have blocked access to  the  bedrooms.  There  were  two  armchairs  instead, plus  a  half-sized  wooden  rocker  for  Charlie.  The armchairs were either side of a small fireplace that held pale  dried  flowers  in  a  raw  china  jug.  Charlie’s  rocker was  to  the  left  of  the  chimney.  His  name  had  been branded into the wood at the top of the back, with a hot poker or a soldering iron, seven letters, neat script. Tidy, but not a professional job. Franz’s own work, probably. 

A gift, father to son. 

Reacher  looked  at  it  for  a  moment.  Then  he  took  the armchair opposite Angela’s and Neagley perched on the arm  next  to  him,  her  thigh  less  than  an  inch  from  his body, but not touching it. 

Charlie  stepped  over  Reacher’s  feet  and  sat  down  in his wooden chair. 

“What was Calvin working on?” Reacher asked again. 

Angela  Franz  said,  “Charlie,  you  should  go  out  and play.” 

Charlie said, “Mom, I want to stay here.” 

Reacher asked, “Angela, what was Calvin working on? 


“Since  Charlie  came  along  he  only  did  background checks,” Angela said. 

“It was a good business to be in. Especially here in LA. 

Everyone’s  worried  about  hiring  a  thief  or  a  junkie.  Or dating one, or marrying one. 

Someone would meet someone on the internet or in a bar  and  the  first  thing  they  would  do  is  Google  the person and the second thing is they would call a private detective.” 

“Where did he work?” 

“He  had  an  office  in  Culver  City.  You  know,  just  a rental, one room. 

Where  Venice  meets  La  Cienega.  It  was  an  easy  hop on  the  10.  He  liked  it  there.  I  guess  I’ll  have  to  go  and bring his things home.” 

Neagley  asked,  “Would  you  give  us  permission  to search it first?” 

“The deputies already searched it.” 

“We should search it again.” 


“Because  he  must  have  been  working  on  something bigger than background checks.” 

“Junkies  kill  people,  don’t  they?  And  thieves, sometimes.” 

Reacher  glanced  at  Charlie,  and  saw  Franz  looking back at him. “But not in the way that it seems to have happened.” 

“OK. Search it again if you want.” 

Neagley asked, “Do you have a key?” 

Angela  got  up  slowly  and  stepped  to  the  kitchen. 

Came back with two unmarked keys, one big, one small, on  a  steel  split  ring  an  inch  in  diameter.  She  cradled them  in  her  palm  for  a  moment  and  then  she  handed them to Neagley, a little reluctantly. 

“I  would  like  them  back,”  she  said.  “This  is  his  own personal set.” 

Reacher asked, “Did he keep stuff here? Notes, files, anything like that?” 

“Here?”  Angela  said.  “How  could  he?  He  gave  up wearing  undershirts  when  we  moved  here,  to  save  on drawer space.” 

“When did you move here?” 

Angela  was  still  standing.  A  slight  woman,  but  she seemed to fill the tiny space. 

“Just after Charlie came along,” she said. “We wanted a real home. We were very happy here. Small, but it was all we needed.” 

“What happened the last time you saw him?” 

“He went out in the morning, same as always. But he never came back.” 

“When was that?” 

“Five  days  before  the  deputies  came  over  to  tell  me they had found his body.” 

“Did he ever talk to you about his work?” 

Angela said, “Charlie, do you need a drink?” 

Charlie said, “I’m OK, Mom.” 

Reacher asked, “Did Calvin ever talk to you about his work?” 

“Not very much,” Angela said. “Sometimes the studios would  want  an  actor  checked  out,  to  find  out  what bodies  were  buried.  He  would  give  me  the  showbiz gossip. That’s all, really.” 

Reacher  said,  “When  we  knew  him  he  was  a  pretty blunt guy. He would say what was on his mind.” 

“He stayed that way. You think he upset someone?” 

“No,  I  just  wondered  whether  he  ever  got  around  to toning it down. And if not, whether you liked it or not.” 

“I  loved  it.  I  loved  everything  about  him.  I  respect honesty and openness.” 

“So would you mind if I was blunt?” 

“Go right ahead.” 

“I think there’s something you’re not telling us.” 


Angela Franz sat down again and asked, “What do you think I’m not telling you?” 

“Something useful,” Reacher said. 

“Useful? What could possibly be useful to me now?” 

“Not just to you. To us, too. Calvin was yours, because you married him, OK. But he was ours too, because we worked  with  him.  We  have  a  right  to  find  out  what happened to him, even if you don’t want to.” 

“Why do you think I’m hiding something?” 

“Because  every  time  I  get  close  to  asking  you  a question,  you  duck  it.  I  asked  you  what  Calvin  was working  on,  and  you  made  a  big  fuss  about  sitting  us down.  I  asked  you  again,  and  you  talked  to  Charlie about going out to play. Not to spare him hearing your answer,  because  you  used  the  time  you  gained  to decide you don’t have an answer.” 

Angela  looked  across  the  tiny  room,  straight  at  him. 

“Are you going to break my arm now? Calvin told me he saw  you  break  someone’s  arm  in  an  interview.  Or  was that Dave O’Donnell?” 

“Me, probably,” Reacher said. “O’Donnell was more of a leg breaker.” 

“I promise you,” Angela said. “I’m not hiding anything. 

Nothing at all. I don’t know what Calvin was working on and he didn’t tell me.” 

Reacher looked back at her, deep into her bewildered blue eyes, and he believed her, just a little bit. She was hiding something, but it wasn’t necessarily about Calvin Franz. 

“OK,” he said. “I apologize.” 

He and Neagley left shortly after that, with directions to Franz’s 







condolences  and  another  shake  of  the  cold,  fragile hand. 

The  man  called  Thomas  Brant  watched  them  go.  He was  twenty  yards  from  his  Crown  Victoria,  which  was parked  forty  yards  west  of  Franz’s  house.  He  was walking up from a corner bodega with a cup of coffee. 

He slowed his gait and watched Reacher and Neagley from  behind  until  they  turned  the  corner  a  hundred yards  ahead.  Then  he  sipped  his  coffee  and  speed-dialed his boss, Curtis Mauney, one-handed, and left a voice mail describing what he had seen. 

At  that  same  moment,  the  man  in  the  dark  blue  suit was walking back to his dark blue Chrysler sedan. The sedan  was  parked  in  the  Beverly  Wilshire’s  valet  lane. 

The man in the suit was poorer by the fifty bucks that the  desk  clerk  had  accepted  as  a  bribe,  and  therefore correspondingly richer in new information, but  he  was puzzled by the new information’s implications. He called his  boss  on  his  cell  and  said,  “According  to  the  hotel the big guy’s name is Thomas Shannon, but there was no Thomas Shannon on our list.” 

His boss said, “I think we can be sure that our list was definitive.” 

“I guess we can.” 

“Therefore it’s safe to assume that Thomas Shannon is a phony name. 

Obviously old habits die hard with these guys. So let’s stay on it.” 

Reacher waited until they were around the corner and out of Franz’s street and said, “Did you see a tan Crown Vic back there?” 

“Parked,”  Neagley  said.  “Forty  yards  west  of  the house, on the opposite curb. A base model ’02.” 

“I think I saw the same car outside of the Denny’s we were in.” 

“You sure?” 

“Not certain.” 

“Old Crown Vics are common cars. Taxis, gypsy cabs, rent-a-wrecks.” 

“I guess.” 

“It was empty anyway,” Neagley said. “We don’t need to worry about empty cars.” 

“It wasn’t empty outside of Denny’s. There was a guy in it.” 

“If it was the same car.” 

Reacher stopped walking. 

Neagley asked, “You want to go back?” 

Reacher  paused  a  beat  and  shook  his  head  and started walking again. 

“No,” he said. “It was probably nothing.” 

The  10  was  jammed  eastbound.  Neither  one  of  them knew  enough  about  LA  geography  to  risk  taking surface streets, so they covered the five freeway miles to  Culver  City  slower  than  walking.  They  got  to  where Venice  Boulevard  crossed  La  Cienega  Boulevard,  and from there Angela Franz’s directions were good enough to take them straight to her late husband’s office. It was a bland storefront place in a long low tan strip that was anchored  by  a  small  post  office.  Not  a  flagship  USPS


Just  a  single-wide  store.  Reacher  didn’t  know  the terminology. A  suboffice? A  satellite? A  postal  delivery station? Next to it was a discount pharmacy, and then a nail salon and a dry cleaner’s. Then Franz’s place. 

Franz’s  place  had  the  door  glass  and  the  window painted over from the inside with tan paint that reached head-high and left just a narrow strip above for light to come through. The top of the paint was banded with a gold coach line edged in black. The legend Calvin Franz Discreet  Investigations  and  a  telephone  number  had been  written  on  the  door  in  the  same  gold  and  black style, plain letters, three lines, chest-high, simple and to the point. 

“Sad,”  Reacher  said.  “Isn’t  it?  From  the  big  green machine to this?” 

“He  was  a  father,”  Neagley  said.  “He  was  taking  the easy  money.  It  was  his  free  choice.  This  was  all  he wanted now.” 

“But I’m guessing your place in Chicago doesn’t look like this.” 

“No,” Neagley said. “It doesn’t.” 

She  took  out  the  keyring Angela  had  parted  with  so reluctantly. She selected the bigger key and tripped the lock and pulled the door. But she didn’t go in. 

Because  the  whole  place  was  trashed  from  top  to bottom. 

It  had  been  a  plain  square  space,  small  for  a  store, large for an office. 

Whatever  computers  and  telephones  and  other hardware it had contained were all long gone. The desk and  the  file  cabinets  had  been  searched  and  then smashed  with  hammers  and  every  joint  and subassembly  had  been  torn  apart  in  a  quest  for concealed  hiding  places.  The  chair  had  been  ripped apart  and  the  stuffing  had  been  pulled  out.  The  wall boards  had  been  crowbarred  off  the  studs  and  the insulation  had  been  shredded.  The  ceiling  had  been torn down. The floor had been pulled up. The bathroom appliances  had  been  smashed  into  porcelain  shards. 

There  was  wreckage  and  paper  strewn  everywhere down  in  the  crawl  space,  knee-high  throughout  and worse in places. 

Trashed, from top to bottom. Like a bomb blast. 

Reacher  said,  “LA  County  deputies  wouldn’t  be  this thorough.” 

“Not  a  chance,”  Neagley  said.  “Not  even  close.  This was  the  bad  guys  tying  up  the  loose  ends.  Retrieving whatever Franz had on them. Before the deputies even got here. Probably days before.” 

“The  deputies  saw  this  and  didn’t  tell  Angela?  She didn’t know. She said she had to come over and bring his stuff home.” 

“They wouldn’t tell her. Why upset her more?” 

Reacher backed away on the sidewalk. Stepped to his left  and  looked  at  the  neat  gold  lettering  on  the  door: Calvin Franz Discreet Investigations. 

He  raised  his  hand  and  blocked  out  his  old  friend’s name and in his mind tried David O’Donnell in its place. 

Then a pair of names: Sanchez & Orozco. Then: Karla Dixon. 

“I  wish  those  guys  were  answering  their  damn phones,” he said. 

“This thing is not about us as a group,” Neagley said. 

“It  can’t  be.  It’s  more  than  seventeen  days  old  and nobody has come after me yet.” 

“Or me,” Reacher said. “But then, neither did Franz.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“If Franz was in trouble, who would he call? The rest of us, that’s who. 

But  not  you,  because  you’re  way  upscale  now  and probably too busy. And not me, because nobody apart from  you  could  ever  find  me.  But  suppose  Franz  got himself in deep shit and called the other guys? Because they  were  all  more  accessible  than  the  two  of  us? 

Suppose  they  all  came  running  out  here  to  help? 

Suppose they’re all in the same boat now?” 

“Including Swan?” 

“Swan  was  the  closest.  He  would  have  gotten  here first.” 


“Likely,”  Reacher  said.  “If  Franz  really  needed someone, who else would he trust?” 

“He  should  have  called  me,”  Neagley  said.  “I  would have come.” 

“Maybe  you  were  next  on  the  list.  Maybe  at  first  he thought six people were enough.” 

“But  what  kind  of  a  thing  can  disappear  six  people? 

Six of our people?” 

“I hate to think,” Reacher said, and then he went quiet. 

In  the  past  he  would  have  put  his  people  up  against anyone. Many times, he had. And they had always come through,  against  worse  opponents  than  you  normally find  among  the  civilian  population.  Worse,  because military  training  tended  to  enhance  a  criminal’s repertoire in several important areas. 

Neagley said, “No point standing here. We’re wasting time.  We’re  not  going  to  find  anything.  I  think  we  can assume they got what they came for.” 

Reacher said, “I think we can assume they didn’t.” 


“Rule of thumb,” Reacher said. “This place is trashed from  top  to  bottom  and  side  to  side.  Totally.  And normally,  when  you  find  what  you’re  looking  for,  you stop looking. But these guys never stopped looking. So if they found what they came for, by chance they found it  in  the  very  last  place  they  chose  to  look.  And  how likely  is  that?  Not  very.  So  I  think  they  never  stopped looking because they never found what they wanted.” 

“So where is it?” 

“I don’t know. What would it be?” 

“Paperwork, a floppy disc, a CD-ROM, something like that.” 

“Small,” Reacher said. 

“He didn’t take it home. I think he was separating home and work.” 

Think like them. Be them. Reacher turned around and put his back to Franz’s door as if he had just stepped out  to  the  sidewalk.  He  cupped  his  hand  and  looked down  at  his  empty  palm.  He  had  done  plenty  of paperwork in his life, but he had never used a computer disc or burned a CD-ROM. But he knew what one was. It was a five-inch round piece of polycarbonate. Often in a thin plastic case. A floppy disc was smaller. 

Square,  about  three  inches,  maybe?  Letter-size paperwork  would  tri-fold  down  to  eight  and  a  half inches by about four. 


But vital. 

Where  would  Calvin  Franz  hide  something  small  but vital? 

Neagley said, “Maybe it was in his car. He drove back and forth, apparently. So if it was a CD, he could have kept it in his auto-changer. 

Like  hiding  it  in  plain  sight.  You  know,  maybe  the fourth slot, after the John Coltrane stuff.” 

“Miles Davis,” Reacher said. “He preferred Miles Davis. 

He  only  listened  to  John  Coltrane  on  Miles  Davis albums.” 

“He  could  have  made  it  look  like  stuff  he  had downloaded.  You  know,  he  could  have  written  Miles Davis on it with a marker pen.” 

“They’d  have  found  it,”  Reacher  said.  “Guys  this thorough,  they’d  have  checked  everything. And  I  think Franz would have wanted more security than that. Plain sight means it’s right there in front of you all the time. 

You  can’t  relax.  And  I  think  Franz  wanted  to  relax.  I think he wanted to get home to Angela and Charlie and not have things on his mind.” 

“So where? A safe deposit box?” 

“I  don’t  see  a  bank  here,”  Reacher  said.  “And  I  don’t think he would have wanted to take much of a detour. 

Not  with  this  traffic.  Not  if  there  was  some  kind  of urgency.  And  a  bank’s  lobby  hours  don’t  necessarily suit a working stiff.” 

“There  are  two  keys  on  the  ring,”  Neagley  said. 

“Although it’s possible the smaller one was for the desk. 


Reacher turned again and looked through the gloom at the drifts of trash and wreckage. The desk lock was in there  somewhere,  presumably. A  small  steel  rectangle, torn out of the wood and dumped. He turned back and stepped to the curb. Looked left, looked right. Cupped his hand again and looked down at his empty palm. 

First: What would I hide? “It’s a computer file,” he said. 

“Got to be. Because they knew to look for it. Any kind of handwritten paperwork, Franz wouldn’t have told them anything about it. But probably they took his computers first and found some kind of traces that told them he’d been  copying  files.  That  happens,  right?  Computers leave traces of everything. But Franz wouldn’t tell them where the copies were. Maybe that’s why they broke his legs. But he kept quiet, which is why they had to come out here on this wild-assed search.” 

“So where is it?” 

Reacher looked down at his hand again. 

Where  would  I  hide  something  small  and  vital?  “Not under any old rock,” he said. “I would want somewhere structured. 

Maybe  somewhere  kind  of  custodial.  I  would  want someone to be responsible.” 

“A safe deposit box,” Neagley said again. “In a bank. 

The small key has no markings. Banks do that.” 

“I  don’t  like  banks,”  Reacher  said.  “I  don’t  like  the hours and I don’t like the detour. Once, maybe, but not often. Which is the issue. Because there’s some kind of regularity  involved  here.  Isn’t  there?  Isn’t  that  what people  do  with  computers?  They  back  stuff  up  every night. So this wouldn’t be a one-time thing. It would be a matter  of  routine.  Which  changes  things  somewhat. A one-time  thing,  you  might  go  to  extraordinary  lengths. 

Every night, you need something safe but easy. 

And permanently available.” 

“I e-mail stuff to myself,” Neagley said. 

Reacher paused a beat. Smiled. 

“There you go,” he said. 

“You think that’s what Franz did?” 

“Not  a  chance,”  Reacher  said.  “E-mail  would  have come straight back to his computer, which the bad guys had. They’d have spent their time trying to break down his password instead of busting up his building.” 

“So what did he do?” 

Reacher turned and glanced along the row of stores. 

The dry cleaner, the nail salon, the pharmacy. 

The post office. 

“Not e-mail,” he said. “Regular mail. That’s what he did. 

He  backed  up  his  stuff  onto  some  kind  of  a  disc  and every night he put it in an envelope and dropped it in the mail. Addressed to himself. To his post office box. 

Because that’s where he got his mail. In the post office. 

There’s no slot in his door. Once the envelope was out of  his  hand  it  was  safe.  It  was  in  the  system.  With  a whole  bunch  of  custodians  looking  after  it  all  day  and all night.” 

“Slow,” Neagley said. 

Reacher  nodded.  “He  must  have  had  three  or  four discs  in  rotation.  Any  particular  day,  two  or  three  of them  would  be  somewhere  in  the  mail.  But  he  went home every night knowing his latest stuff was safe. It’s not  easy  to  rob  a  mail  box  or  make  a  clerk  give  you something  that  doesn’t  belong  to  you.  USPS

bureaucracy is about as safe as a Swiss bank.” 

“The  small  key,”  Neagley  said.  “Not  his  desk.  Not  a safe deposit box.” 

Reacher nodded again. 

“His post office box,” he said. 


But United States Postal Service bureaucracy cut two ways. It was late in the afternoon. The dry cleaner’s was still open. The nail salon was open. 

The  pharmacy  was  open.  But  the  post  office  was closed. Lobby hours had ended at four o’clock. 

“Tomorrow,”  Neagley  said.  “We’re  going  to  be  in  the car all day. We have to get to Swan’s place, too. Unless we separate.” 

“It’s going to take two of us here,” Reacher said. “But maybe  one  of  the  others  will  show  up  and  do  some work.” 

“I  wish  they  would.  And  not  because  I’m  lazy.”  For form’s  sake,  like  a  little  ritual,  she  pulled  out  her  cell phone and checked the tiny screen. 

No messages. 


There were no messages at the hotel desk, either. No messages on the hotel voice mail. No e-mails on either one of Neagley’s laptop computers. 


“They can’t just be ignoring us,” she said. 

“No,” Reacher said. “They wouldn’t do that.” 

“I’m getting a real bad feeling.” 

“I’ve  had  a  real  bad  feeling  ever  since  I  went  to  that ATM in Portland. I spent all my money taking someone to  dinner.  Twice.  Now  I  wish  we  had  stayed  in  and ordered  pizza.  She  might  have  paid.  I  wouldn’t  know about any of this yet.” 


“Someone I met.” 


“As a button.” 

“Cuter than Karla Dixon?” 


“Cuter than me?” 

“Is that even possible?” 

“Did you sleep with her?” 


“The woman in Portland.” 

“Why do you want to know that?” 

Neagley  didn’t  answer.  She  just  shuffled  the  five sheets  of  contact  information  like  a  card  player  and dealt  Reacher  two  and  kept  three  for  herself.  Reacher got  Tony  Swan  and  Karla  Dixon.  He  used  the  landline on the credenza and tried Swan first. Thirty, forty rings, no  answer.  He  dabbed  the  cradle  and  tried  Dixon’s number. A 212 area code, for New York City. No answer. 

Six  rings,  and  straight  to  a  machine.  He  listened  to Dixon’s  familiar  voice  and  waited  for  the  beep  and  left her the same message he had left earlier: “This is Jack Reacher  with  a  ten-thirty  from  Frances  Neagley  at  the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Get off your ass and call her back.” Then he paused a beat and added: “Please, Karla. We really need to hear from you.” 

Then he hung up. Neagley was closing her cell phone and shaking her head. 

“Not good,” she said. 

“They could all be on vacation.” 

“At the same time?” 

“They  could  all  be  in  jail.  We  were  a  pretty  rough bunch.” 

“First thing I checked. They’re not in jail.” 

Reacher said nothing. 

Neagley said, “You really liked Karla, didn’t you? You sounded positively tender there, on the phone.” 

“I liked all of you.” 

“But her especially. Did you ever sleep with her?” 

Reacher said, “No.” 

“Why not?” 

“I  recruited  her.  I  was  her  CO.  Wouldn’t  have  been right.” 

“Was that the only reason?” 



Reacher  asked,  “What  do  you  know  about  their businesses? Is there any good reason why they should all be out of contact for days at a time?” 

“I  guess  O’Donnell  could  have  to  travel  overseas,” 

Neagley  said.  “His  practice  is  pretty  general.  Marital stuff  could  take  him  to  hotels  down  in  the  islands,  I guess.  Or  anyplace,  if  he’s  chasing  unpaid  alimony. 

Child  abductions  or  custody  issues  could  take  him anywhere.  People  looking  to  adopt  sometimes  send detectives  to  Eastern  Europe  or  China  or  wherever  to make sure things are kosher. There are lots of possible reasons.” 


“I’d  have  to  talk  myself  into  really  believing  one  of them.” 

“What about Karla?” 

“She  could  be  down  in  the  Caymans  looking  for someone’s money, I guess. But I imagine she’d do that on-line from her office. It’s not like the money is actually there.” 

“So where is it?” 

“It’s notional. It’s electricity in a computer.” 

“What about Sanchez and Orozco?” 

“They’re in a closed world. I don’t see why they would ever have to leave Vegas. Not professionally.” 

“What do we know about Swan’s company?” 

“It  exists.  It  does  business.  It  files.  It  has  an  address. 

Apart from that, not much.” 

“Presumably it has security issues, or Swan wouldn’t have gotten hired.” 

“All defense contractors have security issues. Or they think  they  ought  to  have,  because  they  want  to  think what they do is important.” 

Reacher said nothing to that. Just sat and stared out the window. It was getting dark. A long day, nearly over. 

He  said,  “Franz  didn’t  go  to  his  office  the  morning  he disappeared.” 

“You think?” 

“We  know.  Angela  had  his  set  of  keys.  He  left  them home. He was going somewhere else that day.” 

Neagley said nothing. 

“And the landlord at the strip mall saw the bad guys,” 

Reacher said. 

“Franz’s lock wasn’t broken. They didn’t take Franz’s key  from  him,  because  he  didn’t  have  it  in  his  pocket. 

Therefore  they  scammed  one  or  bought  one  from  the owner.  Therefore  the  owner  saw  them.  Therefore  we need to find him tomorrow, along with everything else.” 

“Franz should have called me,” Neagley said. “I would have dropped everything.” 

“I wish he had called you,” Reacher said. “If you had been  there,  none  of  this  bad  stuff  would  have happened.” 

Reacher  and  Neagley  ate  dinner  in  the  downstairs restaurant,  front  corner  of  the  lobby,  where  a  bottle  of still water from Norway cost eight dollars. 

Then they said goodnight and split up and headed for their separate rooms. Reacher’s was a chintzy cube two floors below Neagley’s suite. 

He stripped and showered and folded his clothes and put them under the mattress to press. He got into bed and folded his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. Thought about Calvin Franz for a minute, in random  flashing  images,  the  same  way  a  political candidate’s biography is squeezed into a thirty second television  commercial.  His  memory  made  some  of  the pictures sepia and some of them washed out, but in all of  them  Franz  was  moving,  talking,  laughing,  full  of drive  and  energy.  Then  Karla  Dixon  joined  the  parade, petite,  dark,  sardonic,  laughing  with  Franz.  Dave O’Donnell  was  there,  tall,  fair,  handsome,  like  a stockbroker  with  a  switchblade.  And  Jorge  Sanchez, durable,  eyes  narrowed,  with  a  hint  of  a  smile  that showed a gold tooth and was as close as he ever came to showing contentment. And Tony Swan, as wide as he was  high. And  Manuel  Orozco,  opening  and  closing  a Zippo lighter because he liked the sound so much. Even Stan Lowrey was there, shaking his head, drumming his fingers on a table to a rhythm only he could hear. 

Then Reacher blinked all the pictures away and closed his eyes and fell asleep, ten-thirty in the evening, a long day, over. 

Ten-thirty in the evening in Los Angeles was one-thirty the  next  morning  in  New  York,  and  the  last  British Airways flight from London, delayed, had just landed at JFK. The delay meant that the last immigration watch in British Airways’ own terminal had already gone off duty, so  the  plane  taxied  to  Terminal  Four  and  fed  its passengers through the giant arrivals hall there. Third in the  visitors’  line  was  a  first-class  passenger  who  had napped in seat 2K for most of the trip. He was medium height,  medium  weight,  expensively  dressed,  and  he radiated  the  kind  of  expansive  selfconfident  courtesy typical of people who know how lucky they are to have been rich all their lives. He was perhaps forty years old. 

He  had  thick  black  hair,  shiny,  beautifully  cut,  and  the kind of mid-brown skin and regular features that could have made him Indian, or Pakistani, or Iranian, or Syrian, or  Lebanese,  or Algerian,  or  even  Israeli  or  Italian.  His passport  was  British,  and  it  passed  the  Immigration agent’s scrutiny with no trouble at all, as did its owner’s manicured forefingers on the electronic fingerprint pad. 

Seventeen minutes after unclipping his seat belt the guy was out in the shiny New York night, walking briskly to the head of the cab line. 


At six the next morning Reacher went up to Neagley’s suite. He found her awake and showered and guessed she  had  been  working  out  somewhere  for  an  hour. 

Maybe in her room, maybe in the hotel gym. Maybe she had been out jogging. She looked sleek and pumped up and vital in a way that suggested there was a whole lot of oxygenated blood doing the rounds inside her. 

They  ordered  room  service  breakfast  and  spent  the waiting time on another fruitless round of phone calls. 

No answer from East LA, none from Nevada, none from New York, none from Washington D.C. They didn’t leave messages.  They  didn’t  redial  or  try  again.  And  when they hung up, they didn’t talk about it. They just sat in silence  until  the  waiter  showed  up  and  then  they  ate eggs and pancakes and bacon and drank coffee. Then Neagley  called  down  to  the  valet  station  and  ordered her car. 

“Franz’s place first?” she asked. 

Reacher nodded. “Franz is the focus here.” 

So they rode the elevator down and got in the Mustang together and crawled south on La Cienega to the post office at the tip of Culver City. 


They  parked  right  outside  Franz’s  trashed  office  and walked back past the dry cleaner and the nail salon and the  discount  pharmacy.  The  post  office  was  empty.  A sign  on  the  door  said  that  the  lobby  had  been  open  a halfhour.  Clearly  whatever  initial  rush  there  had  been was over. 

“We can’t do this when it’s empty,” Reacher said. 

“So let’s find the landlord first,” Neagley said. 

They  asked  in  the  pharmacy.  An  old  man  in  a  short white  coat  was  standing  under  an  old-fashioned security camera behind the dispensing counter. He told them  that  the  guy  who  owned  the  dry  cleaner’s  store was  the  landlord.  He  spoke  with  the  kind  of  guarded hostility that tenants always use about the people who get their rent checks. He outlined a short success story in  which  his  neighbor  had  come  over  from  Korea  and opened  the  cleaners  and  used  the  profits  to  leverage the whole strip mall. 

The American  dream  in  action.  Reacher  and  Neagley thanked him and walked past the nail salon and ducked into the cleaner’s and found the right guy immediately. 

He was rushing around in a crowded work area heavy with the stink of chemicals. Six big drum machines were churning away. Pressing tables were hissing. Racks of bagged  clothes  were  winding  around  on  a  motorized conveyor  above  head  height.  The  guy  himself  was sweating. Working hard. It looked like he deserved two strip  malls.  Or  three.  Maybe  he  already  had  them.  Or more. 

Reacher  got  straight  to  the  point.  Asked,  “When  did you last see Calvin Franz?” 

“I hardly ever saw him,” the guy answered. “I couldn’t see him. He painted over his window, first thing he ever did.” He said it like he had been annoyed about it. Like he had known he was going to have to get busy with a scraper before he could rent the unit again. 

Reacher  said,  “You  must  have  seen  him  coming  and going. I bet nobody here works longer hours than you.” 

“I guess I saw him occasionally,” the guy said. 

“When  do  you  guess  you  stopped  seeing  him occasionally?” 

“Three, four weeks ago.” 

“Just before the guys came around and asked you for his key?” 

“What guys?” 

“The guys you gave his key to.” 

“They were cops.” 

“The second set of guys were cops.” 

“So were the first.” 

“Did they show you ID?” 

“I’m sure they did.” 

“I’m  sure  they  didn’t,”  Reacher  said.  “I’m  sure  they showed you a hundred dollar bill instead. Maybe two or three of them.” 

“So what? It’s my key and it’s my building.” 

“What did they look like?” 

“Why should I tell you?” 

“Because we were Mr. Franz’s friends.” 


“He’s dead. Someone threw him out of a helicopter.” 

The dry cleaner just shrugged his shoulders. 

“I don’t remember the guys,” he said. 

“They  trashed  your  unit,”  Reacher  said.  “Whatever they paid you for the key won’t cover the damage.” 

“Fixing the unit is my problem. It’s my building.” 

“Suppose  it  was  your  pile  of  smoldering  ashes? 

Suppose  I  came  back  tonight  and  burned  the  whole place down?” 

“You’d go to prison.” 

“I don’t think so. A guy with a memory as bad as yours wouldn’t have anything to tell the police.” 

The guy nodded. “They were white men. Two of them. 

Blue suits. A new car. They looked like everybody else I see.” 

“That’s all?” 

“Just white men. Not cops. Too clean and too rich.” 

“Nothing special about them?” 

“I’d tell you if I could. They trashed my place.” 


“I’m  sorry  about  your  friend.  He  seemed  like  a  nice guy.” 

“He was,” Reacher said. 


Reacher and Neagley walked back to the post office. It was  a  small,  dusty  place.  Government  decor.  It  had gotten  moderately  busy  again.  Normal  morning business  was  in  full  swing.  There  was  one  clerk working and a short line of waiting customers. Neagley handed  Reacher  Franz’s  keys  and  joined  the  line. 

Reacher  stepped  to  a  shallow  waist-high  counter  in back  and  took  a  random  form  out  of  a  slot.  It  was  a demand for confirmation of delivery. He used a pen on a chain and bent down and pretended to fill out the form. 

He turned his body sideways and rested his elbow on the  counter  and  kept  his  hand  moving.  Glanced  at Neagley. She was maybe three minutes from the head of the  line.  He  used  the  time  to  survey  the  rows  of  mail boxes. 

They filled the whole end wall of the lobby. They came in three sizes. 

Small,  medium,  large.  Six  tiers  of  small,  then  below them  four  tiers  of  medium,  then  three  tiers  of  large closest  to  the  floor.  Altogether  one  hundred  eighty  of the small size, ninety-six mediums, and fifty-four large. 

Total, three hundred thirty boxes. 

Which one was Franz’s? 

One  of  the  large  ones,  for  sure.  Franz  had  been running  a  business,  and  it  had  been  the  kind  of business  that  would  have  generated  a  fair  amount  of incoming mail. Some of it would have been in the form of  thick  legalsized  packages.  Credit  reports,  financial information, 




photographs.  Large,  stiff  envelopes.  Professional journals. 

Therefore, a large box. 

But which large box? 

No  way  of  telling.  If  Franz  had  been  given  a  free choice, he would have picked the top row, three up from the floor, right-hand end. Who wants to walk farther than he needs to from the street door and then crouch all the way  down  on  the  linoleum?  But  Franz  wouldn’t  have been  given  a  free  choice.  You  want  a  post  office  box, you take what’s available at the time. 

Dead  men’s  shoes.  So