Running Blind


Chapter 21

  THE MEETING BROKE up in a sudden burst of energy. Blake took the elevator one floor down, back to his office to place the call to James Cozo in New York. Poulton had calls of his own to make to the Bureau office in Spokane, where the local guys were checking with parcel carriers and car rental operations. Harper went up to the travel desk to organize airline tickets. Reacher was left alone in the seminar room, sitting at the big table, ignoring the television, staring at a fake window like he was looking out at a view.

  He sat like that for nearly twenty minutes, just waiting. Then Harper came back in. She was carrying a thick sheaf of new paperwork.

  "More bureaucracy," she said. "If we pay you, we've got to insure you. Travel desk regulations. "

  She sat down opposite him and took a pen from her inside pocket.

  "Ready for this?" she said.

  He nodded.

  "Full name?" she asked.

  "Jack Reacher," he said.

  "That the whole thing?"

  He nodded. "That's it. "

  "Not a very long name, is it?"

  He shrugged. Said nothing. She wrote it down. Two words, eleven letters, in a space which ran the whole width of the form.

  "Date of birth?"

  He told her. Saw her calculating his age. Saw surprise in her face.

  "Older or younger?" he asked.

  "Than what?"

  "Than you thought. "

  She smiled. "Oh, older. You don't look it. "

  "Bullshit," he said. "I look about a hundred. Certainly I feel about a hundred. "

  She smiled again. "You probably clean up pretty good. Social Security number?"

  His generation of servicemen, it was the same as his military ID. He rattled through it in the military manner, random monotone sounds representing whole numbers between zero and nine.

  "Full address?"

  "No fixed abode," he said.

  "You sure?"

  "Why wouldn't I be?"

  "What about Garrison?"

  "What about it?"

  "Your house," she said. "That would be your address, right?"

  He stared at her. "I guess so. Sort of. I never really thought about it. "

  She stared back. "You own a house, you've got an address, wouldn't you say?"

  "OK, put Garrison. "

  "Street name and number?"

  He dredged it up from his memory and told her.

  "Zip?"

  He shrugged. "I don't know. "

  "You don't know your own zip code?"

  He was quiet for a second. She looked at him.

  "You've got it real bad, haven't you?" she said.

  "Got what?"

  "Whatever. Call it denial, I guess. "

  He nodded, slowly. "Yes, I guess I've got it real bad. "

  "So what are you going to do about it?"

  "I don't know. Maybe I'll get used to it. "

  "Maybe you won't. "

  "What would you do?"

  "People should do what they really want," she said. "I think that's important. "

  "Is that what you do?"

  She nodded. "My folks wanted me to stay in Aspen. They wanted me to be a teacher or something. I wanted to be in law enforcement. It was a big battle. "

  "It's not my parents doing this to me. They're dead. "

  "I know. It's Jodie. "

  He shook his head. "No, it's not Jodie. It's me. I'm doing this to myself. "

  She nodded again. "OK. "

  The room went quiet.

  "So what should I do?" he asked.

  She shrugged, warily. "I'm not the person to ask. "

  "Why not?"

  "I might not give the answer you want. "

  "Which is?"

  "You want me to say you should stay with Jodie. Settle down and be happy. "

  "I do?"

  "I think so. "

  "But you can't say that?"

  She shook her head.

  "No, I can't," she said. "I had a boyfriend. It was pretty serious. He was a cop in Aspen. There's always tension, you know, between cops and the Bureau. Rivalry. Silly, really, no reason for it, but it's there. It spread into personal things. He wanted me to quit. Begged me. I was torn, but I said no. "

  "Was that the right choice?"

  She nodded. "For me, yes, it was. You have to do what you really want. "

  "Would it be the right choice for me?"

  She shrugged. "I can't say. But probably. "

  "First I need to figure out what I really want. "

  "You know what you really want," she said. "Everybody always does, instinctively. Any doubt you're feeling is just noise, trying to bury the truth, because you don't want to face it. "

  He looked away, back to the fake window.

  "Occupation?" she asked.

  "Silly question," he said.

  "I'll put consultant. "

  He nodded. "That dignifies it, somewhat. "

  Then there were footsteps in the corridor and the door opened again and Blake and Poulton hurried inside. More paper in their hands, and the glow of progress in their faces.

  "We're maybe halfway to starting to get somewhere, " Blake said. "News in from Spokane. "

  "The local UPS driver quit three weeks ago," Poulton said. "Moved to Missoula, Montana, works in a warehouse. But they spoke to him by phone and he thinks maybe he remembers the delivery. "

  "So doesn't the UPS office have paperwork?" Harper asked.

  Blake shook his head. "They archive it after eleven days. And we're looking at two months ago. If the driver can pinpoint the day, we might get it. "

  "Anybody know anything about baseball?" Poulton asked.

  Reacher shrugged. "Couple of guys worked out an overall all-time top ten and only two players had the letter u in their names. "

  "Why baseball?" Harper asked.

  "Day in question, some Seattle guy hit a grand slam," Blake said. "The driver heard it on his radio, remembers it. "

  " Seattle, he would remember it," Reacher said. "Rare occurrence. "

  "Babe Ruth," Poulton said. "Who's the other one?"

  "Honus Wagner," Reacher said.

  Poulton looked blank. "Never heard of him. "

  "And Hertz came through," Blake said. "They think they remember a real short rental, Spokane airport, the exact day Alison died, in and out inside about two hours. "

  "They got a name?" Harper asked.

  Blake shook his head. "Their computer's down. They're working on it. "

  "Don't the desk people remember?"

  "Are you kidding? Lucky if those people remember their own names. "

  "So when will we get it?"

  "Tomorrow, I guess. Morning, with a bit of luck. Otherwise the afternoon. "

  "Three-hour time difference. It'll be the afternoon for us. "

  "Probably. "

  "So does Reacher still go?"

  Blake paused and Reacher nodded.

  "I still go," he said "The name will be phony, for sure. And the UPS thing will lead nowhere. This guy's way too smart for basic paper-trail errors. "

  Everybody waited. Then Blake nodded.

  "I guess I agree," he said. "So Reacher still goes. "

  THEY GOT A ride in a plain Bureau Chevrolet and were at the airport in D. C. before dark. They lined up for the United shuttle with the lawyers and the lobbyists. Reacher was the only person on the line not wearing a business suit, male or female. The cabin crew seemed to know most of the passengers and greeted them at the airplane door like regulars. Harper walked all the way down the aisle and chose seats right at the back.

  "No rush to get off," she said. "You're not seeing Cozo until tomorrow. "

  Reacher said nothing.

  "And Jodie won't be home yet," she said. "Lawyers work hard, right? Especially the ones fixing to be partner. "

  He nodded. He'd just gotten
around to figuring the same thing.

  "So we'll sit here," she said. "It's quieter. "

  "The engines are right back here," he said.

  "But the guys in the suits aren't. "

  He smiled and took the window seat and buckled up.

  "And we can talk back here," she said. "I don't like people listening. "

  "We should sleep," he said. "We're going to be busy. "

  "I know, but talk first. Five minutes, OK?"

  "Talk about what?"

  "The scratches on her face," she said. "I need to understand what that's about. "

  He glanced across at her. "Why? You figuring to crack this all on your own?"

  She nodded. "I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to make the arrest. "

  "Ambitious?"

  She made a face. "Competitive, I guess. "

  He smiled again. "Lisa Harper against the pointy-heads. "

  "Damn right," she said. "Plain-vanilla agents, they treat us like shit. "

  The engines wound up to a scream and the plane rolled backward from the gate. Swung its nose around and lumbered toward the runway.

  "So what about the marks on her face?" Harper asked.

  "I think it proves my point," Reacher said. "I think it's the single most valuable piece of evidence we've gotten so far. "

  "Why?"

  He shrugged. "It was so halfhearted, wasn't it? So tentative? I think it proves the guy is hiding behind appearances. It proves he's pretending. Like there's me, looking at the cases, and I'm thinking where's the violence? Where's the anger? And simultaneously somewhere the guy is reviewing his progress, and he's thinking oh my God, I'm not showing any anger, and so on the next one he tries to show some, but he's not really feeling any, so it comes across as really nothing much at all. "

  Harper nodded. "Not even enough to make her flinch, according to Stavely. "

  "Bloodless," Reacher said. "Almost literally. Like a technical exercise, which it was, because this whole thing is a technical exercise, some cast-iron down-to-earth motive hiding behind a psycho masquerade. "

  "He made her do it to herself. "

  "I think so. "

  "But why would he?"

  "Worried about fingerprints? About revealing if he's left-handed or right-handed? Demonstrating his control? "

  "It's a lot of control, don't you think? But it explains why it was so halfhearted. She wouldn't really hurt herself. "

  "I guess not," he said, sleepily.

  "Why Alison, though? Why did he wait until number four?"

  "Ceaseless quest for perfection, I suppose. A guy like this, he's thinking and refining all the time. "

  "Does it make her special in some way? Significant? "

  Reacher shrugged. "That's pointy-head stuff. If they thought so, I'm sure they'd have said. "

  "Maybe he knew her better than the others. Worked with her more closely. "

  "Maybe. But don't stray into their territory. Keep your feet on the ground. You're plain-vanilla, remember? "

  Harper nodded. "And the plain-vanilla motive is money. "

  "Has to be," Reacher said. "Always love or money. And it can't be love, because love makes you crazy, and this guy isn't crazy. "

  The plane turned and stopped hard against its brakes at the head of the runway. Paused for a second and jumped forward and accelerated. Unstuck itself and lifted heavily into the air. The lights of D. C. spun past the window.

  "Why did he change the interval?" Harper asked over the noise of the climb.

  Reacher shrugged. "Maybe he just wanted to. "

  "Wanted to?"

  "Maybe he just did it for fun. Nothing more disruptive for you guys than a pattern that changes. "

  "Will it change again?"

  The plane rocked and tilted and leveled, and the engine noise fell away to a cruise.

  "It's over," Reacher said. "The women are guarded, and you'll be making the arrest pretty soon. "

  "You're that confident?"

  Reacher shrugged again. "No point going in expecting to lose. "

  He yawned and jammed his head between the seatback and the plastic bulkhead. Closed his eyes.

  "Wake me when we get there," he said.

  BUT THE THUMP and whine of the wheels coming down woke him, three thousand feet above and three miles east of La Guardia in New York. He looked at his watch and saw he'd slept fifty minutes. His mouth tasted tired.

  "You want to get some dinner?" Harper asked him.

  He blinked and checked his watch again. He had at least an hour to kill before Jodie's earliest possible ETA. Probably two hours. Maybe three.

  "You got somewhere in mind?" he asked back.

  "I don't know New York too well," she said. "I'm an Aspen girl. "

  "I know a good Italian," he said.

  "They put me in a hotel on Park and Thirty-sixth," she said. "I assume you're staying at Jodie's. "

  He nodded. "I assume I am, too. "

  "So is the restaurant near Park and Thirty-sixth?"

  He shook his head. "Cab ride. This is a big town. "

  She shook her head in turn. "No cabs. They'll send a car. Ours for the duration. "

  The driver was waiting at the gate. Same guy who had driven them before. His car was parked in the tow lane outside Arrivals, with a large card with the Bureau shield printed on it propped behind the windshield. Congestion was bad, all the way into Manhattan. It was the second half of rush hour. But the guy drove like he had nothing to fear from the traffic cops and they were outside Mostro's within forty minutes of the plane touching down.

  The street was dark, and the restaurant glowed like a promise. Four tables were occupied and Puccini was playing. The owner saw Reacher on the sidewalk and hurried to the door, beaming. Showed them to a table and brought the menus himself.

  "This is the place Petrosian was leaning on?" Harper asked.

  Reacher nodded toward the owner. "Look at the little guy. Did he deserve that?"

  "You should have left it to the cops. "

  "That's what Jodie said. "

  "She's clearly a smart woman. "

  It was warm inside the huge room, and Harper slipped her jacket off and twisted to hang it over the back of her chair. Her shirt twisted with her, tightening and loosening. First time since he'd met her, she was wearing a bra. She followed his gaze and blushed.

  "I wasn't sure who we'd be meeting," she said.

  He nodded.

  "We'll be meeting somebody," he said. "That's for damn sure. Sooner or later. "

  The way he said it made her glance up at him.

  "Now you really want this guy, right?" she said.

  "Yes, now I do. "

  "For Amy Callan? You liked her, didn't you?"

  "She was OK. I liked Alison Lamarr better, what I saw of her. But I want this guy for Rita Scimeca. "

  "She likes you too," she said. "I could tell. "

  He nodded again.

  "Did you have a relationship with her?"

  He shrugged. "That's a very vague word. "

  "An affair?"

  He shook his head. "I only met her after she was raped. Because she was raped. She wasn't in any kind of a state to be having affairs. Still isn't, by the look of it. I was a little older than she was, maybe five or six years. We got very friendly, but it was like a paternalistic thing, you know, which I guess she needed, but she hated it at the same time. I had to work hard to make it feel at least brotherly, as I recall. We went out a few times, but like big brother and little sister, always completely platonic. She was like a wounded soldier, recuperating. "

  "That's how she saw it?"

  "Exactly like that," he said. "Like a guy who has his leg shot off. It can't be denied, but it can be dealt with. And she was dealing with it. "

  "And now this guy is setting her back. "

  Reacher nodded. "That's the problem. Hiding behind this hara
ssment thing, he's pounding on an open wound. If he was up-front about it, it would be OK. Rita could accept that as a separate problem, I think. Like a one-legged guy could deal with getting the flu. But it's coming across like a taunt, about her past. "

  "And that makes you mad. "

  "I feel responsible for Rita, he's messing with her, so he's messing with me. "

  "And people shouldn't mess with you. "

  "No, they shouldn't. "

  "Or?"

  "Or they're deep in the shit. "

  She nodded, slowly.

  "You've convinced me," she said.

  He said nothing.

  "You convinced Petrosian too, I guess," she said.

  "I never went near Petrosian," he said. "Never laid eyes on him. "

  "But you are kind of arrogant, you know?" she said. "Prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner, all in one? What about the rules?"

  He smiled.

  "Those are the rules," he said. "People mess with me, they find that out pretty damn quick. "

  Harper shook her head. "We arrest this guy, remember? We find him and we arrest him. We're going to do this properly. According to my rules, OK?"

  He nodded. "I already agreed to that. "

  Then the waiter came over and stood near, pen poised. They ordered two courses each and sat in silence until the food came. Then they ate in silence. There wasn't much of it. But it was as good as always. Maybe even better. And it was on the house.

  AFTER COFFEE THE FBI driver took Harper to her hotel uptown and Reacher walked down to Jodie's place, alone and enjoying it. He let himself into her lobby and rode up in the elevator. Let himself into her apartment. The air was still and silent. The rooms were dark. Nobody home. He switched on lamps and closed blinds. Sat down on the living room sofa to wait.