THIS TIME THERE will be guards. You know that for sure. So this time will be difficult. You smile to yourself and correct your phraseology. Actually, this time will be very difficult. Very, very difficult. But not impossible. Not for you. It will be a challenge, is all. Putting guards into the equation will elevate the whole thing up a little nearer to interesting. A little nearer the point where your talent can really flex and stretch like it needs to. It will be a challenge to relish. A challenge to beat.
But you don't beat anything without thinking. You don't beat anything without careful observation and planning. The guards are a new factor, so they need analysis. But that's your strength, isn't it? Accurate, dispassionate analysis. Nobody does it better than you. You've proved that, over and over again, haven't you? Four whole times.
So what do the guards mean to you? Initial question, who are the guards? Out here in the sticks a million miles from nowhere, first impression is you're dealing with dumb-ass local cops. No immediate problem. No immediate threat. But the downside is, out here in the sticks a million miles from nowhere, there aren't enough dumb-ass local cops to go around. Some tiny Oregon township outside of the Portland city limits won't have enough cops to keep up a twenty-four-hour watch. So they'll be looking for help, and you know that help will come from the FBI. You know that for sure. The way you predict it, the locals will take the day, and the Bureau will take the night.
Given the choice, obviously you aren't going to tangle with the Bureau. So you're going to avoid the night. You're going to take the day, when all that stands between you and her is some local fat boy in a Crown Vic full of cheeseburger wrappers and cold coffee. And you're going to take the day because the day is a more elegant solution. Broad daylight. You love the phrase. They use it all the time, don't they?
"The crime was committed in broad daylight," you whisper to yourself.
Getting past the locals in broad daylight won't be too hard. But even so, it's not something you're going to undertake lightly. You're not going to rush in. You're going to watch carefully, from a distance, until you see how it goes. You're going to invest some time in careful, patient observation. Fortunately, you've got a little time. And it won't be hard to do. The place is mountainous. Mountainous places have two characteristics. Two advantages. First of all, they're already full of idiots hanging out in sweaters with field glasses around their necks. And second of all, mountainous terrain makes it easy to see point A from point B. You just get yourself concealed high up on some peak or knoll or whatever the hell they call them. Then you settle in, and you gaze downward, and you watch. And you wait.
REACHER WAITED A long time in the stillness of Jodie's living room. His posture on the sofa changed from sitting to sprawling. After an hour he swiveled around and lay down. Closed his eyes. Opened them again and struggled to stay awake. Closed them again. Kept them closed. Figured he'd catch ten minutes. Figured he'd hear the elevator. Or the door. But when it came to it, he heard neither. He woke up and found her bending over him, kissing his cheek.
"Hey, Reacher," she said softly.
He pulled her to him and held her in a tight silent embrace. She hugged back, one-handed because she was still carrying her briefcase, but hard.
"How was your day?" he asked.
"Later," she whispered.
She dropped the briefcase and he pulled her down on top of him. She struggled out of her coat and let it fall. The silk lining whispered and sighed. She was in a wool dress with a zipper all the way down the back to the base of her spine. He unzipped it slowly and felt the warmth of her body underneath. She pushed up with her elbows sharp points in his stomach. Her hands scrabbled at his shirt. He pushed the dress off her shoulders. She pulled his shirt out of his waistband. Tore at his belt.
She stood up and her dress fell to the floor. She held out her hand and he took it and she led him to the bedroom. They stumbled out of their clothes as they walked. Made it to the bed. It was white and cool. Neon glow from the city outside lit it in random patterns.
She pushed him down, with her hands on his shoulders. She was strong, like a gymnast. Urgent and energetic and lithe on top of him. He was lost. They finished filmed in sweat in a tangle of sheets. She was pressed against him. He could feel her heart hammering on his chest. Her hair was in his mouth. He was breathing hard. She was smiling. Her face was tucked into his shoulder and he could feel the smile against his skin. The shape of her mouth, the cool of her teeth. The impatient curve in the muscles of her cheek.
She was beautiful in a way he couldn't describe. She was tall and lean and graceful, and blond and faintly tanned and she had spectacular hair and eyes. But she was more than that. She was shot through with energy and will and passion. Crackling with restless intelligence, like electricity. He traced his hand down the smooth curve of her back. She stretched her foot all the way down his leg and tried to lace her toes into his. The secret smile was still there, against his neck.
"Now you can ask me about my day," she said.
Her words were muffled by his shoulder.
"How was your day?" he asked.
She put her hand flat on his chest and pushed herself up onto her elbow. Made a shape with her mouth and blew her hair off her face. Then the smile came back.
"It was great," she said.
He smiled in turn.
"Great how?" he asked.
"Secretary gossip," she said. "Mine talked to one from upstairs over lunch. "
"There's a partners' meeting in a few days. "
"The upstairs secretary had just typed the agenda. They're going to make a partnership offer. "
He smiled. "Who to?"
She smiled back. "To one of the associates. "
He pretended to think about it. "They'd go for somebody special, right? The best they got? The smartest, hardest-working, most charming and all that?"
"That's usually what they do. "
He nodded. "Congratulations, babe. You deserve it. You really do. "
She smiled happily and threaded her arms around his neck. Pressed herself down in a full-body hug, head to toe.
"Partner," she said. "What I always wanted. "
"You deserve it," he said again. "You really do. "
"A partner at thirty," she said. "Can you believe it?"
He stared up at the ceiling and smiled. "Yes, I can believe it. If you'd gone into politics, you'd be president by now. "
"I can't believe it," she said. "I never can, when I get what I want. "
Then she was quiet for a second.
"But it hasn't happened yet," she said. "Maybe I should wait until it has. "
"It'll happen," he said.
"It's only an agenda. Maybe they'll all vote no. "
"They won't," he said.
"There'll be a party," she said. "Will you come?"
"If you want me to. If I won't ruin your image. "
"You could buy a suit. Wear your medals. You'd blow them away. "
He was quiet for a spell, thinking about buying a suit. If he did, it would be the first suit he'd ever worn.
"Have you got what you want?" she asked.
He wrapped his arms around her. "Right now?"
"I want to sell the house," he said.
She lay still for a moment.
"OK," she said. "Not that you need my permission. "
"It burdens me down," he said. "I can't handle it. "
"You don't need to explain to me. "
"I could live the rest of my life on the money I get for it. "
"You'd have to pay taxes. "
He nodded. "Whatever. What's left would buy me plenty of motel rooms. "
"You should think carefully. It's the only asset you've got. "
"Not to me. Money for motel
s is an asset. The house is a burden. "
She was silent.
"I'm going to sell my car, too," he said.
"I thought you liked it," she said.
He nodded. "It's OK. For a car. I just don't like owning things. "
"Owning a car isn't exactly the end of the world. "
"It is to me. Too much hassle. It needs insurance, all that kind of stuff. "
"You don't have insurance?"
"I thought about it," he said. "They need all kinds of paperwork first. "
"How will you get around?"
"Same as I always did, hitch rides, take the bus. "
She paused again.
"OK, sell the car if you want to," she said. "But maybe keep the house. It's useful. "
He shook his head, next to hers. "It drives me crazy. "
He felt her smile.
"You're the only person I know who wants to be homeless," she said. "Most people try real hard to avoid it. "
"There's nothing I want more," he said. "Like you want to make partner, I want to be free. "
"Free of me too?" she asked, quietly.
"Free of the house," he said. "It's a burden. Like an anchor. You're not. "
She unwrapped her arms from his neck and propped herself on an elbow.
"I don't believe you," she said. "The house anchors you and you don't like it, but I anchor you too, don't I?"
"The house makes me feel bad," he said. "You make me feel good. I only know how I feel. "
"So you'd sell the house but you'd stick around New York?"
He was quiet for a beat.
"I'd maybe move around a little," he said. "You travel. You're busy a lot of the time. We could make it work. "
"We'd drift apart. "
"I don't think so. "
"You'd stay away longer and longer. "
He shook his head. "It'll be the same as it's been all year. Except I won't have the house to worry about. "
"You've made up your mind, right?"
He nodded. "It's driving me crazy. I don't even know the zip code. Presumably because I don't want to know, deep down. "
"You don't need my permission," she said again.
Then she was silent.
"You upset?" he asked, uselessly.
"Worried," she said.
"It won't change anything," he said.
"So why do it?"
"Because I have to. "
She didn't reply.
THEY FELL ASLEEP like that, in each other's arms, with a strand of melancholy laced through the afterglow. Morning came and there was no time for more talk. Jodie showered and left with no breakfast and without asking him what he was doing or when he'd be back. He showered and dressed and locked up the apartment and rode down to the street and found Lisa Harper waiting for him. She was dressed in her third suit and she was leaning on the fender of the Bureau car. The day was bright with cold sun and the light was on her hair. The car was stopped at the curb with angry traffic swarming around it. The Bureau driver was motionless behind the wheel, staring straight ahead. The air was full of noise.
"You OK?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I guess. "
"So let's go. "
The driver fought traffic twenty blocks uptown and went underground into the same crowded garage Lamarr had brought him to. They used the same elevator in the corner. Rode up to the twenty-first floor. Stepped out into the same quiet gray corridor. The driver preceded them like a host and pointed to his left.
"Third door," he said.
James Cozo was behind his desk and looked as though he might have been there for an hour. He was in shirtsleeves. His jacket was on a hanger on a bentwood hat stand. He was watching television, political cable, an earnest reporter in front of the Capitol, rapid cutaways to the Hoover Building. The budget hearings.
"The return of the vigilante," he said.
He nodded to Harper and closed a file. Muted the television sound and pushed back from his desk and rubbed his hands over his narrow face, like he was washing without water.
"So what do you want?" he asked.
"Addresses," Reacher said. "For Petrosian's boys. "
"The two you put in the hospital? They won't be pleased to see you. "
"They'll be pleased to see me leave. "
"You going to hurt them again?"
Cozo nodded. "Suits me, pal. "
He pulled a file from a stack and rooted through it. Copied an address onto a slip of paper.
"They live together," he said. "They're brothers. "
Then he thought again and tore the paper into shreds. Reversed the open file on the desk and took a new sheet of paper. Tossed a pencil on top of it.
"You copy it," he said. "Don't want my handwriting anywhere near this, literally or metaphorically. "
The address was near Fifth, on Sixty-sixth Street.
"Nice neighborhood," Reacher said. "Expensive. "
Cozo nodded again. "Lucrative operation. "
Then he smiled.
"Well, it was," he said. "Until you got busy down in Chinatown. "
Reacher said nothing.
"Take a taxi," Cozo said to Harper. "And you stay out of the way. No overt Bureau involvement here, OK?"
She nodded, reluctantly.
"Have fun," Cozo said.
THEY WALKED OVER to Madison with Harper craning like a tourist. Caught a cab uptown and got out on the corner of Sixtieth Street.
"We'll walk the rest of the way," Reacher said.
"We?" Harper said. "Good. I want to stay involved. "
"You have to stay involved," Reacher said. "Because I won't get in without you. "
The address led them six blocks north to a plain, medium-height apartment building faced with gray brick. Metal window frames, no balconies. Air conditioners built through the walls under the windows. No awning over the sidewalk, no doorman. But it was clean and well kept.
"Expensive place?" Harper asked.
Reacher shrugged. "I don't know. Not the most expensive, I guess. But they won't be giving them away. "
The street door was open. The lobby was narrow, with hard stucco walls carefully streaked with paint so they looked a little like marble. There was a single elevator at the back of the lobby, with a narrow brown door.
The apartment they wanted was on the eighth floor. Reacher touched the elevator button and the door rolled back. The car was lined with bronze mirror on all four sides. Harper stepped in and Reacher crowded after her. Pressed 8. An infinite number of reflections rode up with them.
"You knock on their door," Reacher said. "Get them to open up. They won't if they see me in the spyhole. "
She nodded and the elevator stopped on 8. The door rolled back. They stepped out on a dull landing the same shape as the lobby. The apartment they were looking for was in the back of the building on the right.
Reacher stood flat against the wall and Harper stood in front of the door. She bent forward and then back to flip her hair off her face. Took a breath and raised her hand and knocked on the door. Nothing happened for a moment. Then Harper stiffened like she was under scrutiny. There was a rattle of chain from the inside and the door opened a crack.
"Building management," Harper said. "I need to check the air conditioners. "
Wrong season, Reacher thought. But Harper was more than six feet tall and had blond hair more than a yard long and her hands in her pockets so the front of her shirt was pulled tight. The door pushed shut for a second and the chain rattled again and the door swung back. Harper stepped inside like she was accepting a gracious invitation.
Reacher peeled off the wall and followed her in before the door closed again. It was a small dark apartment with a view of the light well. Everything was brown, rugs, furniture, drapes. There was a small foyer opening to a small living room. The
living room held a sofa and two armchairs, and Harper. And both of the guys Reacher had last seen leaving the alley behind Mostro's.
"Hey, guys," he said.
"We're brothers," the first guy said, irrelevantly.
They both had broad strips of hospital gauze taped to their foreheads, stark white, a little longer and broader than the labels Reacher had stuck there. One of them had bandages on his hands. They were dressed identically in sweaters and golf pants. Without their bulky overcoats, they looked smaller. One guy was wearing boat shoes. The other was wearing moccasin slippers that looked like he'd made them himself from a mail-order kit. Reacher stared at them and felt his aggression drain away.
"Shit," he said.
They stared back at him.
"Sit down," he said.
They sat, side by side on the sofa. They watched him, with fearful eyes hooded under the ludicrous gauze.
"Are these the right guys?" Harper asked.
"Things change, I guess," he said.
"Petrosian's dead," the first guy said.
"We know that already," Reacher said back.
"We don't know nothing else," the second guy said.
Reacher shook his head. "Don't say that. You know plenty of things. "
"Like where Bellevue is. "
The first guy looked nervous. "Bellevue?"
Reacher nodded. "The hospital they took you to. "
Both brothers looked at the wall.
"You liked it there?" Reacher asked.
Neither one of them replied.
"You want to go back there?"
"Big emergency room there, right?" Reacher said. "Good for fixing all kinds of things. Broken arms, broken legs, all kinds of injuries. "
The brother with the bandaged hands was older. The spokesman.
"What do you want?" he said.
"A trade. "
"What for what?"
"Information," Reacher said. "In exchange for not sending you back to Bellevue. "
"OK," the guy said.
Harper smiled. "That was easy. "
"Easier than I thought it would be," Reacher said.
"Things change," the guy said. "Petrosian's dead. "
"Those guns you had," Reacher said. "Where did you get them?"
The guy was wary.
"The guns?" he said.
"The guns," Reacher repeated. "Where did you get them?"
"Petrosian gave them to us," the guy said.
"Where did he get them from?"
"We don't know. "
Reacher smiled and shook his head. "You can't say that. You can't just say we don't know. It's not convincing. You could say I don't know, but you can't answer for your brother. You can't know for sure what he knows, can you?"
"We don't know," the guy said again.
"They came from the Army," Reacher said.
"Petrosian bought them," the guy said.
"He paid for them," Reacher said.
"He bought them. "
"He arranged their purchase, I accept that. "
"He gave them to us," the younger brother said.
"Did they come in the mail?"
The older brother nodded. "Yes, in the mail. "
Reacher shook his head. "No, they didn't. He sent you to pick them up someplace. Probably a whole consignment. "
"He picked them up himself. "
"No, he didn't. He sent you. Petrosian wouldn't go himself. He sent you, in that Mercedes you were using. "
The brothers stared at the wall, thinking, like there was a decision to be made.
"Who are you?" the older one asked.
"I'm nobody," Reacher said.
"Not a cop, not FBI, not ATF, not anybody. "
"So there's an upside and a downside here," Reacher said. "You tell me stuff, it stays with me. Doesn't have to go any farther. I'm interested in the Army, not you. The downside is, you don't tell me, I'm not concerned with sending you off to court with all kinds of civil rights. I'm concerned with sending you back to Bellevue with all kinds of broken arms and legs. "
"You INS?" the guy asked.
Reacher smiled. "Mislaid your green cards?"
The brothers said nothing.
"I'm not INS," Reacher said. "I told you, I'm not anything. I'm nobody. Just a guy who wants an answer. You tell me the answer, you can stay here as long as you want, enjoy the benefits of American civilization. But I'm getting impatient. Those shoes aren't going to do it forever. "
"I don't want to hit a guy wearing slippers like that. "
There was silence.
"New Jersey," the older brother said. "Through the Lincoln Tunnel, there's a roadhouse set back where Route 3 meets the turnpike. "
"What's it called?"
"I don't know," the guy said. "Somebody's Bar, is all I know. Mac something, like Irish. "
"Who did you see in there?"
"Guy called Bob. "
"Bob, I don't know. We didn't exchange business cards or anything. Petrosian just told us Bob. "
"I guess. I mean, he wasn't in uniform or nothing. But he had real short hair. "
"How does it go down?"
"You go in the bar, you find him, you give him the cash, he takes you in the parking lot and gives you the stuff out of the trunk of his car. "
"A Cadillac," the other guy said. "An old DeVille, some dark color. "
"How many times?"
"Berettas. Twelve each trip. "
"What time of day?"
"Evening time, around eight o'clock. "
"You have to call him ahead?"
The younger brother shook his head.
"He's always in there by eight o'clock," he said. "That's what Petrosian told us. "
"So what does Bob look like?" he asked.
"Like you," the older brother said. "Big and mean. "