THE CAB PULLED up nose to nose with the police cruiser. Reacher was the first one out, partly because he was tense, and partly because he needed Harper to pay the driver. He stood on the sidewalk and glanced around. Stepped back into the street and headed for the cop's window.
"Everything OK?" he asked.
"Who are you?" the cop said.
"FBI," Reacher said. "Is everything OK here?"
"Can I see a badge?"
"Harper, show this guy your badge," Reacher called.
The taxi backed off and pulled a wide curb-to-curb turn in the road. Harper put her purse back in her pocketbook and came out with her badge, gold on gold, the eagle on top with its head cocked to the left. The cop glanced across at it and relaxed. Harper put it back in her bag and stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the house.
"It's all quiet here," the cop said, through his window.
"She in there?" Reacher asked him.
The cop pointed at the garage door.
"Just got back from the store," he said.
"She went out?"
"I can't stop her from going out," the cop said.
"You check her car?"
"Just her and two shopping bags. There was a padre came calling for her. From the Army, some counseling thing. She sent him away. "
Reacher nodded. "She would. She's not religious. "
"Tell me about it," the cop said.
"OK," Reacher said. "We're going inside. "
"Just don't ask for the powder room," the cop said.
"She's kind of touchy about being disturbed. "
"I'll take the risk," Reacher said.
"Well, can you give her this for me?" the cop asked.
He ducked down in his car and came back with an empty mug from the passenger footwell. Handed it out through the window.
"She brought me coffee," he said. "Nice lady when you get to know her. "
"Yes, she is," Reacher said.
He took the mug and followed Harper into the driveway. Up the looping path, up the porch steps, to the door. Harper pressed the bell. He listened to the sound echoing to silence off the polished wood inside. Harper waited ten seconds and pressed again. A burst of purring metallic noise, then echoes, then silence.
"Where is she?" she said.
She hit the bell for the third time. Noise, echoes, silence. She looked at him, worried. He looked at the lock on the door. It was a big heavy item. Probably new. Probably carried all kinds of lifetime warranties and insurance discounts. Probably had a thick case-hardened latch fitted snugly into a steel receptacle chiseled neatly into the doorframe. The doorframe was probably Oregon pine felled a hundred years ago. The best construction timber in history, dried like iron over a century.
"Shit," he said.
He stepped back to the edge of the porch and balanced the cop's empty mug on the rail. Danced forward and smashed the sole of his foot against the lock.
"Hell are you doing?" Harper said.
He whirled back and hit the door again, once, twice, three times. Felt the timbers yield. He grasped the porch railings like a ski jumper and bounced twice and hurled himself forward. Straightened his leg and smashed his whole two hundred and thirty pounds into an area the size of his heel directly over the lock. The frame splintered and part of it followed the door into the hallway.
"Upstairs," he gasped.
He raced up, with Harper crowding his back. He ducked into a bedroom. Wrong bedroom. Inferior linens, a cold musty smell. A guest room. He ducked into the next door. The right bedroom. A made bed, dimpled pillows, the smell of sleep, a telephone and a water glass on the nightstand. A connecting door, ajar. He stepped across the room and shoved it open. He saw a bathroom.
Mirrors, a sink, a shower stall.
A tub full of hideous green water.
Scimeca in the water.
And Julia Lamarr.
Julia Lamarr, turning and rising and twisting off her perch on the rim of the tub, whirling around to face him. She was wearing a sweater and pants and black leather gloves. Her face was white with hate and fear. Her mouth was half-open. Her crossed teeth were bared in panic. He seized her by the front of the sweater and spun her around and hit her once in the head, a savage abrupt blow from a huge fist powered by blind anger and crushing physical momentum. It caught her solidly on the side of the jaw and her head snapped back and she bounced off the opposite wall and went down like she was hit by a truck. He didn't see her make it to the floor because he was already turning back to the tub. Scimeca was arched up out of the slime, naked, rigid, eyes bulging, head back, mouth open in agony.
He put a hand under her neck and held her head up and straightened the fingers on his other hand and stabbed them into her mouth. Couldn't reach her tongue. He balled his hand and punched and forced his knuckles all the way inside. Her mouth made a giant ghastly O around his wrist and the skin of his hand tore against her teeth and he scrabbled in her throat and hooked a finger around her tongue and hauled it back. It was slippery, like a live thing. It was long and heavy and muscular. It curled tight against itself and eased up out of her throat and flopped back into her mouth. He pulled his hand free and tore more skin. Bent down to blow air into her lungs but as his face got near hers he felt a convulsive exhalation from her and a desperate cough and then her chest started heaving. Giant ragged breaths sucked in and out. He cradled her head. She was wheezing. Tortured cracked sounds in her throat.
"Set the shower running," he screamed.
Harper ran to the stall and turned on the water. He slid his hand under Scimeca's back and pulled the stopper out of the drain. The thick green water eddied away around her body. He lifted her under the shoulders and the knees. Stood up and stepped back and held her in the middle of the bathroom, dripping green slime everywhere.
"Got to get this stuff off of her," he said, helplessly.
"I'll take her," Harper said gently.
She caught her under the arms and backed herself into the shower, fully dressed. Jammed herself into a corner of the stall and held the limp body upright like a drunk. The shower turned the paint light green, and then reddened skin showed through as it rinsed away. Harper held her tight, two minutes, three, four. She was soaked to the skin and her clothes were smeared with green. She moved around in a bizarre halting dance, so the shower could catch every part of Scimeca's body. Then she maneuvered carefully backward until the water was rinsing the sticky green out of her hair. It kept on coming, endlessly. Harper was tiring. The paint was slick. Scimeca was sliding out of her grasp.
"Get towels," she gasped. "Find a bathrobe. "
They were on a row of hooks, directly above where Lamarr was lying inert. Reacher took two towels and Harper staggered forward out of the stall. Reacher held a towel in front of him and Harper passed Scimeca to him. He caught her through the thickness of the towel and wrapped her in it. Harper turned off the hissing water and took the other towel. Stood there in the sudden silence, breathing hard, wiping her face. Reacher lifted Scimeca off her feet and carried her out of the bathroom, into the bedroom. Laid her down gently on the bed. Leaned over her and wiped the wet hair off her face. She was still wheezing hard. Her eyes were open, but they were blank.
"Is she OK?" Harper called.
"I don't know," Reacher said.
He watched her breathing. Her chest rose and fell, rose and fell, urgently, like she had just run a mile.
"I think so," he said. "She's breathing. "
He caught her wrist and felt for the pulse. It was there, strong and fast.
"She's OK," he said. "Pulse is good. "
"We should get her to the hospital," Harper called.
"She'll be better here," Reacher said.
"But she'll need sedation. This will have blown her mind. "
/> He shook his head. "She'll wake up, and she won't remember a thing. "
Harper stared at him. "Are you kidding?"
He looked up at her. She was standing there, holding a bathrobe, soaked to the skin and smeared with paint. Her shirt was olive green and transparent.
"She was hypnotized," he said.
He nodded toward the bathroom.
"That's how she did it all," he said. "Everything, every damn step of the way. She was the Bureau's biggest expert. "
"Hypnosis?" Harper said.
He took the bathrobe from her and laid it over Scimeca's passive form. Tucked it tight around her. Bent his head and listened to her breathing. It was still strong, and it was slowing down. She looked like a person in a deep sleep, except her eyes were wide open and staring at nothing.
"I don't believe it," Harper said.
Reacher used the corner of the towel and dried Scimeca's face.
"That's how she did it all," he said again.
He used his thumbs and closed Scimeca's eyes. It seemed like the right thing to do. She breathed lower and turned her head an inch. Her wet hair dragged on the pillow. She turned her head the other way, scrubbing her face into the pillow, restlessly, like a sleeping woman confused by her dreams. Harper stared at her, immobile. Then she turned around and stared and spoke to the bathroom door.
"When did you know?" she asked.
"For sure?" he said. "Last night. "
"But how?" she said.
Reacher used the towel again, where thin green fluid was leaking down out of Scimeca's hair.
"I just went around and around," he said. "Right from the beginning, for days and days, thinking, thinking, thinking, driving myself crazy. It was a real what if thing. And then it turned into a so what else thing. "
Harper stared at him. He pulled the bathrobe higher on Scimeca's shoulder.
"I knew they were wrong about the motive," he said. "I knew it all along. But I couldn't understand it. They're smart people, right? But they were so wrong. I was asking myself why? Why? Had they gotten dumb all of a sudden? Were they blinded by their professional specialty? That's what I thought it was, at first. Small units inside big organizations are so defensive, aren't they? Innately? I figured a bunch of psychologists paid to unravel very complex things wouldn't be too willing to give it up and say no, this is something very ordinary. I thought it might be subconscious. But eventually I passed on that. It's just too irresponsible. So I went around and around. And in the end the only answer left was they were wrong because they wanted to be wrong. "
"And you knew Lamarr was driving the motive," Harper said. "Because it was her case, really. So you suspected her. "
"Exactly," he said. "Soon as Alison died, I had to think about Lamarr doing it, because there was a close connection, and like you said, close family connections are always significant. So then I asked myself what if she did them all? What if she's camouflaging a personal motive behind the randomness of the first three? But I couldn't see how. Or why. There was no personal motive. They weren't best buddies, but they got along OK. There were no family issues. No unfairness about the inheritance, for instance. It was going to be equal. No jealousy there. And she couldn't fly, so how could it be her?"
"But then the dam broke. Something Alison said. I remembered it much later. She said her father was dying but sisters take care of each other, right? I thought she was talking about emotional support or something. But then I thought what if she meant it another way? Like some people use the phrase? Like you did, when we had coffee in New York and the check came and you said you'd take care of it? Meaning you'd pay for me, you'd treat me? I thought what if Alison meant that she'd take care of Julia financially? Share with her? Like she knew the inheritance was all coming her way and Julia was getting nothing and was all uptight about it? But Julia had told me everything was equal, and she was already rich, anyway, because the old man was generous and fair. So I suddenly asked myself what if she's lying about that? What if the old guy wasn't generous and fair? What if she's not rich?"
"She was lying about that?"
Reacher nodded. "Had to be. Suddenly it made a lot of sense. I realized she doesn't look rich. She dresses very cheap. She has cheap luggage. "
"You based it on her luggage?"
He shrugged. "I told you it was a house of cards. But in my experience if somebody's got money outside of their salary, it shows up somewhere. It might be subtle and tasteful, but it's there. And with Julia Lamarr, it wasn't there. So she was poor. So she was lying. And Jodie told me her firm has this so what else thing. If they find a guy lying about something, they ask themselves so what else? What else is he lying about? So I thought what if she's lying about the relationship with her sister too? What if she still hates her and resents her, like when she was a little kid? And what if she's lying about the equal inheritance? What if there's no inheritance for her at all?"
"Did you check it out?"
"How could I? But check it out yourself and you'll see. It's the only thing that fits. So then I thought what the hell else? What if everything is a lie? What if she's lying about not flying? What if that's a big beautiful lie too, just sitting there, so big and obvious nobody thinks twice about it? I even asked you how she gets away with it. You said everybody just works around it, like a law of nature. Well, we all did. We just worked around it. Like she intended. Because it made it absolutely impossible it was her. But it was a lie. It had to be. Fear of flying is way too irrational for her. "
"But it's an impossible lie to tell. I mean, either a person flies, or she doesn't. "
"She used to, years ago," Reacher said. "She told me that. Then presumably she grew to hate it, so she stopped. So it was convincing. Nobody who knows her now ever saw her fly. So everybody believed her. But when it came to it, she could put herself on a plane. If it was worth it to her. And this was worth it to her. Biggest motive you ever saw. Alison was going to get everything, and she wanted it for herself. She was Cinderella, all burning up with jealousy and resentment and hatred. "
"Well, she fooled me," Harper said. "That's for sure. "
Reacher stroked Scimeca's hair.
"She fooled everybody," he said. "That's why she did the far corners first. To make everybody think about the geography, the range, the reach, the distance. To move herself right outside the picture, subconsciously. "
Harper was quiet for a beat. "But she was so upset. She cried, remember? In front of us all?"
Reacher shook his head. "She wasn't upset. She was frightened. It was her time of maximum danger. Remember just before that? She refused to take her rest period. Because she knew she needed to be around, to control any fallout from the postmortem. And then I started questioning the motive, and she got tense as hell because I might be heading in the right direction. But then I said it was weapons theft in the Army, and she cried, but not because she was upset. She cried with relief, because she was still safe. I hadn't smoked her out. And you remember what she did next?"
Harper nodded. "She started backing you up on the weapons theft thing. "
"Exactly," Reacher said. "She started making my case for me. Putting words in my mouth. She said we should think laterally, go for it, maximum effort. She jumped on the bandwagon, because she saw the bandwagon was heading in the wrong direction. She was thinking hard, improvising like crazy, sending us all down another blind alley. But she wasn't thinking hard enough, because that bandwagon was always bullshit. There was a flaw in it, a mile wide. "
"It was an impossible coincidence that the eleven witnesses could be the only eleven women obviously living alone afterward. I told you it was partly an experiment. I wanted to see who wouldn't support it. Only Poulton wouldn't. Blake was out of it, upset because Lamarr was upset. But Lamarr backed it all the way. She backed it big-time, because it made her safe. And then she went home, with
everybody's sympathy. But she didn't go home. At least not for more than the time it takes to pack a bag. She came straight here and went to work. "
Harper went pale.
"She actually confessed," she said. "Right then and there, before she left. Remember that? She said I killed my sister. Because of wasting time, she said. But it was really true. It was a sick joke. "
Reacher nodded. "She's sick as hell. She killed four women for her stepfather's money. And this paint thing? It was always so bizarre. So bizarre, it was overwhelming. But it was difficult, too. Can you imagine the practicalities? Why would a person use a trick like that?"
"To confuse us. "
"Because she enjoyed it," Harper said, slowly. "Because she's really sick. "
"Sick as hell," Reacher said again. "But very smart, too. Can you imagine the planning? She must have started two whole years ago. Her stepfather fell ill about the same time her sister came out of the Army. She started putting it all together right then. Very, very meticulous. She got the support group list direct from her sister, picked out the ones who obviously lived alone, like I did, then she visited all eleven of them, secretly, probably weekends, by plane. Walked in everywhere she needed to because she was a woman with an FBI shield, just like you walked into Alison's place the other day and you walked past that cop just now. Nothing more reassuring than a woman with an FBI shield, right? Then she maybe gave them some story about how the Bureau was trying to finally nail the military, which must have gratified them. Said she was starting a big investigation. Sat them down in their own living rooms and asked if she could hypnotize them for background information on the issue. "
"Including her own sister? But how could she do that without Alison knowing she flew there?"
"She made Alison come to Quantico for it. Remember that? Alison said she'd flown out to Quantico so Julia could hypnotize her for deep background. But there were no questions about deep background. No questions at all, in fact, just instructions for the future. She told her what to do, just like she told all of them what to do. Lorraine Stanley was still serving then, so she told her to steal the paint and hide it. The others, she told them to expect a carton sometime in the future and store it. She told all of them to expect another visit from her, and in the meantime to deny everything if they were ever asked about anything. She even scripted the bullshit stories for them, bogus roommates and random delivery mistakes. "
Harper nodded and stared at the bathroom door.
"So then she told Stanley to activate the deliveries," she said. "And then she went back to Florida and killed Amy Callan. Then Caroline Cooke. And she knew as soon as she killed Cooke, a serial pattern would be established and the whole thing would fall into Blake's lap at Quantico, whereupon she was right there to start misdirecting the investigation. God, I should have spotted it. She insisted on working the case. And she insisted on staying with it. It was perfect, wasn't it? Who did the profile? She did. Who insisted on the military motive? She did. Who said we're looking for a soldier? She did. She even hauled you in as an example of what we were looking for. "
Reacher said nothing. Harper stared at the door.
"But Alison was the only real target," she said. "And that's why she dropped the interval, I guess. Because she was all hyped up and excited and couldn't wait. "
"She made us do her surveillance," Reacher said. "She asked us about Alison's place, remember? She was abandoning the interval, so she didn't have time for surveillance, so she got us to do it for her. Remember that? Is it isolated? Is the door locked? We did her scouting for her. "
Harper closed her eyes. "She was off duty the day Alison died. It was Sunday. Quantico was quiet. I never even thought about it. She knew nobody would think about it, on a Sunday. She knows nobody's there. "
"She's very smart," Reacher said.
Harper nodded. Opened her eyes. "And I guess it explains the lack of evidence everywhere. She knows what we look for at the scene. "
"And she's a woman," Reacher said. "The investigators were looking for a man, because she told them to. Same with the rental cars. She knew if anybody checked they would come back with a woman's name, which would be ignored. Which is exactly what happened. "
"But what name?" Harper asked. "She'd need ID for the rental. "
"For the airlines, too," Reacher said. "But I'm sure she's got a drawerful of ID. From women the Bureau has sent to prison. You'll be able to match them up, relevant dates and places. Innocent feminine names, meaning nothing. "
Harper looked rueful. "I passed that message on, remember? From Hertz? It was nothing, I said, just some woman on business. "
Reacher nodded. "She's very smart. I think she even dressed the same as the victims, while she was in their houses. She watched them, and if they wore a cotton dress, she wore a cotton dress. If they wore pants, she wore pants. Like she's in here now wearing an old sweater like Scimeca's. So any fibers she leaves behind will be discounted. She asked us what Alison was wearing, remember? No time for surveillance, so she asked us, all innocent and roundabout. Is she still all sporty and tanned and dressed like a cowboy? We said yes, she is, so no doubt she went in there wearing denim jeans and boots. "
"And she scratched her face because she hated her. "
Reacher shook his head.
"No, I'm afraid that was my fault," he said. "I kept questioning the lack of violence, right in front of her. So she supplied some, the very next time around. I should have kept my big mouth shut. "
Harper said nothing.
"And that's how I knew she'd be here," Reacher said. "Because she was trying to imitate a guy like me, all along. And I said I would go for Scimeca next. So I knew she'd be here, sooner or later. But she was a little quicker than I thought. And we were a little slower. She didn't waste any time, did she?"
Harper glanced at the bathroom door. Shuddered. Glanced away.
"How did you figure the hypnotism thing?" she asked.
"Like everything else," Reacher said. "I thought I knew who, and why, but the how part looked absolutely impossible, so I just went around and around. That's why I wanted to get out of Quantico. I wanted space to think. It took me a real long time. But eventually, it was the only possibility. It explained everything. The passivity, the obedience, the acquiescence. And why the scenes looked the way they did. Looked like the guy never laid a finger on them, because she never did lay a finger on them. She just reestablished the spell and told them what to do, step by step. They did everything themselves. Right down to filling their own tubs, swallowing their own tongues. The only thing she did herself was what I did, pull their tongues back up afterward, so the pathologists wouldn't catch on. "
"But how did you know about the tongues?"
He was quiet for a beat.
"From kissing you," he said.
He smiled. "You've got a great tongue, Harper. It set me thinking. Tongues were the only things which fitted Stavely's autopsy findings. But I figured there was no way to make somebody swallow their own tongue, until I realized it was Lamarr, and she was a hypnotist, and then the whole thing fell together. "
Harper was silent.
"And you know what?" Reacher said.
"The very first night I met her, she wanted to hypnotize me. For deep background, she said, but obviously she was going to tell me to look convincing and get absolutely nowhere. Blake pestered me to do it, and I said no, because she'll make me run naked down Fifth Avenue. Like a joke. But it was awful near the truth. "
Harper shivered. "Where would she have stopped?"
"Maybe one more," Reacher said. "Six would be enough. Six would have done it. Sand on the beach. "
She stepped over and sat down next to him on the bed. Stared down at Scimeca, inert beneath the bathrobe.
"Will she be OK?" she asked.
"Probably," Reacher said. "She's tough as hell. " r />
Harper glanced at him. His shirt and pants were wet and smeared. His arms were green, right up to the shoulders.
"You're all wet," she said, absently.
"So are you," he said. "Wetter than me. "
She nodded. Went quiet.
"We're both wet," she said. "But at least now it's over. "
He said nothing.
"Here's to success," she said.
She leaned over and threaded her damp arms around his neck. Pulled him close and kissed him, hard on the mouth. He felt her tongue on his lips. Then it stopped moving. She pulled away.
"Feels weird," she said. "I won't be able to do this ever again without thinking bad things about tongues. "
He said nothing.
"Horrible way to die," she said.
He looked at her and smiled.
"You fall off a horse, you've got to get right back on," he said.
He leaned toward her and cupped a hand behind her head and pulled her close. Kissed her on the mouth. She was completely still for a beat. Then she got back into it. She held the kiss for a long moment. Then she pulled away, smiling shyly.
"Go wake her up," Reacher said. "Make the arrest, start the questioning. You've got a big case ahead of you. "
"She won't talk to me. "
He looked down at Scimeca's sleeping face.
"She will," he said. "Tell her the first time she clams up, I'll break her arm. The second time, I'll grind the bones together. "
Harper shivered again and turned away. Stood up and stepped out to the bathroom. The bedroom went quiet. No sound anywhere, just Scimeca's breathing, steady but noisy, like a machine. Then Harper came back in, a long moment later, white in the face.
"She won't talk to me," she said.
"How do you know? You didn't ask her anything. "
"Because she's dead. "
"You killed her. "
"When you hit her. "
"You broke her neck. "
Then there were loud footsteps in the hallway below them. Then they were on the stairs. Then they were in the corridor outside the bedroom. The cop stepped into the room. He was holding his mug. He had retrieved it from the porch railing. He stared.
"Hell's going on?" he said.