Tripwire


Chapter 12

  STONE HAD TO wait five minutes behind the black glass in the rear of the Tahoe, because the loading dock under the World Trade Center was busy. Tony loitered nearby, leaning on a pillar in the noisy dark, waiting until a delivery truck moved out in a blast of diesel and there was a moment before the next one could move in. He used that moment to hustle Stone across the garage to the freight elevator. He hit the button and they rode up in silence, heads down, breathing hard, smelling the strong smell of the tough rubber floor. They came out in the back of the eighty-eighth floor lobby and Tony scanned ahead. The way was clear to the door of Hobie's suite.

  The thickset man was at the reception counter. They walked straight past him into the office. It was dark, as usual. The blinds were pulled tight and it was quiet. Hobie was at the desk, sitting still and silent, gazing at Marilyn, who was on the sofa with her legs tucked underneath her.

  "Well?" he asked. "Mission accomplished?"

  Stone nodded. "She got inside OK. "

  "Where?" Marilyn asked. "Which hospital?"

  "St. Vincent's," Tony said. "Straight into the ER. "

  Stone nodded to confirm it and he saw Marilyn smile a slight smile of relief.

  "OK," Hobie said into the silence. "'That's the good deed for the day. Now we do business. What are these complications I need to know about?"

  Tony shoved Stone around the coffee table to the sofa. He sat down heavily next to Marilyn and stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing.

  "Well?" Hobie said again.

  "The stock," Marilyn said. "He doesn't own it outright. "

  Hobie stared at her. "Yes he damn well does. I checked it at the Exchange. "

  She nodded. "Well, yes, he owns it. What I mean is, he doesn't control it. He doesn't have free access to it. "

  "Why the hell not?"

  "There's a trust. Access is regulated by the trustees. "

  "What trust? Why?"

  "His father set it up, before he died. He didn't trust Chester to handle it all outright. He felt he needed supervision. "

  Hobie stared at her.

  "Any major stock disposals need to be co-signed," she said. "By the trustees. "

  There was silence.

  "Both of them," she said.

  Hobie switched his gaze to Chester Stone. It was like a searchlight beam flicking sideways. Marilyn watched his good eye. Watched him thinking. Watched him buying into the lie, like she knew he would, because it jibed with what he thought he already knew. Chester's business was failing, because he was a bad businessman. A bad businessman would have been spotted early by a close relative like a father. And a responsible father would have protected the family heritage with a trust.

  "It's unbreakable," she said. "God knows we've tried often enough. "

  Hobie nodded. Just a slight movement of his head. Almost imperceptible. Marilyn smiled inside. Smiled with triumph. Her final comment had done it to him. A trust was a thing to be broken. It had to be fought. Therefore the attempts to fight it proved it existed.

  "Who are the trustees?" he asked quietly.

  "I'm one of them," she said. "The other is the senior partner at his law firm. "

  "Just two trustees?"

  She nodded.

  "And you're one of them?"

  She nodded again. "And you've already got my vote. I just want to get rid of the whole damn thing and get you off our backs. "

  Hobie nodded back to her. "You're a smart woman. "

  "Which law firm?" Tony asked.

  "Forster and Abelstein," she said. "Right here in town. "

  "Who's the senior partner?" Tony asked.

  "A guy called David Forster," Marilyn said.

  "How do we set up the meeting?" Hobie asked.

  "I call him," Marilyn said. "Or Chester does, but I think right now it would be better if I did. "

  "So call him, set it up for this afternoon. "

  She shook her head. "Won't be that quick. Could be a couple of days. "

  There was silence. Just the boom and shudder of the giant building breathing. Hobie tapped his hook on the desk. He closed his eyes. The damaged eyelid stayed open a fraction. The eyeball rolled up and showed white, like a crescent moon.

  "Tomorrow morning," he said quietly. "At the very latest. Tell him it's a matter of considerable urgency to you. "

  Then his eyes snapped open.

  "And tell him to fax the trust deeds to me," he whispered. "Immediately. I need to know what the hell I'm dealing with. "

  Marilyn was shaking inside. She pushed down on the soft upholstery, trying to ground herself. "There won't be a problem. It's really just a formality. "

  "So let's go make the call," Hobie said.

  Marilyn was unsteady on her feet. She stood swaying, smoothing the dress down over her thighs. Chester touched her elbow, just for a second. A tiny gesture of support. She straightened and followed Hobie out to the reception counter.

  "Dial nine for a line," he said.

  She moved behind the counter and the three men watched her. The phone was a small console. She scanned across the buttons and saw no speakerphone facility. She relaxed a fraction and picked up the handset. Pressed nine and heard a dial tone.

  "Behave yourself," Hobie said. "You're a smart woman, remember, and right now you need to stay smart. "

  She nodded. He raised the hook. It glittered in the artificial light. It looked heavy. It was beautifully made and lovingly polished, mechanically simple and terribly brutal. She saw him inviting her to imagine the things that could be done with it.

  "Forster and Abelstein," a bright voice said in her ear. "How may we help you?"

  "Marilyn Stone," she said. "For Mr. Forster. "

  Her throat was suddenly dry. It made her voice low and husky. There was a snatch of electronic music and then the boomy acoustic of a large office.

  "Forster," a deep voice said.

  "David, it's Marilyn Stone. "

  There was dead silence for a second. In that second, she knew Sheryl had done it right.

  "Are we being overheard?" Forster asked quietly.

  "No, I'm fine," Marilyn said, brightness in her voice. Hobie rested the hook on the counter, the steel glittering chest high, eighteen inches in front of her eyes.

  "You need the police for this," Forster said.

  "No, it's just about a trustees' meeting. What's the soonest we can do?"

  "Your friend Sheryl told me what you want," Forster said. "But there are problems. Our staff people can't handle this sort of stuff. We're not equipped for it. We're not that sort of law firm. I'll have to find you a private detective. "

  "Tomorrow morning would be good for us," she said back. "There's an element of urgency, I'm afraid. "

  "Let me call the police for you," Forster said.

  "No, David, next week is really too late. We need to move fast, if we can. "

  "But I don't know where to look. We've never used private detectives. "

  "Hold on a moment, David. " She covered the mouthpiece with the heel of her hand and glanced up at Hobie. "If you want it tomorrow, it's got to be at their offices. "

  Hobie shook his head. "It has to be here, on my turf. "

  She took her hand away. "David, what about the day after tomorrow? It really needs to be here, I'm afraid. It's a delicate negotiation. "

  "You really don't want the police? You absolutely sure about that?"

  "Well, there are complications. You know how things can be sometimes, sort of delicate?"

  "OK, but I'm going to have to find somebody suitable. It could take me some time. I'll have to ask around for recommendations. "

  "That's great, David," she said.

  "OK," Forster said again. "If you're sure you're sure, I'll get on it right away. But I'm really not clear exactly what you're hoping to achieve. "

  "Yes, I agree," she said. "You know we've always hated the way D
ad set it up. Outside interference can change things, can't it?"

  "Two in the afternoon," Forster said. "Day after tomorrow. I don't know who it'll be, but I'll get you someone good. Will that be OK?"

  "Day after tomorrow, two in the afternoon," she repeated. She recited the address. "That's great. Thanks, David. "

  Her hand was shaking and the phone rattled in the cradle as she hung it up.

  "You didn't ask for the trust deeds," Hobie said.

  She shrugged nervously.

  "There was no need. It's a formality. It would have made him suspicious. "

  There was silence. Then Hobie nodded.

  "OK," he said. "Day after tomorrow. Two in the afternoon. "

  "We need clothes," she said. "It's supposed to be a business meeting. We can't be dressed like this. "

  Hobie smiled. "I like you dressed like that. Both of you. But I guess old Chester here can borrow my suit back for the meeting. You'll stay as you are. "

  She nodded, vaguely. She was too drained to push it.

  "Back in the bathroom," Hobie said. "You can come out again day after tomorrow, two o'clock. Behave yourselves and you'll eat twice a day. "

  They walked silently ahead of Tony. He closed the bathroom door on them and walked back through the dark office and rejoined Hobie in the reception area.

  "Day after tomorrow is way too late," he said. "For God's sake, Hawaii is going to know today. Tomorrow, at the very latest, right?"

  Hobie nodded. The ball was dropping through the glare of the lights. The outfielder was leaping. The fence was looming.

  "Yes, it's going to be tight, isn't it?" he said.

  "It's going to be crazy tight. You should just get the hell out. "

  "I can't, Tony. I've given my word on the deal, so I need that stock. But it'll be OK. Don't you worry about it. Day after tomorrow at two-thirty, the stock will be mine, it'll be registered by three, it'll be sold on by five, we'll be out of here by suppertime. Day after tomorrow, it'll all be over. "

  "But it's crazy. Involving a lawyer? We can't let a lawyer in here. "

  Hobie stared at him.

  "A lawyer," he repeated slowly. "You know what the basis of justice is?"

  "What?"

  "Fairness," Hobie said. "Fairness and equality. They bring a lawyer, we should bring a lawyer, too, shouldn't we? Keep things fair?"

  "Christ, Hobie, we can't have two lawyers in here. "

  "We can," Hobie said. "In fact, I think we should. "

  He walked around the reception counter and sat down where Marilyn had sat. The leather was still warm from her body. He took the Yellow Pages from a cubbyhole and opened it up. Picked up the phone and hit nine for a line. Then he used the tip of the hook in seven precise little motions to dial the number.

  "Spencer Gutman," a bright voice said in his ear. "How may we help you?"

  SHERYL WAS ON her back on a bed, with an IV needle taped into a vein in her left hand. The IV was a square polyethylene bag hanging off a curled steel stand behind her. The bag contained liquid, and she could feel the pressure as it seeped down into her hand. She could feel it pushing her blood pressure higher than usual. There was hissing in her temples, and she could feel the pulses behind her ears. The liquid in the bag was clear, like thick water, but it was doing the job. Her face had stopped hurting. The pain had just faded away, leaving her feeling calm and sleepy. She had almost called out to the nurse that she could manage without the painkiller now, because the pain had gone away anyhow, but then she caught herself and realized it was the drug that was taking it away, and it would come right back if the IV stopped. She tried to giggle at her confusion, but her breathing was too slow to get much of a sound out. So she just smiled to herself and closed her eyes and swam down into the warm depths of the bed.

  Then there was a sound somewhere in front of her. She opened her eyes and saw the ceiling. It was white and illuminated from above. She swiveled her gaze toward her feet. It was a big effort. There were two people standing at the end of the bed. A man, and a woman. They were looking at her. They were dressed in uniforms. Short-sleeved blue shirts, long dark pants, big comfortable shoes for walking. Their shirts were all covered in badges. Bright embroidered badges and metal signs and plates. They had belts, all loaded down with equipment. There were nightsticks and radios and handcuffs. Revolvers with big wooden handles were strapped into holsters. They were police officers. Both of them were old. Quite short. Quite broad. The heavy loaded belts made them ungainly.

  They were looking at her, patiently. She tried to giggle again. They were looking at the patient, patiently. The man was balding. The illuminated ceiling was reflected in his shiny forehead. The woman had a tight perm, dyed orange, like a carrot. She was older than he was. She must have been fifty. She was a mother. Sheryl could tell that. She was gazing down with a kind expression, like a mother would.

  "Can we sit down?" the woman asked.

  Sheryl nodded. The thick liquid was buzzing in her temples, and it was confusing her. The woman scraped a chair across the floor and sat down on Sheryl's right, away from the IV stand. The man sat directly behind her. The woman leaned toward the bed, and the man leaned the other way, so his head was visible in a line behind hers. They were close, and it was a struggle to focus on their faces.

  "I'm Officer O'Hallinan," the woman said.

  Sheryl nodded again. The name suited her. The gingery hair, the heavy face, the heavy body, she needed an Irish name. And a lot of New York cops were Irish. Sheryl knew that. Sometimes it was like a family trade. One generation would follow the other.

  "I'm Officer Sark," the man said, from behind her.

  He was pale. He had the sort of pale white skin that looks papery. He had shaved, but there was gray shadow showing. His eyes were deep set, but kindly. They were in a web of lines. He was an uncle. Sheryl was sure of that. He had nephews and nieces who liked him.

  "We want you to tell us what happened," the woman called O'Hallinan said.

  Sheryl closed her eyes. She couldn't really remember what happened. She knew she had stepped in through Marilyn's door. She remembered the smell of rug shampoo. She remembered thinking that was a mistake. Maybe the client would wonder what needed covering up. Then she was suddenly on her back on the hallway floor with agony exploding from her nose.

  "Can you tell us what happened?" the man called Sark asked.

  "I walked into a door," she whispered. Then she nodded, like she was confirming it to them. It was important. Marilyn had told her no police. Not yet.

  "Which door?"

  She didn't know which door. Marilyn hadn't told her. It was something they hadn't talked about. Which door? She panicked.

  "Office door," she said.

  "Is your office here in the city?" O'Hallinan asked.

  Sheryl made no reply. She just stared blankly into the woman's kindly face.

  "Your insurance carrier says you work up in Westchester," Sark said. "At a real estate broker in Pound Ridge. "

  Sheryl nodded, cautiously.

  "So you walked into your office door in Westchester," O'Hallinan said. "And now you're in the hospital fifty miles away in New York City. "

  "How did that happen, Sheryl?" Sark asked.

  She made no reply. There was silence inside the curtain area. Hissing and buzzing in her temples.

  "We can help, you know," O'Hallinan said. "That's why we're here. We're here to help you. We can make sure this doesn't happen again. "

  Sheryl nodded again, cautiously.

  "But you have to tell us how it came about. Does he do this often?"

  Sheryl stared at her, confused.

  "Is that why you're down here?" Sark asked. "You know, new hospital, no records from the other times? If we were to ask up in Mount Kisco or White Plains, what would we find? Would we find they know you up there? From before, maybe? From the other times he's done this to you?"


  "I walked into a door," Sheryl whispered.

  O'Hallinan shook her head. "Sheryl, we know you didn't. "

  She stood up and peeled the X-ray films off the light box on the wall. Held them up to the light from the ceiling, like a doctor would.

  "Here's your nose," she said, pointing. "Here's your cheekbones, and here's your brow, and here's your chin. See here? Your nose is broken, and your cheekbones, Sheryl. There's a depressed fracture. That's what the doctor is calling it. A depressed fracture. The bones are pushed down below the level of your chin and your brow. But your chin and your brow are OK. So this was done by something horizontal, wasn't it? Something like a bat? Swinging sideways?"

  Sheryl stared at the films. They were gray and milky. Her bones looked like vague blurred shapes. Her eye sockets were enormous. The painkiller buzzed in her head, and she felt weak and sleepy.

  "I walked into a door," she whispered.

  "The edge of a door is vertical," Sark said, patiently. "There would be damage to your chin and your brow as well, wouldn't there? It stands to reason, doesn't it? If a vertical thing had depressed your cheekbones, it would have hit your brow and your chin pretty hard as well, wouldn't it?"

  He gazed at the X rays, sadly.

  "We can help you," O'Hallinan said. "You tell us all about it, and we can keep it from happening again. We can keep him from doing this to you again. "

  "I want to sleep now," Sheryl whispered.

  O'Hallinan leaned forward and spoke softly. "Would it help if my partner left? You know, just you and me talking?"

  "I walked into a door," Sheryl whispered. "Now I want to go to sleep. "

  O'Hallinan nodded, wisely and patiently. "I'll leave you my card. So if you want to talk to me when you wake up, you can just call me, OK?"

  Sheryl nodded vaguely and O'Hallinan slipped a card from her pocket and bent down and placed it on the cabinet next to the bed.

  "Don't forget, we can help you," she whispered.

  Sheryl made no reply. She was either asleep, or pretending to be. O'Hallinan and Sark pulled the curtain and walked away to the desk. The doctor looked up at them. O'Hallinan shook her head.

  "Complete denial," she said.

  "Walked into a door," Sark said. "A door who was probably juiced up, weighs about two hundred pounds and swings a baseball bat. "

  The doctor shook her head. "Why on earth do they protect the bastards?"

  A nurse looked up. "I saw her come in. It was really weird. I was on my cigarette break. She got out of a car, way on the far side of the street. Walked herself all the way in. Her shoes were too big, you notice that? There were two guys in the car, watched her every step of the way, and then they took off in a big hurry. "

  "What was the car?" Sark asked.

  "Big black thing," the nurse said.

  "You recall the plate?"

  "What am I, Mr. Memory?"

  O'Hallinan shrugged and started to move away.

  "But it'll be on the video," the nurse said suddenly.

  "What video?" Sark asked.

  "Security camera, above the doors. We stand right underneath it, so the management can't clock how long we take out there. So what we see, it sees, too. "

  The exact time of Sheryl's arrival was recorded in the paperwork at the desk. It took just a minute to wind the tape back to that point. Then another minute to run her slow walk in reverse, backward across the ambulance circle, across the plaza, across the sidewalk, through the traffic, into the front of a big black car. O'Hallinan bent her head close to the screen.

  "Got it," she said.

  JODIE CHOSE THE hotel for the night. She did it by finding the travel section in the nearest bookstore to the NPRC building. She stood there and leafed through the local guides until she found a place recommended in three of them.

  "It's funny, isn't it?" she said. "We're in St. Louis here, and the travel section has more guides to St. Louis than anyplace else. So how is that a travel section? Should be called the stay-at-home section. "

  Reacher was a little nervous. This method was new to him. The sort of places he normally patronized never advertised in books. They relied on neon signs on tall poles, boasting attractions that had stopped being attractions and had become basic human rights about twenty years ago, such as air and cable and a pool.

  "Hold this," she said.

  He took the book from her and kept his thumb on the page while she squatted down and opened her carry-on. She rooted around and found her mobile phone. Took the book back from him and stood right there in the aisle and called the hotel. He watched her. He had never called a hotel. The places he stayed always had a room, no matter when. They were delirious if their occupancy rates ever made it above 50 percent. He listened to Jodie's end of the conversation and heard her mentioning sums of money that would have bought him a bed for a month, given a little haggling.

  "OK," she said. "We're in. It's their honeymoon suite. Four-poster bed. Is that neat, or what?"

  He smiled. The honeymoon suite.

  "We need to eat," he said. "They serve dinner there?"

  She shook her head and thumbed through the book to the restaurant section.

  "More fun to go someplace else for dinner," she said. "You like French?"

  He nodded. "My mother was French. "

  She checked the book and used the mobile again and reserved a table for two at a fancy place in the historic section, near the hotel.

  "Eight o'clock," she said. "Gives us time to look around a little. Then we can check in at the hotel and get freshened up. "

  "Call the airport," he said. "We need early flights out. Dallas-Fort Worth should do it. "

  "I'll do that outside," she said. "Can't call the airport from a bookstore. "

  He carried her bag and she bought a gaudy tourist map of St. Louis and they stepped out into the heat of the late-afternoon sun. He looked at the map and she called the airline from the sidewalk and reserved two business-class seats to Texas, eight-thirty in the morning. Then they set out to walk the banks of the Mississippi where it ran through the city.

  They strolled arm in arm for ninety minutes, which took them about four miles, all the way around to the historic part of town. The hotel was a medium-sized old mansion set on a wide, quiet street lined with chestnut trees. It had a big door painted shiny black and oak floors the color of honey. Reception was an antique mahogany desk standing alone in the corner of the hallway. Reacher stared at it. The places he normally stayed, reception was behind a wire grille or boxed in with bulletproof Plexiglas. An elegant lady with white hair ran Jodie's card through the swipe machine and the charge slip came chattering out. Jodie bent to sign it and the lady handed Reacher a brass key.

  "Enjoy your stay, Mr. Jacob," she said.

  The honeymoon suite was the whole of the attic. It had the same honey oak floor, thickly varnished to a high shine, with antique rugs scattered across it. The ceiling was a complicated geometric arrangement of slopes and dormer windows. There was a sitting room at one end with two sofas in pale floral patterns. The bathroom was next, and then the bedroom area. The bed was a gigantic four-poster, swathed in the same floral fabric and high off the ground. Jodie jumped up and sat there, her hands under her knees, her legs swinging in space. She was smiling and the sun was in the window behind her. Reacher put her bag down on the floor and stood absolutely still, just looking at her. Her shirt was blue, somewhere between the blue of a cornflower and the blue of her eyes. It was made from soft material, maybe silk. The buttons looked like small pearls. The first two were undone. The weight of the collar was pulling the shirt open. Her skin showed through at the neck, paler honey than the oak floor. The shirt was small, but it was still loose around her body. It was tucked deep into her belt. The belt was black leather, cinched tight around her tiny waist. The free end was long, hanging down outside the loops on her jeans. The jeans were old, washed many times and immaculately
pressed. She wore her shoes on bare feet. They were small blue penny loafers, fine leather, low heels, probably Italian. He could see the soles as she swung her legs. The shoes were new. Barely worn at all.

  "What are you looking at?" she asked.

  She held her head at an angle, shy and mischievous.

  "You," he said.

  The buttons were pearls, exactly like the pearls from a necklace, taken off the string and sewn individually onto the shirt. They were small and slippery under his clumsy fingers. There were five of them. He fiddled four of them out through their buttonholes and gently tugged the shirt out of the waistband of her jeans and undid the fifth. She held up her hands, left and right in turn, so he could undo the cuffs. He eased the shirt backward off her shoulders. She was wearing nothing underneath it.

  She leaned forward and started on his buttons. She started from the bottom. She was dextrous. Her hands were small and neat and quick. Quicker than his had been. His cuffs were already open. His wrists were too wide for any storebought cuff to close over them. She smoothed her hands up over the slab of his chest and pushed the shirt away with her forearms. It fell off his shoulders and she tugged it down over his arms. It fell to the floor with the sigh of cotton and the lazy click of buttons on wood. She traced her finger across the teardrop-shaped burn on his chest.

  "You bring the salve?"

  "No," he said.

  She locked her arms around his waist and bent her head down and kissed the wound. He felt her mouth on it, firm and cool against the tender skin. Then they made love for the fifth time in fifteen years, in the four-poster bed at the top of the old mansion while the sun in the window fell away west toward Kansas.

  THE NYPD'S DOMESTIC Violence Unit borrowed squad-room space wherever it could find it, which was currently in a large upstairs room above the administrative offices at One Police Plaza. O'Hallinan and Sark got back there an hour before the end of their shift. That was the paperwork hour, and they went straight to their desks and opened their notebooks to the start of the day and began typing.

  They reached their visit to the St. Vincent's ER with fifteen minutes to go. They wrote it up as a probable incident with a non-cooperative victim. O'Hallinan spooled the form out of her typewriter and noticed the Tahoe's plate number scrawled at the bottom of her notebook page. She picked up the phone and called it in to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  "Black Chevrolet Tahoe," the clerk told her. "Registered to Cayman Corporate Trust with an address in the World Trade Center. "

  O'Hallinan shrugged to herself and wrote it all down in her notebook. She was debating whether to put the form back in the typewriter and add the information to it when the DMV clerk came back on the line.

  "I've got another tag here," he said. "Same registered owner abandoned a black Chevrolet Suburban on lower Broadway yesterday. Three-vehicle moving traffic incident. Fifteenth Precinct towed the wreck. "

  "Who's dealing with it? You got a name at Fifteenth?"

  "Sorry, no. "

  O'Hallinan hung up and called traffic in the Fifteenth Precinct, but it was shift change at the end of the day and she got no further with it. She scrawled a reminder to herself and dropped it in her in-tray. Then the clock ticked around to the top of the hour and Sark stood up opposite her.

  "And we're out of here," he said. "All work and no play makes us dull people, right?"

  "Right," she said. "You want to get a beer?"

  "At least a beer," Sark said. "Maybe two beers. "

  "Steady," she said.

  THEY TOOK A long shower together in the honeymoon suite's spacious bathroom. Then Reacher sprawled in his towel on a sofa and watched her get ready. She went into her bag and came out with a dress. It was the same line as the yellow linen shift she'd worn to the office, but it was midnight blue and silk. She slipped it over her head and wriggled it down into place. It had a simple scoop neck and came just above the knee. She wore it with the same blue loafers. She patted her hair dry with the towel and combed it back. Then she went into the bag again and came out with the necklace he'd bought her in Manila.

  "Help me with this?"

  She lifted her hair away from her neck and he bent to fasten the clasp. The necklace was a heavy gold rope. Probably not real gold, not at the price he'd paid, although anything was possible in the Philippines. His fingers were wide and his nails were scuffed and broken from the physical labor with the shovel. He held his breath and needed two attempts to close the catch. Then he kissed her neck and she let her hair fall back into place. It was heavy and damp and smelled like summer.

  "Well, I'm ready at least," she said.

  She grinned and tossed him his clothes from the floor and he put them on, with the cotton dragging against his damp skin. He borrowed her comb and ran it through his hair. In the mirror he caught a glimpse of her behind him. She looked like a princess about to go out to dinner with her gardener.

  "They might not let me in," he said.

  She stretched up and smoothed the back of his collar down over the new exaggerated bulk of his deltoid muscle.

  "How would they keep you out? Call the National Guard?"

  It was a four-block walk to the restaurant. A June evening in Missouri, near the river. The air was soft and damp. The stars were out above them, in an inky sky the color of her dress. The chestnut trees rustled in a slight, warm breeze. The streets got busier. There were the same trees, but cars were moving and parking under them. Some of the buildings were still hotels, but some of them were smaller and lower, with painted signs showing restaurant names in French. The signs were lit with aimed spotlights. No neon anywhere. The place she'd picked was called La Prefecture. He smiled and wondered if lovers in a minor city in France were eating in a place called "the Municipal Offices," which was the literal translation, as far as he recalled.

  But it was a pleasant enough place. A boy from somewhere in the Midwest trying a French accent greeted them warmly and showed them to a table in a candlelit porch overlooking the rear garden. There was a fountain with underwater lighting playing softly and the trees were lit with spotlamps fastened to their trunks. The tablecloth was linen and the silverware was silver. Reacher ordered American beer and Jodie ordered Pernod and water.

  "This is nice, isn't it?" she said.

  He nodded. The night was warm and still, and calm.

  "Tell me how you feel," he said.

  She looked at him, surprised. "I feel good. "

  "Good how?"

  She smiled, shyly. "Reacher, you're fishing. "

  He smiled back. "No, I'm just thinking about something. You feel relaxed?"

  She nodded.

  "Safe?"

  She nodded again.

  "Me too," he said. "Safe and relaxed. So what does that mean?"

  The boy arrived with the drinks on a silver tray. The Pernod was in a tall glass and he served it with an authentic French water jug. The beer was in a frosted mug. No long-neck bottles in a place like this.

  "So what does it mean?" Jodie asked.

  She splashed water into the amber liquid and it turned milky. She swirled the glass to mix it. He caught the strong aniseed smell.

  "It means whatever is happening is small," he said. "A small operation, based in New York. We felt nervous there, but we feel safe here. "

  He took a long sip of the beer.

  "That's just a feeling," she said. "Doesn't prove anything. "

  He nodded. "No, but feelings are persuasive. And there's some hard evidence. We were chased and attacked there, but nobody out here is paying any attention to us. "

  "You been checking?" she asked, alarmed.

  "I'm always checking," he said. "We've been walking around, slow and obvious. Nobody's been after us. "

  "No manpower?"

  He nodded again. "They had the two guys who went to the Keys and up to Garrison, and the guy driving the Suburban. My guess is that's all the
y've got, or they'd be out here looking for us. So it's a small unit, based in New York. "

  She nodded.

  "I think it's Victor Hobie," she said.

  The waiter was back, with a pad and a pencil. Jodie ordered pate and lamb, and Reacher ordered soup and porc aux pruneaux, which had always been his Sunday lunch as a kid, anytime his mother could find pork and prunes in the distant places they were stationed. It was a regional dish from the Loire, and although his mother was from Paris she liked to make it for her sons because she felt it was a kind of shorthand introduction to her native culture.

  "I don't think it's Victor Hobie," he said.

  "I think it is," she said. "I think he survived the war somehow, and I think he's been hiding out somewhere ever since, and I think he doesn't want to be found. "

  He shook his head. "I thought about that, too, right from the start. But the psychology is all wrong. You read his record. His letters. I told you what his old buddy Ed Steven said. This was a straight-arrow kid, Jodie. Totally dull, totally normal. I can't believe he'd leave his folks hanging like that. For thirty years? Why would he? It just doesn't jibe with what we know about him. "

  "Maybe he changed," Jodie said. "Dad always used to say Vietnam changed people. Usually for the worse. "

  Reacher shook his head.

  "He died," he said. "Four miles west of An Khe, thirty years ago. "

  "He's in New York," Jodie said. "Right now, trying to stay hidden. "

  HE WAS ON his terrace, thirty floors up, leaning on the railing with his back to the park. He had a cordless phone pressed to his ear, and he was selling Chester Stone's Mercedes to the guy out in Queens.

  "There's a BMW, too," he was saying. "Eight-series coupe. It's up in Pound Ridge right now. I'll take fifty cents on the dollar for cash in a bag, tomorrow. "

  He stopped and listened to the guy sucking in air through his teeth, like car guys always do when you talk to them about money.

  "Call it thirty grand for the both of them, cash in a bag, tomorrow. "

  The guy grunted a yes, and Hobie moved on down his mental list.

  "There's a Tahoe and a Cadillac. Call it forty grand, you can add either one of them to the deal. Your choice. "

  The guy paused and picked the Tahoe. More resale in a four-wheel-drive, especially some way south, which is where Hobie knew he was going to move it. He clicked the phone off and went inside through the sliders to the living room. He used his left hand to open his little leather diary and kept it open by flattening it down with the hook. He clicked the button again and dialed a real estate broker who owed him serious money.

  "I'm calling the loan," he said.

  He listened to the swallowing sounds as the guy started panicking. There was desperate silence for a long time. Then he heard the guy sit down, heavily.

  "Can you pay me?"

  There was no reply.

  "You know what happens to people who can't pay me?"

  More silence. More swallowing.

  "Don't worry," he said. "We can work something out. I got two properties to sell. A mansion up in Pound Ridge, and my apartment on Fifth. I want two million for the house, and three-point-five for the apartment. You get me that and I'll write off the loan against your commission, OK?"

  The guy had no choice but to agree. Hobie had him copy down the bank details in the Caymans and told him to wire the proceeds within a month.

  "A month is pretty optimistic," the guy said.

  "How are your kids?" Hobie asked.

  More swallowing.

  "OK, a month," the guy said.

  Hobie clicked the phone off and wrote five million five hundred forty thousand dollars on the page where he had scored out three automobiles and two residences. Then he called the airline and inquired about flights to the coast, evening of the day after tomorrow. There was plenty of availability. He smiled. The ball was soaring right over the fence, heading for the fifth row of the bleachers. The outfielder was leaping like crazy, but he was absolutely nowhere near it.

  WITH HOBIE GONE. Marilyn felt safe enough to take a shower. She wouldn't have done it with him out there in the office. There was too much in his leer. She would have felt he could see right through the bathroom door. But the one called Tony was not such a problem. He was anxious and obedient. Hobie had told him to make sure they didn't come out of the bathroom. He would do that, for sure, but nothing more. He wouldn't come in and hassle them. He would leave them alone. She was confident of that. And the other guy, the thickset one who had brought the coffee, he was doing what Tony told him. So she felt safe enough, but she still had Chester stand by the door with his hand on the handle.

  She leaned in and set the shower running hot and stripped off her dress and her shoes. She folded the dress neatly over the curtain rail, out of the water stream, but near enough for the steam to take the creases out. Then she stepped into the stall and washed her hair and soaped herself from head to foot. It felt good. It was relaxing. It took away the tension. She stood faceup and soaked for a long time. Then she left the water running and stepped out and took a towel and changed places with Chester.

  "Go ahead," she said. "It'll do you good. "

  He was numb. He just nodded and let the door handle go. Stood for a second and stripped off his undershirt and his boxers. Sat naked on the floor and took off his shoes and socks. She saw the yellow bruise on his side.

  "They hit you?" she whispered.

  He nodded again. Stood up and stepped into the stall. He stood under the torrent with his eyes closed and his mouth open. Then the water seemed to revive him. He found the soap and the shampoo and washed himself all over.

  "Leave the water running," she said. "It's warming the place up. "

  It was true. The hot water was making the room comfortable. He stepped out and took a towel. Dabbed his face with it and wrapped it around his waist.

  "And the noise means they can't hear us talking," she said. "And we need to talk, right?"

  He shrugged, like there wasn't much to talk about. "I don't understand what you're doing. There are no trustees. He's going to find that out, and then he'll just get mad. "

  She was toweling her hair. She stopped and looked at him through the gathering cloud of steam. "We need a witness. Don't you see that?"

  "A witness to what?"

  "To what happens," she said. "David Forster will send some private detective over here, and what can Hobie do? We'll just admit there is no trust, and then we'll all of us go down to your bank, and we'll hand Hobie the stock. In a public place, with a witness. A witness, and a sort of bodyguard. Then we can just walk away. "

  "Will that work?"

  "I think so," she said. "He's in some kind of a hurry. Can't you see that? He's got some kind of a deadline. He's panicking. Our best bet is to delay as long as we can, and then just slip away, with a witness watching the whole thing and guarding us. Hobie will be too uptight about time to react. "

  "I don't understand," he said again. "You mean this private dick will testify we were acting under duress? You mean so we can sue Hobie to get the stock back?"

  She was quiet for a beat. Amazed. "No, Chester, we're not going to sue anybody. Hobie gets the stock, and we forget all about it. "

  He stared at her through the steam. "But that's no good. That won't save the company. Not if it means Hobie gets the stock and we've got no comeback. "

  She stared back at him. "God's sake, Chester, don't you understand anything? The company is gone. The company is history, and you better face it. This is not about saving the damn company. This is about saving our lives. "

  THE SOUP WAS wonderful and the pork was even better. His mother would have been proud of it. They shared a half bottle of Californian wine and ate in contented silence. The restaurant was the sort of place that gave you a long pause between the entree and the dessert. No rush to get you out and reclaim the table. Reacher was enjoying the luxu
ry. Not something he was used to. He sprawled back in his chair and stretched his legs out. His ankles were rubbing against Jodie's, under the table.

  "Think about his parents," he said. "Think about him, as a kid. Open up the encyclopedia to N for 'normal American family' and you're going to see a picture of the Hobies, all three of them, staring right out at you. I accept that 'Nam changed people. I can see it kind of expanding his horizons a little. They knew that, too. They knew he wasn't going to come back and work for some dumb little print shop in Brighton. They saw him going down to the rigs, flying around the gulf for the oil companies. But he would have kept in touch, right? To some extent? He wouldn't have just abandoned them. That's real cruelty, cold and consistent for thirty straight years. You see anything in his record that makes him that kind of a guy?"

  "Maybe he did something," she said. "Something shameful. Maybe something like My Lai, you know, a massacre or something? Maybe he was ashamed to go home. Maybe he's hiding a guilty secret. "

  He shook his head impatiently. "It would be in his record. And he didn't have the opportunity, anyway. He was a helicopter pilot, not an infantryman. He never saw the enemy close up. "

  The waiter came back with his pad and pencil.

  "Dessert?" he asked. "Coffee?"

  They ordered raspberry sorbet and black coffee. Jodie drained the last of her wine. It shone dull red in the glass in the candlelight.

  "So what do we do?"

  "He died," Reacher said. "We'll get the definitive evidence, sooner or later. Then we'll go back and tell the old folks they've wasted thirty years fretting about it. "

  "And what do we tell ourselves? We were attacked by a ghost?"

  He shrugged and made no reply to that. The sorbet arrived and they ate it in silence. Then the coffee came, and the check in a padded leather folder bearing the restaurant logo printed in gold. Jodie laid her credit card on it without looking at the total. Then she smiled.

  "Great dinner," she said.

  He smiled back. "Great company. "

  "Let's forget all about Victor Hobie for a while," she said.

  "Who?" he asked, and she laughed.

  "So what shall we think about instead?" she said.

  He smiled. "I was thinking about your dress. "

  "You like it?"

  "I think it's great," he said.

  "What?"

  "But it could look better. You know, maybe thrown in a heap on the floor. "

  "You think so?"

  "I'm pretty sure," he said. "But that's just a guess, right now. I'd need some experimental data. You know, a before-and-after comparison. "

  She sighed in mock exhaustion. "Reacher, we need to be up at seven. Early flights, right?"

  "You're young," he said. "If I can take it, you sure as hell can. "

  She smiled. Scraped her chair back and stood up. Stepped away from the table and turned a slow turn in the aisle. The dress moved with her. It looked wonderful from the back. Her hair was gold against it in the candlelight. She stepped close and bent down and whispered in his ear.

  "OK, that's the before part. Let's go before you forget the comparison. "

  SEVEN O'CLOCK IN the morning in New York happened an hour before seven o'clock in the morning in St. Louis, and O'Hallinan and Sark spent that hour in the squad room planning their shift. The overnight messages were stacked deep in the in-trays. There were calls from the hospitals, and reports from night-shift beat cops who had gone out to domestic disturbances. They all needed sifting and evaluating, and an itinerary had to be worked out, based on geography and urgency. It had been an average night in New York City, which meant O'Hallinan and Sark compiled a list of twenty-eight brand-new cases that required their attention, which meant the call to the Fifteenth Precinct traffic squad got delayed until ten minutes to eight in the morning. O'Hallinan dialed the number and reached the desk sergeant on the tenth ring.

  "You towed a black Suburban," she said. "It got wrecked on lower Broadway couple of days ago. You doing anything about it?"

  There was the sound of the guy scraping through a pile of paperwork.

  "It's in the pound. You got an interest in it?"

  "We got a woman with a busted nose in the hospital, got delivered there in a Tahoe owned by the same people. "

  "Maybe she was the driver. We had three vehicles involved, and we only got one driver. There was the Suburban that caused the accident, driver disappeared. Then there was an Olds Bravada which drove away into an alley, driver and passenger disappeared. The Suburban was corporate, some financial trust in the district. "

  "Cayman Corporate Trust?" O'Hallinan asked. "That's who owns our Tahoe. "

  "Right," the guy said. "The Bravada is down to a Mrs. Jodie Jacob, but it was reported stolen prior. That's not your woman with the busted nose, is it?"

  "Jodie Jacob? No, our woman is Sheryl somebody. "

  "OK, probably the Suburban driver. Is she small?"

  "Small enough, I guess," O'Hallinan said. "Why?"

  "The airbag deployed," the guy said. "Possible a small woman could get injured that way, by the airbag. It happens. "

  "You want to check it out?"

  "No, our way of thinking, we got their vehicle, they want it, they'll come to us. "

  O'Hallinan hung up and Sark looked at her inquiringly.

  "So what's that about?" he asked. "Why would she say she walked into a door if it was really a car wreck?"

  O'Hallinan shrugged. "Don't know. And why would a real-estate woman from Westchester be driving for a firm out of the World Trade Center?"

  "Could explain the injuries," Sark said. "The airbag, maybe the rim of the steering wheel, that could have done it to her. "

  "Maybe," O'Hallinan said.

  "So should we check it out?"

  "We should try, I guess, because if it was a car wreck it makes it a closed instead of a probable. "

  "OK, but don't write it down anywhere, because if it wasn't a car wreck it'll make it open and pending again, which will be a total pain in the ass later. "

  They stood up together and put their notebooks in their uniform pockets. Used the stairs and enjoyed the morning sun on the way across the yard to their cruiser.

  THE SAME SUN rolled west and made it seven o'clock in St. Louis. It came in through an attic dormer and played its low beam across the four-poster from a new direction. Jodie had gotten up first, and she was in the shower. Reacher was alone in the warm bed, stretching out, aware of a muffled chirping sound somewhere in the room.

  He checked the nightstand to see if the phone was ringing, or if Jodie had set an alarm clock he hadn't noticed the night before. Nothing there. The chirping kept on going, muffled but insistent. He rolled over and sat up. The new angle located the sound inside Jodie's carry-on bag. He slid out of bed and padded naked across the room. Unzipped the bag. The chirping sounded louder. It was her mobile telephone. He glanced at the bathroom door and pulled out the phone. It was chirping loudly in his hand. He studied the buttons on it and pressed SEND. The chirping stopped.

  "Hello?" he said.

  There was a pause. "Who's that? I'm trying to reach Mrs. Jacob. "

  It was a man's voice, young, busy, harassed. A voice he knew. Jodie's secretary at the law firm, the guy who had dictated Leon's address.

  "She's in the shower. "

  "Ah," the voice said.

  There was another pause.

  "I'm a friend," Reacher said.

  "I see," the voice said. "Are you still up in Garrison?"

  "No, we're in St. Louis, Missouri. "

  "Goodness, that complicates things, doesn't it? May I speak with Mrs. Jacob?"

  "She's in the shower," Reacher said again. "She could call you back. Or I could take a message, I guess. "

  "Would you mind?" the guy said. "It's urgent, I'm afraid. "

  "Hold on," Reacher said. He walked back to the bed and picked up the lit
tle pad and the pencil the hotel had placed on the nightstand next to the telephone. Sat down and juggled the mobile into his left hand.

  "OK, shoot," he said. The guy ran through his message. It was very nonspecific. The guy was choosing his words carefully to keep the whole thing vague. Clearly a friend couldn't be trusted with any secret legal details. He put the pad and pencil down again. He wasn't going to need them.

  "I'll have her call you back if that's not clear," he said, ambiguously.

  "Thank you, and I'm sorry to interrupt, well, whatever it is I'm interrupting. "

  "You're not interrupting anything," Reacher said. "Like I told you, she's in the shower right now. But ten minutes ago might have been a problem. "

  "Goodness," the guy said again, and the phone went dead.

  Reacher smiled and studied the buttons again and pressed END. He dropped the phone on the bed and heard the water cut off in the bathroom. The door opened and she came out, wrapped in a towel and a cloud of steam.

  "Your secretary just called on your mobile," he said. "I think he was a little shocked when I answered. "

  She giggled. "Well, there goes my reputation. It'll be all over the office by lunchtime. What did he want?"

  "You've got to go back to New York. "

  "Why? He give you the details?"

  He shook his head.

  "No, he was very confidential, very proper, like a secretary should be, I guess. But you're an ace lawyer, apparently. Big demand for your services. "

  She grinned. "I'm the best there is. Didn't I tell you that? So who needs me?"

  "Somebody called your firm. Some financial corporation with something to handle. Asked for you personally. Presumably because you're the best there is. "

  She nodded and smiled. "He say what the problem is?"

  He shrugged. "Your usual, I guess. Somebody owes somebody else some money, sounds like they're all squabbling over it. You have to go to a meeting tomorrow afternoon and try to talk some sense into one side or the other. "

  ANOTHER OF THE thousands of phone calls taking place during the same minute in the Wall Street area was a call from the law offices of Forster and Abelstein to the premises of a private detective called William Curry. Curry was a twenty-year veteran of the NYPD's detective squads, and he had taken his pension at the age of forty-seven and was looking to pay his alimony by working private until his ex-wife got married again or died or forgot about him. He had been in business for two lean years, and a personal call from the senior partner of a white-shoe Wall Street law firm was a breakthrough event, so he was pleased, but not too surprised. He had done two years of good work at reasonable rates with the exact aim of creating some kind of reputation, so if the reputation was finally spreading and the big hitters were finally calling, he was pleased about it without being astonished by it.

  But he was astonished by the nature of the job.

  "I have to impersonate you?" he repeated.

  "It's important," Forster told him. "They're expecting a lawyer called David Forster, so that's what we have to give them. There won't be any law involved. There probably won't be anything involved at all. Just being there will keep the lid on things. It'll be straightforward enough. OK?"

  "OK, I guess," Curry said. He wrote down the names of the parties involved and the address where the performance was due to take place. He quoted double his normal fee. He didn't want to look cheap, not in front of these Wall Street guys. They were always impressed by expensive services. He knew that. And given the nature of the job, he figured he would be earning it. Forster agreed the price without hesitation and promised a check in the mail. Curry hung up the phone and started through his closets in his head, wondering what the hell he could wear to make himself look like the head of a big Wall Street firm.