Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher #12)(3)


by Lee Child

He turned back to wait.

Customers turned to look at him, one after the other. They appraised him quite openly and then looked away. The waitress made another slow circuit of the room, looking everywhere except at him. He stood still, running the situation through a mental database and trying to understand it. Then he lost patience with it and stepped past the sign and moved into the room and sat down alone at a table for four. He scraped his chair in and made himself comfortable. The waitress watched him do it, and then she headed for the kitchen.

She didn't come out again.

Reacher sat and waited. The room was silent. No talking. No sounds at all, except for the quiet metallic clash of silverware on plates and the smack of people chewing and the ceramic click of cups being lowered carefully into saucers and the wooden creak of chair legs under shifting bodies. Those tiny noises rose up and echoed around the vast tiled space until they seemed overwhelmingly loud.

Nothing happened for close to ten minutes.

Then an old crew-cab pick-up truck slid to a stop on the curb outside the door. There was a second's pause and four guys climbed out and stood together on the sidewalk outside the restaurant's door. They grouped themselves into a tight little formation and paused another beat and came inside. They paused again and scanned the room and found their target. They headed straight for Reacher's table. Three of them sat down in the empty chairs and the fourth stood at the head of the table, blocking Reacher's exit.

4

The four guys were each a useful size. The shortest was probably an inch under six feet and the lightest was maybe an ounce over two hundred pounds. They all had walnut knuckles and thick wrists and knotted forearms. Two of them had broken noses and none of them had all their teeth. They all looked pale and vaguely unhealthy. They were all grimy, with ingrained gray dirt in the folds of their skin that glittered and shone like metal. They were all dressed in canvas work shirts with their sleeves rolled to their elbows. They were all somewhere between thirty and forty. And they all looked like trouble.

"I don't want company," Reacher said. "I prefer to eat alone."

The guy standing at the head of the table was the biggest of the four, by maybe an inch and ten pounds. He said, "You're not going to eat at all."

Reacher said, "I'm not?"

"Not here, anyway."

"I heard this was the only show in town."

"It is."

"Well, then."

"You need to get going."

"Going?"

"Out of here."

"Out of where?"

"Out of this restaurant."

"You want to tell me why?"

"We don't like strangers."

"Me either," Reacher said. "But I need to eat somewhere. Otherwise I'll get all wasted and skinny like you four."

"Funny man."

"Just calling it like it is," Reacher said. He put his forearms on the table. He had thirty pounds and three inches on the big guy, and more than that on the other three. And he was willing to bet he had a little more experience and a little less inhibition than any one of them. Or than all of them put together. But ultimately, if it came to it, it was going to be his two hundred and fifty pounds against their cumulative nine hundred. Not great odds. But Reacher hated turning back.

The guy who was standing said, "We don't want you here."

Reacher said, "You're confusing me with someone who gives a shit what you want."

"You won't get served in here."

"You could order for me."

"And then what?"

"Then I could eat your lunch."

"Funny man," the guy said again. "You need to leave now."

"Why?"

"Just leave now."

Reacher asked, "You guys got names?"

"Not for you to know. And you need to leave."

"You want me to leave, I'll need to hear it from the owner. Not from you."

"We can arrange that." The guy who was standing nodded to one of the guys in the seats, who scraped his chair back and got up and headed for the kitchen. A long minute later he came back out with a man in a stained apron. The man in the apron was wiping his hands on a dish towel and didn't look particularly worried or perturbed. He walked up to Reacher's table and said, "I want you to leave my restaurant."

"Why?" Reacher asked.

"I don't need to explain myself."

"You the owner?"

"Yes, I am."

Reacher said, "I'll leave when I've had a cup of coffee."

"You'll leave now."

"Black, no sugar."

"I don't want trouble."

"You already got trouble. If I get a cup of coffee, I'll walk out of here. If I don't get a cup of coffee, these guys can try to throw me out, and you'll spend the rest of the day cleaning blood off the floor and all day tomorrow shopping for new chairs and tables."

The guy in the apron said nothing.

Reacher said, "Black, no sugar."

The guy in the apron stood still for a long moment and then headed back to the kitchen. A minute later the waitress came out with a single cup balanced on a saucer. She carried it across the room and set it down in front of Reacher, hard enough to slop some of the contents out of the cup and into the saucer.

"Enjoy," she said.

Reacher lifted the cup and wiped the base on his sleeve. Set the cup down on the table and emptied the saucer into it. Set the cup back on the saucer and squared it in front of him. Then he raised it again and took a sip.

Not bad,he thought. A little weak, a little stewed, but at heart it was a decent commercial product. Better than most diners, worse than most franchise places. Right in the middle of the curve. The cup was a porcelain monstrosity with a lip about three-eighths of an inch thick. It was cooling the drink too fast. Too wide, too shallow, too much mass. Reacher was no big fan of fine china, but he believed a receptacle ought to serve its contents.

The four guys were still clustered all around. Two sitting, two standing now. Reacher ignored them and drank, slowly at first, and then faster as the coffee grew cold. He drained the cup and set it back on the saucer. Pushed it away, slowly and carefully, until it was exactly centered on the table. Then he moved his left arm fast and went for his pocket. The four guys jumped. Reacher came out with a dollar bill and flattened it and trapped it under the saucer.