Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher #12)(4)


by Lee Child

"So let's go," he said.

The guy standing at the head of the table moved out of the way. Reacher scraped his chair back and stood up. Eleven customers watched him do it. He pushed his chair in neatly and stepped around the head of the table and headed for the door. He sensed the four guys behind him. Heard their boots on the tile. They were forming up in single file, threading between tables, stepping past the sign and the register. The room was silent.

Reacher pushed the door and stepped outside to the street. The air was cool, but the sun was out. The sidewalk was concrete, cast in five-by-five squares. The squares were separated by inch-wide expansion joints. The joints were filled with black compound.

Reacher turned left and took four steps until he was clear of the parked pick-up and then he stopped and turned back, with the afternoon sun behind him. The four guys formed up in front of him, with the sun in their eyes. The guy who had stood at the head of the table said, "Now you need to get out."

Reacher said, "I am out."

"Out of town."

Reacher said nothing.

The guy said, "Make a left, and then Main Street is four blocks up. When you get there, turn either left or right, west or east. We don't care which. Just keep on walking."

Reacher asked, "You still do that here?"

"Do what?"

"Run people out of town."

"You bet we do."

"You want to tell me why you do?"

"We don't have to tell you why we do."

Reacher said, "I just got here."

"So?"

"So I'm staying."

The guy on the end of the line pushed his rolled cuffs above his elbows and took a step forward. Broken nose, missing teeth. Reacher glanced at the guy's wrists. The width of a person's wrists was the only failsafe indicator of a person's raw strength. This guy's were wider than a long-stemmed rose, narrower than a two-by-four. Closer to the two-by-four than the rose.

Reacher said, "You're picking on the wrong man."

The guy who had been doing all the talking said, "You think?"

Reacher nodded. "I have to warn you. I promised my mother, a long time ago. She said I had to give folks a chance to walk away."

"You a momma's boy?"

"She liked to see fair play."

"There are four of us. One of you."

Reacher's hands were down by his sides, relaxed, gently curled. His feet were apart, securely planted. He could feel the hard concrete through the soles of his shoes. It was textured. It had been brushed with a yard broom just before it dried, ten years earlier. He folded the fingers of his left hand flat against his palm. Raised the hand, very slowly. Brought it level with his shoulder, palm out. The four guys stared at it. The way his fingers were folded made them think he was hiding something.But what? He snapped his fingers open.Nothing there. In the same split second he moved sideways and heaved his right fist up like a convulsion and caught the guy who had stepped forward with a colossal uppercut to the jaw. The guy had been breathing through his mouth because of his broken nose and the massive impact snapped his jaw shut and lifted him up off the ground and dumped him back down in a vertical heap on the sidewalk. Like a puppet with the strings cut. Unconscious before he got halfway there.

"Now there are only three of you," Reacher said. "Still one of me."

They weren't total amateurs. They reacted pretty well and pretty fast. They sprang back and apart into a wide defensive semicircle and crouched, fists ready.

Reacher said, "You can still walk away."

The guy who had been doing the talking said, "You got lucky."

"Only suckers get sucker punched."

"Won't happen twice."

Reacher said nothing.

The guy said, "Get out of town. You can't take us three-on-one."

"Try me."

"Can't be done. Not now."

Reacher nodded. "Maybe you're right. Maybe one of you will stay on your feet long enough to get to me."

"You can count on it."

"But the question you need to ask is, which one of you will it be? Right now you've got no way of knowing. One of you will be driving the other three to the hospital for a six-month stay. You want me out of town bad enough to take those odds?"

Nobody spoke. Stalemate. Reacher rehearsed his next moves. A right-footed kick to the groin of the guy on his left, spin back with an elbow to the head for the guy in the middle, duck under the inevitable roundhouse swing incoming from the guy on the right, let him follow through, put an elbow in his kidney. One, two, three, no fundamental problem. Maybe a little cleanup afterward, more feet and elbows. Main difficulty would be limiting the damage. Careful restraint would be required. It was always wiser to stay on the right side of the line, closer to brawling than homicide.

In the distance beyond the three guys Reacher could see people going about their lawful business on the sidewalks. He could see cars and trucks driving slow on the streets, pausing at four-way stops, moving on.

Then he saw one particular car blow straight through a four-way and head in his direction. A Crown Victoria, white and gold, black push bars on the front, a light bar on the roof, antennas on the trunk lid. A shield on the door, withDPD scrolled across it.Despair Police Department. A heavyset cop in a tan jacket visible behind the glass.

"Behind you," Reacher said. "The cavalry is here." But he didn't move. And he kept his eyes on the three guys. The cop's arrival didn't necessarily guarantee anything. Not yet. The three guys looked mad enough to move straight from a verbal warning to an actual assault charge. Maybe they already had so many they figured one more wouldn't make any difference.Small towns. In Reacher's experience they all had a lunatic fringe.

The Crown Vic braked hard in the gutter. The door swung open. The driver took a riot gun from a holster between the seats. Climbed out. Pumped the gun and held it diagonally across his chest. He was a big guy. White, maybe forty. Black hair. Wide neck. Tan jacket, brown pants, black shoes, a groove in his forehead from a Smokey the Bear hat that was presumably now resting on his passenger seat. He stood behind the three guys and looked around. Surveyed the scene.Not exactly rocket science, Reacher thought.Three guys surrounding a fourth? We're not discussing the weather here.

The cop said, "Back off now." Deep voice. Authoritative. The three guys stepped backward. The cop stepped forward. They swapped their relative positions. Now the three guys were behind the cop. The cop moved his gun. Pointed it straight at Reacher's chest.