Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher #12)(6)


by Lee Child

The man in the suit clumped up three steps and slid in behind the dais. He was bulky and somewhere over sixty and had a full head of white hair. His suit was cheap and badly cut. He picked up a pen and straightened a legal pad in front of him. He looked at Reacher and said, "Name?"

"I haven't been Mirandized," Reacher said.

"You haven't been charged with a crime," the old guy said. "This isn't a trial."

"So what is it?"

"A hearing."

"About what?"

"It's an administrative matter, that's all. Possibly just a technicality. But I do need to ask you some questions."

Reacher said nothing.

The guy asked, "Name?"

"I'm sure the police department copied my passport and showed it to you."

"For the record, please."

The guy's tone was neutral and his manner was reasonably courteous. So Reacher shrugged and said, "Jack Reacher. No middle initial."

The guy wrote it down. Followed up with his date of birth, and his Social Security number, and his nationality. Then he asked, "Address?"

Reacher said, "No fixed address."

The guy wrote it down. Asked, "Occupation?"

"None."

"Purpose of your visit to Despair?"

"Tourism."

"How do you propose to support yourself during your visit?"

"I hadn't really thought about it. I didn't anticipate a major problem. This isn't exactly London or Paris or New York City."

"Please answer the question."

"I have a bank balance," Reacher said.

The guy wrote it all down. Then he sniffed and skipped his pen back over the lines he had already completed and paused. Asked, "What was your last address?"

"An APO box."

" APO?"

"Army Post Office."

"You're a veteran?"

"Yes, I am."

"How long did you serve?"

"Thirteen years."

"Until?"

"I mustered out ten years ago."

"Unit?"

"Military Police."

"Final rank?"

"Major."

"And you haven't had a permanent address since you left the army?"

"No, I haven't."

The guy made a pronounced check mark against one of his lines. Reacher saw his pen move four times, twice in one direction and twice in the other. Then the guy asked, "How long have you been out of work?"

"Ten years," Reacher said.

"You haven't worked since you left the army?"

"Not really."

"A retired major couldn't find a job?"

"This retired major didn't want to find a job."

"Yet you have a bank balance?"

"Savings," Reacher said. "Plus occasional casual labor."

The guy made another big check mark. Two vertical scratches, two horizontal. Then he asked, "Where did you stay last night?"

"In Hope," Reacher said. "In a motel."

"And your bags are still there?"

"I don't have any bags."

The guy made another check mark.

"You walked here?" he asked.

"Yes," Reacher said.

"Why?"

"No buses, and I didn't find a ride."

"No. Why here?"

"Tourism," Reacher said again.

"What had you heard about our little town?"

"Nothing at all."

"Yet you decided to visit?"

"Evidently."

"Why?"

"I found the name intriguing."

"That's not a very compelling reason."

"I have to be somewhere. And thanks for the big welcome."

The guy made a fourth big check mark. Two vertical lines, two horizontal. Then he skipped his pen down his list, slowly and methodically, fourteen answers, plus four diversions to the margin for the check marks. He said, "I'm sorry, but I find you to be in contravention of one of Despair's town ordinances. I'm afraid you'll have to leave."

"Leave?"

"Leave town."

"What ordinance?"

"Vagrancy," the guy said.

7

Reacher said, "There's a vagrancy ordinance here?"

The judge nodded and said, "As there is in most Western towns."

"I never came across one before."

"Then you've been very lucky."

"I'm not a vagrant."

"Homeless for ten years, jobless for ten years, you ride buses or beg rides or walk from place to place performing occasional casual labor, what else would you call yourself?"

"Free," Reacher said. "And lucky."

The judge nodded again, and said, "I'm glad you see a silver lining."

"What about my First Amendment right of free assembly?"

"The Supreme Court ruled long ago. Municipalities have the right to exclude undesirables."

"Tourists are undesirable? What does the Chamber of Commerce think about that?"

"This is a quiet, old-fashioned town. People don't lock their doors. We don't feel the need. Most of the keys were lost years ago, in our grandparents' time."

"I'm not a thief."

"But we err on the side of caution. Experience elsewhere shows that the itinerant jobless have always been a problem."

"Suppose I don't go? What's the penalty?"

"Thirty days' imprisonment."

Reacher said nothing. The judge said, "The officer will drive you to the town line. Get a job and a home, and we'll welcome you back with open arms. But don't come back until you do."

The cop took him downstairs again and gave him back his cash and his passport and his ATM card and his toothbrush. Nothing was missing. Everything was there. Then the cop handed over his shoelaces and waited at the booking desk while he threaded them through the eyelets in his shoes and pulled them tight and tied them off. Then the cop put his hand on the butt of his gun and said, "Car." Reacher walked ahead of him through the lobby and stepped out the street door. It was late in the day, late in the year, and it was getting dark. The cop had moved his cruiser. Now it was parked nose-out.