Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher #12)(9)


by Lee Child

"So why did you ask?"

Reacher didn't answer directly. Instead he said, "I'm not a Stoic, really. Zeno preached the passive acceptance of fate. I'm not like that. I'm not very passive. I take challenges personally."

"So?"

"I don't like to be told where I can go and where I can't."

"Stubborn?"

"It annoys me."

Vaughan slowed some more and pulled in at the curb. Put the transmission in Park and turned in her seat.

"My advice?" she said. "Get over it and move on. Despair isn't worth it."

Reacher said nothing.

"Go get a meal and a room for the night," Vaughan said. "I'm sure you're hungry."

Reacher nodded.

"Thanks for the ride," he said. "And it was a pleasure to meet you."

He opened the door and slid out to the sidewalk. Hope's version of Main Street was called First Street. He knew there was a diner a block away on Second Street. He had eaten breakfast there. He set out walking toward it and heard Vaughan 's Crown Vic move away behind him. He heard the civilized purr of its motor and the soft hiss of its tires on the asphalt. Then he turned a corner and didn't hear it anymore.

An hour later he was still in the diner. He had eaten soup, steak, fries, beans, apple pie, and ice cream. Now he was drinking coffee. It was a better brew than at the restaurant in Despair. And it had been served in a mug that was cylindrical in shape. Still too thick at the rim, but much closer to the ideal.

He was thinking about Despair, and he was wondering why getting him out of town had been more important than keeping him there and busting him for the assault on the deputy.

9

The diner in Hope had a bottomless cup policy for its coffee and Reacher abused it mercilessly. He drank most of a Bunn flask all on his own. His waitress became fascinated by the spectacle. She didn't need to be asked for refills. She came back every time he was ready, sometimes before he was ready, as if she was willing him to break some kind of a world record for consumption. He left her a double tip, just in case the owner fined her for her generosity.

It was full dark when he left the diner. Nine o'clock in the evening. He figured it would stay dark for another ten hours. Sunrise was probably around seven, in that latitude at that time of year. He walked three blocks to where he had seen a small grocery. In a city it would have been called a bodega and in the suburbs it would have been franchised, but in Hope it was still what it had probably always been, a cramped and dusty family-run enterprise selling the things people needed when they needed them.

Reacher needed water and protein and energy. He bought three one-liter bottles of Poland Spring and six chocolate chip PowerBars and a roll of black thirteen-gallon garbage bags. The clerk at the register packed them all carefully into a paper sack and Reacher took his change and carried the sack four blocks to the same motel he had used the night before. He got the same room, at the end of the row. He went inside and put the sack on the nightstand and lay down on the bed. He planned on a short rest. Until midnight. He didn't want to walk seventeen miles twice on the same day.

Reacher got off the bed at midnight and checked the window. No more moon. There was thick cloud and patches of distant starlight. He packed his purchases into one of the black garbage bags and slung it over his shoulder. Then he left the motel and headed up to First Street in the darkness and turned west. There was no traffic. No pedestrians. Few lit windows. It was the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. The sidewalk ended twenty feet west of the hardware store. He stepped off the curb onto the asphalt and kept on going. Route-march speed, four miles an hour. Not difficult on the smooth flat surface. He built up a rhythm to the point where he felt he could keep on walking forever and never stop.

But he did stop. He stopped five miles later, a hundred yards short of the line between Hope and Despair, because he sensed a shape ahead of him in the blackness. A hole in the darkness. A car, parked on the shoulder. Mostly black, some hints of white.

A police cruiser.

Vaughan.

The name settled in his mind and at the exact same time the car's lights flicked on. High beams. Very bright. He was pinned. His shadow shot out behind him, infinitely long. He shielded his eyes, left-handed, because his bag was in his right. He stood still. The lights stayed on. He stepped off the road and looped out over the crusted sand to the north. The lights died back and the spot on the windshield pillar tracked him. It wouldn't leave him. So he changed direction and headed straight for it.

Vaughan turned the light off and buzzed her window down as he approached. She was parked facing east, with two wheels on the sand and the rear bumper of the car exactly level with the expansion joint in the road. Inside her own jurisdiction, but only just. She said, "I thought I might see you here."

Reacher looked at her and said nothing.

She asked, "What are you doing?"

"Taking a stroll."

"That all?"

"No law against it."

"Not here," Vaughan said. "But there is if you take three more steps."

"Not your law."

"You're a stubborn man."

Reacher nodded. "I wanted to see Despair and I'm going to."

"It isn't that great of a place."

"I like to make my own mind up about things like that."

"They're serious, you know. Either you'll spend thirty days in jail or they'll shoot you."

"If they find me."

"They'll find you. I found you."

"I wasn't hiding from you."

"Did you hurt a deputy over there?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I was thinking about the question you asked me."

"I don't know for sure what he was."

"I don't like the idea of deputies getting hurt."

"You wouldn't have liked the deputy. If that's what he was."

"They'll be looking for you."

"How big is their department?"

"Smaller than ours. Two cars, two guys, I think."

"They won't find me."

"Why are you going back?"

"Because they told me not to."

"Is it worth it?"

"What would you do?"

Vaughan said, "I'm an estrogen-based life-form, not testosterone. And I'm all grown up now. I'd suck it up and move on. Or stay in Hope. It's a nice place."