A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher #17)(14)


by Lee Child

'Twenty past midnight?'

'About.'

'Definitely a car alarm?'

'No question. Pretty loud, too. The highlight of my night so far. Until you guys showed up.'

'Where was it?'

The kid waved his hand.

'Over there,' he said. 'Could have been behind Missy Smith's lounge, for sure.'

'OK,' Sorenson said. 'Thank you.'

Goodman asked her, 'So what are we saying? They spent fifteen minutes stealing a getaway car?'

'Maybe they did, and maybe they didn't. But whatever, a car alarm going off is another good reason why the waitress might have stuck her head out the back. She would have been worried about her own car, if nothing else. We have to find her, right now. It's time to go bang on some doors.'

Goodman checked his watch.

'We better hurry,' he said. 'Those guys will be hitting the roadblocks about now. You should have put them a hundred miles out, not eighty.'

Sorenson didn't reply.

FOURTEEN

NINE MINUTES, REACHER thought. Not ten. He had over-estimated the likely delay, but only slightly. The cops on foot had done a fine job of corralling the approaching flow, and the cops at the roadblock itself were evidently fast and efficient. Traffic was moving through at a reasonable clip. Reacher couldn't see the search procedure in detail, because of the Dodge pick-up's bulk right in front of him, but clearly the protocol was nothing more than quick and dirty. He rolled on, and paused, and rolled on, and paused, with the red-blue glare ahead of him getting brighter and fiercer with every car's length he travelled. Next to him Alan King seemed to have gone to sleep, still with his face turned away and his chin ducked down. Don McQueen still had his arm over his eyes. Karen Delfuenso was still awake, but she had stopped blinking.

A hundred yards to go, Reacher thought. Three hundred feet. Maybe fifteen vehicles in the queue ahead. Eight minutes. Maybe seven.

Missy Smith lived in what is left when a family farm gets sold to an agricultural corporation. A driveway, a house, a car barn, a small square yard in front and a small square yard in back, all enclosed by a new rail fence, with ten thousand flat acres of someone else's soybeans beyond. Sheriff Goodman drove up the driveway and parked twenty feet from the house. He lit up his roof lights. The first thing people did after a night-time knock on the door was to look out their bedroom window. Quicker to let the lights make the explanations, rather than get all tangled up in a whole lot of yelling and hollering.

Sorenson stayed in the car and let Goodman go make the inquiry. His county, his population, his job. She saw him knock, and she saw some upstairs curtains twitch, and she saw the front door open four minutes later, and she saw the old gal standing in the hallway, in a robe. Her hair was neatly brushed. Hence the four minutes.

Sorenson saw Goodman bow and scrape, and she saw him ask the question, and she saw Missy Smith answer it. She saw Goodman write something down, and she saw him read it back for confirmation, and she saw the old gal nod. She saw the front door close, and she saw the hallway light go off, and she saw Goodman trot back to the car.

'Miles from here,' he said. 'As luck would have it.'

He turned the car around and headed back to the road.

The white Dodge pick-up truck got through the roadblock with no trouble at all. Cops peered into it from every angle and checked the load bed and then waved it onward. Reacher buzzed his window down and put his elbow on the door and squinted against the bright red-blue strobes and rolled the Chevy forward. A grizzled old trooper with stripes on his arm stepped up. He bent at the waist and scanned the car's interior.

Looking for something.

But not finding it.

So the guy started to straighten up again, already dismissing the Chevy, already thinking about the next car in line, but his eyes came to rest on Reacher's face, and his own eyes widened a little, as if in sympathy or wonder or appreciation, and he said, 'Ouch.'

'My nose?' Reacher said.

'That must have stung.'

'You should see the other guy.'

'Where is he now?'

'Not in your state.'

'That's good to know,' the trooper said. 'You drive safe tonight, sir.'

Reacher asked, 'Who are you looking for, captain?'

'That's very kind of you, sir, but I'm only a sergeant.'

'OK, who are you looking for, sergeant?'

The guy paused.

Then he smiled.

'Not you,' he said. 'That's for sure. Not you.'

And then he moved a foot towards the rear of the car, ready to greet the next in line, and Reacher buzzed his window up and threaded through the improvised chicane, and then he got settled in his seat and took off again, accelerating through forty, fifty, sixty, seventy miles an hour, with nothing at all in front of him except darkness and the white Dodge's tail lights already half a mile ahead.

FIFTEEN

THE ADDRESS MISSY Smith had given to Sheriff Goodman turned out to be what is left when a family farm gets sold to a homebuilding corporation. The farmland itself had been added to some giant remote holding, but a shallow acre had been retained alongside the road and a row of four small ranch houses had been built on it. They were maybe twenty years old. In the moonlight they all looked bravely maintained and in reasonable shape. They were all identical. They all had white siding, grey roofs, front lawns, short straight driveways, and mailboxes at the kerb, on stout wooden posts.

But there was one clear difference between them.

Three of the houses had cars on their driveways.

The fourth didn't.

And the fourth was the address Missy Smith had given to Sheriff Goodman.

'Not good,' Sorenson said.

'No,' Goodman said.

All four houses were dark, as was to be expected in the middle of the night. But somehow the house with no car looked darker than the other three. It looked quiet, and undisturbed, and empty.

Sorenson climbed out of the car. The road was nothing more than an old farm track, blacktopped over. It was badly drained. Rain and run-off from the fields had left mud in the gutters. Sorenson stepped over it and waited at the mouth of the empty driveway. Goodman stepped over the mud and joined her there. Sorenson checked the mailbox. Reflex habit. It was empty, as was to be expected for an evening worker. An evening worker picks up her mail before going to work, not after.

The mailbox was white, like all the others. It had a name on it, spelled out in small stick-on letters. The name was Delfuenso.