A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher #17)(15)


by Lee Child

'What's her first name?' Sorenson asked.

Goodman said, 'Karen.'

Sorenson said, 'Go knock on the door, just to be sure.'

Goodman went.

He knocked.

No response.

He knocked again, long and loud.

No response.

Sorenson cut across the lawn to the neighbour's door. She rang the bell, once, twice, three times. She took out her ID, and held it ready. She waited. Two minutes later the door opened and she saw a guy in pyjamas. He was middle-aged and grey. She asked him if he had seen his neighbour come home that night.

The guy in pyjamas said no, he hadn't.

She asked him if his neighbour lived alone.

The guy said yes, she did. She was divorced.

She asked him if his neighbour owned a car.

The guy said yes, she did. A pretty decent one, too. Not more than a few years old. Bought with money from the divorce. Just saying.

She asked him if his neighbour always drove to work.

The guy said yes, she did. It was that or walk.

She asked him if his neighbour's car was usually parked on the driveway.

The guy said yes it was, all day long before work, and all night long after work. It was parked right there on top of the oily patch they could see if they stepped over and looked real close, because of how a leaky transmission was the car's only fault. The neighbour should have had it seen to long ago, on account of it being liable to seize up otherwise, but some folks plain ignore stuff like that. Just saying.

Sorenson asked him if his neighbour ever spent the night away from home.

The guy said no, she didn't. She worked at the lounge and came home every night at ten past midnight, regular as clockwork, except for when she had the clean-up overtime, when it was maybe twelve thirty-five or so. Mrs Delfuenso was a nice woman and a good neighbour and the guy hoped nothing bad had happened to her.

Sorenson thanked him and told him he was free to go back to bed. The guy said he hoped he had been helpful. Sorenson said he had been. The guy said if she wanted to know more, she should go talk to the other neighbour. They were closer. Friends, really. They did things for each other. For instance, Mrs Delfuenso's kid slept over there, while Mrs Delfuenso was working.

Sorenson said, 'Karen has a child?'

'A daughter,' the guy said. 'Ten years old. Same as the neighbour's kid. They sleep over there and then Mrs Delfuenso takes over and gives them breakfast and drives them to the school bus in the morning.'

SIXTEEN

REACHER HAD NEVER been hypnotized, but in his opinion driving empty highways at night came close. Basal and cognitive demands were so low they could be met by the smallest sliver of the brain. The rest coasted. The front half had nothing to do, and the back half had nothing to fight. The very definition of relaxation. Time and distance seemed suspended. The Dodge's tail lights would be for ever distant. Reacher felt he could drive a thousand hours and never catch them.

Normally numbers would fill the void in his head. Not that he was a particularly competent mathematician. But numbers called to him, twisting and turning and revealing their hidden facets. Perhaps he would glance down and see that he was doing 76 miles an hour, and he would see that 76 squared was 5,776, which ended in 76, where it started, which made 76 an automorphic number, one of only two below 100, the other being 25, whose square was 625, whose square was 390,625, which was interesting.

Or perhaps he would take advantage of the fact that all the cops for miles around were on roadblock duty behind him, and let his speed creep up to 81, and muse about how one divided by eighty-one expressed as a decimal came out as .012345679, which then recurred literally for ever, 012345679 over and over and over again, until the end of time, longer even than it would take to catch up to the Dodge.

But that night words came to him first.

Specifically four words, spoken by Alan King: plus whatever Karen wants. The coffee order. Two with cream and sugar, plus whatever Karen wants. Which attacked Reacher's impression of them as a team. Team members knew each other's coffee orders by heart. They had stood on line together a hundred times, in rest areas, in airports, at Starbucks, at shabby no-name shacks. They had ordered together in diners and in restaurants. They had fetched and carried for each other.

But King had not known how Karen liked her coffee.

Therefore Karen was not a team member, or not a regular team member, or perhaps she was a new team member. A recent addition to the roster. Which might explain why she wasn't talking. Perhaps she felt unsure of her place. Perhaps she simply didn't like her new associates. Perhaps they didn't like her. Certainly Alan King had spoken impatiently and even contemptuously about her, right in her presence. Like she wasn't there. He had said, Karen doesn't drive. After she hadn't ordered coffee, he had said, Nothing for Karen, then.

They were not a trio. King and McQueen were a duo, barely tolerating an interloper.

Sorenson met Goodman back on Karen Delfuenso's empty oil-stained driveway, and she told him about Delfuenso's kid.

'Jesus,' Goodman said. He glanced at the other neighbour's house. 'And the kid is in there now?'

'Unless she sleepwalks. And she's expecting to see her mommy in the morning.'

'We shouldn't tell her. Not yet. Not until we're sure.'

'We're not going to tell her. Not now. But we have to talk to the neighbour. It's still possible this whole thing is nothing. Something innocent might have come up, and Karen might have left a message.'

'You think?'

'No, not really. But we have to check.'

So they cut across the other lawn together and Sorenson tried to weight her knock so that a sleeping adult might hear it, but sleeping children wouldn't. Hard to do. Her first attempt woke nobody. Her second might have woken everybody. Certainly it brought a tired woman of about thirty to the door.

There had been no message from Karen Delfuenso.

SEVENTEEN

THE NEXT WORDS into Reacher's empty mind had been spoken by the grizzled old State Police sergeant: Not you. Eventually they led to numbers, first six, then three, then one. Six because they contained six letters, and three because each word had three letters, and taken together they had three vowels and three consonants. Reacher had no patience for people who claimed that y was a vowel.

Three, and six.

Good numbers.

A circle could be drawn through any three points not on a straight line.

Take any three consecutive numbers, the largest divisible by three, and add them up, and then add the digits of the result, again and again if necessary, until just a single number is left.