A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher #17)(8)


by Lee Child

No harm, no foul.

All part of the fun.

But Alan King's lies were different.

There was no element of self-aggrandizement in what he was saying. The guy wasn't making himself bigger or better or smarter or sexier. He was telling stupid, trivial, technical lies for no clear reason at all.

As in: the blue denim shirts. They were not a corporate brand. They were not crisp attractive items with embroidered logos above the pockets. They had never been worn before, or laundered. They were cheap junk from a dollar store, straight from the shelf, straight from the plastic packet. Reacher knew, because they were the kind of shirt he wore himself.

As in: King claimed they hadn't stopped in three hours, but the gas gauge was showing three-quarters full. Which implied the Chevy could run twelve hours on a single tank. Which was close to a thousand miles, at highway speeds. Which was impossible.

And: the water King had given him with Karen Delfuenso's aspirin was still cold from a refrigerator. Which would be impossible, after three hours in a car with the heater blasting.

Lies.

As in: King claimed somewhere in Nebraska as his residence, but then said there were a million and a half people living where he lived. Which was impossible. A million and a half was close to Nebraska's entire population. Omaha had about four hundred thousand people, and Lincoln had two fifty. There were only nine U.S. cities with populations of more than a million, and eight of them were either emphatically bigger or smaller than a million and a half. Only Philadelphia was close to that number.

So were these guys really from Philly? Or did King mean a metro area? In which case Philadelphia was too big, but all kinds of other places would slide up the scale and become possibilities. Columbus would fit the bill, maybe, or Las Vegas, or Milwaukee, or San Antonio, or the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News sprawl.

But not anyplace in Nebraska.

Not even close.

And why wasn't Karen Delfuenso talking? She had said I've got one, about the aspirin, and she had said her name during the mutual introductions, and then she had said nothing more. Reacher himself was quite capable of silence for hours at a time, but even he had been making an effort in terms of polite conversation. Delfuenso looked like the kind of woman who would join in with such social proprieties. But she hadn't.

Why not?

Not my problem, Reacher thought. His problem was to get himself on a bus to Virginia, and he was closing in on that target at close to eighty miles an hour, more than a hundred feet a second. He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

Julia Sorenson hopped around outside the bunker and peeled her plastic booties off, and then she sealed them in a bag with her gloves. Evidence, possibly, and certainly a biohazard. Then she found her phone and called out full-boat teams of FBI medical examiners and crime scene investigators.

Her case.

She got in the back of the deputy's car with the eyewitness. No reason to haul the poor guy out into the cold. Goodman got in the front and the deputy twisted around behind the wheel. It was a regular little conference, two and two, separated by the bulletproof shield.

The eyewitness was a man of about fifty, whiskery, not well groomed, dressed in winter farm clothes. He ran through his story with the kind of imprecision Sorenson expected. She was well aware of the limitations of eyewitness testimony. As a Quantico trainee she had been sent to interview a doctor suspected of Medicare fraud. She had waited for her appointment in his crowded waiting room. A guy had burst in to rob the place for drugs, firing a handgun, rushing here, rushing there, rushing out. Afterwards, of course, she found out the whole thing was staged. The doctor was an actor, the robber was an actor, the handgun rounds were blanks, and everyone in the waiting room was a law enforcement trainee. There was no consensus on what the robber looked like. Absolutely none at all. Short, tall, fat, thin, black, white, no one really remembered. Since that morning Sorenson had taken eyewitness testimony with a pinch of salt.

She asked, 'Did you see the man in the green coat arrive?'

The guy said, 'No. I saw him on the sidewalk, that's all, heading for the old pumping station, right there.'

'Did you see the red car arrive?'

'No. It was already there when I looked.'

'Were the two men in the black suits in it?'

'No, they were on the sidewalk too.'

'Following the other man?'

The guy nodded. 'About ten feet back. Maybe twenty.'

'Can you describe them?'

'They were just two guys. In suits.'

'Old? Young?'

'Neither. They were just guys.'

'Short? Tall?'

'Average.'

'Black or white?'

'White.'

'Fat or thin?'

'Average.'

Sorenson asked, 'Any distinguishing marks?'

The guy said, 'I don't know what that is.'

'Anything special about their faces? Beards, scars, piercings? Tattoos? Like that.'

'They were just guys.'

'What about the colour of their hair? Was it light or dark?'

'Their hair?' the guy said. 'I don't know. It was hair-coloured, I guess.'

Sorenson asked, 'Did you see a knife when they went in?'

'No,' the guy said.

'Did you see a knife when they came out?'

'No.'

'Did they have blood on them?'

'I guess one of their suit jackets looked wet in a couple of spots. But it was black, not red. Like it could have been water. On a black suit, I mean.'

Sorenson said, 'The street lights are yellow.'

The guy glanced out his window, as if to confirm it, and said, 'Yes.'

'So blood might have looked black, in the yellow light.'

'I guess.'

Sorenson asked, 'Did the red car belong to the two men?'

The guy said, 'They got in it, lady.'

'But how did they look when they got in it? Like they were totally familiar with it? Or did they fumble around?'

Goodman looked a question from the front seat. Sorenson said, 'The dead guy had nothing in his pockets. Including no car keys. So how did he get here? Maybe the red car was his.'

Goodman said, 'Then how did the two men get here? They didn't walk. It's cold, and they weren't wearing coats.'

'Maybe they all came together.'

The eyewitness said, 'I don't know, lady. They got in the car and drove away. That's all I saw.'