No Plan B: A Jack Reacher
Jack Reacher arrived in Gerrardsville, Colorado, mid-morning on a Monday, two days before the Minerva guys met in secret for the third time. He had hitched a ride in a truck that was delivering alfalfa bales to a farm south of the town so he covered the final mile on foot. It was a pleasant walk. The weather was warm, but not hot. Tufts of cloud drifted across the wide blue sky. The mile-high air was thin and clear. As far as he could see, the land was flat and green and fertile. Watering gantries marked the boundaries of endless fields and between them stalks and leaves of all sizes and shades stretched up toward the sun. To the left, the horizon was dominated by a line of mountains. They jutted straight out of the ground, no gentle buildup, no smooth foothills, and their peaks, capped with snow, cut into the atmosphere like the teeth of a saw.
Reacher continued until he came to the town’s main drag. It carried on for about a half mile, and there was only one block on either side before the stores and offices gave way to the residential streets. The commercial buildings were uniform in size. They were two stories high and they all had similar designs. They were all a similar age, too—late nineteenth century, based on the dates carved into some of the lintels—which gave the place a kind of time-capsule feel. A time when craftmanship was still valued. That was clear. The facades were all made from stone or marble or granite. The woodwork around the doors and windows was intricately carved and lavishly picked out with gold leaf. And every aspect was flawlessly maintained. Reacher appreciated what he saw. But he wasn’t in town to admire its architecture. He was there to visit its museum.
The previous day Reacher had picked up a newspaper someone had abandoned in a diner. He found an article about a dentist and a metal detector. The gadget had been given to the guy as a retirement gift. Some kind of an in-joke based on his reputation for finding fillings done by other dentists in new patients’ teeth and insisting on replacing them. Anyway, to occupy his sudden leisure time the guy reinvented himself as an amateur archeologist. He’d long been obsessed by the Civil War so he set out to visit a whole series of battle sites. Big and small. Famous and obscure. And at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, he found a bunch of artillery fragments and other artifacts. These got rolled into a traveling exhibition about the evolution of Union tactics, which caught Reacher’s eye. Gerrardsville was one of the venues for the display. And as he was only a few miles away while the show was still open, Reacher figured he’d take a look.
Reacher had a cup of coffee at a café he happened to walk past and got to the museum before lunchtime. He stayed until it closed. When he had to be shooed out by one of the curators. Her name was Alexandra. Reacher struck up a conversation with her about the exhibit. The subject turned to the kind of restaurants there were in the town, and they wound up going for a burger together. Alexandra picked a scruffy kind of place. It had rough wooden tabletops. Long benches. Creaky floorboards. Old LP covers were tacked up all over the walls. But the food came fast. The plates were piled high. The prices were low. Reacher liked everything about it.
While they ate the subject changed to music and they wound up at a bar together. It was small. Intimate. Dark. A blues band was playing. Mainly Magic Slim covers with a handful of Howlin’ Wolf songs sprinkled through. Reacher approved. Alexandra ordered a couple of beers and as they drank the subject changed again. It led them in a whole different direction this time. And all the way to Alexandra’s apartment.
Her apartment was above a store near the main intersection in the town. It was a small place. The style was minimalist. It didn’t have much in the way of furniture. Or décor. But it did have a fridge, so they had another beer. It had a CD player, so they listened to some more music. It had a bedroom. And once they reached it, there wasn’t much need for more of anything else.
The museum didn’t open the next day until 10:00 a.m. so Reacher and Alexandra stayed in bed until the last possible minute.
They stayed in bed, but they didn’t spend all their time sleeping. Alexandra knew she was cutting it fine but she took a quick shower anyway. She felt it was wise after their recent level of activity. Reacher made coffee. Then she kissed him goodbye and hurried away to her chosen slice of the past. Reacher took a more leisurely shower then made his way down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. He was thinking about his more immediate future. He paused to gaze at the mountains for a moment. Then he saw a woman walking toward them. She was on the other side of the street, heading west, almost at the intersection. The Don’t Walk sign was lit up. A guy was standing on the opposite corner, waiting for it to change. And a bus was heading north, about to pass between them.
The bus driver only saw movement.
Not much more than a blur. Low and to her right. A spherical object. Swinging down and around through a quarter of a perfect circle. Like a melon had somehow been attached to the end of a rope, she told the mandatory counselor the following day. Only it wasn’t a melon. It was a head. A human head. It was female. Inches from the windshield. There. Bright and pale in the sunlight, like it already belonged to a ghost. Then gone. But not because the driver had imagined it. Not because it was an illusion, like she prayed for it to be. Because it continued on its arc. All the way to the ground. In front of the bus.
Then under it.
The driver veered hard to the left. She threw all her weight onto the brake. No hesitation. No panic. She was well trained. She had years of experience. But she was still too late. She heard the tires squeal. Heard her passengers scream. And felt the impact. Through the steering wheel. Just a slight, muted ripple running around the hard plastic rim. Less of a jolt than if she’d driven through a deep pothole. Or hit a log. But then, asphalt doesn’t have bones that crush and shatter. Wood doesn’t have organs that rupture and bleed.
The driver shut her eyes and willed herself not to vomit. She knew the kind of scene that would be waiting for her on the street. She’d been an unwilling partner in a stranger’s suicide once before. It was an occupational hazard.
The guy on the opposite corner saw a lot more.
He saw the bus heading north. He saw a woman arrive at the southeast corner of the intersection. He had an unobstructed view. He was close enough to be credible. In his statement he said the woman looked nervous. Twitchy. He saw her check her watch. At first he figured she was in a hurry. He thought she was going to try to run across the street before the bus got too close. But she didn’t. She stopped. She stood and squirmed and fidgeted until the bus was almost alongside her. Until there was no chance for it to slow or swerve.
Then she dived under its wheels.
The woman dived. The guy was certain about that. She didn’t trip. She didn’t fall. It was a deliberate act. He could tell from the timing. The way her body accelerated. The curve it moved through. The precise aim. There was no way it could have been an accident. She had done it on purpose. He could see no other explanation.
Reacher was the only one who saw the whole picture.
He was about fifty feet from the intersection. His outlook was also unobstructed but he had a wider angle of view. He saw the woman and the guy waiting to cross in opposite directions. And he saw a third person. A man. Around five foot ten. Wiry-looking. Wearing a gray hoodie and jeans. On the same side as the woman. Eight feet away from her. A foot back from the curb. Standing completely still.
The guy had picked his spot carefully. That was clear. He was in the general vicinity of the crosswalk so he didn’t attract attention the way someone loitering aimlessly might. He was far enough away from the woman that he didn’t appear to be connected to her in any way. But he was close enough that when the bus approached he only needed to take a couple of steps to reach her side. His movement was smooth. Fluid. He was more like a shadow than a physical presence. The woman didn’t notice him appear next to her. She didn’t notice his foot snake around in front of her ankles.
The guy planted his hand between the woman’s shoulder blades and pushed. It was a small motion. Economical. Not dramatic. Not something most observers would notice. But sufficient for the guy’s purpose. That was for sure. There was no danger of the woman stumbling forward and bouncing off the front of the bus. No danger she might get away with broken bones and a concussion. The guy’s foot took care of that. It stopped the woman from moving her own feet. It made sure she pivoted, ankles stationary, arms flailing. And it guaranteed she slammed horizontally onto the ground.
The impact knocked the breath out of the woman’s body. Her last breath. Because half a second later the bus’s front wheel crushed her abdomen as flat as a folded newspaper
|Download Ebook||Read Now||File Type||Upload Date|
|Epub||October 30, 2022|