The bestselling novel featuring the “wonderfully epic hero”(People) who inspired the hit films Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. He’s just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he’s arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Reacher knows is that he didn’t kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn’t stand a chance of convincing anyone. Not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell.
About the Author
Date of Birth:1954
Place of Birth:Coventry, England
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1997 by Lee Child.
All rights reserved.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-14705-4
The Library of Congress has catalogued the G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Special excerpt from Die Trying
Jack Reacher made his first appearance in print on March 17, 1997—St. Patrick’s Day—when Putnam published Killing Floor in the United States, which was Reacher’s—and my—debut. But I can trace his, and the book’s, genesis backward at least to New Year’s Eve 1988. Back then I worked for a commercial television station in Manchester, England. I was eleven years into a career as a presentation director, which was a little like an air traffic controller for the network airwaves. In February 1988, the UK commercial network had started twenty-four-hour broadcasting. For a year before that, management had been talking about how to man the new expanded commitment. None of us really wanted to work nights. Management didn’t really want to hire extra people. End of story. Stalemate. Impasse. What broke it was the offer of a huge raise. We took it, and by New Year’s Eve we were ten fat and happy months into the new contract. I went to a party, but didn’t feel much like celebrating. Not that I wasn’t content in the short term—I sleep better by day than night, and I like being up and about when the world is quiet and lonely, and for sure I was having a ball with the new salary. But I knew in my bones that management resented the raise, and I knew that the new contract was in fact the beginning of the end. Sooner or later, we would all be fired in revenge. I felt it was only a matter of time. Nobody agreed with me, except one woman. At the party, in a quiet moment, she asked me, “What are you going to do when this is all over?”
I said, “I’m going to write books.”
Why that answer? And why then?
I had always been an insatiable reader. All genres, all the time, but very unstructured. I naturally gravitated toward crime, adventure, and thrillers, but for a long time in the UK we lacked genre stores and fan magazines, and of course the Internet hadn’t started yet, so there was no effective network capable of leading a reader from one thing to the next. As a result, I had come across some very obscure stuff, while being completely ignorant of many major figures. For instance, in February 1988—while the ink was still drying on our new TV contracts—I took a vacation in the Yucatán. I flew back via Miami, and picked up John D. MacDonald’s The Lonely Silver Rain at the bookstall in the airport. I had never heard of MacDonald or Travis McGee. I read the book on the plane back to London and loved it. I thought, “I wonder if it’s part of a series?” Hah! I was back in the States at Easter that year and bought every McGee title I could find, which added up to about a linear yard’s worth.
Nobody needs me to sing MacDonald’s praises, but that yard of books did more for me than provide excellent entertainment. For some reason the McGee books spoke to me like textbooks. I felt I could see what MacDonald was doing, and why, and how, as if I could see the skeleton beneath the skin. I read them all that summer, and by New Year’s Eve I was completely sure that when the ax fell, I wanted to do what MacDonald had done. I could stay in the entertainment business, but work for myself in the world of books.
It took six years for the ax to fall. But fall it did, and so it came time to make good on that earlier ambition. I went to WHSmith’s store in the Manchester Arndale mall—which the IRA destroyed a year later—and bought three legal pads, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser. The bill was a penny under four pounds, which was about six bucks at the time. Then I sat down with my purchases and let years of half-formed thoughts take shape. But not just six years of thoughts—now I have to take the process back another thirty years or so, to the point when my reading habit first took hold.
I had found that I liked some things, and disliked other things. I had always been drawn to outlaws. I liked cleverness and ingenuity. I liked the promise of intriguing revelations. I disliked a hero who was generally smart but did something stupid three-quarters of the way through the book, merely to set up the last part of the action. Detectives on the trail who walked into rooms and got hit over the head from behind just didn’t do it for me. And I liked winners. I was vaguely uneasy with the normal story arc that has a guy lose, lose, lose before he wins in the end. I liked to see something done spectacularly well. In sports, I liked crushing victories rather than ninth-inning nail-biters.
Some of my reading was directed, of course, in school. I was part of probably the last generation ever to receive a classical English education. I read Latin and Greek and Old English, all the ancient myths and medieval sagas and poems. I met the “knight errant” at source.
Then I took a law degree at university. I never intended to be a lawyer, but the subject knit together all my nonfiction interests—history, politics, economics, sociology . . . and language. Legal language strives for concision and avoids ambiguity wherever possible. The result is inevitably dull, but all that striving and avoiding really teaches a person how to write.
Then I went to work in the theater, and developed a phobia. Back then there was plenty of experimental theater, some of it good, most of it awful. The worst of it was run by people who saw their minimal audiences as badges of honor. “The public is too stupid to understand us,” they would say. I hated that attitude. To me, entertainment was a transaction. You do it, they watch it, then it exists. Like a Zen question: If you put on a show, and nobody comes, have you in fact put on a show at all?
So for me, the audience mattered from the start. Which helped me thrive in television. And along the way I discovered I was the audience. We were generally doing quality mass-market entertainment, but even so, some guys were conscious of slumming. Not me. G. K. Chesterton once said of Charles Dickens, “Dickens didn’t write what people wanted. Dickens wanted what people wanted.” I would never compare myself to Charles Dickens, but I know exactly what Chesterton meant.
So, at thirty-nine years of age, after maybe thirty-five years of conscious experience, I sat down and opened the first of my three legal pads on my dining room table and lined up my pencil and sharpener and eraser and . . . thought some more, and came up with three specific conclusions.
First: Character is king. There are probably fewer than six books every century remembered specifically for their plots. People remember characters. Same with television. Who remembers the Lone Ranger? Everybody. Who remembers any actual Lone Ranger story lines? Nobody.
So, my lead character had to carry the whole weight . . . and there was a lot of weight to carry. Remember, I was broke and out of work.
Second conclusion: If you can see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on. I think the person who said that to me was talking about investment issues—as if I had anything to invest—but it seemed an excellent motto for entertainment, as well. It’s a crowded field. Why do what everyone else is doing?
So, I was going to have to do something a little different. The series that were then well under way—and most that were just starting out—were, it seemed to me, when carefully analyzed, soap operas. (Which, to me, is not a derogatory term. . . . Soap opera is an incredibly powerful narrative engine, and soap operas had put food on my table for eighteen years. Lots of it, and high quality.) Lead characters were primus inter pares in a repertory cast, locations were fixed and significant, employment was fixed and significant. In other words, series heroes had partners, friends, jobs, apartments, favorite bars, favorite restaurants, neighbors, family, even dogs and cats. They jogged, worked out, had pastimes. They had bills to pay and issues to resolve.
If you can see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on. I was going to have to avoid all that stuff.
But, the third conclusion, and the most confounding conclusion: You can’t design a character too specifically. I knew in my bones that to think too carefully would produce a laundry list of imagined qualities and virtues and would result in a flat, boring, cardboard character. I would be consulting a mental checklist—“I need to satisfy this demographic . . . check . . . and please these people . . . check . . .”—until I had a guy with all the spark and life beaten out of him. So I quite self-consciously pushed that thirty-five-year soup of ideas and influences into the distant background and decided to relax and see what would come along.
Jack Reacher came along.
I was interested in dislocation and alienation, and I had noticed that people who have spent their lives in the military have trouble adjusting to civilian life afterward. It’s like moving to a different planet. So I wrote a character who had been first a military brat, then a military officer, and was now plunged unwillingly into the civilian world. And because the books would be broadly crime novels, I made him an ex–military cop in order to give him plausible familiarity with investigative procedures and forensics and so on. Those twin decisions gave him a double layer of alienation. First, his transition from the rough, tough world of the army made him a fish out of water in civilian life, which situation was then further reinforced by any law enforcement officer’s separation from the rest of the population.
And he was American. I’m British. But by that point I had been a regular visitor to the United States for twenty years—my wife is from New York—and I felt I knew the country pretty well, at least as well as I could expect an alienated ex-military drifter to know it. And it’s easier to be rootless and alienated in a giant country like America. Alienation in a tiny, crowded island like Britain is of a different order, almost wholly psychological rather than physical or literal. I like reading the internal, claustrophobic British books, but I didn’t want to write them. I wanted big, rangy plots; big landscapes; big skies.
Jack Reacher’s status as a former officer happened instinctively. Looking back, I clearly wanted to tap into the medieval knight-errant paradigm, and a knight-errant has to have been a knight in the first place. I thought a West Point history and a rank of major would be suitable. In literary terms it was an important choice, but later I realized it has plausibility issues. His whole personality, approach, and implied past experiences make it much more likely that in the real world he would have been a warrant officer, not a commissioned officer. But to me it was crucial that he should have a certain nobility—which is a strange thing to say about a guy who goes around busting heads as frequently and thoroughly as Jack Reacher does—but it is clear from subsequent reaction that his “white hat” status depends heavily on our images of and assumptions about rank. (And his “white hat” status has tempted readers to classify the series as a set of modern-day Westerns, which is convincing in terms of feel and structure. Some of the novels are just like Shane or a Zane Grey story or a Lone Ranger episode—lonely, embattled community has a problem; mysterious stranger rides in off the range, solves the problem, rides off into the sunset—but I have never been a fan or even a reader of Westerns. What is happening there is that Westerns too have strong roots in the medieval knight-errant sagas. As in much of evolution, if B isn’t descended directly from A, then they both shared a common ancestor much farther back.)
At first he wasn’t called Jack Reacher. In fact, he wasn’t called anything at all. The part of writing that I find most difficult is coming up with character names. My books are heavily populated with stationery brands and other authors, because when I need to name someone I tend to look around my office helplessly until my eye alights on the front of a notebook or the spine of a book on my shelves. Once or twice I stared out my window until a neighbor walked past, or thought back to the name badge of the last clerk I saw in a store . . . all kinds of people get their names in my books, most of them unwittingly. But obviously the main character’s name is very important to get right. With luck it will appear in many books, and even be talked about in other contexts. I started writing with no clear idea of the name. The first book was written in the first person, which meant he didn’t need a name until someone else asked what it was, which didn’t happen for thirty or so manuscript pages. Then a police detective asked, “Name?” I put my pencil down and thought. The best I could come up with was Franklin, as I recall. But I wasn’t happy with it.
Then I went shopping. Part of the problem with not currently having a day job was, well, I didn’t have a day job, and my wife therefore assumed that after many years of solo struggle she now had help with chores. So she asked me to go to the supermarket with her, to carry stuff home. I’m a big guy; she’s a small woman. She was also a worried woman, although she was hiding it well. Our life savings were disappearing, and regular paychecks were merely distant memories. In the supermarket—and this is a common experience for tall men—a little old lady approached me and said, “You’re a nice tall gentleman, so would you reach that can for me?” My wife said to me, “If this writing thing doesn’t work out, you can always be a reacher in a supermarket.” I thought, great name! And I used it, and I smile now when I read Internet commentary imagining I specified the name for its forward-going, striving, progressive implications.
His first name came from conclusion number two: Don’t do what the others are doing. At the time there was a miniature rash of characters with cute or complex first names. So I looked for the simplest and plainest name I could find. I chose Jack, and not as a diminutive for John, either. It’s just Jack. (One of my grandfathers was called Harry, which most people assumed was a diminutive for Henry, but it wasn’t. Harry was on his birth certificate.) In my third book, Tripwire, there’s a passage that starts: “Reacher had been named Jack by his father, who was a plain New Hampshire Yankee with an implacable horror of anything fancy.” I wanted to underpin Reacher’s blunt and straightforward manner with a blunt and straightforward name. I didn’t think the character would have worked with, say, MacNaughten Lawrence for a name. Still don’t. Even though the first name could have been abbreviated to “Mac” on nearly all occasions, the hidden truth on his official papers would have implied something that I didn’t want implied.
So, he’s an ex–military officer, he’s American, he’s alienated, he struggles to participate effectively in civilian society, and he has a plain name.
And he’s huge.
He’s six feet five inches tall, and around two hundred and fifty pounds, all of it muscle. In Tripwire, after he’s been doing physical labor in the sun for a spell, he’s described as looking “like a condom stuffed with walnuts.” No one in his right mind would mess with him. I had in mind the kind of intimidating physical presence that pro footballers have—relaxed, utterly sure of themselves—but in Reacher’s case with a barely visible hint of danger. (In fact, in One Shot, he admits to having played football for Army while at West Point, but that his career was limited to only one game. “Why?” someone asks. “Were you injured?” “No,” he replies. “I was too violent.”) His physical presence is another offshoot of conclusion number two: Don’t do what the others are doing. And for a long time what the others had been doing was making their protagonists more and more flawed and vulnerable. Way back, it had been a welcome development to move away from the uniformly lantern-jawed he-men that had crowded the genre. Heroes became smaller, realistically afraid, physically unexceptional. On the emotional side, they became battered. They were alcoholics, recovering alcoholics, divorced recovering alcoholics, divorced recovering alcoholics living in cabins in the woods and traumatized by professional mistakes. Literal and metaphorical bullets were lodged near hearts. There was an overwhelming feeling of incipient failure and melancholy.
As with all trends, this one was started by inspired pioneers and then overdone by imitators. By the time I started writing I was tired of it. I wanted to start over with an old-fashioned hero who had no problems, no issues, and no navel-gazing. His physical competence is really an expression of his mental competence, too. He’s a fully-functioning person.
And I thought it would be interesting to reverse the paradigm in terms of physical vulnerability. Usually, a book’s hero comes up against people he needs to be afraid of. What if, I asked myself, the hero is the toughest SOB in the valley and others need to be afraid of him? In my fourth book, Running Blind, an FBI agent called Blake threatens to leak Reacher’s name to a violent psychopath called Petrosian. Blake thinks it’s an effective motivator—and in real life and most books it would be. But Reacher just says: “Look at me, Blake. Get real. There’s maybe ten people on the planet I need to be scared of. Extremely unlikely this guy Petrosian happens to be one of them.” I was trying to discover whether drama was possible without the usual David-versus-Goliath structure. I wondered, would Goliath-versus-Goliath work? I have a fan and a friend who works in the gaudy world of pro wrestling—worked, actually, because he’s retired now. You’ll be shocked (shocked!) to hear that their bouts are heavily scripted and rehearsed, even to the extent of having story conferences. My friend’s major concern is that the wrestling paradigm always has the designated good guy lose, and lose, and lose, before winning in the final round. It was hard for him to come to terms with the absence of a battered underdog. But I always wanted Reacher to be the overdog.
Because I was following my instincts. Remember, “Dickens wanted what the audience wanted.” I was the audience. I wanted the kind of vicarious satisfaction that comes from seeing bad guys getting their heads handed to them by a wrong-righter even bigger and harder than them. I thought, isn’t that what fiction is for? Because the existence of fiction is a curious thing. Language evolved way back when leisure was simply unheard of. Language was all about survival, and cooperation, and the dissemination of facts in pursuit of literally life-and-death issues. For most of our existence language has been for telling the truth. Then fiction started up, and we started burning brain cells on stories about things that didn’t happen to people who didn’t exist. Why? The only answer can be that humans deeply, deeply desired it. They needed the consolation. Real life is rarely satisfactory. The transaction is clearly apparent in romantic fiction. In real life, you sit on the subway and you see a beautiful girl. Truth is, you aren’t going to dinner with her, you aren’t taking her home, you aren’t going to live happily ever after. In fact, you aren’t even going to talk to her. But in a novel, all that good stuff happens. It’s a vicarious way to live. Same for crime fiction. In real life, if your house gets burgled or your car gets ripped off, they aren’t going to find the bad guys and you aren’t going to get your stuff back. If someone bullies or disrespects you at work, or in school, or in a relationship, there isn’t much you can do about it. But something can be done about it in a book, and people enjoy watching it happen. They love it. It’s closure, albeit vicarious.
So I wanted Reacher to do what we all want to do ourselves—stand strong and unafraid, never back off, never back down, come up with the smart replies. I thought of all the situations that we find ourselves in—timid, uncertain, scared, worried, humiliated—and imagined a kind of therapeutic consolation in seeing our wildest dreams acted out on the page.
So, Reacher always wins.
Which is theoretically a problem. He’s a plain, uncomplicated man who breezes through life without evident trouble. Shouldn’t he be boring? In theory, yes. But readers don’t agree. Because actually he has plenty of minor problems. He’s awkward in civilian society. He gets around his difficulties by assembling a series of eccentricities that border on the weird. If he doesn’t know how something works, he just doesn’t participate. He doesn’t have a cell phone, doesn’t understand text messaging, doesn’t grasp e-mail. He doesn’t do laundry. He buys cheap clothes, and junks them three or four days later, and buys more. To him, that’s a rigorously rational solution to an evident problem. To us, it’s almost autistic. The contrast between his narrow and highly developed skills and his general helplessness humanizes him. It gives him dimension. He has enough problems to make him interesting, but crucially, he himself doesn’t know he has these problems. He thinks he’s fine. He thinks he’s normal. Hence interest without the whiny self-awareness of the bullet-lodged-near-the-heart guys.
What motivates him?
He has no need for or interest in employment. He’s not a proactive do-gooder. So why does he get involved in things? Well, partly because of noblesse oblige, which is a French chivalric concept that means “nobility obligates,” which in other words mandates honorable, generous, and responsible behavior because of high rank or birth. Reacher had the rank and has the skills, and he feels a slightly Marxist obligation “from he who has, to he who needs.” Again, that attitude predates the twentieth century by a long way. It shows up in nineteenth-century Western heroes and thirteenth-century European heroes, all the way back to the Greeks, and, we can be sure, much farther back into oral traditions where no written records exist. Added to which, in Reacher’s case, is a cantankerousness that provokes him. In Persuader, during a flashback to his military days, he is asked why he became an MP when he could have chosen any other branch of the service. He gives a vague answer, along the lines of wanting to look after the little guy. His questioner is skeptical. She says, disbelievingly, “You care about the little guy?” “Not really,” Reacher admits. “I don’t really care about the little guy. I just hate the big guy. I hate big smug people who think they can get away with things.” That’s what motivates him. The world is full of unfairness and injustice. He can’t intervene everywhere. He needs to sense a sneering, arrogant, manipulative opponent in the shadows. Then he’ll go to work. Partly because he himself is arrogant. In a sense, each book is a contest between Reacher’s arrogance and his opponent’s. Arrogance is not an attractive attribute, but I don’t hide Reacher’s because I think the greatest mistake a series writer can make is to get too chummy with his main character. I aim to like Reacher just a little less than I hope you will. Because basically a book is a simple psychological transaction. “I’m the main character,” the main character announces. The reader asks: “Am I going to like you?” There are several possible answers to that question. The worst is: “Yes, you really are, and I’ll tell you why!” But Reacher answers: “You might, or you might not, and either way is fine with me.” Because, as an author, I believe that kind of insouciant self-confidence forms a more enduring bond.
I WAS ARRESTED IN ENO’S DINER. AT TWELVE O’CLOCK. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.
The diner was small, but bright and clean. Brand-new, built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.
I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a president I didn’t vote for last time and wasn’t going to vote for this time. Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door.
I just sat and watched them. I knew who was in the diner. A cook in back. Two waitresses. Two old men. And me. This operation was for me. I had been in town less than a half hour. The other five had probably been here all their lives. Any problem with any of them and an embarrassed sergeant would have shuffled in. He would be apologetic. He would mumble to them. He would ask them to come down to the station house. So the heavy weapons and the rush weren’t for any of them. They were for me. I crammed egg into my mouth and trapped a five under the plate. Folded the abandoned newspaper into a square and shoved it into my coat pocket. Kept my hands above the table and drained my cup.
The guy with the revolver stayed at the door. He went into a crouch and pointed the weapon two-handed. At my head. The guy with the shotgun approached close. These were fit lean boys. Neat and tidy. Textbook moves. The revolver at the door could cover the room with a degree of accuracy. The shotgun up close could splatter me all over the window. The other way around would be a mistake. The revolver could miss in a close-quarters struggle and a long-range shotgun blast from the door would kill the arresting officer and the old guy in the rear booth as well as me. So far, they were doing it right. No doubt about that. They had the advantage. No doubt about that, either. The tight booth trapped me. I was too hemmed in to do much. I spread my hands on the table. The officer with the shotgun came near.
“Freeze! Police!” he screamed.
He was screaming as loud as he could. Blowing off his tension and trying to scare me. Textbook moves. Plenty of sound and fury to soften the target. I raised my hands. The guy with the revolver started in from the door. The guy with the shotgun came closer. Too close. Their first error. If I had to, I might have lunged for the shotgun barrel and forced it up. A blast into the ceiling perhaps and an elbow into the policeman’s face and the shotgun could have been mine. The guy with the revolver had narrowed his angle and couldn’t risk hitting his partner. It could have ended badly for them. But I just sat there, hands raised. The guy with the shotgun was still screaming and jumping.
“Out here on the floor!” he yelled.
I slid slowly out of the booth and extended my wrists to the officer with the revolver. I wasn’t going to lie on the floor. Not for these country boys. Not if they brought along their whole police department with howitzers.
The guy with the revolver was a sergeant. He was pretty calm. The shotgun covered me as the sergeant holstered his revolver and unclipped the handcuffs from his belt and clicked them on my wrists. The backup team came in through the kitchen. They walked around the lunch counter. Took up position behind me. They patted me down. Very thorough. I saw the sergeant acknowledge the shakes of the heads. No weapon.
The backup guys each took an elbow. The shotgun still covered me. The sergeant stepped up in front. He was a compact, athletic white man. Lean and tanned. My age. The acetate nameplate above his shirt pocket said: Baker. He looked up at me.
“You are under arrest for murder,” he said. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used as evidence against you. You have the right to representation by an attorney. Should you be unable to afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you by the State of Georgia free of charge. Do you understand these rights?”
It was a fine rendition of Miranda. He spoke clearly. He didn’t read it from a card. He spoke like he knew what it meant and why it was important. To him and to me. I didn’t respond.
“Do you understand your rights?” he said again.
Again I didn’t respond. Long experience had taught me that absolute silence is the best way. Say something, and it can be misheard. Misunderstood. Misinterpreted. It can get you convicted. It can get you killed. Silence upsets the arresting officer. He has to tell you silence is your right but he hates it if you exercise that right. I was being arrested for murder. But I said nothing.
“Do you understand your rights?” the guy called Baker asked me again. “Do you speak English?”
He was calm. I said nothing. He remained calm. He had the calm of a man whose moment of danger had passed. He would just drive me to the station house and then I would become someone else’s problem. He glanced round his three fellow officers.
“OK, make a note, he’s said nothing,” he grunted. “Let’s go.”
I was walked toward the door. At the door we formed a single file. First Baker. Then the guy with the shotgun, walking backward, still with the big black barrel pointing at me. His nameplate said: Stevenson. He too was a medium white man in good shape. His weapon looked like a drainpipe. Pointing at my gut. Behind me were the backup guys. I was pushed through the door with a hand flat on my back.
Outside in the gravel lot the heat was up. It must have rained all night and most of the morning. Now the sun was blasting away and the ground was steaming. Normally this would be a dusty hot place. Today it was steaming with that wonderful heady aroma of drenched pavement under a hot noon sun. I stood face up to the sun and inhaled as the officers regrouped. One at each elbow for the short walk to the cars. Stevenson still on the ball with the pump-action. At the first car he skipped backward a step as Baker opened the rear door. My head was pushed down. I was nudged into the car with a neat hip-to-hip contact from the left-hand backup. Good moves. In a town this far from anywhere, surely the result of a lot of training rather than a lot of experience.
I was alone in the back of the car. A thick glass partition divided the space. The front doors were still open. Baker and Stevenson got in. Baker drove. Stevenson was twisted around keeping me under observation. Nobody talked. The backup car followed. The cars were new. Quiet and smooth riding. Clean and cool inside. No ingrained traces of desperate and pathetic people riding where I was riding.
I looked out of the window. Georgia. I saw rich land. Heavy, damp red earth. Very long and straight rows of low-bushes in the fields. Peanuts, maybe. Belly crops, but valuable to the grower. Or to the owner. Did people own their land here? Or did giant corporations? I didn’t know.
The drive to town was short. The car hissed over the smooth soaked tarmac. After maybe a half mile I saw two neat buildings, both new, both with tidy landscaping. The police station and the firehouse. They stood alone together, behind a wide lawn with a statue, north edge of town. Attractive county architecture on a generous budget. Roads were smooth tarmac, sidewalks were red blocks. Three hundred yards south, I could see a blinding white church steeple behind a small huddle of buildings. I could see flagpoles, awnings, crisp paint, green lawns. Everything refreshed by the heavy rain. Now steaming and somehow intense in the heat. A prosperous community. Built, I guessed, on prosperous farm incomes and high taxes on the commuters who worked up in Atlanta.
Stevenson still stared at me as the car slowed to yaw into the approach to the station house. A wide semicircle of driveway. I read on a low masonry sign: Margrave Police Headquarters. I thought: should I be worried? I was under arrest. In a town where I’d never been before. Apparently for murder. But I knew two things. First, they couldn’t prove something had happened if it hadn’t happened. And second, I hadn’t killed anybody.
Not in their town, and not for a long time, anyway.
WE PULLED UP AT THE DOORS OF THE LONG LOW BUILDING. Baker got out of the car and looked up and down along the frontage. The backup guys stood by. Stevenson walked around the back of our car. Took up a position opposite Baker. Pointed the shotgun at me. This was a good team. Baker opened my door.
“OK, let’s go, let’s go,” he said. Almost a whisper.
He was bouncing on the balls of his feet, scanning the area. I pivoted slowly and twisted out of the car. The handcuffs didn’t help. Even hotter now. I stepped forward and waited. The backup fell in behind me. Ahead of me was the station house entrance. There was a long marble lintel crisply engraved: Town of Margrave Police Headquarters. Below it were plate-glass doors. Baker pulled one open. It sucked against rubber seals. The backup pushed me through. The door sucked shut behind me.
Inside it was cool again. Everything was white and chrome. Lights were fluorescent. It looked like a bank or an insurance office. There was carpet. A desk sergeant stood behind a long reception counter. The way the place looked, he should have said: how may I help you, sir? But he said nothing. He just looked at me. Behind him was a huge open-plan space. A dark-haired woman in uniform was sitting at a wide, low desk. She had been doing paperwork on a keyboard. Now she was looking at me. I stood there, an officer on each elbow. Stevenson was backed up against the reception counter. His shotgun was pointed at me. Baker stood there, looking at me. The desk sergeant and the woman in uniform were looking at me. I looked back at them.
Then I was walked to the left. They stopped me in front of a door. Baker swung it open and I was pushed into a room. It was an interview facility. No windows. A white table and three chairs. Carpet. In the top corner of the room, a camera. The air in the room was set very cold. I was still wet from the rain.
I stood there and Baker ferreted into every pocket. My belongings made a small pile on the table. A roll of cash. Some coins. Receipts, tickets, scraps. Baker checked the newspaper and left it in my pocket. Glanced at my watch and left it on my wrist. He wasn’t interested in those things. Everything else was swept into a large Ziploc bag. A bag made for people with more in their pockets than I carry. The bag had a white panel printed on it. Stevenson wrote some kind of a number on the panel.
Baker told me to sit down. Then they all left the room. Stevenson carried the bag with my stuff in it. They went out and closed the door and I heard the lock turning. It had a heavy, well-greased sound. The sound of precision. The sound of a big steel lock. Sounded like a lock that would keep me in.
I FIGURED THEY WOULD LEAVE ME ISOLATED FOR A WHILE. It usually happens that way. Isolation causes an urge to talk. An urge to talk can become an urge to confess. A brutal arrest followed by an hour’s isolation is pretty good strategy.
But I figured wrong. They hadn’t planned an hour’s isolation. Maybe their second slight tactical mistake. Baker unlocked the door and stepped back in. He carried a plastic cup of coffee. Then he signaled the uniformed woman into the room. The one I’d seen at her desk in the open area. The heavy lock clicked behind her. She carried a metal flight case which she set on the table. She clicked it open and took out a long black number holder. In it were white plastic numbers.
She handed it to me with that brusque apologetic sympathy that dental nurses use. I took it in my cuffed hands. Squinted down to make sure it was the right way up and held it under my chin. The woman took an ugly camera out of the case and sat opposite me. She rested her elbows on the table to brace the camera. Sitting forward. Her breasts rested on the edge of the table. This was a good-looking woman. Dark hair, great eyes. I stared at her and smiled. The camera clicked and flashed. Before she could ask I turned sideways on the chair for the profile. Held the long number against my shoulder and stared at the wall. The camera clicked and flashed again. I turned back and held out the number. Two-handed, because of the cuffs. She took it from me with that pursed grin which says: yes, it’s unpleasant, but it’s necessary. Like the dental nurse.
Then she took out the fingerprint gear. A crisp ten-card, already labeled with a number. The thumb spaces are always too small. This one had a reverse side with two squares for palm prints. The handcuffs made the process difficult. Baker didn’t offer to remove them. The woman inked my hands. Her fingers were smooth and cool. No wedding band. Afterward she handed me a wad of tissues. The ink came off very easily. Some kind of new stuff I hadn’t seen before.
The woman unloaded the camera and put the film with the prints card on the table. She repacked the camera into the flight case. Baker rapped on the door. The lock clicked again. The woman picked up her stuff. Nobody spoke. The woman left the room. Baker stayed in there with me. He shut the door and it locked with the same greased click. Then he leaned on the door and looked at me.
“My chief’s coming on down,” he said. “You’re going to have to talk to him. We got a situation here. Got to be cleared up.”
I said nothing back to him. Talking to me wasn’t going to clear any situation up for anybody. But the guy was acting civilized. Respectful. So I set him a test. Held out my hands toward him. An unspoken request to unlock the cuffs. He stood still for a moment then took out the key and unlocked them. Clipped them back on his belt. Looked at me. I looked back and dropped my arms to my sides. No grateful exhalation. No rueful rubbing of my wrists. I didn’t want a relationship with this guy. But I did speak.
“OK,” I said. “Let’s go meet your chief.”
It was the first time I’d spoken since ordering breakfast. Now Baker was the one who looked grateful. He rapped twice on the door and it was unlocked from the outside. He opened it up and signaled me through. Stevenson was waiting with his back to the large open area. The shotgun was gone. The backup crew was gone. Things were calming down. They formed up, one on each side. Baker gripped my elbow, lightly. We walked down the side of the open area and came to a door at the back. Stevenson pushed it open and we walked through into a large office. Lots of rosewood all over it.
A fat guy sat at a big rosewood desk. Behind him were a couple of big flags. There was a Stars and Stripes with a gold fringe on the left and what I guessed was the Georgia state flag on the right. On the wall between the flags was a clock. It was a big old round thing framed in mahogany. Looked like it had decades of polish on it. I figured it must be the clock from whatever old station house they bulldozed to build this new place. I figured the architect had used it to give a sense of history to the new building. It was showing nearly twelve thirty.
The fat guy at the big desk looked up at me as I was pushed in toward him. I saw him look blank, like he was trying to place me. He looked again, harder. Then he sneered at me and spoke in a wheezing gasp which would have been a shout if it hadn’t been strangled by bad lungs.
“Get your ass in that chair and keep your filthy mouth shut,” he said.
This fat guy was a surprise. He looked like a real asshole. Opposite to what I’d seen so far. Baker and his arrest team were the business. Professional and efficient. The fingerprint woman had been decent. But this fat police chief was a waste of space. Thin dirty hair. Sweating, despite the chilly air. The blotchy red and gray complexion of an unfit, overweight mess. Blood pressure sky-high. Arteries hard as rocks. He didn’t look halfway competent.
“My name is Morrison,” he wheezed. As if I cared. “I am chief of the police department down here in Margrave. And you are a murdering outsider bastard. You’ve come down here to my town and you’ve messed up right there on Mr. Kliner’s private property. So now you’re going to make a full confession to my chief of detectives.”
He stopped and looked up at me. Like he was still trying to place me. Or like he was waiting for a response. He didn’t get one. So he jabbed his fat finger at me.
“And then you’re going to jail,” he said. “And then you’re going to the chair. And then I’m going to take a dump on your shitty little pauper’s grave.”
He hauled his bulk out of the chair and looked away from me.
“I’d deal with this myself,” he said. “But I’m a busy man.”
He waddled out from behind his desk. I was standing there between his desk and the door. As he crabbed by, he stopped. His fat nose was about level with the middle button on my coat. He was still looking up at me like he was puzzled by something.
“I’ve seen you before,” he said. “Where was it?”
He glanced at Baker and then at Stevenson. Like he was expecting them to note what he was saying and when he was saying it.
“I’ve seen this guy before,” he told them.
HE SLAMMED THE OFFICE DOOR AND I WAS LEFT WAITING with the two cops until the chief of detectives swung in. A tall black guy, not old, but graying and balding. Just enough to give him a patrician air. Brisk and confident. Well-dressed, in an old-fashioned tweed suit. Moleskin vest. Shined shoes. This guy looked like a chief should look. He signaled Baker and Stevenson out of the office. Closed the door behind them. Sat down at the desk and waved me to the opposite chair.
He rattled open a drawer and pulled out a cassette recorder. Raised it high, arm’s length, to pull out the tangle of cords. Plugged in the power and the microphone. Inserted a tape. Pressed record and flicked the microphone with his fingernail. Stopped the tape and wound it back. Pressed play. Heard the thunk of his nail. Nodded. Wound back again and pressed record. I sat and watched him.
For a moment there was silence. Just a faint hum, the air, the lights, or the computer. Or the recorder whirring slowly. I could hear the slow tick of the old clock. It made a patient sound, like it was prepared to tick on forever, no matter what I chose to do. Then the guy sat right back in his chair and looked hard at me. Did the steepled fingers thing, like tall elegant people can.
“Right,” he said. “We got a few questions, don’t we?”
The voice was deep. Like a rumble. Not a southern accent. He looked and sounded like a Boston banker, except he was black.
“My name is Finlay,” he said. “My rank is captain. I am chief of this department’s detective bureau. I understand you have been apprised of your rights. You have not yet confirmed that you understood them. Before we go any further we must pursue that preliminary matter.”
Not a Boston banker. More like a Harvard guy.
“I understand my rights,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad about that. Where’s your lawyer?”
“I don’t need a lawyer,” I said.
“You’re charged with murder,” he said. “You need a lawyer. We’ll provide one, you know. Free of charge. Do you want us to provide one, free of charge?”
“No, I don’t need a lawyer,” I said.
The guy called Finlay stared at me over his fingers for a long moment.
“OK,” he said. “But you’re going to have to sign a release. You know, you’ve been advised you may have a lawyer, and we’ll provide one, at no cost to yourself, but you absolutely don’t want one.”
“OK,” I said.
He shuffled a form from another drawer and checked his watch to enter date and time. He slid the form across to me. A large printed cross marked the line where I was supposed to sign. He slid me a pen. I signed and slid the form back. He studied it. Placed it in a buff folder.
“I can’t read that signature,” he said. “So for the record we’ll start with your name, your address and your date of birth.”
There was silence again. I looked at him. This was a stubborn guy. Probably forty-five. You don’t get to be chief of detectives in a Georgia jurisdiction if you’re forty-five and black except if you’re a stubborn guy. No percentage in jerking him around. I drew a breath.
“My name is Jack Reacher,” I said. “No middle name. No address.”
He wrote it down. Not much to write. I told him my date of birth.
“OK, Mr. Reacher,” Finlay said. “As I said, we have a lot of questions. I’ve glanced through your personal effects. You were carrying no ID at all. No driver’s license, no credit cards, no nothing. You have no address, you say. So I’m asking myself, who is this guy?”
He didn’t wait for any kind of a comment on that from me.
“Who was the guy with the shaved head?” he asked me.
I didn’t answer. I was watching the big clock, waiting for the minute hand to move.
“Tell me what happened,” he said.
I had no idea what had happened. No idea at all. Something had happened to somebody, but not to me. I sat there. Didn’t answer.
“What is Pluribus?” Finlay asked.
I looked at him and shrugged.
“The United States motto?” I said. “E Pluribus Unum? Adopted in 1776 by the Second Continental Congress, right?”
He just grunted at me. I carried on looking straight at him. I figured this was the type of a guy who might answer a question.
“What is this about?” I asked him.
Silence again. His turn to look at me. I could see him thinking about whether to answer, and how.
“What is this about?” I asked him again. He sat back and steepled his fingers.
“You know what this is about,” he said. “Homicide. With some very disturbing features. Victim was found this morning up at the Kliner warehouse. North end of the county road, up at the highway cloverleaf. Witness has reported a man seen walking away from that location. Shortly after eight o’clock this morning. Description given was that of a white man, very tall, wearing a long black overcoat, fair hair, no hat, no baggage.”
Silence again. I am a white man. I am very tall. My hair is fair. I was sitting there wearing a long black overcoat. I didn’t have a hat. Or a bag. I had been walking on the county road for the best part of four hours this morning. From eight until about eleven forty-five.
“How long is the county road?” I said. “From the highway all the way down to here?”
Finlay thought about it.
“Maybe fourteen miles, I guess,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “I walked all the way down from the highway into town. Fourteen miles, maybe. Plenty of people must have seen me. Doesn’t mean I did anything to anybody.”
He didn’t respond. I was getting curious about this situation.
“Is that your neighborhood?” I asked him. “All the way over at the highway?”
“Yes, it is,” he said. “Jurisdiction issue is clear. No way out for you there, Mr. Reacher. The town limit extends fourteen miles, right up to the highway. The warehousing out there is mine, no doubt about that.”
He waited. I nodded. He carried on.
“Kliner built the place, five years ago,” he said. “You heard of him?”
I shook my head.
“How should I have heard of him?” I said. “I’ve never been here before.”
“He’s a big deal around here,” Finlay said. “His operation out there pays us a lot of taxes, does us a lot of good. A lot of revenue and a lot of benefit for the town without a lot of mess, because it’s so far away, right? So we try to take care of it for him. But now it’s a homicide scene, and you’ve got explaining to do.”
The guy was doing his job, but he was wasting my time.
“OK, Finlay,” I said. “I’ll make a statement describing every little thing I did since I entered your lousy town limits until I got hauled in here in the middle of my damn breakfast. If you can make anything out of it, I’ll give you a damn medal. Because all I did was to place one foot in front of the other for nearly four hours in the pouring rain all the way through your precious fourteen damn miles.”
That was the longest speech I had made for six months. Finlay sat and gazed at me. I watched him struggling with any detective’s basic dilemma. His gut told him I might not be his man. But I was sitting right there in front of him. So what should a detective do? I let him ponder. Tried to time it right with a nudge in the right direction. I was going to say something about the real guy still running around out there while he was wasting time in here with me. That would feed his insecurity. But he jumped first. In the wrong direction.
“No statements,” he said. “I’ll ask the questions and you’ll answer them. You’re Jack-none-Reacher. No address. No ID. What are you, a vagrant?”
I sighed. Today was Friday. The big clock showed it was already more than half over. This guy Finlay was going to go through all the hoops with this. I was going to spend the weekend in a cell. Probably get out Monday.
“I’m not a vagrant, Finlay,” I said. “I’m a hobo. Big difference.”
He shook his head, slowly.
“Don’t get smart with me, Reacher,” he said. “You’re in deep shit. Bad things happened up there. Our witness saw you leaving the scene. You’re a stranger with no ID and no story. So don’t get smart with me.”
He was still just doing his job, but he was still wasting my time.
“I wasn’t leaving a homicide scene,” I said. “I was walking down a damn road. There’s a difference, right? People leaving homicide scenes run and hide. They don’t walk straight down the road. What’s wrong about walking down a road? People walk down roads all the damn time, don’t they?”
Finlay leaned forward and shook his head.
“No,” he said. “Nobody has walked the length of that road since the invention of the automobile. So why no address? Where are you from? Answer the questions. Let’s get this done.”
“OK, Finlay, let’s get it done,” I said. “I don’t have an address because I don’t live anywhere. Maybe one day I’ll live somewhere and then I’ll have an address and I’ll send you a picture postcard and you can put it in your damn address book, since you seem so damn concerned about it.”
Finlay gazed at me and reviewed his options. Elected to go the patient route. Patient, but stubborn. Like he couldn’t be deflected.
“Where are you from?” he asked. “What was your last address?”
“What exactly do you mean when you say where am I from?” I asked.
His lips were clamped. I was getting him bad-tempered, too. But he stayed patient. Laced the patience with an icy sarcasm.
“OK,” he said. “You don’t understand my question, so let me try to make it quite clear. What I mean is, where were you born, or where have you lived for that majority period of your life which you instinctively regard as predominant in a social or cultural context?”
I just looked at him.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “I myself was born in Boston, was educated in Boston and subsequently worked for twenty years in Boston, so I would say, and I think you would agree, that I come from Boston.”
I was right. A Harvard guy. A Harvard guy, running out of patience.
“OK,” I said. “You’ve asked the questions. I’ll answer them. But let me tell you something. I’m not your guy. By Monday you’ll know I’m not your guy. So do yourself a favor. Don’t stop looking.”
Finlay was fighting a smile. He nodded gravely.
“I appreciate your advice,” he said. “And your concern for my career.”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“Go on,” he said.
“OK,” I said. “According to your fancy definition, I don’t come from anywhere. I come from a place called Military. I was born on a U.S. Army base in West Berlin. My old man was Marine Corps and my mother was a French civilian he met in Holland. They got married in Korea.”
Finlay nodded. Made a note.
“I was a military kid,” I said. “Show me a list of U.S. bases all around the world and that’s a list of where I lived. I did high school in two dozen different countries and I did four years up at West Point.”
“Go on,” Finlay said.
“I stayed in the army,” I said. “Military Police. I served and lived in all those bases all over again. Then, Finlay, after thirty-six years of first being an officer’s kid and then being an officer myself, suddenly there’s no need for a great big army anymore because the Soviets have gone belly-up. So hooray, we get the peace dividend. Which for you means your taxes get spent on something else, but for me means I’m a thirty-six-year-old unemployed ex-military policeman getting called a vagrant by smug civilian bastards who wouldn’t last five minutes in the world I survived.”
He thought for a moment. Wasn’t impressed.
“Continue,” he said.
I shrugged at him.
“So right now I’m just enjoying myself,” I said. “Maybe eventually I’ll find something to do, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll settle somewhere, maybe I won’t. But right now, I’m not looking to.”
He nodded. Jotted some more notes.
“When did you leave the army?” he asked.
“Six months ago,” I said. “April.”
“Have you worked at all since then?” he asked.
“You’re joking,” I said. “When was the last time you looked for work?”
“April,” he mimicked. “Six months ago. I got this job.”
“Well, good for you, Finlay,” I said.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Finlay gazed at me for a moment.
“What have you been living on?” he asked. “What rank did you hold?”
“Major,” I said. “They give you severance pay when they kick you out. Still got most of it. Trying to make it last, you know?”
A long silence. Finlay drummed a rhythm with the wrong end of his pen.
“SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THE LAST TWENTY-FOUR HOURS,” he said.
I sighed. Now I was heading for trouble.
“I came up on the Greyhound bus,” I said. “Got off at the county road. Eight o’clock this morning. Walked down into town, reached that diner, ordered breakfast and I was eating it when your guys came by and hauled me in.”
“You got business here?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“I’m out of work,” I said. “I haven’t got any business anywhere.”
He wrote that down.
“Where did you get on the bus?” he asked me.
“In Tampa,” I said. “Left at midnight last night.”
“Tampa in Florida?” he asked.
I nodded. He rattled open another drawer. Pulled out a Greyhound schedule. Riffed it open and ran a long brown finger down a page. This was a very thorough guy. He looked across at me.
“That’s an express bus,” he said. “Runs straight through north to Atlanta. Arrives there nine o’clock in the morning. Doesn’t stop here at eight.”
I shook my head.
“I asked the driver to stop,” I said. “He said he shouldn’t, but he did. Stopped specially, let me off.”
“You been around here before?” he asked.
I shook my head again.
“Got family down here?” he asked.
“Not down here,” I said.
“You got family anywhere?” he asked.
“A brother up in D.C.,” I said. “Works for the Treasury Department.”
“You got friends down here in Georgia?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
Finlay wrote it all down. Then there was a long silence. I knew for sure what the next question was going to be.
“So why?” he asked. “Why get off the bus at an unscheduled stop and walk fourteen miles in the rain to a place you had absolutely no reason to go to?”
That was the killer question. Finlay had picked it out right away. So would a prosecutor. And I had no real answer.
“What can I tell you?” I said. “It was an arbitrary decision. I was restless. I have to be somewhere, right?”
“But why here?” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Guy next to me had a map, and I picked this place out. I wanted to get off the main drags. Thought I could loop back down toward the Gulf, farther west, maybe.”
“You picked this place out?” Finlay said. “Don’t give me that shit. How could you pick this place out? It’s just a name. It’s just a dot on the map. You must have had a reason.”
“I thought I’d come and look for Blind Blake,” I said.
“Who the hell is Blind Blake?” he said.
I watched him evaluating scenarios like a chess computer evaluates moves. Was Blind Blake my friend, my enemy, my accomplice, conspirator, mentor, creditor, debtor, my next victim?
“Blind Blake was a guitar player,” I said. “Died sixty years ago, maybe murdered. My brother bought a record, sleeve note said it happened in Margrave. He wrote me about it. Said he was through here a couple of times in the spring, some kind of business. I thought I’d come down and check the story out.”
Finlay looked blank. It must have sounded pretty thin to him. It would have sounded pretty thin to me too, in his position.
“You came here looking for a guitar player?” he said.
“A guitar player who died sixty years ago? Why? Are you a guitar player?”
“No,” I said.
“How did your brother write you?” he asked. “When you got no address?”
“He wrote my old unit,” I said. “They forward my mail to my bank, where I put my severance pay. They send it on when I wire them for cash.”
He shook his head. Made a note.
“The midnight Greyhound out of Tampa, right?” he said.
“Got your bus ticket?” he asked.
“In the property bag, I guess,” I said. I remembered Baker bagging up all my pocket junk. Stevenson tagging it.
“Would the bus driver remember?” Finlay said.
“Maybe,” I said. “It was a special stop. I had to ask him.”
I became like a spectator. The situation became abstract. My job had been not that different from Finlay’s. I had an odd feeling of conferring with him about somebody else’s case. Like we were colleagues discussing a knotty problem.
“Why aren’t you working?” Finlay asked.
I shrugged. Tried to explain.
“Because I don’t want to work,” I said. “I worked thirteen years, got me nowhere. I feel like I tried it their way, and to hell with them. Now I’m going to try it my way.”
Finlay sat and gazed at me.
“Did you have any trouble in the army?” he said.
“No more than you did in Boston,” I said.
He was surprised.
“What do you mean by that?” he said.
“You did twenty years in Boston,” I said. “That’s what you told me, Finlay. So why are you down here in this no-account little place? You should be taking your pension, going out fishing. Cape Cod or wherever. What’s your story?”
“That’s my business, Mr. Reacher,” he said. “Answer my question.”
“Ask the army,” I said.
“I will,” he said. “You can be damn sure of that. Did you get an honorable discharge?”
“Would they give me severance if I didn’t?” I said.
“Why should I believe they gave you a dime?” he said. “You live like a damn vagrant. Honorable discharge? Yes or no?”
“Yes,” I said. “Of course.”
He made another note. Thought for a while.
“How did it make you feel, being let go?” he asked.
I thought about it. Shrugged at him.
“Didn’t make me feel like anything,” I said. “Made me feel like I was in the army, and now I’m not in the army.”
“Do you feel bitter?” he said. “Let down?”
“No,” I said. “Should I?”
“No problems at all?” he asked. Like there had to be something.
I felt like I had to give him some kind of an answer. But I couldn’t think of anything. I had been in the service since the day I was born. Now I was out. Being out felt great. Felt like freedom. Like all my life I’d had a slight headache. Not noticing until it was gone. My only problem was making a living. How to make a living without giving up the freedom was not an easy trick. I hadn’t earned a cent in six months. That was my only problem. But I wasn’t about to tell Finlay that. He’d see it as a motive. He’d think I had decided to bankroll my vagrant lifestyle by robbing people. At warehouses. And then killing them.
“I guess the transition is hard to manage,” I said. “Especially since I had the life as a kid, too.”
Finlay nodded. Considered my answer.
“Why you in particular?” he said. “Did you volunteer to muster out?”
“I never volunteer for anything,” I said. “Soldier’s basic rule.”
“Did you specialize?” he asked. “In the service?”
“General duties, initially,” I said. “That’s the system. Then I handled secrets security for five years. Then the last six years, I handled something else.”
Let him ask.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Homicide investigation,” I said.
Finlay leaned right back. Grunted. Did the steepled fingers thing again. He gazed at me and exhaled. Sat forward. Pointed a finger at me.
“Right,” he said. “I’m going to check you out. We’ve got your prints. Those should be on file with the army. We’ll get your service record. All of it. All the details. We’ll check with the bus company. Check your ticket. Find the driver, find the passengers. If what you say is right, we’ll know soon enough. And if it’s true, it may let you off the hook. Obviously, certain details of timing and methodology will determine the matter. Those details are as yet unclear.”
He paused and exhaled again. Looked right at me.
“In the meantime, I’m a cautious man,” he said. “On the face of it, you look bad. A drifter. A vagrant. No address, no history. Your story may be bullshit. You may be a fugitive. You may have been murdering people left and right in a dozen states. I just don’t know. I can’t be expected to give you the benefit of the doubt. Right now, why should I even have any doubt? You stay locked up until we know for sure, OK?”
It was what I had expected. It was exactly what I would have said. But I just looked at him and shook my head.
“You’re a cautious guy?” I said. “That’s for damn sure.”
He looked back at me.
“If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you lunch on Monday,” he said. “At Eno’s place, to make up for today.”
I shook my head again.
“I’m not looking for a buddy down here,” I said.
Finlay just shrugged. Clicked off the tape recorder. Rewound. Took out the tape. Wrote on it. He buzzed the intercom on the big rosewood desk. Asked Baker to come back in. I waited. It was still cold. But I had finally dried out. The rain had fallen out of the Georgia sky and had soaked into me. Now it had been sucked out again by the dried office air. A dehumidifier had sucked it out and piped it away.
Baker knocked and entered. Finlay told him to escort me to the cells. Then he nodded to me. It was a nod which said: if you turn out not to be the guy, remember I was just doing my job. I nodded back. Mine was a nod which said: while you’re covering your ass, there’s a killer running about outside.
THE CELL BLOCK WAS REALLY JUST A WIDE ALCOVE OFF THE main open-plan squad room. It was divided into three separate cells with vertical bars. The front wall was all bars. A gate section hinged into each cell. The metalwork had a fabulous dull glitter. Looked like titanium. Each cell was carpeted. But totally empty. No furniture or bed ledge. Just a high-budget version of the old-fashioned holding pens you used to see.
“No overnight accommodation here?” I asked Baker.
“No way,” he replied. “You’ll be moved to the state facility later. Bus comes by at six. Bus brings you back Monday.”
He clanged the gate shut and turned his key. I heard bolts socket home all around the rim. Electric. I took the newspaper out of my pocket. Took off my coat and rolled it up. Lay flat on the floor and crammed the coat under my head.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Killing Floor
A People Magazine “Page-Turner”
A Barry Award winner
An Anthony Award winner
“All [Jack Reacher novels] are ripping yarns, but.... Killing Floor wins awards for Best Corrupt Southern Town in a Summer Novel and Best Exploding Warehouse.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“Combines high suspense with almost nonstop action. Reacher is a wonderfully epic hero: tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable.”—People
“Great style and careful plotting. The violence is brutal… depicted with the kind of detail that builds dread and suspense.”—The New York Times
“A complex thriller with layer upon layer of mystery and violence and intrigue…A long unsettling trip that leaves your brain buzzing and your stomach knotted. The author pens nightmarish images as casually as an ordinary writer would dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“This is such a brilliantly written first novel that [Child] must be channeling Dashiell Hammett… Reacher handles the maze of clues and the criminal unfortunates with a flair that would make Sam Spade proud.”—Playboy
“A tough, compelling thriller with characters who jump off the page.”—Houston Chronicle
“Violent and visceral…A cut above…Reacher is as tough as he is resourceful. An exciting, edge-of-the-chair account. Compelling and relentlessly suspenseful.”—The Denver Post
“Some novelists can write top-notch action and some can create compelling mysteries, yet it’s rare to find both of those skills displayed in a single book. Lee Child’s Killing Floor is one of them. But not content with writing a rip-roaring thriller, Child also gives us one of the truly memorable tough-guy heroes in recent fiction: Jack Reacher. And throws in Southern atmosphere to die for. Here’s to more of the same.”—Jeffery Deaver, author of The Bone Collector
“Child serves up a big, rangy plot, menace as palpable as a ticking bomb, and enough battered corpses to make an undertaker grin.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Beautifully detailed action scenes and fascinating arcane about currency and counterfeiting…[A] taut and tough-minded first novel…Two scenes of brutal violence in a nearby prison are tendered with exquisite precision, as is a stalking murder inside the baggage area of Atlanta airport.”—Publishers Weekly
“I love the larger-than-life hero, Jack Reacher. I grew up a fan of John Wayne’s and Clint Eastwood’s movies, and it’s great to see a man of their stature back in business. Lee Child grabs you with the first line and never loosens his grip. Killing Floor is a terrific ride.”—Nevada Barr, author of High Country
“This is a kick-ass first novel by the very talented Lee Child. Hero Jack Reacher has presence and dimension—a man you definitely want on your side. Child has a sure touch and a strong voice. Definitely a talent to watch.”—Lynn S. Hightower, author of High Water
The Fan Letter by Lee Child
They say the past is another country, and in my case it really was: provincial England at the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties, the last gasp of the post-war era, before it surrendered to the tectonic shift sparked by the Beatles. My family was neither rich nor poor, not that either condition had much meaning in a society with not much to buy and not much to lack. We accumulated toys at the rate of two a year: one on our birthdays, and one at Christmas. We had a big table radio (which we called "the wireless") in the dining room, and in the living room we had a black and white fishbowl television, full of glowing tubes, but there were only two channels, and they went off the air at ten in the evening, after playing the National Anthem, for which some families stood up, and sometimes we saw a double bill at the pictures on a Saturday morning, but apart from that we had no entertainment.
So we read books. As it happens I just saw some old research from that era which broke down reading habits by class (as so much was categorized in England at that time) and which showed that fully fifty percent of the middle class regarded reading as their main leisure activity. The figure for skilled workers was twenty-five percent, and even among laborers ten percent turned to books as a primary choice.
Not that we bought them. We used the library. Ours was housed in a leftover WW2 Nissen hut (the British version of a Quonset hut) which sat on a bombed-out lot behind a church. It had a low door and a unique warm, musty, dusty smell, which I think came partly from the worn floorboards and partly from the books themselves, of which there were not very many. I finished with the children's picture books by the time I was four, and had read all the chapter books by the time I was eight, and had read all the grown-up books by the time I was ten.
Not that I was unique - or even very bookish. I was one of the rough kids. We fought and stole and broke windows and walked miles to soccer games, where we fought some more. We were covered in scabs and scars. We had knives in our pockets - but we had books in our pockets too. Even the kids who couldn't read tried very hard to, because we all sensed there was more to life than the gray, pinched, post-war horizons seemed to offer. Traveling farther than we could walk in half a day was out of the question - but we could travel in our heads ... to Australia, Africa, America ... by sea, by air, on horseback, in helicopters, in submarines. Meeting people unlike ourselves was very rare ... but we could meet them on the page. For most of us, reading - and imagining, and dreaming - was as useful as breathing.
My parents were decent, dutiful people, and when my mother realized I had read everything the Nissen hut had to offer - most of it twice - she got me a library card for a bigger place the other side of the canal. I would head over there on a Friday afternoon after school and load up with the maximum allowed - six titles - which would make life bearable and get me through the week. Just. Which sounds ungrateful - my parents were doing their best, no question, but lively, energetic kids needed more than that time and place could offer. Once a year we went and spent a week in a trailer near the sea - no better or worse a vacation than anyone else got, for sure, but usually accompanied by lashing rain and biting cold and absolutely nothing to do.
The only thing that got me through one such week was Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer. I loved that book. It was a WW2 prisoner-of-war story full of tension and suspense and twists and turns, but its biggest "reveal" was moral rather than physical - what at first looked like collaboration with the enemy turned out to be resistance and escape. I read it over and over that week and never forgot it.
Then almost forty years later, when my own writing career was picking up a head of steam, I got a fan letter signed by a David Westheimer. The handwriting was shaky, as if the guy was old. I wondered, could it be? I wrote back and asked, are you the David Westheimer? Turned out yes, it was. We started a correspondence that lasted until he died. I met him in person at a book signing I did in California, near his home, which gave me a chance to tell him how he had kept me sane in a rain-lashed trailer all those years ago. He said he had had the same kind of experience forty years before that. Now I look forward to writing a fan letter to a new author years from now ... and maybe hearing my books had once meant something special to him or her. Because that's what books do - they dig deeper, they mean more, they stick around forever.