CHESTER STONE WAS alone in the bathroom on the eighty-eighth floor. Tony had forced him to go in there. Not physically. He had just stood there and pointed silently, and Stone had scuttled across the carpet in his undershirt and shorts, with his dark socks and polished shoes on his feet. Then Tony had lowered his arm and stopped pointing and told him to stay in there and closed the door on him. There had been muffled sounds out in the office, and after a few minutes the two men must have left, because Stone heard doors shutting and the nearby whine of the elevator. Then it had gone dark and silent.

He sat on the bathroom floor with his back against the gray granite tiling, staring into the silence. The bathroom door was not locked. He knew that. There had been no fiddling or clicking when the door closed. He was cold. The floor was hard tile, and the chill was striking up through the thin cotton of his boxers. He started shivering. He was hungry, and thirsty.

He listened carefully. Nothing. He eased himself up off the floor and stepped to the sink. Turned the faucet and listened again over the trickle of water. Nothing. He bent his head and drank. His teeth touched the metal of the faucet and he tasted the chlorine taste of city water. He held a mouthful unswallowed and let it soak into his dry tongue. Then he gulped it down and turned the faucet off.

He waited an hour. A whole hour, sitting on the floor, staring at the unlocked door, listening to the silence. It was hurting where the guy had hit him. A hard ache, where the fist had glanced off his ribs. Bone against bone, solid, jarring. Then a soft, nauseated feeling in his gut where the blow had landed. He kept his eyes on the door, trying to tune out the pain. The building boomed and rumbled gently, like there were other people in the world, but they were far away. The elevators and the air-conditioning and the rush of water in the pipes and the play of the breeze on the windows added and canceled to a low, comfortable whisper, just below the point of easy audibility. He thought he could hear elevator doors opening and closing, maybe eighty-eight floors down, faint bass thumps shivering upward through the shafts.

He was cold, and cramped, and hungry, and hurting, and scared. He stood up, bent with cramps and pain, and listened. Nothing. He slid his leather soles across the tile. Stood with his hand on the doorknob. Listened hard. Still nothing. He opened the door. The huge office was dim and silent. Empty. He padded straight across the carpet and stopped near the door out to the reception area. Now he was nearer the elevator banks. He could hear the cars whining up and down inside the shafts. He listened at the door. Nothing. He opened the door. The reception area was dim and deserted. The oak gleamed pale and there were random gleams coming off the brass accents. He could hear the motor running inside a refrigerator in the kitchen to his right. He could smell cold stale coffee.

The door out to the lobby was locked. It was a big, thick door, probably fire-resistant in line with severe city codes. It was faced in pale oak, and he could see the dull gleam of steel in the gap where it met the frame. He shook the handle, and it didn't move at all. He stood there for a long time, facing the door, peering out through the tiny wired-glass window, thirty feet away from the elevator buttons and freedom. Then he turned back to the counter.

It was chest-high, viewed from the front. In back, there was a desktop level, and the chest-high barrier was made up of cubbyholes with office stationery and folders stacked neatly inside. There was a telephone on the desktop part, in front of Tony's chair. The telephone was a complicated console, with a handset on the left and buttons on the right under a small oblong window. The window was a gray LCD readout that read OFF. He picked up the handset and heard nothing except the blood hissing in his ear. He pressed random buttons. Nothing. He quartered the console, tracing his finger left-to-right across every button, searching. He found a button marked OPERATE. He pressed it and the little screen changed to ENTER CODE. He pressed random numbers and the screen changed back to off.

There were cupboards under the desktop. Little oak doors. They were all locked. He shook each of them in turn and heard little metal tongues striking metal plates. He walked back into'Hobie's office. Walked through the furniture to the desk. There was nothing on the sofas. His clothes were gone. Nothing on the desktop. The desk drawers were locked. It was a solid desk, expensive, ruined by the gouges from the hook, and the drawer locks felt tight. He squatted down, ridiculous in his underwear, and pulled at the handles. They moved a fraction, then stopped. He saw the trash can under the desk. It was a brass cylinder, not tall. He tilted it over. His wallet was in there, empty and forlorn. The picture of Marilyn was next to it, facedown. The paper was printed over and over on the back: Kodak. He reached into the can and picked it up. Turned it over. She smiled out at him. It was a casual head-and-shoulders shot. She was wearing the silk dress. The sexy one, the one she'd had custom-made. She didn't know he knew she'd had it made. He had been home alone when the store called. He'd told them to call back, and let her believe he thought it was off-the-rack. In the photo, she was wearing it for the first time. She was smiling shyly, her eyes animated with daring, telling him not to go too low with the lens, not down to where the thin silk clung to her breasts. He cradled the picture in his palm and stared at it, and then he placed it back in the can, because he had no pockets.

He stood up urgently and stepped around the leather chair to the wall of windows. Pushed the slats of the blinds apart with both hands and looked out. He had to do something. But he was eighty-eight floors up. Nothing to see except the river and New Jersey. No neighbors opposite to gesture urgently at. Nothing at all opposite, until the Appalachians reached Pennsylvania. He let the blinds fall back and paced every inch of the office, every inch of the reception area, and back into the office to do it all over again. Hopeless. He was in a prison. He stood in the center of the floor, shivering, focusing on nothing.

He was hungry. He had no idea what time it was. The office had no clock and he had no watch. The sun was getting low in the west. Late afternoon or early evening, and he hadn't eaten lunch. He crept to the office door. Listened again. Nothing except the comfortable hum of the building and the rattle of the refrigerator motor. He stepped out and crossed to the kitchen. He paused with his finger on the light switch, and then he dared to turn it on. A fluorescent tube kicked in. It flickered for a second and threw a flat glare across the room and added an angry buzz from its circuitry. The kitchen was small, with a token stainless steel sink and an equal length of counter. Rinsed mugs upside down, and a filter machine tarred with old coffee. A tiny refrigerator under the counter. There was milk in there, and a six-pack of beer, and a Zabar's bag, neatly folded shut. He pulled it out. There was something wrapped in newspaper. It was heavy, and solid. He stood up and unrolled the paper on the counter. There was a plastic bag inside. He gripped the bottom, and the severed hand thumped out on the counter. The fingers were white and curled, and there was spongy purple flesh and splintered white bone and empty blue tubes trailing at the wrist. Then the glare of the fluorescent light spun around and tilted past his gaze as he fainted to the floor.

REACHER PUT THE pizza box on the elevator floor and took the gun out of his belt and zipped it into the sports bag with the spare shells. Then he crouched and picked up the pizza again in time for the elevator door to slide back on the fourth floor. The apartment opened up as soon as he stepped within range of the fish-eye in the door. Jodie was standing just inside the hallway, waiting for him. She was still in the linen dress. It was slightly creased across the hips, from sitting all day. Her long brown legs were scissored, one foot in front of the other.

"I brought dinner," he said.

She looked at the sports bag instead.

"Last chance, Reacher. We should talk with somebody about all of this."

"No," he said.

He put the bag on the floor and she stepped behind him to lock the door.

"OK," she said. "If this is the government doing something, maybe you're right. Maybe we should stay away from the cops."

"Right," he said.

"So I'm with you on this."

"Let's eat," he said.

He walked through to the kitchen with the pizza. She had set the table. There were two place settings, opposite each other. Plates, knives and forks, paper napkins, glasses of ice water. Like two people were resident in the apartment. He put the box on the counter and opened it up.

"You choose," he said.

She was standing close behind him. He could feel her there. He could smell her perfume. He felt the flat of her hand touch his back. It burned. She left it there for a second, then she used it to move him out of the way.

"Let's split it," she said.

She balanced the box on her arm and carried it back to the table. Pulled the slices off each other while the box canted and wobbled. Shared them between the plates. He sat and sipped the water and watched her. She was slender and energetic and could make any mundane activity look like a graceful ballet. She turned away and dumped the greasy box and turned back. The dress twisted and flowed with her. She sat down. He heard the whisper of linen on skin and her foot hit his knee under the table.

"Sorry," she said.

She wiped her fingers on the napkin and tossed her hair behind her shoulders and held her head at an angle for the first bite. She ate left-handed, rolling the wedge into a point, attacking it hungrily.

"No lunch," she said. "You told me not to leave the building."

She darted her tongue out and caught a thread of cheese. Smiled self-consciously as she hooked it back between her lips. They shone with the oil. She took a long drink of water. "Anchovies, my favorite. How did you know? But they make you thirsty later, don't they? So salty."

Her dress was sleeveless and he could see her arms, all the way down from the little knob of bone at the top of the shoulder. They were slim and brown and narrow. Almost no muscle there at all, just tiny biceps like tendons. She was gorgeous and she took his breath away, but she was a puzzle, physically. She was tall, but she was so tiny he didn't see how there was room for all the essential organs inside her. She was as thin as a stick, but looked vibrant and firm and strong. A puzzle. He remembered the feel of her arm around his waist, fifteen years before. Like somebody was tightening a thick rope around his middle.

"I can't stay here tonight," he said.

She looked across at him. "Why not? You got something to do, I'll come do it, too. Like I said, I'm with you on this."

"No, I just can't stay," he said.

"Why not?" she asked again.

He took a deep breath and held it. Her hair was shimmering in the light.

"It's not appropriate that 1 should stay here," he said.

"But why not?"

He shrugged, embarrassed. "Just because, Jodie. Because you're thinking of me like a brother or an uncle or something, because of Leon, but I'm not that, am I?"

She was staring at him.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Her eyes were wide. "What?"

"This is not right," he said gently. "You're not my sister or my niece. That's just an illusion because I was close to your dad. To me, you're a beautiful woman, and I can't be here alone with you."

"Why not?" she asked again, breathless.

"Christ, Jodie, why not? Because it's not appropriate, that's why not. You don't need to hear all the details. You're not my sister or my niece, and I can't keep on pretending you are. It's driving me crazy, pretending."

She was very still. Staring at him. Still breathless.

"How long have you felt this way?" she asked.

He shrugged, embarrassed again. "Always, I guess. Since I first met you. Give me a break, Jodie, you weren't a kid. I was nearer your age than Leon's."

She was silent. He held his breath, waiting for the tears. The outrage. The trauma. She was just staring at him. He was already regretting having spoken. He should have just kept his damn mouth shut. Bitten his damn lip and gotten through it. He had been through worse, although he couldn't exactly remember where or when.

"I'm sorry," he said again.

Her face was blank. Wide blue eyes, staring at him. Her elbows were on the table. The dress fabric was bunching at the front and cupping forward. He could see the strap of her bra, thin and white against the skin of her shoulder. He stared at her anguished face and closed his eyes and sighed in despair. Honesty was the best policy? Forget about it.

Then she did a curious thing. She stood up slowly, and turned and hauled her chair out of the way. Stepped forward and gripped the table edge, both hands, slim muscles standing out like cords. She dragged the table off to one side. Then she changed position and turned and butted it with her thighs until it was hard back against the counter. Reacher was left sitting on his chair, suddenly isolated in the middle of the room. She stepped back and stood in front of him. His breath froze in his chest.

"You're thinking about me like just a woman?" she asked, slowly.

He nodded.

"Not like a kid sister? Not like your niece?"

He shook his head. She paused.

"Sexually?" she asked quietly.

He nodded, still embarrassed, resigned. "Of course sexually. What do you think? Look at yourself. I could hardly sleep last night."

She just stood there.

"I had to tell you," he said. "I'm really sorry, Jodie."

She closed her eyes. Screwed them tight shut. Then he saw a smile. It spread across her whole face. Her hands clenched at her side. She exploded forward and hurled herself at him. She landed on his lap and her arms clamped tight behind his head and she kissed him like she would die if she stopped.

IT WAS SHERYL'S car, but he made Marilyn drive it. He sat in back, behind Marilyn, with Sheryl next to him with her arms crushed behind her. The tape was still on her mouth, and she was breathing hard. He kept the hook resting on her lap, with the point dug in against the skin of her thigh. His left hand held the gun. He touched it to the back of Marilyn's neck often enough that she never forgot it was there.

Tony met them in the underground garage. Office hours were over and the place was quiet. Tony handled Sheryl and Hobie took Marilyn and the four of them rode up in the freight elevator. Hobie unlocked the door from the corridor and stepped into the reception area. The kitchen light was on. Stone was sprawled on the floor, in his underwear. Marilyn gasped and ran to him. Hobie watched the sway of her body under the thin dress and smiled. Turned back and locked the door. Pocketed the keys and the gun. Marilyn had stopped short and was staring into the kitchen, hands up at her mouth again, eyes wide, horror in her face. Hobie followed her gaze. The hand was lying on the counter, palm up, fingers curled like a beggar's. Then Marilyn was looking downward in terror.

"Don't worry," Hobie said. "It's not one of his. But it's a thought, isn't it? I could cut his hand off if he doesn't do what I want."

Marilyn stared at him.

"Or I could cut yours off," he said to her. "I could make him watch. Maybe I could make him do it for me."

"You're insane," Marilyn said.

"He would, you know," Hobie said. "He'd do anything. He's pathetic. Look at him, in his underwear. You think he looks good in his underwear?"

She said nothing.

"What about you?" Hobie asked. "Do you look good in your underwear? You want to take that dress off and show me?"

She stared at him in panic.

"No?" he said. "OK, maybe later. But what about your real-estate agent? You think she'd look good in her underwear?"

He turned to Sheryl. She was backing away against the door, leaning hard on her taped arms. She stiffened.

"What about it?" he said to her. "You look good in your underwear?"

She stared and shook her head wildly. Her breathing whistled through the hole in the tape. Hobie stepped nearer and pinned her against the door and forced the tip of his hook under the waistband of her skirt.

"Let's check it out."

He wrenched with the hook and Sheryl staggered off-balance and the fabric tore open. Buttons scattered and she fell to her knees. He raised his foot and used the flat of his sole to push her all the way over. He nodded to Tony. Tony ducked down and pulled the torn skirt down off her thrashing legs.

"Panty hose," Hobie said. "God, I hate panty hose. So unromantic."

He stooped and used the tip of the hook to tear the nylon to shreds. Her shoes came off. Tony balled the skirt and the shoes and the torn nylon and carried it to the kitchen. Dropped it into the trash. Sheryl scrabbled her bare legs under her and sat there gasping through the tape. She was wearing tiny white panties and was trying to make the tails of her blouse fall down over them. Marilyn was watching her, openmouthed in horror.

"OK, now we're having fun," Hobie said. "Aren't we?"

"You bet," Tony said. "But not as much fun as we're going to have."

Hobie laughed and Stone stirred. Marilyn ducked down and helped him to a sitting position on the kitchen floor. Hobie stepped over and picked up the severed hand from the countertop.

"This came off the last guy who annoyed me," he said.

Stone was opening and closing his eyes like he could make the scene change by wiping it away. Then he stared out at Sheryl. Marilyn realized he had never met her before. He didn't know who she was.

"Into the bathroom," Hobie said.

Tony pulled Sheryl to her feet and Marilyn helped Chester. Hobie walked behind them. They filed into the big office and crossed to the bathroom door.

"Inside," Hobie said.

Stone led the way. The women followed him. Hobie watched them go and stood at the door. Nodded in at Stone. "Tony's going to sleep the night out here, on the sofa. So don't come out again. And spend your time fruitfully. Talk things over with your wife. We're going to do the stock transfer tomorrow. Much better for her if we do it in an atmosphere of mutual agreement. Much better. Any other way, there could be bad consequences. You get my meaning?"

Stone just stared at him. Hobie let his glance linger on the women and then he waved the severed hand in farewell and pulled the door closed.

JODIE'S WHITE BEDROOM was flooded with light. For five minutes every evening in June, the sun dropped away to the west and found a slim straight path through Manhattan's tall buildings and hit her window with its full force. The blind burned like it was incandescent and the walls picked it up and bounced it around until the whole place was glowing like a soft white explosion. Reacher thought it was entirely appropriate. He was lying on his back, happier than he could ever remember getting.

If he'd thought about it, he might have worried. He could remember mean little proverbs that said things like pity the man who gets what he wants. And it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. To get something you want after fifteen years of wanting it could have felt strange. But it didn't. It had felt like a blissful rocket trip to somewhere he had no idea existed. It had been everything he had dreamed it would be, multiplied by a million. She wasn't a myth. She was a living breathing creature, hard and strong and sinewy and perfumed, warm and shy and giving.

She lay nestled in the crook of his arm, with her hair over his face. It was in his mouth as he breathed. His hand was resting on her back. He was rocking it back and forth over her ribs. Her backbone was in a cleft formed by long, shallow muscle. He traced his finger down the groove. Her eyes were closed and she was smiling. He knew that. He had felt the scrape of her lashes on his neck, and his shoulder could feel the shape of her mouth. It could decode the feel of the muscles in her face. She was smiling. He moved his hand. Her skin was cool and soft.

"I should be crying now," she said, quietly. "I always thought I would be. I used to think, if this ever, ever happens, I'll cry afterward."

He squeezed her tighter. "Why should we cry?"

"Because of all those wasted years," she said.

"Better late than never," he said.

She came up on her elbows. Climbed half on top of him, her breasts crushed into his chest. "That stuff you said to me, I could have said to you, exactly word for word. I wish I had, a long time ago. But I couldn't."

"I couldn't, either," he said. "It felt like a guilty secret."

"Yes," she said. "My guilty secret."

She climbed up all the way and sat astride him, back straight, smiling.

"But now it's not a secret," she said.

"No," he said.

She stretched her arms up high and started a yawn that ended in a contented smile. He put his hands on her tiny waist. Traced them upward to her breasts. Her smile broadened to a grin. "Again?"

He nudged her sideways with his hips and rolled her over and laid her down gently on the bed. "We're playing catch-up, right? All those wasted years."

She nodded. Just a tiny motion, smiling, rubbing her hair against the pillow.

MARILYN TOOK charge She felt she was the strong one. Chester and Sheryl were dazed, which she felt was understandable, because they were the two who had suffered the abuse. She could guess how vulnerable they must be feeling, half-dressed. She felt half-dressed herself, but she wasn't going to worry about that now. She pulled the tape off Sheryl's mouth and held her while she cried. Then she ducked behind her and worked the binding free from her wrists and unwound it up to her elbows. She balled up the sticky mass and dropped it in the trash and went back to help massage some feeling back into her shoulders. Then she found a washcloth and ran hot water into the sink and sponged the crusted blood off Sheryl's face. Her nose was swollen and going black. She started worrying about getting her to a doctor. She started rehearsing things in her head. She had seen movies where hostages get taken. Somebody always elects herself spokesman and says no police and gets the sick released to the hospital. But how exactly do they do it?

She took the towels from the bar and gave Sheryl a bath sheet to use as a skirt. Then she divided up the remainder into three piles and laid them on the floor. She could see the tiles were going to be cold. Thermal insulation was going to be important. She slid the three piles into a row against the wall. She sat with her back against the door, and put Chester on her left and Sheryl on her right. She took their hands and squeezed them hard. Chester squeezed back.

"I'm so sorry," he said.

"How much do you owe?" she asked.

"More than seventeen million."

She didn't bother to ask if he could pay it back. He wouldn't be half-naked on a bathroom floor if he could pay it back.

"What does he want?" she asked.

He shrugged at her side, miserably.

"Everything," he said. "He wants the whole company."

She nodded, and focused on the plumbing under the sink.

"What would that leave us with?"

He paused and then shrugged again. "Whatever crumb he would feel like throwing us. Probably nothing at all."

"What about the house?" she asked. "We'd still have that, right? I put it on the market. This lady is the broker. She says it'll sell for nearly two million."

Stone glanced across at Sheryl. Then he shook his head. "The house belongs to the company. It was a technical thing, easier to finance that way. So Hobie will get it, along with everything else."

She nodded and stared into space. On her right, Sheryl was sleeping, sitting up. The terror had exhausted her.

"You go to sleep, too," she said. "I'll figure something out."

He squeezed her hand again and leaned his head back. Closed his eyes.

"I'm so sorry," he said again.

She made no reply. Just smoothed the thin silk down over her thighs and stared straight ahead, thinking hard.

THE SUN WAS gone before they finished for the second time. It became a bright bar sliding sideways off the window. Then it became a narrow horizontal beam, playing across the white wall, traveling slowly, dust dancing through it. Then it was gone, shut off like a light, leaving the room with the cool, dull glow of evening. They lay spent and nuzzling in a tangle of sheets, bodies slack, breathing low. Then he felt her smile again. She came up on one elbow and looked at him with the same teasing grin he'd seen outside her office building.

"What?" he asked.

"I've got something to tell you," she said.

He waited.

"In my official capacity."

He focused on her face. She was still smiling. Her teeth were white and her eyes were bright blue, even in the new cool dimness. He thought what official capacity? She was a lawyer who cleaned up the mess when somebody owed somebody else a hundred million dollars.

"I don't owe money," he said. "And I don't think anybody owes me."

She shook her head. Still smiling. "As executor of Dad's will."

He nodded. It made sense that Leon should appoint her. A lawyer in the family, the obvious choice.

"I opened it up and read it," she said. "Today, at work."

"So what's in it? He was a secret miser? A closet billionaire?"

She shook her head again. Said nothing.

"He knows what happened to Victor Hobie and wrote it all down in his will?"

She was still smiling. "He left you something. A bequest."

He nodded again, slowly. That made sense, too. That was Leon. He'd remember, and he'd pick out some little thing, for the sake of sentiment. But what? He scanned back. Probably a souvenir. Maybe his medals? Maybe the sniper rifle he brought home from Korea. It was an old Mauser, originally German, presumably captured by the Soviets on the Eastern Front and sold on ten years later to their Korean customers. It was a hell of a piece of machinery. Leon and he had speculated on the action it must have seen, many times. It would be a nice thing to have. A nice memory. But where the hell would he keep it?

"He left you his house," she said.

"His what?"

"His house," she said again. "Where we were, up in Garrison."

He stared at her blankly. "His house?"

She nodded. Still smiling.

"I don't believe it," he said. "And I can't accept it. What would I do with it?"

"What would you do with it? You'd live in it, Reacher. That's what houses are for, right?"

"But I don't live in houses," he said. "I've never lived in a house."

"Well, you can live in one now."

He was silent. Then he shook his head. "Jodie, I just can't accept it. It should be yours. He should have left it to you. It's your inheritance."

"I don't want it," she said simply. "He knew that. I like the city better."

"OK, so sell it. But it's yours, right? Sell it and keep the money."

"I don't need money. He knew that, too. It's worth less than I make in a year."

He looked at her. "I thought that was an expensive area, right by the river?"

She nodded. "It is."

He paused, confused.

"His house?" he said again.

She nodded.

"Did you know he was doing this?"

"Not specifically," she said. "But I knew he wasn't leaving it to me. I thought he might want me to sell it, give the money to charity. Old soldiers, or something."

"OK, so you should do that instead."

She smiled again. "Reacher, I can't. It's not up to me. It's a binding instruction in his will. I've got to obey it."

"His house," he said vaguely. "He left me his house?"

"He was worried about you. For two years, he was worrying. Since they cut you loose. He knew how it could be, you spend the whole of your life in the service, and suddenly you find you've got nothing at the end of it. He was concerned about how you were living."

"But he didn't know how I was living," he said.

She nodded again. "But he could guess, right? He was a smart old guy. He knew you'd be drifting around somewhere. He used to say, drifting around is great, maybe three or four years. But what about when he's fifty? Sixty? Seventy? He was thinking about it."

Reacher shrugged, flat on his back, naked, staring at the ceiling.

"I was never thinking about it. 'One day at a time' was my motto."

She made no reply. Just ducked her head and kissed his chest.

"I feel like I'm stealing from you," he said. "It's your inheritance, Jodie. You should have it."

She kissed him again. "It was his house. Even if I wanted it, we'd have to respect his wishes. But the fact is I don't want it. I never did. He knew that. He was totally free to do whatever he wanted with it. And he did. He left it to you because he wanted you to have it."

He was staring at the ceiling, but he was wandering through the house in his mind. Down the driveway, through the trees, the garage on his right, the breezeway, the low bulk of the place on his left. The den, the living room, the wide slow Hudson rolling by. The furniture. It had looked pretty comfortable. Maybe he could get a stereo. Some books. A house. His house. He tried the words in his head: my house. My-house. He barely knew how to say them. My house. He shivered.

"He wanted you to have it," she said again. "It's a bequest. You can't argue against it. It's happened. And it's not any kind of a problem to me, I promise, OK?"

He nodded, slowly.

"OK," he said. "OK, but weird. Really, truly weird."

"You want coffee?" she asked.

He turned and focused on her face. He could get his own coffee machine. In his kitchen. In his house. Connected to the electricity. His electricity.

"Coffee?" she asked again.

"I guess," he said.

She slid off the bed and found her shoes.

"Black, no sugar, right?"

She was standing there, naked except for her shoes. Patent, with heels. She saw him looking at her.

"Kitchen floor feels cold. I always wear shoes in there."

"Forget the coffee, OK?"

THEY SLEPT IN her bed, all night, way past dawn. Reacher woke first and eased his arm out from under her and checked his watch. Almost seven. He had slept nine hours. The finest sleep of his life. The best bed. He had slept in a lot of beds. Hundreds, maybe even thousands. This was the best of all of them. Jodie was asleep beside him. She was on her front and had thrown the sheet off during the night. Her back was bare, all the way down to her waist. He could see the swell of her breast under her. Her hair spilled over her shoulders. One knee was pulled up, resting on his thigh. Her head was bent forward on the pillow, curving in, following the direction of her knee. It gave her a compact, athletic look. He kissed her neck. She stirred.

"Morning, Jodie," he said.

She opened her eyes. Then she closed them, and opened them again. She smiled. A warm, morning smile.

"I was afraid I'd dreamed it," she said. "I used to, once."

He kissed her again. Tenderly, on the cheek. Then less tenderly, on the mouth. Her arms came around behind him and he rolled over with her. They made love again, the fourth time in fifteen years. Then they showered together, the first time ever. Then breakfast. They ate like they were starving.

"I need to go to the Bronx," he said.

She nodded. "This Rutter guy? I'll drive. I know roughly where it is."

"What about work? I thought you had to go in."

She looked at him, mystified.

"You told me you had hours to bill," he said. "You sounded real busy."

She smiled, shyly. "I made that up. I'm well ahead, really. They said I should take the whole week off. I just didn't want to be hanging around with you, feeling what I was feeling. That's why I just ran off to bed, the first night. I should have shown you the guest room, you know, like a proper little hostess. But I didn't want to be alone in a bedroom with you. It would have driven me crazy. So near, but so far, you know what I mean?"

He nodded. "So what did you do in the office all day?"

She giggled. "Nothing. Just sat there all day, doing nothing."

"You're nuts," he said. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

"Why didn't you just tell me?"

"I did tell you."

"Eventually," she said. "After fifteen years."

He nodded. "I know, but I was worried about it. I thought you'd be hurt or something. I thought it would be the last thing you wanted to hear."

"Same here," she said. "I thought you'd hate me forever."

They looked at each other and they smiled. Then they grinned. Then they laughed, and kept on laughing for five solid minutes.

"I'm going to get dressed," she said, still laughing. He followed her through to the bedroom and found his clothes on the floor. She was halfway into her closet, selecting something clean. He watched her, and started wondering if Leon's house had closets. No, if his house had them. Of course it did. All houses had closets, right? So did that mean he'd have to start assembling stuff to fill them all with?

She chose jeans and a shirt, dressed up with a leather belt and expensive shoes. He took his new jacket out to the hallway and loaded it with the Steyr from the sports bag. He poured twenty loose refills into the opposite pocket. All the metal made the jacket feel heavy. She came out to join him with the leather-bound folder. She was checking Rutter's address.

"Ready?" she asked.

"As I'll ever be," he said.

He made her wait at every stage while he checked ahead. The exact same procedures he had used the day before. Her safety had felt important then. Now it felt vital. But everything was clean and quiet. Empty hallway, empty elevator, empty lobby, empty garage. They got in the Taurus together and she drove it around the block and headed back north and east.

"East River Drive to 1-95 OK with you?" she asked. "Going east, it's the Cross Bronx Expressway."

He shrugged and tried to recall the Hertz map. "Then take the Bronx River Parkway north. We need to go to the zoo."

"The zoo? Rutter doesn't live near the zoo."

"Not the zoo, exactly. The Botanical Gardens. Something you need to see."

She glanced sideways at him and then concentrated on driving. Traffic was heavy, just past the peak of rush hour, but it was moving. They followed the river north and then northwest to the George Washington Bridge and turned their backs on it and headed east into the Bronx. The expressway was slow, but the parkway north was faster, because it was leading out of town and New York was sucking people inward at that hour. Across the barrier, the southbound traffic was snarled.

"OK, where to?" she asked.

"Go past Fordham University. Past the conservatory, and park at the top."

She nodded and made the lane changes. Fordham slid by on the left, and then the conservatory on the right. She used the museum entrance and found the lot just beyond it. It was mostly empty.

"Now what?"

He took the leather-bound folder with him.

"Just keep an open mind," he said.

The conservatory was a hundred yards ahead of them. He had read all about it in a free leaflet, the day before. It was named for somebody called Enid Haupt and had cost a fortune to build in 1902, and ten times as much to renovate ninety-five years later, which was money well spent because the result was magnificent. It was huge and ornate, the absolute definition of urban philanthropy expressed in iron and milky white glass.

It was hot and damp inside. Reacher led Jodie around to the place he was looking for. The exotic plants were massed in huge beds bounded by little walls and railings. There were benches set on the edges of the walkways. The milky glass filtered the sunlight to a bright overcast. There was a strong smell of heavy damp earth and pungent blooms.

"What?" she asked. She was partly amused, partly impatient. He found the bench he was looking for and stepped away from it, close to the low wall. He stepped half a pace left, then another, until he was sure.

"Stand here," he said.

He took her shoulders from behind and moved her into the same position he had just occupied. Ducked his head to her level and checked.

"Stand on tiptoes," he told her. "Look straight ahead."

She made herself taller and stared ahead. Her back was straight and her hair was spilled on her shoulders.

"OK," he said. "Tell me what you see."

"Nothing," she said. "Well, plants and things."

He nodded and opened the leather folder. Took out the glossy photograph of the gray emaciated Westerner, flinching away from his guard's rifle. He held it out, arm's length in front of her, just on the edge of her vision. She looked at it.

"What?" she asked again, half-amused, half-frustrated.

"Compare," he said.

She kept her head still and flicked her eyes left and right between the photograph and the scene in front of her. Then she snatched the picture from him and held it herself, arm's length in front of her. Her eyes widened and her face went pale.

"Christ," she said. "Shit, this picture was taken here? Right here? It was, wasn't it? All these plants are exactly the same."

He ducked down again and checked once more. She was holding the picture so the shapes of the plants corresponded exactly. A mass of some kind of palm on the left, fifteen feet high, fronds of fern to the right and behind in a tangled spray. The two figures would have been twenty feet into the dense flower bed, picked out by a telephoto lens that compressed the perspective and threw the nearer vegetation out of focus. Well to the rear was a jungle hardwood, which the camera had blurred with distance. It was actually growing in a different bed.

"Shit," she said again. "Shit, I don't believe it."

The light was right, too. The milky glass way above them gave a pretty good impersonation of jungle overcast. Vietnam is a mostly cloudy place. The jagged mountains suck the clouds down, and most people remember the fogs and the mists, like the ground itself is always steaming. Jodie stared between the photo and the reality in front of her, dodging fractionally left and right to get a perfect fit.

"But what about the wire? The bamboo poles? It looks so real."

"Stage props," he said. "Three poles, ten yards of barbed wire. How difficult is that to get? They carried it in here, probably all rolled up."

"But when? How?"

He shrugged. "Maybe early one morning? When the place was still closed? Maybe they know somebody who works here. Maybe they did it while the place was closed for the renovations."

She was staring at the picture, close up to her eyes. "Wait a damn minute. You can see that bench. You can see the corner of that bench over there."

She showed him what she meant, with her fingernail placed precisely on the glossy surface of the photograph. There was a tiny square blur, white. It was the comer of an iron bench, off to the right, behind the main scene. The telephoto lens had been framed tight, but not quite tight enough.

"I didn't spot that," he said. "You're getting good at this."

She turned around to face him. "No, I'm getting good and mad, Reacher. This guy Rutter took eighteen thousand dollars for a faked photograph."

"Worse than that. He gave them false hope."

"So what are we going to do?"

"We're going to pay him a visit," he said.

They were back at the Taurus sixteen minutes after leaving it. Jodie threaded back toward the parkway, drumming her fingers on the wheel and talking fast. "But you told me you believed it. I said the photo proved the place existed, and you agreed it did. You said you'd been there, not long ago, got about as close as Rutter had."

"All true," Reacher said. "I believed the Botanical Gardens existed. I'd just come back from there. And I got as close as Rutter did. I was standing right next to the little wall where he must have taken the picture from."

"Jesus, Reacher, what is this? A game?"

He shrugged. "Yesterday I didn't know what it was. I mean in terms of how much I needed to share with you."

She nodded and smiled through her exasperation. She was remembering the difference between yesterday and today. "But how the hell did he expect to get away with it? The greenhouse in the New York Botanical Gardens, for God's sake?"

He stretched in his seat. Eased his arms all the way forward to the windshield.

"Psychology," he said. "It's the basis of any scam, right? You tell people what they want to hear. Those old folks, they wanted to hear their boy was still alive. So he tells them their boy probably is. So they invest a lot of hope and money, they're waiting on pins three whole months, he gives them a photo, and basically they're going to see whatever they want to see. And he was smart. He asked them for the exact name and unit, he wanted existing pictures of the boy, so he could pick out a middle-aged guy roughly the right size and shape for the photo, and he fed them back the right name and the right unit. Psychology. They see what they want to see. He could have had a guy in a gorilla suit in the picture and they'd have believed it was representative of the local wildlife."

"So how did you spot it?"

"Same way," he said. "Same psychology, but in reverse. I wanted to disbelieve it, because I knew it couldn't be true. So I was looking for something that seemed wrong. It was the fatigues the guy was wearing that did it for me. You notice that? Old worn-out U.S. Army fatigues? This guy went down thirty years ago. There is absolutely no way a set of fatigues would last thirty years in the jungle. They'd have rotted off in six weeks."

"But why there? What made you look in the Botanical Gardens?"

He spread his fingers against the windshield glass, pushing to ease the tension in his shoulders. "Where else would he find vegetation like that? Hawaii, maybe, but why spend the airfare for three people when it's available free right on his doorstep?"

"And the Vietnamese boy?"

"Probably a college kid," he said. "Probably right here at Fordham. Maybe Columbia. Maybe he wasn't Vietnamese at all. Could have been a waiter from a Chinese restaurant. Rutter probably paid him twenty bucks for the photo. He's probably got four friends playing the American captives. A big white guy, a small white guy, a big black guy, a small black guy, all the bases covered. All of them bums, so they look thin and haggard. Probably paid them in bourbon. Probably took all the pictures at the same time, uses them as appropriate. He could have sold that exact same picture a dozen times over. Anyone whose missing boy was tall and white, they get a copy. Then he swears them all to secrecy with this government-conspiracy shit, so nobody will ever compare notes afterward."

"He's disgusting," she said.

He nodded. "That's for damn sure. BNR families are still a big, vulnerable market, I guess, and he's feeding off it like a maggot."

"BNR?" she asked.

"Body not recovered," he said. "That's what they are. KIA/ BNR. Killed in action, body not recovered."

"Killed? You don't believe there are still any prisoners?"

He shook his head.

"There are no prisoners, Jodie," he said. "Not anymore. That's all bullshit "

"You sure?"

"Totally certain."

"How can you be certain?"

"I just know," he said. "Like I know the sky is blue and the grass is green and you've got a great ass."

She smiled as she drove. "I'm a lawyer, Reacher. That kind of proof just doesn't do it for me."

"Historical facts," he said. "The story about holding hostages to get American aid is all baloney, for a start. They were planning to come running south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail as soon as we were out of there, which was right against the Paris Accords, so they knew they were never going to get any aid no matter what they did. So they let all the prisoners go in '73, a bit slowly, I know, but they let them go. When we left in '75, they scooped up about a hundred stragglers, and then they handed them all straight back to us, which doesn't jibe with any kind of a hostage strategy. Plus they were desperate for us to de-mine their harbors, so they didn't play silly games."

"They were slow about returning remains," she said. "You know, our boys killed in plane crashes or battles. They played silly games about that."

He nodded. "They didn't really understand. It was important to us. We wanted two thousand bodies back. They couldn't understand why. They'd been at war more than forty years, Japanese, French, the U.S., China. They probably lost a million people missing in action. Our two thousand was a drop in the bucket. Plus they were Communists. They didn't share the value we put on individuals. It's a psychological thing again. But it doesn't mean they kept secret prisoners in secret camps."

"Not a very conclusive argument," she said dryly.

He nodded again. "Leon's the conclusive argument. Your old man, and people just like him. I know those people. Brave, honorable people, Jodie. They fought there, and then they rose to power and prominence later. The Pentagon is stuffed full of assholes, I know that as well as anybody, but there were always enough people like Leon around to keep them honest. You answer me a question: If Leon had known there were still prisoners kept back in 'Nam, what would he have done?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Something, obviously."

"You bet your ass something," he said. "Leon would have torn the White House apart brick by brick, until all those boys were safely back home. But he didn't. And that's not because he didn't know. Leon knew everything there was to know. There's no way they could have kept a thing like that a secret from all the Leons, not all the time. A big conspiracy lasting six administrations? A conspiracy people like Leon couldn't sniff out? Forget about it. The Leons of this world never reacted, so it was never happening. That's conclusive proof, as far as I'm concerned, Jodie."

"No, that's faith," she said.

"Whatever, it's good enough for me."

She watched the traffic ahead, and thought about it. Then she nodded, because in the end, faith in her father was good enough for her, too.

"So Victor Hobie's dead?"

Reacher nodded. "Has to be. Killed in action, body not recovered."

She drove on, slowly. They were heading south, and the traffic was bad.

"OK, no prisoners, no camps," she said. "No government conspiracy. So they weren't government people who were shooting at us and crashing their cars into us."

"I never thought it was," he said. "Most government people I met were a lot more efficient than that. I was a government person, in a manner of speaking. You think I'd miss two days in a row?"

She slewed the car right and jammed to a stop on the shoulder. Turned in her seat to face him, blue eyes wide.

"So it must be Rutter," she said. "Who else can it be? He's running a lucrative scam, right? And he's prepared to protect it. He thinks we're going to expose it. So he's been looking for us. And now we're planning to walk right into his arms."

Reacher smiled.

"Hey, life's full of dangers," he said.

MARILYN REALIZED SHE must have fallen asleep, because she woke up stiff and cold with noises coming through the door at her. The bathroom had no window, and she had no idea what time it was. Morning, she guessed, because she felt like she had been asleep for some time. On her left, Chester was staring into space, his gaze fixed a thousand miles beyond the fixtures under the sink. He was inert. She turned and looked straight at him, and got no response at all. On her right, Sheryl was curled on the floor. She was breathing heavily through her mouth. Her nose had turned black and shiny and was swollen. Marilyn stared at her and swallowed. Turned again and pressed her ear to the door. Listened hard.

There were two men out there. The sound of two deep voices, talking low. She could hear elevators in the distance. A very faint traffic rumble, with occasional sirens vanishing into stillness. Aircraft noise, like a big jet from JFK was wheeling away west across the harbor. She eased herself off the floor.

Her shoes had come off during the night. She found them scuffed under her pile of towels. She slipped them on and walked quietly to the sink. Chester was staring straight through her. She checked herself in the mirror. Not too bad, she thought. The last time she had spent the night on a bathroom floor was after a sorority party more than twenty years before, and she looked no worse now than she had then. She combed her hair with her fingers and patted water on her eyes. Then she crept back to the door and listened again.

Two men, but she was pretty sure Hobie wasn't one of them. There was some equality in the tenor of the voices. It was back-and-forth conversation, not orders and obedience. She slid the pile of towels backward with her foot and took a deep breath and opened the door.

Two men stopped talking and turned to stare at her. The one called Tony was sitting sideways on the sofa in front of the desk. Another she had not seen before was squatted next to him on the coffee table. He was a thickset man in a dark suit, not tall, but heavy. The desk was not occupied. No sign of Hobie. The window blinds were closed to a crack, but she could see bright sun outside. It was later than she thought. She glanced back to the sofa and saw Tony smiling at her.

"Sleep well?" he asked.

She made no reply. Just kept a neutral look fixed on her face until Tony's smile died away. Score one, she thought.

"I talked things over with my husband," she lied.

Tony looked at her, expectantly, waiting for her to speak again. She let him wait. Score two, she thought.

"We agree to the transfer," she said. "But it's going to be complicated. It's going to take some time. There are factors I don't think you appreciate. We'll do it, but we're going to expect some minimum cooperation from you along the way."

Tony nodded. "Like what?"

"I'll discuss that with Hobie," she said. "Not with you."

There was silence in the office. Just faint noises from the world outside. She concentrated on her breathing. In and out, in and out.

"OK," Tony said.

Score three, she thought.

"We want coffee," she said. "Three cups, cream and sugar."

More silence. Then Tony nodded and the thickset man stood up. He looked away and walked out of the office toward the kitchen. Score four, she thought.

THE RETURN ADDRESS on Rutter's letter corresponded to a dingy storefront some blocks south of any hope of urban renewal. It was a clapboard building sandwiched between crumbling four-story brick structures that may have been factories or warehouses before they were abandoned decades ago. Rutter's place had a filthy window on the left and an entrance in the center and a roll-up door standing open on the right revealing a narrow garage area. There was a brand-new Lincoln Navigator squeezed into the space. Reacher recognized the model from advertisements he'd seen. It was a giant four-wheel-drive Ford, with a thick gloss of luxury added in order to justify its elevation to the Lincoln division. This one was metallic black, and it was probably worth more than the real estate wrapped around it.

Jodie drove right past the building, not fast, not slow, just plausible city-street speed over the potholed road. Reacher craned his head around, getting a feel for the place. Jodie made a left and came back around the block. Reacher glimpsed a service alley running behind the row, with rusted fire escapes hanging above piles of garbage.

"So how do we do this?" Jodie asked him.

"We walk right in," he said. "First thing we do is we watch his reaction. If he knows who we are, we'll play it one way. If he doesn't, we'll play it another."

She parked two spaces south of the storefront, in the shadow of a blackened brick warehouse. She locked the car and they walked north together. From the sidewalk they could make out what was behind the dirty window. There was a lame display of Army-surplus equipment, dusty old camouflage jackets and water canteens and boots. There were field radios and MRE rations and infantry helmets. Some of the stuff was already obsolete before Reacher graduated from West Point.

The door was stiff and it worked a bell when it opened. It was a crude mechanical system whereby the moving door flicked a spring that flicked the bell and made the sound. The store was deserted. There was a counter on the right with a door behind it to the garage. There was a display of clothing on a circular chrome rack and more random junk piled high on a single shelf. There was a rear door out to the alley, locked shut and alarmed. In a line next to the rear door were five padded vinyl chairs. Scattered all around the chairs were cigarette butts and empty beer bottles. The lighting was dim, but the dust of years was visible everywhere.

Reacher walked ahead of Jodie. The floor creaked under him. Two paces inside, he could see a trapdoor open beyond the counter. It was a sturdy door, made from old pine boards, hinged with brass and rubbed to a greasy shine where generations of hands had folded it back. Floor joists were visible inside the hole, and a narrow staircase built from the same old wood was leading down toward hot electric light. He could hear feet scraping on a cement cellar floor below him.

"I'll be right there, whoever the hell you are," a voice called up from the hole.

It was a man's voice, middle-aged, suspended somewhere between surprise and bad temper. The voice of a man not expecting callers. Jodie looked at Reacher and Reacher closed his hand around the butt of the Steyr in his pocket.

A man's head appeared at floor level, then his shoulders, then his torso, as he came on up the ladder. He was a bulky figure and had difficulty climbing out of the hole. He was dressed in faded olive fatigues. He had greasy gray hair, a ragged gray beard, a fleshy face, small eyes. He came out on hands and knees and stood up.

"Help you?" he said.

Then another head and shoulders appeared behind him. And another. And another. And another. Four men stamped up the ladder from the cellar. Each one straightened and paused and looked hard at Reacher and Jodie and then stepped away to the line of chairs. They were big men, fleshy, tattooed, dressed in similar old fatigues. They sat with big arms crossed against big stomachs.

"Help you?" the first guy said again.

"Are you Rutter?" Reacher asked.

The guy nodded. There was no recognition in his eyes. Reacher glanced at the line of men on their chairs. They represented a complication he had not anticipated.

"What do you want?" Rutter asked.

Reacher changed his plan. Took a guess about the true nature of the store's transactions and what was stacked up down in the cellar.

"I want a silencer," he said. "For a Steyr GB."

Rutter smiled, real amusement in the set of his jaw and the light in his eyes.

"Against the law for me to sell you one, against the law for you to own one."

The singsong way he said it was an outright confession that he had them and sold them. There was a patronizing undercurrent in the tone that said I've got something you want, and that makes me better than you. There was no caution in his voice. No suspicion that Reacher was a cop trying to set him up. Nobody ever thought Reacher was a cop. He was too big and too rough. He didn't have the precinct pallor or the urban furtiveness people subconsciously associate with cops. Rutter was not worried about him. He was worried about Jodie. He didn't know what she was. He had spoken to Reacher but looked at her. She was looking back at him, steadily.

"Against whose law?" she asked dismissively.

Rutter scratched at his beard. "Makes them expensive."

"Compared to what?" she asked.

Reacher smiled to himself. Rutter wasn't sure about her, and with two answers, just six words, she had him adrift, thinking she could be anything from a Manhattan socialite worried about a kidnap threat against her kids, to a billionaire's wife intending to inherit early, to a Rotary wife aiming to survive a messy love triangle. She was looking at him like she was a woman used to getting her own way without opposition from anybody. Certainly not from the law, and certainly not from some squalid little Bronx trader.

"Steyr GB?" Rutter asked. "You want the proper Austrian piece?"

Reacher nodded, like he was the guy who dealt with the trivial details. Rutter clicked his fingers and one of the heavy men peeled off from the line of chairs and dropped down the hole. He came back up a long moment later with a black cylinder wrapped in paper that gun oil had turned transparent.

"Two thousand bucks," Rutter said.

Reacher nodded. The price was almost fair. The pistol was no longer manufactured, but he figured it probably last retailed around eight or nine hundred bucks. Final factory price for the suppressor was probably more than two hundred. Two grand for illegal supply ten years later and four thousand miles from the factory gate was almost reasonable.

"Let me see it," he said.

Rutter wiped the tube on his pants. Handed it over. Reacher came out with the gun and clicked the tube in place. Not like in the movies. You don't hold it up to your eyes and screw it on, slowly and thoughtfully and lovingly. You use light, fast pressure and a half-turn and it clicks on like a lens fits a camera.

It improved the weapon. Improved its balance. Ninety-nine times in a hundred, a handgun gets fired high because the recoil flips the muzzle upward. The weight of the silencer was going to counteract that likelihood. And a silencer works by dispersing the blast of gas relatively slowly, which weakens the recoil in the first place.

"Does it work real good?" Reacher asked.

"Sure it does," Rutter said. "It's the genuine factory piece."

The guy who had brought it upstairs was back on his chair. Four guys, five chairs. The way to take out a gang is to hit the leader first. It's a universal truth. Reacher had learned it at the age of four. Figure out who the leader is, and put him down first, and put him down hard. This situation was going to be different. Rutter was the leader, but he had to stay in one piece for the time being, because Reacher had other plans for him.

"Two thousand bucks," Rutter said again.

"Field test," Reacher said.

There is no safety catch on a Steyr GB. The first pull needs a pressure of fourteen pounds on the trigger, which is judged to be enough to avoid an accidental discharge if the gun is dropped, because fourteen pounds is a very deliberate pull. So there is no separate safety mechanism. Reacher flicked his hand left and pulled the fourteen pounds. The gun fired and the empty chair blew apart. The sound was loud. Not like in the movies. It's not a little cough. Not a polite little spit. It's like taking the Manhattan phone book and raising it way over your head and smashing it facedown on a desk with all your strength. Not a quiet sound. But quieter than it could be.

The four guys were frozen with shock. Shredded vinyl and dirty horsehair stuffing were floating in the air. Rutter was staring, motionless. Reacher hit him hard, left-handed in the stomach, and kicked his feet away and dumped him on the floor. Then he lined up the Steyr on the guy next to the shattered chair.

"Downstairs," he said. "All of you. Right now, OK?"

Nobody moved. So Reacher counted out loud one, two, and on three he fired again. The same loud blast. The floorboards splintered at the first guy's feet. One, two, and Reacher fired again. And again, one, two, and fire. Dust and wood splinters were bursting upward. The noise of the repeated shots was crushing. There was the strong stink of burned powder and hot steel wool inside the suppressor. The men moved all at once after the third bullet. They fought and crowded to the hatch. Crashed and tumbled through. Reacher dropped the door closed on them and dragged the counter over the top of it. Rutter was up on his hands and knees. Reacher kicked him over on his back and kept on kicking him until he had scrambled all the way backward and his head was jammed up hard against the displaced counter.

Jodie had the faked photograph in her hand. She crouched and held it out to him. He blinked and focused on it. His mouth was working, just a ragged hole in his beard. Reacher ducked down and caught his left wrist. Dragged his hand up and took hold of the little finger.

"Questions," he said. "And I'll break a finger every time you lie to me."

Rutter started struggling, using all his strength to twist up and away. Reacher hit him again, a solid blow to the gut, and he went back down.

"You know who we are?"

"No," Rutter gasped.

"Where was this picture taken?"

"Secret camps," Rutter gasped. "Vietnam."

Reacher broke his little finger. He just wrenched it sideways and snapped the knuckle. Sideways is easier than bending it all the way back. Rutter shrieked in pain. Reacher took hold of the next finger. There was a gold ring on it.


"Bronx Zoo," Rutter gasped.

"Who's the boy?"

"Just some kid."

"Who's the man?"

"Friend," Rutter gasped.

"How many times have you done it?"

"Fifteen, maybe," Rutter said.

Reacher bent the ring finger sideways.

"That's the truth," Rutter screamed. "No more than fifteen, I promise. And I never did anything to you. I don't even know you."

"You know the Hobies?" Reacher asked. "Up in Brighton?"

He saw Rutter searching through a mental list, dazed. Then he saw him remember. Then he saw him struggling to comprehend how those pathetic old suckers could possibly have brought all this down on his head.

"You're a disgusting piece of shit, right?"

Rutter was rolling his head from side to side in panic.

"Say it, Rutter," Reacher yelled.

"I'm a piece of shit," Rutter whimpered.

"Where's your bank?"

"My bank?" Rutter repeated blankly.

"Your bank," Reacher said.

Rutter hesitated. Reacher put some weight back on the ring finger.

"Ten blocks," Rutter shrieked.

"Title deed for your truck?"

"In the drawer."

Reacher nodded to Jodie. She stood up and went around behind the counter. Rattled open the drawers and came out with a sheaf of paperwork. She flicked through and nodded. "Registered in his name. Cost forty thousand bucks."

Reacher switched his grip and caught Rutter by the neck. Bunched his shoulder and pushed hard until the web of his hand was forcing up under Rutter's jaw.

"I'll buy your truck for a dollar," he said. "Just shake your head if you've got a problem with that, OK?"

Rutter was totally still. His eyes were popping under the force of Reacher's grip on his throat.

"And then I'll drive you to your bank," he said. "In my new truck. You'll take out eighteen thousand dollars in cash and I'll give it back to the Hobies."

"No," Jodie called. "Nineteen-six-fifty. It was in a safe mutual. Call it six percent, for a year and a half compounded."

"OK," Reacher said. He increased the pressure. "Nineteen-six-fifty for the Hobies, and nineteen-six-fifty for us."

Rutter's eyes were searching Reacher's face. Pleading. Not understanding.

"You cheated them," Reacher said. "You told them you'd find out what happened to their boy. You didn't do that. So now we'll have to do it for them. So we need expense money."

Rutter was turning blue in the face. His hands were clamped hard on Reacher's wrist, desperately trying to ease the pressure.

"OK," Reacher asked. "So that's what we're going to do. Just shake your head if you've got any kind of a problem with any part of it."

Rutter was dragging hard on Reacher's wrist, but his head stayed still.

"Think of it like a tax," Reacher said. "A tax on cheating little pieces of shit."

He jerked his hand away and stood up. Fifteen minutes later, he was in Rutter's bank. Rutter was nursing his left hand in his pocket and signing a check with his right. Five minutes after that, Reacher had $39,300 cash zipped into the sports bag. Fifteen minutes after that, he left Rutter in the alley behind his store, with two dollar bills stuffed in his mouth, one for the silencer, and one for the truck. Five minutes after that, he was following Jodie's Taurus up to the Hertz return at LaGuardia. Fifteen minutes after that, they were in the new Lincoln together, heading back to Manhattan. Copyright 2016 - 2024