REACHER DROVE SLOWLY back to lower Broadway. He bumped the big car down the ramp to the garage. Parked it in Jodie's slot and locked it. He didn't go upstairs to the apartment. He walked back up the ramp to the street and headed north in the sun to the espresso bar. He had the counter guy put four shots in a cardboard cup and sat at the chromium table Jodie had used when he was checking the apartment the night he had gotten back from Brighton. He had walked back up Broadway and found her sitting there, staring at Rutter's faked photograph. He sat down in the same chair she had used and blew on the espresso foam and smelled the aroma and took the first sip.

What to tell the old folks? The only humane thing to do would be to go up there and tell them nothing at all. Just tell them he had drawn a blank. Just leave it completely vague. It would be a kindness. Just go up there, hold their hands, break the news of Rutter's deception, refund their money, and then describe a long and fruitless search backward through history that ended up absolutely nowhere. Then plead with them to accept he must be long dead, and beg them to understand nobody would ever be able to tell them where or when or how. Then disappear and leave them to live out the short balance of their lives with whatever dignity they could find in being just two out of the tens of millions of parents who gave up their children to the night and the fog swirling through a ghastly century.

He sipped his way through the coffee, with his left hand clenched on the table in front of him. He would lie to them, but out of kindness. Reacher had no great experience of kindness. It was a virtue that had always run parallel to his life. He had never been in the sort of position where it counted for anything. He had never drawn duty breaking bad news to relatives. Some of his contemporaries had. After the Gulf, duty squads had been formed, a senior officer from the unit concerned teamed up with a military policeman, and they had visited the families of the casualties, walking up long, lonely driveways, walking upstairs in apartment houses, breaking the news that their formal uniformed arrival had already announced in advance. He guessed kindness counted for a lot during that type of duty, but his own career had been locked tight inside the service itself, where things were always simple, either happening or not happening, good or bad, legal or not legal. Now two years after leaving the service, kindness was suddenly a factor in his life. And it would make him lie.

But he would find Victor Hobie. He unclenched his hand and touched the burn scar through his shirt. He had a score to settle. He tilted the cup until he felt the espresso mud on his teeth and tongue. Then he dropped the cup in the trash and stepped back out to the sidewalk. The sun was full on Broadway, coming slightly from the south and west of directly overhead. He felt it on his face and turned toward it and walked down to Jodie's building. He was tired. He had slept only four hours on the plane. Four hours, out of more than twenty-four. He remembered reclining the enormous first-class seat and falling asleep in it. He had been thinking about Hobie then, like he was thinking about him now. Victor Hobie had Costello killed, so he could stay hidden.

Crystal floated into his memory. The stripper, from the Keys. He shouldn't be thinking about her again. But he was saying something to her, in the darkened bar. She was wearing a T-shirt and nothing else. Then Jodie was talking to him, in the dim study at the back of Leon's house. His house. She was saying the same thing he was saying to Crystal. He was saying he must have stepped on some toes up north, given somebody a problem. She was saying he must have tried some kind of a shortcut, got somebody alerted.

He stopped dead on the street with his heart thumping. Leon. Costello. Leon and Costello, together, talking. Costello had gone up to Garrison and talked with Leon just before he died. Leon had run down the problem for him. Find a guy called Jack Reacher because I want him to check on a guy called Victor Hobie, Leon must have said. Costello, calm and businesslike, must have listened well. He had gone back to the city and scoped out the job. He had thought hard and tried a shortcut. Costello had gone looking for the guy called Hobie before he had gone looking for the guy called Reacher.

He ran the last block to Jodie's parking garage. Then lower Broadway to Greenwich Avenue was two and three-quarter miles, and he got there in eleven minutes by slipstreaming behind the taxis heading up to the west side of midtown. He dumped the Lincoln on the sidewalk in front of the building and ran up the stone steps into the lobby. He glanced around and pressed three random buttons.

"UPS," he called.

The inner screen buzzed open and he ran up the stairs to suite five. Costello's mahogany door was closed, just as he had left it four days ago. He glanced around the hallway and tried the knob. The door opened. The lock was still latched back, open for business. The pastel reception area was undisturbed. The impersonal city. Life swirled on, busy and oblivious and uncaring. The air inside felt stale. The secretary's perfume had faded to a trace. But her computer was still turned on. The watery screensaver was swirling away, waiting patiently for her return.

He stepped to her desk and nudged the mouse with his finger. The screen cleared and revealed the database entry for Spencer Gutman Ricker and Talbot, which was the last thing he had looked at before calling them, back when he had never heard of anybody called Mrs. Jacob. He exited the entry and went back to the main listing without any real optimism. He had looked for JACOB on it and gotten nowhere. He didn't recall seeing HOBIE there either, and H and J are pretty close together in the alphabet.

He spooled it up from bottom to top and back again, but there was nothing in the main listing. No real names in it at all, just acronyms for corporations. He stepped out from behind the desk and ran through to Costello's own office. No papers on the desk. He walked around behind it and saw a metal trash can in the kneehole space. There were crumpled papers in it. He squatted down and spilled them out on the floor. There were opened envelopes and discarded forms. A greasy sandwich wrapper. Some sheets of lined paper, torn out from a perforated book. He straightened them on the carpet with his palm. Nothing hit him in the eye, but they were clearly working notes. They were the kind of jottings a busy man makes to help him organize his thoughts. But they were all recent. Costello was clearly a guy who emptied his trash on a regular basis. There was nothing from more than a couple of days before he died in the Keys. Any shortcuts involving Hobie, he would have taken them twelve or thirteen days ago, right after talking with Leon, right at the outset of the investigation.

Reacher opened the desk drawers, each one in turn, and found the perforated book in the top on the left-hand side. It was a supermarket notebook, partly used up, with a thick backbone on the left and half the pages remaining on the right. He sat down in the crushed leather chair and leafed through the book. Ten pages in, he saw the name Leon Garber. It leapt out at him from a mess of penciled notes. He saw Mrs. Jacob, SGR amp;T. He saw Victor Hobie. That name was underlined twice, with the casual strokes a pensive man uses while he is thinking hard. It was circled lightly with overlapping oval shapes, like eggs. Next to it, Costello had scrawled CCT?? There was a line running away across the page from CCT?? to a note saying 9am; 9am was circled, too, inside more oval scrawlings. Reacher stared at the page and saw an appointment with Victor Hobie, at a place called CCT, at nine o'clock in the morning. Presumably at nine o'clock in the morning of the day he was killed.

He bounced the chair backward and scrambled around the desk. Ran back to the computer. The database listing was still there. The screensaver had not cut in. He scrolled the list to the top and looked at everything between B and D. CCT was right there, jammed between CCR amp;W and CDAG amp;Y. He moved the mouse and clicked on it. The screen scrolled down and revealed an entry for CAYMAN CORPORATE TRUST. There was an address listed in the World Trade Center. There were telephone and fax numbers. There were notes listing inquiries from law firms. The proprietor was listed as Mr. Victor Hobie. Reacher stared at the display and the phone started ringing.

He tore his eyes from the screen and glanced at the console on the desk. It was silent. The ringing was in his pocket. He fumbled Jodie's mobile out of his jacket and clicked the button.

"Hello?" he said.

"I've got some news," Nash Newman replied.

"News about what?"

"About what? What the hell do you think?"

"I don't know," Reacher said. "So tell me."

So Newman told him. Then there was silence. Just a soft hiss from the phone representing six thousand miles of distance and a soft whirring from the fan inside the computer. Reacher took the phone away from his ear and stared between it and the screen, left and right, left and right, dazed.

"You still there?" Newman asked. It came through faint and electronic, just a faraway squawk from the earpiece. Reacher put the phone back to his face.

"You sure about this?" he asked.

"I'm sure," Newman said. "One hundred percent certain. It's totally definitive. Not one chance in a billion that I'm wrong. No doubt about it."

"You sure?" Reacher asked again.

"Positive," Newman said. "Totally, utterly positive."

Reacher was silent. He just stared around the quiet empty office. Light blue walls where the sun was coming through the pebbled glass of the window, light gray where it wasn't.

"You don't sound very happy about it," Newman said.

"I can't believe it," Reacher said. "Tell me again."

So Newman told him again.

"I can't believe it," Reacher said. "You're absolutely, totally sure about this?"

Newman repeated it all. Reacher stared at the desk, blankly.

"Tell me again," he said. "One more time, Nash."

So Newman went through it all for the fourth time.

"There's absolutely no doubt about it," he added. "Have you ever known me to be wrong?"

"Shit," Reacher said. "Shit, you see what this means? You see what happened? You see what he did? I've got to go, Nash. I need to get back to St. Louis, right now. I need to get into the archive again."

"You do indeed, don't you?" Newman said. "St. Louis would certainly be my first port of call. As a matter of considerable urgency, too."

"Thanks, Nash," Reacher said, vaguely. He clicked the phone off and jammed it back in his pocket. Then he stood up and wandered slowly out of Costello's office suite to the stairs. He left the mahogany door standing wide open behind him.

TONY CAME INTO the bathroom carrying the Savile Row suit on a wire hanger inside a dry cleaner's bag. The shirt was starched and folded in a paper wrapper jammed under his arm. He glanced at Marilyn and hung the suit on the shower rail and tossed the shirt into Chester's lap. He went into his pocket and came out with the tie. He pulled it out along its whole length, like a conjuror performing a trick with a concealed silk scarf. He tossed it after the shirt.

"Show time," he said. "Be ready in ten minutes."

He went back out and closed the door. Chester sat on the floor, cradling the packaged shirt in his arms. The tie was draped across his legs, where it had fallen. Marilyn leaned down and took the shirt from him.

"Nearly over," she said, like an incantation.

He looked at her neutrally and stood up. Took the shirt from her and pulled it on over his head. She stepped in front of him and snapped the collar up and fixed his tie.

"Thanks," he said.

She helped him into the suit and came around in front of him and tweaked the lapels.

"Your hair," she said.

He went to the mirror and saw the man he used to be in another life. He used his fingers and smoothed his hair into place. The bathroom door opened again and Tony stepped inside. He was holding the Mont Blanc fountain pen.

"We'll lend this back to you, so you can sign the transfer."

Chester nodded and took the pen and slipped it into his jacket.

"And this. We need to keep up appearances, right? All these lawyers everywhere?" It was the platinum Rolex. Chester took it from him and latched it on his wrist. Tony left the room and closed the door. Marilyn was at the mirror, styling her hair with her fingers. She put it behind her ears and pursed her lips together like she'd just used lipstick, although she hadn't. She had none to use. It was just an instinct. She stepped away to the middle of the floor and smoothed her dress down over her thighs.

"You ready?" she asked.

Chester shrugged. "For what? Are you?"

"I'm ready," she said.

SPENCER GUTMAN RICKER and Talbot's driver was the husband of one of the firm's longest-serving secretaries. He had been a dead-wood clerk somewhere who hadn't survived his company's amalgamation with a lean and hungry competitor. Fifty-nine and unemployed with no skills and no prospects, he had sunk his payoff into a used Lincoln Town Car and his wife had written a proposal showing it would be cheaper for the firm to contract him exclusively rather than keep a car service account. The partners had turned a blind eye to the accounting mistakes in the proposal and hired him anyway, looking at it somewhere halfway between pro bono and convenience. Thus the guy was waiting in the garage with the motor running and the air on high when Jodie came out of the elevator and walked over to him. He buzzed his window down and she bent to speak.

"You know where we're going?" she asked.

He nodded and tapped the clipboard lying on the front passenger sheet.

"I'm all set," he said.

She got in the back. By nature she was a democratic person who would have preferred to ride in front with him, but he insisted passengers take a rear seat. It made him feel more official. He was a sensitive old man, and he had caught the whiff of charity around his hiring. He felt that to act very properly would raise his perceived status. He wore a dark suit and a chauffeur's cap he had found in an outfitter's in Brooklyn.

As soon as he saw in the mirror that Jodie was settled, he moved away around the garage and up the ramp and outside into the daylight. The exit was at the back of the building and it put him on Exchange Place. He made the left onto Broadway and worked across the lanes in time for the right into the Trinity Street dogleg. He followed it west and turned, coming up on the World Trade Center from the south. Traffic was slow past Trinity Church, because two lanes were blocked by a police tow truck stopped alongside an NYPD cruiser parked at the curb. Cops were peering into the windows, as if they were unsure about something. He eased past and accelerated. Slowed and pulled in again alongside the plaza. His eyes were fixed at street level, and the giant towers loomed over him unseen. He sat with the motor running, silent and deferential.

"I'll be waiting here," he said.

Jodie got out of the car and paused on the sidewalk. The plaza was wide and crowded. It was five minutes to two, and the lunch crowd was returning to work. She felt unsettled. She would be walking through a public space without Reacher watching over her, for the first time since things went crazy. She glanced around and joined a knot of hurrying people and walked with them all the way to the south tower.

The address in the file was the eighty-eighth floor. She joined the line for the express elevator behind a medium-sized man in an ill-fitting black suit. He was carrying a cheap briefcase upholstered with brown plastic stamped to make it look like crocodile skin. She squeezed into the elevator behind him. The car was full and people were calling their floor numbers to the woman nearest the buttons. The guy in the bad suit asked for eighty-eight. Jodie said nothing.

The car stopped at most floors in its zone and people jostled out. Progress was slow. It was dead-on two o'clock when the car arrived on eighty-eight. Jodie stepped out. The guy in the bad suit stepped out behind her. They were in a deserted corridor. Undistinguished closed doors led into office suites. Jodie went one way and the guy in the suit went the other, both of them looking at the plates fixed next to the doors. They met up again in front of an oak slab marked Cayman Corporate Trust. There was a wired-glass porthole set off-center in it. Jodie glanced through it and the guy in the suit leaned past her and pulled it open.

"We in the same meeting?" Jodie asked, surprised.

She followed him inside to a brass-and-oak reception area. There were office smells. Hot chemicals from copying machines, stewed coffee somewhere. The guy in the suit turned back to her and nodded.

"I guess we are," he said.

She stuck out her hand as she walked.

"I'm Jodie Jacob," she said. "Spencer Gutman. For the creditor."

The guy walked backward and juggled his plastic briefcase into his left and smiled and shook hands with her.

"I'm David Forster," he said. "Forster and Abelstein."

They were at the reception counter. She stopped and stared at him.

"No, you're not," she said blankly. "I know David very well."

The guy looked suddenly tense. The lobby went silent. She turned the other way and saw the guy she had last seen clinging to the door handle of her Bravada as Reacher hauled away from the collision on Broadway. He was sitting there calmly behind the counter, looking straight back at her. His left hand moved and touched a button. In the silence she heard a click from the entrance door. Then his right hand moved. It went down empty and came back up with a gun the color of dull metal. It had a wide barrel like a tube and a metal handgrip. The barrel was more than a foot long. The guy in the bad suit dropped his plastic case and jerked his hands in the air. Jodie stared at the weapon and thought: but that's a shotgun.

The guy holding it moved his left hand again and hit another button. The door to the inner office opened. The man who had crashed the Suburban into them was standing there framed in the doorway. He had another gun in his hand. Jodie recognized the type from movies she'd seen. It was an automatic pistol. On the cinema screen it fired loud bullets that smashed you six feet backward. The Suburban driver was holding it steady on a point to her left and the other guy's right, like he was ready to jerk his wrist either way.

The guy with the shotgun came out from behind the counter and pushed past Jodie. Went up behind the guy with the bad suit and rammed the shotgun barrel into the small of his back. There was a hard sound, metal on metal, muffled by cloth. The guy with the shotgun put his hand up under the jacket and came out with a big chromium revolver. He held it up, like an exhibit.

"Unusual accessory for a lawyer," the man in the doorway said.

"He's not a lawyer," his partner said. "The woman says she knows David Forster very well and this ain't him."

The man in the doorway nodded.

"My name is Tony," he said. "Come inside, both of you, please."

He stepped to one side and covered Jodie with the automatic pistol while his partner pushed the guy claiming to be Forster in through the open door. Then he beckoned with the gun and Jodie found herself walking toward him. He stepped close and pushed her through the door with a hand flat on her back. She stumbled once and regained her balance. Inside was a big office, spacious and square. Dim light from shaded windows. There was living-room furniture arranged in front of a desk. Three identical sofas, with lamp tables. A huge brass-and-glass coffee table filled the space between the sofas. There were two people sitting on the left-hand sofa. A man and a woman. The man wore an immaculate suit and tie. The woman wore a wrinkled silk party dress. The man looked up, blankly. The woman looked up in terror.

There was a man at the desk. He was sitting in the gloom, in a leather chair. He was maybe fifty-five years old. Jodie stared at him. His face was divided roughly in two, like an arbitrary decision, like a map of the western states. On the right was lined skin and thinning gray hair. On the left was scar tissue, pink and thick and shiny like an unfinished plastic model of a monster's head. The scars touched his eye, and the lid was a ball of pink tissue, like a mangled thumb.

He was wearing a neat suit, which fell over broad shoulders and a wide chest. His left arm was laid comfortably on the desk. There was the cuff of a white shirt, snowy in the gloom, and a manicured hand, palm down, the fingers tapping an imperceptible rhythm on the desktop. His right arm was laid exactly symmetrical with his left. There was the same fine summer-weight wool of the suit coat, and the same snowy white shirt cuff, but they were collapsed and empty. There was no hand. Just a simple steel hook protruding at a shallow angle, resting on the wood. It was curved and polished like a miniature version of a sculpture from a public garden.

"Hobie," she said.

He nodded slowly, just once, and raised the hook like a greeting.

"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Jacob. I'm just sorry it took so long."

Then he smiled.

"And I'm sorry our acquaintance will be so brief."

He nodded again, this time to the man called Tony, who maneuvered her alongside the guy claiming to be Forster. They stood side by side, waiting.

"Where's your friend Jack Reacher?" Hobie asked her.

She shook her head. "I don't know."

Hobie looked at her for a long moment.

"OK," he said. "We'll get to Jack Reacher later. Now sit down."

He was pointing with the hook to the sofa opposite the staring couple. She stepped over and sat down, dazed.

"This is Mr. and Mrs. Stone," Hobie said to her. "Chester and Marilyn, to be informal. Chester ran a corporation called Stone Optical. He owes me more than seventeen million dollars. He's going to pay me in stock."

Jodie glanced at the couple opposite. They both had panic in their eyes. Like something had just gone terribly wrong.

"Put your hands on the table," Hobie called. "All three of you. Lean forward and spread your fingers. Let me see six little starfish."

Jodie leaned forward and laid her palms on the low table. The couple opposite did the same thing, automatically.

"Lean forward more," Hobie called.

They all slid their palms toward the center of the table until they were leaning at an angle. It put their weight on their hands and made them immobile. Hobie came out from behind the desk and stopped opposite the guy in the bad suit.

"Apparently you're not David Forster," he said.

The guy made no reply.

"I would have guessed, you know," Hobie said. "In an instant. A suit like that? You've really got to be kidding. So who are you?"

Again the guy said nothing. Jodie watched him, with her head turned sideways. Tony raised his gun and pointed it at the guy's head. He used both hands and did something with the slide that made a menacing metallic sound in the silence. He tightened his finger on the trigger. Jodie saw his knuckle turn white.

"Curry," the guy said quickly. "William Curry. I'm a private detective, working for Forster."

Hobie nodded, slowly. "OK, Mr. Curry."

He walked back behind the Stones. Stopped directly behind the woman.

"I've been misled, Marilyn," he said.

He balanced himself with his left hand on the back of the sofa and leaned all the way forward and snagged the tip of the hook into the neck of her dress. He pulled back against the strength of the fabric and hauled her slowly upright. Her palms slid off the glass and left damp shapes where they had rested. Her back touched the sofa and he slipped the hook around in front of her and nudged her lightly under the chin like a hairdresser adjusting the position of her head before starting work. He raised the hook and brought it back down gently and used the tip to comb through her hair, lightly, front to back. Her hair was thick and the hook plowed through it, slowly, front to back, front to back. Her eyes were screwed shut in terror.

"You deceived me," he said. "I don't like being deceived. Especially not by you. I protected you, Marilyn. I could have sold you with the cars. Now maybe I will. I had other plans for you, but I think Mrs. Jacob just usurped your position in my affections. Nobody told me how beautiful she was."

The hook stopped moving and a thin thread of blood ran down out of Marilyn's hair onto her forehead. Hobie's gaze shifted across to Jodie. His good eye was steady and unblinking.

"Yes," he said to her. "I think maybe you're New York's parting gift to me."

He pushed the hook hard against the back of Marilyn's head until she leaned forward again and put her hands back on the table. Then he turned around.

"You armed, Mr. Curry?"

Curry shrugged. "I was. You know that. You took it."

The guy with the shotgun held up the shiny revolver. Hobie nodded.


Tony started patting him down, across the tops of his shoulders, under his arms. Curry glanced left and right and the guy with the shotgun stepped close and jammed the barrel into his side.

"Stand still," he said.

Tony leaned forward and smoothed his hands over the guy's belt area and between his legs. Then he slid them briskly downward and Curry twisted violently sideways and tried to knock the shotgun away with his arm, but the guy holding it was firmly grounded with his feet well apart and he stopped Curry short. He used the muzzle like a fist and hit him in the stomach. Curry's breath coughed out and he folded up and the guy hit him again, on the side of the head, hard with the stock of the shotgun. Curry went down on his knees and Tony rolled him over with his foot.

"Asshole," he sneered.

The guy with the shotgun leaned down one-handed and rammed the muzzle into Curry's gut with enough weight on it to hurt. Tony squatted and fiddled under the legs of the pants and came back up with two identical revolvers. His left forefinger was threaded through the trigger guards and he was swinging them around. The metal clicked and scratched and rattled. The revolvers were small. They were made from stainless steel. Like shiny toys. They had short barrels. Almost no barrels at all.

"Stand up, Mr. Curry," Hobie said.

Curry rolled onto his hands and knees. He was clearly dazed from the blow to the head. Jodie could see him blinking, trying to focus. Shaking his head. He reached out for the back of the sofa and hauled himself upright. Hobie stepped a yard closer and turned his back on him. He looked at Jodie and Chester and Marilyn like they were an audience. He held his left palm flat and started butting the curve of the hook into it. He was butting with the right and slapping with the left, and the impacts were building.

"A simple question of mechanics," he said. "The impact on the end of the hook transfers up to the stump. The shock waves travel. They dissipate against what's left of the arm. Naturally the leatherwork was built by an expert, so the discomfort is minimized. But we can't beat the laws of physics, can we? So in the end the question is: Who does the pain get to first? Him or me?"

He spun on the ball of his foot and punched Curry full in the face with the blunt outside curve of the hook. It was a hard punch thrown all the way from the shoulder, and Curry staggered back and gasped.

"I asked you if you were armed," Hobie said quietly. "You should have told the truth. You should have said, 'Yes, Mr. Hobie, I've got a revolver on each ankle.' But you didn't. You tried to deceive me. And like I told Marilyn, I don't like to be deceived."

The next punch was a jab to the body. Sudden and hard.

"Stop it," Jodie screamed. She pushed back and sat upright. "Why are you doing this? What the hell happened to you?"

Curry was bent over and gasping. Hobie turned away from him to face her.

"What happened to me?" he repeated.

"You were a decent guy. We know all about you."

He shook his head slowly.

"No, you don't," he said.

Then the buzzer sounded at the door out to the elevator lobby. Tony glanced at Hobie, and slipped his automatic into his pocket. He took Curry's two small revolvers off his finger and stepped over and pressed one of them into Hobie's left hand. Then he leaned in close and slipped the other into the pocket of Hobie's jacket. It was a curiously intimate gesture. Then he walked out of the office. The guy with the shotgun stepped back and found an angle to cover all four prisoners. Hobie moved in the opposite direction and triangulated his aim.

"Be very quiet, everybody," he whispered.

They heard the lobby door open. There was the low sound of conversation and then it closed again. A second later Tony walked back into the gloom with a package under his arm and a smile on his face.

"Messenger from Stone's old bank. Three hundred stock certificates."

He held up the package.

"Open it," Hobie said.

Tony found the plastic thread and tore open the envelope. Jodie saw the rich engraving of equity holdings. Tony flicked through them. He nodded. Hobie stepped back to his chair and laid the small revolver on the desktop.

"Sit down, Mr. Curry," he said. "Next to your legal colleague."

Curry dropped heavily into the space next to Jodie. He slid his hands across the glass and leaned forward, like the others. Hobie used the hook in a circular gesture.

"Take a good look around, Chester," he said. "Mr. Curry, Mrs. Jacob, and your dear wife, Marilyn. Good people all, I'm sure. Three lives, full of their own petty concerns and triumphs. Three lives, Chester, and now they're entirely in your hands."

Stone's head was up, moving in a circle as he looked at the other three at the table. He ended up looking straight across the desk at Hobie.

"Go get the rest of the stock," Hobie said to him. "Tony will accompany you. Straight there, straight back, no tricks, and these three people will live. Anything else, they'll die. You understand that?"

Stone nodded, silently.

"Pick a number, Chester," Hobie said to him.

"One," Stone said back.

"Pick two more numbers, Chester."

"Two and three," Stone said.

"OK, Marilyn gets the three," Hobie said, "if you decide to be a hero."

"I'll get the stock," Stone said.

Hobie nodded.

"I think you will," he said. "But you need to sign the transfer first."

He rolled open a drawer and swept the small shiny revolver into it. Then he pulled out a single sheet of paper. Beckoned to Stone who slid himself upright and stood, shakily. He threaded around the desk and signed his name with the Mont Blanc pen from his pocket.

"Mrs. Jacob can be the witness," Hobie said. "She's a member of the New York State Bar, after all."

Jodie sat still for a long moment. She stared left at the guy with the shotgun, and straight ahead at Tony, and then right at Hobie behind the desk. She pulled herself upright. Stepped to the desk and reversed the form and took Stone's pen from him. Signed her name and wrote the date on the line next to it.

"Thank you," Hobie said. "Now sit down again and keep completely still."

She went back to the sofa and leaned forward over the table. Her shoulders were starting to hurt. Tony took Stone's elbow and moved him toward the door.

"Five minutes there, five back," Hobie called. "Don't be a hero, Chester."

Tony led Stone out of the office and the door closed gently behind them. There was the thump of the lobby door and the faraway whine of the elevator, and then there was silence. Jodie was in pain. The grip of the glass on her clammy palms was pulling the skin away from under her fingernails. Her shoulders were burning. Her neck was aching. She could see on their faces the others were suffering, too. There were sudden breaths and gasps. The beginnings of low moans.

Hobie gestured to the guy with the shotgun and they changed places. Hobie strolled nervously around the office and the shotgun guy sat at the desk with the weapon resting on its grips, swiveling randomly left and right like a prison searchlight. Hobie was checking his wristwatch, counting the minutes. Jodie saw the sun slipping southwest, lining up with the gaps in the window blinds and shooting steep angled beams into the room. She could hear the ragged breathing of the two others near her and she could feel the faint shudder of the building coming through the table under her hands.

Five minutes there and five back add up to ten, but at least twenty minutes passed. Hobie paced and checked his watch a dozen times. Then he walked through into reception and the guy with the shotgun followed him to the office door. He kept the weapon pointed into the room, but his head was turned, watching his boss.

"Is he planning to let us go?" Curry whispered.

Jodie shrugged and lifted up onto her fingertips, hunching her shoulders and ducking her head to ease the pain.

"I don't know," she whispered back.

Marilyn had her forearms pinched tight together, with her head resting on them. She looked up and shook her head.

"He killed two cops," she whispered. "We were witnesses."

"Stop talking," the guy called from the door.

They heard the whine of the elevator again and the faint bump through the floor as it stopped. There was a moment's quiet and then the lobby door opened and suddenly there was noise in reception, Tony's voice, and then Hobie's, loud and fueled with relief. Hobie came back into the office carrying a white package and smiling with the mobile half of his face. He clamped the package under his right elbow and tore it open as he walked and Jodie saw more engraving on thick parchment. He took the long way around to the desk and dumped the certificates on top of the three hundred he already had. Stone followed Tony like he had been forgotten and stood gazing at the life's work of his ancestors piled casually on the scarred wood. Marilyn looked up and walked her fingers backward across the glass, jacking herself upright with her hands because she had no strength left in her shoulders.

"OK, you got them all," she said quietly. "Now you can let us go."

Hobie smiled. "Marilyn, what are you, a moron?"

Tony laughed. Jodie looked from him to Hobie. She saw they were very nearly at the end of some long process. Some goal had been in sight, and now it was very close. Tony's laughter was about release after days of strain and tension.

"Reacher is still out there," she said quietly, like a move in a game of chess.

Hobie stopped smiling. He touched the hook to his forehead and rubbed it across his scars and nodded.

"Reacher," he said. "Yes, the last piece of the puzzle. We mustn't forget about Reacher, must we? He's still out there. But out where, exactly?"

She hesitated.

"I don't know, exactly," she said.

Then her head came up, defiant.

"But he's in the city," she said. "And he'll find you."

Hobie met her gaze. Stared at her, contempt in his face.

"You think that's some kind of threat?" he sneered. "Truth is I want him to find me. Because he has something I require. Something vital. So help me out, Mrs. Jacob. Call him and invite him right over."

She was silent for a moment.

"I don't know where he is," she said.

"Try your place," Hobie said back. "We know he's been staying there. He's probably there right now. You got off the plane at eleven-fifty, right?"

She stared at him. He nodded, complacently.

"We check these things. We own a boy called Simon, who I believe you've met. He put you on the seven o'clock flight from Honolulu, and we called JFK and they told us it landed at eleven-fifty exactly. Old Jack Reacher was all upset in Hawaii, according to our boy Simon, so he's probably still upset. And tired. Like you are. You look tired, Mrs. Jacob, you know that? But your friend Jack Reacher is probably in bed at your place, sleeping it off, while you're here having fun with the rest of us. So call him, tell him to come over and join you."

She stared down at the table. Said nothing.

"Call him. Then you can see him one more time before you die."

She was silent. She stared down at the glass. It was smeared with her handprints. She wanted to call him. She wanted to see him. She felt like she had felt a million times over fifteen long years. She wanted to see him again. His lazy, lopsided grin. His tousled hair. His arms, so long they gave him a greyhound's grace even though he was built like the side of a house. His eyes, cold, icy blue like the Arctic. His hands, giant battered mitts that bunched into fists the size of footballs. She wanted to see those hands again. She wanted to see them around Hobie's throat.

She glanced around the office. The sunbeams had crawled an inch across the desk. She saw Chester Stone, inert. Marilyn, trembling. Curry, white in the face and breathing hard next to her. The guy with the shotgun, relaxed. Reacher would break him in half without even thinking about it. She saw Tony, his eyes fixed on hers. And Hobie, caressing his hook with his manicured hand, smiling at her, waiting. She turned and looked at the closed door. She imagined it bursting open with a crash and Jack Reacher striding in through it. She wanted to see that happen. She wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything.

"OK," she whispered. "I'll call him."

Hobie nodded. "Tell him I'll be here a few more hours. But tell him if he wants to see you again, he better come quick. Because you and I have a little date in the bathroom, about thirty minutes from now."

She shuddered and pushed off the glass table and stood upright. Her legs were weak and her shoulders were on fire. Hobie came around and took her elbow and led her to the door. Led her over behind the reception counter.

"This is the only telephone in the place," he said. "I don't like telephones."

He sat down in the chair and pressed nine with the tip of his hook. Handed the phone across to her. "Come closer, so I can hear what he says to you. Marilyn deceived me with the phone, and I'm not going to let that happen to me again."

He made her stoop down and put her face next to his. He smelled of soap. He put his hand in his pocket and came out with the tiny revolver Tony had slipped in there. He touched it to her side. She held the phone at an angle with the earpiece upward between them. She studied the console. There was a mass of buttons. A speed-dial facility for 911. She hesitated for a second and then dialed her own home number. It rang six times. Six long, soft purrs. With each one, she willed him: be there, be there. But it was her own voice that came back to her, from her machine.

"He's not there," she said blankly.

Hobie smiled.

"That's too bad," he said.

She was stooped over next to him, numb with shock.

"He's got my mobile," she said suddenly. "I just remembered."

"OK, press nine for a line."

She dabbed the cradle and dialed nine and then her mobile number. It rang four times. Four loud urgent electronic squawks. Each one, she prayed: answer, answer, answer, answer. Then there was a click in the earpiece.

"Hello?" he said.

She breathed out.

"Hi, Jack," she said.

"Hey, Jodie," he said. "What's new?"

"Where are you?"

She realized there was urgency in her voice. It made him pause.

"I'm in St. Louis, Missouri," he said. "Just flew down. I had to go to the NPRC again, where we were before."

She gasped. St. Louis? Her mouth went dry.

"You OK?" he asked her.

Hobie leaned across and put his mouth next to her ear.

"Tell him to come right back to New York," he whispered. "Straight here, soon as he can."

She nodded nervously and he pressed the gun harder against her side.

"Can you come back?" she asked. "I sort of need you here, soon as possible."

"I'm booked on the six o'clock," he said. "Gets me in around eight-thirty, East Coast time. Will that do?"

She could sense Hobie grinning next to her.

"Can you make it anytime sooner? Like maybe right away?"

She could hear talking in the background. Major Conrad, she guessed. She remembered his office, dark wood, worn leather, the hot Missouri sun in the window.

"Sooner?" he said. "Well, I guess so. I could be there in a couple of hours, depending on the flights. Where are you?"

"Come to the World Trade Center, south tower, eighty-eighth floor, OK?"

"Traffic will be bad. Call it two and a half hours, I'll be there."

"Great," she said.

"You OK?" he asked again.

Hobie brought the gun around into her view.

"I'm fine," she said. "I love you."

Hobie leaned over and hit the cradle with the tip of his hook. The earpiece clicked and filled with dial tone. She put the phone down, slowly and carefully onto the console. She was shattered with shock and disappointment, numb, still stooped over the counter, one hand laid flat on the wood propping her weight, the other hand shaking in the air an inch above the phone.

"Two and a half hours," Hobie said to her, with exaggerated sympathy. "Well, it looks like the cavalry ain't going to arrive in time for you, Mrs. Jacob."

He laughed to himself and put the gun back in his pocket. Got out of the chair and caught the arm that was supporting her weight. She stumbled and he dragged her toward the of fice door. She caught the edge of the counter and held on tight. He hit her, backhanded with the hook. The curve caught her high on the temple and she lost her grip on the counter. Her knees gave way and she fell and he dragged her to the door by the arm. Her heels scuffed and kicked. He swung her around in front of him and straight-armed her back into the office. She sprawled on the carpet and he slammed the door.

"Back on the sofa," he snarled.

The sunbeams were off the desk. They were inching around the floor and creeping across the table. Marilyn Stone's splayed fingernails were vivid in their light. Jodie crawled to her hands and knees and pulled herself up on the furniture and staggered all the way back to her place alongside Curry. She put her hands back where they had been before. There was a narrow pain in her temple. It was an angry throb, hot and alien where the metal had thumped against bone. Her shoulder was twisted. The guy with the shotgun was watching her. Tony was watching her, the automatic pistol back in his hand. Reacher was far away from her, like he had been most of her life.

Hobie was back at the desk, squaring the stack of equity certificates into a pile. They made a brick four inches tall. He butted each side in turn with the hook. The heavy engraved papers slid neatly into place.

"UPS will be here soon," he said happily. "Then the developers get their stock, and I get my money, and I've won again. About half an hour, probably, and then it's all over, for me, and for you."

Jodie realized he was talking to her alone. He had selected her as a conduit for information. Curry and the Stone couple were staring at her, not him. She looked away and gazed down through the glass at the rug on the floor. It had the same pattern as the faded old item in DeWitt's office in Texas, but it was much smaller and much newer. Hobie left the brick of paper where it was and walked around behind the square of furniture and took the shotgun away from the guy holding it.

"Go bring me some coffee," he said to him.

The guy nodded and walked out to the lobby. Closed the door gently behind him. The office went silent. There was just tense breathing and the faint rumble of the building underneath it. The shotgun was in Hobie's left hand. It was pointing at the floor. Swinging gently, back and forth through a tiny arc. A loose grip. Jodie could hear the rub of metal on the skin of his hand. She saw Curry glancing around. He was checking Tony's position. Tony had stepped back a yard. He had put himself outside the shotgun's field of fire and he was aiming directly across it at a right angle. His automatic was raised. Jodie felt Curry testing the strength in his shoulders. She felt him moving. She saw his arms bunching. She saw him glance ahead at Tony, maybe twelve feet in front of him. She saw him glance left at Hobie, maybe eight feet to the side. She saw the sunbeams, exactly parallel with the brass edges of the table. She saw Curry push up onto his fingertips.

"No," she breathed.

Leon had always simplified his life with rules. He had a rule for every situation. As a kid, they had driven her crazy. His catchall rule for everything from her term papers to his missions to legislation in Congress was do it once and do it right. Curry had no chance of doing it right. No chance at all. He was triangulated by two powerful weapons. His options were nonexistent. If he jumped up and hurdled the table and headed for Tony, he would catch a bullet in the chest before he was even halfway there, and probably a shotgun blast in the side as well which would kill the Stone couple along with himself. And if he headed for Hobie first, then maybe Tony wouldn't fire for fear of hitting his boss, but Hobie would fire for sure, and the shotgun blast would shred Curry into a hundred small pieces, and she was in a direct line right behind him. Another of Leon's rules was hopeless is hopeless and don't ever pretend it ain't.

"Wait," she breathed.

She felt a fractional nod from Curry and she saw his shoulders go slack again. They waited. She stared down through the glass at the rug and fought the pain, minute by minute. Her torn shoulder was shrieking against her weight. She folded her fingers and rested on her knuckles. She could hear Marilyn Stone breathing hard opposite her. She looked defeated. Her head was resting sideways on her arms, and her eyes were closed. The sunbeams had moved away from parallel and were creeping toward her edge of the table.

"What the hell is that guy doing out there?" Hobie muttered. "How long does it take to fetch me a damn cup of coffee?"

Tony glanced at him, but he made no reply. Just kept the automatic held forward, favoring Curry more than anybody. Jodie turned her hands and leaned on her thumbs. Her head throbbed and burned. Hobie kicked the shotgun up and rested the muzzle on the back of the sofa in front of him. He brought the hook up and rubbed the flat of the curve over his scars.

"Christ," he said. "What's taking so long? Go give him a hand, OK?"

Jodie realized he was looking straight at her. "Me?"

"Why not? Make yourself useful. Coffee is woman's work, after all."

She hesitated.

"I don't know where it is," she said.

"Then I'll show you.

He was staring at her, waiting. She nodded, suddenly glad to get a chance just to move a little. She straightened her fingers and eased her hands backward and pushed herself upright. She felt weak and she stumbled once and caught her shin on the table's brass frame. She walked uneasily through Tony's field of fire. Up close, his automatic was huge and brutal. He tracked her with it all the way as she approached Hobie. Back there, she was beyond the reach of the sunbeams. Hobie led her through the gloom and juggled the shotgun up under his arm and grasped the handle and pulled the door open.

Check the outer door first, and then the telephone. That was what she had been rehearsing as she walked. If she could get out into the public corridor, she might have a chance. Failing that, there was the 911 speed-dial. Knock the handset out of the cradle, hit the button, and even if she got no opportunity to speak the automatic circuitry would give the cops a location. The door, or the phone. She rehearsed looking ahead at the door, looking left at the phone, the precise turn of her head in between. But when it came to it she looked at neither thing. Hobie stopped dead in front of her and she stepped alongside him and just looked at the guy who had gone to fetch the coffee.

He was a thickset man, shorter than Hobie or Tony, but broad. He was wearing a dark suit. He was lying on his back on the floor precisely centered in front of the office door. His legs were straight. His feet were turned out. His head was propped at a steep angle on a stack of phone books. His eyes were wide open. They stared forward, sightlessly. His left arm was dragged up and back, and the hand was resting palm-out on another stack of books in a grotesque parody of greeting. His right arm was pulled straight, at a shallow angle away from his body. His right hand was severed at the wrist. It was lying on the carpet six inches away from his shirt cuff, arranged in a precise straight line with the arm it had come from. She heard Hobie making a small sound in his throat and turned to see him dropping the shotgun and clutching at the door with his good hand. The burn scars were still vivid pink, but the rest of his face was turning a ghastly white. Copyright 2016 - 2024