Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher #12)(15)

by Lee Child

But nobody passed by on the sidewalk. Nobody glanced in through the windows. The waitress came over with his sandwich and a mug of coffee. The coffee was fresh and the sandwich was OK. The cheese was sticky in his mouth and less flavorful than a Wisconsin product would have been, but it was palatable. And Reacher was no kind of a gourmet. He rated food quality as either adequate or not adequate, and the adequate category was always by far the larger of the two. So he ate and drank and enjoyed it all well enough.

After fifteen minutes he gave up on the girl. He figured she wasn't coming. Then he changed his mind. He quit staring out at the sidewalk and started looking at the other customers inside the diner and realized she was already in there, waiting for him.

The young woman, sitting three booths away.

Stupid, Reacher,he thought.

He had figured that if their relative positions had been reversed he would have walked by every fifteen or twenty minutes and checked through the windows. But in reality, he wouldn't have done that. He would have come in out of the cold and sat down and waited for his mark to come to him.

Like she had.

Pure common sense.

She was maybe nineteen or twenty years old, dirty blonde hair with streaks, wearing a short denim skirt and a white sweatshirt with a word on it that might have been the name of a college football team. Her features didn't add up all the way to beauty, but she had the kind of irresistible glowing good health that he had seen before in American girls of her station and generation. Her skin was perfect. It was honey-colored with the remnant of a great summer tan. Her teeth were white and regular. Her eyes were vivid blue. Her legs were long, and neither lean nor heavy.Shapely, Reacher thought. An old-fashioned word, but the right one. She was wearing sneakers with tiny white socks that ended below her ankles. She had a bag. It was beside her on the bench. Not a purse, not a suitcase. A messenger bag, gray nylon, with a broad flap.

She was the one he was waiting for. He knew that because as he watched her in his peripheral vision he could see her watching him in hers. She was sizing him up and deciding whether to approach.

Deciding against, apparently.

She had had a full fifteen minutes to make her decision. But she hadn't gotten up and walked over. Not because of good manners. Not because she hadn't wanted to disturb him while he was eating. He suspected her concept of etiquette didn't quite stretch that far, and even if it did, then a missing boyfriend would have overwhelmed it. She just didn't want to get involved with him. That was all. Reacher didn't blame her.Look at yourself, Vaughan had said.What do you see? He had no illusions about what the girl three booths away was seeing. No illusions about his appearance or his appeal, in the eyes of someone like her. It was late at night, she was looking at an old guy twice her age, huge, untidy, disheveled, somewhat dirty, and surrounded by an electric stay-away aura he had spent years cultivating, like a sign on the rear end of a fire truck:Stay Back 200 Feet.

So she was going to sit tight and wait him out. That was clear. He was disappointed. Primarily because of the questions surrounding the dead boy in the dark, but also because in a small corner of his mind he would have liked to be the kind of guy that pretty girls could walk up to. Not that he would have taken it anywhere. She was wholesome and he was twice her age. And her boyfriend was dead, which made her some kind of a widow.

She was still watching him. He had moved his gaze so that he could see her reflection in the window next to her. She was looking up, looking down, kneading her fingers, glancing suddenly in his direction as new thoughts came to her, and then glancing away again as she resolved them. As she found reasons to stay well away from him. He gave it five more minutes and then fished in his pocket for cash. He didn't need a check. He knew what the sandwich and the coffee cost, because the prices had been printed on the menu. He knew what the local sales tax percentage was, and he was capable of calculating it for himself in his head. He knew how to work out a fifteen percent tip, for the college-age waitress who had also stayed well away from him.

He folded small bills lengthwise and left them on the table. Got up and headed for the door. At the last minute he changed direction and stepped over to the young woman's booth and slid in opposite her.

"My name is Reacher," he said. "I think you wanted to talk to me."

The girl looked at him and blinked and opened her mouth and closed it again and spoke at the second attempt.

She said, "Why would you think that?"

"I met a cop called Vaughan. She told me."

"Told you what?"

"That you were looking for someone who had been to Despair."

"You're mistaken," the girl said. "It wasn't me."

She wasn't a great liar. Not great at all. Reacher had come up against some real experts, in his previous life. This one had all the tells on display. The gulps, the false starts, the stammers, the fidgets, the glances to her right. Psychologists figured that the memory center was located in the left brain, and the imagination engine in the right brain. Therefore people unconsciously glanced to the left when they were remembering things, and to the right when they were making stuff up. When they were lying. This girl was glancing right so much she was in danger of getting whiplash.

"OK," Reacher said. "I apologize for disturbing you."

But he didn't move. He stayed where he was, sitting easy, filling most of a vinyl bench made for two. Up close the girl was prettier than she had looked from a distance. She had a dusting of freckles and a mobile, expressive mouth.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Just a guy," Reacher said.

"What kind of a guy?"

"The judge in Despair called me a vagrant. So I'm that kind of a guy, I guess."

"No job?"

"Not for a long time."

She said, "They called me a vagrant, too."

Her accent was unspecific. She wasn't from Boston or New York or Chicago or Minnesota or the Deep South. Maybe somewhere in the Southwest. Arizona, perhaps.

He said, "In your case I imagine they were inaccurate."

"I'm not sure of the definition, exactly."

"It comes from the Old French wordwaucrant, " Reacher said. "Meaning one who wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support."

"I'm in college," she said.

"So you were unfairly accused."