Extract: No Plan B by Lee Child and Andrew Child
No Plan B is the new Jack Reacher thriller from Lee Child and Andrew Child. Action-packed, twisty and smart, the 27th book in the series will have fans of the former US Army major racing through its pages.
Gerrardsville, Colorado. One tragic event. Two conflicting accounts. One witness sees a woman throw herself in front of a bus. The other is Jack Reacher, and he saw what really happened – a man in a grey hoodie and jeans pushed the victim to her death, before grabbing her bag and sauntering away.
Reacher follows the killer, not knowing that this murder was part of a sinister, intricate conspiracy, involving several powerful people. And now he’s a threat to its success…
Read on for the opening of No Plan B by Lee Child and Andrew Child!
No Plan B
Lee Child and Andrew Child
The meeting was held in a room with no windows.
The room was rectangular and it had no windows because it had no external walls. It was contained within a larger, square room. And the square room was contained within an even larger octagonal room. Together this nest of rooms formed the command hub of Unit S2 at the Minerva Correctional Facility in Winson, Mississippi. Along with its sister segregation unit, S1, it was the most secure place in the complex. It was laid out with walls like the concentric rings of a medieval castle. Designed to be impregnable. From the outside, even if attacked by the most determined rescuers. And from the inside, even during the most extreme riot.
The safety aspect was welcome but the reason the hub had been chosen for this meeting was its seclusion. The opportunity it offered for complete secrecy. Because the rest of Unit S2 was vacant. There were no guards. No admin staff. And none of its hundred and twenty isolation cells were in use. They weren’t needed. Not with the way the prison was run under its current management. The progressive approach was a cause of great pride. And great PR.
There were six men in the room, and this was the third covert meeting they’d held there in the last week. The men were spread out around a long, narrow table and there were two spare chairs pushed back against a blank, white wall. The furniture was made of bright blue polycarbonate. Each piece was cast in a single mould, leaving no joins or seams. The shape and material made the items hard to break. The colour made it hard to conceal any parts that did somehow get smashed off. It was practical. But not very comfortable. And all left over from the previous administration.
Three of the men were wearing suits. Bruno Hix, Minerva’s Chief Executive and joint founder, at the head of the table. Damon Brockman, Chief Operating Officer and the other joint founder, to Hix’s right. And Curtis Riverdale, the prison’s warden, next to Brockman. The man next to Riverdale, the last one on that side of the table, was wearing a uniform. He was Rod Moseley, Chief of the Winson Police Department. On the opposite side, to Hix’s left, were two guys in their late twenties. Both were wearing black T-shirts and jeans. One had a broken nose and two black eyes and a forehead full of angry purple bruises. The other had his left arm in a sling. Both were trying to avoid the other men’s eyes.
‘So is there a problem or not?’ Brockman shrugged his shoulders. ‘Can anyone say for sure that there is? No. Therefore we should go ahead as planned. There’s too much at stake to start running from shadows.’
‘No.’ Riverdale shook his head. ‘If there might be a problem, that means there is a problem, the way I see things. Safety first. We should—’
‘We should find out for sure,’ Moseley said. ‘Make an informed decision. The key is, did the guy look in the envelope? That’s what we need to know.’
No one spoke.
‘Well?’ Moseley stretched his leg out under the table and kicked the guy with the sling. ‘Wake up. Answer the question.’
‘Give me a break.’ The guy stifled a yawn. ‘We had to drive all night to get to Colorado. And all night again to get back here.’
‘Cry me a river.’ Moseley prodded the guy with his foot. ‘Just tell us. Did he look?’
The guy stared at the wall. ‘We don’t know.’
‘Looking in the envelope isn’t definitive,’ Riverdale said. ‘If he did look, we need to know if he understood what he saw. And what he plans to do about it.’
‘Whether the guy looked is irrelevant,’ Brockman said. ‘So what if he did? Nothing in there gives the slightest clue to what’s going on.’
Riverdale shook his head. ‘It mentions ten a.m. on Friday. Very clearly. The time, the date, the place.’
‘So what?’ Brockman raised his hands. ‘Friday’s an occasion for joy and celebration. There’s nothing remotely suspicious about it.’
‘But the photograph was in there.’ Riverdale jabbed the air with his finger in time with each syllable. ‘Eight by ten. Impossible to miss.’
‘And again, that means nothing.’ Brockman threw himself back in his chair. ‘Not unless the guy actually comes here. If he shows up on Friday. And even then we’d be OK. We chose very carefully.’
‘We didn’t. How could we? We only had nine to pick from.’
A smile flashed across Moseley’s face. ‘Ironic, isn’t it? That the one we picked really is innocent.’
‘I wouldn’t call it ironic.’ Riverdale scowled. ‘And there weren’t nine. There were only five. The others had family. That ruled them out.’
‘Nine?’ Brockman said. ‘Five? Whatever. The number doesn’t matter. Only the outcome matters. And the outcome is good enough. Even if the guy shows up, how close would he get? He’d be a hundred feet away, at least.’
‘He doesn’t have to show up. He could see it on TV. Online. Read about it in the newspapers.’
‘The warden has a point,’ Moseley said. ‘Maybe it would be better not to draw so much attention this time. Maybe we should cancel the media. We could float some BS about respecting the inmates’ privacy, or something.’
‘No need.’ Brockman shook his head. ‘You think this guy has a television? A computer? A subscription to the New York Times? He’s destitute, for goodness’ sake. Stop looking for trouble. There isn’t any.’
Hix tapped his fingertips on the tabletop. ‘Media exposure is good for the brand. We always publicize. We always have. If we change now, we would only attract more attention. Make people think something is wrong. But I do think we need to know. Did he look?’ Hix turned to the guys in the T- shirts. ‘Best guess. No wrong answer. The chips fell where they fell. We understand that. Just tell us what you believe.’
The guy with the broken nose took a deep breath through his mouth. ‘I think he looked.’
‘You think?’ Hix said. ‘But you’re not sure.’
‘Not one hundred per cent.’
‘OK. Where was the envelope?’
‘In the bag.’
‘Where was the bag?’
‘On the ground.’
‘You put it down?’
‘I needed my hands free.’
‘Where was it when the car arrived?’ Hix said.
The guy with the sling said, ‘On the ground.’
‘In the same place?’
‘How could we know? I wasn’t there when Robert put it down. Robert wasn’t conscious when I picked it up.’
Hix paused for a moment. ‘OK. How long was the guy alone with the bag?’
‘We don’t know. Can’t have been long. A couple of minutes, max.’
‘So it’s possible he looked,’ Hix said. ‘Glanced, anyway.’
‘Right,’ the guy with the broken nose said. ‘And the bag was ripped, remember. How did that happen? And why? We didn’t do it.’
Brockman leaned forward. ‘It was a crazy scene, from what you told us. Wreckage everywhere. Total chaos. The bag probably got ripped by accident. It doesn’t sound like some major clue. And the other two haven’t reported that he looked.’
The guy with the sling said, ‘They haven’t reported at all. We don’t know where they are.’
Brockman said, ‘Must still be on their way back. Phone problems, probably. But if there was anything to worry about they would have found a way to let us know.’
‘And the guy didn’t mention anything about it to the police,’ Moseley said. ‘I’ve talked to the lieutenant over there a couple times. That has to mean something.’
‘I still think he looked,’ the guy with the broken nose said.
‘We should pull the plug,’ Riverdale said.
‘That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,’ Brockman said. ‘We didn’t set the date. We didn’t pick the time. The judge did when he signed the release order. You know that. We pull some bullshit delaying tactic, we wind up ass-deep in inspectors. You know where that would land us. We might as well shoot ourselves in the head, right here, right now.’
Riverdale scowled. ‘I’m not saying we delay. I’m saying we go back to the original plan. The switch was always a mistake.’
‘That would solve Friday’s problem. If there is one. But then we’d have no way out of the bigger jam we’re in. Carpenter’s situation.’
‘I said from the start, the solution to that is simple. A bullet in the back of his head. I’ll do it myself if you’re too squeamish.’
‘You know what that would cost? How much business we would lose?’
‘We’ll lose a lot more than money if this guy joins the dots.’
‘How could he do that?’
‘He could come down here. You said so yourself. He could dig around. He was a military cop. It’s in his blood.’
‘It’s years since the guy was an MP,’ Moseley said. ‘That’s what the lieutenant told me.’
Hix tapped the tabletop. ‘What else do we know?’
‘Not much. He has no driver’s licence. No employment history, according to the IRS. Not since he left the army. No social media presence. No recent photographs exist. He’s a hobo now. It’s kind of sad, but that’s the bottom line. Doesn’t sound like much to worry about.’
Brockman said, ‘Hobo or millionaire, what kind of crazy person would travel halfway across the country because he read a few documents and saw an innocuous picture?’
‘Speculate all you want, but this still worries me,’ Riverdale said. ‘Each time we met, we thought we had the problem contained. Each time, we were wrong. What if we’re wrong again now?’
‘We weren’t wrong.’ Brockman slammed his palm into the table. ‘We handled each situation as it came up. Ninety-nine per cent.’
‘Ninety-nine. Not one hundred.’
‘Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes there’s broken glass to sweep up. Which we’ve done. We found out there was a leak. We plugged it, the way we all agreed to. We found out about the missing envelope. We retrieved it, the way we all agreed to.’
‘And now this strange guy has looked in the envelope.’
‘He may have. We don’t know. But you have to admit, it’s unlikely. He didn’t tell the cops. We know that. And he didn’t tell the FBI or the Bureau of Prisons. We would know that. So say he figured everything out from a couple of seconds alone with the envelope. Why keep the knowledge to himself? What’s he going to do with it? Blackmail us? And you think he’s somehow going to schlep twelve hundred miles before Friday? Come on.’
‘Gentlemen!’ Hix tapped the tabletop again. ‘Enough. All right. Here’s my decision. We can’t know if the guy looked in the envelope. It seems unlikely, so we shouldn’t panic. Particularly given the consequences. But at the same time it pays to be cautious. He’s easily recognizable, yes?’
The guy with the broken nose nodded. ‘For sure. You can’t miss him. Six five. Two hundred and fifty pounds. Scruffy.’
‘He’s banged up pretty good, remember,’ the guy with the sling said. ‘I took care of that.’
‘You should have killed him,’ Brockman said.
‘I thought I had.’
‘You should have made sure.’
‘How? Make it look like an accident. Those were our orders for the other two. I figured they applied to this guy as well. Hard to sell that story if I put a bullet in his brain.’
‘Enough!’ Hix waited for silence. ‘Here’s the plan. We’ll mount surveillance. Round the clock. Starting now, through Saturday. If he sets one toe in our town, we’ll be waiting. And here, we don’t have to worry about how anything looks.’
Jack Reacher arrived in Gerrardsville, Colorado, mid-morning on a Monday, two days before the Minerva guys met in secret for the third time. He had hitched a ride in a truck that was delivering alfalfa bales to a farm south of the town, so he covered the final mile on foot. It was a pleasant walk. The weather was warm, but not hot. Tufts of cloud drifted across the wide blue sky. The mile-high air was thin and clear. As far as he could see, the land was flat and green and fertile. Watering gantries marked the boundaries of endless fields and between them stalks and leaves of all sizes and shades stretched up toward the sun. To the left the horizon was dominated by a line of mountains. They jutted straight out of the ground, no gentle build-up, no smooth foothills, and their peaks, capped with snow, cut into the atmosphere like the teeth of a saw.
Reacher continued until he came to the town’s main drag. It carried on for about a half-mile, and there was only one block on either side before the stores and offices gave way to the residential streets. The commercial buildings were a uniform size. They were two storeys high and they all had similar designs. They were all a similar age, too – late nineteenth century, based on the dates carved into some of the lintels – which gave the place a kind of time-capsule feel. A time when craftsmanship was still valued. That was clear. The facades were all made from stone or marble or granite. The woodwork around the doors and windows was intricately carved and lavishly picked out with gold leaf. And every aspect was flawlessly maintained. Reacher appreciated what he saw. But he wasn’t in town to admire its architecture. He was there to visit its museum.
The previous day Reacher had picked up a newspaper someone had abandoned in a diner. He found an article about a dentist and a metal detector. The gadget had been given to the guy as a retirement gift. Some kind of an in-joke based on his reputation for finding fillings done by other dentists in new patients’ teeth and insisting on replacing them. Anyway, to occupy his sudden leisure time the guy reinvented himself as an amateur archaeologist. He’d long been obsessed by the Civil War so he set out to visit a whole series of battle sites. Big and small. Famous and obscure. And at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, he found a bunch of artillery fragments and other artefacts. These got rolled into a travelling exhibition about the evolution of Union tactics, which caught Reacher’s eye. Gerrardsville was one of the venues for the display. And as he was only a few miles away while the show was still open, he figured he’d take a look.
Reacher had a cup of coffee at a café he happened to walk past and got to the museum before lunchtime. He stayed until it closed. When he had to be shooed out by one of the curators. Her name was Alexandra. Reacher struck up a conversation with her about the exhibit. The subject turned to the kind of restaurants there were in the town, and they wound up going for a burger together. Alexandra picked a scruffy kind of place. It had rough wooden tabletops. Long benches. Creaky floorboards. Old LP covers were tacked up all over the walls. But the food came fast. The plates were piled high. The prices were low. Reacher liked everything about it.
While they ate the subject changed to music and they wound up at a bar together. It was small. Intimate. Dark. A blues band was playing. Mainly Magic Slim covers with a handful of Howlin’ Wolf songs sprinkled through. Reacher approved. Alexandra ordered a couple of beers and as they drank the subject changed again. It led them in a whole different direction this time. And all the way to Alexandra’s apartment.
Her apartment was above a store near the main intersection in the town. It was a small place. The style was minimalist. It didn’t have much in the way of furniture. Or decor. But it did have a fridge, so they had another beer. It had a CD player, so they listened to some more music. It had a bedroom. And once they reached it, there wasn’t much need for more of anything else.
The museum didn’t open the next day until ten a.m. so Reacher and Alexandra stayed in bed until the last possible minute.
They stayed in bed, but they didn’t spend all their time sleeping. Alexandra knew she was cutting it fine but she took a quick shower anyway. She felt it was wise after their recent level of activity. Reacher made coffee. Then she kissed him goodbye and hurried away to her chosen slice of the past. Reacher took a more leisurely shower then made his way down the stairs and out on to the sidewalk. He was thinking about his more immediate future. He paused to gaze at the mountains for a moment. Then he saw a woman walking toward them. She was on the other side of the street, heading west, almost at the intersection. The Don’t Walk sign was lit up. A guy was standing on the opposite corner, waiting for it for change. And a bus was heading north, about to pass between them.
The bus driver only saw movement.
Not much more than a blur. Low and to her right. A spherical object. Swinging down and around through a quarter of a perfect circle. Like a melon had somehow been attached to the end of a rope, she told the mandatory counsellor the following day. Only it wasn’t a melon. It was a head. A human head. It was female. Inches from the windshield. There. Bright and pale in the sunlight, like it already belonged to a ghost. Then gone. But not because the driver had imagined it. Not because it was an illusion, like she prayed for it to be. Because it continued on its arc. All the way to the ground. In front of the bus.
Then under it.
The driver veered hard to the left. She threw all her weight on to the brake. No hesitation. No panic. She was well trained. She had years of experience. But she was still too late. She heard the tyres squeal. Heard her passengers scream. And felt the impact. Through the steering wheel. Just a slight, muted ripple running around the hard plastic rim. Less of a jolt than if she’d driven through a deep pothole. Or hit a log. But then, asphalt doesn’t have bones that crush and shatter. Wood doesn’t have organs that rupture and bleed.
The driver shut her eyes and willed herself not to vomit. She knew the kind of scene that would be waiting for her on the street. She’d been an unwilling partner in a stranger’s suicide once before. It was an occupational hazard.
The guy on the opposite corner saw a lot more.
He saw the bus heading north. He saw a woman arrive at the south-east corner of the intersection. He had an unobstructed view. He was close enough to be credible. In his statement he said the woman looked nervous. Twitchy. He saw her check her watch. At first he figured she was in a hurry. He thought she was going to try to run across the street before the bus got too close. But she didn’t. She stopped. She stood and squirmed and fidgeted until the bus was almost alongside her. Until there was no chance for it to slow or swerve.
Then she dived under its wheels.
The woman dived. The guy was certain about that. She didn’t trip. She didn’t fall. It was a deliberate act. He could tell from the timing. The way her body accelerated. The curve it moved through. The precise aim. There was no way it could have been an accident. She had done it on purpose. He could see no other explanation.
Reacher was the only one who saw the whole picture.
He was about fifty feet from the intersection. His outlook was also unobstructed but he had a wider angle of view. He saw the woman and the guy waiting to cross in opposite directions. And he saw a third person. A man. Around five foot ten. Wiry-looking. Wearing a grey hoodie and jeans. On the same side as the woman. Eight feet away from her. A foot back from the kerb. Standing completely still.
The guy had picked his spot carefully. That was clear. He was in the general vicinity of the crosswalk so he didn’t attract attention the way someone loitering aimlessly might. He was far enough away from the woman that he didn’t appear to be connected to her in any way. But he was close enough that when the bus approached he only needed to take a couple of steps to reach her side. His movement was smooth. Fluid. He was more like a shadow than a physical presence. The woman didn’t notice him appear next to her. She didn’t notice his foot snake around in front of her ankles.
The guy planted his hand between the woman’s shoulder blades and pushed. It was a small motion. Economical. Not dramatic. Not something most observers would notice. But sufficient for the guy’s purpose. That was for sure. There was no danger of the woman stumbling forward and bouncing off the front of the bus. No danger she might get away with broken bones and a concussion. The guy’s foot took care of that. It stopped the woman from moving her own feet. It made sure she pivoted, ankles stationary, arms flailing. And it guaranteed she slammed horizontally on to the ground.
The impact knocked the breath out of the woman’s body. Her last breath. Because half a second later the bus’s front wheel crushed her abdomen as flat as a folded newspaper.
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