Extract: Never Go Back by Lee Child
The magic of a Lee Child novel is you only need to read one page and you’re completely hooked. You can feel the tension, revel in the action, soak up the atmosphere – all the while waiting to see what Jack Reacher will do next.
So why not grab a cup of tea, take a five minute break and read the first few pages of Lee Child’s brilliant thriller Never Go Back?
After an epic and interrupted journey all the way from the snows of South Dakota, Jack Reacher has finally made it to Virginia. His destination: a sturdy stone building a short bus ride from Washington D.C., the headquarters of his old unit, the 110th MP. It was the closest thing to a home he ever had. Why? He wants to meet the new commanding officer, Major Susan Turner. He liked her voice on the phone. But the officer sitting behind Reacher’s old desk isn’t a woman. Why is Susan Turner not there?
What Reacher doesn’t expect is what comes next. He himself is in big trouble, accused of a sixteen-year-old homicide. And he certainly doesn’t expect to hear these words: ‘You’re back in the army, Major. And your ass is mine.’ Will he be sorry he went back? Or – will someone else?
Read on to find out…
Never Go Back
Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before. There was a raucous through-the-wall heater, which would be too noisy to sleep with, which would save the owner money on electricity. There were low-watt bulbs in all the fixtures, likewise. There was a low-pile carpet that after cleaning would dry in hours, so the room could rent again the same day. Not that the carpet would be cleaned often. It was dark and patterned and ideal for concealing stains. As was the bedspread. No doubt the shower would be weak and strangled, and the towels thin, and the soap small, and the shampoo cheap. The furniture was made of wood, all dark and bruised, and the television set was small and old, and the curtains were grey with grime.
All as expected. Nothing he hadn’t seen a thousand times before.
But still dismal.
So before even putting the key in his pocket he turned around and went back out to the lot. The air was cold, and a little damp. The middle of the evening, in the middle of winter, in the northeastern corner of Virginia. The lazy Potomac was not far away. Beyond it in the east D.C.’s glow lit up the clouds. The nation’s capital, where all kinds of things were going on.
The car that had let him out was already driving away. Reacher watched its tail lights grow faint in the mist. After a moment they disappeared completely, and the world went quiet and still. Just for a minute. Then another car showed up, brisk and confident, like it knew where it was going. It turned into the lot. It was a plain sedan, dark in colour. Almost certainly a government vehicle. It aimed for the motel office, but its headlight beams swung across Reacher’s immobile form, and it changed direction, and came straight at him.
Visitors. Purpose unknown, but the news would be either good or bad.
The car stopped parallel with the building, as far in front of Reacher as his room was behind him, leaving him alone in the centre of a space the size of a boxing ring. Two men got out of the car. Despite the chill they were dressed in T-shirts, tight and white, above the kind of athletic pants sprinters peel off seconds before a race. Both men looked more than six feet and two hundred pounds. Smaller than Reacher, but not by much. Both were military. That was clear. Reacher could tell by their haircuts. No civilian barber would be as pragmatic or as brutal. The market wouldn’t allow it.
The guy from the passenger side tracked around the hood and formed up with the driver. The two of them stood there, side by side. Both wore sneakers on their feet, big and white and shapeless. Neither had been in the Middle East recently. No sunburn, no squint lines, no stress and strain in their eyes. Both were young, somewhere south of thirty. Technically Reacher was old enough to be their father. They were NCOs, he thought. Specialists, probably, not sergeants. They didn’t look like sergeants. Not wise enough. The opposite, in fact.
They had dull, blank faces.
The guy from the passenger side said, ‘Are you Jack Reacher?’
Reacher said, ‘Who’s asking?’
‘And who are you?’
‘We’re your legal advisers.’
Which they weren’t, obviously. Reacher knew that. Army lawyers don’t travel in pairs and breathe through their mouths. They were something else. Bad news, not good. In which case immediate action was always the best bet. Easy enough to mime sudden comprehension and an eager approach and a hand raised in welcome, and easy enough to let the eager approach become unstoppable momentum, and to turn the raised hand into a scything blow, elbow into the left-hand guy’s face, hard and downward, followed by a stamp of the right foot, as if killing an imaginary cockroach had been the whole point of the exercise, whereupon the bounce off the stamp would set up the same elbow backhand into the right-hand guy’s throat, one, two, three, smack, stamp, smack, game over.
Easy enough. And always the safest approach.
Reacher’s mantra: get your retaliation in first. Especially when outnumbered two to one against guys with youth and energy on their side. But. He wasn’t sure. Not completely. Not yet. And he couldn’t afford a mistake of that nature. Not then. Not under the circumstances. He was inhibited. He let the moment pass.
He said, ‘So what’s your legal advice?’
‘Conduct unbecoming,’ the guy said. ‘You brought the unit into disrepute. A court martial would hurt us all. So you should get the hell out of town, right now. And you should never come back again.’
‘No one mentioned a court martial.’
‘Not yet. But they will. So don’t stick around for it.’
‘I’m under orders.’
‘They couldn’t find you before. They won’t find you now. The army doesn’t use skip tracers. And no skip tracer could find you anyway. Not the way you seem to live.’
Reacher said nothing.
The guy said, ‘So that’s our legal advice.’
Reacher said, ‘Noted.’
‘You need to do more than note it.’
‘Because we’re offering an incentive.’
‘Every night we find you still here, we’re going to kick your ass.’
‘Starting tonight. So you’ll get the right general idea about what to do.’
Reacher said, ‘You ever bought an electrical appliance?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you ran the risk of death or serious injury.’
‘Pretend I’ve got the same kind of label.’