Never Go BackLarge Print - 2013
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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 manic 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 was: Get your retaliation in first. Especially when outnumbered two-to-one against guys with youth and energy on their side.
No one kicks things with soft white athletic shoes. No point. Unless they were aiming to deliver blows with their feet merely for the points value alone. Like one of those martial arts fetishes with a name like something off a Chinese food menu. Tae Kwon Do, and so on. All very well at the Olympic Games, but hopeless on the street. Lifting your leg like a dog at a hydrant was just begging to get beat. Begging to get tipped over and kicked into unconsciousness.
Hit a guy hard enough in the side of the head, and he didn’t spring back up ready to carry on the fight. He stayed down for an hour or more, all sick and dizzy and disoriented. A lesson learned long ago: the human brain was much more sensitive to side-to-side displacement than front-to-back. An evolutionary quirk, presumably, like most things.
SAWs were Squad Automatic Weapons, which were fearsome fully-automatic machine guns, with fearsome capacities and fearsome capabilities.
The diner stood alone at the end of the strip, in its own lot. It was a white stucco affair with the kind of inside decor that made Reacher bet the owner was Greek and there would be a million items on the menu. Which made it a restaurant, in his opinion, not a diner. Diners were lean, mean, stripped-down places, as ruthless as combat rifles.
He sat still for a long spell and stared ahead through the windshield. 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 stepped forward and kicked the fat guy in the nuts, solid, right foot, as serious as punting a ball the length of the field, and the guy went down so fast and so hard it was like someone had bet him a million bucks he couldn’t make a hole in the dirt with his face. There was a noise like a bag hitting a floor, and the guy curled up tight and his blubber settled and went perfectly still.
She took her shirt off. She was everything he thought she would be, and she was everything he had ever wanted.
Each one of them a perfect fifty-fifty chance in its own right. But four correct answers in a row were a six-in-a-hundred improbability. Hope for the best. Which Reacher did. To some extent justifiably, he felt. Statistics were cold and indifferent. Which the real world wasn’t, necessarily. The army was an imperfect institution.
Reacher thought he was a bad driver. At first he had meant it as a safety-first subterfuge, rightly assuming it would remind him to concentrate, but then he had learned it was true. His spatial awareness and his reaction times were all based on a human scale, not a highway scale. They were up close and personal. Animal, not machine. Maybe Turner was right. Maybe he was feral. Not that he was a terrible driver. Just worse than the average driver. But not worse than the average I-710 driver, on that particular morning, on the section known as the Long Beach Freeway. People were eating, and drinking, and shaving, and brushing their hair, and applying makeup, and filing nails, and filing papers, and reading, and texting, and surfing, and holding long conversations on cell phones, some of which were ending in screams, and some of which were ending in tears.
“It has to be exact,” Reacher said. “You know what Congress is like. If one guy puts Avenue and another guy puts A-v-e, it’s liable to get thrown out.”
He looked medium sized and reasonably healthy, and not much over sixty. But he looked tired. And he had a very lugubrious manner. He had the look of a man who had taken on the world, and lost.
The lizard brain stirred, and a billion years later Reacher leaned forward an inch.
“What’s on your mind?” “I want a clean arrest. I want them in the cells at Dyer, and I want a full-dress court martial. I want it textbook, Reacher. I want to be exonerated in public. I want the jury to hear every word, and I want a ruling from the bench.”
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