Today's Reading

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 percent."

"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 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."

Chapter 2

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 buildup, 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 uniform in size. They were two stories 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 craftmanship 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 archeologist. 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 artifacts. These got rolled into a traveling 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, Reacher figured he'd take a look.


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