Home > Bad Luck and Trouble (Jack Reacher #11)(5)

Bad Luck and Trouble (Jack Reacher #11)(5)
Author: Lee Child

He looked awful in the autopsy photograph. He was laid out flat and naked on a stainless tray and the camera's flash had bleached his skin pale green.


But then, dead people often looked pretty bad.

Reacher asked, "How did you get this?"

Neagley said, "I can usually get things."

Reacher said nothing in reply to that and turned the page. Started in on the dense mass of technical information. The corpse had been measured at six feet three inches in length and weighed a hundred and ninety pounds. Cause of death was given as multiple organ failure due to massive impact trauma. Both legs were broken. Ribs were cracked. The bloodstream was flooded with free histamines. The body was severely dehydrated and the stomach held nothing but mucus. There was evidence of rapid recent weight loss and no evidence of recent food consumption. Trace evidence from the recovered clothing was unexceptional, apart from unexplained ferrous oxide powder ground into both pant legs, low down, on the shins, below the knee and above the ankle.

Reacher asked, "Where was he found?"

Neagley said, "In the desert about fifty miles north and east of here. Hard sand, small rocks, a hundred yards off the shoulder of a road. No footprints coming or going."

The waitress brought the food. Reacher paused as she unloaded her tray and then started his sandwich, left-handed, to keep his right grease-free for turning the autopsy pages.

Neagley said, "Two deputies in a car saw buzzards circling. Went to check. Hiked out there. They said it was like he had fallen out of the sky. The pathologist agrees."

Reacher nodded. He was reading the doctor's conclusion, which was that a free fall from maybe three thousand feet onto hard sand could have produced the right amount of impact and caused the internal injuries observed, if Franz had happened to land flat on his back, which was aerodynamically possible if he had been alive and flailing his arms during the fall. A dead weight would have fallen on its head.

Neagley said, "They made the ID through his fingerprints."

Reacher asked, "How did you find out?"

"His wife called me. Three days ago. Seems he kept all our names in his book. A special page. His buddies, from back in the day. I was the only one she could find."

"I didn't know he was married."

"It was recent. They have a kid, four years old."

"Was he working?"

Neagley nodded. "He set up as a private eye. A one-man band. Originally, some strategic advice for corporations. But now mostly background checks. Database stuff. You know how thorough he was."


"Here in LA."

"Did all of you set up as private eyes?"

"Most of us, I think."

"Except me."

"It was the only marketable skill we had."

"What did Franz's wife want you to do?"

"Nothing. She was just telling me."

"She doesn't want answers?"

"The cops are on it. LA County sheriff, actually. Where he was found is technically part of LA County. Outside of the LAPD's jurisdiction, so it's down to a couple of local deputies. They're working on the airplane thing. They figure it was maybe flying west out of Vegas. That kind of thing has happened to them before."

Reacher said, "It wasn't an airplane."

Neagley said nothing.

Reacher said, "An airplane has a stall speed of, what? A hundred miles an hour? Eighty? He'd have come out the door horizontal into the slipstream. He'd have smashed against the wing or the tail. We'd see perimortem injuries."

"He had two broken legs."

"How long does it take to freefall three thousand feet?"

"Twenty seconds?"

"His blood was full of free histamines. That's a massive pain reaction. Twenty seconds between injury and death wouldn't have even gotten it started."


"The broken legs were old. Two, three days minimum. Maybe more. You know what ferrous oxide is?"

"Rust," Neagley said. "On iron."

Reacher nodded. "Someone broke his legs with an iron bar. Probably one at a time. Probably tied him to a post. Aimed for his shins. Hard enough to break the bone and grind rust particles into the weave of his pants. Must have hurt like hell."

Neagley said nothing.

"And they starved him," Reacher said. "Didn't let him drink. He was twenty pounds underweight. He was a prisoner, two or three days. Maybe more. They were torturing him."

Neagley said nothing.

Reacher said, "It was a helicopter. Probably at night. Stationary hover, three thousand feet up. Out the door and straight down." Then he closed his eyes and pictured his old friend, tumbling, twenty seconds in the dark, cartwheeling, flailing, not knowing where the ground was. Not knowing exactly when he would hit. Two shattered legs trailing painfully behind him.

"Therefore it probably wasn't coming from Vegas," he said. He opened his eyes. "The round-trip would be out of range for most helicopters. It was probably coming north and east out of LA. The deputies are barking up the wrong tree."

Neagley sat quiet.

"Coyote food," Reacher said. "The perfect disposal method. No tracks. The airflow during the fall strips away hairs and fibers. No forensics at all. Which is why they threw him out alive. They could have shot him first, but they didn't even want to risk ballistics evidence."

Reacher was quiet for a long moment. Then he closed the black binder and reversed it and pushed it back across the table.

"But you know all this anyway," he said. "Don't you? You can read. You're testing me again. Seeing if my brain still works."

Neagley said nothing.

Reacher said, "You're playing me like a violin."

Neagley said nothing.

Reacher asked, "Why did you bring me here?"

"Like you said, the deputies are barking up the wrong tree."


"You have to do something."

"I will do something. Believe it. There are dead men walking, as of right now. You don't throw my friends out of helicopters and live to tell the tale."

Neagley said, "No, I want you to do something else."

"Like what?"

"I want you to put the old unit back together."


The old unit. It had been a typical U.S. Army invention. About three years after the need for it had become blindingly obvious to everyone else, the Pentagon had started to think about it. After another year of committees and meetings, the suits and the brass had signed off on the idea. It had been dumped on someone's desk and a mad panic had started to get it going. Orders had been drawn up. Obviously no sane CO had wanted to touch it with a stick, so a new unit had been carved out of the 110th MP. Success was desirable but failure had to be deniable, so they went looking for a competent pariah to command it.

Reacher had been the obvious choice.

They thought his reward was promotion back to major again, but the real satisfaction for him was the chance to do something properly for once. His way. They had given him a free hand in personnel selection. He had enjoyed that. He had figured that a special investigations unit needed the best the army had to offer, and he had figured he knew who and where they were. He had wanted a small unit, for speed and flexibility, and no clerical support, to prevent leaks. He had figured they could do their own paperwork, or not, as they deemed necessary. In the end he had settled on eight names in addition to his own: Tony Swan, Jorge Sanchez, Calvin Franz, Frances Neagley, Stanley Lowrey, Manuel Orozco, David O'Donnell, and Karla Dixon. Dixon and Neagley were the only women and Neagley was the only NCO. The others were all officers. O'Donnell and Lowrey were captains and the rest were all majors, which was totally screwed up in terms of a coherent chain of command, but Reacher didn't care. He knew that nine people working closely would operate laterally rather than vertically, which in the event was exactly what happened. The unit had organized itself like a small-market baseball team enjoying an unlikely pennant run: talented journeymen working together, no stars, no egos, mutually supportive, and above all ruthlessly and relentlessly effective.

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