Authors: Scott Blade
a Jack Cameron
Also by Scott Blade
Get Jack Reacher Series
Foreign & Domestic
S. Lasher & Associates Series
Cut & Dry
The Secret of Lions
Copyright © 2016 Scott Blade
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To Reacher Creatures everywhere!
“Clay Ellison. He never killed a man who didn’t need killing.” –Jack Reacher,
I WAS COMPLETELY OUT OF BREATH.
I ran for almost a mile after the car had swerved and barely missed me.
I started on the shoulder, thumb out, middle of the night. Didn’t expect the car to stop for me. Didn’t expect it because no one picked up hitchhikers anymore. That had been my experience. Then again, maybe they just didn’t pick me up. Especially in the middle of nowhere. I was no kind of dream passenger anyway. Not in the middle of the night. And not on a nearly abandoned highway. Sometimes I was surprised that anyone at all dared to stop for me. Even a driver who felt exhausted after a long day and night of traversing endless highways and hooking interstates and tolls and copious bridges and now wanted some company, perhaps someone to take over the wheel and make the last leg of their trip for them. A good trade for a ride—you drive for me, and I provide you with transportation and a climate-controlled vehicle. Not a bad exchange. In fact, it was a very capitalistic enterprise, trading one thing for another. The oldest tale of American capitalism. Christopher Columbus would’ve approved.
But in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night. I was the last thing someone wanted to see. And so hardly anyone ever stopped for me. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Sometimes people did stop. But statistically, it seemed like no one compared to all of the cars that passed me by on a daily basis. Any given day, hundreds or maybe thousands of cars and trucks drove by me. How many stopped? Maybe one. Maybe two.
So when I saw the headlights of a car barreling down the deserted highway in the middle of the night, I thought maybe it would pick me up. I thought maybe it was fate. Statistically, it was a zero chance probability. I should’ve known better. But my legs ached and my feet throbbed and my shoulders stung from sleeping on the dry ground under a tree. Miles back and the night before, I’d been tired and hadn’t found a motel, not on an abandoned western interstate in Texas. So I’d laid up under a tree off of the highway, down a hill, just wanting to rest my eyes for a couple of hours. I’d woken up this morning, and my shoulders hurt. Not a good way to start my day.
Moments before I leaped out of the way to avoid being plowed over at over sixty-five miles an hour by the car, I saw inside the vehicle. I couldn’t see the driver, but my first instinct was that there were two occupants. Perhaps they scrambled for the wheel in some sort of struggle like two guys who had gotten into a spontaneous argument turned violent. A friendly conversation turned bad. Or maybe they fought because the passenger was an unwilling participant on their journey. Perhaps the driver was victim to a criminal hitchhiker. Whatever the reason, I didn’t like almost being hit by a car. And maybe I should’ve let it go. But I couldn’t. Not after it had almost run me down. Not after I had walked for hours. Not after the aches and pains I’d acquired from sleeping on the hard ground.
So I watched as the car weaved from lane to lane and then dipped down over a hill and ramped up into the air at the apex. The wheels came up off of the ground a bit, and then the car swerved from shoulder to shoulder and the taillights faded away into the blackness. The car was soon lost to sight.
I didn’t think it would make it too far. Not in the reckless state it was in. Surely, there was a considerable chance it’d crash into a tree. And that’s exactly what it did.
THE CAR WAS A BLACK FORD FUSION.
The vehicle year, I didn’t know. Whether it was an LS or an XL, I didn’t know. I didn’t know if it even came in an LS or XL. What I did know was that it had crashed into a thin tree about fifty yards off of the side of a broken section of Route 66. The headlights were on, bright halogen bulbs still lighting up the dead road beyond the tree. The engine coughed and sputtered. I walked for a good ten minutes and nearly a mile of highway before I reached it. More even.
I had walked a total of four hours in the dark that night. It had been that long since the last sign of civilization. I’d spent the last twelve hours walking with little human interaction. But that provided something I liked—silence.
In the cities, I had seen people walking with eyes half on their cell phone screens and half on the road ahead. I had seen the same in the small towns. The same in the midsized towns. The same on trains. The same at day, and the same at night. I had seen people driving the same way. Maybe a little less occupied with their phones, but only because the ones who were more occupied with their phones had probably lost their driving privileges. Or worse.
Either way, most people lived their lives the same way they drove their cars or walked the streets of their cities or small towns or midsized towns—half-distracted and half-looking ahead. Most people were too busy to live. In too much of a rush to look. Or too busy looking to see.
I knew what I was. I knew what I wanted. I was nineteen years old. I wasn’t a know-it-all. Not really. Not the way that older people usually think. In fact, when you thought about it, I was an old man. Half of the world’s population was under the age of fifteen. I was nineteen and, therefore, older than most. In the top fifty percent. An old man in those terms.
A unique perspective. And one that most people wouldn’t agree with. Not necessarily. But those are the kind of thoughts you get on the road. Alone.
I was never one for meditation. However, walking from place to place was what I imagined surfing would be to surfers. The sun beating down. The wind blowing. The trees. The desert sand. The mountain terrain. It had a way of cleaning the mind, of making everything clear.
I approached the rear of the car. The engine idled, and the exhaust pooled behind it and rose up into the brake lights, creating a dark red smoke.
The night sky was clear and starry. No moon that I could see. Probably somewhere hiding in the dark among the stars.
I walked up to the rear of the car, staying in the rearview so I could be seen by the driver. I didn’t want to scare her. I figured it was a woman because of the type of car. No kind of statistics told me that. It was just a guess based on presumptions, and of course, they ended up being wrong.
I walked up to the rear and stood near the trunk. I bent down and peeked in through the window. The interior was dark, and the backseat was empty. No passengers. The only person inside was the driver. I couldn’t make out any details from this angle.
I knocked on the trunk because I didn’t want to alarm the driver.
I knocked again.
I walked around the passenger side and over to the driver side window. I bent down and peered in. The dash lights were a low ambient blue that reflected across the driver’s body and face.
was knocked out but alive. I saw his chest expand as he inhaled—slow but there.
A gun lay in the footwell near his feet, jammed underneath the accelerator and the brake. It looked like a Glock 22, a .40 caliber pistol. I didn’t touch it. Didn’t want any confusion from a driver with a possible head wound in case he woke up.
The passenger door was ajar. The open door light blinked, and an annoying ding sound emitted from the dash.
Had there been a passenger?
The engine didn’t seem to be at any risk of catching fire, but I didn’t want to take a chance. So I reached in and turned the key in the ignition. The engine noise died down to an echo of nothing.
I moved my hand up and grabbed the guy’s suit jacket and shook him. I said, “Hey. You with me?”
The guy grunted and twisted like he was in a deep sleep, but he didn’t wake up. To be safe, I popped the lock on his door and quickly backed up, giving the door room as it swung open. I reached down and grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out.
He wasn’t very tall, not compared to me. He was probably five feet nine inches. Nothing special about his height, but his weight was a much different story and belonged in an entirely different part of the library. He must’ve weighed two hundred and fifty pounds—more than me. For a guy that height, he was much heavier than what would be considered healthy. Of course, I tried not to judge others on their lifestyle choices. Live and let live had become my unsung credo. The world out there was a much more interesting place without worrying about what someone else did, and I believed that variety was the spice that made life so interesting. However, in that moment and in that situation where I needed to move this guy in order to keep him safe, I wished that he might’ve taken more stairs and eaten less fast food.
On top of that, I was tired. I struggled a little getting him out of the car. I had to set him down and drag him from behind his shoulders to get him a decent distance away from the car. Once I had dragged him far enough away, I laid him down on the shoulder of the road with his head in what paramedics called the recovery position. He breathed normally.
I said, “Hey. Hey.”
I felt his pulse. It was weak—weaker than it should’ve been but strong enough to be alive. Probably, it was weak enough to need a hospital.
I looked around. Nothing in the distance but darkness. No oncoming headlights. No sign of nearby houses. Nowhere to go for help.
I shook the guy, soft at first then a little harder—and harder still.
I shook him again a little harder. Nothing.
I repeated the process and still nothing.
I looked down at the guy. His face was bloated and had turned a slight shade of blue. He needed an ambulance. I reached down and searched his coat. It was a tweed thing. He looked like he might’ve been an underpaid college professor. He wore stonewashed blue jeans and the tweed jacket with a whitish, possibly grayish tint. I couldn’t tell in the dark. He didn’t wear a tie.
I searched his jacket pockets for a cell phone. I found one in his inside right pocket, slipped it out. It was an iPhone with a cover with a sports logo on it—Dallas, maybe. I didn’t really follow sports since that required having a TV. And I didn’t own a thing except for a toothbrush, my bank card, and my driver’s license. And the clothes on my back, but even they were temporary.
I touched the screen, and a lock screen popped up with a wallpaper of Mickey Mouse. It read
slide to unlock
. I swiped across the screen, and a new screen popped up asking for a passcode.
“What’s your code?” I asked.
Of course, the guy made no sound.
I remembered reading something about a month ago in a magazine I had found on a park bench in Nashville. It was a tech magazine, and it had piqued my interest because of the cover. It was a picture of a woman running for president, and she used to be the CEO of a major tech company. Hewlett Packard, I think.
As the son of a strong woman, I was always interested in stories of women getting ahead in a male-dominated world. I don’t know why. Maybe the man in me liked women in charge of things in the same way that I was attracted to women with a badge.
In that same magazine, there was an article showcasing Apple’s new fall lineup. And one thing I read about—which wasn’t really new, just promoted—was that the iPhone 6 had fingerprint recognition. I didn’t recall what it was actually called until I read it on this guy’s iPhone.
I grabbed the guy’s left hand and put his index finger on the phone’s only button at the bottom center. I thought it was called a home button. The phone shook like a scolding parent saying, “No. No. Try again.”
Then I saw the word emergency written at the bottom of the screen. I pressed it, and a call screen came up. I dialed 911.
A voice said, “911. What’s your emergency?”
Before I could answer, a cold hand grabbed my wrist. I looked down and saw the guy was awake.
He said, “No. No. Help.”
I looked at him and said, “You need an ambulance, mister.”
He shook his head and said, “Have to stop them.”
I stayed quiet.
He said, “Have to save her.”
The guy started to reach into his other inside jacket pocket, but his head plopped back down onto the hard ground below, and his eyes rolled back before he could get out whatever it was he was trying to find.
I put the mouthpiece near my lips and said, “Better send paramedics. Now! There’s been a car accident, and this guy is in bad shape.”
The voice on the phone asked, “Where are you?”
I looked around even though I knew there were no landmarks to see. It was more out of habit. The kind of thing a man does in an emergency. But I might as well have been lost at sea and looking around at nothing but ocean for miles around.
I said, “No landmarks around. I’m on Route 66 somewhere east of Albuquerque.”
The voice said, “No problem. I’m sending help based on the GPS on your phone. So leave it on.”
I stayed quiet.
Then the voice said, “Sir, I see here that this phone is registered with Homeland Security. Can you tell me your badge number?”
I paused, looked down at the guy, and then I said, “It’s not my phone. I found it on this guy who ran his car into a tree.”
The voice said, “I see. Is the guy conscious?”