Today's Reading

"You threatening me now?"

"More like the weather report. A public service. Like a tornado warning. Prepare to take cover."

"Get out of my store."

"Fortunately I no longer have a headache. I got hit in the head, but that's all better now. A doctor said so. A friend made me go. Two times. She was worried about me."

The pawn shop guy paused another beat.

Then he said, "Exactly what kind of a school was that ring from?"

Reacher said, "It was a military academy."

"Those are for, excuse me, problem kids. Or disturbed. No offense."

"Don't blame the kids," Reacher said. "Look at the families. Tell the truth, at our school there were a lot of parents who had killed people."


"More than the average."

"So you stick together forever?"

"We don't leave anyone behind."

"The guy won't talk to a stranger."

"Does he have a license and does he pass inspections by the state?"

"What I'm doing here is legal. My lawyer says so. As long as I honestly believe it. And I do. It's from a charity. I've seen the paperwork. All kinds of people do it. They even have commercials on TV. Cars, mostly. Sometimes boats."

"But this particular guy won't talk to me?"

"I would be surprised."

"Does he have no manners?"

"I wouldn't ask him over to a picnic."

"What's his name?"

"Jimmy Rat."

"For real?"

"That's what he goes by."

"Where would I find Mr. Rat?"

"Look for a minimum six Harley-Davidsons. Jimmy will be in whatever bar they're outside of."


The town was relatively small. Beyond the sad side was a side maybe five years from going sad. Maybe more. Maybe ten. There was hope. There were some boarded-up enterprises, but not many. Most stores were still doing business, at a leisurely rural pace. Big pick-up trucks rolled through, slowly. There was a billiard hall. Not many street lights. It was getting dark. Something about the architecture made it clear it was dairy country. The shape of the stores looked like old-fashioned milking barns. The same DNA was in there somewhere.

There was a bar in a standalone wooden building, with a patch of weedy gravel for parking, and on the gravel were seven Harley-Davidsons, all in a neat line. Possibly not actual Hells Angels as such. Possibly one of many other parallel denominations. Bikers were as split as Baptists. All the same, but different. Apparently these particular guys liked black leather tassels and chromium plating. They liked to lie back and ride with their legs spread wide and their feet sticking out in front of them. Possibly a cooling effect. Perhaps necessary. Generally they wore heavy leather vests. And pants, and boots. All black. Hot, in late summer.

The bikes were all painted dark shiny colors, four with orange flames, three with rune-like symbols outlined in silver. The bar was dull with age, and some shingles had slipped. There was an air conditioner in one of the windows, straining to keep up, dripping water in a puddle below. A cop car rolled past, slowly, its tires hissing on the blacktop. County Police. Probably spent the first half of its watch ginning up municipal revenue with a radar gun out on the highway, now prowling the back streets of the towns in its jurisdiction. Showing the flag. Paying attention to the trouble spots. The cop inside turned his head and gazed at Reacher. The guy was nothing like the pawnbroker. He was all squared away. His face was lean, and his eyes were wise. He was sitting behind the wheel with a ramrod posture, and his haircut was fresh. A whitewall buzz cut. Maybe just a day old. Not more than two.

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