Before taking to a life of wandering the States, Jack Reacher was once a major in the military police. Lee Child’s latest novel, The Affair, is set at that time. Reacher is sent to Mississippi to investigate a murder near an army base. But with Forces personnel implicated, and having already fought two, and then four, men, he’s not well liked by the locals…
I went back to the hotel. Two hours until dinner. I spent the first hour taking a nap, because I was tired, and because I was figuring I wouldn’t be sleeping again too soon. Hoping I wouldn’t be, anyway. Hope springs eternal. I woke myself up at eight o’clock and unpacked my new shirt. I brushed my teeth with water and chewed some gum. Then I took a long hot shower, plenty of soap, plenty of shampoo.
I put on my new shirt and rolled the sleeves level with my elbows. The shirt was tight across the shoulders, so I left the top two buttons undone. I tucked the tails into my pants and put my shoes on and shined them one at a time against the backs of my calves.
I checked the mirror.
I looked exactly like a guy who wants to get laid. Which I was. There was nothing to be done about it. I dumped my old shirts in the trash can and left my room and went down the stairs and stepped out to the darkness of the street. A voice from the shadows behind me said, “Hello again, soldier boy.”
Ahead of me across the street were three pick-up trucks parked at the kerb. Two that I recognised, and one that I didn’t. All the doors were open. Legs were dangling. Cigarettes were glowing. Smoke was drifting. I stepped left and half-turned and saw the alpha dog. The McKinney cousin. His face was still a mess. He was standing under one of the hotel’s busted lamps. His arms were down by his sides, and his hands were away from his hips, and his thumbs were away from his fingers. He was all fired up and ready.
Across the street five guys slipped out of the pick-up trucks. They started towards me. I saw the beta dog, and the beer-for-breakfast guy, and the biker with the bad back, and two guys I hadn’t seen before, each of them looking like the other four. Same region, same family, or both.
I stayed on the sidewalk. With six guys, I didn’t want any of them behind me. I wanted a wall at my back. The alpha dog stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter and met the others as the right-hand item in a neat six-man arc. They all stayed in the street, eight or ten feet from me. Out of reach, but I could smell them. They were all doing the ape thing with their arms and hands and thumbs. Like gunfighters with no guns.
“Six of you?” I said. “Is that it?”
“That’s kind of incremental, isn’t it?” I said. “I was hoping for something a little more radical. Like the difference between an airborne company and an armoured division. I guess we were thinking along different lines. I have to say, I’m kind of disappointed.”
I said, “Anyway, guys, I’m sorry, but I have a dinner date.” They all took a step forward, bringing them closer to each other and closer to me. Six pale faces, sallow in what little light there was.
I said, “I’m wearing a brand-new shirt.”
Basic rule of thumb with six guys: you have to be quick. You can’t spend more than the bare minimum of time on any one individual. Which means you have to hit each of them one time only. Because that’s the minimum. You can’t hit a guy less than once.
I rehearsed my moves. I figured I would start in the middle. One two three, bang bang bang. The third hit would be the hardest. The third guy would be moving. The first two wouldn’t. They would be rooted to the spot. Shock and surprise. They would go down easy. But the third guy would be reacting by the time I got to him. And unpredictably. He might have a coherent plan in mind, but it wouldn’t be in motion yet. He would still be jerking around with uncontrolled reflex panic.
So I was prepared to miss out on the third guy. Maybe jump straight to the fourth. The third guy might run. Certainly at least one of them would. I have never seen a pack that stayed together after the first few heads hit the pavement.
I said, “Guys, please, I just took a shower.”
There was no answer, which was what I had privately predicted. They all stepped forward again, which is what I expected them to do. So I met them halfway, which seemed polite. I took two long strides, the second of them powering off the edge of the kerbstone, 250 pounds of moving mass, and I hit the third guy from the left with a straight right that would have taken his teeth out if he’d had any to start with. As it was it snapped his head back and turned his spine and shoulders to jelly and he was gone, from the fight and from my vision, because by then I was already jerking left and scything my right elbow into the second guy, horizontal across the bridge of his nose, a colossal blow full of torque from my waist and full of force from the fact that I was basically falling into him. I saw blood in the air and stamped down hard and reversed my momentum and used the same elbow backward on a guy I sensed behind me. I could tell by the impact he was flinching away and I had caught him on the ear, so I made a mental note he might need more attention later, and then I jerked forward again and changed the angle of attack by kicking the fourth guy full on in the groin, a satisfying bone-and-flesh crunch that simultaneously folded him in half and lifted him off his feet.
Three seconds, three down, one taking an eight count. Nobody ran.
Another mental note: Mississippi hooligans are made of sterner stuff than most. Or else they’re just plain dumber. The fifth guy got as far as scrabbling at my shoulder. Some kind of an attempt at a punch, or maybe he was going for a choke hold. Maybe he planned to keep me still while the sixth guy landed some blows. I couldn’t tell. But whatever, he was sorely disappointed in his ambitions. I exploded backward at him, my whole body moving, my torso twisting, my elbow whipping back, and I caught him in the cheek, and then I used the bounce to jam forward once more, in search of the lone survivor. The sixth guy. He caught his heel on the kerb and his arms came up like a scarecrow, which I took as an invitation to pop him in the chest, right in the solar plexus, which was like plugging him into an electrical outlet. He hopped and danced and went down in a heap.
The guy I had hit on the ear was pawing at it like it was coming off. His eyes were closed, which made it not much of a fair fight, but those are always my favourite kind. I lined up and smacked a left hook into his chin.
He went down like a dropped marionette. I breathed out. Six for six. End of story.
I coughed twice and spat on the ground. Then I hustled north.
The clock in my head said it was already one minute past nine.
Extract from THE AFFAIR by Lee Child, published on 29 September by Bantam Press at £18.99. Copyright © Lee Child 2011. To buy THE AFFAIR for the special price of £16.99 (including free UK p&p) please call 01206 255 800 quoting Ref: Affair.