Reacher's mantra: get your retaliation in first
Easy enough. And always the safest approach. Reacher's mantra: get your retaliation in first. Especially when outnumbered two to one against guys with youth and energy on their side.
But. He wasn't sure. Not completely. Not yet. And he couldn't afford to make a mistake of that nature. Not then. Not under the circumstances. He was inhibited. He let the moment pass.
He said, 'So what's your legal advice?'
'Conduct unbecoming,' the guy said. 'You brought the unit into disrepute. A court martial would hurt us all. So you should get the hell out of town, right now. And you should never come back again.'
'No one mentioned a court martial.'
'Not yet. But they will. So don't stick around for it.'
'I'm under orders.'
'They couldn't find you before. They won't find you now. The army doesn't use skip tracers. And no skip tracer could find you anyway. Not the way you seem to live.'
Reacher said nothing.
The guy said, 'So that's our legal advice.'
Reacher said, 'Noted.'
'You need to do more than note it.'
'Because we're offering an incentive.'
'Every night we find you still here, we're going to kick your ass.'
'Starting tonight. So you'll get the right general idea about what to do.'
Reacher said, 'You ever bought an electrical applicance?'
'What's that got to do with anything?'
'I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you ran the risk of death or serious injury.'
'Pretend I've got the same kind of label.'
'We're not worried about you, old man.'
Old man. Reacher saw an image of his father in his mind. Somwhere sunny. Okinawa, possibly. Stan Reacher, born in Laconia, New Hampshire, a Marine captain serving in Japan, with a wife and two teenage sons. Reacher and his brother had called him the old man, and he had seemed old, even though at that point he must have been ten years younger that Reacher was that night.
'Turn around,' Reacher said. 'Go back wherever you came from. You're in over your heads.'
'Not how we see it.'
'I used to do this for a living,' Reacher said. 'But you know that, right?'
Reacher still had his key in his hand. Rule of thumb: don't attack a guy who has just come through a door that locks. A bunch is better, but even a single key makes a pretty good weapon. Socket the head against the palm, poke the shaft out between the index and middle fingers, and you've got a fairly decent knuckleduster.
But. They were just dumb kids. No need to get all bent out of shape. No need for torn flesh and broken bones.
Reacher put his key in his pocket.
Their sneakers meant they had no plans to kick him. No one kicks things with soft white athletic shoes. No point. Unless they were aiming to deliver blows with their feet merely for the points value alone. Like one of those martial arts fetishes with a name like something off a Chinese food menu. Tae kwon do, and so on. All very well at the Olympic Games, but hopeless on the street. Lifting your leg like a dog at a hydrant was just begging to get beat. Begging to get tipped over and kicked into unconsciousness.
Did these guys even know that? Were they looking at this own feet? Reacher was wearing a pair of heavy boots. Comfortable, and durable. He had bought them in South Dakota. He planned to keep on wearing them all winter long.
He said, 'I'm going inside now.'
He said, 'Goodnight.'
Reacher half turned, and half stepped back, towards his door, a fluid quarter circle, shoulders and all, and like he knew they would the two guys moved towards him, faster than he was moving, off-script and involuntary, ready to grab him.
Reacher kept it going long enough to let their momentum establish, and then he whipped back through the reverse quarter circle towards them, by which time he was moving just as fast as they were, two hundred and fifty pounds about to collide head-on with four hundred, and he kept on twisting and threw a long left hook at the left-hand guy. It caught him as designed, hard on the ear, and the guy's head snapped sideways and bounced off his partner's shoulder, by which time Reacher was already throwing a right-hand uppercut under the partner's chin. It hit like a how-to diagram and the guy's head went up and back the same way his buddy's had bounced around, and almost in the same second. Like they were puppets, and the puppeteer had sneezed.
Both of them stayed on their feet. The left-hand guy was wobbling around like a man on a ship, and the right-hand guy was stumbling backward. The left-hand guy was all unstable and up on his heels and his centre mass was open and unprotected. Reacher popped a clubbing right into his solar plexus, hard enough to drive the breath out of him, soft enough not to cause lasting neurological damage. The guy folded up and crouched and hugged his knees. Reacher stepped past him and went after the right-hand guy, who saw him coming and swung a feeble right of his own. Reacher clouted it aside with his left forearm and repeated the clubbing right to the solar plexus.
The guy folded in half, just the same.
After that it was easy enough to nudge them around until they were facing in the right direction, and then to use the flat of his boot sole to shove them towards their car, first one, and then the other. They hit head-on, pretty hard, and they went down flat. They left shallow dents in the door panels. They lay there, gasping, still conscious.
A dented car to explain, and headaches in the morning. That was all. Merciful, under the circumstances. Benevolent. Considerate. Soft, even.
Old enough to be their father.
By that point Reacher had been in Virginia less than three hours.