Some say it was Virginia and some say it was North Carolina but all agree it was a bar. Everyone was drinking domestic beer, except Reacher, who was drinking coffee, and inevitably after an hour the talk turned to guys people knew. Reacher sat quiet, not really part of the group, content to ignore the war stories and the tall tales, until the name Nick Heller came up. Someone said Heller had been one of General Hood's boys, and was therefore suspect, because everyone knew Hood was as bent as a nine dollar bill. Reacher shook his head and spoke for the first time in an hour.
"No," he said. "Heller worked for Hood, but he was never one of the boys. In fact the smart money said Heller was the guy who would take Hood down one day."
"You know Heller?" someone asked.
"No," Reacher said again. "But I met a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. And I heard things."
"I made a mental note, that's all. Heller's OK."
"As good as us?"
"Than you too?"Reacher smiled. "He's in the rear view mirror. A little closer than some."
"What's he like?"
"He drives a Land Rover. A thing called a Defender. British. Like a Willys jeep without the frills. That's about all you need to know, right there."
"So he's a caveman, like you."
"No, that's where it gets complicated. He's very smart with technology. I heard he did a couple of years in D.C. with one of those hi-tech Beltway firms. Like the CIA, but private. Better paid. And more efficient, obviously."
"I heard he's in Boston," someone said.Reacher nodded.
"There was an issue."
"Ethical, probably. Heller's got a backbone. Guys like that have problems in D.C."
"His dad was a crook."
"Financial," Reacher said.
"They're all crooks. But Heller's OK."
"Would you trust him? You?"
"Probably," Reacher said. "He's a stand-up guy. Apparently he went to bat for his brother a year or so ago. No reason to, but he did. It was a bad situation, too. But he came out ahead. Some very nice moves. There's a nephew, they say. Weird kid, but Heller does his best. And his mother is still on the scene. Someone once told me a guy who gets along with his mother can't be all bad."
"Who told you that?"
"What's he doing in Boston? Private eye?"
"Not exactly," Reacher said. "More like a private spy. He put together a crew up there. They do the CIA stuff in the office, and then he goes and does the black ops stuff himself. One stop shopping."
"Is he a Red Sox fan?"
"I hope not."
"Still, Boston. Quiet up there."
"Not very," Reacher said. "Guy I met was talking about a kidnapping. Some rich girl taken out of a night club. Billionaire father, and so on and so forth. Some serious Russians involved. I mean, serious as lung cancer. But it turned out OK."
"That was Heller?"
"Lips are sealed, but I don't see who else it could have been. It was done about ninety percent the same way I would have done it. Which means it had to be Heller. There's no one else that good up there."
"You've got competition," someone said.Reacher smiled again.
"Human nature," he said. "There are always new guys. Law of averages says some of them will be good."
"Would you call him? If you were in trouble in Boston?"
"I don't have a phone," Reacher said.
"But I'd be happy enough if he happened to show up. We could do some damage together, that's for damn sure."