Reacher opened it up and stepped out to meet them head on. Win or lose, fighting inside would bust up the room, and Vincent the motel owner had enough problems already. The two guys stopped ten feet away and stood there, side by side, symmetrical, their weapons in their outside hands, four cubic yards of bone and muscle, six hundred pounds of beef, all flushed and sweating in the chill. Reacher said, "Pop quiz, guys. You spent four years in college learning how to play a game.
I spent thirteen years in the army learning how to kill people. So how scared am I? I was so good at it I got all kinds of medals and promotions.
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So how scared are you? Wrong answer. But understandable. Being a good enough guard or tackle in high school to get a full-boat free ride to the big school in Lincoln was no mean achievement. Playing even a cameo role on the field in Memorial Stadium made a guy close to the best of the best. And failing to make the National Football League was no kind of real disgrace.
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The dividing line between success and failure in the world of sports was often very narrow, and the reasons for falling on one side or the other were often very arbitrary. These guys had been the elite for most of twenty years, the greatest thing their neighborhood had ever seen, then their town, then their county, maybe their state.
They had been popular, they had been feted, they had gotten the girls. Except they had never had a fight. Not in the sense meant by people paid to fight or die. Pushing and shoving at the schoolyard gate or on the sidewalk outside the soda shop or late at night after a start-of-summer keg party was as far from fighting as two fat guys tossing lame spirals in the park were from the Superbowl. These guys were amateurs, and worse, they were complacent amateurs, accustomed to getting by on bulk and reputation alone.
- Ben Jonson and Theatre: Performance, Practice and Theory.
- Prime Minister Boris: And other things that never happened.
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- Simon Says.
In the real world, they would be dead before they even landed a blow. Case in point: bad choice of weapons. Best are shooting weapons, second best are stabbing weapons, third best are slashing weapons. Blunt instruments are way down the list. They slow hand speed. Their uncontrolled momentum is disadvantageous after a miss. And: If you have to use them, the backhand is the only way to go, so that you accelerate and strike in the same sudden fluid motion. But these guys were shoulder to shoulder with their weapons in their outer hands, which promised forehand swings, which meant that the hammer or the wrench would have to be swung backward first, then stopped, then brought forward again.
The first part of the move would be a clear telegraph. All the warning in the world. No surprise. They might as well put a notice in the newspaper, or send a cable by Western Union. Reacher smiled.
He had been raised on military bases all around the world, battling hardcore Marine progeny, honing his skills against gangs of resentful native youths in dusty Pacific streets and damp European alleys. Whatever hardscrabble town in Texas or Arkansas or Nebraska these guys had come up in had been a feather bed by comparison.
And while they had been studying the playbook and learning to run and jump and catch, he had been broken down and built back up by the kind of experts who could snap your neck so fast you never knew it had happened until you went to nod your head and it rolled away down the street without you. You need more time? He put himself directly in front of the two guys, equidistant, seven feet away, so that if he was six on a clock face, they were eleven and one. The guy with the wrench was on his left, and the guy with the hammer was on his right. The guy with the wrench moved first.
It was a decent first try.
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But it was uncompleted. The guy started to drop and before he was past the first vertical inch and before the first howl was starting in his throat Reacher was stepping past him, on the outside, shouldering him aside, deleting him from memory, forgetting all about him. The guy with the hammer had a split-second choice to make. His preferred mode of transport is hitch-hiking, and as the novel opens is dropped off at a remote Nebraska crossroads en route. As it's late, Reacher decides to stay overnight at the only place in the area, hence stumbling across what he assumes to be a case of wife-beating.
Trouble inevitably ensues, and escalates to comfortably fill the whole novel. There is an isolated and very small community, cut off from the outside world and in the thrall of a family who own the local farms and businesses, using this fact to control the population with the help of muscle provided by a college football team. There is a mystery at the bottom of all this: who are the evil-seeming Duncan family, what is the source of their wealth given the state of the US farming industry, and what happened to the daughter of a local resident who disappeared 25 years ago?
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Reacher begins to investigate all these questions, driven by his innate sense of justice and his disgust at the bullying behaviour of the Duncans, not least to the female characters in this novel. At the same time, we learn that the other end of the Duncans' mysterious business deals consists of some mobsters based in Las Vegas.
Not just one set of mobsters but several, as there is a chain of command from the Italians to the Iranians to the Arabs to the Russians or something like that.
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