But if this woman wanted conversation she was in no kind of a hurry to get it started. She just waited for a couple of trucks to labor past and pulled out behind them without a word. Reacher glanced around inside the car. It was a Cadillac, two doors, but as long as a boat, and very fancy. Maybe a couple of years old, but as clean as a whistle. The leather was the color of old bones and the glass was tinted like an empty bottle of French wine. There was a pocketbook and a small briefcase thrown on the back seat. The pocketbook was anonymous and black, maybe plastic. The briefcase was made from weathered cowhide, the sort of thing that already looks old when you buy it. It was zipped open and there was a lot of folded paper stuffed in it, the sort of thing you see in a lawyer's office.
"Move the seat back, if you want," the woman said. "Give yourself room."
"Thanks," he said again.
He found switches on the door shaped like seat cushions. He fiddled with them and quiet motors eased him rearward and reclined his backrest. Then he lowered the seat, to make himself inconspicuous from outside. The motors whirred. It was like being in a dentist's chair.
"That looks better," she said. "More comfortable for you."
Her own chair was tight up to the wheel, because she was small. He twisted in his seat so he could look her over without staring straight at her. She was short and slim, dark-skinned, fine-boned. Altogether a small person. Maybe a hundred pounds, maybe thirty years old. Long black wavy hair, dark eyes, small white teeth visible behind a tense half-smile. Mexican, he guessed, but not the type of Mexican who swims the Rio Grande looking for a better life. This woman's ancestors had enjoyed a better life for hundreds of years. That was pretty clear. It was in her genes. She looked like some kind of Aztec royalty. She was wearing a simple cotton dress, printed with a pale pattern. Not much to it, but it looked expensive. It was sleeveless and finished above her knees. Her arms and legs were dark and smooth, like they had been polished.
"So, where are you headed?" she asked.
Then she paused and smiled wider. "No, I already asked you that. You didn't seem very clear about where you want to go."
Her accent was pure American, maybe more western than southern. She was steering two-handed, and he could see rings on her fingers. There was a slim wedding band, and a platinum thing with a big diamond.
"Anywhere," Reacher said. "Anywhere I end up, that's where I want to go."
She paused and smiled again. "Are you running away from something? Have I picked up a dangerous fugitive?"
Her smile meant it wasn't a serious question, but he found himself thinking maybe it ought to have been. It wasn't too far-fetched, in the circumstances. She was taking a risk. The sort of risk that was killing the art of hitching rides, as a mode of transportation.
"I'm exploring," he said.
"Exploring Texas? They already discovered it."
"Like a tourist," he said.
"But you don't look like a tourist. The tourists we get wear polyester leisure suits and come in a bus."
She smiled again as she said it. She looked good when she smiled. She looked assured and self-possessed, and refined to the point of elegance. An elegant Mexican woman, wearing an expensive dress, clearly comfortable with talking. Driving a Cadillac. He was suddenly aware of his short answers, and his hair and his stubble and his stained shirt and his creased khaki pants. And the big bruise on his forehead.
"You live around here?" he asked, because she'd said the tourists we get, and he felt he needed something to say.
"I live south of Pecos," she said. "More than three hundred miles from here. I told you, that's where I'm headed."
From Echo Burning by Lee Child. (c) June 2001, Putnam Pub Group, used by permission
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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