The green federal signs on the highway shoulder showed a city coming up. The first stop of the day. Reacher watched the guy with the goatee map out his play. There were two unknowns. Was the guy with the money planning to get out there? And if not, would he wake up anyway, with the slowing and the turning and the jolting?
Reacher watched. The bus took the exit. A state four-lane then carried it south, through flat land moist with recent rain. The ride was smooth. The tires hissed. The guy with the money stayed asleep. The guy with the goatee beard kept on watching him. Reacher guessed his plan was made. He wondered how good of a plan it was. The smart play would be pickpocket the envelope pretty soon, conceal it well, and then aim to get out of the bus as soon as it stopped. Even if the guy woke up short of the depot, he would be confused at first. Maybe he wouldn't even notice the envelope was gone. Not right away. And even when he did, why would he jump straight to conclusions? He would figure it had fallen out. He would spend a minute looking on the seat, and under it, and under the seat in front, because he might have kicked it in his sleep. Only after all of that would he start to look around, questioningly. By which time the bus would be stopped and people would be getting up and getting out and getting in. The aisle would be jammed. A guy could slip away, no problem. That was the smart play.
Did the guy know it? Reacher never found out.
The guy with the money woke up too soon.
The bus slowed, and then stopped for a light with a hiss of brakes, and the guy's head jerked up, and he blinked, and patted his pocket, and shoved the envelope down deeper, where no one could see it.
Reacher sat back.
The guy with the beard sat back.
The bus rolled on. There were fields either side, dusted pale green with spring. Then came the first commercial lots, for farm equipment, and domestic automobiles, all spread over huge acreages, with hundreds of shiny machines lined up under flags and bunting. Then came office parks, and a giant out-of-town supermarket. Then came the city itself. The four-lane narrowed to two. Up ahead were taller buildings. But the bus turned off left and tracked around, keeping a polite distance behind the high-rent districts, until half a mile later it arrived at the depot. The first stop of the day. Reacher stayed in his seat. His ticket was good for the end of the line.
The guy with the money stood up.
He kind of nodded to himself, and hitched up his pants, and tugged down his jacket. All the things an old guy does, when he's about to get out of a bus.
He stepped into the aisle, and shuffled forward. No bag. Just him.
Gray hair, blue jacket, one pocket fat, one pocket empty.
The guy with the goatee beard got a new plan.
It came on him all of a sudden. Reacher could practically see the gears spinning in the back of his head. Coming up cherries. A sequence of conclusions built on a chain of assumptions. Bus depots were never in the nice part of town. The exit doors would give out onto cheap streets, the backs of other buildings, maybe vacant lots, maybe self-pay parking. There would be blind corners and empty sidewalks. It would be a twenty-something against a seventy-something. A blow from behind. A simple mugging. Happened all the time. How hard could it be?
The guy with the goatee beard jumped up and hustled down the aisle, following the guy with the money six feet behind.
Reacher got up and followed them both.
The guy with the money knew where he was going. That was clear. He didn't glance around to get his bearings. He just stepped through the depot door and turned east and set out walking. No hesitation. But no speed either. He trudged along slow. He looked a little unsteady. His shoulders were slumped. He looked old and tired and worn out and beaten down. He had no enthusiasm. He looked like he was en route between two points of equally zero appeal.
The guy with the goatee beard followed along about six paces behind, hanging back, staying slow, restraining himself. Which looked difficult. He was a rangy, long-legged individual, all hopped up with excitement and anticipation. He wanted to get right to it. But the terrain was wrong. Too flat and open. The sidewalks were wide. Up ahead was a four-way traffic light, with three cars waiting for a green. Three drivers, bored, gazing about. Maybe passengers. All potential witnesses. Better to wait.
The guy with the money stopped at the curb. Waiting to cross. Aiming dead ahead. Where there were older buildings, with narrower streets between. Wider than alleys, but shaded from the sun, and hemmed in by mean three-and four-story walls either side.