Reacher opened the pawn shop door. He stepped inside. A guy at the register looked up. He was a big bear of a man, scruffy and unkempt. Maybe in his middle thirties, dark, with plenty of fat over a big frame anyway. With some kind of cunning in his eyes. Certainly enough to perfect his response to his sudden six-five two-fifty visitor. Driven purely by instinct. The guy wasn't afraid. He had a loaded gun under the counter. Unless he was an idiot. Which he didn't look. All the same, the guy didn't want to risk sounding aggressive. But he didn't want to sound obsequious, either. A matter of pride.
So he said, "How's it going?"
Not well, Reacher thought. To be honest. Chang would be back in Seattle by then. Back in her life.
But he said, "Can't complain."
"Can I help you?"
"Show me your class rings."
The guy threaded the tray backward off the shelf. He put it on the counter. The West Point ring had rolled over, like a tiny golf ball. Reacher picked it up. It was engraved inside. Which meant it wasn't a replica. Not for a fiancée or a girlfriend. Replicas were never engraved. An old tradition. No one knew why.
Not a tribute, not a souvenir. It was the real deal. A cadet's own ring, earned over four hard years. Worn with pride. Obviously. If you weren't proud of the place, you didn't buy a ring. It wasn't compulsory.
The engraving said S.R.S. 2005.
The bus blew its horn three times. It was ready to go, but it was a passenger short. Reacher put the ring down and said, "Thank you," and walked out of the store. He hustled back past the restroom block and leaned in the door of the bus and said to the driver, "I'm staying here."
"Not looking for one."
"You got a bag in the hold?"
"Have a nice day."
The guy pulled a lever and the door sucked shut in Reacher's face. The engine roared and the bus moved off without him. He turned away from the diesel smoke and walked back toward the pawn shop.
The guy in the pawn shop was a little disgruntled to have to get the ring tray out again so soon after he had put it away. But he did, and he placed it in the same spot on the counter. The West Point ring had rolled over again. Reacher picked it up.
He said, "Do you remember the woman who pawned this?"
"How would I?" the guy said. "I got a million things in here."
"You got records?"
"You a cop?"
"No," Reacher said.
"Everything in here is legal."
"I don't care. All I want is the name of the woman who brought you this ring."
"We went to the same school."
"Where is that? Upstate?"
"East of here," Reacher said.
"You can't be a classmate. Not from 2005. No offense."
"None taken. I was from an earlier generation. But the place doesn't change much. Which means I know how hard she worked for this ring. So now I'm wondering what kind of unlucky circumstance made her give it up."