Personal, p.14
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       Personal, p.14
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘Depends what we do with them after we find them. And how well we do it. I’m sure the Brits like a nice clean job just as much as we do, but if it’s not clean, they’ll sell us out in a heartbeat. They’ll get questions in their Parliament, and there are all kinds of hostile newspapers there, so it will take them about a second and a half to come out swinging. They’ll claim they wanted a legal arrest and a Miranda warning and a fair trial all along. They’ll call us illegal foreign mercenaries. Murderers, in fact. We’ll be denounced. And if necessary we’ll be sacrificed. So all in all I like the fast exit strategy better. Plus I have no desire to go to Buckingham Palace anyway.’

  ‘Wouldn’t you like to meet the Queen?’

  ‘Not really. She’s just a person. We’re all equal. Has she expressed any interest in meeting me?’

  ‘Don’t think like that in the airport. You’ll be arrested for sure. They’ll think you’ve come to blow her up.’

  Mornings over Heathrow were busy times of day, in terms of air traffic, and we circled for more than forty minutes, in long lazy loops over the centre of London, with some passengers uptight about the so-near-and-yet-so-far feel of it all, and others happy just to watch the view out the window, of the snaking river and the huge, sprawling, spreading city, and the famous buildings strewn all around, tiny in the vertical distance, but impossibly detailed. Then we got serious and lined up on approach, and the wheels came down, and we waddled in, low and slow, to a smooth landing and a fast taxi.

  Disembarking took a good long time, with people standing and stretching, and re-establishing contact with their cellular networks, and retrieving their luggage, and looking under their seats for the things they had lost. So we entered the terminal as part of a ragged linear crowd, ones and twos and threes, all separated but clearly associated, all heading the same way at roughly the same speed, which was about halfway between impatient and fatigued. I saw no furtive behaviour in the passengers ahead of me. I didn’t look behind, in case I looked furtive myself.

  We had no problem at the passport desk, after a long wait in a long line. Casey Nice went first, with her paperwork neatly filled out, and I lip-read a question about why she was visiting, and I saw her say, ‘Vacation,’ and then add, ‘I mean a holiday,’ like a bilingual person. I went next, and was asked no questions. My new passport got its first stamp, and I re-joined Nice beyond the podiums, and we headed out through the baggage hall, to Her Majesty’s Customs. Who were not a problem either. They were heavily invested in the hidden-surveillance thing. We walked past about an acre of one-way windows, and no visible humans at all.

  Then came crowds of people waiting to greet folks other than us, and cold morning air blowing in through the kerbside doors, and overhead signs listing our onward transportation options, which were railroad or subway or bus or taxi. Heathrow was way west, and our hotel was way east, which was a long enough ride to be easily memorable by a taxi driver, as his best fare of the week. Plus the wads of money handed over by Shoemaker, while generous, were not infinite.

  So we opted for the subway, for the experience more than anything, and because I believe you can best sense the mood of a city in its tunnels. The reverberant acoustic amplifies feelings of fear or tension, or reveals their absence.

  It was a long ride, on hard benches, with two connections, rushing and slamming through tubes barely wider than the cars themselves. I felt no special edge in the air. Plenty of normal workaday angst and worry, but nothing more than that. We got out at a place called Barking, into mid-morning sunlight. Casey Nice looked like an abandoned waif, standing on the sidewalk outside the station with her rolling suitcase, tired and a little dishevelled. She figured our hotel was still some ways away. A long walk. I saw no cruising cabs. Too far from the centre. She said, ‘We really need a Town Car.’

  I said, ‘I don’t think they have them here.’

  But they seemed to have a rough equivalent. I saw a couple of battered sedans outside a whitewashed storefront labelled Barking Minicabs. We walked over there and I went in alone. There was a guy behind a high plywood counter. I asked him for a car. He said street hails were not allowed. Pre-booked only.

  I said, ‘I’m not hailing anything. I’m talking in a normal voice. And I’m not on the street.’

  He said, ‘Pre-booked only. We could lose our licence.’

  ‘Do I look like a government inspector to you? Do I look like a cop?’

  He said, ‘You have to book by telephone.’ He pointed to a large sign on the wall, which said Pre-booked only, with a telephone number below.

  I said, ‘Really?’

  He said, ‘We could lose our licence.’

  I was about to contemplate alternative methods, but then I remembered I had a phone in my pocket. Scarangello had given it to me, in Paris. O’Day had fitted it with a GPS chip, for the mission. I took it out and dialled the number on the sign. There was silence at first, while a whole lot of location services and international assistance kicked in. Then a desk phone rang, about a yard from my elbow. The guy picked it up.

  I said, ‘I need a car.’

  The guy said, ‘Certainly, sir. When would you like it?’

  ‘Thirty seconds from now.’

  ‘Picking up where?’

  ‘Right here.’

  ‘Destination?’

  I named the hotel.

  ‘Number of passengers?’

  ‘Two.’

  The guy said, ‘Your driver will be with you in a minute.’

  Which was technically twice as long as I had asked for, but I didn’t make any trouble about it. I just clicked off the call and rejoined Casey Nice on the sidewalk. I told her what had happened, and she said, ‘You shouldn’t have pushed it. They’ll remember you. And a place like that is probably paying protection money to the Romford Boys. They’ll trade gossip for sure.’

  The car was worn out and filthy and not very spacious, but it got us where we were going, which was a budget hotel with a parking lot, trapped in a mixed line of various enterprises in a neighbourhood that way back long ago had been a remote and distant village. It still looked like one in certain hidden corners. There was old brickwork in places, and an inappropriately grand old house, now boxed in tight by much smaller suburban structures. An old manor, presumably, fat and happy two hundred years ago, the city just a folk tale, a whole day’s ride away. But then came the railroad, and maybe the manor lost a ten-acre field, and then another, and then came the buses and the cars, and the manor lost its orchard, and then its garden, and then everything except a flagstone square in front, big enough for two cars, if both of them were careful.

  The hotel was purpose built, with an eye on efficiency. They could have taken a crane and stacked up the units at Pope Field four storeys high, and the result would have been similar. We checked in and got our keys, and Nice wanted to go up to dump her bags, so I went to find my own room, which was severely plain, but had everything I needed, and nothing I didn’t. I washed up and combed my hair with my fingers, and then I headed back downstairs, where I found Nice ready and waiting for me.

  She said, ‘So what’s the plan?’

  I said, ‘We’ll go take a look.’

  ‘At what?’

  ‘The G8 venue.’

  TWENTY-FIVE

  THE GUY AT the hotel desk called a minicab for us, properly pre-booked on the telephone, and it showed up surprisingly quickly. Nice gave the driver the address, and we headed what felt north and east to me, through streets that felt suburban, but compressed somehow, as if they were all just a little busier and narrower and faster than they really wanted to be. We passed a sign that said we were in Romford. But we stayed west of the centre and then looped around above it, on a small road, into a sudden expanse of green parkland, shaped like a slice of pizza, broadening out as it ran away from us, until it was bounded at its far end by the thrashing traffic on the orbital highway. Or on the M25 motorway, as the local signs called it.

  In the middle of the wedg
e of green was a fine brick house, with bays and gables and chimneys, and steep-pitched roofs, and hundreds of glittering leaded windows. Elizabethan, possibly, or an elaborate Victorian fake. All around it was raked golden gravel, and all around the gravel was plain green lawn, very simple and mannered, but ultimately more corporate than Zen.

  All around the lawn was a high brick wall, laid out in a giant rectangle. It boxed the house in completely, left side, right side, back, front, but at a very generous distance. The lawns were broad and deep. It was a well-judged calculation. The wall was indisputably related to the house, definitely part of the architecture, but from the inside the gardens would have felt extremely spacious. Beyond the wall was a slim remnant of the pie-shaped slice of green, and then London started up again, on both sides, as if exerting inward pressure.

  I said, ‘Is this it?’

  Casey Nice said, ‘Yes. It’s called Wallace Court. Home of the Darby family for many centuries. The house is from the fifteen hundreds and the wall is Victorian. It’s a conference centre now.’

  I nodded. Another old manor, also fat and happy two centuries ago, but maybe luckier for longer. The Victorian owner must have seen something coming. Maybe he was an investor in the railroad. So he built the wall, to keep the world at bay. And I guessed that it had, in a tolerable way, for another hundred years or more, until the motorway was built, and the noise made living there impossible. So at long last the family had given up and moved out, and a home had become a business centre, where maybe the noise made people feel plugged in and energetic.

  I said, ‘This can’t be a typical location for a G8 meeting.’

  Casey Nice said, ‘No, it was controversial. Normally they want somewhere far more rural and isolated. But the Brits insisted. Because it’s near where the Olympics were, or something. I don’t think anyone’s real clear about the reason.’

  We stayed in the minicab for a long moment after it stopped. It’s not the same with a sniper out there. Then we took a deep breath and climbed out for a closer look. The wall was about nine feet high, and thick, and ornamented, and buttressed. It must have cost a fortune. There must have been a billion bricks in it. Whole towns could have been built. I thought again about the Victorian guy. Mr Darby, from way back long ago. Probably wore a beard or muttonchop whiskers. He must have been colossally obstinate. Better to up sticks and go buy an island.

  The wall had just one gate in it, at the front, ornate iron painted black, with gold leaf here and there. It was exactly symmetrical with the house’s front door, all the way down at the other end of the long straight driveway. Which all made the place not such a terrible spot. Untypical and controversial, maybe, but not suicidal. Bring in the army, put the infantry all around the outer face of the wall, fully armed, in battledress, maybe ten yards apart, put a big security apparatus around the single gate, and you’ve taken care of 99 per cent of conventional threats right there. An up-armoured Humvee might be able to burst through the bricks, or maybe not, but anything smaller certainly couldn’t. So I could see why eight secret services had signed off on it. They thought the place was adequate.

  Until.

  The G8 was still the best part of three weeks away, but preparations were already being made. That was clear. There were panel vans unloading in the distance. And there was a policeman at the gate. And he was watching us carefully. Not a polite bobby in a pointed hat, but a squat tough guy with a Kevlar vest and a Heckler and Koch sub-machine gun.

  Casey Nice whispered, ‘He’s seen us.’

  I said, ‘That’s his job.’

  ‘We can’t just walk away again. That’s suspicious behaviour.’

  ‘So let’s go talk to him.’

  I strolled over, and stopped, not too close, with the kind of body language we have all learned to use: Don’t give the man with the gun a reason to worry about you. I said, ‘We were hoping to get in here.’

  The man with the gun said, ‘Were you, sir?’

  His accent was local, and his tone was flat, and the way he said sir was deliberately neutral, as if he was really saying, I’m obliged to use this word, but I don’t mean it.

  I said, ‘I might have been misled, I suppose. My guidebook is very old.’

  He said, ‘What guidebook?’

  ‘My father gave it to me. I think his gave it to him, before that. It’s kind of a family heirloom, I suppose. It says certain days of the year you can get in here and see the house and the gardens for sixpence.’

  ‘You should take that book to the antique dealer.’

  ‘I figured the sixpence might have gone up with inflation.’

  ‘This place hasn’t been a private house for thirty years. And at the moment it’s closed anyway. So I would appreciate it if you would move along now.’

  ‘OK,’ I said, and we did, slowly, with long and detailed glances, to the left, to the right, behind us, eye level, upward, at trees, and row houses, and two-family houses, and squat square apartment houses, and gas stations, and convenience stores, and traffic, and sky. Our minicab had gone, so we kept on walking. Casey Nice said, ‘What next?’

  She looked tired, so I said, ‘We go back to the hotel and take naps.’

  Which we didn’t get, because of a phone call from O’Day, which among other things made me wish I was a gambling man. Scarangello had asked, Who’s in the frame for the second spot? I had said Carson, which turned out to be right. Because Datsev had been found. Arrested, in fact. The news was just in from Moscow. More than three weeks earlier he had been hidden in the trunk of a car in a garage under a nightclub, and driven out of town, to a private airfield, and flown four thousand miles east, where he had set up and waited patiently, like snipers do. When the time was right he had fired a single round through the head of a guy who owned a bauxite-smelting operation. Twelve hundred yards, O’Day said. Business as usual, in the world of privatized natural resources. With one pull of the trigger Datsev’s paymaster had become the second-biggest aluminium guy on the scene.

  Which wasn’t quite enough, unfortunately. The biggest guy naturally felt threatened, and naturally saw an opportunity for further consolidation, and he had friends in high places, all bought and paid for. So law enforcement made an uncharacteristic attempt to enforce the law. Which was helped by the weather. Spring in the far east of Russia was not the same thing as spring in North Carolina or Paris or London. There were freezing temperatures and late snow. The newly-second-biggest guy’s plane had been grounded. His entourage had all been found holed up in a local hotel. Datsev was with them. A spell of old-wine-in-new-bottles KGB-style interrogation had gotten to the heart of the matter fairly quickly, and Datsev was in custody. O’Day figured he would be given a choice: go back to work for the SVR, no bitching and moaning, or go to jail. Which was really no choice at all, he said, for anyone with a working knowledge of the Russian prison system. He had already moved Datsev’s file out of the freelance column and into the employed. What the future would bring, he didn’t know, but he was clear about the past: Datsev hadn’t been in Paris on either occasion, and wasn’t in London now.

  We clicked off the call. We were still in our hotel lobby. Casey Nice said, ‘It just got harder. Because Carson is local, and Kott speaks English too.’

  ‘Want coffee?’ I said.

  ‘No,’ she said.

  ‘Hot tea?’

  ‘Decaf, maybe.’

  So we left the hotel again in favour of a bare-bones café on the other side of the street, and a little ways down the block. Not an international chain. Nothing like the coffee shop in Seattle. Just a traditional London place, with chilly fluorescent light and damp laminate tables. I got coffee, and she got decaf, and I said, ‘Close your eyes.’

  She smiled and said, ‘Shoes on or off?’

  ‘Think about what we saw, walking away from Wallace Court. Picture it. Tell me the first thing that pops into your head.’

  She closed her eyes and said, ‘Sky.’

  I said, ‘Me too. It was a lo
w-built environment. Some threestorey row houses, some four- and five-storey apartment houses, but mostly regular two-storey two-family houses, some of them with attic bump-outs.’

  ‘Which adds up to about ten thousand upper-storey windows within a three-quarter-mile radius.’

  ‘Not ten thousand. It ain’t Manhattan or Hong Kong. It’s Romford. But a few thousand, sure. Of which a few hundred might be really good choices. What would you do, if you were in charge of security?’

  She said, ‘I’d have to defer to the Secret Service.’

  ‘Suppose you were in charge of the Secret Service?’

  ‘I wouldn’t change anything. I’d tell them to keep on doing what they’re doing.’

  ‘Which is what? Have you seen the president arrive somewhere?’

  ‘Of course I have. An armoured limousine drives into a closed street, and then into a large white tent attached to the destination building. The flap of the tent is closed behind it. The president is never exposed. He’s safe in the armoured car, and he’s safe in the tent. From a sniper, at least. The sniper doesn’t know exactly where or exactly when the president is getting out of the car. He can’t see, because of the tent. He could fire randomly, I suppose, but what are the odds? Best guess in the world would miss by twenty feet and two seconds.’

  I said, ‘And the Secret Service will bring that system, right? They always do. Their own armoured limousine and their own tent, in an air force cargo plane. Doesn’t matter what the Brits say about running their own show. If you want the President of the United States at your party, the Secret Service tells you how things are going to be. You’re going to have a tent on the side of your house, whether you like it or not. And the president is not going to say the others can’t use it. He’s not going to say, sorry guys, but you have to go to the tradesmen’s entrance.’

  ‘They don’t all have their own armoured limousines.’

  ‘Doesn’t really matter. A couple of Mercedes sedans would work. With dark windows. Which one is the prime minister in? Which one has the aides and the staffers? It’s the same principle as the tent.’

  ‘So what are you saying?’

  ‘If I’m John Kott, I’m not liking it. Or William Carson. Against me I’ve got obvious and infallible security precautions that will inevitably be used, and a low-built environment, and a very flat trajectory, and prime firing positions numbered only in the low hundreds. I mean, if the Brits broke open the overtime budget they could put a cop in every single bedroom.’

  ‘You think an attack is not possible?’

  ‘Where could it be? The limousine drives into the tent.’

  She said, ‘You’re forgetting the photograph.’

 
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