Personal, p.17
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       Personal, p.17
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  inside, dictating a number, and he dialled.

  Behind me a key turned in the lock and Casey Nice walked in the room. She had two stacked pizza boxes balanced on spread fingers, and a thin plastic bag in her other hand, with wet soda cans in it.

  ‘OK?’ I said.

  She said, ‘So far so good.’

  I nodded towards the window. ‘Some kid just made a call.’

  She put our dinner on the dressing table and took a look. The young guy was talking on his phone. He bent down and read out the van’s licence plate. Then he held the phone away from his mouth, and shouted a question through the seal between the driver’s door and the pillar, and then he put his ear close to the same crack and listened to the answer. The live guy’s name, presumably, which the young guy repeated into his phone.

  Casey Nice asked, ‘Why doesn’t he break the window or force the door?’

  I said, ‘You think he knows how?’

  ‘I’m sure he does. Looking at him, I mean. Not that I should rely on stereotypes.’

  ‘I’m guessing the guy on the phone is telling him not to. This is a hard world. These are not conquering heroes. They screwed up. They’re not worth damaging a vehicle for. Someone will bring a spare key.’

  ‘How soon?’

  ‘Five minutes,’ I said. ‘Maybe ten. Quick enough, anyway. They don’t care about their guys, but they’ll want to hear the story.’

  I got up off my chair and opened a pizza box. Plain cheese, white dough, a little bubbled and blackened here and there by the oven, and smaller than the giant hubcaps sold in America. I said, ‘Thank you for my dinner,’ like my mother had taught me to.

  She said, ‘You’re very welcome,’ and she took hers, and we both ate a slice. The soda was Coke, and it was ice cold. In the lot below us the young guy was off the phone, stumping around, waiting. For congratulations, without a doubt. Definitely contract labour, racking up the bonus points.

  Casey Nice’s phone dinged, like a tiny bell.

  ‘Incoming text,’ she said. She checked. ‘From General O’Day. He wants to know why we’re static.’

  I said, ‘Tell him we’re resting.’

  ‘He knows we’re not at our hotel. Because of the GPS.’

  ‘Tell him we’re at the movies. Or the theatre. Or in a museum. Tell him we’re furthering our cultural education. Or getting our nails done. Tell him we’re at the spa.’

  ‘He knows we’re not. He’ll have checked Google Maps, surely. Street View, probably. He knows where we are.’

  ‘Then why ask?’

  ‘He wants to know why we’re not mobile.’

  ‘Tell him to relax. Micromanaging from three thousand miles away is pointless.’

  ‘I can’t. He’s updating us, and I’m supposed to update him. That’s the only way this thing is going to work.’

  I looked down at the scene below. No change. The van, inert. The kid, waiting. I said, ‘OK, tell him we’re acting on Shoemaker’s suggestion. Tell him we’re attempting contact with the outer cordon.’

  ‘I’ll have to tell him how, I’m afraid. As in, not with a phoney business proposal.’

  ‘Go ahead. He won’t mind.’

  ‘He might. They were worried about you.’

  ‘Scarangello was. Shoemaker might have been. But O’Day won’t get all bent out of shape.’

  ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘Try it,’ I said. ‘Tell him exactly what happened.’

  So she swiped and dabbed at her screen with dancing thumbs and I glanced back at what was happening out the window. Which wasn’t much. The light, the mist, the van, the kid. I looked away again and saw her finish up and put her phone on the bed and take a second slice of pizza. I chewed cheese and sipped Coke and waited. Below us the young guy was watching the road, and ducking back to the van every few minutes, laying his hand on it and calling through the door seal, with reassurances, probably. Yes, I called, they said they were coming, they’ll be here in a minute.

  Nice’s phone dinged again. O’Day’s reply. She checked it twice and told me, ‘He sends his sincere congratulations and says keep it up.’

  I nodded. ‘Human life means nothing to him. All he cares about is the result.’

  Nice didn’t reply.

  I said, ‘Ask him for the intel he got from MI5, about these Romford people. Pictures, histories, rap sheets, everything he’s got. We should know exactly who we’re dealing with here.’

  She started texting again. Below us the young guy was talking through the door seal again. His body language was placatory. He was squirming and patting the air and glancing hopefully towards the road. They’re coming, I promise.

  And then they came.

  Two cars drove into the lot, both of them black, both with dark windows, the first a four-door Jaguar sedan, the second a big two-door coupé, long and low and imposing. A Bentley, I thought. They came in fast and slammed to a stop, right in the middle of the space. All four of the Jaguar’s doors opened wide and four men climbed out, all of them white, all of them in dark suits. They formed up like a perimeter, facing outward, heads up, hands loose by their sides. The kid with the greasy hair hung back. The Bentley’s driver got out. He was another guy in a suit, just like the first four. He checked all around, left, right, front, rear, and then he walked a wide circle to the passenger door and opened it, like a chauffeur should.

  And a giant climbed out.

  He led with a bent head and a bent back, folded at the waist, folded at the knees, and then he straightened up in stages, like a complex mechanism, like a child’s toy that starts out as a squat dump truck and then clicks open, one component after another, to reveal an action figure. He was huge. His arms were longer than most people’s legs, and his hands were bigger than shovels, and his torso was the size of an oil drum, tightly encased in a tubular three-button suit coat that would have been ankle-length on an average human. His feet were the size of river barges, and his neck was a foot wide, and his shoulders were a yard wide, and his head was bigger than a basketball. He had big ears sticking straight out, and an overhanging brow, and pronounced cheekbones, and tiny eyes buried deep, and a receding simian chin. He looked like a Neanderthal waxwork in a natural history museum, except that he was pale and sandy, not dark, and he was at least twice the size of any ancient hominid. He could have been seven feet tall, and three hundred pounds. Maybe more. He moved with a kind of loose-limbed rawboned ranginess, four or five feet with a single enormous stride, his huge shoulders rolling, his immense hands swinging free.

  Casey Nice said, ‘Jesus Christ.’

  ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘No beard. No sandals.’

  The guy stepped up close to the back of the van, two paces, where a normal guy might have needed four, and he flapped his hand towards it, a gesture like a big white swan taking off, and his chauffeur dug in a pocket and came out with a key. The big guy stood back a pace, four feet right there, and the chauffeur jammed the key in the lock and turned it and pulled the doors, first the right, and then the left. The four guys from the Jaguar shifted position, moving the perimeter tighter, turning to face inward, making a half-circle, enclosing the space like bystanders watching a street fight.

  They all waited.

  The live guy scrambled out, sliding on his front, feet first, slow and stiff and hurting. He steadied himself against the lip of the load floor, and straightened up, and turned around to face the music. The gush of blood down his front looked black in the vapour light. His skin looked yellow. The giant stepped forward again and stared past him into the dark interior. At that point I couldn’t see his face, but he seemed to ask a short question. Probably: What the hell happened?

  The live guy didn’t really answer. He just shook his head and breathed out and held his hands out from his sides, palms upward, like a helpless shrug. The question was repeated. This time the live guy answered, just a mumble, his bloodied mouth barely moving at all, three or four syllables, nothing more. Maybe he jumped us, or
they jumped us, or they got away, or we didn’t get ’em.

  The giant processed the information, his huge head going down a degree, then coming back up, as if swallowing the bad news, physically. He was quiet for a minute. Then he started talking again, his body language exaggeratedly amiable, which meant he had to be taunting the guy, because there was no more pertinent information to be gotten. There were two of you, right? And two of them? One of which was a girl? Was it her who hit you? And so on and so forth, sarcastic and humiliating. From my angle I could see the live guy’s face, which was looking more and more miserable. And apprehensive. And terrified. As if he knew what was coming.

  And then it came.

  The giant moved with astonishing speed for one so big. His right hand bunched into a fist the size of a bowling ball, and his waist and his shoulders twitched, and he smashed a straight drive into the centre of the live guy’s ruined face, and the guy smashed backward against the truck’s left-hand door, and bounced off, and went straight down on the concrete, face first.

  ‘Charming,’ I said. ‘Not the kind of leadership skills they teach you at West Point.’

  The guy on the ground lay still. The kid with the greasy hair stared at him, with his mouth wide open. Casey Nice stared too, with her mouth open. Then her phone dinged again. Another text. She looked away from the window. She said, ‘General O’Day is e-mailing the data from MI5. We should have it in a minute.’ She swiped to another screen and waited.

  Below us the giant stood still for a second, and then he jerked his enormous head towards the Bentley, and his chauffeur scurried back and held the door. The big guy strode over and lined himself up and started re-folding himself to fit. The action figure became a dump truck again. He bent his knees, and bent at his waist, and tucked in his elbows, and hunched his shoulders, and ducked his head, and backed butt-first into his seat. The chauffeur closed the door on him, and looped around the hood to his own place. The car backed up and turned around and drove away.

  Two guys got back in the Jaguar and followed the Bentley, and the other two rolled the live guy over, and picked him up off the concrete, armpits and knees, and shoved him back in the rear of the van. They closed the doors on him again, and locked the handle, and pulled the key. One of them came out with a decent-sized pink banknote, fifty British pounds, I thought, and gave it to the kid. Then they got in the front of the van together and backed up and turned and followed the Jaguar. The kid was left standing alone in the pool of light, holding the money, looking like he had wanted more, maybe a nod or a clap on the shoulder or a promise of future inclusion. He looked disappointed, as if by an anticlimax, as if he was thinking: I could have gotten fifty lousy pounds by mugging an old lady.

  Casey Nice’s phone made a different sound, like a tiny muted clang. She said, ‘The e-mail from General O’Day.’

  Which was blank except for a link to an attachment. She touched it and a dense document slid sideways into view. We sat together on the bed, thigh to thigh, and she held the phone between us, and we read. The header was a dry, academic, multi-line sentence about organized crime activity in and around Romford, Essex, written in a manner I presumed reflected the British clandestine services’ house style. Very University of Cambridge. Like Yale, but different. Nothing like West Point. Nothing like the real world, either.

  The opening paragraph was first a disclaimer, and then a reassurance. Nothing had been proved, and there were no criminal convictions, but all information contained therein was believed to be solid. It went on to say there was no proof and there had been no convictions because of presumed witness intimidation, and because of other factors that weren’t exactly specified, which I took to mean bribery of local law enforcement officials.

  The second paragraph opened with a bald statement that organized crime activity in Romford, Essex, was entirely dominated by a structured association of local inhabitants who had long been called the Romford Boys. The tone was slightly apologetic, as if University of Cambridge types were embarrassed to repeat a name that belonged so clearly on the street, rather than in the classroom. Then the paragraph continued with an overview of the Boys’ activities, which, as O’Day had already told us, covered the importation and sale of illegal narcotics, and illegal firearms, and the control of prostitution, which involved human trafficking, and the operation of protection rackets, which were believed to extend through the majority of commercial enterprises in the locality, and loan sharking at fantastic rates of interest. The gross value of the activities was put as many tens of millions of British pounds annually.

  The biographies started in the third paragraph.

  The boss was one Charles Albert White, known as Charlie. He was seventy-seven years old, born on a local street, and educated at public expense until the age of fifteen. He had no third-party employment records, owned a home unencumbered by mortgages or other kinds of loans, and was married with four adult children, all of which lived elsewhere in London and were believed to be uninvolved in their father’s activities.

  A clandestine surveillance shot laid into the document showed Charlie White to be a bulky, round-shouldered old man with sparse grey hair and a plain face dominated by a bulbous nose.

  Below Charlie in the pecking order was a kind of executive council made up of three men, first Thomas Miller, known as Tommy, sixty-five years of age, and then William Thompson, known as Billy, sixty-four, and finally, a much younger man at just thirty-eight, was Joseph Green, known as Little Joey.

  Little Joey was the giant. No question about it. His photo was cropped a whole inch longer than the others. He was listed as six feet eleven, and twenty-two stone, which as far as I understood foreign weights and measures came out to exactly three hundred and eight pounds. He was their enforcer. Again MI5 was scrupulous about mentioning the lack of proof or convictions, but Little Joey’s swift rise to parity with men old enough to be his father could only be explained by extreme efficiency. He was in MI5’s books for eleven certain homicides, and too many beatings to count. Grievous bodily harm was the legal phrase used, which seemed appropriate.

  Casey Nice said, ‘Why do they call him little?’

  ‘Because they’re British,’ I said. ‘They’re into irony. If they called him Big Joey, he’d be a dwarf.’

  She scrolled onward, but the document ended right there. Little Joey was the last item. I said, ‘We need more than this. We need the spear carriers, and locations, and addresses. You better get back to O’Day.’

  ‘Now?’

  ‘Sooner the better. Data is king. And get what he has about the Serbians in the West.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘We need guns. Elephant guns, for preference, having seen Little Joey in action. And I doubt if the Romford Boys will be keen to sell us any. So we need to make contact elsewhere.’

  ‘We don’t have time for all of that now. This hotel is paying protection money, almost certainly. And we can be sure right about now the Romford Boys are starting to call around for information.’

  I nodded. ‘OK, finish your pizza and we’ll move right along.’

  ‘I lost my appetite. We should get going immediately.’

  She closed the document and swiped her phone back to its home screen, as if to underline her point.

  I said, ‘Where do you want to go?’

  She said, ‘We can’t go back to our own hotel. They were there once already. That’s the first place they’ll look.’

  ‘Your stuff is there.’

  She didn’t reply.

  I said, ‘We could risk five minutes. In and out, real quick, to get it.’

  ‘No,’ she said.

  ‘Can you live without it?’

  ‘You don’t have stuff.’

  ‘I’m used to it.’

  ‘Maybe I could get used to it too. The Sherlock Homeless method. I mean, how bad can it be? We could stop by somewhere and I could get a toothbrush.’

  I said, ‘You never put on clean clothes in the morning. That’s about
the worst of it.’

  ‘Right now that sounds better than the alternative.’

  ‘And no pyjamas.’

  ‘I can live with that.’

  ‘OK,’ I said. ‘We’ll head downtown. The centre of London. The Ritz, maybe. Or the Savoy. We’ve got plenty of money, thanks to them. And they won’t have eyes in places like that.’

  ‘How do we get there? We can’t call a cab.’

  ‘We’ll take the bus,’ I said. ‘I doubt if the London transportation system is paying protection money.’

  So we left the room, with nothing in our hands, and we dumped the key at the desk, and we let ourselves out into the night.

  THIRTY

  THERE WERE BIG red buses running both ways on the road outside, and we elected to go south, aiming to change at the next big crossroads and head west for the centre. All our money was in big bills, which we figured wouldn’t be welcome on a bus, so we ducked into a convenience store and bought travel cards named after bivalve molluscs. Then we located the nearest bus stop and hung back in the shadows until we saw what we wanted lumbering through the traffic towards us. It was after seven in the evening, and I was tired, and Nice looked completely done in. She hadn’t slept in about a day and a half.

  The outer hinterland of London felt vast, and the bus was slow, so we took a chance and got out again back in Barking, where we knew we could get the subway, which we figured would be faster. We checked the map at the station and used the District Line, which had a stop at a place called St James’s Park, which sounded like it might be near some fancy places. Which it was. We came up into the night air and saw signs to Westminster Abbey in one direction and Buckingham Palace in the other. And there was a big hotel right across the street. Five stars. Not the Ritz, not the Savoy, but a shiny international chain that looked adequate in every respect.

  We went in, and the guy at the check-in desk took a little advantage of our fatigue by claiming only top-tier rooms were available that night, at prices that would have rented a house with a pool for a month outside of Pope Field, but the Romford Boys were paying, so we didn’t really care. I counted off the huge sum from one of the greasy rolls, and in return we got key cards and all kinds of information about room service and restaurants and club floors and business centres and wifi passwords.
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