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

  The guy said, ‘Please take a seat,’ and when we didn’t he took one himself, going first, perhaps as an example, or a reassurance.

  We took a seat.

  The guy said, ‘What are you looking for?’

  I said, ‘What have you got?’

  ‘Handgun?’

  ‘Two. We both carry. People don’t expect that.’

  ‘What do you like?’

  ‘Anything that works. And that you’ve got ammunition for.’

  ‘Mostly we have nine-millimetre. It’s easy to get in Europe.’

  ‘Works for me.’

  ‘You like Glock?’

  ‘Is that what you’ve got?’

  ‘It’s what we’ve got most of. Glock 17s, brand new, if you want a matching pair.’

  ‘And a hundred rounds each.’

  The guy paused a beat, and then he nodded, and he said, ‘I’ll go get you a price.’

  He got up out of his chair, and stepped out of the room.

  He closed the door behind him.

  And locked it.

  THIRTY-TWO

  FOR A SECOND I took the snick of the lock to be normal, somehow consistent with the whole cloak-and-dagger drama-queen bullshit we had seen since the beginning, starting with the gnome behind the pawn-shop counter. Exaggerated lock-and-key precautions at the warehouse end of the operation might be seen as authentic, by some buyers, and maybe exciting, somehow suggestive of other locks and keys, perhaps to whole storerooms stacked with boxes, each one full of weapons still dewy with oil.

  Then in the second second I dismissed that theory, because it was a lock too far. At that point we were still equal parties to a negotiation, both sides on best behaviour, properly wary and sceptical, for sure, like buying a used car, but at least polite.

  No one locks customers in a room. Not so early in the game.

  Therefore the third second was spent understanding something was seriously wrong, a familiar chill stabbing my face and my neck and my chest, and then I was glancing at Casey Nice, which upped the stakes, because she was glancing back at me, and then I was mentally listing the factors we had to deal with, purely on autopilot in the back of my brain, walls, a door, a window, four guys outside, and then in the fourth second the who and the why hit me, which made the whole thing worse.

  Because as far as the Serbians were concerned, we were customers, nothing more. Just possibly conceivably some kind of a weird student-exchange programme whereby FBI agents from America were moonlighting in London, maybe with London coppers doing the same thing in New York or LA or Chicago. But probably not. So we were customers, no different than a junkie talking to one of their dealers, or a john hiring one of their hookers. And customers get service, not a locked door. Or an enterprise goes out of business, pretty damn quick.

  So why? Only two possibilities. The first of which I hashed through during the fifth second. Maybe the Romford Boys were in such a state they had put out a general alert, like a price on our heads, with descriptions, all across the network. Maybe Charlie White had a red telephone on his desk, like in the Oval Office, for pride-swallowing calls between bosses. Maybe on this occasion he was willing to take help from anyone who would sell it.

  Or, during the sixth second, the second possibility, which was right there in O’Day’s own words, at the conference after the aborted barbecue dinner. A Serbian outfit in the west of London, and an old-fashioned English gang in the east. Karel Libor was a thorn in both their sides, according to MI5.

  In both their sides. Which might make this whole thing a co-production. A joint venture. An alliance, just for the duration. A one-time truce. Shared aims, shared benefits, shared duties, shared information. Kott and Carson completely safe, the whole of London covered, from east to west, like the District Line. What would that cost? A steady hand and a steady eye and a .50-calibre round, obviously, but money too, probably. A lot of money. Again, O’Day’s own words. These people are throwing money around. They’re not looking for value. They’re looking for easy solutions, and they have the budget to make them happen.

  But whichever, hired hands or co-equal partners, they had locked us in for a purpose. And that purpose was to keep us there, ahead of some kind of an upcoming predetermined event. Which would almost certainly be the arrival of a third party. The claimant. The vested interest. The prisoner escort. Little Joey, for sure, mob-handed, with a whole crowd of guys at his back. He would come in his Bentley, and there would be other cars, more Jaguars maybe, and at least one plain black van.

  For us.

  Not good.

  Nice said, ‘We walked right into it, didn’t we?’

  I said, ‘We’ve got some time.’

  ‘How much?’

  ‘Not sure. But London is big and traffic is slow and we’re all the way on the other side of town. They’ve got to get a little convoy together. That’s ten minutes, right there, even if they’re all on the ball. Then they’ll have to loop all the way north in a big wide circle, or come all the way through the centre of the city. The East End, Westminster, Paddington. Could be we have an hour. Or more than an hour. Could be we have nearer to ninety minutes.’

  ‘To do what?’

  ‘Whatever needs doing.’

  ‘Can you kick down the door?’

  The door was a stout wooden item, hardened with age, well fitted in its frame.

  ‘I could from the outside,’ I said. ‘Probably. But not from the inside.’

  ‘Can we break the window?’

  The window was not a Victorian original. It was a 1930s pattern, I thought, a replacement, enhanced by the benefits of science. Low maintenance, because it was made of aluminium or some kind of galvanized metal. Which was evidently strong enough to support large panes of glass, for extra daylight. Large enough panes for an average person to climb out. The glass looked perfectly normal. I said, ‘I think we’re going to have to break it, yes.’

  ‘Where does it lead?’ She answered her own question by peering out, close up, nose against the glass, left and right. There was nothing ahead except a blank brick wall. She said, ‘It’s an alley. Fairly long and narrow. I think it’s closed off at both ends. We’d be trapped in it. Unless we could get in some other building’s back window. And then out their front door.’

  I said, ‘Don’t worry about all that now.’

  ‘So when should I worry about it?’

  ‘First we wait. Five minutes. We could be wrong. Maybe it was just an excess of enthusiasm. Maybe he’ll come back with a price.’

  We waited. Five minutes. The guy didn’t come back with a price. On the other side of the door the workshop was quiet. There was no automotive maintenance under way. Which was a situation I had misinterpreted completely. I thought the grease monkeys had been sent away so the gun deal would stay private. But it was our capture that was supposed to stay private.

  Missed clues, missed connections, risks gone bad.

  My failures.

  Dominique Kohl.

  I said, ‘We need a complete inventory of this room.’

  Casey Nice said, ‘What are we looking for?’

  ‘Everything. When we know what we’ve got, we’ll decide how to use it.’

  We didn’t have much. In terms of large items easily visible, we had three armchairs, a desk, and a desk chair. The armchairs were the kind of thing you might have seen thirty years before in a corporate waiting area. Danish, possibly, or Swedish. Stubby wooden legs, under a simple upholstered shape, with knobby fabric gone flat and greasy with wear. The desk was even older. It was made of oak, in a traditional shape and style, with a kneehole drawer and three more in either pedestal, the bottom pair deep enough for files. The desk chair looked like a dining chair. Or a kitchen chair. No castors, no arms, no reclining mechanism. No lumbar support, no ergonomics. Just four sturdy legs, and a hard seat with a vague butt-shaped moulding carved into it, and a straight back.

  No phone, no desk light, nothing on the walls, no knives and forks left over afte
r hasty working lunches. No electrical cords, no phone chargers, no letter openers, no paperweights. The desk’s kneehole drawer held three forgotten paperclips, all dull with age, and a lone shaving from a sharpened pencil, and dust and grit trapped in the corners, and nothing else. Five of the six other drawers were similarly barren, but the deep drawer on the left had a sweater in it, a malodorous old item maybe dumped one warm day and never retrieved. It was off-white wool, with thin denim panels applied at the shoulders and the elbows. Its size was medium, and its manufacturer was someone I had never heard of.

  We stood back.

  Casey Nice said, ‘What were you hoping to find?’

  I said, ‘An armoured division would have been nice. Failing that, a couple of Heckler and Koch MP5s with a dozen spare magazines would have been convenient. Or even a book of matches would have been useful.’

  ‘We’ve got nothing.’

  ‘We’ve got what we’ve got.’

  ‘What are we going to do?’

  So I told her what, and we rehearsed it carefully, over and over again, and then we started doing it.

  THIRTY-THREE

  I PICKED UP an armchair, fingers and thumbs dug hard into the soft upholstery, and I hoisted it in front of my face, holding it upside down at a forty-five-degree angle, leading with the stubby wooden legs, and I took two long strides and flung it at the window. The legs shattered the glass, very noisily, and the bulk of the thing bounced off the centre spine of the frame and fell back on the desk and ended up on its side on the floor. Noise, noise, noise.

  Casey Nice stepped over close to the window, and I picked up the desk chair and went to the door to wait.

  No point in us getting out the window, I had said. The alley leads nowhere. We need to bring the four guys back in the room.

  And they came. Human nature. A sudden loud crash, obviously the window glass shattering, what else were they going to do? They were going to burst in, look around, hustle to the broken window, stick their heads out the hole, and look left and right.

  The lock clicked, the door opened fast, and the first guy got part way in. He was the main man, who had done all the talking. I got my right hand on the back of his neck and helped him along, with a vicious backhand shove that sent him skittering towards Nice at the window. I can deal with numbers two, three and four, I had said. But number one is yours. Get the best jagged splinter you can find, wrap your hand in the old sweater, and stick the splinter in his eye.

  Which I sincerely hoped she was doing, but I wasn’t watching, because at that point I was smashing the desk chair into the second guy’s head. Into it, not over it. Not like a saloon brawl in an old Western movie. Like a lion tamer in the circus. Because jabbing is better, like a punch, your whole moving bodyweight concentrated through the inch-square end of a leg. Mass and velocity, just like baseball, just like everything. I was aiming for a broken skull at the minimum, and instantaneous brain death at the maximum. I was hoping for an inch-square shard of bone punched right through into the soft tissue beyond. Which I might well have gotten. I couldn’t tell immediately. That would be a question for the autopsy. But either way, killed or just stunned, the guy went down like a sack. He was the guy who had driven us in the Skoda. I dropped the chair and ran right over him to get at the next two.

  Two against one is never a problem, I had said. Don’t worry about me. Just look after the first guy. If the splinter doesn’t finish the job, slam him with the desk drawer, edge on, bridge of his nose, hard, and keep on slamming him until he goes quiet.

  The third guy had slowed up dramatically, after seeing the fate of the first two unfold right in front of his eyes, and the fourth guy had crashed into him from behind, but the slapstick ended right there. The surprise was over, and they were not idiots. They reversed direction instantly, retreating and regrouping like they should. Neither one had a gun in his hand, which was a risk gone good. London was different. Guns were for special occasions, not routine. I was more worried about knives, because I don’t like them much, and Londoners do, apparently, but neither one had a knife out either. Not yet, anyway. No way of knowing what was still in their pockets.

  The workshop floor was a cluttered space bigger than a basketball court, littered with tools and hoses, blocked here and there by cars and hoists, still lit by nothing more than electricity. The security shutter was still closed. The two guys ahead of me fanned out twenty feet, and then stopped and turned, and cast about, the third guy ducking left and picking up a tyre iron, the fourth guy ducking right and scooping a wrench off a bench. The third guy was one of the pair who had come out of the boxed-off room. The fourth guy was the one who had stepped out of the shadows and closed the security gate. They came back a step towards me, in unison, balanced easy, up on their toes, arms out, eyes on me, blank and unwavering. Not the worst I had ever seen. Tough lives, and perpetual conflict in their ancestral DNA, and maybe some military service, and maybe some guerrilla activity, and certainly the guts to muscle in on folks like Charlie White and Karel Libor and make a shady living in a foreign capital. They weren’t going to fall down in a dead faint if I shouted boo.

  In my mind’s eye I could see Little Joey’s Bentley nosing through the traffic, but I figured I still had plenty of time. And there was no sense in rushing. Always better to let them come to you. Let them commit. Let them show you their moves, which shows you their weaknesses.

  We stood there for most of a minute, which felt like a good long time, locked together in a silent unchanging triangle, all of us tense, all of us rocking a little, staying loose, staying limber, their eyes on me, my eyes between them, relying on peripheral vision only, while learning the territory, and judging angles, and mapping routes. The Skoda we had arrived in was on my left, and beyond it was a car up on a ramp, all black and dirty on its underside, and then there was an empty bay, and then there was a dusty sedan parked in a corner, with soft tyres and a front wing missing, and on the other side of the space were racks of components in soiled cardboard boxes, and tyres, some new and stickered, most not, and a wheel-balancing machine, and oil funnels, and drums full of old rags, and a sad stack of corroded mufflers waiting for disposal. Behind me was more of the same, plus the boxed-off room, where I heard a sudden soft whimper. Male or female, I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t look back.

  The fourth guy moved. His wrench was a big handsome thing, dull steel, maybe a foot and a half long, with jaws each end two inches wide. For some kind of a big heavy-duty component, I guessed. A suspension bush, perhaps. Whatever that was. I knew nothing about cars. I knew some of the words, but not what they meant. The guy was holding the wrench like a hammer, and he raised it up, and he took a step forward. Whereupon the other guy should have rushed me, while I was distracted, but he didn’t. Maybe teamwork wasn’t on their agenda. Every man for himself. Which suited me fine. Two against one is never a problem, but no one likes to work harder than he needs to.

  The guy took another step. The wrench was still raised like a hammer. I took a step forward in turn, because I wanted my subconscious mind to know for sure what was behind me, which had to be empty space if I had just stepped out of it. And because moving up is always better than moving back. It unsettles the other guy, just a little. He had a wrench, and he was holding it like a hammer, and he was advancing, so why wasn’t I retreating?

  Come right ahead and find out, pal, I thought.

  He kept on coming, with just a trace of uncertainty in his face, and beyond him his partner started moving too, just a step. Show time. I watched the guy with the wrench, watched his hips and his waist, waiting for the first small sign of imminent action, and I saw it coming, his legs bracing, his elbow rising an inch, his intention as plain as day. He was going to launch himself at me with the wrench raised high, and he was going to bring it down like a tomahawk, ideally on the top of my head, but no big deal if he missed, because he still had a target about a yard wide to aim at, my left shoulder, my head, my right shoulder. A busted collarbone woul
d have worked for him just fine, at that point.

  So I went for him first, a long, fast, skipping stride, like a boxer aiming to finish a helpless opponent, and in the space of a split second all his previous certainty disappeared, and he crashed out of an offensive mode into a defensive panic, his back arching a little, his elbow rising even higher, as if he felt now he needed to land an even more enormous blow. Which was his weakness. Blunt instruments require a backswing, which is purely wasted motion. At the critical time his weapon was moving in exactly the wrong direction.

  I got the flat of my left palm on the underside of his elbow and pushed hard, exploiting his own momentum, forcing the backswing way further than he intended, bringing his upper arm past vertical, bringing the weight of the wrench scything down behind his back until it was about to hit him in the ass, whereupon I reached around behind him with my right hand and grabbed the wrench and twisted it and tore it clean out of his grasp. Which was not wasted motion. Taking the wrench away from him was the same thing as my own backswing. I swung it right back in immediately, high and hard and flat, and I caught him in the side of his jaw, just below his cheekbone, which must have smashed his upper back molars, assuming he had any, and the hinge of his jaw, and which must have jerked his brain around inside his skull like a jellyfish in a bell jar.

  He went down sideways, like a tree, on his right shoulder, and I heard the breath oomph out of him, and I heard his right temple hit the floor. By which point I was already double-timing it over to his partner, pretty sure the guy wasn’t going to do the only thing that could have saved him. And he didn’t.

  He didn’t throw the tyre iron at me. He held on to it, in a sudden defensive panic just like his friend, rearing back, arching away.

  Game over, right there. One on one, me against him. I slipped the wrench through my hand until one end was tight in my palm, and I jabbed it at him like a sword, my arm now about five feet long, effectively. You could have scoured every rainforest in the world and found the lankiest baboon or orangutan ever born, and he would have had a shorter reach than me. The guy could flail away with his tyre iron to his heart’s content, and he wasn’t going to get it near me.

  I said, ‘Where are Kott and Carson?’

  He didn’t answer.

  ‘The two men the Romford Boys are hiding,’ I said. ‘Where are they?’

  He didn’t answer.

  I jabbed him with the wrench, in the chest, in and out real fast. The open jaws were sharp, evidently. He yelped and backed off a yard. I
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