Personal, p.21
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       Personal, p.21
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘No, you’re a dead man.’

  ‘Not so far. You’re confusing me with your boys. Or the Serbians. They took some casualties. That’s for damn sure.’

  ‘They told me they had you locked up.’

  ‘Nothing lasts for ever.’

  ‘What do you want?’

  ‘John Kott,’ I said. ‘And William Carson. And I’m going to get them. Best bet is for you to stay out of my way. Or I’ll run right over you.’

  ‘You have no idea.’

  ‘About what?’

  ‘You have no idea the trouble you’re in.’

  ‘Really? Truth is I feel pretty good right now. I’m not the one losing men left and right. That would be you, Joey. So this is a time for common sense and mature judgement, don’t you think? Cut Kott and Carson loose, and I’ll leave you alone. They already did Libor for you, and I’m guessing you already got your money. So what’s in it for you now?’

  ‘No one messes with me.’

  ‘As statements go, that’s not entirely accurate, is it? I’m already messing with you. And I’m going to keep on messing with you, until you cut Kott and Carson loose. Your choice, pal.’

  ‘You’re a dead man.’

  ‘You said that already. Wishing doesn’t make it so.’

  No answer. The call ended. The phone went silent. I pictured the activity, on Little Joey’s end. A minion, dispatched. The battery in one trash can, the phone body in a second can, the SIM card cracked with a thumbnail into four separate pieces, and dumped in a third can. A burner, burned.

  On my end I wiped the phone on my shirt and tossed it on the back seat. Casey Nice said, ‘Will he listen? Will he cut them loose?’

  I said, ‘I doubt it. Clearly he’s used to getting his own way. Backing down would make his head explode.’

  I shoved my Glock deep in my pocket. It fit pretty well, without the competition. Nice watched me and did the same. Smaller pocket, but a smaller gun. I heard its stubby barrel click against her pill bottle.

  I said, ‘Keep your pills in your other pocket. You don’t want to get all snagged up.’

  She paused a beat. She didn’t want to take the bottle out. She didn’t want to show me.

  I said, ‘How many left?’

  She said, ‘Two.’

  ‘You took one this morning?’

  She nodded and said nothing.

  ‘And now you want to take another?’

  She nodded and said nothing.

  ‘Don’t,’ I said.

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘They’re the wrong pills. You have no reason to be anxious. You’re performing very well. You’re a natural. You were superb this morning. From the pawn shop onward. All the way to the splinter of glass.’

  Which was possibly one sentence too far. I saw her hand move, as if involuntarily, as if cupping itself around the dirty sweater padding the jagged edge. She was reliving the experience. And not liking it. Her eyes closed and her chest started to heave and she burst into tears. Tension, shock, horror, it all came out. She shook and howled. She opened her streaming eyes and looked up, and down, and left, and right. I turned to her and she collapsed against me, and I held her tight, in a strange chaste embrace, still in our separate seats, bent towards each other from our waists. She buried her head in the fold of my shoulder, and her tears soaked my jacket, right where Yevgeniy Khenkin’s brains had been.

  Eventually she started breathing slower, and she said, ‘I’m sorry,’ all muffled against my coat.

  I said, ‘Don’t be.’

  ‘I killed a man.’

  ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘You saved yourself. And me. Think about it like that.’

  ‘He was still a human being.’

  ‘Not really,’ I said again. ‘My grandfather once told me a story. He lived in Paris, where he made wooden legs for a living, but he was on vacation in the south of France, sitting on a hillside near a vineyard, eating a picnic, and he had his pocket knife out, to lever open a walnut, and he saw a snake coming towards him, real fast, and he stabbed it with the pocket knife, dead on through the centre of its head, and pinned it to the ground, about six inches from his ankle. That’s the same as you did. The guy was a snake. Or worse than a snake. A snake doesn’t know it’s a snake. It can’t help itself. But that guy knew what he was choosing. Just like the other guy, yesterday, who wasn’t helping old ladies across the street, or volunteering in the library, or raising funds for Africa.’

  She rubbed her head against my arm. Nodding agreement, maybe. Or not, perhaps. Maybe just wiping her eyes. She said, ‘Doesn’t make me feel better.’

  ‘Shoemaker told me you knew what you signed up for.’

  ‘I did, in theory. Actually doing it feels different.’

  ‘There’s a first time for everything.’

  ‘Are you going to tell me it gets easier?’

  I didn’t answer. I said, ‘Save the pills. You don’t need them. And even if you do, save them anyway. This is only the beginning. It’s going to get harder later.’

  ‘That’s hardly reassuring.’

  ‘You have nothing to worry about. You’re doing well. We’re both doing well. We’re going to win.’

  She didn’t answer that. She hung on for a moment longer, and then she eased away from me, and we both retreated to our own spaces, and we sat up straight. She huffed and sniffed and wiped her face with her leather sleeve. She said, ‘Can we go back to the hotel? I want to take a shower.’

  I said, ‘We’ll find a new hotel.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Rule one, change locations every day.’

  ‘My new toothbrush is still there.’

  ‘Rule two, keep your toothbrush in your pocket at all times.’

  ‘I’ll have to buy another.’

  ‘Maybe I’ll get a new one too.’

  ‘And I want to buy clothes.’

  ‘We can do that.’

  ‘I don’t have a bag any more.’

  ‘No big deal. I’ve never had a bag. All part of the experience. You change in the store.’

  ‘No, I mean, how do we carry the boxes of ammunition?’

  ‘In our other pockets.’

  ‘Won’t fit.’

  She was right. I tried. The box stuck half in, half out. And my pocket was bigger than hers to begin with. I said, ‘But this is London. Who’s going to recognize it for what it is?’

  She said, ‘One person in a thousand, maybe. But what happens if that one person is a cop, like at Wallace Court, with a bulletproof vest and a sub-machine gun? We can’t be seen walking around town with boxes full of live ammunition.’

  I nodded. I said, ‘OK, we’ll get a temporary bag.’ I looked all around, in front, behind, both sides of the street. ‘Although I don’t see any bag stores here.’

  She pointed half-left. ‘There’s a convenience store on the corner. Like a miniature supermarket. One of their chains, I think. Go buy something. Gum, or candy.’

  ‘Their bags are thin plastic. I’ve seen them. You put the Coke in one last night. It was practically transparent. As bad as our pockets.’

  ‘They have big sturdy bags too.’

  ‘They won’t give me a big sturdy bag for gum or candy.’

  ‘They won’t give you any kind of bag. You have to buy them here. Which means you can choose whatever kind you want.’

  ‘You have to buy the stuff and the bag it goes in?’

  ‘I read about it in a magazine.’

  ‘What kind of country is this?’

  ‘Environmental. You’re supposed to buy a durable bag and use it over and over again.’

  I said nothing, but I got out of the car and walked up to the corner. The store was a bare-bones version of a big supermarket. Daily necessities, lunch items, six-packs, and soft drinks. And bags, just like Nice had predicted. There was a whole bunch of them near the checkout lanes. I picked one out. It was brown. It looked about as environmental as you could get. Like it had been woven out of recycled hemp f
ibres by one-eyed virgins in Guatemala. It had the supermarket’s name screen printed on it, faintly, probably with all kinds of vegetable dye. Carrots, mainly, I thought. Like the writing would all disappear in a shower of rain. But as a bag it was OK. It had rope handles, and it opened out into a boxy shape.

  I didn’t really want gum or candy, so I asked the woman at the register whether I could buy the bag on its own. She didn’t answer directly. She just looked at me like I was a moron and slid the bag’s tag across her scanner, with an electronic pop, and she said, ‘Two pounds.’

  Which I figured was OK. It would have been fifty bucks in a West Coast boutique. The Romford Boys paid for it, and I put their change in my back pocket, and I walked back to the parked Skoda.

  It wasn’t there.

  THIRTY-SIX

  I PUT MY hand on the Glock in my pocket, and the back part of my brain told the front part, seventeen in the magazine plus one in the chamber minus two fired in the Serbian garage equals sixteen rounds available, and it pulled me back against a real estate broker’s window, to cut 360 degrees of vulnerability to 180, but mostly it screamed at me: Dominique Kohl.

  I took a breath and looked left and right. There was no traffic cop to be seen. Which would have been logical. Nice would have taken off in a heartbeat if she had spotted one. Digital information in a camera system could be erased at the touch of a button, but Nice’s face and the Skoda’s plate in the same human memory at the same time couldn’t be managed so easily. Grander schemes had unravelled for less. But there was no cop on the block. There was no uniformed individual sauntering along, with notebook in hand.

  And there were no members of the public staring open-mouthed at the empty length of blacktop, either, as if after some big commotion. And Nice wouldn’t have gone down easy, not for the Romford Boys, not for the Serbians, not for anyone. She had doors that locked and a loaded gun in her pocket. Sixteen rounds available, the same as me. The street was far from quiet, but it was humming with nothing more than normal city activity. No big incident had taken place. That seemed clear.

  I slid along the broker’s window and stepped back into a doorway, for ninety degrees of exposure, like I had only a baseball diamond ahead of me. Traffic on the street was one-way, from my right to my left. There was a steady flow. Small hatchback cars, black taxis, an occasional larger sedan, delivery vans. No drivers peering left and right, no shotgun passengers searching faces. No one looking for me. I stepped out a pace and checked the corners. No one waiting there.

  She knows what she signed up for. And she’s tougher than she looks.

  She was captured, mutilated, and killed. I should have gone myself.

  I’m going to hang way back. It’s not going to happen again.

  I stepped out of my doorway and walked against the flow of traffic. There were people on both sidewalks, hurrying in both directions, in cheap suits and thin raincoats, carrying small furled umbrellas, like British people do, just in case, and briefcases and shopping bags and backpacks, no one doing anything other than just hustling along. No furtive behaviour. No black vans idling at the kerb, no big guys looking around, no cop cars.

  I took out the phone Scarangello had given me, and I found Nice’s number in the directory, and I called it. There was a long pause, nothing but scratchy silence, maybe waiting for network access, maybe waiting for an encryption protocol to lock in, and then I heard a ring tone, a long soft American purr in the heart of London, and another, and more, for a total of six.

  No answer.

  I clicked off.

  Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Maybe she was driving, and couldn’t talk. Maybe something had spooked her off the kerb, and she was circling the block. Some innocent reason. Left, and left again, and again, as many times as it took for me to finish my business in the convenience store. Eventually she would see me standing on the sidewalk, and she would swoop in and pick me up.

  I watched the corner ahead of me.

  She didn’t come.

  Or worst case, her phone was in some other guy’s hand, who would have a calculating gleam in his eye, as he watched the screen and saw my name there. Maybe they would stop, and try to reel me in. Right there and then. A two-for-one special. An improvised plan. Some kind of a trap, nearby. Casey Nice as bait, and some kind of an ambush.

  I watched my own screen.

  No one called me back.

  Plan for the worst. The only other number in the directory was O’Day’s. There’s GPS in our cell phones, so they’ll be watching over us every step of the way. He could lead me to her. Literally step by step. Until they ditched her phone, at least. I dialled, and heard the scratchy silence again.

  Then I clicked off the call, because up ahead of me the Skoda was coming around the corner.

  Nice was driving, but she wasn’t alone. Behind her in the back seat was another figure, solid but insubstantial in the shadows, tilted somehow, as if watching over her shoulder. Then the car got closer and I recognized the guy. Maybe forty or forty-five years old, a little sunburned, with cropped fair hair and a blunt, square face, wearing a sweater and a short canvas jacket. With blue denim jeans, no doubt, and tan suede boots, maybe British Army desert issue.

  Bennett, the Welshman with the unpronounceable first name. Last seen disappearing in Paris. The MI6 agent. Or MI5. Or something in between. Or something else entirely. It’s all pretty fluid at the moment, he had said, in his sing-song voice.

  The Skoda swooped to the kerb and braked hard in front of me. Both Nice and Bennett looked up at me, necks craned under the windshield rail, eyes a little wide, appealing somehow, Nice more so than Bennett, as if she was saying, Pretend this is normal.

  I got in. I opened the passenger door, and dumped myself in the seat, and got my feet in, and closed the door again. I held the environmental bag in my lap. Nice hit the gas and turned the wheel and took off again. She said, ‘This gentleman’s name is Mr Bennett.’

  ‘I remember,’ I said.

  ‘We’ve met,’ Bennett said, to her, not to me. ‘In Paris, where a gust of wind saved his ass.’

  I said, ‘Now you admit to being there?’

  ‘Not in writing.’

  ‘Why did you hijack my ride? I was worried there, for a second.’

  ‘There’s a traffic warden two streets away. They use photo tickets now. Better if you don’t get caught up in that kind of complication.’

  ‘What do you want?’

  ‘Pull over,’ he said. ‘Any place you like. We’ll move again if we see anyone coming.’

  Nice slowed the car, and hunted for a space at the kerb, and ended up half in and half out of a bus stop. Technically illegal, no doubt, but Bennett showed no great concern. I asked him again, ‘What do you want?’

  He said, ‘I want to ride along for a day or two.’

  ‘With us?’

  ‘Obviously.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I have a roving brief at the moment. Which I interpret to mean I should keep an eye on the other thirty-six undercover operators in London and latch on with whoever’s furthest ahead.’

  ‘We’re not ahead.’

  ‘Neither is anyone else, I’m sorry to say. But at least you’re having fun.’

  ‘Not so far.’

  ‘But you’re making some kind of progress.’

  ‘Are we?’

  ‘Don’t be so modest.’

  ‘Are you wearing a wire?’

  ‘Want to search me?’

  ‘I will,’ Nice said, over her shoulder. ‘If I have to. There are rules.’

  ‘Says the unacknowledged asset, operating inside an ally’s territory, with two recent homicides in her slipstream.’

  I said, ‘You can look at me for both of those.’

  ‘Implausible,’ Bennett said. ‘How do you explain Wormwood Scrubs? You
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