Personal, p.28
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       Personal, p.28
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘That’s how they do it.’

  ‘What kind of car?’

  ‘A Rolls-Royce.’

  ‘Black?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘Armoured, like Karel Libor’s Range Rover?’

  ‘Only the back doors and the back glass. And only against handguns. I guess they call it the anti-opportunistic assassination option. For the kind of customer who has enemies walking by.’

  ‘And the chase car is a Jaguar?’

  ‘They have dozens of them.’

  I said nothing.

  Bennett said, ‘Traffic stops are expensive. Not just in money. There’s exposure, and risk, and liability. Suppose a pregnant lady couldn’t get through to the hospital? Suppose an old man had a heart attack because of all the excitement? Questions would be asked. It’s a tactic we couldn’t justify unless there was a significant potential reward.’

  My turn to smile. I said, ‘You didn’t rule the world by being nice, right? You’re saying if we go after Charlie White, you’ll handle the chase car for us. But not if we settle for Tommy Miller or Billy Thompson. So our choice is fight two of Charlie’s guards, or four of theirs. Charlie’s will be better, but probably not twice as good. Therefore, what we have here is an incentive. Proposed and recommended by the behavioural psychology subcommittee. Am I right?’

  ‘We’re here to help each other. That’s how it’s supposed to work.’

  ‘When am I going to get my information about the bulletproof glass?’

  ‘One minute after I get it.’

  ‘Which will be when?’

  ‘Very soon.’

  ‘What time will old Charlie start out for his condolence visit?’

  ‘Late. The sun has to be down. It’s some ethnic thing. They have their rituals too. We have some details, including a likely route. And we think we’ve found a spot for the thing with the chase car. I’ll send over what we’ve got, on another computer.’

  Then he left.

  Casey Nice asked, ‘Is this one of the weird things that were going to happen?’

  I said, ‘No, this part was predictable.’

  FORTY-THREE

  THE NEW COMPUTER arrived, with the same people as before. They said in Nice’s case, her new password was the customer helpline number at her mother’s health insurance company, and in my case, my new password was the name of the other guy Shoemaker had seen me shoot. Then they left, and as before we carried the computer up to Nice’s room, and we entered the private information, and the screen opened up with a long list of files and folders.

  Most of the data was deep and random background, painstakingly gathered over many years, and then crunched through computers, this way and that, in the hopes that the past could predict the future. As in, on all the east–west cross-town trips that Charlie White had ever taken, he had never used the M25 motorway, preferring instead the North Circular Road, which, with the South Circular Road, was part of a much earlier attempt at an orbital system, once way out there on the edge of the city, now hopelessly overrun by sprawl. Old Charlie had taken the slow boat 85.7 per cent of the time. The other 14.3 per cent he had been driven straight through the centre. This was believed to show a strong preference. I believed it showed Sunday came but once a week. When the centre was quiet, a straight line was a no-brainer. Weekdays, it was better to keep some distance. There were seven days in a week, and a hundred divided by seven was fourteen point three. Except that in the modern world there wasn’t really much of a difference between Sundays and weekdays. But Charlie was an old man. And old habits die hard. Maybe he remembered London as a ghost town on Sundays, and the M25 as farms.

  I said, ‘What day is it today?’

  Nice said, ‘Friday.’

  Bennett had hedged his bets by planning for both routes, calling option two the straight shot through the centre, and option one the arc to the north on the North Circular. Not that it really mattered. Because obviously the arc would meet the straight shot somewhere, in this case way in the west, about nine o’clock on a dial. Which was the obvious place to put the pick-off point for the chase car. Two birds with one stone. Which is what Bennett had done. There was an aerial photograph of the place where the two roads met, which had a surreal acreage of blacktop, like a regular four-way stop suddenly swollen up to immense size, but uniformly, like Joey’s house.

  Charlie White’s home address was shown as a pushpin graphic on a map, and his destination was shown as another, stuck into an address in Ealing, which was his opposite number’s house. A summit meeting. There was a photograph of the place, which was a big, handsome, not-quite-suburban red-brick pile. Not a million miles from Chigwell, except it was. The street was about thirty years older than Joey’s, maybe, but it was there for the same kind of reason. Successful people had to live somewhere.

  Charlie’s latest Rolls-Royce had a file all its own. With photographs. It was big and ugly, with weird suicide doors on the back, but it was very imposing. No doubt about that. Ninety-three point two per cent of the time Charlie sat behind his driver, with a guard next to him on the back seat, and another next to the driver up front. The other 6.8 per cent of the time this linear deployment was changed to a diagonal deployment, with the back seat guard placed behind the driver. No pattern had been discerned. Which I guessed was likely, with computers. No common sense. Obviously Charlie’s regular driver was short. The steering wheel was on the right side of the car, and the car was on the left side of the road, and maybe Charlie didn’t feel comfortable next to the sidewalk, stopped at lights or slow in traffic, so he rode next to the crown of the road instead, behind his driver, which was OK because the guy was short, except the guy needed time off now and then, so on occasion Charlie was forced out from behind a taller replacement, maybe twenty-five days in a twelve-month period, which might have been a legal minimum, and which was 6.8 per cent of a year.

  I said, ‘I need to go buy a very sharp knife.’

  Nice said, ‘OK.’

  We walked eleven blocks on Piccadilly, and the whole length of Bond Street, and we saw plenty of knives, but some of them were solid silver, for eating fish, and others were neat pearl-handled pocket knives, for rooting around in briar pipes, and none of them was any good to me. Until we happened upon a very upscale hardware store. It was full of rugged tools, most of them with dark-stained wooden handles, including a linoleum knife with a wicked hooked blade. I bought two, plus a roll of silver duct tape, and the counterman put all three items in a brown paper bag that he gave me for free.

  Then Nice wanted clothes, so we made Oxford Street the third side of our square, and she picked out a store, where she picked out a new outfit. At the dressing-room door she gave me her jacket to hold, and she said, ‘You don’t need to check. I’ve still got one pill left.’

  Five minutes later she came out in her new stuff, and she put her jacket back on, and we headed for the street, but first we passed the escalator to the menswear department, so I followed her hint and headed upstairs. I got all new, except for pants, because none would fit. But the coat was better than the Arkansas golf jacket. Bigger pockets, and less of a Glockshaped silhouette. An upgrade, but I felt bad about ditching the old one. Like burying a friend. Khenkin’s brains had been on it, and Nice’s tears.

  Then we headed down through Grosvenor Square, past our embassy, towards the back of the hotel, and I said, ‘My guess is Bennett will offer us a government car tonight. In which case we’re going to take it, but we’re going to ditch it as soon as we can.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I don’t want to be tracked.’

  ‘Would they?’

  ‘Of course they would. They need to cover their ass. And they need to file a report tomorrow. Twenty point two per cent of the time I was scratching my head.’

  ‘Why do you need two linoleum knives?’

  ‘I don’t. I need one, and you need one.’

  ‘For what?’

  ‘Like I said before, we need to think for ourselv
es now, and there may be orders we need to ignore.’

  She said nothing.

  I said, ‘Best of both worlds. We’re doing our jobs, but we’re doing them our way.’

  She said, ‘OK.’

  ‘Which also means, tonight we leave our phones at home.’

  FORTY-FOUR

  BENNETT CAME BACK again just after four in the afternoon. He gave us the keys to his silver Vauxhall and told us he had programmed the chosen crossroads into the navigation system. He suggested we stand by a little ways west of the spot, to be ready to pick up the Rolls-Royce immediately after the chase car had been cut loose. He felt Charlie White would neither wait for it nor intervene nor try to help it in any way. Etiquette was too important. He couldn’t be late in Ealing. That would be discourteous, and even disrespectful. Such things were important to London gangsters.

  Charlie was expected at the Serbian leader’s house at ten o’clock in the evening, which apparently meant there was an 84 per cent chance he would leave home exactly one hour before, which would give him a twenty-minute margin in case of traffic or other delays. If necessary he would park around the block and wait. Such was his usual habit for sensitive destinations. Etiquette meant everything. Ten o’clock meant ten o’clock. But probably his east–west loop around the North Circular would be uneventful, and therefore he would likely arrive at the pick-off point before nine thirty. Bennett said his crew would be on the scene on full alert from the top of the hour onward, and he advised us to do the same.

  I said, ‘How are you coming along with my information about the glass?’

  He said, ‘You’ll get it as soon as I do.’

  ‘I know that. But when will you get it?’

  ‘Tonight, at the latest. Hopefully before the nine o’clock start time. If not, then I’ll have it immediately afterwards.’

  ‘Where is it coming from?’

  ‘You know I’m not going to tell you that.’

  ‘Who else did you talk to, and what kind of notes did you write?’

  ‘Nobody, and none at all. It’s as low profile as you can get. Which is probably why it’s taking so long.’

  ‘OK,’ I said. ‘Relax. Take a break. We’re going to. We’ll see you later tonight. You might not see us, but don’t forget, we’re out there somewhere, and we’re depending on you.’

  Bennett looked at me, but said nothing.

  Then he left.

  We ate at five thirty, because we wanted to be full of energy and good nutrition three and more hours later, and human digestion gets slower with stress, not faster. Then we put our phones side by side on her window ledge, twenty floors above Hyde Park, and she said, ‘I’m going to tell General O’Day we suspected penetration by British intelligence. It’s the only possible defence. I’m breaking strict orders here.’

  I said, ‘Understood.’

  ‘And it will only work once. They’ll make some new trade where the penetration becomes legitimate, in exchange for something else. So then we couldn’t come up with some entirely random new excuse a second time around without looking obvious. So this is the only time we can do it. Is it worth it, for the Brits?’

  ‘We only need to do it once. There wouldn’t be a second time.’

  ‘But why now?’

  ‘It’s as good a time as any.’

  ‘What does that mean?’

  ‘We leave here at seven thirty,’ I said.

  At seven thirty we were standing next to the silver Vauxhall, in the Hilton’s carriage circle, pooling and piecing together our impressions of the local geography, and coming to an unfortunate conclusion. Which was, to get where we were going, we had to either try a tricky slalom through the back streets, or drive around Hyde Park Corner in the direction of Buckingham Palace. Casey Nice felt the back streets raised the odds too high, of getting lost and thereby missing our deadline for the most mundane of reasons. I agreed. Then she said on the other hand Hyde Park Corner was a racetrack, and fender benders or traffic tickets were equally mundane. I agreed with that, too. But then she said she supposed back streets could be just as bad for fender benders and traffic tickets. Narrow spaces, parked vehicles, no-left-turn, no-right-turn, no rolling stops, or whatever the rules were. Probably the risk was far greater. So Hyde Park Corner it was. I volunteered to drive, but she insisted. Which was good. She was better at it.

  It was like jumping into a rushing river, and going with the flow, and then jumping out again at exactly the right spot, which was basically two bold manoeuvres separated by a lot of held breath. But Nice got it right both times, and we made it out to Grosvenor Place, safe and sound, tight against Buckingham Palace’s side wall, which looked a lot like Wallace Court’s side wall. Maybe the same contractor had built them both. Maybe at the time he had a long list of prospective customers, all of them worried about the same kind of thing.

  We dumped the car in a no-parking zone a hundred yards from the St James’s Park subway station. We felt a hundred yards was enough to keep our destination ambiguous. We could have been headed elsewhere. There was plenty of other stuff in the area. And the station itself served two separate lines, including the Circle Line, which like its name suggested ran in a subterranean circle, not as wide as the aboveground orbitals, more like the downtown Loop in Chicago. The other line was the District Line, our old friend, the one we wanted, which ran all the way across London from the east to the west.

  We stopped in at a bright white branch of Boots the Chemist and bought two burner cell phones, with cash. Then we walked onward to the subway, and we used our cash-bought travel cards, and we went down to the platforms, where we waited for a train running east, away from Ealing, away from the giant four-way, and away from Bennett.

  FORTY-FIVE

  WE GOT OUT of the Tube at Barking, and we walked up to the Barking Minicabs office, where Nice fired up her new cell and called for a car from the sidewalk outside. There was the usual ragtag selection of sedans on the kerb, old Fords and Volkswagens and Seats and Skodas, unfamiliar models to us, but clearly ideal for their line of work, like Crown Victorias in America or Mercedes Benzes in Germany. Within a minute a guy came out of the office. He was digging in his pocket for a key. He was middle-aged, and he looked local, and a little sleepy. He saw us and didn’t react in any way. Maybe he was part-time only, and unaware of late-breaking gangland APBs. He said, ‘Where to, folks?’

  I said, ‘Purfleet,’ because I liked the sound of the name. I had seen it on a road sign. I figured it was east and a little south of Barking. The guy indicated a scraped-up Ford Mondeo the colour of sewage, and he said, ‘Climb aboard.’

  Which we did, side by side on the rear seat. The guy slid in behind the wheel and took off, smooth and competent, left and right through the back streets, working the gearshift, keeping the diesel purr going. I figured he was aiming to join the main Purfleet road as late as possible, to beat the traffic, which worked for me. I waited until I saw a bleak stretch up ahead, with weedy sidewalks, and boarded windows, and a forlorn line of shuttered small-business workshops, and I pulled out my gun and waved it in the mirror, long enough for the guy to see it for what it was, and then I touched it to the back of his neck, and I said, ‘Pull over, right here.’

  Which he did, instantly sweating and panicking, and he said, ‘I don’t have any money on me.’

  I said, ‘Have you been robbed before?’

  He said, ‘Many times.’

  ‘This is different. We’re not going to rob you. We’re going to pay you for your time. Every minute. We’ll even give you a tip. But we’re going to drive now, and you’re going to ride in the back. OK?’

  The guy didn’t answer.

  I said, ‘Put your hands behind the seat.’

  Which he did, and I wrapped his wrists with about a yard of duct tape, and then his elbows with a yard more. Uncomfortable, but necessary, to keep him out of action. I asked him, ‘Do you breathe well through your nose?’

  He said, ‘What?’

 
No nasal congestion, no deviated septum, no adenoidal conditions, no current flu-like symptoms?’

  He said, ‘No.’

  So I wrapped another couple yards around his head, over his mouth, again and again, and then I slid out of the car and opened his door. I found his seat recline lever, and I laid him on his back, and I taped his knees, and his ankles. Then I hoisted his feet up in the air and I shovelled him backward and upside down over his seat into the rear compartment. Casey Nice took his shoulders, and we got him laid out on the floor, a little compressed, but liveable. I found a cell phone in his pants pocket, and I left it on the sidewalk. I put two of the Romford Boys’ fifty-pound notes in his shirt pocket. We figured that was a decent tip. Then Nice got in the front passenger seat, and I got in behind the wheel, and we drove off again, eight twenty-five in the evening, about three miles from where we wanted to be, which was Romford.

  We navigated by a shifting mix of dead reckoning and memories, of our previous trips, and of the maps we had seen on Bennett’s second computer, and we got to Romford OK, with about twenty minutes to spare, but then we agreed we needed more detail and precision, so I pulled over and Nice ducked out to a newspaper store and came back with an A–Z street atlas. We sat together with the taped-up guy grunting on the floor behind us, and we found Charlie White’s address, which gave us a drive from one page to the next. Five minutes, maybe. Rush hour was over, and traffic was moving right along. But slower than it looked, clearly, because it took us seven minutes, not five, to get to the end of Charlie White’s street.

  Which was a hard-boiled, somewhat leaner-and-meaner version of Little Joey’s street. The houses were a generation older, their chimneys a little taller, and their bricks a little shinier, but fundamentally the deal was the same. Lots of walls, lots of fences and gates, and lots of
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