Personal, p.29
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       Personal, p.29
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  late-model automobiles.

  Including a black Rolls-Royce and a black Jaguar, parked nose to tail two houses down on the left, behind a fence just like Joey’s. Part red brick, with a knee wall and tall spaced pillars, and part wrought iron, painted black and twisted into shapes like licorice, with two electric gates made of the same stuff, one for in and one for out. The Rolls-Royce was parked ahead of the chase car, which made logical sense, at least linguistically. Both gates were closed.

  There was an 84 per cent chance he would leave home exactly one hour before.

  Five minutes.

  I looked at the map and said, ‘They’re heading for the North Circular Road. They’ll turn left out of the house. They’ll drive away from us. We need to be at the other end of the street.’

  Nice said, ‘Do you want to risk a drive-by, or should we go around the block?’

  ‘We took a minicab for a reason. We can get away with a slow cruise, like a guy looking for an address, and then turning around and pulling over and waiting for his customer.’

  ‘These people have drivers of their own.’

  ‘Not all of them. Only the working-class heroes.’ I backed up a little and made the turn, and drove exactly like a guy looking for an address, slow and obvious, peering out the side window all the time. Charlie’s place was a solid old pile, fairly ornate, built back when bricklayers were cheaper than bricks. The front garden was long gone, replaced by a shallow curving driveway, in one gate and out the other, over flagstone slabs and gravel shapes, between concrete urns and concrete angels, some of them with pans of water held high above their heads, for the birds to drink.

  I turned around two houses later, and I pulled into the kerb, and I waited.

  Etiquette meant everything. And ten o’clock meant ten o’clock. Therefore exactly one hour before meant nine o’clock. And at eight fifty-nine on the nose Charlie’s front door opened, and he stepped out. He looked just like his photograph. Seventy-seven years old, bulky, round-shouldered, with thin grey hair, and a plain face, and a nose the size of a potato. He was wearing a black suit with a black tie under a black raincoat. Behind him came a shorter old guy, who I assumed was the driver. Behind the short guy came a stream of six younger men, all plainly dressed, all with shaved heads, all a useful size. Four of them headed for the Jaguar, and the other two trailed along towards the Rolls-Royce, now directly behind old Charlie himself, because by that point the driver had hustled on ahead to open his door.

  Which was awkward, because it was a suicide door, with the handle at the front, one of a seamless pair with the driver’s door handle, which was on a regular door, and Charlie was approaching from the rear, all of which meant Charlie had to pass by his driver, and then stand and wait until the guy opened up, and then reverse direction, and get in. But between them they got the job done eventually. Charlie settled back, and the driver closed the door on him, and he opened his own regular door, and he slid in, and the two guards got in on the other side, one in the front and one in the rear.

  At nine o’clock exactly the gate started to move.


  I WAS CLINGING to two crucial assumptions, the first of which was that the short old guy in the Rolls-Royce thought of himself as a bit of an artist. Maybe he was a veteran wheelman from way back, an old pro, adaptable to any circumstance, whether the requirement was for a fast getaway from a bank job, or a silent chauffeur for the top boy, but one who secretly colluded in his boss’s obsessions, such as for precision timekeeping, especially with sensitive destinations ahead. Therefore I expected the guy to touch the gas when the gate was open some exact accustomed distance, such that it would be still wider open when the car actually got there, thereby allowing the car to pass through, fast and neat and fluent, but with only inches to spare, as if the guy’s mechanical precision was somehow a homage or a tribute to his boss’s chronological precision. I figured that was how an artist would play it.

  Which meant I had to guess the guy’s hit-the-gas signal, and hit mine about three seconds earlier, because I was still some ways down the street, and I had distance to make up. But I couldn’t afford to arrive either early or late, so I set off at a slow roll, which I thought was acceptable, because a minicab driver might need to make a note or put his pen away, before looking up and engaging his brain and taking off for real. I saw the Rolls-Royce move when the gate was about two-thirds open, slow and smooth, a modest, whispering acceleration, as if the driver intended to take the turn into the street without pausing, as one fluid move.

  I watched the speed of the gate and the speed of the car, and the depth of the sidewalk, and the distance between where I was and where I would need to be, and I let the back part of my brain make a quick and dirty decision about when to go, and I hit the gas when it told me to. The grimy old Ford jumped forward, ten yards, twenty, and then I stamped on the brake and the car came to a dead stop, right where the Rolls-Royce wanted to be, so the Rolls-Royce driver stamped on his own brake in turn, and he came to a stop with his majestic grille two feet from Casey Nice’s door, and behind him the chase car stopped two feet from his back bumper.

  Then the next split second was all about Casey Nice sliding out through her narrow gap and heading left, her gun out exactly like the federal agent she was, with me skittering around the hood from the other flank, gun out too, and heading right, breathless, for the all-bodyguard side of the limousine, for the twin door handles, right there side by side in the middle of the car, such that both handles could be grabbed at once, and both doors thrown open at the same time.

  The second crucial assumption I was clinging to was that modern automobiles had a device that locked the doors automatically, but only when a predetermined speed had been achieved. Which I was sure had not been achieved. Not in this case. Not yet.

  I held the Glock finger and thumb and put my hands on the handles.

  And pulled.

  Both doors opened.

  And both doors opened on Nice’s side, too, which put us exactly where we wanted to be in relation to the chase car, which was each of us safely behind our very own hunk of armoured steel and armoured glass. The back doors and the back glass, Bennett had said, in his sing-song voice. And the back doors were hinged at the rear, and they opened wide, to a full ninety degrees, so they stuck straight out sideways, like Little Joey’s ears, thereby keeping us protected as we went about our business. Only against handguns, Bennett had continued, but I figured that was OK, because I was sure the guys in the chase car had nothing bigger. Not that I expected them to shoot at all. Too much risk of hitting Charlie. They would know the rear windshield was armoured, but Bennett hadn’t mentioned anything else, so they wouldn’t risk a wild deflection through a soft-skinned area like the trunk, or a rear wheel arch, because it could come through the upholstery and hit a back seat passenger anywhere from the ass to the neck. So I expected them to freeze for a second, and then to react, and then to change their minds, and finally to do what they should have done first, which was come swarming out of the car and straight at us. But they would do it fourth, not first, which would give me three clear seconds to get my business done, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, like the long lonely flight of John Kott’s bullet, through the cold Parisian air.

  My business was to aim the Glock at Charlie White’s head in a threatening manner, while using the linoleum knife in my other hand to cut the rear guard’s seat belt, in two places, slash, slash, and then to lean in and launch a kind of backhand elbow to the far side of the guy’s head, so he ended up falling out, and then to shuffle sideways and do it all again, to the guard in the front, slash, slash, the elbow, the guy falling out, and then to turn and kick the back seat guy, in the head, and the front seat guy, the same, to keep them out of action on the ground, and then to hustle back to the Ford, and move it out the way, and jump out again, and turn, by which time I was into the fourth second, and they were out of their car.

  But I had to fire anyway. All part
of the plan. But not at their tyres. The angle was wrong. The bullet would have bounced off, literally. Tyres can be freakishly strong. Best way to disable a modern automobile is to fire through the grille. Under the hood. All kinds of wires there, and computer chips, and sensors.

  Which is what I did. Four rounds, spaced but fast, crouched wide around my armoured door, bang-bang-bang-bang, which set the four guys back a step, which gave me time to lunge forwards and slam my front door shut, and to hurdle the guys on the ground, and to shuffle and pivot and dump myself down next to Charlie, and to haul my rear door shut, while Nice in the front hit the gas, having used her own Glock and her own knife on the short guy, and the Rolls-Royce surged forward like a tidal wave and howled down the street. The four guys ran after us for half a block, just like the movies, and then they stopped, and watched us go.


  THE ROLLS-ROYCE FELT exactly like it should, given the things people like to say. It was very hushed, and it was very smooth. The rear bench was built like an armchair in an officers’ club. It was deep, and wide, and soft. Next to me Charlie White was still belted in. His body was facing front, but his head was turned, and he was staring at me. A strand of his hair had fallen out of place. Up close his nose was like most of an avocado pear. But overall he looked exactly like a gang boss. He was full of power and strength and confidence.

  I said, ‘Are you armed, Charlie?’

  He said, ‘Kid, you know you just signed your own death warrant, right? Please tell me you’re clear about that. No one does what you just did.’


  ‘But nothing.’

  I said, ‘There’s always something, Charlie.’

  ‘Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in?’

  ‘So much I should cut my losses and shoot you in the head and walk away while I still can?’

  He said, ‘You could do that. Or you could get a stay of execution just long enough to get out of town. That’s what I’m offering. But I only ask once, and I take your first answer, so you’d better put your thinking cap on, kid, about what comes next, about how hard it’s going to be, and how hard it’s going to be every day for the rest of your life.’

  ‘What do you want us to do in exchange for that?’

  ‘Get out of my car.’

  ‘Wrong answer, Charlie. My question was, are you armed?’

  ‘I’m on my way to a memorial service. Of course I’m not armed.’

  ‘Is that an elaborate courtesy?’


  ‘Do you have a portable phone in your pocket?’

  ‘Do I look like the kind of man who makes his own telephone calls?’

  I said, ‘Strictly speaking, you were on your way to a memorial service. Now you’re on your way someplace else. I’m going to have to tape your wrists. No way around that. And it would be better for me if I taped your mouth, too. But to be frank with you, Charlie, I’m concerned how well you breathe through that nose.’

  ‘You’re concerned what?’

  ‘You could suffocate if I taped your mouth.’

  ‘There’s nothing wrong with my nose.’

  ‘Good to know. That’s settled, then.’

  He said, ‘Exactly what is it you’re trying to do here?’

  I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re just collateral damage.’

  ‘From what? I have a right to know.’

  From the front seat Casey Nice said, ‘No, Mr White, you do not. As a matter of fact you have no rights at all. Legislation is not on your side. Your associate Joseph Green is harbouring men who would be called terrorists by any court in the world.’

  ‘I don’t know anything about Joey harbouring anybody.’

  ‘He has guests.’

  ‘Friends of his, I expect.’

  ‘You’re responsible for what he does.’

  ‘He hasn’t done anything.’

  I said, ‘But he will,’ and Nice slowed the car, and took the turn for Chigwell.

  We passed the pub, which we both remembered, and we did our best to follow the turns we had taken on foot, the huge car more at home there than in Romford, until we came to the board fence, with the yard-wide gap before the next fence began. Nice pulled over and stopped, and I made Charlie White take his seat belt off, and I made him squirm around with his back to me, and I taped his wrists, and his elbows, and his mouth, around and around, and then I leaned over and opened his door, and pushed him out, and followed after him, and hauled him into the mouth of the alley.

  Nice drove on a hundred yards and parked equidistant from five opulent houses, compared to any one of which a gap in a fence a hundred yards away was invisible. She jogged back, fast, a little up on her toes, not relaxed at all, and she bundled into the alley after us, and then squeezed past us and led the way. I kept old Charlie moving behind her, with the old guy huffing and puffing, whether from indignation or lack of condition I couldn’t tell, but either way he was proving himself an honest man when he said there was nothing wrong with his nose.

  We made it into the grit clearing, Nice first, glancing left and right, then Charlie, stumbling, his best pants flapping, and then me, checking our backs, checking left, checking right, checking the wooden hut ahead, with Bowling Club over the door. Nice ducked down and moved the stone and stood up again and said, ‘There’s no key.’

  Charlie White stood there, breathing hard.

  I said nothing.

  She said, ‘Yes, I’m sure it’s the right stone.’

  I said, ‘Did they change the lock back?’

  ‘Why would they?’

  I didn’t answer. A shed made of wood, built way back before I was born. Take it up with whichever carpenter died fifty years ago, Bennett had said. A good craftsman, probably, but working with poor postwar materials, plus sixty or so summers and sixty or so winters, which meant the shed would be strong, but not very strong. I took three long strides and smashed my heel through the lock and caught the door on the bounce.

  The binoculars were gone.

  The kitchen stools were gone, and the tripod stands were gone. The clear lane in front of the windows was completely empty.

  Casey Nice said, ‘Is this one of the weird things you told me would happen?’

  I said, ‘No, I think it’s even weirder than that. But like the man said, we get what we get.’

  I pushed Charlie White all the way in, and I made him sit in a corner, leaning on a bag of bowling club stuff. I switched on my phone, and I entered Bennett’s number, which I remembered from his text the day before, and I sent him a message.

  It said: We have Charlie White.

  Then I pictured computers whirring in the county of Gloucestershire, and I switched my phone off again, immediately.

  Nice said, ‘Will it work?’

  I said, ‘I have no idea. But I’m sure something will happen.’

  Charlie White was watching us. His eyes would always take second place to his nose, in terms of distinguishing features, but they were handsome enough, and mobile, sliding back and forth between us, or perhaps between two different interpretations of his predicament. The first might be represented by me, some kind of a big American thug far from home and punching above his weight, stupid enough to go for a big score, which meant I was guaranteed to be dead, and he was guaranteed to be alive. It was just a matter of time. There would be a little discomfort along the way, but the final outcome was not in doubt. He was far too valuable a chip to be wasted. And a little discomfort was nothing to a Romford Boy. They had come up from worse.

  But a second possible interpretation was represented by Casey Nice, with her youth, and her bustling energy, and her accent, downstate Illinois via Yale and Langley, all shot through with the kind of ringing clarity that must have come from growing up in a farmhouse with more than one dog. She was a type, a product of the modern world, perhaps recognizable even in London. She was federal, no question. In which case the taunts about collateral damage might have been true, whic
h was another way of saying pawns in the game, and no way was Charlie White ever going to call himself a pawn in a game, but even bishops and knights got sacrificed sometimes. Because the world’s governments were king, with all their three-letter agencies and their shadowy units, which had to be where the girl was from. What else could she be? She was part of some huge international operation, which for once wasn’t all about London and Charlie, which removed his guarantee of survival. A pawn was not a valuable chip.

  Charlie White didn’t know what to think.

  ‘Check,’ Nice said. ‘Bennett should have replied by now.’

  I switched my phone on again, and watched it hunt for its signal, and find it, and present me with everything I had missed in the interim, which was a single text message from Bennett. It said: WHERE ARE YOU MOST URGENT NEW INFORMATION REPEAT EXTREMELY URGENT NEW INFORMATION MUST DISCUSS IMMEDIATELY

  No punctuation, no nothing.


  WE HAD TAKEN careful steps to avoid electronic surveillance, and now we were being asked to come right out and tell the British where we were. Casey Nice said, ‘I think we have to.’

  I said nothing.

  She said, ‘You’ve been bugging him for data. About the glass. And now he has it. You have to hear what he has to say. It could be important. In fact it must be important. Look at his language.’

  ‘Unless he’s faking. Maybe he’s pissed we fell off the map. He’s in charge. He’s supposed to know where we are. Maybe he’s taking it like a challenge.’

  ‘He’s a brother soldier. Look at what he wrote. Would he lie to you that bad?’

  ‘They didn’t rule the world by being nice.’

  ‘Your call,’ she said.

  I put my finger on my phone’s off button, and I held it there, touching but not pressing, and then I changed my mind and handed the
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