Personal, p.31
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       Personal, p.31
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘But you know someone is there?’

  ‘I never met the man.’

  Bennett said, ‘He killed Karel Libor for you, and he gave you a lot of money, and he induced you to shake hands with the Serbians, and you’re providing twenty-four-seven shelter and security for him, and for a deal of that magnitude you never talked to him face to face?’

  Charlie said nothing.

  Bennett said, ‘I think you talked extensively. I think you know every detail. Including the target.’

  Charlie said, ‘I want my lawyer.’

  Bennett said, ‘Which part of Guantanamo Bay don’t you understand?’

  Charlie said nothing.

  Bennett said, ‘Hypothetically, then. For now. If a hypothetical man in your hypothetical situation was involved in a deal of that type, would he not want to approve certain details?’

  ‘Of course he would. Hypothetically.’

  ‘Including the target?’

  ‘Of course the target.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘It would have to be acceptable.’

  ‘Who would be off limits?’

  ‘Women and children, obviously. And the royal family.’

  ‘And the prime minister?’

  ‘That would be a big step. Hypothetically, I mean. I believe such people haven’t dabbled in that kind of politics before.’

  ‘Just the folding kind?’

  ‘Hypothetically.’

  ‘So you know what the target is. Because you approved it.’ No answer.

  Bennett said, ‘This is like one of those philosophy questions that people debate in the newspapers. Suppose you had until the sun comes up to find the ticking bomb? How far could you go, legally and ethically?’

  No answer.

  ‘What’s the target, Mr White?’

  Charlie said nothing. He was looking at Bennett, looking at me, looking at Bennett, back and forth, with some kind of a plea in his eyes, as if he wanted permission to give each of us a different answer.

  I said, ‘Leave it for now, Bennett. It doesn’t change what we have to do next.’

  Bennett looked at me, and at Charlie, and at Nice, and then he shrugged and stepped back to where he had been before, by the window, and as he got there the busted door crashed open and a man with a gun stepped in, followed immediately by another, the hut suddenly hot and cramped, six of us in there, and then it got worse. A leg the size of a tree trunk appeared, bent at the knee, and a massive shoulder, and a bent back, and a lowered head, way down under the lintel, where it said Bowling Club outside, and then Little Joey was right there in front of us, in the hut, upright, nearly seven feet tall, the pent of the roof exactly framing his massive head and shoulders.

  FIFTY

  JOEY’S HUGE BULK pushed his two guys forward, and we didn’t have room to retreat, so we ended up all packed together like in a subway car, which meant contact between us and them was made early, with one of Joey’s guys pressing up against Casey Nice, and seizing her elbow, and moving her in front of him, presumably with his gun in her back, and the other guy doing the same thing to Bennett, so I had no snap shot. The Glock stayed in my pocket. There was nothing I could do at all, except get a crick in my neck.

  Up close and personal Joey was worse than I had feared. He was nothing like the athletes I had seen, years before, from visiting colleges on the West Point campus, the football players and the basketball teams. Those guys had been immense, but quiet and focused and above all contained, as if their frontal lobes were fully in command. Joey didn’t look that way. He was the furthest thing possible from a small nervous guy, but he was twitching and throbbing with the same kinds of spasms. He looked deranged. His eyes were buried deep and his lower lip was hanging down over his absent chin. His teeth were wet. His right foot was tapping on the floor. His left hand was bunched in a fist, and his right hand was arched open, completely rigid.

  He looked at Charlie White first, and then he looked away. He looked at Casey Nice, up, down, and then at me, the same, up, down, and then at Bennett, right into his eyes, and he said, ‘You think I didn’t notice the fence blew down? And the tree? You think I’m stupid? You think you’re the only one who can afford night-vision binoculars? We thought you’d gone. But we checked anyway. And look what we found.’

  No reply from Bennett. I recognized both of Joey’s guys. They had been in the little supermarket’s parking lot. The security cordon, from the black Jaguar. Two of the four. The pick of the litter. Next to their boss they looked like miniature humans. I assumed the other two were out in the lot. In the cold and the dark. I assumed the driver was still with the Bentley, at the far end of the yard-wide footpath. I put my hands in my pockets. On the right I had the Glock, and on the left I had the linoleum knife. I glanced out the window at the shadowy contours of the street four hundred yards away, and I hoped Kott didn’t have a night-vision scope on his rifle. He could have chosen which eye to plug me through.

  Behind me Charlie White said, ‘Joey, get me out of here, will you?’

  But Joey didn’t answer right away, which gave me a glimmer of hope. Maybe he was setting foot on a road that might lead somewhere useful. It’s a DNA thing. Like rats.

  Behind me Charlie said, ‘They’re armed, Joey. They have guns and knives.’

  Joey nodded, an inch down, an inch up, which looked millimetric, given his bulk. The guy with Bennett let go of his elbow and started patting his pockets. He came out with the switchblade, now closed up again, and a SIG-Sauer automatic, a P226, I thought, favoured by Special Forces everywhere. Then the guy with Casey Nice did the same thing, and out came her Glock, and her linoleum knife, and finally her pill bottle, its lone occupant rattling quietly. Joey held out his hand, the size of a trash-can lid, and the guy put the bottle in it, and Joey held it between a huge finger and a huge thumb, and he brought it up close to his face, and he said, ‘Who is Antonio Luna?’

  Casey Nice started once, and started again, and said, ‘A friend of mine.’

  ‘Are you addicted?’

  Nice paused a beat and said, ‘I’m trying not to be.’

  Joey used a thumbnail the size of a golf ball and popped the lid, which fell away to the floor, and he upended the bottle into his palm, where the lone pill looked tiny.

  He said, ‘Do you want it?’

  Casey Nice didn’t answer.

  ‘Do you?’

  No answer.

  ‘You do, don’t you?’

  No answer.

  Joey slammed his palm to his mouth, and he swallowed the pill.

  He dropped the bottle on the floor.

  Charlie White said, ‘Joey, come on.’

  Joey reached out an arm the size of a tree limb and nudged his guys aside, one way and the other, making them haul Nice tight against the wall and Bennett tight against the window, elbows around their necks, guns visible now, aimed at me, Browning High Powers from Belgium.

  I took my hands out of my pockets.

  Joey turned sideways and came through the gap between his guys, one freakish stride, and then he stopped and stood face to face in front of me.

  Or face to collar bone. He was six inches taller. And six inches wider. He was all bone and muscle. Not a bodybuilder. Like a regular guy, but a strong one, and all swollen up uniformly, like his house. He smelled of sweat, sharp and acid, and there was a pulse jumping in his neck. All of which hit the ancient parts in the back of my brain, especially the most ancient part of all, which had kept us safe for seven million years, and counting. The flight reflex, and mine was screaming at me to get the hell out of there. But I didn’t. I had no place to go. Wall behind me, wall to the left of me, wall to the right of me, and Joey ahead of me. I looked up into his eyes, and in the recessed shadows I saw one pupil blown the size of a dime, and the other like a pinprick.

  I said, ‘What else are you taking, Joey?’

  He said, ‘Shut up.’

  He lifted his hands. His fingers were long and thick. Not like sausages. Wrong
description. They were wider than that, and harder. More like soda cans, jointed at the knuckles, with fingertips twice as wide as mine, and nails twice the size.

  He hooked those fingertips into my coat pockets, and wormed them deep, four inches maybe, coming close, breathing on me, and then he jerked back and tore the pockets right off my coat. My gun and my knife spilled out and clattered to the floor. He scraped at them with his feet, and kicked them behind him. Then he turned and stepped back to the door, the same giant stride in reverse.

  Charlie White said, ‘Joey, don’t walk away from me.’

  Joey shifted his weight, one foot to the other, and the floor creaked, and the balanced flashlight fell over, and shone a rolling beam across our ankles. Charlie White started moving, getting impatient, testing the tape on his wrists. I figured Joey had about a second and a half to make up his mind. Any longer than that, and there was no going back. Bonds of trust would have been destroyed. Suspicions would permanently linger. Charlie would always know it had passed through his subordinate’s mind to do exactly what I had outlined to Bennett.

  A second and a half.

  Joey chose wrong.

  He turned his giant head and called out the door, ‘Get in here and take Mr White home.’

  Which was impossible, as long as he was blocking the doorway. So he bent his head again, and hunched his shoulders, and bent his back, and bent his knees, and he squirmed his way out of the hut, sideways, right leg, duck, left leg, and then he was gone again.

  The guys holding Nice and Bennett stayed on the ball, their elbows tight on their necks, their guns up diagonally, ready for instant action, aimed halfway between them and me. I looked at Bennett and said, ‘What do they call these new teams they’ve got you in?’

  The guy holding him said, ‘Shut up.’

  I said, ‘Make me.’

  Which he didn’t. He was not authorized to intervene, I guessed, except in dire emergencies. Other than that, our fate and our treatment was to be decided at a higher level, at a later time. Bennett said, ‘We don’t really have a name. Not yet. It’s all pretty fluid at the moment.’

  ‘Is your air force working with you?’

  He nodded. ‘It’s a completely integrated approach.’

  ‘Can you get us a flight out of here?’

  ‘Home?’

  ‘Fort Bragg.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘Now would be great. But let’s say a couple hours from now.’

  ‘You’re optimistic.’

  ‘I try to stay cheerful, no matter what.’

  ‘Won’t O’Day send a plane?’

  ‘I want the Royal Air Force,’ I said. ‘I’ll trade that for not meeting the Queen.’

  Then the guys from outside came in, and they hustled through the tight quarters and helped Charlie White to his feet. They cut the tape off his wrists and his elbows with knives of their own, and he rubbed his arms and rolled his shoulders to get some circulation back, and then he straightened up, no longer a hostage, but a gang boss again, full of power, and strength, and confidence. He looked at me and said, ‘You lose, kid. Pity about that. Because now comes the death warrant.’

  I glanced out across the bowling lawn, at the dark street nearly a quarter of a mile away. Was Kott watching? I pictured a hallway window, 50 per cent taller and 50 per cent wider than anyone else’s hallway window, with a tripod behind it, and a pair of night-vision binoculars, bought off the Internet maybe, or stolen and smuggled out of a military depot anywhere in Britain or Europe, with Kott crouched behind them, eyes to the rubber rings, staring past where the fence had been, and the fallen tree, taking in all the precise silvery details. But the line of sight was narrow. We could see the house, and he could see the hut, but none of us could see much of anything else.

  Which was good.

  What would he hear, from a quarter mile away? The Browning High Power was a nine-millimetre weapon, and like all Fabrique Nationale products it was built tight and true, so it would be no noisier than it needed to be. But he would hear it. Gunfire would be audible, at four hundred yards, late in the evening in the suburbs.

  Surely.

  Probably.

  Did he have a night-vision scope on his rifle?

  I said, ‘Charlie, wait.’

  Charlie stopped and turned back, and I hit him in the face, a colossal right, all the way up from my planted feet, as hard as I could, partly because I didn’t like the guy, and partly because I had to drive on through to the guy holding Nice, with no delay at all. Which was pretty much what happened. I caught Charlie dead on the nose, which admittedly was a big target, and I felt my fist drive through it, and beyond it, and then his falling body weight whipped his head out from under my moving hand, and my momentum carried me onward, shoulder-first into Nice, and then the guy behind her.

  There were eight of us in there at that point, and the advantage of fighting in a small tight-packed hut with a flashlight rolling around on the floor was all the dark close-quarters pushing and shoving and stumbling, which made an accurate aim impossible, especially with the top boy in the mix somewhere, collateral damage just waiting to happen, especially because Bennett was messing with one of the guys, and I was messing with the other. Casey Nice knew exactly what was happening, and she peeled away like a wraith, but not before taking advantage of her relative geometry by kneeing her guy in the nuts as she spun. Which helped me considerably, because it meant the guy’s head was jerking downward just as my elbow was jerking upward, which doubled the power of the blow, like money for nothing, which left me instantly free to turn on Charlie’s escorts, who at that point were still empty-handed, and already moving away, thinking that Charlie was right behind them, which indeed he had been, right until he hit the deck.

  One guy brought his hands up like a boxer, pretty high, so I hit him in the gut, which was a better close-quarters blow anyway, a tight body shot, no extension required. The other guy crowded in like he was going for a bear hug, which would have been a reasonable move, but he didn’t get all the way there, because however crowded the quarters, there was always room for a head butt, which cracked in right on target, an inch of backswing, and a lot of fast-twitch muscle. He went down and I turned back to the guy I had hit in the gut and I popped a knee under his chin, and he went down, by which time we were about three seconds into it, and certainly noisy, but I wasn’t worried about Joey rushing in, partly because Joey couldn’t rush in, not through any kind of a normal doorway, and partly because even if he did, I wouldn’t worry about him immediately.

  Because I knew something about Joey.

  Bennett was doing OK. He had a thumb in his guy’s eye, and his other hand was crushing the guy’s throat. In the active sense of the word. His fingertips were right in behind the guy’s larynx, squeezing and tearing. They didn’t rule the world by being nice. That was for damn sure. I picked up the flashlight and waited until Bennett’s guy hit the deck, and then I searched the floor and under coats and came back with our original three handguns, plus four identical Browning High Power Model 1935s, from Joey’s guys. The Brownings were all recent, with the ambidextrous safeties. Up for safe, down for fire. They were all fully loaded. But their chambers were empty. We had been safer than I thought. We shared them around, one each, and I took the magazine out of the fourth and gave it to Nice to put in her pocket.

  I said, ‘Let’s go find Joey.’

  I turned and headed for the door, but Bennett caught my arm and said, ‘We can’t just walk out there. Especially not with a flashlight. We’d be sitting ducks.’

  I said, ‘Let’s not overthink this whole thing.’

  Bennett glanced at Nice, in mute appeal, like he thought I was crazy.

  She said, ‘I’m sure we’ll be fine.’

  I smiled. She had seen it too. Probably from the thing with the pill bottle.

  I said, ‘Joey is not armed. That’s one thing we can be sure of.’

  Bennett said, ‘How can we?’

  ‘Because
we know in his whole adult life Joey has never fired a handgun, or a long gun, or a shotgun, or a BB gun, or any other kind of a gun.’

  ‘How do we know that?’

  ‘Because no trigger guard on earth is big enough for his finger. He couldn’t get it in there. No way, no how. He hasn’t touched a trigger since he was maybe seven years old. And I bet even then it was a tight squeeze. He’s out there, right now, in the lot, unarmed, and we’ve got a hundred and four rounds of live ammunition and a flashlight.’

  FIFTY-ONE

  CASEY NICE HAD the flashlight. I had a gun in each hand, mainly because by that point I was short on pockets. Bennett was behind us, ranging left and right, watching our rear, watching our flanks. Nice flicked the flashlight beam from side to side, very fast, painting the night air, lighting things up like a stroboscope, letting our persistence of vision fill in the gaps.

  No sign of Joey. Not at first. The beam reached a good long way down the yard-wide footpath, and he wasn’t there. And he would have been, still, if he was making a run for it. Because it wouldn’t have been much of a run. He would have had to take the path sideways, at a shuffle,
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