Personal, p.32
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       Personal, p.32
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  which would have been slow. We checked the far corner, where I had waited for Bennett, and he wasn’t there. We checked the opposite corner. Not there.

  We stood still and listened. No sound. The yellow glow was still there in the sky, but the houses all around us were darker. Lights were going out. People were going to bed. Their children were already in bed. Pretty soon we would be completely boxed in by sleeping people. Here and there I saw the blue flicker of some night owl’s television, a movie, perhaps, or soccer, or a documentary feature, which I hoped was illuminating in the educational sense, because it certainly wasn’t in the physical sense. We were hunting a giant in the dark.

  And getting nowhere, until I did fourth what I should have done first, which was to put myself in his shoes, to think like him, to be him, just for a moment. What would I have done? No gun, bodyguards down, driver too far away to summon, a sideways skip down the alley too slow. Not that I needed to run, and not that I needed support. I could do fine by myself. I was Little Joey Green, and I had been all my life.

  But I liked an audience.

  Of which there was a shortage, at that particular moment. The lawn bowling World Series was not currently under way. All around us people were closing their drapes and closing their eyes. There was only one place Joey might find an audience. Possibly. An audience of one, admittedly, but committed. An ally, maybe even a friend already, and a fellow professional, Joey might like to think.

  John Kott might be watching, through the night-vision binoculars.

  Or through a night-vision scope.

  I made a sign and Casey Nice killed the light, and we inched around to the far back corner of the hut, which put us level with the windows, which meant we were within a degree or two of the same view we had gotten before, through the binoculars, from where we had seen the whole fine square of lawn, which we saw again, but this time with Little Joey in the middle of it, the giant all alone under the yellow night-time sky, dancing, swinging his hips, shuffling his feet, waving his arms, and jerking his head from side to side.

  I knew immediately what he was doing, and how, and why. Some kind of animal cunning. Some kind of rodent intelligence. It’s a DNA thing. Like rats. He had no gun in his hand. How could he take the guns out of our hands? Boxed in by sleeping people. Their children were already in bed. He was dancing to make us miss. Which we couldn’t afford to do. Not there. Not that we would have missed. Not ninety-nine times in a hundred. Or better. This is like one of those philosophy questions that people debate in the newspapers. What odds would a responsible person need? But even a good clean hit could be a through-and-through. The soft tissue of the neck, maybe. Which wouldn’t slow a bullet. Next stop, a bedroom painted blue or pink. Or the bullet might nick bone and skip away at an unpredictable angle, low and wide. It might hit a night owl, before the game had ended. Tied score, maybe, and into overtime. He would never know what happened.

  Could I make the shot? Hell yes. Little Joey was big enough. Should I take the shot? With sleeping children behind him, to the left and the right, behind thin panes of glass?

  We pulled back into the shadows, and we leaned on the wall of the hut. We could afford to let him dance a minute more, I thought. It might tire him out. Which might help. I hoped.

  Nice and Bennett slipped around the edge of the green, to the far side, on what looked like a well-worn gravel track. Maybe referees ran up and down. Or umpires. I had no idea of the rules of the game. Bennett went further than Nice, until they were about twenty feet apart, triangulated, so they both had the hut dead in line behind Joey, so if they had to shoot, with no alternative, then at least their misses might get stopped by the sixty-year-old wood. Or worst case, delayed.

  I had no front pockets, so I put my guns in my back pants pockets. Then I stepped on to the grass. I tracked to my left, to keep Joey’s bulk between me and his distant house, with its numerous firing positions behind its numerous oversize windows. Four hundred yards. Less than a second. Flash one thousa game over.

  I walked on, slowly. Towards Joey. He saw me coming, looming up out of the yellow gloom, and I saw a flash of teeth as he smiled, and he backed away, towards the far corner of the lawn, matching me step for step, leading me, keeping me lined up with his distant house. He wasn’t dumb. After three backward paces he had moved out of Nice’s safe zone, and after four he had moved out of Bennett’s. I sensed their shoulders slump, and in the silence I heard Bennett’s phone ding with a message. My information about the glass, I hoped. Which could be interesting. If I survived to read it.

  Joey checked over his shoulder and adjusted his alignment and came to a stop. He started dancing again, hopping from side to side, bending one way, bending the other. His huge feet were stamping divots in the perfect grass. I guessed the bowling club was going to be seriously pissed. I hoped they had insurance. Or a big bag of seed.

  I said, ‘Listen up, Joey. Here’s the thing. I need to get in your house. Without you being there. Option one is agree right now.’

  He said, ‘What’s option two?’

  ‘I advise you to choose option one.’

  ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle.’

  ‘I understand that, Joey. I really do. But you need to think of me like a Viking. Or a rebel marauder. Or some kind of an invader. I’m going to storm your castle. Better for you if you don’t get hurt in the process.’

  ‘What if it’s you that gets hurt?’

  ‘You could help me there, Joey. You could tell me where Kott’s hanging out, and his guards, and you could point out other dangers. You got any loose rugs? Any low furniture? I don’t want to slip and fall.’

  ‘You’re a dead man.’

  ‘How’s that, Joey? You got a gun?’

  He didn’t answer.

  I said, ‘I didn’t think so. You got guys with you, apart from the four in the hut unconscious on the floor with broken bones?’

  He didn’t answer.

  I said, ‘I didn’t think so.’

  He was still dancing, just a little. He was moving left, and moving right, and I was moving with him, keeping him between me and the house. I was a couple of steps from him, which meant he was a single step from me. Close enough to worry about, given how fast I had seen him move, in the little supermarket’s parking lot.

  He put his hand in his pocket. Right side of his suit coat. A big hand. A big pocket. He came out with a cell phone. He held it up in front of his mouth and said, ‘Call Gary.’ Then he held it up by his ear, like a regular person. His fingers were too big to dial. His phone obeyed voice commands. Which worked, apparently, because the call was picked up.

  Joey said, ‘Gary, it’s Joey. Call me back in ten minutes, OK? If I don’t answer, abandon ship. Every man for himself. Understood?’

  And it was, evidently, because Joey clicked off the call and put the phone back in his pocket. And then he just stood there.

  My mother had rules about fights. She was raising two sons on Marine bases, so she couldn’t ban them altogether. But she hedged them around with restrictions. The first rule was strictly practical. Don’t fight when you’re wearing new clothes. Which I was, ironically. The second rule could be viewed as ethical or moral, but to my mother it was simply correct, which was a whole other word in French. The second rule was never start a fight. But the third rule was never lose one, either.

  Which I argued about, as a little kid. Sometimes you had to throw the first punch, or you weren’t going to win, ever. I felt the two rules were incompatible. Based on experience. It turned into a big family thing. We had all kinds of discussions. It was the 1960s, and she was French. Eventually it was agreed the rules were indeed incompatible. So maybe they were a Rorschach test instead. Were you a rule two guy or a rule three guy? My brother, Joe, was a rule two guy. I was a rule three guy. For the first time my parents looked at us a little differently. We didn’t know which was right or wrong. Their signals were mixed. They were decent people, but they were Marines.

  I
was a rule three guy. Never lose one. Served me well. Even if it meant stepping on rule two occasionally. Sometimes you had to start a fight. As in, for example, right then. Rule of thumb: I had to hit Joey before he hit me.

  But then he spoke again. He said, ‘I’m a Romford Boy.’

  I said, ‘I guess someone has to be.’

  ‘We keep our word. To get near Mr Kott, you’ll have to come through me.’

  ‘Like going to the dentist. I will if I have to.’

  ‘You think you can fight me?’

  ‘Probably.’

  He said, ‘I don’t like Mr Kott very much.’

  I said, ‘Me either.’

  ‘But I’m a Romford Boy. I keep my word.’

  ‘So?’

  ‘So let’s make it interesting.’ Then he paused, pensively, as if he had struck on a way to cut through a lengthy explanation. He pointed to his pocket. He said, ‘Did you hear my phone call?’

  I said, ‘Yes.’

  ‘Gary is tonight’s team leader, on Mr Kott’s security detail. You heard what I told him. If I answer the phone, it means you’re out of the picture and we can go about our business as normal. I’m a Romford Boy, and I’ve kept my word. But I don’t want my people dealing with this shit if I’m not here to supervise it. So if I don’t answer the phone, they’ll clear out immediately and Mr Kott is all yours.’

  FIFTY-TWO

  SOME KIND OF a Socratic method in a classroom might have teased out deep meanings in what Joey had said, involving high stakes, and imagined concepts of loyalty and honour and sacrifice, or maybe he just liked to fight, and couldn’t get opponents without bribing them. In either case I paid no further attention, because he backed off a step and went into a crouch, like he was waiting for the bell to ring. Which he must have heard before I did, because he came out of the dark at me like a wrecking ball, twice as fast as the supermarket lot, crashing a right elbow at me, like lightning, clubbing down, a chill vision of exactly how I had hit the guy from the van. He wanted me gone, right at the beginning. The only way to deal with a sudden incoming elbow was to twist and drive forward and take it on the meat of the upper arm. Which I did. Which is always painful and sometimes numbing. Which it was. But generally you stay on your feet. Which I did.

  But only just. Three hundred and eight pounds, in the local weights and measures, coming on strong. To which the only response was to slide past him and turn him around. Which put my back to his house, so as agreed Casey Nice lit me up with the flashlight, just briefly, two seconds, which we figured would blind a night scope, and which had the added advantage of distracting Joey, just minutely, so I crashed a left hook into his throat, and a short right to his kidney, as hard as I ever hit anything, total focus, and then I backed off through the same wide circle, so that if Kott fired blind he would hit Joey and not me, and so I could see what damage I had done.

  Which wasn’t much. Which wasn’t encouraging. Size was no big deal. Not in itself. The real guys to watch for were the ones who got so pumped up they became oblivious to pain. Some chemical thing. Their bodies couldn’t tell them to quit. Then size became a big deal. Which was the case with Joey. I had hit him twice, no small deal, but he was still upright and cheerful, still six inches taller than me, and still sixty pounds heavier.

  ‘Ten minutes,’ he said. ‘That’s what you’ve got. A bit less now, I suppose.’

  He said it with some kind of bliss on his face, like an old bare-knuckle prizefighter, a nineteenth-century man loose in the twenty-first, a Londoner, like something out of a Charles Dickens movie. A young man, but old news, out of date long ago, a leg breaker, nothing more. Meanwhile the back part of my brain was telling me to keep with the kidney shots, on the right, in the hopes of accidentally busting the phone in his pocket, so that Gary wouldn’t get an answer either way, which might make it easier for Nice and Bennett later on.

  Joey shuffled in. A prizefighter, but not a great one. He launched a roundhouse right I saw coming a mile away, and I ducked, down and up like squats in a gym, and his fist buzzed over my head, and its momentum carried him onward in a curve, which meant his right kidney was coming towards me all the time, so I hit it again, another short right, a colossal blow, a blow that would have cracked a young tree or killed a mule stone dead. An all-time top three for me, which was saying something. He suffered all the appropriate mechanical effects. He bent violently backward from the force of the blow, and the breath oofed out of him as the shock hit the back of his lungs, and he tottered, and his leg went stiff.

  But he didn’t fall on the floor yelping with pain, which he should have. A normal person would be in a coma. Every internal organ on fire, a million knives in the back, too breathless to scream. But Joey just huffed once, and wriggled like some kind of amateur chiropractics, and took up his stance again. Maybe the Zoloft helped. I made a mental note to ask Nice about physical benefits.

  And then I changed the plan, to a war of movement. If I couldn’t knock him down, then maybe I could make him fall down all by himself. Because the end game had to be flat on the grass. No other way. I knew where the children weren’t. I danced in, and then away, and around, and then back, by any other standards ludicrously clumsy, but by comparison with Joey for once in my life I was the neat little guy, bobbing and weaving and stinging.

  The grass was soft, and he was very heavy, and three times he nearly tripped. I kept it going fast, mostly because of Kott, but partly because of a vague theory that in any contest the big guy would tire faster. We went around and around, and at one point his feet lagged his body by half a second, and I got a shot with my elbow, but he parried it the same way I had, and we bounced apart and started again.

  I changed the plan for the second time. He wasn’t going to fall down by himself. He was going to require assistance. Which I was happy to supply. And getting happier by the minute. You think you can fight me? Maybe Scarangello was right. Couldn’t bear to be challenged. But not exactly right. It was never about the challenge. It was always about the other guy. I didn’t like Joey Green. Partly for the right reasons, like the teenagers from Latvia and Estonia, and the man with the mouths to feed, but also for ancient, savage reasons, because for every year humans had been modern, they had been primitive for seven hundred more, which left a residue, and by that point the back part of my brain was firmly in charge. My tribe needs you gone, pal. And you’re ugly, too. And you’re a pussy.

  I danced right, and danced left, and gambled on a leg getting left behind, and I smashed my heel into his kneecap, same angle and extension as breaking down a door, but harder than all the doors I have ever busted put together. Maybe his pain responses were all screwed up, but bone is a physical thing, and if it breaks it breaks, which his did. I felt the crack through my boot. But the kneecap is not a structural bone. He didn’t fall down. Instead he stepped forward on his good leg and hit me in the chest, another roundhouse right but snappier, too fast to see coming, and I fell backward and twisted and went down, gasping and whooping and trying to breathe, and trying to roll away, and trying to get on all fours, which I did, and then I scuffled away before he could kick me to death, busted kneecap or not.

  He was all pumped up by that point, seeing me down, and he came lumbering in, with some defect in his stride, maybe, but still fast enough to make me scurry and hustle. I got on my feet and dodged away and started again. I was fresh out of new plans, and I had about six minutes left. I kept on moving, always mindful of the distant house, always manoeuvring, and at one point I got him all twisted up and I kicked him again on his busted knee, hard, a real moving violation, but at a cost, because he lashed out backhand, maybe just a furious reaction, maybe a sober calculation about where I would be, but either way he won the bet. The back of his massive hand swatted me on the forehead, which was like running full speed into a clothes rope.

  I went flat on my back, but my earlier work saved my life. He couldn’t turn around. He couldn’t work out how. His knee was locked up solid. Painless, m
aybe, but engineering is engineering. I scrambled away on my back and hauled myself upright again. I stood for a second, hands on knees, breathing hard, and blinking, adrift in a real does-not-compute moment. I had hit the guy five times, a left and two rights, and two shots with my feet, and the guy was still upright. And the second right should have put any human down. Or horse, or gorilla, or elephant.

  I had a problem.

  Then I thought about the soccer the night owls might be watching, and I looked at the lawn, smooth and flat and even, slick with night mist. Joey was facing away from me. I backed off a step and ran in and went down and slid, like a ski turn, my hip kissing the grass just as my angled shins hit his calves from behind, a blatant foul in soccer, a yellow-card offence, or even red, if there was malicious intent, of which there was plenty in my case. I ploughed right through him, calves and ankles and heels, and he went up in the air and came down on his back as theatrically as any pampered European superstar.

  Then it was about surfing back upright, and turning, and taking a short choppy stride, and snatching the Glock from my back pants pocket, and then leaping, like a kid aiming to go joyously knees-first into a snowdrift, except there was no joy involved, and the snowdrift was Joey’s belly, and I was whipping the Glock around and down, so that all three points would land at the same time, in a perfect triangle, my left knee, my right knee, the muzzle of the Glock, which hit his solar plexus with all my weight behind it, two hundred and fifty moving pounds, punching it way down, and then I pulled the trigger.

  I was a rule three guy.

  In pathology class they would have called it a starburst entry wound. The muzzle had been hard against him, and naturally the first thing out was the bullet, which punched a neat ninemillimetre hole through his flesh, which didn’t stay neat for long, because the next thing out was a blast of exploding gas, which had nowhere to go but straight down the bullet hole, deep inside Joey’s body itself, which was not as hard as the steel of a gun barrel, so the gas swelled instantly to a hot bubble the size of a basketball, which burst the skin at the entry point, so that when it settled back down after the gas was gone, it looked like a five-pointed star.

  The first advantage was it killed him instantly. At that kind of range, more or less dead centre, there was a whole lot of stuff in there. Spine, heart, lungs, all kinds of arteries. The second advantage was the through-and-through, which it must have been, could have killed only earthworms. Maybe the larvae of parasitic grubs. In which case the bowling club should have thanked me.

  The third advantage was the inside of Joey’s whole chest cavity acted like a silencer. Like I had mounted a suppressor the size of an oil drum. He worked pretty well. The sound of the gunshot was very muted. But even so Bennett played it safe. He came over and said, ‘I heard that.’

  I said, ‘Of course you heard it. You were only fifty feet away.’

  ‘If I heard it the neighbours heard it.’

  He took out his phone and texted a word.

  I said, ‘What’s that?’

  ‘It means it was one of ours. If someone phones it in to the local cop shop they’ll be told it was a car backfiring, and not to worry.’

  ‘You can do that now?’

  ‘I just did.’

  ‘Since when?’

  ‘Some inconveniences were eliminated very early in the process.’

  I said nothing.

  Little Joey’s phone rang in his pocket.

 
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