Personal, p.33
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       Personal, p.33
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  And rang.

  We let it ring until it stopped.

  I said, ‘We need to get going. We need to be sure Kott doesn’t run with his guards. We need to see the front of the house. But much closer than this.’

  Casey Nice said, ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,’ and she set off the way the gale had blown, and we followed her, over the fresh-cut stump of some guy’s tree, and through the gap in some other guy’s fence.

  FIFTY-THREE

  WE TRESPASSED THROUGH five separate yards, I figured, and we stayed in the last of them, behind a low ornamental wall, directly across the street from Joey’s place. A close-up view. Better than any binoculars. There was a single black Jaguar on the driveway. The gates were closed. The giant door was closed. It had a brass letter slot, and a handle, and in the plate below the handle was a single keyhole. Some kind of a fancy multi-lever mortise lock, no doubt, recommended by insurance companies everywhere, not that Joey Green had needed insurance, other than his name.

  Then right on cue the gates rolled back and the giant door opened and four guys spilled out, like parachutes streaming from a plane. The mood looked confused. The guys looked uncertain. They were stumbling, looking left, looking right, one guy hitching his coat on, another combing his hair with his fingers. They got in the Jaguar and drove through the out gate, to the street, and then they took off, fast, into the far distance, until they were lost to sight.

  They left the gates open.

  John Kott didn’t come out.

  Not in the first minute, or the fifth, or the tenth.

  He was staying inside, to fight it out.

  I looked at Bennett and said, ‘You got my information about the glass?’

  ‘It’s in French,’ he said.

  He set it up for me on his phone. It was a scan of a Xerox or a fax of a classified document. It was very long. I had to swipe the screen to scroll. It was marked top secret in several different places. I said, ‘Does it set on fire in five minutes?’

  Bennett said, ‘No, but I might.’

  I said, ‘Thank you for getting it.’

  He said, ‘Think nothing of it. But I hope it turns out useful.’

  It was in French because glass was a big deal in France. A manufacturing success story, all over the world. All kinds of stemware, and hotel ware, with an emphasis on industrial efficiency, and strength. You could throw a French restaurant tumbler like a baseball, and it would probably survive. Who better to move onward and upward into modern bulletproof technology? A research and development laboratory in Paris had taken up the challenge. As always, the mission was to combine optimum clarity with optimum strength. No point in putting a president behind something safe but murky. Visuals were important. Security agencies in all the major NATO countries had contributed funding. The guys in Paris had taken the money and gotten to work.

  First surprise was, it wasn’t called bulletproof glass. It was called transparent armour. Second surprise was, it wasn’t glass. Not even a trace. Previous bulletproof panels had been layered, with glass panes separated by and skinned by soft polycarbonate or thermoplastic materials. Some of the glass sheets were hard, and some were less so, to allow flexing. Results were usually good, but there were two problems. Edge on, the finished assembly could look like plywood. And the index of refraction was different for every layer, which at certain angles made it like looking into about six different swimming pools at once. Imperfect visuals. Bad for television.

  So the scientists turned their backs on glass, and went for aluminium instead. Which sounded weird to me but, as always with chemistry, things were not exactly what they seemed. The substance in question was aluminium oxynitride, which they claimed was a transparent polycrystalline ceramic with a cubic spinel crystal structure composed of aluminium, oxygen, and nitrogen. A chemical formula was quoted, full of large letters and small numbers and graceful parentheses. The molecule was sketched, which looked like the chandelier in my greataunt’s dining room in New Hampshire.

  The aluminium oxynitride started out as a powder, which was carefully mixed, like flour for a cake, and then it was compacted in something called a dry isostatic press, and then it was baked at an extremely high temperature, and then it was ground and polished, until it looked more like glass than glass itself. It was optically perfect. It was heavy, but not crippling.

  And it was strong. The design brief was to survive a .50-calibre armour-piercing round, and the test procedure was meticulous and detailed. I read it very carefully. I could understand most of the language used, although some of it was highly technical and therefore unfamiliar. But numbers were the same the world over, and I could recognize 100 when I saw it. The test panels had scored 100 per cent against nine-millimetre handguns, and against .357 Magnums, and .44 Magnums, at ranges from fifty feet all the way down to contact shots, like Joey.

  So then they flew the panels down to a place called Draguignan, in the south of France, near where my grandfather had stabbed the snake, where there was a huge military facility, with rifle ranges galore. They set up at three hundred feet, and the panels scored 100 per cent against .223 Remingtons and 7.62-millimetre NATO rounds. At which point the scientists doubled down. They must have been feeling good. They shortened the range to two hundred feet, which was unrealistically short for the larger calibres, and then they skipped right over worthy contenders like the .308 Winchester and the British .303, and went straight to the .44 Remington Magnum. From two hundred feet. Which was less than seventy yards. Like a battleship firing at the harbour wall.

  The panels scored 100 per cent.

  Then came the moment of truth. They loaded up the .50-cal and laid it on the bench. Armour-piercing ammunition. For which seventy yards was more than unrealistically short. But I understood the point they were hoping to make.

  The panels scored 100 per cent.

  And at a hundred feet, and at fifty, and even at twenty-five. Although the scientists were open enough to point out that the visible pitting at the shorter ranges would require replacement of the panels after every such incident. Even the scientists were political enough to understand a candidate couldn’t show up behind gear already riddled with bullet holes from previous failed attempts. Like he had gotten out of Dodge just in time. Not good for the image. People might get a clue.

  There was a lot of foreign money in the project, and a lot of valuable foreign lives depending on the outcome, so the test procedure was supervised every step of the way by representatives from all the interested parties. They checked the numbers, they asked the questions, they looked behind the curtain. They were all intelligence specialists, but scientifically literate. The old guard, with nothing better to do, all extremely experienced. The guys from Paris didn’t mind. It was like any other peer review. Just compressed in time. I swiped the screen and scrolled down, through the list of participants, just a little ways, to E, for Etats-Unis d’Amérique.

  The United States of America.

  The Pentagon had sent Tom O’Day.

  FIFTY-FOUR

  I LOOKED OVER the low wall at Joey’s house. The gates were still open and lights were still burning. But nothing else was happening. I gave the phone back to Bennett, and I said, ‘Why don’t you go take a short stroll?’

  He said, ‘Why would I want to?’

  ‘I need to talk to Ms Nice alone.’

  ‘What are you going to say to her?’

  ‘Something inaudible, from where you’re going to be.’

  He paused a beat, and then he got up and disappeared in the dark, there one minute, gone the next, like on the apartment balcony in Paris. Nice and I squatted side by side, with our backs against the wall.

  I said, ‘This is the scene where I try to get rid of you.’

  She didn’t answer.

  I said, ‘Not for the reasons you think. I could use your help a dozen different ways, and you’d be good at all of them. But this is between Kott and me. He wants me gone, therefore I want hi
m gone. Not fair to involve other people, in a private quarrel. I’m going to tell Bennett the same thing.’

  ‘Bennett will stay away anyway. He has to. There are rules. But I’m free to do what I want.’

  ‘This is me and Kott. Which has rules too. It’s one on one.’

  ‘You’re just saying that.’

  ‘Because I mean it.’

  ‘I think you’re being kind.’

  ‘That’s an accusation I don’t hear often.’

  She said, ‘Why did he take my pill?’

  ‘Take as in deprive, or take as in swallow?’

  ‘Swallow.’

  ‘I’m guessing he took all kinds of pills. A guy that big gets aches and pains. In his back, and his joints. So he already likes the opiates and the painkillers, and then he starts to dabble in the bad stuff passing through his hands. Pretty soon, he sees a pill, he takes it. Occupational hazard.’

  ‘I don’t want to take them any more. Did you see his mouth? He was disgusting.’

  ‘Right now you can’t take them any more. Even if you wanted to.’

  ‘Is that the reason? You think I’m going to freak out?’

  ‘Are you?’

  ‘Not from anxiety, anyway. I can’t even see anxiety in the rear-view mirror.’

  ‘We’ll be OK.’

  ‘We?’

  ‘You out here, me in there.’

  ‘I should help.’

  ‘This is me and Kott,’ I said again. ‘I’m not going to gang up on him. Wouldn’t feel right, afterwards.’

  The gates were still open, but I didn’t want to go in the front. It was the obvious point of entry. It was the main place Kott would watch. Probably MI5 would come up with a number. Kott spent 61 per cent of his time watching the front. In second place would be the back yard. Third and fourth place would be the end walls. But which was third and which was fourth? I guessed third place went to the end facing the bowling club. That was where the action had been thus far. So I headed the other way, to the other end of the house, fourth place, away from the night-vision, creeping through the shadows, then climbing the fence. Which was not easy, but it was feasible, because the ironwork had sculpted features that acted like rungs on a ladder. I stepped down into a flowerbed. The side of the house was right there, across a narrow path. There were eight ground-floor windows. They would all have been drawn small by the kid with the crayon, but I could have gotten through any one of them standing up.

  I checked the nearest window. The sill was chest-high to me. A small room. Relatively speaking. A nook or a niche or a parlour. Or a library or an office or a sitting room. I moved on to the next window. Through which was a hallway. Which was much better. There was the foot of a staircase visible, about thirty-five feet away. I guessed the hallway turned ninety degrees to the right at some point, to reach the front door.

  I stood still and took a breath. In, and out. Then again. Then I used the butt of the captured Browning, and I broke the window, smash, smash, smash, all the glass I could reach, until the hole was big enough to climb through. I figured Kott would instantly see it as a bluff. No more than a diversion. As in, he was supposed to investigate, and meanwhile I would come in the front door, behind him. He would predict that. So he would go guard the front door instead. Except he was professionally paranoid, so just as instantly he would call it a double bluff, and he would head for the window as planned, to meet me head-on. So I triple-bluffed him. I sprinted for the front. I knew the door was open. That kind of a lock, you have to stop and use the key, both ways, out as well as in. And the departing guards hadn’t. They had gotten straight in the Jaguar, and hit the gas, no delay at all, putting on their coats, and slicking down their hair.

  The door handle was a grand affair, a neat Georgian style swelled up to about thirty inches tall. The lever I turned was the size of most people’s forearms. Inside I saw a lobby with black and white marble on the floor, and a chandelier the size of an apple tree.

  No sign of Kott.

  Which was good. It let me open the door all the way, for an unrestricted field of fire. Behind the lobby was a long section of hallway, with the staircase at the far end, which meant the part of the hallway with the busted window was on the left, at ninety degrees.

  I stepped inside.

  No sign of Kott.

  Which meant if he had only doubled where I had tripled, he was right then staring at the broken glass, or searching room to room in the immediate vicinity, through all the pesky nooks and niches and parlours and libraries and offices and sitting rooms.

  He was on my left, at ninety degrees.

  I walked through the lobby to the hallway. Like any other hallway it was rectangular, much longer than it was wide, with hallway-style furniture, with doors left and right, to the kind of rooms that big houses always seemed to have. But I had been in big houses before, and Joey’s place didn’t feel like any of them. I remembered doors that looked way further apart than normal, implying huge rooms beyond, which turned out to look even bigger than expected, mostly because the walls went on and on, as if the room was saying, You know I’m big, because my walls go on for ever. Proportion, in other words. Joey’s place really was a regular house all swollen up in perfect lock step. The rooms were huge, but they didn’t look it, because the doors were the regular distance apart, except the doors were more than nine feet tall, more than ten with the architrave frames, so the regular distance was an optical illusion.

  The marble squares on the floor would have been two feet on a side in any designer magazine, but in Joey’s house they were three. A full yard. The baseboards would have been twelve inches high in a fancy Victorian place. In Joey’s house they were a full foot and a half. A regular door knob would hit me in the thigh. Joey’s door knobs would hit me in the ribs. And so on. The net effect was I felt very small. Like I had been shrunk, by a mad scientist. Maybe the aluminium glass people would take it up next.

  And I felt slow. Obviously. It took 50 per cent longer to get anywhere. Three steps from A to B was really four and a half. It was like walking through molasses. Or walking backward. Always hustling, and getting nowhere. Like going up the down escalator. Disorienting, like a whole different dimension.

  I stopped what I thought was six feet from where the hallway turned. But it could have been nine. Either way I held my breath and listened. And heard nothing. No crunching of broken glass underfoot, and no opening and closing of doors. So I inched towards the corner, or three-quarter-inched, or an inch and a half, or whatever it really was. I had the Browning in my left hand, and the Glock in my right, with one in the chamber and twelve in the magazine. Five rounds expended so far, four under the Jaguar’s hood at Charlie’s house, and one into the bowling club’s subsoil, via Joey.

  I figured if Kott was expecting a head to come around the corner, he would be expecting it at normal height, purely as a matter of default instinct. But what was normal? Eye level about five feet six inches from the ground, probably, which was 55 per cent of a normal room’s height. Which would translate to about eight feet three inches in Joey’s funhouse world. Which would mean Kott would be staring way over my head. But even so I played it safe. I made sure he would be staring over my head. I knelt down low and took a look at baseboard level, which because of the millwork’s exaggerated height was perfectly comfortable.

  I pictured my brow and my eyes, suddenly visible, but tiny next to the extravagant moulding.

  No sign of Kott.

  I saw shards of glass on the marble. From the window. I saw closed doors. To parlours, and libraries, and sitting rooms. I didn’t see Kott. Was he behind a closed door? Temporarily, maybe. Or perhaps he had never moved. Perhaps he was still upstairs, in the guest accommodations, patient like snipers were, with his .50-calibre Barrett on a table, aimed directly at the door to the suite.

  I thought back to the architect’s blueprint we had seen. The guest suite was in the rear left quadrant of the house. Above the kitchen wing, basically. Up the stairs, and
turn right. I stood up again, and checked all four ways, and breathed in, and breathed out.

  Then I started up the stairs.

  FIFTY-FIVE

  THE STAIRS WENT half the way up on the left, and then turned a 180 on a half-landing, and went the rest of the way up on the right. And like everything else in the house they were regular items, but expanded in size, so I had to labour up them, stepping 50 per cent higher than normal each time, lurching forward half as far again as my muscle memory expected, to reach the next stair, and then repeating it all. Plus I was aware the back of my head was about to be visible in the upstairs hallway, through whatever kind of railings or spindles the carpenter had used. Kott could be up there, prone, with his muzzle right in line with the banister. He would get me in the back, just before I stepped up to the half-landing. At a range of about twelve feet. Which was four yards. And I wasn’t made of aluminium oxynitride.

  So I hugged the wall, and went up backward, until I could see the second-floor hallway for myself. It was empty. No sign of Kott. I hustled the rest of the way and found myself in what looked like a repeat of the downstairs hallway, except the floor was carpet, not marble. Carpet as wide as a new-mown prairie. I saw a bunch of doors, all of them nine feet tall. A corridor, with more doors. All closed. Two on the left, two on the right, and one dead ahead, in the end wall. Which was the guest suite, I figured. I would be walking straight towards it.

  But the advantage of walking straight towards it through a giant’s house was I had plenty of wiggle room. Normally an upstairs hallway would be a narrow field of fire. But 50 per cent extra gave me the chance to stay well off the centre line. Because maybe Kott had something rigged. His gun, pre-aimed, locked down, ready to fire through the wood. Maybe there was an infra-red beam. Or maybe he had X-ray glasses.

  But I made it to the end wall, safe, and I pressed myself alongside his door, and I flipped the Browning barrel-first in my hand, and I used it to knock.

  I said, ‘Kott? Are you in there?’

  No answer.

 
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