Personal, p.34
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       Personal, p.34
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  I knocked again, louder.

  I said, ‘Kott? Open the door.’

  Which I figured he might. Ballistically it was already open. Either one of us could have fired straight through it. In his case he could have fired straight through anything. If he wanted to aim based purely on sound alone, he could. The walls and the floors didn’t exist for him. He was living in a transparent house.

  But he would want to watch. Surely. A guy who put a picture on his wall, last thing he saw at night, first thing he saw in the morning, he would want to watch me take the bullet. He would want to see me fall down. He had probably pictured it every day in yoga class. Visualize your success. He had waited sixteen years. He might open the door.

  I said, ‘Kott, we should talk first.’

  No answer.

  I said, ‘No harm, no foul. You forget about me, I’ll forget about you. We can go our separate ways. You should get over yourself. No need to make a whole big thing out of it. I sent plenty of guys to prison and no one else got so mad about it.’

  I heard a creak, and for a second I thought it was the door, but it was in the other direction, at the top of the stairs. In the corner of my eye I saw a child flit by. Real fast. Up the stairs and across the hallway and out of sight. A small boy, I thought. How could Bennett not have told me? Where was the mother? What the hell was going on?

  I eased my finger off the Glock’s trigger.

  Then the back of my brain said, not a child. Not chubby or bony or elastic. But stiff, and worn, and tense like an adult. A small man, maybe five-seven, running past a balustrade five feet high, in front of baseboards a foot and a half tall, under fifteen-foot ceilings.

  Not a small boy.

  John Kott.

  I tried to call up the architect’s blueprint in my mind. I wanted to see the details. The upstairs hallway ran front to back, from the top of the stairs to a feature window above the front door, and also side to side, towards the guest suite in one direction, where I was, and the other way too, towards a huge master bedroom. Kott hadn’t come my way, and I figured he wouldn’t hang out by the feature window. Why would he? Therefore he was in Joey’s bedroom.

  Below me I heard a voice. Bennett, in the downstairs hallway. He called out, ‘Reacher? You OK up there?’

  I called back, ‘Get out of here, Bennett. No reason for you to be involved.’

  I listened for a reply, but I heard nothing more.

  I tried the guest suite’s door. It was unlocked. I stepped inside. I looked around. I had seen similar places in hotels, but smaller. Living accommodations, all self-contained. A short private hallway, a powder room, a kitchenette, a living room, with two bedrooms, one to the left and one to the right, both with their own separate bathrooms. The left-hand bedroom was unoccupied. The right-hand bedroom had Kott’s stuff in it. Of which there wasn’t much. A bedroll and a backpack, Nice had guessed, back in Arkansas, and she had been more or less correct. The bedroll was a sleeping bag, and the backpack was a duffel bag, made of scuffed black leather, full of T-shirts and underwear and ammunition.

  The ammunition was all either nine-millimetre Parabellum, or .50-calibre match grade. Big visual difference. The handgun rounds looked small and dainty. Like jewellery. The rifle rounds looked like cannon shells from a combat airplane. The cartridge cases alone were four inches long.

  I checked everywhere I could think of, and I didn’t find a handgun.

  But I found the rifle.

  It was under Kott’s bed, in a custom case. A Barrett Light Fifty, the real deal, more than five feet long, close to thirty pounds scoped and loaded. From Tennessee. The price of a used sedan, right there. I kicked the scope out of alignment, which is all I had time to do, and then I hustled back to the hallway.

  The blueprint said I had to walk thirty feet, and turn right, and walk twenty feet, and turn left, into some kind of a three-sided anteroom ahead of the bedroom itself. On the plan it would be called a niche or a nook, no doubt. The bedroom door was in the wall facing the hallway. I kept the Browning in my left hand and the Glock in my right, like an old-time gunfighter in a black and white movie. Not that I believed those old stories. I never met a guy who could aim left and right simultaneously. Not well, anyway. Better to focus on the Glock, like it was the only gun I had, and if the Browning happened to blaze away at the same time, unaimed and unsynchronized, then so much the better. Couldn’t hurt.

  I made the first turn. Ahead of me was the feature window. But still a long way away. I was getting better at decoding the funhouse dimensions. I had the Glock aimed hard on the near corner of the anteroom, the equivalent of three baseboards up, which would be four feet six, which would be high on Kott’s chest. At that point I was fifteen feet away, and the ninemillimetre Parabellum was a speedy little bullet. If Kott stepped out, he would be dead about an eightieth of a second later. Plus my reaction time. Which would be very rapid. That was for damn sure.

  Kott didn’t step out. I arrived at the anteroom. The bedroom door was closed. Nine feet tall, ten with the frame, rib-high knob.

  I heard a woman’s voice behind it.

  No words. Inarticulate. Not a scream or a moan, but a kind of frustrated gasp. She wanted to do something, or get something, or reach something, but she couldn’t. But want was the wrong word. She wasn’t annoyed. She was desperate. She needed to do something, or get something, or reach something.

  But she couldn’t.

  I stepped back and called over my shoulder, ‘Bennett? You still down there?’

  No answer.

  Sudden silence in the bedroom.

  I stepped to one side, in case he fired through the wood.

  He didn’t.

  How do you make them come out of there voluntarily? No one knows. No one ever has. Normally I would have stood with my back against the wall and eased the door open, arm’s length and out of sight, but Joey’s doors were too wide for that. So like the neat little guy I was in that new environment, I dodged forward, twisted the knob, kicked the door, dodged back, and aimed.

  And fired. And hit John Kott in the centre of the forehead. Except I didn’t. It was a mirror on the side wall. The gunshot roared and silvered glass sheeted down, and then the world went quiet again, and from inside the room Kott said, ‘What happened to forgetting about me and going our separate ways?’

  I hadn’t heard his voice for sixteen years, but it was him. The slow Ozark accent, the querulous pitch, the aggrieved tone.

  I said, ‘You didn’t answer me.’

  ‘Not worth answering.’

  ‘Who is in there with you?’

  ‘Step inside and take a look.’

  I called up the blueprint in my head again. I said, ‘You’re on the second floor of a very tall house. I’m at the only door out. I just fired a gun in London. Five minutes from now you’ll have five thousand cops outside. You’ll survive about three weeks without food. And then what will you do?’

  He said, ‘The cops won’t come.’

  I said, ‘You think?’

  ‘Bennett will tell them it was one of his.’

  ‘What do you know about Bennett?’

  ‘I know plenty about Bennett.’

  ‘Who is in there with you?’

  ‘I could have showed you in the mirror, except you bust it. You’re going to have to come on in.’

  I backed away a step and called over my shoulder. ‘Bennett? You down there still?’

  No answer.

  ‘Nice? Are you there?’

  No answer.

  I stepped back to the bedroom door and said, ‘I guess you know Joey is no longer with us. And you know his guys ran away. So I can stay here as long as I need to. You’ll still starve to death, even if the cops don’t come.’

  ‘And then you’ll have more innocent blood on your hands. Because I ain’t in here alone. But I guess you know that, right?’

  And then he muttered something, not to me, maybe tell him, kid, and I heard the woman’s voice again, still ina
rticulate, this time not a frustrated gasp, but a muffled scream. She was gagged. And if she was gagged, she was tied up, too.

  The woman screamed again.

  I said, ‘Is that supposed to impress me?’

  Kott said, ‘I would hope.’

  ‘What am I, a social worker?’

  The scream came again, a third time, long and loud, but muffled by the gag. It tailed off into a bubbling sob, full of pain and hurt and misery and indignity.

  Kott said, ‘I got to say, it’s impressing the hell out of me, at least.’

  The blueprint said the room was about thirty feet by thirty, with a bathroom to the left and a dressing room to the right. I stood exactly where I had stood before, and looked into the mirror, which showed me nothing, just rough-stained wood not meant to be seen, but when it was still glass it had shown me Kott. My angle was pretty tight, therefore his angle was pretty tight. They had to be equal. High-school physics. Basic optics. Probably the head of the bed was right next to me, on the other side of the wall, and a bed was a logical place to put a woman, bound and gagged. In which case Kott was sitting on the end of the bed, probably. Which all made sense until I re-checked the angles, and figured the end of the bed would put him too close to me. Unequal. Not possible. Then I remembered Joey’s bed was probably nine feet long, maybe ten, and it all made sense again.

  I took a step. I knew nothing about domestic hardware or any kind of construction, but I had eyes and a memory, and I figured every door hinge I had ever seen had a barrel about half an inch across, which made Joey’s barrels three-quarters of an inch, and a hinge was shaped to suit its task, which was to jack the door out of its frame, and swing it open. Simple math said the crack between the door and the jamb on the hinge side would maximize when the door was open exactly ninety degrees. Which would be a little over an inch, in Joey’s case. But the door wasn’t open ninety degrees. It was open about thirty degrees. Maybe a couple more. Which meant the crack was a hair over a third of an inch. Which in foreign weights and measures was about ten millimetres wide.

  And a nine-millimetre Parabellum was nine millimetres wide.

  FIFTY-SIX

  I KEPT MY eye back from the crack, like a sniper keeps his eye back from the scope, because I didn’t want Kott to sense a sudden subliminal darkening, or hear the huff of breath through a narrow channel. He was sitting on the end of the bed, half turned to face the door. He was easily sixteen years older. He had lines around his eyes, and lines around his mouth. He was all ground down, and all wised up. He was wearing brown pants and a brown shirt, cheap items, like I might have chosen. His hands were resting easy in his lap. He had a gun. A Browning High Power. The local favourite.

  Next to him on the bed was a naked woman. I didn’t know her. Her skin was white and her hair was yellow. She could have been anywhere between eighteen and forty. Her arms were twisted behind her and bound at the wrists. Her ankles were tied. She had a rag in her mouth.

  Her arms were twisted with the insides of her elbows facing outward, and they were not a pretty sight. Green and yellow bruises, and scars, and clots of old blood.

  Kott picked up a syringe and showed it to her, and then moved it near her elbow. She twisted her neck and watched, eyes wide. Kott touched the needle to her skin. She watched, and watched, and hoped, and hoped.

  Kott moved the needle away again.

  The woman slumped and gasped the same frustrated gasp I had heard before. Anguish, disappointment, and pain. She needed to get something. But she couldn’t.

  I stepped back one long pace, staying exactly in line, and I put my own Browning in my back pocket, and I stood feet apart, and I raised the Glock two-handed, an easy, natural motion I had made a thousand times before, and I fired through the crack, at the real John Kott, not his reflection. But I hit him just the same, in the centre of his forehead. Fifteen feet. An eightieth of a second. I saw a neat black entry hole, instantly there, and then equally instantly the back of his skull blew off, which was anything but neat, and the roar of the shot rolled up my arms to my ears, and Kott just sat there, still as a statue, and sat, and sat, and then finally he toppled sideways and fell off the bed.

  I didn’t check Kott’s condition. He had fallen on his face and I could see the inside of his brain. Which told me enough. Instead I went straight for his pockets and found a phone just like mine. Then I untied the woman’s ankles, and her wrists, and I pulled the rag out of her mouth, and I half turned to look for a robe or a sheet or a towel to cover her with, whereupon she shoved me out the way and grabbed the needle and stuck it in her arm.

  She closed her eyes and pressed the plunger, slowly, slowly, all the way there.

  She waited.

  Then she made sounds I hadn’t heard from her before, a hum of contentment, a sleepy giggle, a yawn of pure happiness.

  She stood up, slow and dazed, a little wobbly.

  She said, ‘I want to leave here.’

  She sounded foreign. Eastern European. From Latvia or Estonia, probably. Her accent shortened certain syllables. At first I thought she had said, I want to live here.

  Maybe she had.

  I said, ‘Take the needle out of your arm.’

  She did, and she dropped it on the floor.

  I said, ‘Where are your clothes?’

  She said, ‘I don’t have any.’

  So I hiked across to the bathroom, and I found a towel the size of a twin-bed mattress. Probably just a hand towel, in Joey’s world. I carried it back to the woman and draped it around her shoulders. She got the message and pulled it tight in all the right places.

  I said, ‘What’s your name?’

  She said, ‘First you have to give me money.’

  She staggered a step, and I put the Glock in my pocket, and took her elbows, and steadied her. I said, ‘Can you walk?’

  She took a breath, and I knew from the shape of her lips she was about to say yes, but then her eyes rolled up in her head, and she passed out, with another murmured hum of sheer contentment, and I caught her as she fell and hoisted her in my arms. I figured I could carry her downstairs and leave her somewhere, until I found Bennett. He could call for an ambulance after Nice and I were gone. The woman could survive a short delay. She didn’t need urgent care, and she wouldn’t, not until she started coming down again.

  I got her comfortable, for me and for her, and I carried her out to the weird little anteroom, and I turned into the hallway. Where I came face to face with Charlie White. He had a gun in his hand, yet another Browning High Power, and he was pointing it straight at my head.

  FIFTY-SEVEN

  CHARLIE’S FUNERAL SUIT was soaked with blood all down the front, from when I had hit him in the face. His nose might have been crushed or broken, but it was hard to tell. His hair was all over the place. But he was vertical. Not bad, for a seventy-seven-year-old.

  I said, ‘You lied to me. You told me you weren’t carrying.’

  ‘I wasn’t,’ he said. ‘This is Joey’s. I know where he keeps them.’

  ‘Kept them,’ I said. ‘He isn’t keeping anything any more.’

  ‘I know. I found him.’

  ‘Hard to miss.’

  ‘Put the whore down.’

  Which I was happy enough to do, because it would free my hands. I laid the woman gently on the hallway carpet, and her head lolled towards Charlie, as if she was looking at him.

  He said, ‘She’s a good one. Hours of fun. I mean it. She’ll do anything for a fix. Literally anything. You dream it up, she’ll do it. You have to see it to believe it.’

  Then he lowered his aiming point, to the centre of my chest. He was about eight feet away. Less than a hundredth of a second. He said, ‘Hold your arms out wide. Like you were trying to fly.’

  Which was the moment of truth. Hands up, or hands on your head, or wrists together out in front, any of those commands would have been conventional, ahead of restraint with handcuffs or rope, or to keep me unthreatening while he decided what to do next
. But hands out wide was an execution. It would put me one, two, three, four, five sweeping moves from salvation. Hands down, reach back, grab the guns, hands up, and aim. However slow and befuddled the old guy was, he would nail me before I was halfway through. Eight feet. Flash game over, with nothing in between. Technically I would see the flash. Light travels faster than bullets. The flash would bloom when the bullet was about eight inches gone, and the light waves would instantly overtake it and hit my eyes well before it hit my chest. Whether I would have time to think wow, that looks like a muzzle flash was a different matter.

  Probably not.

  Charlie said, ‘Hold your arms out.’

  Something moved behind him. A shadow, on the stairs.

  I said, ‘Think again, Charlie. You need to retire.’

 
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