61 hours, p.39
Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
‘Where’s my stuff?’ Plato said again, with his hand on his gun.
Reacher took his own hand off the floor and started to point, but then there were twin ragged thumps behind him, and a slap, and another thump. He shuffled around and saw that three packs of garbage bags had been dropped down the ventilation shaft, plus the tail end of a greasy coil of rope. Things he had seen before, in the trunk of Holland’s car.
Plato said, ‘We have work to do. It’s not exactly rocket science. We put the stuff in the bags, we tie the bags to the rope, they haul them up.’
Reacher asked, ‘How much stuff?’
‘The plane will carry sixteen tons.’
‘You’ll be here all week.’
‘I don’t think so. I have about ten hours. The biker will come out of his little hidey-hole in the jail just after lunch time. And I arranged with the warden that he will keep your whole department on station right up to that point. So we’ll be undisturbed. And a ton and a half an hour should be possible. Especially with you down here to help. But don’t worry. The hard work will be done on the surface.’
Reacher said nothing.
Plato said, ‘But we’ll do the jewellery first. Where is it?’
Reacher started to point again, but then a brass collar on the end of a thick black hose dropped through the other ventilation shaft, right next to him. It thumped down on the floor and excess hose came tumbling down after it and coiled all around it. Then he heard feet on the steps way above. Distant tinkling and pattering in the stair shaft, getting louder, getting nearer. A man on his way down.
Refuelling was about to begin.
Plato asked, ‘Where’s the jewellery?’
Reacher didn’t answer. He was estimating time. Two hundred and eighty steps. Somewhere between two and three minutes before the refuelling guy arrived, however fast he moved. And two or three minutes should be enough. It was a long time since Reacher had been in a fight that had lasted longer than two or three minutes.
A window of opportunity.
‘Where’s the jewellery?’ Plato said again.
Reacher said, ‘Find it yourself.’
The sound of feet on the stairs got a little louder.
Plato smiled. He pushed back his cuff and made a show of checking the time on the watch on his wrist, slow and nonchalant. Then he darted forward, fast and nimble and agile, and he aimed a kick at Reacher’s side. From a sitting position Reacher swatted Plato’s foot aside and came up on his knees and Plato stumbled away and Reacher pivoted up and lunged after him.
And hit his head hard on the ceiling, and scraped his knuckles, and collapsed back to his knees. Plato righted himself after a step and danced in and delivered the belated kick, a decent hard blow to the ribs on Reacher’s back.
Then he stepped away and smiled again.
He said, ‘Where’s the jewellery?’
Reacher didn’t answer. His knuckles were bleeding and he was pretty sure his scalp was torn. The ceiling crowded down on him.
Plato put both hands on his gun.
He said, ‘You get one free pass. And that was it. Where’s the jewellery?’
So Reacher used his flashlight beam and found the right corridor. Even from a distance the reflection came back bright and lurid. Plato walked towards it, fast and jaunty, no problem at all, right up on his toes, like he was outside on the street with just the sky above him.
He called over his shoulder, ‘Bring some bags.’
Reacher shuffled over and grabbed a pack of bags, and then he shuffled after Plato, hobbled, restricted, constrained, humiliated, following the little man like a giant caged ape.
Plato was in the right corridor. He was doing what Holland had done. He was playing his flashlight beam the length of the shelf and back again, over the gold and the silver and the platinum, and the diamonds and the rubies and the sapphires and the emeralds, and the clocks and the paintings and the platters and the candlesticks. But not with greed or wonderment in his face. He was assessing the size of the packaging task, that was all.
He said, ‘You can start bagging this shit up. But first show me the powder.’
Reacher led him across the chamber, heels and knuckles and ass, low and deferential, all the way to the third of the three tunnels packed with meth. Still a staggering sight. Bricks stacked ten high, ten deep, a whole solid wall of them a hundred feet long, undisturbed for fifty years, old yellowing glassine glowing dull in the flashlight beams. Fifteen thousand packs. More than thirteen tons.
‘Is this all of it?’ Plato asked.
‘A third of it,’ Reacher said.
The feet on the staircase grew louder. The fuel guy was hustling.
Plato said, ‘We’ll take what’s here. Plus more. Until the plane is full.’
Reacher said, ‘I thought you sold it to the Russian.’
Plato said, ‘I did.’
‘But you’re going to take it anyway?’
‘Only some of it.’
‘That’s a double-cross.’
Plato laughed. ‘You killed three people for me and now you’re upset that I’m stealing? From some dumb Russian you never met?’
‘I would prefer you to be true to your word, that’s all.’
‘Because I want my daughter to be OK.’
‘She’s with those guys out of choice. And ten hours from now I’ll have no further use for her, anyway. I’m never doing business here again.’
‘You’ll have no further use for me, either,’ Reacher said.
‘I’ll let you live,’ Plato said. ‘You did well for me. Slow, but you got there in the end.’
Reacher said nothing.
‘I am true to my word,’ Plato said. ‘Just not with Russians.’
Behind them they heard the last loud footstep on the last metal stair and then the first quiet footstep on the concrete floor. They turned and saw one of Plato’s men arrive, like all of them about five seven in height, therefore stooped but not too much. He had his gun on his chest and a flashlight in his hand. He was looking all around. Not curious. Just a guy getting the job done. He found the fuel line and picked it up one-handed and pulled it out straight and jerked it and heaved serpentine waves into it to work out the kinks. He asked in Spanish where the tank was and Reacher waited until Plato translated the question and then he pointed his flashlight beam at the relevant corridor. The guy hauled the heavy hose after him and disappeared.
Plato said, ‘Go start bagging the jewellery.’
Reacher left him communing with his stock in trade and shuffled the long way around. Five thousand gallons in a homemade tank. He wanted to be sure the connection was secure. He was going to be down there until Plato died, which was a minimum of a few more minutes and a maximum of ten more hours, and he preferred one thing to worry about at a time.
He found Plato’s guy finishing up. The brass end of the hose was neatly socketed into a matching brass fitment brazed into the end wall of the tank. The guy was nudging it one way, nudging it the other, feeling for looseness or play. He seemed to find none, so he opened a tap on the tank side of the joint. Reacher heard the fuel flow into the hose. Not much of it. Three gallons, maybe four. That was all. Gravity only, into the length of hose that lay on the floor at a lower level than the tank itself. For the rest, the pump would have to prime itself and then suck hard and haul it all up and out.
Reacher watched the joint. A single fat drop of kerosene formed where two fibre washers were compressed. It beaded large and waited and then fell to the floor and made a tiny wet stain.
That was all.
Plato’s guy crouched a little and duck-walked back to the stairs and headed upward. Reacher shuffled on around the perimeter of the circular chamber and disappeared into a corridor far from the jewellery and far from the meth.
D O IT. SHORT SIMPLE WORDS, A SHORT SIMPLE COMMAND. OR A short simple plea, or a short si
The guy from seat 4A looked at the guy from seat 4B. They both swallowed hard. They were getting very close to doing it. Dangerously close. A hundred feet south a new sentry had just rotated into position. He was facing away, alert and on guard. Way far beyond him the flares still burned at the distant end of the runway. Fifty yards the other side of the Boeing’s tail the third flare still burned. Fifty yards beyond the de-icer truck in the other direction the fourth flare was still a bright crimson puffball. Blue moon, white snow, red flame.
The other three guys were working in the plane. Opening the doors, setting the ladders, working out a system for hauling the stuff hand-to-hand along a human chain and then getting it up into the plane and stacking it safely on the floor of the old economy section.
The guy from seat 4A hoisted the end of the second hose on his shoulder. The guy from seat 4B hit the switch and the drum began to unwind.
Sixteen minutes to four in the morning.
Eleven minutes to go.
Reacher heard Plato moving about. Heard him step out of the corridor into the round chamber. Reacher was sitting on the floor in the first of the curved connecting tunnels. In what he was calling the B-ring. Like a miniature Pentagon, but round and underground. The central chamber was the A-ring. Then came the B-ring, and then the C-ring, and around the outside was the D-ring. All partially interconnected by the eight straight spokes. More than seventeen hundred linear feet of tunnel. Twenty-four separate junctions. Twelve random left turns, twelve random right turns. Plus a total of ten hollowed-out bathrooms and kitchens and storage chambers.
Reacher had been in it before, and Plato hadn’t.
No cell signal, his guys all busy on the surface, no possibility of reinforcement.
Plato called, ‘Holland?’
The sound of the word boomed and echoed and took unpredictable paths and seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
Plato called, ‘Holland? Get your ass over here. Our deal isn’t finished yet. Remember, I’ll cripple her and mutilate her and let her live for a year before I finish her off.’
Reacher said nothing.
Plato called, ‘Holland?’
No response from Reacher. Five seconds. Ten.
Reacher said nothing. The big gamble came right then. Right at that exact moment in time. Fifty-fifty. Live or die. A smart guy with a dawning problem would hustle straight up the stairs and send foot soldiers down in his place. A dumb guy would stay to fight it out.
But so might a smart guy overcome by ego, and arrogance, and a sense of superiority, and a need never to appear weak because he was only four feet eleven inches tall.
Live or die.
He called, ‘Holland? Where are you?’
A trace of worry in his voice.
Reacher put his mouth close to the curved concrete and said, ‘Holland’s dead.’
The sound rode the walls and went all around and came back to him, a quiet-spoken sentence, everywhere and nowhere, conversational, but full of menace. Reacher heard Plato’s feet scuffling on the concrete floor. He was spinning in place, trying to locate the voice.
Plato’s feet went quiet and he called out, ‘What did you say?’
Reacher moved along an empty spoke into the C-ring. A slow, silent shuffle. No sound at all, except the whisper of fabric when the seat of his pants hit the floor. Which didn’t matter anyway. All sounds were everywhere. They hissed and sang and branched and travelled.
Reacher put his mouth to the wall and said, ‘I shot Holland in the head. Now I’m coming for you.’
‘Who are you?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘I was a friend of Janet Salter’s.’
‘The witness. Didn’t you even know her name?’
‘Are you the military cop?’
‘You’re about to find out who I am.’
A smart guy would have run for the stairs.
He called out, ‘Do you think you can beat me?’
Reacher called back, ‘Do you think bears shit in the woods?’
‘You think you can beat me down here?’
‘I can beat you anywhere.’
A long pause.
‘Where are you?’ Plato called.
‘Right behind you,’ Reacher said. Loud voice, booming echo. Fast feet scuffling on concrete. No answer. Reacher moved on, in the dark, his flashlight off. He heard Plato enter a corridor. A straight spoke. The sound of his feet narrowed and then bloomed and the tap of his heels came back from the right and the left simultaneously. Reacher scooted left, then right. Into a straight spoke of his own. Adjacent to Plato’s, apparently. He saw the glow of Plato’s flashlight as it passed the mouth of the C-ring. He moved on and stopped and lay down on his side, curled like a letter S, in the mouth of the straight spoke, just three feet from the main chamber. Down on the floor, to show a small target. Away from the vertical surfaces, because bullets rode walls, too. Not just sound. Any combat veteran would say the same. Narrow alleys, confined spaces, near-misses didn’t ricochet at gaudy angles. They buzzed and burrowed close to the brick or the stone. Flattening yourself against a hard surface did the other guy a favour, not you. Counterintuitive, and difficult to resist, but true.
He heard Plato stop in the mouth of his corridor. Saw the glow from his light. He was facing into the main chamber. Two possibilities. One, he would turn right, away from the tunnel where Reacher was waiting. Or two, he would turn left, towards it.
Hide and seek. Maybe the oldest game in the world.
The guy from seat 4A walked the second hose into the stone building. He wrestled it across the floor and around the stair head and pulled it over to the same ventilation shaft the first hose was in. He put it up on his shoulder again and faced the void and kicked with his knee until the nozzle fell into the shaft.
Then he fed the hose down after it, yard by yard, ten feet, twenty, thirty, forty, like he was chinning himself backward along an endless monkey bar. When he had a good sixty feet in the shaft he ducked out from under it and laid it down against the lip. He kicked it straight on the floor and checked it for kinks.
Up the shaft from the tank, through the pump, and straight back down the same shaft again.
A simple, linear proposition.
He walked back out to the cold and found his friend. Asked him, ‘Can you hit the sentry from here?’
The guy from seat 4B looked down at his H&K. A four and a half inch barrel. A great weapon, but no more accurate than a fine handgun. And he was shivering hard. And not just from the cold.
He said, ‘No.’
‘So sneak up on him. If he sees you, tell him you’re there to relieve him. Keep him talking. I’ll hit the others as soon as they come this way out of the plane. Wait until you hear me fire, and let him have it.’
The guy from seat 4B said nothing.
‘For your mother. And your sisters. And the daughters you’ll have one day.’
The guy from seat 4B nodded. He turned around. He headed south. Slowly at first, and then faster.
Plato turned right. Away from where Reacher was waiting. A disappointment. Or perhaps not. Perhaps just a delay, and then eventually a benefit. Because the flashlight glow was dimming and brightening, then dimming and brightening, slowly and regularly and rhythmically. Which told Reacher that Plato was walking slowly around the circumference of
61 Hours by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes