Killing floor, p.10
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       Killing Floor, p.10

         Part #1 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
 
Chapter Eleven

  I STARED BLANKLY OVER AT THE TWO BLOND WAITRESSES. One was perhaps three inches taller than the other. Perhaps fifteen pounds heavier. A couple of years older. The smaller woman looked petite in comparison. Better looking. She had longer, lighter hair. Nicer eyes behind the glasses. As a pair, the waitresses were similar in a superficial kind of a way. But not alike. There were a million differences between them. No way were they hard to distinguish one from the other.

  I'd asked Roscoe which was our waitress. And how had she answered? She hadn't said the smaller one, or the one with the long hair, or the blonder one, or the slimmer one, or the prettier one or the younger one. She'd said the one with glasses. One was wearing glasses, the other wasn't. Ours was the one with glasses. Wearing glasses was the major difference between them. It overrode all the other differences. The other differences were matters of degree. Taller, heavier, longer, shorter, smaller, prettier, darker, younger. The glasses were not a matter of degree. One woman wore them, the other didn't. An absolute difference. No confusion. Our waitress was the one with glasses.

  That's what Spivey had seen on Friday night. Spivey had come into the reception bunker a little after ten o'clock. With a shotgun and a clipboard in his big red farmer's hands. He had asked which one of us was Hubble. I remembered his high voice in the stillness of the bunker. There was no reason for his question. Why the hell should Spivey care which one of us was which? He didn't need to know. But he'd asked. Hubble had raised his hand. Spivey had looked him over with his little snake eyes. He had seen that Hubble was smaller, shorter, lighter, sandier, balder, younger than me. But what was the major difference he had hung on to? Hubble wore glasses. I didn't. The little gold rims. An absolute difference. Spivey had said to himself that night: Hubble's the one with glasses.

  But by the next morning I was the one with glasses, not Hubble. Because Hubble's gold rims had been smashed up by the Red Boys outside our cell. First thing in the morning. The little gold rims were gone. I had taken some shades from one of them as a trophy. Taken them and forgotten about them. I'd leaned up against the sink in that bathroom inspecting my tender forehead in the steel mirror. I'd felt those shades in my pocket. I'd pulled them out and put them on. They weren't dark because they were supposed to react to sunlight. They looked like ordinary glasses. I'd been standing there with them on when the Aryans came trawling into the bathroom. Spivey had just told them: find the new boys and kill the one with glasses. They'd tried hard. They'd tried very hard to kill Paul Hubble.

  They had attacked me because the description they'd been given was suddenly the wrong description. Spivey had reported that back long ago. Whoever had set him on Hubble hadn't given up. They'd made a second attempt. And the second attempt had succeeded. The whole police department had been summoned up to Beckman Drive. Up to number twenty-five. Because somebody had discovered an appalling scene there. Carnage. He was dead. All four of them were dead. Tortured and butchered. My fault. I hadn't thought hard enough.

  I RAN OVER TO THE COUNTER. SPOKE TO OUR WAITRESS. THE one with glasses.

  "Can you call me a taxi?" I asked her.

  The cook was watching from the kitchen hatch. Maybe he was Eno himself. Short, stocky, dark, balding. Older than me.

  "No, we can't," he called through. "What do you think this place is? A hotel? This ain't the Waldorf-Astoria, pal. You want a taxi, you find it yourself. You ain't particularly welcome here, pal. You're trouble. "

  I gazed back at him bleakly. Too drained for any reaction. But the waitress just laughed at him. Put her hand on my arm.

  "Don't pay no mind to Eno," she said. "He's just a grumpy old thing. I'll call you the taxi. Just wait out in the parking lot, OK?"

  I waited out on the road. Five minutes. The taxi drove up. Brand-new and immaculate, like everything else in Margrave.

  "Where to, sir?" the driver asked.

  I gave him Hubble's address and he made a wide, slow turn, shoulder to shoulder across the county road. Headed back to town. We passed the firehouse and the police headquarters. The lot was empty. Roscoe's Chevy wasn't there. No cruisers. They were all out. Up at Hubble's. We made the right at the village green and swung past the silent church. Headed up Beckman. In a mile I would see a cluster of vehicles outside number twenty-five. The cruisers with their light bars flashing and popping. Unmarked cars for Finlay and Roscoe. An ambulance or two. The coroner would be there, up from his shabby office in Yellow Springs.

  But the street was empty. I walked into Hubble's driveway. The taxi turned and drove back to town. Then it was silent. That heavy silence you get in a quiet street on a hot, quiet day. I rounded the big banks of garden. There was nobody there. No police cars, no ambulances, no shouting. No clattering gurneys, no gasps of horror. No police photographers, no tape sealing off the access.

  The big dark Bentley was parked up on the gravel. I walked past it on my way to the house. The front door crashed open. Charlie Hubble ran out. She was screaming. She was hysterical. But she was alive.

  "Hub's disappeared," she screamed.

  She ran over the gravel. Stood right in front of me.

  "Hub's gone," she screamed. "He's disappeared. I can't find him. "

  It was just Hubble on his own. They'd taken him and dumped him somewhere. Someone had found the body and called the police. A screaming, gagging phone call. The cluster of cars and ambulances was there. Not here on Beckman. Somewhere else. But it was just Hubble on his own.

  "Something's wrong," Charlie wailed. "This prison thing. Something's gone wrong at the bank. It must be that. Hub's been so uptight. Now he's gone. He's disappeared. Something's happened, I know it. "

  She screwed her eyes tight shut. Started screaming. She was losing it. Getting more and more hysterical. I didn't know how to handle her.

  "He got back late last night," she screamed. "He was still here this morning. I took Ben and Lucy to school. Now he's gone. He hasn't gone to work. He got a call from his office telling him to stay home, and his briefcase is still here, his phone is still here, his jacket is still here, his wallet is still here, his credit cards are in it, his driver's license is in it, his keys are in the kitchen. The front door was standing wide open. He hasn't gone to work. He's just disappeared. "

  I stood still. Paralyzed. He'd been dragged out of there by force and killed. Charlie sagged in front of me. Then she started whispering to me. The whispering was worse than the screaming.

  "His car is still here," she whispered. "He can't have walked anywhere. He never walks anywhere. He always takes his Bentley. "

  She waved vaguely toward the back of the house.

  "Hub's Bentley is green," she said. "It's still in the garage. I checked. You've got to help us. You've got to find him. Mr. Reacher, please. I'm asking you to help us. Hub's in trouble, I know it. He's vanished. He said you might help. You saved his life. He said you knew how to do things. "

  She was hysterical. She was pleading. But I couldn't help her. She would know that soon enough. Baker or Finlay would come up to the house very soon. They would tell her the shattering news. Probably Finlay would handle it. Probably he was very good at it. Probably he had done it a thousand times in Boston. He had dignity and gravity. He would break the news, gloss over the details, drive her down to the morgue to identify the body. The morgue people would shroud the corpse with heavy gauze to hide the appalling wounds.

  "Will you help us?" Charlie asked me.

  I decided not to wait with her. I decided to go down to the station house. Find out details like where and when and how. But I'd come back with Finlay. This was my fault, so I should come back.

  "You stay here," I said. "You'll have to lend me your car, OK?"

  She rooted in her bag and pulled out a big bunch of keys. Handed them to me. The car key had a big letter B embossed on it. She nodded vaguely and stayed where she was. I stepped over to the Bentley and slid into the driver's seat. Backed it up and swung i
t down the curving driveway. Glided down Beckman in silence. Made the left onto Main Street up toward the station house.

  THERE WERE CRUISERS AND UNMARKED UNITS SPRAWLED right across the police parking lot. I left Charlie's Bentley at the curb and stepped inside. They were all milling around the open area. I saw Baker, Stevenson, Finlay. I saw Roscoe. I recognized the backup team from Friday. Morrison wasn't there. Nor was the desk guy. The long counter was unattended. Everybody was stunned. They were all vague and staring. Horrified. Distracted. Nobody would talk to me. They looked over bleakly. Didn't really look away, it was like they didn't see me at all. There was total silence. Finally Roscoe came over. She'd been crying. She walked up to me. Pressed her face against my chest. She was burning up. She put her arms around me and held on.

  "It was horrible," she said. Wouldn't say any more.

  I walked her around to her desk and sat her down. Squeezed her shoulder and stepped over toward Finlay. He was sitting on a desk, looking blank. I nodded him over to the big office in back. I needed to know, and Finlay was the guy who would tell me. He followed me into the office. Sat down in the chair in front of the desk. Where I had sat in handcuffs on Friday. I sat behind the desk. Roles reversed.

  I watched him for a while. He was really shaken up. I went cold inside all over again. Hubble must have been left in a hell of a mess to be getting a reaction like that from Finlay. He was a twenty-year man from a big city. He must have seen all there is to see. But now he was really shaken up. I sat there and burned with shame. Sure, Hubble, I'd said, you look safe enough to me.

  "So what's the story?" I said.

  He lifted his head up with an effort and looked at me.

  "Why should you care?" he said. "What was he to you?"

  A good question. One I couldn't answer. Finlay didn't know what I knew about Hubble. I'd kept quiet about it. So Finlay didn't see why Hubble was so important to me.

  "Just tell me what happened," I said.

  "It was pretty bad," he said. Wouldn't go on.

  He was worrying me. My brother had been shot in the head. Two big messy exit wounds had removed his face. Then somebody had turned his corpse into a bag of pulp. But Finlay hadn't fallen apart over that. The other guy had been all gnawed up by rats. There wasn't a drop of blood left in him. But Finlay hadn't fallen apart over that, either. Hubble was a local guy, which made it a bit worse, I could see that. But on Friday, Finlay hadn't even known who Hubble was. And now Finlay was acting like he'd seen a ghost. So it must have been some pretty spectacular work.

  Which meant that there was some kind of a big deal going down in Margrave. Because there's no point in spectacular work unless it serves a purpose. The threat of it beforehand works on the guy himself. It had certainly worked on Hubble. He had taken a lot of notice of it. That's the point of a threat. But to actually carry out something like that has a different point. A different purpose. Carrying it out is not about the guy himself. It's about backing up the threat against the next guy in line. It says, see what we did to that other guy? That's what we could do to you. So by doing some spectacular work on Hubble, somebody had just revealed there was a high-stakes game going down, with other guys waiting next in line, right there in the locality.

  "Tell me what happened, Finlay," I said again.

  He leaned forward. Cupped his mouth and nose with his hands and sighed heavily into them.

  "OK," he said. "It was pretty horrible. One of the worst I've ever seen. And I've seen a few, let me tell you. I've seen some pretty bad ones, but this was something else. He was naked. They nailed him to the wall. Six or seven big carpentry nails through his hands and up his arms. Through the fleshy parts. They nailed his feet to the floor. Then they sliced his balls off. Just hacked them off. Blood everywhere. Pretty bad, let me tell you. Then they slit his throat. Ear to ear. Bad people, Reacher. These are bad people. As bad as they come. "

  I was numb. Finlay was waiting for a comment. I couldn't think of anything. I was thinking about Charlie. She would ask if I'd found anything out. Finlay should go up there. He should go up there right now and break the news. It was his job, not mine. I could see why he was reluctant. Difficult news to break. Difficult details to gloss over. But it was his job. I'd go with him. Because it was my fault. No point running away from that.

  "Yes," I said to him. "It sounds pretty bad. "

  He leaned his head back and looked around. Blew another sigh up at the ceiling. A somber man.

  "That's not the worst of it," he said. "You should have seen what they did to his wife. "

  "His wife?" I said. "What the hell do you mean?"

  "I mean his wife," he said. "It was like a butcher's shop. "

  For a moment I couldn't speak. The world was spinning backward.

  "But I just saw her," I said. "Twenty minutes ago. She's OK. Nothing happened to her. "

  "You saw who?" Finlay said.

  "Charlie," I said.

  "Who the hell is Charlie?" he asked.

  "Charlie," I said blankly. "Charlie Hubble. His wife. She's OK. They didn't get her. "

  "What's Hubble got to do with this?" he said.

  I just stared at him.

  "Who are we talking about?" I said. "Who got killed?"

  Finlay looked at me like I was crazy.

  "I thought you knew," he said. "Chief Morrison. The chief of police. Morrison. And his wife. "

 
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LEE CHILD SERIES:

  • Jack Reacher
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