Killing floor, p.12
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       Killing Floor, p.12

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


  Finlay's patience was running thin. He looked at his watch.

  "You better not be wasting my time, Reacher," he said.

  We walked on north. The sun was dropping away from overhead, but the heat was still fierce. I didn't know how Finlay could wear a tweed jacket. And a moleskin vest. I led him over to the village green. We crossed the grass and leaned up on the statue of old Caspar Teale, side by side.

  "They cut his balls off, right?" I said.

  He nodded. Looked at me, waiting.

  "OK," I said. "So the question is this: did you find his balls?"

  He shook his head.

  "No," he said. "We went over the whole place. Ourselves and the medical examiner. They weren't there. His testicles are missing. "

  He smiled as he said it. He was recovering his cop's sense of humor.

  "OK," I said. "That's what I needed to know. "

  His smile widened. Reached his eyes.

  "Why?" he said. "Do you know where they are?"

  "When's the autopsy?" I asked him.

  He was still smiling.

  "His autopsy won't help," he said. "They were cut off. They're not connected to him anymore. They weren't there. They're missing. So how can they find them at his autopsy?"

  "Not his autopsy," I said. "Her autopsy. His wife's. When they check what she ate. "

  Finlay stopped smiling. Went quiet. Just looked at me.

  "Talk, Reacher," he said.

  "OK," I said. "That's why we came out here, remember? So answer another question for me. How many homicides have they had in Margrave?"

  He thought about it. Shrugged.

  "None," he said. "At least, not for maybe thirty years or so. Not since voter registration days, I guess. "

  "And now you've had four in four days," I said. "And pretty soon you'll find the fifth. "

  "Fifth?" he said. "Who's the fifth?"

  "Hubble," I said. "My brother, this Sherman Stoller guy, the two Morrisons and Hubble makes five. No homicides in thirty years and now you've got five all at once. That can't be any kind of a coincidence, right?"

  "No way," he said. "Of course not. They're linked. "

  "Right," I said. "Now I'll tell you some more links. But first of all, you got to understand something, right? I was just passing through here. On Friday and Saturday and Sunday right up to the time those prints came through on my brother, I wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to anything at all. I was just figuring I'd wait around and get the hell out of here as soon as possible. "

  "So?" he said.

  "So I was told stuff," I said. "Hubble told me things in Warburton, but I didn't pay a lot of attention. I wasn't interested in him, OK? He told me things, and I didn't follow them up with him and I probably don't recall some of them. "

  "Like what things?" Finlay said.

  So I told him the things I remembered. I started the same way Hubble had started. Trapped inside some kind of a racket, terrorized by a threat against himself and his wife. A threat consisting of the same things, word for word, that Finlay had just seen for himself that morning.

  "You sure about that?" he said. "Exactly the same?"

  "Word for word," I said. "Totally identical. Nailed to the wall, balls cut off, the wife forced to eat the balls, then they get their throats cut. Word-for-word identical, Finlay. So unless we got two threateners at the same time in the same place making the exact same threat, that's another link. "

  "So Morrison was inside the same scam as Hubble?" he said.

  "Owned and operated by the same people," I said.

  Then I told him Hubble had been talking to an investigator. And I told him the investigator had been talking to Sherman Stoller, whoever he had been.

  "Who was the investigator?" he asked. "And where does Joe fit in?"

  "Joe was the investigator," I said. "Hubble told me the tall guy with the shaved head was an investigator, trying to get him free. "

  "What sort of an investigator was your brother?" Finlay said. "Who the hell was he working for?"

  "Don't know," I said. "Last I heard he was working for the Treasury Department. "

  Finlay pushed off the statue and started walking back north.

  "I got to make some calls," he said. "Time to go to work on this thing. "

  "Walk slow," I said. "I haven't finished yet. "

  FINLAY WAS ON THE SIDEWALK. I WAS IN THE ROAD, STAYING clear of the low awnings in front of every store. There was no traffic on the street to worry about. Monday, two o'clock in the afternoon, and the town was deserted.

  "How do you know Hubble's dead?" Finlay asked me.

  So I told him how I knew. He thought about it. He agreed with me.

  "Because he was talking to an investigator?" he said.

  I shook my head. Stopped outside the barbershop.

  "No," I said. "They didn't know about that. If they had, they'd have got to him much earlier. Thursday at the latest. I figure they made the decision to waste him Friday, about five o'clock. Because you pulled him in with the phone number in Joe's shoe. They figured he couldn't be allowed to talk to cops or prison guards. So they set it up with Spivey. But Spivey's boys blew it, so they tried over again. His wife said he got a call to wait at home today. They were setting him up for a second attempt. Looks like it worked. "

  Finlay nodded slowly.

  "Shit," he said. "He was the only link we had to exactly what the hell is going on here. You should have hit on him while you had the chance, Reacher. "

  "Thanks, Finlay," I said. "If I'd known the dead guy was Joe, I'd have hit on him so hard, you'd have heard him yelling all the way over here. "

  He just grunted. We moved over and sat together on the bench under the barbershop window.

  "I asked him what Pluribus was," I said. "He wouldn't answer. He said there were ten local people involved in the scam, plus hired help in from the outside when necessary. And he said the scam is vulnerable until something happens on Sunday. Exposed, somehow. "

  "What happens on Sunday?" Finlay asked.

  "He didn't tell me," I said.

  "And you didn't press him?" he asked.

  "I wasn't very interested," I said. "I told you that. "

  "And he gave you no idea what the scam is all about?" he asked.

  "No idea," I said.

  "Did he say who these ten people are?" he asked.

  "No," I said.

  "Christ, Reacher, you're a big help, you know that?" he said.

  "I'm sorry, Finlay," I said. "I thought Hubble was just some asshole. If I could go back and do it again, I'd do it a lot different, believe me. "

  "Ten people?" he said again.

  "Not counting himself," I said. "Not counting Sherman Stoller, either. But I assume he was counting Chief Morrison. "

  "Great," Finlay said. "That only leaves me another nine to find. "

  "You'll find one of them today," I said.

  THE BLACK PICKUP I'D LAST SEEN LEAVING ENO'S PARKING lot pulled up short at the opposite curb. It waited there, motor running. The Kliner kid leaned his head on his forearm and stared out of the window at me from across the street. Finlay didn't see him. He was looking down at the sidewalk.

  "You should be thinking about Morrison," I said to him.

  "What about him?" he said. "He's dead, right?"

  "But dead how?" I said. "What should that be saying to you?"

  He shrugged.

  "Somebody making an example of him?" he said. "A message?"

  "Correct, Finlay," I said. "But what had he done wrong?"

  "Screwed something up, I guess," he said.

  "Correct, Finlay," I said again. "He was told to cover up what went down at the warehouse Thursday night. That was his task for the day. He was up there at midnight, you know. "

  "He was?" Finlay said. "You
said that was a bullshit story. "

  "No," I said. "He didn't see me up there. That part was the bullshit story. But he was up there himself. He saw Joe. "

  "He did?" Finlay said. "How do you know that?"

  "First time he saw me was Friday, right?" I said. "In the office? He was staring at me like he'd seen me before, but he couldn't place where. That was because he'd seen Joe. He noticed a resemblance. Hubble said the same thing. He said I reminded him of his investigator. "

  "So Morrison was there?" Finlay said. "Was he the shooter?"

  "Can't figure it that way," I said. "Joe was a reasonably smart guy. He wouldn't let a fat idiot like Morrison shoot him. The shooter must have been somebody else. I can't figure Morrison for the maniac, either. That much physical exertion would have dropped him with a heart attack. I think he was the third guy. The clean-up guy. But he didn't search Joe's shoes. And because of that, Hubble got hauled in. That got somebody mad. It meant they had to waste Hubble, so Morrison was wasted as a punishment. "

  "Some punishment," Finlay said.

  "Also a message," I said. "So think about it. "

  "Think about what?" he said. "Wasn't a message for me. "

  "So who was it a message for?" I said.

  "Who is any such message for?" he said. "The next guy in line, right?"

  I nodded.

  "See why I was worried who was going to be the next chief?" I said.

  Finlay dropped his head again and stared at the sidewalk.

  "Christ," he said. "You think the next chief will be in the scam?"

  "Got to be," I said. "Why would they have Morrison inside? Not for his wonderful personality, right? They had him inside because they need the chief on board. Because that's useful to them in some particular way. So they wouldn't waste Morrison unless they had a replacement ready. And whoever it is, we're looking at a very dangerous guy. He'll be going in there with Morrison's example staring him in the face. Somebody will have just whispered to him: see what we did to Morrison? That's what we'll do to you if you screw up the way he did. "

  "So who is it?" Finlay said. "Who's going to be the new chief?"

  "That's what I was asking you," I said.

  WE SAT QUIET ON THE BENCH OUTSIDE THE BARBERSHOP FOR a moment. Enjoyed the sun creeping in under the edge of the striped awning.

  "It's you, me and Roscoe," I said. "Right now, the only safe thing is to assume everybody else is involved. "

  "Why Roscoe?" he said.

  "Lots of reasons," I said. "But mainly because she worked hard to get me out of Warburton. Morrison wanted me in there as a fall guy for Thursday night, right? So if Roscoe was inside the scam, she'd have left me in there. But she got me out. She pulled in the exact opposite direction from Morrison. So if he was bent, she isn't. "

  He looked at me. Grunted.

  "Only three of us?" he said. "You're a cautious guy, Reacher. "

  "You bet your ass I'm a cautious guy, Finlay," I said. "People are getting killed here. One of them was my only brother. "

  We stood up from the bench on the sidewalk. Across the street, the Kliner kid killed his motor and got out of the pickup. Started walking slowly over. Finlay rubbed his face with his hands, like he was washing without water.

  "So what now?" he said.

  "You got things to do," I said. "You need to get Roscoe on one side and fill her in with the details, OK? Tell her to take a lot of care. Then you need to make some calls and find out from Washington what Joe was doing down here. "

  "OK," Finlay said. "What about you?"

  I nodded across at the Kliner kid.

  "I'm going to have a talk with this guy," I said. "He keeps looking at me. "

  Two things happened as the Kliner kid came near. First, Finlay left in a hurry. He just strode off north without another word. Second, I heard the barbershop blinds coming down in the window behind me. I glanced around. There could have been nobody else on the planet except for me and the Kliner kid.

  Up close, the kid was an interesting study. He was no lightweight. Probably six-two, maybe one ninety, shot through with some kind of a restless energy. There was a lot of intelligence in his eyes, but there was also some kind of an eerie light burning in there. His eyes told me this probably wasn't the most rational character I was ever going to meet in my whole life. He came close and stood in front of me. Just stared at me.

  "You're trespassing," he said.

  "This is your sidewalk?" I said.

  "It sure is," the kid said. "My daddy's Foundation paid for every inch of it. Every brick. But I'm not talking about the sidewalk. I'm talking about Miss Roscoe. She's mine. She's mine, right from when I first saw her. She's waiting for me. Five years, she's been waiting for me, until the time is right. "

  I gazed back at him.

  "You understand English?" I said.

  The kid tensed up. He was just about hopping from foot to foot.

  "I'm a reasonable guy," I said. "First time Miss Roscoe tells me she wants you instead of me, I'm out of here. Until then, you back off. Understand that?"

  The kid was boiling. But then he changed. It was like he was operated by a remote control and somebody had just hit a button and switched the channel. He relaxed and shrugged and smiled a wide, boyish smile.

  "OK," he said. "No hard feelings, right?"

  He stuck out his hand to shake on it and he nearly fooled me. Right at the last split second I pulled my own hand back a fraction and closed around his knuckles, not his palm. It's an old army trick. They go to shake your hand, but they're aiming to crush it. Some big macho ritual. The way out is to be ready. You pull back a fraction and you squeeze back. You're squeezing their knuckles, not the meat of their palm. Their grip is neutralized. If you catch it right, you can't lose.

  He started crushing, but he never stood a chance. He was going for the steady squeeze, so he could stare into my eyes while I sweated it out. But he never got near. I crunched his knuckles once, then twice, a little harder, and then I dropped his hand and turned away. I was a good sixty yards north before I heard the truck start up. It rumbled south and its noise was lost in the buzz of the heat.

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