Killing floor, p.15
Killing Floor, p.15Part #1 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
THEY HAD COME FOR US IN THE NIGHT. THEY HAD COME expecting a lot of blood. They had come with all their gear. Their rubber overshoes and their nylon bodysuits. Their knives, their hammer, their bag of nails. They had come to do a job on us, like they'd done on Morrison and his wife.
They had pushed open the forbidden door. They had made a second fatal mistake. Now they were dead men. I was going to hunt them down and smile at them as they died. Because to attack me was a second attack on Joe. He was no longer here to stand up for me. It was a second challenge. A second humiliation. This wasn't about self-defense. This was about honoring Joe's memory.
Roscoe was following the trail of footprints. Showing a classic reaction. Denial. Four men had come to butcher her in the night. She knew that, but she was ignoring it. Closing it out of her mind. Dealing with it by not dealing with it. Not a bad approach, but she'd fall off the high wire before long. Until then, she was making herself busy tracing the faint footprints on her floors.
They had searched the house for us. They had split up in the bedroom and looked around. Then they had regrouped in the bedroom and left. We looked for tracks outside on the road, but there was nothing. The smooth tarmac was wet and steaming. We went back inside. No evidence at all except the wrenched lock and the faint footprints throughout the house.
Neither of us spoke. I was burning with anger. Still watching Roscoe. Waiting for the dam to break. She'd seen the Morrison corpses. I hadn't. Finlay had sketched in the details for me. That was bad enough. He'd been there. He'd been shaken by the whole thing. Roscoe had been there too. She'd seen exactly what somebody wanted to do to the two of us.
"So who were they after?" she said at last. "Me, you, both of us?"
"They were after both of us," I said. "They figure Hubble talked to me in prison. They figure I've told you all about it. So they think you and I know whatever it was Hubble knew. "
She nodded, vaguely. Then she moved away and leaned up near her back door. Looking out at her neat evergreen garden. I saw her go pale. She shuddered. The defenses crashed down. She pressed herself into the corner by the door. Tried to flatten herself onto the wall. Stared into space like she was seeing all the nameless horrors. Started crying like her heart was broken. I stepped over and held her tight. Pressed her against me and held her as she cried out the fear and the tension. She cried for a long time. She felt hot and weak. My shirt was soaked with her tears.
"Thank God we weren't here last night," she whispered.
I knew I had to sound confident. Fear wouldn't get her anywhere. Fear would just sap her energy. She had to face it down. And she had to face down the dark and the quiet again tonight, and every other night of her life.
"I wish we had been here," I said. "We could have gotten a few answers. "
She looked at me like I was crazy. Shook her head.
"What would you have done?" she said. "Killed four men?"
"Only three," I said. "The fourth would have given us the answers. "
I said it with total certainty. Total conviction. Like absolutely no other possibility existed. She looked at me. I wanted her to see this huge guy. A soldier for thirteen long years. A bare-knuckle killer. Icy blue eyes. I was giving it everything I had. I was willing myself to project all the invincibility, all the implacability, all the protection I felt. I was doing the hard, no-blink stare that used to shrivel up drunken marines two at a time. I wanted Roscoe to feel safe. After what she was giving me, I wanted to give her that. I didn't want her to feel afraid.
"It's going to take more than four little country boys to get me," I said. "Who are they kidding? I've shit better opponents than that. They come in here again, they'll go out in a bucket. And I'll tell you what, Roscoe, someone even thinks about hurting you, they die before they finish thinking. "
It was working. I was convincing her. I needed her to be bright, tough, self-confident. I was willing her to pick it up. It was working. Her amazing eyes were filling with spirit.
"I mean it, Roscoe," I said. "Stick with me and you'll be OK. "
She looked at me again. Pushed her hair back.
"Promise?" she said.
"You got it, babe," I said. Held my breath.
She sighed a ragged sigh. Pushed off the wall and stepped over. Tried a brave smile. The crisis was gone. She was up and running.
"Now we get the hell out of here," I said. "We can't stay around like sitting targets. So throw what you need into a bag. "
"OK," she said. "Are we going to fix my door first?"
I thought about her question. It was an important tactical issue.
"No," I said. "If we fix it, it means we've seen it. If we've seen it, it means we know we're under attack. Better if they figure we don't know we're under attack. Because then they'll figure they don't need to be too careful next time. So we don't react at all. We make out we haven't been back here. We make out we haven't seen the door. We carry on acting dumb and innocent. If they think we're dumb and innocent, they'll get careless. Easier to spot them coming next time. "
"OK," she said.
She didn't sound convinced, but she was agreeing.
"So throw what you need into a bag," I said again.
She wasn't happy, but she went off to gather up some stuff. The game was starting. I didn't know exactly who the other players were. I didn't even know exactly what the game was. But I knew how to play. Opening move was I wanted them to feel like we were always one step behind.
"Should I go to work today?" Roscoe asked.
"Got to," I said. "Can't do anything different from normal. And we need to speak with Finlay. He's expecting the call from Washington. And we need what we can get on Sherman Stoller. But don't worry, they're not going to gun us down in the middle of the squad room. They'll go for somewhere quiet and isolated, probably at night. Teale's the only bad guy up there, so just don't be on your own with him. Stick around Finlay or Baker or Stevenson, OK?"
She nodded. Went to get showered and dressed for work. Within twenty minutes, she came out of the bedroom in her uniform. Patted herself down. Ready for the day. She looked at me.
"Promise?" she said.
The way she said it was like a question, an apology, a reassurance all in one word. I looked back at her.
"You bet your ass," I said, and winked.
She nodded. Winked back. We were OK. We went out the front door and left it slightly open, just like we'd found it.
I HID THE BENTLEY IN HER GARAGE TO MAINTAIN THE ILLUSION that we hadn't been back to her house. Then we got in her Chevy and decided to start with breakfast up at Eno's. She took off and gunned the car up the hill. It felt loose and low after the upright old Bentley. Coming down the hill toward us was a panel van. Smart dark green, very clean, brand-new. It looked like a utility van, but on the side was a sign in fancy gold script. It said: Kliner Foundation. Same as I'd seen the gardeners using.
"What's that truck?" I said to Roscoe.
She wafted through the right at the convenience store. Up onto Main Street.
"Foundation's got a lot of trucks," she said.
"What is it they do?" I asked her.
"Big deal around here," she said. "Old man Kliner. The town sold him the land for his warehouses and part of the deal was he set up a community program. Teale runs it out of the mayor's office. "
"Teale runs it?" I said. "Teale's the enemy. "
"He runs it because he's the mayor," she said. "Not because he's Teale. The program assigns a lot of money, spends it on public things, roads, gardens, the library, local business grants. Gives the police department a hell of a lot. Gives me a mortgage subsidy, just because I'm with the department. "
"Gives Teale a lot of power," I said. "And what's the story with the Kliner boy? He tried to warn me off you. Made out he had a prior claim. "
"He's a jerk," she said. "I avoid him when I can. You s
She drove on, looking edgy. Kept glancing around, startled. Like she felt under threat. Like someone was going to jump out in front of the car and gun us down. Her quiet life in the Georgia countryside was over. Four men in the night up at her house had shattered that.
We pulled into Eno's gravel lot and the big Chevy rocked gently on its soft springs. I slid out of the low seat and we crunched across the gravel together to Eno's door. It was a gray day. The night rain had chilled the air and left rags of cloud all over the sky. The siding on the diner reflected the dullness. It was cold. It felt like a new season.
We went in. The place was empty. We took a booth and the woman with glasses brought us coffee. We ordered eggs and bacon with all kinds of extras on the side. A black pickup was pulling into the lot outside. Same black pickup as I'd seen three times before. Different driver. Not the Kliner kid. This was an older guy. Maybe approaching sixty, but bone-hard and lean. Iron-gray hair shaved close to his scalp. He was dressed like a rancher in denim. Looked like he lived outdoors in the sun. Even through Eno's window I could sense his power and feel the glare in his eyes. Roscoe nudged me and nodded at the guy.
"That's Kliner," she said. "The old man himself. "
He pushed in through the door and stood for a moment. Looked left, looked right, and moved in to the lunch counter. Eno came around from the kitchen. The two of them talked quietly. Heads bent together. Then Kliner stood up again. Turned to the door. Stopped and looked left, looked right. Rested his gaze on Roscoe for a second. His face was lean and flat and hard. His mouth was a line carved into it. Then he moved his eyes onto me. I felt like I was being illuminated by a searchlight. His lips parted in a curious smile. He had amazing teeth. Long canines, canted inward, and flat square incisors. Yellow, like an old wolf. His lips closed again and he snapped his gaze away. Pulled the door and crunched over the gravel to his truck. Took off with the roar of a big motor and a spray of small stones.
I watched him go and turned to Roscoe.
"So tell me more about these Kliner people," I said.
She still looked edgy.
"Why?" she said. "We're fighting for our lives here and you want to talk about the Kliners?"
"I'm looking for information," I said. "Kliner's name crops up everywhere. He looks like an interesting guy. His son is a piece of work. And I saw his wife. She looked unhappy. I'm wondering if all that's got anything to do with anything. "
She shrugged and shook her head.
"I don't see how," she said. "They're newcomers, only been here five years. The family made a fortune in cotton processing, generations back, over in Mississippi. Invented some kind of a new chemical thing, some kind of a new formula. Chlorine or sodium something, I don't know for sure. Made a huge fortune, but they ran into trouble with the EPA over there, you know, about five years ago, pollution or something. There were fish dying all the way down to New Orleans because of dumping into the river. "
"So what happened?" I asked her.
"Kliner moved the whole plant," she said. "The company was his by then. He shut down the whole Mississippi operation and set it up again in Venezuela or somewhere. Then he tried to diversify. He turned up here in Georgia five years ago with this warehouse thing, consumer goods, electronics or something. "
"So they're not local?" I said.
"Never saw them before five years ago," she said. "Don't know much about them. But I never heard anything bad. Kliner's probably a tough guy, maybe even ruthless, but he's OK as long as you're not a fish, I guess. "
"So why is his wife so scared?" I said.
Roscoe made a face.
"She's not scared," she said. "She's sick. Maybe she's scared because she's sick. She's going to die, right? That's not Kliner's fault. "
The waitress arrived with the food. We ate in silence. The portions were huge. The fried stuff was great. The eggs were delicious. This guy Eno had a way with eggs. I washed it all down with pints of coffee. I had the waitress running back and forth with the refill jug.
"Pluribus means nothing at all to you?" Roscoe asked. "You guys never knew anything about some Pluribus thing? When you were kids?"
I thought hard and shook my head.
"Is it Latin?" she asked.
"It's part of the United States' motto, right?" I said. "E Pluribus Unum. It means out of many, one. One nation built out of many former colonies. "
"So Pluribus means many?" she said. "Did Joe know Latin?"
"I've got no idea," I said. "Probably. He was a smart guy. He probably knew bits and pieces of Latin. I'm not sure. "
"OK," she said. "You got no other ideas at all why Joe was down here?"
"Money, maybe," I said. "That's all I can think of. Joe worked for the Treasury Department, as far as I know. Hubble worked for a bank. Their only thing in common would be money. Maybe we'll find out from Washington. If we don't, we're going to have to start from the beginning. "
"OK," she said. "You need anything?"
"I'll need that arrest report from Florida," I said.
"For Sherman Stoller?" she said. "That's two years old. "
"Got to start somewhere," I said.
"OK, I'll ask for it," she shrugged. "I'll call Florida. Anything else?"
"I need a gun," I said.
She didn't reply. I dropped a twenty on the laminate tabletop and we slid out and stood up. Walked out to the unmarked car.
"I need a gun," I said again. "This is a big deal, right? So I'll need a weapon. I can't just go to the store and buy one. No ID, no address. "
"OK," she said. "I'll get you one. "
"I've got no permit," I said. "You'll have to do it on the quiet, OK?"
"That's OK," she said. "There's one nobody else knows about. "
WE KISSED A LONG HARD KISS IN THE STATION HOUSE LOT. Then we got out of the car and went in through the heavy glass door. More or less bumped into Finlay rounding the reception counter on his way out.
"Got to go back to the morgue," he said. "You guys come with me, OK? We need to talk. Lot to talk about. "
So we went back out into the dull morning. Got back into Roscoe's Chevy. Same system as before. She drove. I sat across the back. Finlay sat in the front passenger seat, twisted around so he could look at the both of us at once. Roscoe started up and headed south.
"Long call from the Treasury Department," Finlay said. "Must have been twenty minutes, maybe a half hour. I was nervous about Teale. "
"What did they say?" I asked him.
"Nothing," he said. "They took a half hour to tell me nothing. "
"Nothing?" I said. "What the hell does that mean?"
"They wouldn't tell me anything," he said. "They want a shitload of formal authorization from Teale before they say word one. "
"They confirmed Joe worked there, right?" I said.
"Sure, they went that far," he said. "He came from Military Intelligence ten years ago. They headhunted him. Recruited him specially. "
"What for?" I asked him.
Finlay just shrugged.
"They wouldn't tell me," he said. "He started some new project exactly a year ago, but the whole thing is a total secret. He was some kind of a very big deal up there, Reacher, that's for sure. You should have heard the way they were all talking about him. Like talking about God. "
I went quiet for a while. I had known nothing about Joe. Nothing at all.
"So that's it?" I said. "Is that all you got?"
"No," he said. "I kept pushing until I got a woman called Molly Beth Gordon. You ever heard that name?"
"No," I said. "Should I have?"
"Sounds like she was very close to Joe," Finlay said. "Sounds like they may have had a thing going. She was very upset. Floods of tears. "
"So what did she tell you?" I asked him.
"Nothing," Finlay said. "Not authorized.
"OK," I said. "That's better. When do I speak to her?"
"Call her about one thirty," he said. "Lunch break, when her office will be empty. She's taking a big risk, but she'll talk to you. That's what she said. "
"OK," I said again. "She say anything else?"
"She let one little thing slip," Finlay said. "Joe had a big debrief meeting scheduled. For next Monday morning. "
"Monday?" I said. "As in the day after Sunday?"
"Correct," he said. "Looks like Hubble was right. Something is due to happen on or before Sunday. Whatever the hell he was doing, it looks like Joe knew he would have won or lost by then. But she wouldn't say anything more. She was out of line talking to me at all and she sounded like she was being overheard. So call her, but don't pin your hopes on her, Reacher. She may not know anything. Left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing up there. Big-time secrecy, right?"
"Bureaucracy," I said. "Who the hell needs it? OK, we have to assume we're on our own here. At least for a while. We're going to need Picard again. "
"He'll do what he can," he said. "He called me last night. The Hubbles are secure. Right now, he's sitting on it, but he'll stand up for us if we need him. "
"He should start tracing Joe," I said. "Joe must have used a car. Probably flew down from Washington, into Atlanta, got a hotel room, rented a car, right? We should look for the car. He must have driven it down here Thursday night. It must have been dumped somewhere in the area. It might lead us back to the hotel. Maybe there would be something in Joe's hotel room. Files, maybe. "
"Picard can't do that," Finlay said. "FBI isn't equipped to go looking for abandoned rental cars. And we can't do it ourselves, not with Teale around. "
"We'll have to," I said. "No other way. You can sell Teale some story. You can double bluff him. Tell him you figure the escaped con who he says did the Morrison thing must have been in a rental car. Tell him you need to check it out. He can't say no to that, or else he's undermining his own cover story, right?"
"OK," Finlay said. "I'll try it. Might work, I guess. "
"Joe must have had phone numbers," I said. "The number you found in his shoe was torn off a computer printout, right? So where's the rest of the printout? I bet it's in his hotel room, just sitting there, covered with phone numbers, with Hubble's number torn off the top. So you find the car, then you twist Picard's arm to trace the hotel through the rental company, OK?"
"OK," he said. "I'll do my best. "
IN YELLOW SPRINGS WE SLIPPED INTO THE HOSPITAL ENTRANCE lane and slowed over the speed bumps. Nosed around to the lot in back. Parked near the morgue door. I didn't want to go inside. Joe was still in there. I started to think vaguely about funeral arrangements. I'd never had to do it before. The Marine Corps handled my father's. Joe arranged my mother's.
But I got out of the car with the two of them and we walked through the chill air to the door. Found our way back to the shabby office. The same doctor was at the desk. Still in a white coat. Still looking tired. He waved us in and we sat down. I took one of the stools. I didn't want to sit next to the fax machine again. The doctor looked at all of us in turn. We looked back at him.
"What have you got for us?" Finlay said.
The tired man at the desk prepared to answer. Like preparing for a lecture. He picked up three files from his left and dropped them on his blotter. Opened the top one. Pulled out the second one and opened that, too.
"Morrison," he said. "Mr. and Mrs. "
He glanced around the three of us again. Finlay nodded to him.
"Tortured and killed," the pathologist said. "The sequence is pretty clear. The woman was restrained. Two men, I'd say, one on each arm, gripping and twisting. Heavy bruising on the forearms and the upper arms, some ligament damage from twisting the arms up her back. Obviously the bruising continued to develop from the time she was first seized until the time she died. The bruising stops developing when the circulation stops, you understand?"
We nodded. We understood.
"I'd put it at about ten minutes," he said. "Ten minutes, beginning to end. So the woman was being held. The man was being nailed to the wall. I'd guess both were naked by then. They were in nightwear before the attack, right?"
"Robes," Finlay said. "They were having breakfast. "
"OK, the robes came off early on," the doctor said. "The man was nailed to the wall, technically to the floor also, through the feet. His genital area was attacked. The scrotum was severed. Postmortem evidence suggests that the woman was persuaded to swallow the amputated testicles. "
The office was silent. Silent as a tomb. Roscoe looked at me. Stared at me for a while. Then she looked back at the doctor.
"I found them in her stomach," the doctor said.
Roscoe was as white as the guy's coat. I thought she was going to pitch forward off her stool. She closed her eyes and hung on. She was hearing about what somebody had planned for us last night.
"And?" Finlay said.
"The woman was mutilated," the doctor said. "Breasts severed, genital area attacked, throat cut. Then the man's throat was cut. That was the last wound inflicted. You could see the arterial spray from his neck overlaying all the other bloodstains in the room. "
There was dead silence in the room. Lasted quite a while.
"Weapons?" I asked.
The guy at the desk swiveled his tired gaze toward me.
"Something sharp, obviously," he said. A slight grin. "Straight, maybe five inches long. "
"A razor?" I said.
"No," he said. "Certainly something as sharp as a razor, but rigid, not folding, and double-edged. "
"Why?" I said.
"There's evidence it was used back and forth," the guy said. He swished his hand back and forth in a tiny arc. "Like this. On the woman's breasts. Cutting both ways. Like filleting a salmon. "
I nodded. Roscoe and Finlay were silent.
"What about the other guy?" I said. "Stoller?"
The pathologist pushed the two Morrison files to one side and opened up the third. Glanced through it and looked across at me. The third file was thicker than the first two.
"His name was Stoller?" he said. "We've got him down as John Doe. "
Roscoe looked up.
"We sent you a fax," she said. "Yesterday morning. We traced his prints. "
The pathologist rooted around on the messy desk. Found a curled-up fax. Read it and nodded. Crossed out "John Doe" on the folder and wrote in "Sherman Stoller. " Gave us his little grin again.
"I've had him since Sunday," he said. "Been able to do a more thorough job, you know? A bit chewed up by the rats, but not pulped like the first guy, and altogether a lot less mess than the Morrisons. "
"So what can you tell us?" I said.
"We've talked about the bullets, right?" he said. "Nothing more to add about the exact cause of death. "
"So what else do you know?" I asked him.
The file was too thick for just the shooting and running and bleeding to death bits. This guy clearly had more to tell us. I saw him put his fingers on the pages and press lightly. Like he was trying to get vibrations or read the file in Braille.
"He was a truck driver," he said.
"He was?" I said.
"I think so," the guy said. Sounded confident.
Finlay looked up. He was interested. He loved the process of deduction. It fascinated him. Like when I'd scored with those long shots about Harvard, his divorce, quitting smoking.
"Go on," he said.
"OK, briefly," the pathologist said. "I found certain persuasive factors. A sedentary job, because his musculature was slack, his posture poor, flabby buttocks. Slightly rough hands, a fair bit of old diesel fuel ingrain
Finlay nodded. I nodded. Stoller had come in with no ID, no history, nothing but his watch. This guy was pretty good. He watched us nod our approval. Looked pleased. Looked like he had more to say.
"But he's been out of work for a while," he said.
"Why?" Finlay asked him.
"Because all that evidence is old," the doctor said. "Looks to me like he was driving a lot for a long period, but then he stopped. I think he's done very little driving for nine months, maybe a year. So I make him a truck driver, but an unemployed truck driver. "
"OK, doc, good work," Finlay said. "You got copies of all that for us?"
The doctor slid a large envelope across the desk. Finlay stepped over and picked it up. Then we all stood up. I wanted to get out. I didn't want to go back to the cold store again. I didn't want to see any more damage. Roscoe and Finlay sensed it and nodded. We hustled out like we were ten minutes late for something. The guy at the desk let us go. He'd seen lots of people rushing out of his office like they were ten minutes late for something.
We got into Roscoe's car. Finlay opened the big envelope and pulled out the stuff on Sherman Stoller. Folded it into his pocket.
"That's ours, for the time being," he said. "It might get us somewhere. "
"I'll get the arrest report from Florida," Roscoe said. "And we'll find an address for him somewhere. Got to be a lot of paperwork on a trucker, right? Union, medical, licenses. Should be easy enough to do. "
We rode the rest of the way back to Margrave in silence. The station house was deserted, apart from the desk guy. Lunch break in Margrave, lunch break in Washington, D. C. Same time zone. Finlay handed me a scrap of paper from his pocket and stood guard on the door to the rosewood office. I went inside to call the woman who may have been my brother's lover.
THE NUMBER FINLAY HAD HANDED ME REACHED MOLLY Beth Gordon's private line. She answered on the first ring. I gave her my name. It made her cry.
"You sound so much like Joe," she said.
I didn't reply. I didn't want to get into a whole lot of reminiscing. Neither should she, not if she was stepping out of line and was in danger of being overheard. She should just tell me what she had to tell me and get off the line.
"So what was Joe doing down here?" I asked her.
I heard her sniffing, and then her voice came back clear.
"He was running an investigation," she said. "Into what, I don't know specifically. "
"But what sort of a thing?" I asked her. "What was his job?"
"Don't you know?" she said.
"No," I said. "We found it very hard to keep in touch, I'm afraid. You'll have to start from the beginning for me. "
There was a long pause on the line.
"OK," she said. "I shouldn't tell you this. Not without clearance. But I will. It was counterfeiting. He ran the Treasury's anticounterfeiting operation. "
"Counterfeiting?" I said. "Counterfeit money?"
"Yes," she said. "He was head of the department. Ran the whole show. He was an amazing guy, Jack. "
"But why was he down here in Georgia?" I asked her.
"I don't know," she said. "I really don't. What I aim to do is find out for you. I can copy his files. I know his computer password. "
There was another pause. Now I knew something about Molly Beth Gordon. I'd spent a lot of time on computer passwords. Any military cop does. I'd studied the pyschology. Most users make bad choices. A lot of them write the damn word on a Post-it note and stick it on the monitor case. The ones who are too smart to do that use their spouse's name, or their dog's name, or their favorite car or ball player, or the name of the island where they took their honeymoon or balled their secretary. The ones who think they're really smart use figures, not words, but they choose their birthday or their wedding anniversary or something pretty obvious. If you can find something out about the user, you've normally got a better than even chance of figuring their password.
But that would never work with Joe. He was a professional. He'd spent important years in Military Intelligence. His password would be a random mixture of numbers, letters, punctuation marks, upper and lower case. His password would be unbreakable. If Molly Beth Gordon knew what it was, Joe must have told her. No other way. He had really trusted her. He had been really close to her. So I put some tenderness into my voice.
"Molly, that would be great," I said. "I really need that information. "
"I know you do," she said. "I hope to get it tomorrow. I'll call you again, soon as I can. Soon as I know something. "
"Is there counterfeiting going on down here?" I asked her. "Is that what this could be all about?"
"No," she said. "It doesn't happen like that. Not inside the States. All that stuff about little guys with green eye-shades down in secret cellars printing dollar bills is all nonsense. Just doesn't happen. Joe stopped it. Your brother was a genius, Jack. He set up procedures years ago for the special paper sales and the inks, so if somebody starts up, he gets nailed within days. One hundred percent foolproof. Printing money in the States just doesn't happen anymore. Joe made sure of that. It all happens abroad. Any fakes we get here are shipped in. That's what Joe spent his time chasing. International stuff. Why he was in Georgia, I don't know. I really don't. But I'll find out tomorrow, I promise you that. "
I gave her the station house number and told her to speak to nobody except me or Roscoe or Finlay. Then she hung up in a hurry like somebody had just walked in on her. I sat for a moment and tried to imagine what she looked like.
TEALE WAS BACK IN THE STATION HOUSE. AND OLD MAN Kliner was inside with him. They were over by the reception counter, heads together. Kliner was talking to Teale like I'd seen him talking to Eno at the diner. Foundation business, maybe. Roscoe and Finlay were standing together by the cells. I walked over to them. Stood between them and talked low.
"Counterfeiting," I said. "This is about counterfeit money. Joe was running the Treasury Department's defense for them. You know anything about that sort of a thing down here? Either of you?"
They both shrugged and shook their heads. I heard the glass door suck open. Looked up. Kliner was on his way out. Teale was starting in toward us.
"I'm out of here," I said.
I brushed past Teale and headed for the door. Kliner was standing in the lot, next to the black pickup. Waiting for me. He smiled. Wolf's teeth showing.
"Sorry for your loss," he said.
His voice had a quiet, cultured tone. Educated. A slight hiss on the sibilants. Not the voice to go with his sunbaked appearance.
"You upset my son," he said.
He looked at me. Something burning in his eyes. I shrugged.
"The kid upset me first," I said.
"How?" Kliner asked. Sharply.
"He lived and breathed?" I said.
I moved on across the lot. Kliner slid into the black pickup. Fired it up and nosed out. He turned north. I turned south. Started the walk down to Roscoe's place. It was a half mile through the new fall chill. Ten minutes at a brisk pace. I got the Bentley out of the garage. Drove it back up the slope to town. Made the right onto Main Street and cruised along. I was peering left and right in under the smart striped awnings, looking for the clothes store. Found it three doors north of the barbershop. Left the Bentley on the street and went in. Paid out some of Charlie Hubble's expenses cash to a sullen middle-aged guy for a pair of pants, a shirt and a jacket. A light fawn color, pressed cotton, as near to formal as I was prepared to go. No tie. I put it all on in the changing cubicle in the back of the store. Bagged up the old stuff and threw it in the Bentley's trunk as I passed.
I walked the t
"What's your name, son?" he asked me.
No reason not to tell him. Not that I could see.
"Jack Reacher," I said.
"You got any Hispanic friends in town?"
"No," I said.
"Well, you got some now," he said. "Two guys, looking all over for you. "
I looked at him. He scanned the street.
"Who were they?" I asked him.
"Never saw them before," the old guy said. "Little guys, brown car, fancy shirts. Been all over, asking for Jack Reacher. We told them we never heard of no Jack Reacher. "
"When was this?" I said.
"This morning," he said. "After breakfast. "
"OK," I said. "Thanks. "
The guy held the door open for me.
"Go right in," he said. "My partner will take care of you. But he's a bit skittish this morning. Getting old. "
"Thanks," I said again. "See you around. "
"Sure hope so, son," he said.
He strolled off down Main Street and I went inside his shop. The older guy was in there. The gnarled old man whose sister had sung with Blind Blake. No other customers. I nodded to the old guy and sat down in his chair.
"Good morning, my friend," he said.
"You remember me?" I said.
"Sure do," he said. "You were our last customer. Nobody in between to muddle me up. "
I asked him for a shave and he set about whipping up the lather.
"I was your last customer?" I said. "That was Sunday. Today is Tuesday. Business always that bad?"
The old guy paused and gestured with the razor.
"Been that bad for years," he said. "Old Mayor Teale won't come in here, and what the old mayor won't do, nobody else white will do neither. Except old Mr. Gray from the station house, came in here regular as clockwork three, four times a week, until he went and hung himself, God rest his soul. You're the first white face in here since last February, yes sir, that's for sure. "
"Why won't Teale come in here?" I asked him.
"Man's got a problem," the old guy said. "I figure he don't like to sit all swathed up in the towel while there's a black man standing next to him with a razor. Maybe worried something bad might happen to him. "
"Might something bad happen to him?" I said.
He laughed a short laugh.
"I figure there's a serious risk," he said. "Asshole. "
"So you got enough black customers to make a living?" I asked him.
He put the towel around my shoulders and started brushing on the lather.
"Man, we don't need customers to make a living," he said.
"You don't?" I said. "Why not?"
"We got the community money," he said.
"You do?" I said. "What's that?"
"Thousand dollars," he said.
"Who gives you that?" I asked him.
He started scraping my chin. His hand was shaking like old people do.
"Kliner Foundation," he whispered. "The community program. It's a business grant. All the merchants get it. Been getting it five years. "
"That's good," I said. "But a thousand bucks a year won't keep you. It's better than a poke in the eye, but you need customers too, right?"
I was just making conversation, like you do with barbers. But it set the old guy off. He was shaking and cackling. Had a whole lot of trouble finishing the shave. I was staring into the mirror. After last night, it would be a hell of a thing to get my throat cut by accident.
"Man, I shouldn't tell you about it," he whispered. "But seeing as you're a friend of my sister's, I'm going to tell you a big secret. "
He was getting confused. I wasn't a friend of his sister's. Didn't even know her. He'd told me about her, was all. He was standing there with the razor. We were looking at each other in the mirror. Like with Finlay in the coffee shop.
"It's not a thousand dollars a year," he whispered. Then he bent close to my ear. "It's a thousand dollars a week. "
He started stomping around, chuckling like a demon. He filled the sink and dabbed off the spare lather. Patted my face down with a hot wet cloth. Then he whipped the towel off my shoulders like a conjurer doing a trick.
"That's why we don't need no customers," he cackled.
I paid him and got out. The guy was crazy.
"Say hello to my sister," he called after me.
Killing Floor by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on41 votes