Killing floor, p.16
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       Killing Floor, p.16

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

 

  THE TRIP TO ATLANTA WAS THE BEST PART OF FIFTY MILES. Took nearly an hour. The highway swept me right into the city. I headed for the tallest buildings. Soon as I started to see marble foyers I dumped the car and walked to the nearest corner and asked a cop for the commercial district.

  He gave me a half mile walk after which I found one bank after another. Sunrise International had its own building. It was a big glass tower set back behind a piazza with a fountain. That part looked like Milan, but the entranceway at the base of the tower was clad in heavy stone, trying to look like Frankfurt or London. Trying to look like a big heavy-duty bank. Foyer full of dark carpet and leather. Receptionist behind a mahogany counter. Could have been a quiet hotel.

  I asked for Paul Hubble's office and the receptionist flipped through a directory. She said she was sorry, but she was new in the job and she didn't recognize me, so would I wait while she got clearance for my visit? She dialed a number and started a low conversation. Then she covered the phone with her hand.

  "May I say what it's in connection with?"

  "I'm a friend," I said.

  She resumed the phone call and then directed me to an elevator. I had to go to reception on the seventeenth floor. I got in the elevator and tapped the button. Stood there while it carried me up.

  The seventeenth floor looked even more like a gentleman's club than the entrance foyer had. It was carpeted and paneled and dim. Full of glowing antiques and old pictures. As I waded across the thick pile a door opened and a suit stepped out to meet me. Shook my hand and fussed me back into a little anteroom. He introduced himself as some sort of a manager and we sat down.

  "So how may I help you?" he asked.

  "I'm looking for Paul Hubble," I said.

  "May I know why?"

  "He's an old friend," I said. "I remembered him saying he works here, so I thought I'd look him up while I'm passing through. "

  The guy in the suit nodded. Dropped his gaze.

  "Thing is, you see," he said, "Mr. Hubble doesn't work here anymore. We had to let him go, I'm afraid, about eighteen months ago. "

  I just nodded blankly. Then I sat there in the clubby little office and looked at the guy in the suit and waited. A bit of silence might set him talking. If I asked him questions straight out, he might clam up. He might go all confidential, like lawyers do. But I could see he was a chatty type of a guy. A lot of those managers are. They love to impress the hell out of you, given the chance. So I sat tight and waited. Then the guy started apologizing to me because I was Hubble's friend.

  "No fault of his own, you understand," he said. "He did an excellent job, but it was in a field we moved out of. A strategic business decision, very unfortunate for the people concerned, but there you are. "

  I nodded at him like I understood.

  "I haven't been in touch for a long time," I said. "I didn't know. I didn't even really know what he did here. "

  I smiled at him. Tried to look amiable and ignorant. Didn't take much effort, in a bank. I gave him my best receptive look. Guaranteed to set a chatty guy talking. It had worked for me plenty of times before.

  "He was part of our retail operation," the guy said. "We closed it down. "

  I looked inquiringly at him.

  "Retail?" I said.

  "Over-the-counter banking," he said. "You know, cash, checks, loans, personal customers. "

  "And you closed that down?" I said. "Why?"

  "Too expensive," he said. "Big overhead, small margin. It had to go. "

  "And Hubble was a part of that?" I asked him.

  He nodded.

  "Mr. Hubble was our currency manager," he said. "It was an important position. He was very good. "

  "So what was his exact role?" I asked him.

  The guy didn't know how to explain it. Didn't know where to start. He made a couple of attempts and gave them up.

  "Do you understand cash?" he said.

  "I've got some," I said. "I don't know if I understand it, exactly. "

  He got to his feet and gave me a fussy gesture. Wanted me to join him at the window. We peered out together at the people on the street, seventeen floors down. He pointed at a guy in a suit, hurrying along the sidewalk.

  "Take that gentleman," he said. "Let's make a few guesses, shall we? Probably lives in the outer suburbs, maybe has a vacation cabin somewhere, two big mortgages, two cars, half a dozen mutual funds, IRA provision, some blue chip stock, college plans, five or six credit cards, store cards, charge cards. Net worth about a half million, shall we say?"

  "OK," I said.

  "But how much cash does he have?" the guy asked me.

  "No idea," I said.

  "Probably about fifty dollars," he said. "About fifty dollars in a leather billfold which cost him a hundred and fifty dollars. "

  I looked at him. I wasn't following his drift. The guy changed gear. Became very patient with me.

  "The U. S. economy is huge," he said. "Net assets and net liabilities are incalculably large. Trillions of dollars. But almost none of it is actually represented by cash. That gentleman had a net worth of a half million dollars, but only fifty of it was in actual cash. All the rest of it is on paper or in computers. The fact is, there isn't much actual cash around. There's only about a hundred and thirty billion actual cash dollars inside the whole U. S. "

  I shrugged at him again.

  "Sounds like enough to me," I said.

  The guy looked at me severely.

  "But how many people are there?" he asked me. "Nearly three hundred million. That's only about four hundred and fifty actual cash dollars per head of population. That's the problem a retail bank has to deal with, day by day. Four hundred and fifty dollars is a very modest cash withdrawal, but if everybody chose to make such a withdrawal, the nation's banks would run out of cash in the blink of an eye. "

  He stopped and looked at me. I nodded.

  "OK," I said. "I see that. "

  "And most of that cash isn't in banks," he said. "It's in Vegas or at the racetrack. It's concentrated in what we call cash-intensive areas of the economy. So a good currency manager, and Mr. Hubble was one of the very best, has a constant battle just to keep enough paper dollars on hand in our part of the system. He has to reach out and find them. He has to know where to locate them. He has to sniff them out. It's not easy. In the end, it was one of the factors which made retail so expensive for us. One of the reasons why we pulled out. We kept it going as long as we could, but we had to close the operation eventually. We had to let Mr. Hubble go. We were very sorry about it. "

  "Any idea where he's working now?" I said.

  He shook his head.

  "I'm afraid not," he said.

  "Must be working somewhere, right?" I said.

  The guy shook his head again.

  "Professionally, he's dropped out of sight," he said. "He's not working in banking, I'm sure of that. His institute membership lapsed immediately, and we've never had an inquiry for a recommendation. I'm sorry, but I can't help you. If he was working anywhere in banking, I'd know it, I can assure you of that. He must be in something else now. "

  I shrugged. Hubble's trail was stone cold. And the discussion with this guy was over. His body language indicated it. He was shifting forward, ready to get up and get on. I stood up with him. Thanked him for his time. Shook his hand. Stepped through the antique gloom to the elevator. Hit the button for the street and walked out into the dull gray weather.

  My assumptions had been all wrong. I had seen Hubble as a banker, doing a straight job. Maybe turning a blind eye to some peripheral con, maybe with half a finger in some dirty pie. Maybe signing off on a few bogus figures. With his arm twisted way up his back. Involved, useful, tainted, but somehow not central. But he hadn't been a banker. Not for a year and a half. He had been a criminal. Full time. Right inside the scam. Right at the center. Not peripheral at
all.

  I DROVE STRAIGHT BACK TO THE MARGRAVE STATION house. Parked up and went looking for Roscoe. Teale was stalking around in the open area, but the desk guy winked and nodded me back to a file room. Roscoe was in there. She looked weary. She had an armful of old files. She smiled.

  "Hello, Reacher," she said. "Come to take me away from all this?"

  "What's new?" I said.

  She dumped the stack of paper onto a cabinet top. Dusted herself off and flicked her hair back. Glanced at the door.

  "Couple of things," she said. "Teale's got a Foundation board meeting in ten minutes. I'm getting the fax from Florida soon as he's out of here. And we're due a call from the state police about abandoned cars. "

  "Where's the gun you've got for me?" I asked her.

  She paused. Bit her lip. She was remembering why I needed one.

  "It's in a box," she said. "In my desk. We'll have to wait until Teale is gone. And don't open it here, OK? Nobody knows about it. "

  We stepped out of the file room and walked over toward the rosewood office. The squad room was quiet. The two backup guys from Friday were paging through computer records. Neat stacks of files were everywhere. The bogus hunt was on for the chief's killer. I saw a big new bulletin board on the wall. It was marked Morrison. It was empty. Not much progress was being made.

  We waited in the rosewood office with Finlay. Five minutes. Ten. Then we heard a knock and Baker ducked his head around the door. He grinned in at us. I saw his gold tooth again.

  "Teale's gone," he said.

  We went out into the open area. Roscoe turned on the fax machine and picked up the phone to call Florida. Finlay dialed the state police for news on abandoned rental cars. I sat down at the desk next to Roscoe's and called Charlie Hubble. I dialed the mobile number that Joe had printed out and hidden in his shoe. I got no answer. Just an electronic sound and a recorded voice telling me the phone I was calling was switched off.

  I looked across at Roscoe.

  "She's got the damn mobile switched off," I said.

  Roscoe shrugged and moved over to the fax machine. Finlay was still talking to the state police. I saw Baker hanging around on the fringe of the triangle the three of us were making. I got up and went to join Roscoe.

  "Does Baker want in on this?" I asked her.

  "He seems to," she said. "Finlay's got him acting as a kind of a lookout. Should we get him involved?"

  I thought about it for a second, but shook my head.

  "No," I said. "Smaller the better, a thing like this, right?"

  I sat down again at the desk I was borrowing and tried the mobile number again. Same result. Same patient electronic voice telling me it was switched off.

  "Damn," I said to myself. "Can you believe that?"

  I needed to know where Hubble had spent his time for the last year and a half. Charlie might have given me some idea. The time he left home in the morning, the time he got home at night, toll receipts, restaurant bills, things like that. And she might have remembered something about Sunday or something about Pluribus. It was possible she might have come up with something useful. And I needed something useful. I needed it very badly. And she'd switched the damn phone off.

  "Reacher?" Roscoe said. "I got the stuff on Sherman Stoller. "

  She was holding a couple of fax pages. Densely typed.

  "Great," I said. "Let's take a look. "

  Finlay got off the phone and stepped over.

  "State guys are calling back," he said. "They may have something for us. "

  "Great," I said again. "Maybe we're getting somewhere. "

  We all went back into the rosewood office. Spread the Sherman Stoller stuff out on the desk and bent over it together. It was an arrest report from the police department in Jacksonville, Florida.

  "Blind Blake was born in Jacksonville," I said. "Did you know that?"

  "Who's Blind Blake?" Roscoe asked.

  "Singer," Finlay said.

  "Guitar player, Finlay," I said.

  Sherman Stoller had been flagged down by a sector car for exceeding the speed limit on the river bridge between Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach at a quarter to midnight on a September night, two years ago. He had been driving a small panel truck eleven miles an hour too fast. He had become extremely agitated and abusive toward the sector car crew. This had caused them to arrest him for suspected DUI. He had been printed and photographed at Jacksonville Central and both he and his vehicle had been searched. He had given an Atlanta address and stated his occupation as truck driver.

  The search of his person produced a negative result. His truck was searched by hand and with dogs and produced a negative result. The truck contained nothing but a cargo of twenty new air conditioners boxed for export from Jacksonville Beach. The boxes were sealed and marked with the manufacturer's logo, and each box was marked with a serial number.

  After being Mirandized, Stoller had made one phone call. Within twenty minutes of the call, a lawyer named Perez from the respected Jacksonville firm of Zacarias Perez was in attendance, and within a further ten minutes Stoller had been released. From being flagged down to walking out with the lawyer, fifty-five minutes had elapsed.

  "Interesting," Finlay said. "The guy's three hundred miles from home, it's midnight, and he gets lawyered up within twenty minutes? With a partner from a respected firm? Stoller was some kind of a truck driver, that's for sure. "

  "You recognize his address?" I asked Roscoe.

  She shook her head.

  "Not really," she said. "But I could find it. "

  The door cracked open and Baker stuck his head in again.

  "State police on the line," he said. "Sounds like they got a car for you. "

  Finlay checked his watch. Decided there was time before Teale got back.

  "OK," he said. "Punch it through here, Baker. "

  Finlay picked up the phone on the big desk and listened. Scribbled some notes and grunted a thank-you. Hung the phone up and got out of his chair.

  "OK," he said. "Let's go take a look. "

  We all three filed out quickly. We needed to be well clear before Teale got back and started asking questions. Baker watched us go. Called out after us.

  "What should I tell Teale?" he said.

  "Tell him we traced the car," Finlay said. "The one the crazy ex-con used to get down to Morrison's place. Tell him we're making some real progress, OK?"

  THIS TIME FINLAY DROVE. HE WAS USING AN UNMARKED Chevy, identical to Roscoe's issue. He bounced it out of the lot and turned south. Accelerated through the little town. The first few miles I recognized as the route down toward Yellow Springs, but then we swung off onto a track which struck out due east. It led out toward the highway and ended up in a kind of maintenance area, right below the roadway. There were piles of asphalt and tar barrels lying around. And a car. It had been rolled off the highway and it was lying on its roof. And it was burned out.

  "They noticed it Friday morning," Finlay said. "Wasn't here Thursday, they're sure about that. It could have been Joe's. "

  We looked it over very carefully. Wasn't much left to see. It was totally burned out. Everything that wasn't steel had gone. We couldn't even tell what make it had been. By the shape, Finlay thought it had been a General Motors product, but we couldn't tell which division. It had been a midsize sedan, and once the plastic trim has gone, you can't tell a Buick from a Chevy from a Pontiac.

  I got Finlay to support the front fender and I crawled under the upside-down hood. Looked for the number they stamp on the scuttle. I had to scrape off some scorched flakes, but I found the little aluminum strip and got most of the number. Crawled out again and recited it to Roscoe. She wrote it down.

  "So what do you think?" Finlay asked.

  "Could be the one," I said. "Say he rented it Thursday evening up at the airport in Atlanta, full tank of gas. Drove it to the warehouses at the Margrave cloverleaf,
then somebody drove it on down here afterward. Couple of gallons gone, maybe two and a half. Plenty left to burn. "

  Finlay nodded.

  "Makes sense," he said. "But they'd have to be local guys. This is a great spot to dump a car, right? Pull onto the shoulder up there, wheels in the dirt, push the car off the edge, scramble down and torch it, then jump in with your buddy who's already down here in his own car waiting for you, and you're away. But only if you knew about this little maintenance track. And only a local guy would know about this little maintenance track, right?"

  We left the wreck there. Drove back up to the station house. The desk sergeant was waiting for Finlay.

  "Teale wants you in the office," he said.

  Finlay grunted and was heading back there, but I caught his arm.

  "Keep him talking a while," I said. "Give Roscoe a chance to phone in that number from the car. "

  He nodded and carried on to the back. Roscoe and I headed over to her desk. She picked up the phone, but I stopped her.

  "Give me the gun," I whispered. "Before Teale is through with Finlay. "

  She nodded and glanced around the room. Sat down and unclipped the keys from her belt. Unlocked her desk and rolled open a deep drawer. Nodded down to a shallow cardboard box. I picked it out. It was an office storage box, about two inches deep, for holding papers. The cardboard was printed with elaborate woodgrain. Someone had written a name across the top. Gray. I tucked it under my arm and nodded to Roscoe. She rolled the drawer shut and locked it again.

  "Thanks," I said. "Now make those calls, OK?"

  I walked down to the entrance and levered the heavy glass door open with my back. Carried the box over to the Bentley. I set the box on the roof of the car and unlocked the door. Dumped the box on the passenger seat and got in. Pulled the box over onto my lap. Saw a brown sedan slowing up on the road about a hundred yards to the north.

  Two Hispanic men in it. The same car I'd seen outside Charlie Hubble's place the day before. The same guys. No doubt about that. Their car came to a stop about seventy-five yards from the station house. I saw it settle, like the engine had been turned off. Neither of the guys got out. They just sat there, seventy-five yards away, watching the station house parking lot. Seemed to me they were looking straight at the Bentley. Seemed to me my new friends had found me. They'd looked all morning. Now they didn't have to look anymore. They didn't move. Just sat there, watching. I watched them back for more than five minutes. They weren't going to get out. I could see that. They were settled there. So I turned my attention back to the box.

  It was empty apart from a box of bullets and a gun. A hell of a weapon. It was a Desert Eagle automatic. I'd used one before. They come from Israel. We used to get them in exchange for all kinds of stuff we sent over there. I picked it up. Very heavy, fourteen-inch barrel, more than a foot and a half long, front to back. I clicked out the magazine. This was the eight-shot. 44 version. Takes eight. 44 Magnum shells. Not what you would call a subtle weapon. The bullet weighs about twice as much as the. 38 in a police revolver. It leaves the barrel going way faster than the speed of sound. It hits the target with more force than anything this side of a train wreck. Not subtle at all. Ammunition is a problem. You've got a choice. If you load up with a hard-nose bullet, it goes right through the guy you're shooting and probably right on through some other guy a hundred yards away. So you use a soft-nose bullet and it blows a hole out of your guy about the size of a garbage can. Your choice.

  The bullets in the box were all soft-nose. OK with me. I checked the weapon over. Brutal, but in fine condition. Everything worked. The grip was engraved with a name. Gray. Same as the file box. The dead detective, the guy before Finlay. Hanged himself last February. Must have been a gun collector. This wasn't his service piece. No police department in the world would authorize the use of a cannon like this on the job. Altogether too heavy.

  I loaded the dead detective's big handgun with eight of his shells. Put the spares back in the box and left the box on the floor of the car. Cocked the gun and clicked the safety catch on. Cocked and locked, we used to call it. Saves you a split-second before your first shot. Saves your life, maybe. I put the gun in the Bentley's walnut glove compartment. It was a tight fit.

  Then I sat for a moment and watched the two guys in their car. They were still watching me. We looked at each other from seventy-five yards away. They were relaxed and comfortable. But they were watching me. I got out of the Bentley and locked it up again. Stepped back to the entrance and pulled the door. Glanced back toward the brown sedan. Still there. Still watching.

  ROSCOE WAS AT HER DESK, TALKING ON THE PHONE. SHE waved. Looked excited. Held her hand up to tell me to wait. I watched the door to the rosewood office. Hoped Teale wouldn't come out before she finished her call.

  He came out just as she hung up. He was all red in the face. Looked mad. Started stamping around the squad room, banging his heavy stick on the floor. Glaring up at the big empty bulletin board. Finlay stuck his head out of the office and nodded me in. I shrugged at Roscoe and went to see what Finlay had to say.

  "What was that all about?" I asked him.

  He laughed.

  "I was winding him up," he said. "He asked what we'd been doing, looking at a car. I said we weren't. Said we'd told Baker we weren't going far, but he'd misheard it as we're looking at a car. "

  "Take care, Finlay," I said. "They're killing people. This is a big deal. "

  He shrugged.

  "It's driving me crazy," he said. "Got to have some fun, right?"

  He'd survived twenty years in Boston. He might survive this.

  "What's happening with Picard?" I asked him. "You heard from him?"

  "Nothing," he said. "Just standing by. "

  "No possibility he might have put a couple of guys on surveillance?" I said.

  Finlay shook his head. Looked definite about it.

  "No way," he said. "Not without telling me first. Why?"

  "There's a couple of guys watching this place," I said. "Got here about ten minutes ago. Plain brown sedan. They were at Hubble's yesterday and around town this morning, asking after me. "

  He shook his head again.

  "They're not Picard's," he said. "He'd have told me. "

  Roscoe came in and shut the door. Held it shut with her hand like Teale might try to burst in after her.

  "I called Detroit," she said. "It was a Pontiac. Delivered four months ago. Big fleet order for a rental company. DMV is tracing the registration. I told them to get back to Picard up in Atlanta. The rental people might be able to give him the story about where it was rented. We might be getting somewhere. "

  I felt I was getting closer to Joe. Like I was hearing a faint echo.

  "Great," I said to her. "Good work, Roscoe. I'm out of here. Meet you back here at six. You two stick close together, OK? Watch your backs. "

  "Where are you going?" Finlay said.

  "I'm going for a drive in the country," I said.

  I left them there in the office and walked back to the entrance. Pushed the door open and stepped outside. Scanned north up the road. The plain sedan was still there, seventy-five yards away. The two guys were still in it. Still watching. I walked over to the Bentley. Unlocked the door and got in. Nosed out of the parking lot and pulled out onto the county road. Wide and slow. Drove slowly past the two guys and carried on north. In the mirror I saw the plain sedan start up. Saw it pull out and turn in the road. It accelerated north and fell in behind me. Like I was towing it on a long invisible rope. I slowed, it slowed. I sped up, it sped up. Like a game.

 
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