Killing floor, p.25
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       Killing Floor, p.25

         Part #1 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Chapter Twenty-Six

  I HAD TO BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT WHERE I PUT THE BENTLEY. I wanted it to look like it was just casually dumped. But it had to be left so nobody could get past it. I inched it back and forth for a while. Left it at the top of Hubble's driveway with the wheels turned away. It looked like I'd driven up in a hurry and just slewed to a stop.

  I wanted the house to look like I was in there. Nothing is more obvious than an empty building. That quiet, abandoned look is a giveaway. There's a stillness. No human vibrations. So I opened the front door with the key from the big bunch Charlie had given me. Walked through and turned on some random lights. In the den, I switched the television set on and left it at a low murmur. Same thing with the radio in the kitchen. Pulled a few drapes. Went back outside. It looked pretty good. Looked like there might be someone in there.

  Then the first stop was the coat closet off the main hallway. I was looking for gloves. Not easy to find in the Sunbelt. Not much call for them. But Hubble had some. Two pairs, lying neatly on a shelf. One was a pair of ski gloves. Lime green and lilac. Not much good to me. I wanted something dark. The other pair was what I wanted. Dressy things in thin black leather. Banker's gloves. Very soft. Like a second skin.

  The ski gloves made me look for a hat. If the Hubbles had taken trips up to Colorado, they'd have had all the gear. I found a box of hats. There was a kind of watch cap in there, some sort of a synthetic fiber. The bottom part rolled down to make earflaps. The hat was printed up in a dark green pattern. It would do.

  Next stop was the master bedroom. I found Charlie's vanity table. It was bigger than some of the rooms I'd lived in. She had a mass of cosmetics. All kinds of things. I took a tube of waterproof mascara into the bathroom. Smeared it all over my face. Then I fastened the jacket, put on the hat, put on the gloves. I walked back into the bedroom and checked the result in the full-length mirrors on the closet doors. Not bad. Just about right for night work.

  I went back outside. Locked up the front door again. I could feel the huge storm clouds clamping down overhead. It was very dark. I stood by the front door and checked myself over. Put the pistol in the inside jacket pocket. Moved the zip down and checked the draw. Came out OK. Loaded, cocked. Safety on. Spare shells in the outside top right pocket. Switchblade in the left side pocket. Blackjack in the right side pocket. Shoes tightly laced.

  I walked down the driveway, away from the house, past the parked Bentley, twelve or fifteen yards. Pushed through the greenery and settled in a spot where I could just about see up and down the drive. I sat on the cold earth and got ready to wait. In an ambush situation, waiting is what wins the battle. If the other guy is wary, he'll come early or late. When he figures you won't be expecting him. So however early he might make it, you've got to be ready earlier. However late he might leave it, you've got to wait it out. You wait in a kind of trance. You need infinite patience. No use fretting or worrying. You just wait. Doing nothing, thinking nothing, burning no energy. Then you burst into action. After an hour, five hours, a day, a week. Waiting is a skill like anything else.

  IT WAS A QUARTER TO MIDNIGHT WHEN I SETTLED IN FOR the wait. I could feel the storm boiling up overhead. The air was like soup. It was pitch dark. About midnight, the storm broke. Heavy drops the size of quarters spattered the leaves around me. They built into a deluge within seconds. It was like sitting in a shower stall. Awesome thunderclaps crashed about. They ripped and banged and the lightning blazed in sheets. The garden around me was lit up like day for seconds at a time. I sat under the lashing rain and waited. Ten minutes. Fifteen.

  They came for me at twenty minutes past midnight. The rain was still bad and the thunder was still crashing and rolling. I didn't hear their truck until it was well up the driveway. I heard it crunching over the gravel about forty feet away. It was a dark green panel truck. Gold lettering. Kliner Foundation. Like the one I'd seen near Roscoe's place on Tuesday morning. It crunched past me, about six feet away. Wide tires on the gravel. That's what Finlay had seen up at the Morrison place. Marks in the gravel made by wide tires.

  The truck stopped a few yards beyond me. It pulled up sharp just behind the Bentley. Couldn't get past. Just where I wanted it. I heard the engine stop and the parking brake ratchet on.

  First guy out was the driver. He was wearing a white nylon bodysuit. It had a hood pulled tight around his face. Over his face was a surgical mask. He was wearing thin rubber gloves. On his feet, rubber overshoes. He vaulted out of the driver's seat and walked around to the rear doors. I knew that walk. I knew that tall, heavy build. I knew those long powerful arms. It was the Kliner kid. The Kliner kid himself had come to kill me.

  He slapped his palm on the rear door. It made a hollow boom. Then he turned the handle and opened up. Four men came out. All dressed the same. White nylon bodysuits, hoods pulled tight, masks, gloves, rubber overshoes. Two were carrying bags. Two had long fat shotguns. A total of five men. I'd expected four. Five was going to be harder. But more productive.

  The rain was lashing down on them. I could hear the brittle spatter as it hit their stiff nylon suits. I could hear the metallic clang as the heavy drops bounced off the roof of their truck. I saw them caught by a lightning flash. They looked like banshees. Like something escaped from hell. They were a terrifying sight. For the first time, I doubted if I would have beaten them on Monday night. But I was going to beat them tonight. Tonight, I would have the advantage of surprise. I would be an invisible nightmare figure let loose among them.

  The Kliner kid was organizing them. He reached into the back of the truck and pulled out a crowbar. Pointed to three of his soldiers and walked off with them through the downpour to the house. The fifth guy was going to wait with the truck. Because of the rain, he was going to get back in the cab. I saw him glance up at the black sky and glance forward at the driver's seat. I pulled out the sap. Forced my way through the bushes. The guy couldn't hear me. The rain was roaring in his ears.

  He turned his back and took a step toward the driver's door. I shut my eyes for a second and pictured Joe lying on the slab at the morgue with no face. Pictured Roscoe shaking with horror as she stared at the footprints on her hallway floor. Then I crashed out of the bushes. Skipped up behind the guy. Smashed the sap across the back of his skull. It was a big sap and I gave it all I had. I felt the bone explode under it. The guy went down on the gravel like a tree. He lay facedown and the rain hammered on his nylon suit. I broke his neck with a single mighty kick. One down.

  I dragged the body across the gravel and left it at the back of the truck. Walked around and pulled the keys out of the ignition. Crept on up to the house. I put the sap back in my pocket. Popped the switchblade and carried it in my right hand. I didn't want to use the gun in the house. Too noisy, even with the thunder crashing outside. I stopped inside the front door. The lock was forced and the wood was splintered. I saw the crowbar on the hallway floor.

  It was a big house. It was going to take them some time to search it. My guess was they'd stick together as a group of four. They'd search together. Then they'd split up. I could hear them tramping through the upper floor. I stepped back outside to wait for one of them to come down into the hallway. I waited, pressed against the wall, next to the broken door. I was sheltered by the overhang of the roof. The rain was still torrential. It was as bad as a tropical storm.

  I waited nearly five minutes before the first one came downstairs. I heard the creak of his tread in the hallway. Heard him open the coat closet door. I stepped inside the house. His back was to me. He was one of the shotgun carriers, tall, lighter than me. I fell in behind him. Reached over the top of his head with my left hand. Stuck my fingers in his eyes. He dropped the shotgun. It thudded onto the carpet. I pulled him backward and turned him and ran him out through the door. Into the downpour. Dug my fingers deeper into his eyes. Hauled his head back. Cut his throat. You don't do it with one elegant swipe. Not like in the movies. No knife is sharp enough for that. There
's all kinds of tough gristle in the human throat. You have to saw back and forth with a lot of strength. Takes a while. But it works. It works well. By the time you've sawed back to the bone, the guy is dead. This guy was no exception. His blood hosed out and mixed with the rain. He sagged against my grip. Two down.

  I dragged the body over to the lawn by the top of his hood. No good picking him up under the knees and shoulders. His head would have lolled back and fallen off. I left him on the grass. Ran back inside. Picked up the shotgun and grimaced. It was a serious weapon. An Ithaca Mag-10. I'd seen them in the army. They fire an enormous cartridge. People call them the Roadblocker. There's enough power in them to kill people through the side of a soft-skinned vehicle. Face to face, they're devastating. They only hold three cartridges, but like we used to say, by the time you've fired three rounds, the battle is definitely over.

  I kept the blade out as my weapon of choice. Silent. But the shotgun would be better than the Desert Eagle as backup. Thing is with a shotgun, aiming is a luxury. A shotgun sprays a wide cone of lead. With a Mag-10, as long as it's pointed vaguely in the right direction, you're going to score.

  I stepped back out through the splintered door and pressed against the wall, out of the deluge. I waited. Now my guess was they'd start coming out of the house. They wouldn't find me in there and they'd miss the guy I'd just dropped. So they'd start coming out. It was inevitable. They couldn't stay in there forever. I waited. Ten minutes. I could hear creaking from the floor inside. Ignored it. Sooner or later, they'd come out.

  They came out. Two guys together. They came as a pair. That made me hesitate a fraction. They stepped out into the downpour and I heard the rain start roaring against their nylon hoods. I pulled out the sap again. Swapped it into my right hand. The first guy went down easily enough. I caught him square on the back of his neck with the heavy sap and his head nearly came off. But the second guy reacted and twisted away so that I missed with the next swing. The sap just smashed his collarbone and dropped him to his knees. I stabbed him left-handed in the face. Lined up for another shot with the sap. Took me two more blows to break his neck. He was a wiry guy. But not wiry enough. Four down.

  I dragged the two bodies through the lashing rain to the lawn at the edge of the gravel drive. Piled them with the other guy. I had four down and one shotgun captured. The truck keys in my pocket. The Kliner kid with a shotgun still on the loose.

  I couldn't find him. I didn't know where he was. I stepped into the house, out of the rain, and listened. Couldn't hear a thing. The roar of the rain on the roof and on the gravel outside was too much. It was putting up a mask of white noise over everything else. If the kid was alerted and creeping around, I wouldn't hear him. It was going to be a problem.

  I crept into the garden room. The rain was hammering on the roof. I stood still and listened hard. Heard the kid in the hallway. He was on his way out. He was going out the front door. If he turned right, he was going to trip over his three dead grunts piled on the lawn. But he turned left. He walked past the garden room windows. He was headed across the soaking lawn to the patio area. I watched him walk by, through the deluge, maybe eight feet away. Looked like a ghost from hell. A ghost from hell holding a long black shotgun out in front of him.

  I had the garden room key in my pocket, on the Bentley ring. I unlocked the door and stepped out. The rain hit me like a drenching from a fire hose. I crept around to the patio. The Kliner kid was standing there, looking down toward the big swimming pool. I crouched in the rain, and watched him. From twenty feet, I could hear the downpour thrashing against his white nylon bodysuit. Lightning was searing the sky and the thunder was a continuous crashing.

  I didn't want to shoot him with the Mag-10 I was holding. I had to dispose of the bodies. I had to leave old man Kliner unsettled. I had to keep him guessing about what had happened. About where his boy had disappeared to. It would unbalance him. And it was crucial to my own safety. I couldn't afford to leave the slightest shred of evidence behind. Using the big Ithaca against the kid would make a hell of a mess. Disposing of his body would be a severe problem. Finding all of it would be difficult. I waited.

  The kid set off down the long sloping lawn to the pool. I looped around, staying on the wet grass. The kid walked slowly. He was worried. He was on his own. His vision wasn't good. The tight hood around his face was limiting his field of view. He kept turning his head from side to side, stiff-necked, like a mechanical thing. He stopped at the edge of the pool. I was a yard behind him. I was swaying left and right, left and right, staying out of the edge of his vision as he swung his gaze from side to side. His massive shotgun was traversing left and right over the teeming pool.

  The books I used to read, the movies people see, I should have fought him nobly. I was here to stand up for my brother. And right in front of me was the guy who'd kicked his body around like a bundle of rags. We should have duked it out, face to face. He should have been made aware of who his opponent was. He should have been made aware of why he had to die. All that noble, man-to-man stuff. But real life wasn't like that. Joe would have laughed at all that.

  I swung the sap with all my strength at his head. Just as he turned to walk back to the house. The sap glanced off the slick nylon and the momentum of the heavy lead-filled tube pulled me hopelessly off balance. I was falling like a man on ice. The kid spun and raised the shotgun. Pumped a shell into the chamber. I flung my arm up and knocked the barrel aside. Rolled right under his field of fire. He squeezed the trigger and there was an enormous explosion, louder than the worst of the thunder. I heard leaves tearing and ripping as the shot smashed into the trees beyond us.

  The ferocious recoil rocked him back, but he pumped the second shell. I heard the menacing double crunch-crunch of the mechanism. I was on my back on the poolside tiles, but I lunged up and grabbed the gun with both hands. Forced the barrel up and the stock down and he fired into the air again. Another terrifying explosion. This time I pulled with the recoil and tore the gun out of his hands. Thrust up and jabbed the stock at his face. It was a poor blow. The Ithaca has a big rubber pad on the stock. It protects the shooter's shoulder from the savage recoil. Now it protected the kid's head from my jab. He just rocked back. I dove at his legs and slammed him backward. Swiped at his feet and tripped him into the pool. He splashed in on his back. I jumped in on top of him.

  We were in the deep end of the pool, thrashing about for the winning hold. The rain was hammering. Chlorine was burning my eyes and nose. I fought on until I got his throat. Tore the nylon hood back and got my hands right on his neck. Locked my arms and thrust the kid's head far under the water. I was crushing his throat with all my strength. That biker in Warburton had thought he was doing a job on me, but that had been like a lover's caress compared to what I was doing to the Kliner kid. I was tearing his head off. I squeezed and wrenched and held him a yard underwater until he died. Didn't take long. Never does, in that situation. The first guy under stays under. It could have been me.

  I was treading water and gasping through the chlorine stink. The rain was chopping up the surface. It was impossible to tell where the water ended and the air began. I let his body float off and swam to the side. Clung on and got my breath. The weather was a nightmare. The thunder was now a continuous roar and the lightning blazed in sheets. The rain was a relentless downpour. It would have kept me drier to stay in the pool. But I had things to do.

  I swam back to fetch the kid's body. It was floating a yard down. I towed it back to the side. Hauled myself out. Grabbed a bunch of nylon in each hand and dragged the body out after me. It weighed a ton. It lay on the poolside with water gushing out of the suit at the wrists and ankles. I left it there and staggered back up toward the garage.

  Walking was not easy. My clothes were soaking wet and cold. It was like walking in chain mail. But I made it to the garage and found the key. Unlocked the door and hit the light. It was a three-car garage. Just the other Bentley in t
here. Hubble's own car, same vintage as Charlie's. Gorgeous dark green, lovingly polished to a deep gloss. I could see my reflection in the paint as I moved about. I was looking for a wheelbarrow or a garden truck. Whatever gardeners use. The garage was full of garden gear. A big ride-on mower, hoses, tools. In the far corner, a sort of a barrow thing with big spoke wheels like a bicycle.

  I wheeled it out into the storm and down to the pool. Scrabbled around and found the two shotguns and the wet sap. Dropped the shotguns in the barrow and put the sap back in my pocket. Checked that the kid's corpse still had its shoes on and heaved it into the barrow. Wheeled it up to the house and down the driveway. Squeezed it past the Bentley and rolled it around to the back of the truck. I opened the rear doors and heaved the corpse inside. Scrambled up and dragged it well in. The rain was clattering on the roof. Then I lifted the first guy's body in and dragged it up next to the Kliner kid. Threw the shotguns in on top of them. Two stowed.

  Then I took the barrow up to where I'd piled the other three. They were sprawled on the soaking lawn with the rain roaring on their hideous suits. I wheeled them back to the truck they'd come in. Got all five laid out inside.

  Then I ran the barrow back through the deluge to the garage. Put it back in the corner where I'd found it. Took a flashlight from the workbench. I wanted to get a look at the four boys young Kliner had brought with him. I ran back through the rain to the truck and stepped up inside. Switched on the flashlight and crouched over the forlorn row of corpses.

  The Kliner kid, I knew. The other four, I pulled back their hoods and tore away their masks. Played the flashlight beam over their faces. Two of them were the gatemen from the warehouse. I'd watched them through the field glasses on Thursday and I was sure of it. Maybe I wouldn't have sworn to it in a court-martial, but I wasn't interested in that kind of a judicial procedure tonight.

  The other two, I did know for sure. No doubt about it. They were police. They were the backup crew from Friday. They'd come with Baker and Stevenson to the diner to arrest me. I'd seen them around the station house a few times since. They had been inside the scam. More of Mayor Teale's concealed troops.

  I scrambled out of the truck again and took the flashlight back to the garage. Locked up the doors and ran through the rain to the front of the house. Scooped up the two bags they'd brought. Dumped them inside Hubble's hallway and hit the light. Looked through the bags. Spare gloves and masks. A box of 10-gauge shotgun shells. A hammer. A bag of six-inch nails. And four knives. Medical type of thing. They could cut you just looking at them.

  I picked up the crowbar from where they'd dropped it after breaking the lock. Put it in one of the bags. Carried the bags down to the truck and hurled them in on top of the five bodies. Then I shut and locked the rear doors and ran through the lashing rain up to the house again.

  I ran through and locked up the garden room. Ran back to the kitchen. I opened the oven door and emptied my pockets. Laid everything out on the floor. Found a couple of baking sheets in the next cupboard. I stripped down the Desert Eagle and laid the parts carefully on one of the trays. Piled the spare bullets next to them. Put the knife, the sap, the Bentley keys and my money and papers on the other tray. I put the trays in the oven and turned the heat on very low.

  I went out the front and pulled the splintered door as far shut as it would go. Ran past the Bentley and got into the Kliner Foundation truck. Fiddled with the unfamiliar key and started it up. Reversed carefully down the driveway and swung backward out onto Beckman Drive. Rolled down the slope to town. The windshield wipers beat furiously against the rain. I skirted the big square with the church. Made the right turn at the bottom and headed south. The place was deserted. Nobody else on the road.

  Three hundred yards south of the village green, I turned into Morrison's driveway. Drove the truck up to the house and parked it next to his abandoned Lincoln. Locked the door. Ran over to Morrison's boundary fence and hurled the keys far into the field beyond. Shrugged my jacket tight around me and started walking back through the rain. Started thinking hard.

  SATURDAY WAS ALREADY MORE THAN AN HOUR OLD. Therefore Sunday was less than a day away. The shape of the thing was clear. I had three facts, for sure. Fact one, Kliner needed special paper. Fact two, it wasn't obtainable in the States. But fact three, the warehouse was jammed with something.

  And the writing on those air conditioner boxes was bothering me. Not the Island Air-conditioning, Inc. Not the printed bit. The other writing. The serial numbers. The boxes I'd seen had handwritten serial numbers in printed rectangles. I'd seen them quite clearly. The Jacksonville cops had described the same thing on the boxes in Stoller's speeding truck. Long handwritten serial numbers. But why? The boxes themselves were good cover. Good camouflage. Hauling something secret to Florida and beyond in air conditioner boxes was a smart move. No product was more plausible for the markets down there. The boxes had fooled the Jacksonville cops. They hadn't thought twice about it. But the serial numbers bothered me. If there were no electrical appliances in the boxes, why write serial numbers on them? That was taking camouflage to absurd lengths. So what the hell did the serial numbers mean? What the hell had been in those damn boxes?

  That was the question I was asking myself. In the end, it was Joe who answered it for me. I was walking along in the rain thinking about what Kelstein had said about precision. He had said Joe had a very attractive precision in the manner in which he expressed himself. I knew that. I was thinking about the neat little list he'd printed out for himself. The proud capital letters. The rows of initials. The column of telephone numbers. The two notes at the bottom. Stollers' Garage. Gray's Kliner File. I needed to check the list again. But I was suddenly sure Joe was telling me if I wanted to know what Kliner had been putting into those boxes, it might be worth going up to the Stollers' garage and taking a look.

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