Killing floor, p.28
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       Killing Floor, p.28

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


  Picard smiled a cold smile at him.

  "None other," he said. "The pleasure's all mine, believe me. You've been very helpful, both of you. Very considerate. You've kept me in touch every step of the way. You've given me the Hubbles, and you've given me Officer Roscoe. I really couldn't have asked for anything more. "

  Finlay was rooted to the spot. Shaking.

  "You?" he said again.

  "Should have spotted it Wednesday, asshole," Picard said. "I sent the little guy to Joe's hotel two hours before I told you about it. You disappointed me. I expected to be doing this scene way before now. "

  He looked at us and smiled. Finlay turned away. Looked at me. I couldn't think of anything to say to him. I couldn't think about anything at all. I just looked at Picard's huge bulk in the doorway and had a strong feeling that this was going to be the last day of my life. Today, it would end.

  "Get over there," Picard said to me. "Next to Finlay. "

  He had taken two giant strides into the room and he was pointing the gun straight at me. I noticed mechanically that it was a new. 38 with a short barrel. I calculated automatically that it would be accurate over such a short distance. But that a. 38 couldn't be relied on to put a target down. And there were two of us and one of him. And Finlay had a weapon in a shoulder holster under the tweed jacket. I spent a fraction of a second weighing up the odds. Then I abandoned the calculation because Mayor Teale stepped through the open door behind Picard. He had his heavy cane in his left hand. But in his right hand he was carrying a police-issue shotgun. It was an Ithaca Mag-10. Didn't really matter where he was pointing it.

  "Get over there," Picard said to me again.

  "Where's Roscoe?" I said to him.

  He laughed at me. Just laughed and gestured with the gun barrel that I should stand up and move over next to Finlay. I heaved myself off the desk and stepped over. I felt like I was weighted down with lead. I clamped my lips and moved with the grim determination of a cripple trying to walk.

  I stood next to Finlay. Teale covered us with the giant scatter gun. Picard darted his hand up under Finlay's jacket. Took the revolver out of his holster. Slipped it into the pocket of his own enormous jacket. The jacket flapped open under the weight. It was the size of a tent. He stepped sideways and patted me down. I was unarmed. My jacket was outside in the Bentley's trunk. Then he stepped back and stood side by side with Teale. Finlay stared at Picard like his heart was breaking.

  "What's this all about?" Finlay said. "We go back a long way, right?"

  Picard just shrugged at him.

  "I told you to stay away," he said. "Back in March, I tried to stop you coming down here. I warned you off. That's true, right? But you wouldn't listen, would you, you stubborn asshole? So you get what you get, my friend. "

  I listened to Picard's growl and felt worse for Finlay than I did for myself. But then Kliner stepped in through the door. His bone-hard face was cracked into a grin. His feral teeth glittered. His eyes bored into me. He was carrying another Ithaca Mag-10 in his left hand. In his right hand, he was carrying the gun that had killed Joe. It was pointed straight at me.

  It was a Ruger Mark II. A sneaky little. 22-caliber automatic. Fitted with a fat silencer. It was a gun for a killer who enjoys getting close. I stared at it. Nine days ago, the end of that silencer had touched my brother's temple. There was no doubt about that. I could feel it.

  Picard and Teale moved around behind the desk. Teale sat in the chair. Picard towered over his shoulder. Kliner was gesturing Finlay and me to sit. He was using his shotgun barrel as a baton. Short jerky movements to move us around. We sat. We were side by side in front of the big rosewood desk. We stared straight at Teale. Kliner closed the office door and leaned on it. He held the shotgun one-handed, at his hip. Pointed at the side of my head. The silenced. 22 was pointing at the floor.

  I looked hard at the three of them in turn. Old Teale was staring at me with all kinds of hate showing in his leathery old face. He was shaken up. He looked like a man under terrible stress. He looked desperate. Like he was near collapse. He looked twenty years older than the smooth old guy I'd met on Monday. Picard looked better. He had the calm of a great athlete. Like a football star or an Olympic champion on a visit to his old high school. But there was a tightening around his eyes. And he was rattling his thumb against his thigh. There was some strain there.

  I stared sideways at Kliner. Looked hard at him. But there was nothing on show. He was lean and hard and dried out. He didn't move. He was absolutely still. His face and body betrayed nothing. He was like a statue hewn from teak. But his eyes burned with a kind of cruel energy. They sneered at me out of his blank, bone-hard face.

  Teale rattled open a drawer in the rosewood desk. Pulled out the cassette recorder Finlay had used on me. Handed it to Picard, behind him. Picard put his revolver down on the desk and fiddled with the stiff cords. He plugged in the power. Didn't bother with the microphone. They weren't going to record anything. They were going to play us something. Teale leaned forward and thumbed the intercom button on the desk. In the stillness, I heard the buzzer sound faintly outside in the squad room.

  "Baker?" Teale said. "In here, please. "

  Kliner moved off the door and Baker came in. He was in his uniform. A. 38 in his holster. He looked at me. Didn't grin. He was carrying two cassettes. Teale took them from him. Selected the second one.

  "A tape," he said. "Listen up. You're going to find this interesting. "

  He fiddled the cassette in and clicked the little door shut. Pressed play. The motor whirred and the speaker hissed. Underneath the hiss, I could hear a boomy acoustic. Then we heard Roscoe's voice. It was loud with panic. It filled the silent office.

  "Reacher?" Roscoe's voice said. "This is a message for you, OK? The message is you better do what they tell you, or I'm in trouble. The message is if you're in any doubt about what kind of trouble, you should go back down to the morgue and pull Mrs. Morrison's autopsy report. That's the kind of trouble I'm going to be in. So help me out, OK? End of message, Reacher. "

  Her voice tailed off into the boomy hiss. I heard a faint gasp of pain as if she'd been roughly dragged away from the microphone. Then Teale snapped the recorder off. I stared at him. My temperature had dropped away to nothing. I didn't feel human anymore.

  Picard and Baker were looking at me. Beaming in satisfaction. Like they were holding the winning hole card. Teale clicked the little door open and took the tape out. Laid it on one side on the desk. Held up the other tape for me to see and then put it in the machine. Closed the little door again and pressed play.

  "Another one," he said. "Listen up. "

  We heard the same hiss. The same boomy acoustic. Then we heard Charlie Hubble's voice. She sounded hysterical. Like she had on Monday morning, standing out on her bright gravel driveway.

  "Hub?" Charlie's voice said. "This is Charlie. I've got the children with me. I'm not at home, you understand what that means? I've got to give you a message. If you don't come back, something will happen to the children. They tell me you know what that something is. It's the same thing they said would happen to you and me, but it'll be the children instead. So you have to come back straightaway, OK?"

  The voice ended on a rising note of panic and then died away in the boomy hiss. Teale stabbed the stop button. Took the tape out and placed it carefully on the edge of the desk. Right in front of me. Then Kliner walked around into my field of vision and spoke.

  "You're going to take that with you," he said to me. "You're going to take it to wherever you've hidden Hubble and you're going to play it to him. "

  Finlay and I looked at each other. Just stared at each other in blank astonishment. Then I snapped back and stared at Kliner.

  "You killed Hubble already," I said.

  Kliner hesitated for a second.

  "Don't try that shit," he said. "We were
going to, but you got him out of the way. You're hiding him. Charlie told us. "

  "Charlie told you?" I said.

  "We asked her where he was," he said. "She promised us you'd be able to find him. She was most insistent about it. We had a knife between her little girl's legs at the time. She became very anxious to convince us that her husband was not beyond our reach. She said you'd given him all sorts of advice and guidance. She said you'd given him all sorts of help. She said you'd be able to find him. I hope for everybody's sake she wasn't lying. "

  "You killed him," I said again. "I don't know anything about it. "

  Kliner nodded and sighed. His voice was low.

  "Let's cut the crap," he said. "You're hiding him, and we need him back. We need him back right away. It's a matter of urgency to us. We've got a business to run. So we've got a number of options. We could beat it out of you. We discussed that. It's a tactical problem, right? But we figured you might send us off in the wrong direction, because time is tight right now. You might figure that was your best option, right?"

  He waited for some kind of a comment from me. He didn't get one.

  "So what we're going to do is this," he said. "Picard is going to go with you to pick him up. When you get wherever he is, Picard is going to call me. On my mobile. He knows the number. Then you all three come on back here. OK?"

  I didn't respond.

  "Where is he?" Kliner asked suddenly.

  I started to speak, but he held up his hand and stopped me.

  "Like I told you, let's cut the crap," he said. "For instance, you've been sitting there thinking as hard as you can. No doubt you were trying to figure some way you might be able to take Picard out. But you won't be able to do that. "

  I shrugged. Said nothing.

  "Two problems," Kliner said. "I doubt if you could take Picard out. I doubt if anybody could. Nobody ever has. And my mobile number isn't written down. It's in Picard's head. "

  I shrugged again. Kliner was a smart guy. The worst sort.

  "Let me add a couple of factors," he said. "We don't know exactly how far away Hubble is. And you're not going to tell us the truth about that. So I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to give you a time limit. "

  He stopped talking and walked around to where Finlay was sitting. He raised the. 22 and put the tip of the silencer in Finlay's ear. Pushed it in hard until Finlay was tilting over in his chair.

  "The detective here is going in a cell," he said. "He's going to be handcuffed to the bars. If Picard hasn't called me by one hour before dawn tomorrow, I'm going to aim my shotgun into the detective's cell and blow him apart. Then I'm going to make the delightful Officer Roscoe clean his guts off the back wall with a sponge. Then I'm going to give you another hour. If Picard hasn't called me by the time the sun comes up, I'm going to start in on the delightful Officer Roscoe herself. She'll end up in a lot of pain, Reacher. But first there will be a great deal of sexual interference. A great deal. You have my word on that, Reacher. It'll be very messy. Very messy indeed. Mayor Teale and I have spent a pleasant hour discussing just exactly what we're going to do to her. "

  Kliner was forcing Finlay practically out of the chair with the pressure of the automatic in his ear. Finlay's lips were clamped. Kliner was sneering at me. I smiled at him. Kliner was a dead man. He was as dead as a man who has just jumped off a high building. He hadn't hit the ground yet. But he'd jumped.

  "Understand?" Kliner said to me. "Call it six o'clock tomorrow morning to save Mr. Finlay's life, seven o'clock to save Miss Roscoe's life. And don't go messing with Picard. Nobody else knows my phone number. "

  I shrugged at him again.

  "Do you understand?" he repeated.

  "I think so," I said. "Hubble's run away and you don't know how to find him, right? Is that what you're telling me?"

  Nobody spoke.

  "You can't find him, can you?" I said. "You're useless, Kliner. You're a useless piece of shit. You think you're some kind of a smart guy, but you can't find Hubble. You couldn't find your asshole if I gave you a mirror on a stick. "

  I could hear that Finlay wasn't breathing. He thought I was playing with his life. But old man Kliner left him alone. Moved across into my field of vision again. He had gone pale. I could smell his stress. I was just about getting used to the idea that Hubble was still alive. He'd been dead all week, and now he was alive again. He was alive, and hiding out somewhere. He'd been hiding out somewhere all week, while they looked for him. He was on the run. He hadn't been dragged out of his house on Monday morning. He'd walked out by himself. He'd taken that stay-at-home call and smelled a rat and run for his life. And they couldn't find him. Paul Hubble had given me the tiny edge I was going to need.

  "What's Hubble got that you want so much?" I said.

  Kliner shrugged at me.

  "He's the only loose end left," he said. "I've taken care of everything else. And I'm not going out of business just because an asshole like Hubble is running around somewhere shooting his stupid mouth off. So I need him at home. Where he belongs. So you're going to get him for me. "

  I leaned forward and stared right into his eyes.

  "Can't your son get him for you?" I said, quietly.

  Nobody spoke. I leaned forward some more.

  "Tell your boy to go pick him up," I said.

  Kliner was silent.

  "Where's your son, Kliner?" I asked him.

  He didn't say anything.

  "What happened to him?" I said. "Do you know?"

  He knew, but he didn't know. I could see that. He hadn't accepted it. He'd sent his boy after me, and his boy hadn't come back. So he knew, but he hadn't admitted it to himself. His hard face went slack. He wanted to know. But he couldn't ask me. He wanted to hate me for killing his boy. But he couldn't do that either. Because to do that would be to admit it was true.

  I stared at him. He wanted to raise that big shotgun and blow me into a red dew. But he couldn't. Because he needed me to get Hubble back. He was churning away inside. He wanted to shoot me right then. But forty tons of money was more important to him than his son's life.

  I stared into his dead eyes. Unblinking. Spoke softly.

  "Where's your son, Kliner?" I said.

  There was silence in the office for a long time.

  "Get him out of here," Kliner said. "If you're not out of here in one minute, Reacher, I'll shoot the detective right now. "

  I stood up. Looked around the five of them. Nodded to Finlay. Headed out. Picard followed me and closed the door quietly.

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