Killing floor, p.29
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       Killing Floor, p.29

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

  PICARD AND I WALKED OUT TOGETHER THROUGH THE SQUAD room. It was deserted. Quiet. The desk sergeant was gone. Teale must have sent him away. The coffee machine was on. I could smell it. I saw Roscoe's desk. I saw the big bulletin board. The Morrison investigation. It was still empty. No progress. I dodged around the reception counter. Pushed open the heavy glass door against its stiff rubber seal. Stepped out into the bright afternoon.

  Picard signaled with the stubby gun barrel that I should get in the Bentley and drive. I didn't argue with the guy. Just headed across the lot to the car. I was closer to panic than I'd ever been in my whole life. My heart was thumping and I was taking little short breaths. I was putting one foot in front of the other and using every ounce of everything I had just to stay in control. I was telling myself that when I arrived at that driver's door, I better have some damn good idea about what the hell I was going to do next.

  I got into the Bentley and drove up to Eno's diner. Reached around to the seat pocket and found the map. Walked over through the bright afternoon sun and pushed in through Eno's door. Slid into an empty booth. Ordered coffee and eggs.

  I was screaming at myself to listen to what I'd learned through thirteen hard years. The shorter the time, the cooler you've got to be. If you've only got one shot, you've got to make it count. You can't afford to miss because you screwed up the planning. Or because you ran out of blood sugar and got sick and dizzy in the small hours of the morning. So I forced the eggs down and drank the coffee. Then I pushed the empty mug and the plate aside and spread the map on the table. Started looking for Hubble. He could be anywhere. But I had to find him. I had one shot at it. I couldn't rush around from place to place. I had to find him inside my head. It had to be a thought process. I had to find him inside my head first and then go straight to him. So I bent over Eno's table. Stared at the map. Stared at it for a long time.

  I SPENT THE BEST PART OF AN HOUR WITH THE MAP. THEN I folded it up and squared it on the table. Picked up the knife and the fork from the egg plate. Palmed them into my trouser pocket. Looked around me. The waitress walked over. The one with glasses.

  "Planning a trip, honey?" she asked me.

  I looked up at her. I could see myself reflected in her glasses. I could see Picard's huge bulk glowering in the booth behind me. I could just about feel his hand wrapping tight around the butt of his. 38. I nodded at the woman.

  "That's the idea," I said. "A hell of a trip. The trip of a lifetime. "

  She didn't know what to say to that.

  "Well, you take care, OK?" she said.

  I got up and left one of Charlie's hundreds on the table for her. Maybe it was real, maybe it wasn't. It would spend just the same. And I wanted to leave her a big tip. Eno was getting a dirty grand a week, but I didn't know if he was passing much of it on. Probably not, looking at the guy.

  "See you again, mister," the one with glasses said.

  "Maybe," I said.

  Picard pushed me out through the door. It was four o'clock. I hustled over the gravel to the Bentley. Picard followed me with his hand in his pocket. I slid in and fired it up. Eased out of the lot and scooted north up the old county road. Blasted the fourteen miles away in about twelve minutes.

  Picard had made me use the Bentley. Not his own car. Had to be a reason for that. Not just because he wanted the extra legroom. Because it was a very distinctive car. Which meant there was going to be extra insurance. I looked in the mirror and picked up a plain sedan. About a hundred yards behind. Two guys in it. I shrugged to myself. Slowed and glanced left at the warehouses at the top of the county road. Swooped up the ramp and round the cloverleaf. Hit the highway going as fast as I dared. Time was crucial.

  The road skirted us around the southeast corner of the Atlanta sprawl. I threaded through the interchanges. Headed due east on I-20. Cruised on, with the two guys in their plain sedan a hundred yards back, mile after mile.

  "So where is he?" Picard asked me.

  It was the first time he'd spoken since leaving the station house. I glanced across at him and shrugged.

  "No idea," I said. "Best I can do is go find a friend of his in Augusta. "

  "Who's this friend?" he said.

  "Guy called Lennon," I said.

  "In Augusta?" he said.

  "Augusta," I said. "That's where we're going. "

  Picard grunted. We cruised on. The two guys stayed behind us.

  "So who is this guy in Augusta?" Picard said. "Lennon?"

  "Friend of Hubble's," I said. "Like I told you. "

  "He doesn't have a friend in Augusta," he said. "Don't you think we check things like that?"

  I shrugged. Didn't reply.

  "You better not be bullshitting, my friend," Picard said. "Kliner wouldn't like that. It'll make it worse for the woman. He's got a cruel streak in him a mile wide. Believe me, I've seen him in action. "

  "Like when?" I said.

  "Lots of times," he said. "Like Wednesday, at the airport. That woman, Molly Beth. Screamer, he enjoys that. Like Sunday. Up at the Morrison place. "

  "Kliner was there Sunday?" I said.

  "He loved it," Picard said. "Him and his damn son. You did the world a favor, taking that kid out. You should have seen him on Sunday. We gave those two cops the day off. Didn't seem right they should off their own chief. The Kliners and I stood in for them. The old man loved every minute of it. Cruel streak, a mile wide, like I said. You better make sure I get to make that call on time, or your woman friend's in a lot of trouble. "

  I went quiet for a moment. I'd seen the Kliner kid on Sunday. He'd picked his stepmother up from the coffee shop. About ten thirty. He'd been staring at me. He'd been on his way back from dismembering the Morrisons.

  "Did old man Kliner shoot my brother?" I asked Picard.

  "Thursday night?" he said. "Sure. That's his weapon, the. 22 with the suppressor. "

  "And then the kid kicked him around?" I said.

  Picard shrugged.

  "The kid was berserk," he said. "Wrong in the head. "

  "And then Morrison was supposed to clean up?" I said.

  "Supposed to," Picard grunted. "Asshole was supposed to burn the bodies in the car. But he couldn't find Stoller's body. So he just left both of them there. "

  "And Kliner killed eight guys in Louisiana, right?" I said.

  Picard laughed.

  "Eight they know about," he said. "That asshole Spirenza was on his back for a year. Looking for payments to a shooter. But there never was a shooter. Kliner did it all himself. Like a hobby, right?"

  "You knew Kliner back then?" I said.

  "I've always known Kliner," he said. "Got myself assigned as Spirenza's Bureau liaison. Kept everything neat and tidy. "

  We drove on in silence for a mile or two. The two guys in the plain sedan kept station a hundred yards behind the Bentley. Then Picard looked at me.

  "This guy Lennon?" he said. "He's not another damn Treasury spook working for your brother, right?"

  "Friend of Hubble's," I said.

  "Like hell," he said. "We checked, he's got no friends in Augusta. Hell, he's got no friends anywhere. He thought Kliner was his damn friend, giving him a job and all. "

  Picard started chuckling to himself in the passenger seat. His giant frame was shaking with mirth.

  "Like Finlay thought you were his friend, right?" I said.

  He shrugged.

  "I tried to keep him away," he said. "I tried to warn him off. So what should I do? Get myself killed on his behalf?"

  I didn't answer that. We cruised on in silence. The plain sedan sat steady, a hundred yards back.

  "We need gas," I said.

  Picard craned over and peered at the needle. It was nudging the red.

  "Pull over at the next place," he said.

  I saw a sign for gas near a place called Madison. I pulled off and drove the Bentley over to the pum
ps. Chose the furthest island and eased to a stop.

  "Are you going to do this for me?" I asked Picard.

  He looked at me in surprise.

  "No," he said. "What the hell do you think I am? A damn pump jockey? Do it yourself. "

  That was the answer I wanted to hear. I got out of the car. Picard got out on the other side. The plain sedan pulled up close by and the two guys got out. I looked them over. They were the same two I'd scuffled with in New York, on that crowded sidewalk outside Kelstein's college. The smaller guy had his khaki raincoat on. I nodded amiably to the two of them. I figured they had less than an hour to live. They strolled over and stood with Picard in a knot of three. I unhooked the nozzle and shoved it in the Bentley's tank.

  It was a big tank. Well over twenty gallons. I trapped my finger under the trigger on the nozzle so that it wouldn't pump at full speed. I held it in a casual backhand grip and leaned against the car as the gas trickled in. I wondered whether I should start whistling. Picard and the two Hispanics lost interest. There was a breeze coming up and they shuffled about in the slight evening chill.

  I slipped Eno's flatware out of my pocket and pressed the tip of the knife into the tire tread next to my right knee. From where Picard was standing, it looked like I was maybe rubbing my leg. Then I took the fork and bent one of the tines outward. Pressed it into the cut I'd made and snapped it off. Left a half inch sticking into the tire. Then I finished up pumping the gas and latched the nozzle back into the pump.

  "You paying for this?" I called to Picard.

  He looked around and shrugged. Peeled a bill off his roll and sent the guy in the raincoat off to pay. Then we got back into the car.

  "Wait," Picard said.

  I waited until the plain sedan had started up behind me and flashed its headlights twice. Then I moved out and accelerated gently back onto the highway and settled into the same steady cruise. Kept on going and the signs started flashing past. Augusta, seventy miles. Augusta, sixty miles. Augusta, forty miles. The old Bentley hummed along. Rock steady. The two guys followed. The setting sun behind me was red in the mirror. The horizon up ahead was black. It was already night far out over the Atlantic Ocean. We drove on.

  The rear tire went flat about twenty miles out from Augusta. It was past seven thirty and it was getting dark. We both felt the rumbling from the wheel and the car wouldn't track straight.

  "Shit," I said. "Flat tire. "

  "Pull over," Picard said.

  I slowed to a stop well over on the shoulder. The plain sedan pulled over and stopped behind us. We all four got out. The breeze had freshened up to a cold wind blowing in from the east. I shivered and popped the trunk. Picked up my jacket and put it on, like I was grateful for the warmth.

  "Spare wheel's under the trunk floor," I said to Picard. "Want to help me get this box out?"

  Picard stepped over and looked at the box of dollar bills.

  "We burned the wrong house," he said, and laughed.

  He and I heaved the heavy box out and set it on its end on the highway shoulder. Then he pulled his gun out and showed it to me. His huge jacket was flapping in the wind.

  "We'll let the little guys change the wheel," he said. "You stand still, right there, next to the box. "

  He waved the two Hispanics over and told them to do the work. They found the jack and the wrench for the bolts. Jacked up the car and took the wheel off. Then they lined up the spare and lifted it into place. Bolted it carefully on. I was standing there next to the carton of money, shivering in the wind, wrapping my coat tight around me. Thrusting my hands deep in the pockets and stamping from foot to foot, trying to look like a guy who was getting cold standing around doing nothing.

  I waited until Picard stepped around to check the bolts were tight. He put his weight on the lever and I could hear the metal graunching. I came out with Morrison's switchblade already open and sliced up one side of the air conditioner box. Then across the top. Then down the other side. Before Picard could line up his gun, the box fell open like a steamer trunk and the wind caught a hundred thousand dollar bills and blew them all over the highway like a blizzard.

  Then I dove over the concrete wall at the edge of the shoulder and rolled down the shallow bank. Pulled out the Desert Eagle. Shot at the guy with the raincoat as he came over the wall after me, but I missed my aim and just blew his leg away. Beyond him I saw a truck with dollar bills plastered all over its windshield run off the road and smash into the plain sedan behind the Bentley. Picard was batting away the snowstorm of cash and dancing over to the wall. I could hear tires shrieking as cars on the highway braked and swerved to avoid the wreckage of the truck. I rolled over and aimed up the bank and shot the second Hispanic guy. Caught him through the chest and he came crashing down toward me. The guy with the raincoat was rolling around at the top of the slope, screaming, clutching his shattered leg, trying to free the small automatic he'd shown me in New York. I fired a third time and shot him through the head. I could see Picard aiming his. 38 down at me. All the time the wind was howling and cars were sliding to a stop on the highway. I could see drivers getting out and jumping around, snatching at the money swirling in the air. It was chaos.

  "Don't shoot me, Picard," I yelled. "You won't get Hubble if you do. "

  He knew that. And he knew he was a dead man if he didn't get Hubble. Kliner wouldn't tolerate failure. He stood there with his. 38 aimed at my head. But he didn't shoot. I ran up the bank and circled the car, forcing him out toward the traffic with the Desert Eagle.

  "You don't shoot me, either," Picard screamed. "My phone call is the only way you're going to save that woman. That's for sure. You better believe it. "

  "I know that, Picard," I yelled back. "I believe it. I'm not going to shoot you. Are you going to shoot me?"

  He shook his head over the. 38.

  "I'm not going to shoot you, Reacher," he said.

  It looked like a stalemate. We circled the Bentley with our fingers white on the triggers, telling each other we weren't going to shoot.

  He was telling the truth. But I was lying. I waited until he was lined up with the wreckage of the truck and I was next to the Bentley. Then I pulled the trigger. The. 44 shell caught him and smashed his huge bulk backward into the tangled metal. I didn't wait around for a second shot. I slammed the trunk lid and jumped for the driver's seat. Fired the car up and burned rubber. I peeled away from the shoulder and dodged the people running around after the dollar bills. Jammed my foot down and hurtled east.

  Twenty miles to go. Took me twenty minutes. I was gasping and shaky with adrenaline. I forced my heartbeat down and took big gulps of air. Then I yelled to myself in triumph. Screamed and yelled out loud. Picard was gone.

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