Killing floor, p.32
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       Killing Floor, p.32

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

  WE PILED BACK INTO CHARLIE'S BLACK BENTLEY IN THE alley behind the barbershop. Nobody spoke. I fired it up. Swung out and rolled north. Kept the lights off and drove slow. The big dark sedan rolled north through the night like a stealthy animal leaving its lair. Like a big black submarine slipping its mooring and gliding out into icy water. I drove through the town and pulled up shy of the station house. Quiet as a tomb.

  "I want to get a weapon," Finlay said.

  We picked our way through the shattered wreckage of the entrance. Hubble's own Bentley was sitting in the squad room, inert in the gloom. The front tires had blown and it had settled nose-down, buried in the wreckage of the cells. There was a stink of gasoline. The tank must have split. The trunk lid was up because of the way the rear end was smashed in. Hubble didn't even glance at it.

  Finlay picked his way past the wrecked car to the big office in back. Disappeared inside. I waited with Hubble in the heap of shards that had been the entrance doors. Finlay came back out of the dark with a stainless-steel revolver and a book of matches. And a grin. He waved the two of us out to the car and struck a match. Threw it under the rear of the wrecked green Bentley and crunched on out to join us.

  "Diversion, right?" he said.

  We saw the fire start as we nosed out of the lot. Bright blue flames were rolling across the carpet like a wave on the beach. The fire took hold of the splintered wood and rolled outward, feeding itself on the huge gasoline stain. The flames changed to yellow and orange and the air started sucking in through the hole where the entrance had been. Within a minute, the whole place was burning. I smiled and took off up the county road.

  I used headlights for most of the fourteen miles. Drove fast. Took maybe twelve minutes. Doused the lights and pulled up a quarter mile short of the target. Turned around in the road and backed up a little way. Left the car facing south. Down toward town. Doors unlocked. Keys in.

  Hubble carried the big bolt cutter. Finlay checked the revolver he'd taken from the office. I reached under the seat and pulled out the plastic bottle we'd filled with gas. Slipped it into my pocket with the sap. It was heavy. Pulled my jacket down on the right and brought the Desert Eagle up high on my chest. Finlay gave me the matches. I put them in the other pocket.

  We stood together in the dark in the dirt on the side of the road. Exchanged tight nods. Struck out over the field to the blasted tree. It was silhouetted against the moon. Took us a couple of minutes to get there. We slogged over the soft earth. Paused against the distorted tree trunk. I took the bolt cutter from Hubble and we nodded again and headed for the fence where it ran close to the back of the warehouse. It was ten to four in the morning. Nobody had spoken since leaving the burning police building.

  It was seventy-five yards from the tree to the fence. Took us a minute. We kept on going until we were opposite the bottom of the fire escape. Right where it was bolted down to the concrete path which ran around the whole building. Finlay and Hubble grabbed the chain-link to put some tension on it and I bit through each strand in turn with the bolt cutter. Went through it like it was licorice. I cut a big piece out, seven feet high, right up to where the razor wire started, maybe eight feet wide.

  We stepped through the gap. Walked over to the bottom of the stairs. Waited. I could hear sounds inside. Movement and scraping, muffled to a dull boom by the huge space. I took a deep breath. Motioned the others to flatten themselves against the metal siding. I still wasn't sure about exterior guards. My gut said there wouldn't be any reinforcements. But Finlay was worried about it. And I'd learned a long time ago to take account of what people like Finlay worried about.

  So I motioned the others to stay put and I crept around to the corner of the massive building. Crouched down and dropped the bolt cutter onto the concrete path from a height of about a foot. It made just about the right amount of noise. It sounded like somebody trying to break into the compound. I flattened myself against the wall and waited with the sap in my right hand.

  Finlay was right. There was an exterior guard. And I was right. There were no reinforcements. The exterior guard was Sergeant Baker. He was on duty patrolling outside the shed. I heard him before I saw him. I heard his tense breathing and his feet on the concrete. He came around the corner of the building and stopped a yard away from me. He stood and stared at the bolt cutter. He had his. 38 in his hand. He looked at the bolt cutter and then swung his gaze along the fence as far as the missing panel. Then he started to run toward it.

  Then he died. I swung the sap and hit him. But he didn't go down. He dropped his revolver. Danced a circle on rubber legs. Finlay came up behind me. Caught him by the throat. Looked like a country boy wringing a chicken's neck. Made a fine job of it. Baker was still wearing his acetate nameplate above his uniform pocket. First thing I'd noticed, nine days ago. We left his body on the path. Waited five minutes. Listened hard. Nobody else came.

  We went back to where Hubble was waiting. I took another deep breath. Stepped onto the fire escape. Went up. Planted each foot carefully and silently on each step. Eased my way up. The staircase was cast from some kind of iron or steel. Open treads. The whole thing would ring like a damn bell if we were clumsy. Finlay was behind me, gripping the handrail with his right hand, gun in his left. Behind him came Hubble, too scared to breathe.

  We crept up. Took us minutes to do the forty feet. We were very cautious. We stood on the little platform at the top. I pressed my ear to the door. Quiet. No sound. Hubble pulled out his office keys. Clenched in his hand to stop them jingling. He selected the right one, slowly, carefully. Inched it into the lock. We held our breath. He turned the key. The lock clicked back. The door sagged open. We held our breath. No sound. No reaction. Quiet. Hubble eased the door back, slowly, carefully. Finlay took it from him and eased it further. Passed it to me. I eased it back flat against the wall. Propped it all the way open with the bottle of gasoline from my pocket.

  Light was flooding out of the office, spilling over the fire escape and laying a bright bar down on the fence and the field forty feet below. Arc lamps were lit inside the body of the warehouse and they were flooding in through the big office windows. I could see everything in the office. And what I saw made my heart stop.

  I'd never believed in luck. Never had any cause to. Never relied on it, because I never could. But now I was lucky in a big way. Thirty-six years of bad luck and trouble were wiped away in one single bright glance. The gods were sitting on my shoulder, whooping and driving me on. In that one single bright glance, I knew that I had won.

  Because the children were asleep on the office floor. Hubble's kids. Ben and Lucy. Sprawled out on a pile of empty burlap sacks. Fast asleep, wide open and innocent like only sleeping children can be. They were filthy and ragged. Still dressed in their school clothes from Monday. They looked like ragamuffins in a sepia picture of old New York. Sprawled out, fast asleep. Four o'clock in the morning. My lucky time.

  The children had been worrying the hell out of me. They were what made this whole damn thing just about impossible. I'd thought it through a thousand times. I'd run war games through my head, trying to find one that would work. I hadn't found one. I'd always come up with some kind of a bad outcome. What the staff colleges call unsatisfactory results. I'd always come up with the children splattered all over the place by the big shotguns. Children and shotguns don't mix. And I'd always visualized the four hostages and the two shotguns in the same place at the same time. I'd visualized panicking children and Charlie screaming and the big Ithacas booming. All in the same place. I hadn't come up with any kind of a solution. If I could have given anything I ever had or ever would have, I'd have given it to have the children fast asleep somewhere else on their own. And it had happened. It had happened. The elation roared in my ears like a hysterical crowd in a huge stadium.

  I turned to the other two. Cupped a hand behind each of their heads and pulled them close to mine. Spoke in the faintest of whisp
ers.

  "Hubble, take the girl," I whispered. "Finlay, take the boy. Put a hand over their mouths. No sound at all. Carry them back to the tree. Hubble, take them on back to the car. Stay there with them and wait. Finlay, come back here. Do it now. Do it quietly. "

  I pulled out the Desert Eagle and clicked the safety off. Clamped my wrist against the door frame and aimed across the office at the inner door. Finlay and Hubble crept into the office. They did it right. They kept low. They kept quiet. They clamped their palms over the little mouths. Scooped the children up. Crept back out. Straightened up and looped past the barrel of my big. 44. The children woke up and struggled. Their wide eyes stared at me. Hubble and Finlay carried them to the top of the long staircase. Eased their way quietly down. I backed out of the doorway to the far corner of the metal platform. Found an angle to cover them all the way. Watched them pick their way slowly down the fire escape, to the ground, to the fence, through the gap and away. They stepped through the bright bar of light spilling over the field, forty feet below me, and vanished into the night.

  I RELAXED. LOWERED THE GUN. LISTENED HARD. HEARD nothing but the faint noises scraping up from inside the huge metal shed. I crept into the office. Crawled over the floor to the windows. Slowly raised my head up and looked out and down. Saw a sight I would never ever forget.

  There were a hundred arc lights bolted up inside the roof of the warehouse. They lit the place up brighter than day. It was a big space. Must have been a hundred feet long, maybe eighty deep. Maybe sixty feet high. And it was full of dollar bills. A gigantic dune of money filled the whole shed. It was piled maybe fifty feet high into the back far corner. It sloped down to the floor like a mountainside. It was a mountain of cash. It reared up like a gigantic green iceberg. It was huge.

  I saw Teale at the far end of the shed. He was sitting on the lower slope of the mountain, maybe ten feet up. Shotgun across his knees. He was dwarfed by the huge green pile rearing above him. Fifty feet closer to me, I saw old man Kliner. Sitting higher up on the slope. Sitting on forty tons of money. Shotgun across his knees.

  The two shotguns were triangulated on Roscoe and Charlie Hubble. They were tiny figures forty feet below me. They were being made to work. Roscoe had a snow shovel. One of those curved things they use in the snow states to clear their driveways. She was pushing drifts of dollars toward Charlie. Charlie was scooping them into air conditioner cartons and tamping them in firmly with a garden rake. There was a line of sealed boxes behind the two women. In front of them was the huge stockpile. They toiled away far below me, dwarfed like two ants below the mountain of dollar bills.

  I held my breath. I was transfixed. It was an utterly unbelievable sight. I could see Kliner's black pickup truck. It was backed in, just inside the roller door. Next to it was Teale's white Cadillac. Both were big automobiles. But they were nothing next to the mountain of cash. They were just like toys on the beach. It was awesome. It was a fantastic scene from a fairy tale. Like a huge underground cavern in an emerald mine from some glittering fable. All brightly lit by the hundred arc lights. Tiny figures far below. I couldn't believe it. Hubble had said a million dollars in singles was a hell of a sight. I was looking at forty million. It was the height of the drift that did it to me. It towered way up. Ten times higher than the two tiny figures working at floor level. Higher than a house. Higher than two houses. It was incredible. It was a huge warehouse. And it was full of a solid mass of money. Full of forty million genuine one-dollar bills.

  The two women were moving with the dullness of extreme fatigue, like exhausted troopers at the end of some cruel maneuver. Asleep on their feet, moving about automatically while their minds screamed for rest. They were packing armful after armful of dollars from the gigantic stockpile into the boxes. It was a hopeless task. The Coast Guard retreat had caught Kliner by surprise. He wasn't ready. The warehouse was hopelessly jammed. Roscoe and Charlie were being worked like exhausted slaves. Teale and Kliner were watching them like overseers, listlessly, like they knew they were at the end of the road. The enormous drift of cash was going to bury them. It was going to engulf them and choke them to death.

  I heard the faint clang of Finlay's feet on the fire escape. I crawled back out of the office and met him on the metal platform outside.

  "They're back at the car," he whispered to me. "How we doing here?"

  "Two shotguns out and ready," I whispered. "Roscoe and Charlie look OK. "

  He glanced in toward the bright light and the faint noises.

  "What are they all doing in there?" he asked me in a whisper.

  "Come take a look," I said softly. "But hold your breath. "

  We crawled in together. Crawled over the floor to the windows. Slowly popped our heads up. Finlay looked down at the fantastic scene below. He stared down for a long time. His eyes flicked all over the place. Ended up staring at me. Holding his breath.

  "Christ," he whispered.

  I nodded him back out. We crawled to the fire escape platform.

  "Christ," he whispered again. "Can you believe that?"

  I shook my head.

  "No," I whispered back to him. "I can't believe it. "

  "What are we going to do?" he asked me.

  I held my hand up to make Finlay wait on the platform. Crawled back inside and peered down through the window. I looked all over the place. Looked at where Teale was sitting, looked at the office inner door, checked Kliner's field of fire, guessed where Roscoe and Charlie might end up. I calculated angles and estimated distances. I came up with one definite conclusion. It was a hell of a problem.

  Old man Kliner was the nearest person to us. Roscoe and Charlie were working between him and Teale. Teale was the dangerous one because he was at the far end of the warehouse. When I came out at the top of the inside stairs, they were all four going to look up at me. Kliner was going to raise his shotgun. Teale was going to raise his shotgun. They were both going to shoot at me.

  Kliner had a straight shot, sixty degrees upward, like a duck hunter. But Roscoe and Charlie were down there between Teale and me. Teale was going to be shooting on a fairly shallow angle. He was already perched ten feet up the slope. He would be looking for another thirty feet of elevation from a distance of a hundred feet. A shallow angle. Maybe fifteen or twenty degrees. His big Ithaca was designed to cover a much wider spread than fifteen or twenty degrees. His shot was going to catch the women in a murderous spray. His shot was going to kill them. When Teale looked up at me and fired, Roscoe and Charlie were going to die.

  I CRAWLED BACK OUT OF THE OFFICE AND JOINED FINLAY on the fire escape. Bent down and picked up the plastic bottle of gasoline. Handed it to him with the matchbook. Leaned close and told him what to do. We whispered together and he set off slowly back down the long flight of metal steps. I crawled through the office and laid the Desert Eagle carefully on the floor by the inner door. Safety off. Crawled back under the window. Eased my head up and waited.

  Three minutes went by. I was staring at the far end of the roller door. Staring and waiting. Watching the crack between the bottom of the door and the concrete, right at the far end, diagonally opposite me across the whole huge space. I stared and waited. Four minutes had gone by. The tiny figures below toiled on. Roscoe and Charlie stuffing boxes, under Teale's careful gaze. Kliner clambering his way over the mountainside to kick a new river of dollars down the slope toward the women. Five minutes had gone by. Kliner had put his shotgun down. He was thirty feet away from it, scrabbling in the pile, starting a small avalanche which rolled down to Roscoe's feet. Six minutes had gone by. Seven.

  Then I saw the dark wet stain of gasoline seeping under the roller door. It flowed into a semicircular pool. It kept coming. It reached the bottom of the enormous dune of dollars, ten feet below where Teale was sprawled on the lower slopes. It kept growing outward. A dark stain on the concrete. Kliner was still working, forty feet across the mountain from Teale. Still thirty feet away fro
m his weapon.

  I crawled back to the inner door. Eased the handle down. The door came free of the catch. I picked up my gun. Eased the door halfway open. Crawled back to the window. Watched the growing pool of gasoline.

  I had been afraid Teale would smell it straightaway. That was the weak part of the plan. But he couldn't smell it. Because the whole shed was full of a powerful, appalling stink. It had hit me like a hammer as soon as I opened the door. A heavy, sour, greasy smell. The smell of money. Millions and millions of crumpled and greasy dollar bills were seeping out the stink of sweaty hands and sour pockets. The smell hung in the air. It was the same smell I had noticed in the empty boxes in Sherman Stoller's garage. The sour smell of used money.

  Then I saw the flame bloom under the door. Finlay had dropped the match. It was a low blue flame. It raced in under the door and bloomed out over the wide stain like a flower opening. It reached the bottom of the huge green mountain. I saw Teale snap his head around and stare at it, frozen in horror.

  I stepped to the door and squeezed out. Aimed the gun. Braced my wrist against the balcony railing. Pulled the trigger and blew Teale's head off, a hundred feet away. The big bullet caught him in the temple and exploded his skull all over the metal siding behind him.

  Then everything went wrong. I saw it happen in that terrible slow motion you get when your mind is racing faster than you can move. My gun hand was drifting left to track Kliner on his way back to his own weapon. But Kliner dived to the right. He launched himself in a desperate leap down the mountainside to the spot where Teale had dropped his shotgun. He wasn't going back for his own gun. He was going to use Teale's weapon. He was going to use the same lethal geometry that Teale would have used. I saw my hand reverse its direction. It was cutting a graceful smooth arc through the air just behind Kliner tumbling and sliding down in a great spray of dollars. Then I heard the crash of the staff door bursting open below. The crash of the door fought with the echo of the roar of the shot which had killed Teale and I saw Picard stagger onto the warehouse floor.

  His jacket was gone and I saw blood soaking his enormous white shirt. I saw him taking giant lurching strides toward the women. His head was turning and his right arm was windmilling upward to point at me. I saw his. 38 dwarfed in his hand. A hundred feet from him I saw Kliner reach Teale's shotgun where it had fallen and buried itself in the cash pile.

  I saw the blue flames bursting upward at the bottom of the huge dune of dollars. I saw Roscoe spinning slowly to look up at me. I saw Charlie Hubble spinning slowly the other way to look at Teale. I saw her start to scream. Her hands were slowly moving up to her face and her mouth was opening and her eyes were closing. The sound of her screaming drifted gently up to me and fought the dying echo of the Desert Eagle's bullet and the crash of the door.

  I grasped the balcony railing in front of me and hauled myself one-handed toward it. Swung my gun hand vertically down and fired and hit Picard through the right shoulder a tiny fraction before his. 38 came to rest on me. I saw him hit the floor in an explosion of blood as I hauled my aim back over to Kliner.

  My mind was detached. Just treating it like a purely mechanical problem. I had locked my shoulder so that the big automatic's recoil would kick it upward. That won me a tiny fraction as I hauled the sights over to the other end of the warehouse. I felt the smack in my palm as the burnt gases hurled the spent shell case out and crashed the next bullet in. Kliner had the Ithaca barrel on the way up in a slow motion flurry of dollar bills and he was pumping the shell. I heard the double crunch-crunch of the mechanism over the roar of the shot that had stopped Picard.

  My detached mind computed that Kliner would fire just slightly above the horizontal to hit me with the top of the spray and that the bottom of the spray would decapitate Roscoe and Charlie. It told me my bullet would take a hair over seven hundredths of a second to cover the length of the warehouse and that I should aim high up on his right side to rotate the shotgun away from the women.

  After that, my brain just shut down. Handed me all that information and sat back to mock my attempt to haul my arm up faster than Kliner could haul the Ithaca's barrel up. It was a race in agonizing slow motion. I was leaning half off the balcony slowly bringing my arm up as if I was lifting an enormous weight. A hundred feet away Kliner was slowly raising the shotgun barrel as if it was mired in molasses. They came up together, slowly, inch by inch, degree by degree. Up and up. It took forever. It took the whole of my lifetime. Flames were bursting and exploding at the bottom of the mountain. They were spreading upward and outward through the money. Kliner's yellow teeth were parting in a wolfish smile. Charlie was screaming. Roscoe was slowly floating down toward the concrete floor like gossamer. My arm and Kliner's shotgun were traveling slowly upward together, inch by ghastly inch.

  My arm got there first. I fired and hit Kliner in the right upper chest and the huge. 44 slug hurled him off his feet. The Ithaca barrel whipped sideways as he pulled the trigger. The shotgun boomed and fired point-blank into the enormous mountain of money. The air was instantly thick with tiny scraps of paper. Shreds and fragments of dollar bills were blasted all over the place. They swirled like a thick blizzard and burst into flames as they settled into the fire.

  Then time restarted and I was racing down the stairs to the warehouse floor. Flames were ripping through the greasy mountain faster than a man could run. I fought through the smoke and caught Roscoe under one arm and Charlie under the other. Spun them off their feet and carried them back toward the staircase. I could feel a gale of oxygen sucking in under the roller door to feed the fire. The whole huge shed was bursting into flame. The enormous dune of money was exploding. I was running flat out for the stairs, dragging the two women with me.

  I ran straight into Picard. He reared up off the floor in front of me and the impact sent me sprawling. He stood there like a wounded giant bellowing in fury. His right shoulder was shattered and pumping blood. His shirt was soaked an appalling crimson. I staggered up off the floor and he hit me with his left hand. It was a shuddering impact and it rocked me back. He followed it up with another swinging left that hit me on the arm and sent the Desert Eagle clattering over the concrete. The fire was billowing around us and my lungs were burning and I could hear Charlie Hubble screaming hysterically.

  Picard had lost his revolver. He stood unsteadily in front of me, rocking back and forth, swinging his massive left arm ready for another blow. I threw myself inside the swing and hit him in the throat with my elbow. I hit him harder than I had ever hit anything before in my life. But he just shook himself and stepped nearer. Swung his enormous left fist and knocked me sideways into the fire.

  I was breathing pure smoke as I rolled out. Picard stepped nearer. He was standing in a burning drift of money. He leaned forward and kicked me in the chest. Like being hit by a truck. My jacket caught fire. I tore it off and hurled it at him. But he just swatted it aside and swung his leg back for the kick that was going to kill me. Then his body started jerking like somebody was behind him, hitting him with a hammer. I saw Finlay standing there shooting Picard with the handgun he'd gotten from the station house. He fired six shots into Picard's back. Picard turned and looked at him. Took a step toward him. Finlay's gun clicked empty.

  I scrabbled for my big Israeli automatic. Swept it up off the hot concrete and shot Picard through the back of the head. His skull exploded under the impact of the huge bullet. His legs crumpled and he started falling. I fired my last four shells into him before he hit the floor.

  Finlay grabbed Charlie and raced away through the flames. I hauled Roscoe off the floor and hurled myself at the stairs and dragged her up and out through the office. Out and down the fire escape as the flames boiled out through the door after us. We hurled ourselves through the gap in the fence. I hoisted Roscoe high into my arms and ran across the field to the tree.

  Behind us the superheated air blew the roof off the shed and flames burst a hundred feet into th
e night sky. All around us burning fragments of dollar bills were drifting down. The warehouse was blasting like a furnace. I could feel the heat on my back and Roscoe was beating away the flaming paper that was landing on us. We raced for the tree. Didn't stop. Raced on to the road. Two hundred yards. A hundred yards. Behind me I could hear screeching and tearing as the metal shed distorted and burst. Up ahead Hubble was standing next to the Bentley. He flung open the rear doors and raced for the driver's seat.

  The four of us crammed into the back and Hubble stamped on the gas. The car shot forward and the doors slammed shut. The children were in the front. Both screaming. Charlie was screaming. Roscoe was screaming. I noticed with a kind of detached curiosity that I was screaming, too.

  Hubble blasted a mile down the road. Then he jammed to a stop and we untangled ourselves and fell out of the car. Stumbled about. Hugged and kissed and cried, staggering about in the dirt at the side of the old county road. The four Hubbles clung together. Roscoe and Finlay and I clung together. Then Finlay was dancing around, yelling and laughing like a madman. All his old Boston reserve was gone. Roscoe was huddled in my arms. I was watching the fire, a mile away. It was getting worse. It was getting higher. It was spreading to the farmers' sheds next in line. Bags of nitrogen fertilizer and drums of tractor oil were exploding like bombs.

  We all turned to watch the inferno and the explosions. Seven of us, in a ragged line on the road. From a mile away, we watched the firestorm. Great spouts of flame were leaping a thousand feet. Exploding oil drums were blowing up like mortar shells. The night sky was full of burning banknotes like a million orange stars. It looked like hell on earth.

  "Christ," Finlay said. "Did we do that?"

  "You did that, Finlay," I said. "You dropped the match. "

  We laughed and hugged. We danced and laughed and slapped each other's backs. We swung the children up in the air and hugged them and kissed them. Hubble hugged me and pounded me on the back. Charlie hugged me and kissed me. I lifted Roscoe off her feet and kissed her long and hard. On and on. She wrapped her legs around my waist and locked her arms behind my head. We kissed like we would die if we stopped.

  Then I drove slowly and quietly back to town. Finlay and Roscoe squeezed together with me in the front. The four Hubbles squeezed into the back. Soon as we lost the glow of the fire behind us, we picked up the glow of the station house burning in front of us. I slowed as we drove past. Burning fiercely. It was going to burn to the ground. Hundreds of people were milling about in a ragged circle, watching it. Nobody was doing anything about it.

  I picked up speed again and we rolled through the silent town. Made the right up Beckman opposite the statue of old Caspar Teale. Jinked around the silent white church. Drove the mile up to the familiar white mailbox at number twenty-five. I turned in and wound my way up the driveway. Stopped at the door just long enough for the Hubbles to spill out. Hauled the old car around and back down the driveway. Rolled down Beckman again and stopped at the bottom.

  "Out, Finlay," I said.

  He grinned and got out. Walked off into the night. I drove across the bottom of Main Street and coasted down to Roscoe's place. Stopped on her drive. We stumbled into the house. Dragged a chest of drawers down the hallway and shoved it up against the splintered door. Sealed ourselves off from the world.

 
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