Killing floor, p.9
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       Killing Floor, p.9

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

  ONCE I SAW A NAVY FILM ABOUT EXPEDITIONS IN THE FROZEN arctic. You could be walking over a solid glacier. Suddenly the ice would heave and shatter. Some kind of unimaginable stresses in the floes. A whole new geography would be forced up. Massive escarpments where it had been flat. Huge ravines behind you. A new lake in front of you. The world all changed in a second. That's how I felt. I sat there rigid with shock on the counter between the fax machine and the computer terminal and felt like an Arctic guy whose whole world changes in a single step.

  They walked me through to the cold store in back to make a formal identification of his body. His face had been blown away by the gunshots and all his bones were broken but I recognized the star-shaped scar on his neck. He'd got it when we were messing with a broken bottle, twenty-nine years ago. Then they took me back up to the station house in Margrave. Finlay drove. Roscoe sat with me in the back of the car and held my hand all the way. It was only a twenty-minute ride, but in that time I lived through two whole lifetimes. His and mine.

  My brother, Joe. Two years older than me. He was born on a base in the Far East right at the end of the Eisenhowerera. Then I had been born on a base in Europe, right at the start of the Kennedy era. Then we'd grown up together all over the world inside that tight isolated transience that service families create for themselves. Life was all about moving on at random and unpredictable intervals. It got so that it felt weird to do more than a semester and a half in any one place. Several times we went years without seeing a winter. We'd get moved out of Europe at the start of the fall and go down to the Pacific somewhere and summer would begin all over again.

  Our friends kept just disappearing. Some unit would get shipped out somewhere and a bunch of kids would be gone. Sometimes we saw them again months later in a different place. Plenty of them we never saw again. Nobody ever said hello or good-bye. You were just either there or not there.

  Then as Joe and I got older, we got moved around more. The Vietnam thing meant the military started shuffling people around the world faster and faster. Life became just a blur of bases. We never owned anything. We were only allowed one bag each on the transport planes.

  We were together in that blur for sixteen years. Joe was the only constant thing in my life. And I loved him like a brother. But that phrase has a very precise meaning. A lot of those stock sayings do. Like when people say they slept like a baby. Do they mean they slept well? Or do they mean they woke up every ten minutes, screaming? I loved Joe like a brother, which meant a lot of things in our family.

  The truth was I never knew for sure if I loved him or not. And he never knew for sure if he loved me or not, either. We were only two years apart, but he was born in the fifties and I was born in the sixties. That seemed to make a lot more than two years' worth of a difference to us. And like any pair of brothers two years apart, we irritated the hell out of each other. We fought and bickered and sullenly waited to grow up and get out from under. Most of those sixteen years, we didn't know if we loved each other or hated each other.

  But we had the thing that army families have. Your family was your unit. The men on the bases were taught total loyalty to their units. It was the most fundamental thing in their lives. The boys copied them. They translated that same intense loyalty onto their families. So time to time you might hate your brother, but you didn't let anybody mess with him. That was what we had, Joe and I. We had that unconditional loyalty. We stood back to back in every new schoolyard and punched our way out of trouble together. I watched out for him, and he watched out for me, like brothers did. For sixteen years. Not much of a normal childhood, but it was the only childhood I was ever going to get. And Joe was just about the beginning and end of it. And now somebody had killed him. I sat there in the back of the police Chevrolet listening to a tiny voice in my head asking me what the hell I was going to do about that.

  FINLAY DROVE STRAIGHT THROUGH MARGRAVE AND PARKED up outside the station house. Right at the curb opposite the big plate-glass entrance doors. He and Roscoe got out of the car and stood there waiting for me, just like Baker and Stevenson had forty-eight hours before. I got out and joined them in the noontime heat. We stood there for a moment and then Finlay pulled open the heavy door and we went inside. Walked back through the empty squad room to the big rosewood office.

  Finlay sat at the desk. I sat in the same chair I'd used on Friday. Roscoe pulled a chair up and put it next to mine. Finlay rattled open the desk drawer. Took out the tape recorder. Went through his routine of testing the microphone with his fingernail. Then he sat still and looked at me.

  "I'm very sorry about your brother," he said.

  I nodded. Didn't say anything.

  "I'm going to have to ask you a lot of questions, I'm afraid," he said.

  I just nodded again. I understood his position. I'd been in his position plenty of times myself.

  "Who would be his next of kin?" he asked.

  "I am," I said. "Unless he got married without telling me. "

  "Do you think he might have done that?" Finlay asked me.

  "We weren't close," I said. "But I doubt it. "

  "Your parents dead?"

  I nodded. Finlay nodded. Wrote me down as next of kin.

  "What was his full name?"

  "Joe Reacher," I said. "No middle name. "

  "Is that short for Joseph?"

  "No," I said. "It was just Joe. Like my name is just Jack. We had a father who liked simple names. "

  "OK," Finlay said. "Older or younger?"

  "Older," I said. I gave him Joe's date of birth. "Two years older than me. "

  "So he was thirty-eight?"

  I nodded. Baker had said the victim had been maybe forty. Maybe Joe hadn't worn well.

  "Do you have a current address for him?"

  I shook my head.

  "No," I said. "Washington, D. C. , somewhere. Like I said, we weren't close. "

  "OK," he said again. "When did you last see him?"

  "About twenty minutes ago," I said. "In the morgue. "

  Finlay nodded gently. "Before that?"

  "Seven years ago," I said. "Our mother's funeral. "

  "Have you got a photograph of him?"

  "You saw the stuff in the property bag," I said. "I haven't got a photograph of anything. "

  He nodded again. Went quiet. He was finding this difficult.

  "Can you give me a description of him?"

  "Before he got his face shot off?"

  "It might help, you know," Finlay said. "We need to find out who saw him around, when and where. "

  I nodded.

  "He looked like me, I guess," I said. "Maybe an inch taller, maybe ten pounds lighter. "

  "That would make him what, about six-six?" he asked.

  "Right," I said. "About two hundred pounds, maybe. "

  Finlay wrote it all down.

  "And he shaved his head?" he said.

  "Not the last time I saw him," I said. "He had hair like anybody else. "

  "Seven years ago, right?" Finlay said.

  I shrugged.

  "Maybe he started going bald," I said. "Maybe he was vain about it. "

  Finlay nodded.

  "What was his job?" he asked.

  "Last I heard, he worked for the Treasury Department," I said. "Doing what, I'm not sure. "

  "What was his background?" he asked. "Was he in the service too?"

  I nodded.

  "Military Intelligence," I said. "Quit after a while, then he worked for the government. "

  "He wrote you that he had been here, right?" he asked.

  "He mentioned the Blind Blake thing," I said. "Didn't say what brought him down here. But it shouldn't be difficult to find out. "

  Finlay nodded.

  "We'll make some calls first thing in the morning," he said. "Until then, you're sure you got no idea why he should be down here?"

  I shook my head. I
had no idea at all why he had come down here. But I knew Hubble did. Joe had been the tall investigator with the shaved head and the code name. Hubble had brought him down here and Hubble knew exactly why. First thing to do was to find Hubble and ask him about it.

  "Did you say you couldn't find Hubble?" I asked Finlay.

  "Can't find him anywhere," he said. "He's not up at his place on Beckman Drive and nobody's seen him around town. Hubble knows all about this, right?"

  I just shrugged. I felt like I wanted to keep some of the cards pretty close to my chest. If I was going to have to squeeze Hubble for something he wasn't very happy to talk about, then I wanted to do it in private. I didn't particularly want Finlay watching over my shoulder while I was doing it. He might think I was squeezing too hard. And I definitely didn't want to have to watch anything over Finlay's shoulder. I didn't want to leave the squeezing to him. I might think he wasn't squeezing hard enough. And anyway, Hubble would talk to me faster than he would talk to a policeman. He was already halfway there with me. So exactly how much Hubble knew was going to stay my secret. Just for now.

  "No idea what Hubble knows," I said. "You're the one claims he fell apart. "

  Finlay just grunted again and looked across the desk at me. I could see him settling into a new train of thought. I was pretty sure what it was. I'd been waiting for it to surface. There's a rule of thumb about homicide. It comes from a lot of statistics and a lot of experience. The rule of thumb says: when you get a dead guy, first you take a good look at his family. Because a hell of a lot of homicide gets done by relatives. Husbands, wives, sons. And brothers. That was the theory. Finlay would have seen it in action a hundred times in his twenty years up in Boston. Now I could see him trying it out in his head down in Margrave. I needed to run interference on it. I didn't want him thinking about it. I didn't want to waste any more of my time in a cell. I figured I might need that time for something else.

  "You're happy with my alibi, right?" I said.

  He saw where I was going. Like we were colleagues on a knotty case. He flashed me a brief grin.

  "It held up," he said. "You were in Tampa when this was going down. "

  "OK," I said. "And is Chief Morrison comfortable with that?"

  "He doesn't know about it," Finlay said. "He's not answering his phone. "

  "I don't want any more convenient mistakes," I said. "The fat moron said he saw me up there. I want him to know that won't fly anymore. "

  Finlay nodded. Picked up the phone on the desk and dialed a number. I heard the faint purr of the ring tone from the earpiece. It rang for a long time and cut off when Finlay put the phone back down.

  "Not at home," he said. "Sunday, right?"

  Then he pulled the phone book out of a drawer. Opened it to H. Looked up Hubble's number on Beckman Drive. Dialed it and got the same result. A lot of ring tone and nobody home. Then he tried the mobile number. An electronic voice started to tell him the phone was switched off. He hung up before it finished.

  "I'm going to bring Hubble in, when I find him," Finlay said. "He knows stuff he should be telling us. Until then, not a lot I can do, right?"

  I shrugged. He was right. It was a pretty cold trail. The only spark that Finlay knew about was the panic Hubble had shown on Friday.

  "What are you going to do, Reacher?" he asked me.

  "I'm going to think about that," I said.

  Finlay looked straight at me. Not unfriendly, but very serious, like he was trying to communicate an order and an appeal with a single stern eye-to-eye gaze.

  "Let me deal with this, OK?" he said. "You're going to feel pretty bad, and you're going to want to see justice done, but I don't want any independent action going on here, OK? This is police business. You're a civilian. Let me deal with it, OK?"

  I shrugged and nodded. Stood up and looked at them both.

  "I'm going for a walk," I said.

  I LEFT THE TWO OF THEM THERE AND STROLLED THROUGH the squad room. Pushed out through the glass doors into the hot afternoon. Wandered through the parking lot and crossed the wide lawn in front, over as far as the bronze statue. It was another tribute to Caspar Teale, whoever the hell he had been. Same guy as on the village green on the southern edge of town. I leaned up against his warm metal flank and thought.

  The United States is a giant country. Millions of square miles. Best part of three hundred million people. I hadn't seen Joe for seven years, and he hadn't seen me, but we'd ended up in exactly the same tiny spot, eight hours apart. I'd walked within fifty yards of where his body had been lying. That was one hell of a big coincidence. It was almost unbelievable. So Finlay was doing me a big favor by treating it like a coincidence. He should be trying to tear my alibi apart. Maybe he already was. Maybe he was already on the phone to Tampa, checking again.

  But he wouldn't find anything, because it was a coincidence. No point going over and over it. I was only in Margrave because of a crazy last-minute whim. If I'd taken a minute longer looking at the guy's map, the bus would have been past the cloverleaf and I'd have forgotten all about Margrave. I'd have gone on up to Atlanta and never known anything about Joe. It might have taken another seven years before the news caught up with me. So there was no point getting all stirred up about the coincidence. The only thing I had to do was to decide what the hell I was going to do about it.

  I was about four years old before I caught on to the loyalty thing. I suddenly figured I was supposed to watch out for Joe the way he was watching out for me. After a while, it became second nature, like an automatic thing. It was always in my head to scout around and check he was OK. Plenty of times I would run out into some new schoolyard and see a bunch of kids trying it on with the tall skinny newcomer. I'd trot over there and haul them off and bust a few heads. Then I'd go back to my own buddies and play ball or whatever we were doing. Duty done, like a routine. It was a routine which lasted twelve years, from when I was four right up to the time Joe finally left home. Twelve years of that routine must have left faint tracks in my mind, because forever afterward I always carried a faint echo of the question: where's Joe? Once he was grown up and away, it didn't much matter where he was. But I was always aware of the faint echo of that old routine. Deep down, I was always aware I was supposed to stand up for him, if I was needed.

  But now he was dead. He wasn't anywhere. I leaned up against the statue in front of the station house and listened to the tiny voice inside my head saying: you're supposed to do something about that.

  THE STATION HOUSE DOOR SUCKED OPEN. I SQUINTED through the heat and saw Roscoe step out. The sun was behind her and it lit her hair like a halo. She scanned around and saw me leaning on the statue in the middle of the lawn. Started over towards me. I pushed off the warm bronze.

  "You OK?" she asked me.

  "I'm fine," I said.

  "You sure?" she said.

  "I'm not falling apart," I said. "Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I just feel numb, to be honest. "

  It was true. I wasn't feeling much of anything. Maybe it was some kind of a weird reaction, but that was how I felt. No point in denying it.

  "OK," Roscoe said. "Can I give you a ride somewhere?"

  Maybe Finlay had sent her out to keep track of me, but I wasn't about to put up a whole lot of objections to that. She was standing there in the sun looking great. I realized I liked her more every time I looked at her.

  "Want to show me where Hubble lives?" I asked her.

  I could see her thinking about it.

  "Shouldn't we leave that to Finlay?" she said.

  "I just want to see if he's back home yet," I said. "I'm not going to eat him. If he's there, we'll call Finlay right away, OK?"

  "OK," she said. She shrugged and smiled. "Let's go. "

  We walked together back over the lawn and got into her police Chevy. She started it up and pulled out of the lot. Turned left and rolled south through the perfect little town. It was a gorgeous
September day. The bright sun turned it into a fantasy. The brick sidewalks were glowing and the white paint was blinding. The whole place was quiet and basking in the Sunday heat. Deserted.

  Roscoe hung a right at the little village green and made the turn into Beckman Drive. Skirted around the square with the church on it. The cars were gone and the place was quiet. Worship was over. Beckman opened out into a wide tree-lined residential street, set on a slight rise. It had a rich feel. Cool and shady and prosperous. It was what real-estate people mean when they talk about location. I couldn't see the houses. They were set far back behind wide grassy shoulders, big trees, high hedges. Their driveways wound out of sight. Occasionally I glimpsed a white portico or a red roof. The farther out we got, the bigger the lots became. Hundreds of yards between mailboxes. Enormous mature trees. A solid sort of a place. But a place with stories hiding behind the leafy facades. In Hubble's case, some sort of a desperate story which had caused him to reach out to my brother. Some sort of a story which had got my brother killed.

  Roscoe slowed at a white mailbox and turned left into the drive of number twenty-five. About a mile from town, on the left, its back to the afternoon sun. It was the last house on the road. Up ahead, peach groves stretched into the haze. We nosed slowly up a winding driveway around massed banks of garden. The house was not what I had imagined. I had pictured a big white place, like a normal house, but bigger. This was more splendid. A palace. It was huge. Every detail was expensive. Expanses of gravel drive, expanses of velvet lawn, huge exquisite trees, everything shining and dappled in the blazing sun. But there was no sign of the dark Bentley I'd seen up at the prison. It looked like there was nobody home.

  Roscoe pulled up near the front door and we got out. It was silent. I could hear nothing except the heavy buzz of afternoon heat. We rang on the bell and knocked on the door. No response from inside. We shrugged at each other and walked across a lawn around the side of the house. There were acres of grass and a blaze of some kind of flowers surrounding a garden room. Then a wide patio and a long lawn sloping down to a giant swimming pool. The water was bright blue in the sun. I could smell the chlorine hanging in the hot air.

  "Some place," Roscoe said.

  I nodded. I was wondering if my brother had been there.

  "I hear a car," she said.

  We got back to the front of the house in time to see the big Bentley easing to a stop. The blond woman I'd seen driving away from the prison got out. She had two children with her. A boy and a girl. This was Hubble's family. He loved them like crazy. But he wasn't there with them.

  The blond woman seemed to know Roscoe. They greeted each other and Roscoe introduced me to her. She shook my hand and said her name was Charlene, but I could call her Charlie. She was an expensive-looking woman, tall, slim, good bones, carefully dressed, carefully looked after. But she had a seam of spirit running through her face like a flaw. Enough spirit there to make me like her. She held on to my hand and smiled, but it was a smile with a whole lot of strain behind it.

  "This hasn't been the best weekend of my life, I'm afraid," she said. "But it seems that I owe you a great deal of thanks, Mr. Reacher. My husband tells me you saved his life in prison. "

  She said it with a lot of ice in her voice. Not aimed at me. Aimed at whatever circumstance it was forcing her to use the words "husband" and "prison" in the same sentence.

  "No problem," I said. "Where is he?"

  "Taking care of some business," Charlie said. "I expect him back later. "

  I nodded. That had been Hubble's plan. He'd said he would spin her some kind of a yarn and then try to settle things down. I wondered if Charlie wanted to talk about it, but the children were standing silently next to her, and I could see she wouldn't talk in front of them. So I grinned at them. I hoped they would get all shy and run off somewhere, like children usually do with me, but they just grinned back.

  "This is Ben," Charlie said. "And this is Lucy. "

  They were nice-looking kids. The girl still had that little-girl chubbiness. No front teeth. Fine sandy hair in pigtails. The boy wasn't much bigger than his little sister. He had a slight frame and a serious face. Not a rowdy hooligan like some boys are. They were a nice pair of kids. Polite and quiet. They both shook hands with me and then stepped back to their mother's side. I looked at the three of them and I could just about see the terrible cloud hanging there over them. If Hubble didn't take care, he could get them all as dead as he'd gotten my brother.

  "Will you come in for some iced tea?" Charlie asked us.

  She stood there, her head cocked like she was waiting for an answer. She was maybe thirty, similar age to Roscoe. But she had a rich woman's ways. A hundred and fifty years ago, she'd have been the mistress of a big plantation.

  "OK," I said. "Thanks. "

  The kids ran off to play somewhere and Charlie ushered us in through the front door. I didn't really want to drink any iced tea, but I did want to stick around in case Hubble got back. I wanted to catch him on my own for five minutes. I wanted to ask him some pretty urgent questions before Finlay started in with the Miranda warnings.

  IT WAS A FABULOUS HOUSE. HUGE. BEAUTIFULLY FURNISHED. Light and fresh. Cool creams and sunny yellows. Flowers. Charlie led us through to the garden room we'd seen from the outside. It was like something from a magazine. Roscoe went off with her to help fix the tea. Left me alone in the room. It made me uneasy. I wasn't accustomed to houses. Thirty-six years old and I'd never lived in a house. Lots of service accommodations and a terrible bare dormitory on the Hudson when I was up at the Point. That's where I'd lived. I sat down like an ugly alien on a flowered cushion on a cane sofa and waited. Uneasy, numb, in that dead zone between action and reaction.

  The two women came back with the tea. Charlie was carrying a silver tray. She was a handsome woman, but she was nothing next to Roscoe. Roscoe had a spark in her eyes so electric it made Charlie just about invisible.

  Then something happened. Roscoe sat down next to me on the cane sofa. As she sat, she pushed my leg to one side. It was a casual thing but it was very intimate and familiar. A numbed nerve end suddenly clicked in and screamed at me: she likes you too. She likes you too. It was the way she touched my leg.

  I went back and looked at things in that new light. Her manner as she took the fingerprints and the photographs. Bringing me the coffee. Her smile and her wink. Her laugh. Working Friday night and Saturday so she could get me out of Warburton. Driving all the way over there to pick me up. Holding my hand after I'd seen my brother's broken body. Giving me a ride over here. She liked me too.

  All of a sudden I was glad I had jumped off that damn bus. Glad I made that crazy last-minute decision. I suddenly relaxed. Felt better. The tiny voice in my head quieted down. Right then there was nothing for me to do. I'd speak to Hubble when I saw him. Until then I would sit on a sofa with a good-looking, friendly dark-haired woman in a soft cotton shirt. The trouble would start soon enough. It always does.

  Charlie Hubble sat down opposite us and started pouring the iced tea from the pitcher. The smell of lemon and spices drifted over. She caught my eye and smiled the same strained smile she'd used before.

  "Normally, at this point, I'd ask you how you were enjoying your visit with us here in Margrave," she said, looking at me, strained, smiling.

  I couldn't think of a reply to that. I just shrugged. It was clear Charlie didn't know anything. She thought her husband had been arrested because of some kind of a mistake. Not because he was grabbed up in some kind of trouble which had just got two people murdered. One of whom was the brother of the stranger she was busy smiling at. Roscoe rescued the conversation and the two of them started passing the time of day. I just sat there and drank the tea and waited for Hubble. He didn't show up. Then the conversation died and we had to get out of there. Charlie was fidgeting like she had things to do. Roscoe put her hand on my arm. Her touch burned me like electricity.

  "Le
t's go," she said. "I'll give you a ride back to town. "

  I felt bad I wasn't staying to wait for Hubble. It made me feel disloyal to Joe. But I just wanted to be on my own with Roscoe. I was burning up with it. Maybe some kind of repressed grief was intensifying it. I wanted to leave Joe's problems until tomorrow. I told myself I had no choice anyway. Hubble hadn't shown up. Nothing else I could do. So we got back in the Chevy together and nosed down the winding driveway. Cruised down Beckman. The buildings thickened up at the bottom of the mile. We jinked around the church. The little village green with the statue of old Caspar Teale was ahead.

  "Reacher?" Roscoe said. "You'll be around for a while, right? Until we get this thing about your brother straightened out?"

  "I guess I will," I said.

  "Where are you going to stay?" she asked.

  "I don't know," I said.

  She pulled over to the curb near the lawn. Nudged the selector into Park. She had a tender look on her face.

  "I want you to come home with me," she said.

  I felt like I was out of my mind, but I was burning up with it so I pulled her to me and we kissed. That fabulous first kiss. The new and unfamiliar mouth and hair and taste and smell. She kissed hard and long and held on tight. We came up for air a couple of times before she took off again for her place.

  She blasted a quarter mile down the street which opened up opposite Beckman Drive. I saw a blur of greenery in the sun as she swooped into her driveway. The tires chirped as she stopped. We more or less tumbled out and ran to the door. She used her key and we went in. The door swung shut and before it clicked she was back in my arms. We kissed and stumbled through to her living room. She was a foot shorter than me and her feet were off the ground.

  We tore each other's clothes off like they were on fire. She was gorgeous. Firm and strong and a shape like a dream. Skin like silk. She pulled me to the floor through bars of hot sunlight from the window. It was frantic. We were rolling and nothing could have stopped us. It was like the end of the world. We shuddered to a stop and lay gasping. We were bathed in sweat. Totally spent.

  We lay there clasped and caressing. Then she got off me and pulled me up. We kissed again as we staggered through to her bedroom. She pulled back the covers on the bed and we collapsed in. Held each other and fell into a deep afterglow stupor. I was wrecked. I felt like all my bones and sinews were rubber. I lay in the unfamiliar bed and drifted away to a place far beyond relaxation. I was floating. Roscoe's warm heft was snuggled beside me. I was breathing through her hair. Our hands were lazily caressing unfamiliar contours.

  She asked me if I wanted to go find a motel. Or to stay there with her. I laughed and told her the only way to get rid of me now would be to go fetch a shotgun from the station house and chase me away. I told her even that might not work. She giggled and pressed even closer.

  "I wouldn't fetch a shotgun," she whispered. "I'd fetch some handcuffs. I'd chain you to the bed and keep you here forever. "

  We dozed through the afternoon. I called the Hubble place at seven in the evening. He still wasn't back. I left Roscoe's number with Charlie and told her to have Hubble call me as soon as he got in. Then we drifted on through the rest of the evening. Fell fast asleep at midnight. Hubble never called.

  MONDAY MORNING I WAS VAGUELY AWARE OF ROSCOE GETTING up for work. I heard the shower and I know she kissed me tenderly and then the house was hot and quiet and still. I slept on until after nine. The phone didn't ring. That was OK. I needed some quiet thinking time. I had decisions to make. I stretched out in Roscoe's warm bed and started answering the question the tiny voice in my head was asking me again.

  What was I going to do about Joe? My answer came very easily. I knew it would. I knew it had been waiting there since I first stood next to Joe's broken body in the morgue. It was a very simple answer. I was going to stand up for him. I was going to finish his business. Whatever it was. Whatever it took.

  I didn't foresee any major difficulties. Hubble was the only link I had, but Hubble was the only link I needed. He would cooperate. He'd depended on Joe to help him out. Now he'd depend on me. He'd give me what I needed. His masters were vulnerable for a week. What had he said? A window of exposure wide open until Sunday? I'd use it to tear them apart. My mind was made up. I couldn't do it any other way. I couldn't leave it to Finlay. Finlay wouldn't understand all those years of history. Finlay wouldn't sanction the sort of punishments that were going to be necessary. Finlay couldn't understand the simple truth I'd learned at the age of four: you don't mess with my brother. So this was my business. It was between me and Joe. It was duty.

  I lay there in Roscoe's warm bed and scoped it out. It was going to be a simple process. About as simple as you could get. Getting hold of Hubble wasn't going to be difficult. I knew where he lived. I knew his phone number. I stretched and smiled and filled with restless energy. Got out of bed and found coffee. There was a note propped against the pot. The note said: Early lunch at Eno's? Eleven o'clock? Leave Hubble to Finlay, OK? The note was signed with lots of kisses and a little drawing of a pair of handcuffs. I read it and smiled at the drawing, but I wasn't going to leave Hubble to Finlay. No way. Hubble was my business. So I looked up the number again and called Beckman Drive. There was nobody home.

  I poured a big mug of coffee and wandered through to the living room. The sun was blinding outside. It was another hot day. I walked through the house. It was a small place. A living room, an eat-in kitchen, two bedrooms, one and a half baths. Very new, very clean. Decorated in a cool, simple way. What I would expect from Roscoe. A cool simple style. Some nice Navajo art, some bold rugs, white walls. She must have been to New Mexico and liked it.

  It was still and quiet. She had a stereo, a few records and tapes, more sweet and melodic than the howl and buzz that I call music. I got more coffee from her kitchen. Went out back. There was a small yard out there, a neat coarse lawn and some recent evergreen planting. Shredded bark to smother weeds and rough timber edging against the planted areas. I stood in the sun and sipped the coffee.

  Then I ducked back inside and tried Hubble's number again. No reply. I showered and dressed. Roscoe had a small shower stall, the head set low, feminine soaps in the dish. I found a towel in a closet and a comb on a vanity. No razor. I put my clothes on and rinsed out the coffee mug. Tried Hubble's number again from the kitchen phone. I let it ring for a long time. Nobody home. I figured I'd get a ride up there from Roscoe after lunch. This thing wasn't going to wait forever. I relocked the back door and went out the front.

  It was about ten thirty. A mile and a quarter up to Eno's place. A gentle half hour stroll in the sun. It was already very hot. Well into the eighties. Glorious fall weather in the South. I walked the quarter mile to Main Street up a gently winding rise. Everything was beautifully manicured. There were towering magnolia trees everywhere and late blossom in the shrubs.

  I turned at the convenience store and strolled up Main Street. The sidewalks had been swept. I could see crews of gardeners in the little park areas. They were setting up sprinklers and barrowing stuff out of smart green trucks marked "Kliner Foundation" in gold. A couple of guys were painting the picket fence. I waved in at the two old barbers in their shop. They were leaning up inside their doorway, like they were waiting for customers. They waved back and I strolled on.

  Eno's came into sight. The polished aluminum siding gleamed in the sun. Roscoe's Chevrolet was in the lot. Standing next to it on the gravel was the black pickup I'd seen the day before outside the coffee shop. I reached the diner and pushed in through the door. I had been prodded out through it on Friday with Stevenson's shotgun pointed at my gut. I had been in handcuffs. I wondered if the diner people would remember me. I figured they probably would. Margrave was a very quiet place. Not a whole lot of strangers passing through.

  Roscoe was in a booth, the same one I'd used on Friday. She was back in uniform and she looked like the sexiest thing on earth
. I stepped over to her. She smiled a tender smile up at me and I bent to kiss her mouth. She slid over the vinyl to the window. There were two cups of coffee on the table. I passed hers across.

  The driver from the black pickup was sitting at the lunch counter. The Kliner boy, the pale woman's stepson. He'd spun the stool and his back was against the counter. He was sitting legs apart, elbows back, head up, eyes blazing, staring at me again. I turned my back on him and kissed Roscoe again.

  "Is this going to ruin your authority?" I asked her. "To be seen kissing a vagrant who got arrested in here on Friday?"

  "Probably," she said. "But who cares?"

  So I kissed her again. The Kliner kid was watching. I could feel it on the back of my neck. I turned to look back at him. He held my gaze for a second, then he slid off his stool and left. Stopped in the doorway and glared at me one last time. Then he hustled over to his pickup and took off. I heard the roar of the motor and then the diner was quiet. It was more or less empty, just like on Friday. A couple of old guys and a couple of waitresses. They were the same women as on Friday. Both blond, one taller and heavier than the other. Waitress uniforms. The shorter one wore eyeglasses. Not really alike, but similar. Like sisters or cousins. The same genes in there somewhere. Small town, miles from anywhere.

  "I made a decision," I said. "I have to find out what happened with Joe. So I just want to apologize in advance in case that gets in the way, OK?"

  Roscoe shrugged and smiled a tender smile. Looked concerned for me.

  "It won't get in the way," she said. "No reason why it should. "

  I sipped my coffee. It was good coffee. I remembered that from Friday.

  "We got an ID on the second body," she said. "His prints matched with an arrest two years ago in Florida. His name was Sherman Stoller. That name mean anything at all to you?"

  I shook my head.

  "Never heard of him," I said.

  Then her beeper started going. It was a little black pager thing clipped to her belt. I hadn't seen it before. Maybe she was only required to use it during working hours. It was beeping away. She reached around and clicked it off.

  "Damn," she said. "I've got to call in. Sorry. I'll use the phone in the car. "

  I slid out of the booth and stepped back to let her by.

  "Order me some food, OK?" she said. "I'll have whatever you have. "

  "OK," I said. "Which one is our waitress?"

  "The one with the glasses," she said.

  She walked out of the diner. I was aware of her leaning into her car, using the phone. Then she was gesturing to me from the parking lot. Miming urgency. Miming that she had to get back. Miming that I should stay put. She jumped into the car and took off, south. I waved vaguely after her, not really looking, because I was staring at the waitresses instead. I had almost stopped breathing. I needed Hubble. And Roscoe had just told me Hubble was dead.

 
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