Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(15)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(15)
Author: Lee Child

I thought back and told him the truth.

"I only saw the front," I said. "There was no plate."

"OK," he said. "So they were from a state that doesn't require a front license plate. That narrows it down a little, I guess."

I said nothing. A long moment later he shook his head.

"Information is in very short supply," he said. "An associate of mine contacted the police department down there, in a roundabout way. One town cop is dead, one college cop is dead, two unexplained strangers in a Lincoln Town Car are dead, and two unexplained strangers in a Toyota pickup truck are dead. The only surviving eyewitness is a second college cop, and he's still unconscious after a car wreck nearly five miles away. So right now nobody knows what happened. Nobody knows why it happened. Nobody has made a connection to an attempted kidnap. All anybody knows is there was a bloodbath down there for no apparent reason. They're speculating about gang warfare."

"What happens when they run the Lincoln 's plate?" I asked.

He hesitated.

"It's a corporate registration," he said. "It doesn't lead directly here."

I nodded. "OK, but I want to be on the West Coast before that other college cop wakes up. He got a good look at me."

"And I want to know who stepped out of line here."

I glanced at the Anacondas on the table. They had been cleaned and lightly oiled. I was suddenly very glad I had ditched the spent shells. I picked up my glass. Wrapped my thumb and all four fingers around it and sniffed the contents. I had no idea what they were. I would have preferred a cup of coffee. I put the glass back on the table.

"Is Richard OK?" I asked.

"He'll live," Beck said. "I'd like to know who exactly is attacking me."

"I told you what I saw," I said. "They didn't show me ID. They weren't known to me personally. I just happened to be there. What's your second paramount issue?"

There was another pause. The surf crashed and boomed outside the windows.

"I'm a cautious man," Beck said. "And I don't want to offend you."

"But?"

"But I'm wondering who you are, exactly."

"I'm the guy who saved your boy's other ear," I said.

Beck glanced at Duke, who stepped forward smartly and took my glass away. He used the same awkward pincer movement with his thumb and his index finger, right down at the base.

"And now you've got my fingerprints," I said. "Nice and clear."

Beck nodded again, like a guy making a judicious decision. He pointed at the guns, where they lay on the table.

"Nice weapons," he said.

I said nothing back. He moved his hand and nudged one of them with his knuckles. Then he sent it sliding across the wood toward me. The heavy steel made a hollow reverberant sound on the oak.

"You want to tell me why there's a mark scratched against one of the chambers?"

I listened to the ocean.

"I don't know why," I said. "They came to me like that."

"You bought them used?"

"In Arizona," I said.

"From a gun store?"

"From a gun show," I said.

"Why?"

"I don't like background checks," I said.

"Didn't you ask about the scratches?"

"I assumed they were reference marks," I said. "I assumed some gun nut had tested them and marked the most accurate chamber. Or the least accurate."

"Chambers differ?"

"Everything differs," I said. "That's the nature of manufacturing."

"Even with eight-hundred-dollar revolvers?"

"Depends on how discriminating you want to be. You feel the need to measure down to the hundred-thousandths of an inch, then everything in the world is different."

"Does it matter?"

"Not to me," I said. "I point a gun at somebody, I don't care which individual blood cell I'm targeting."

He sat quiet for a moment. Then he went into his pocket and came out with a bullet. Shiny brass case, dull lead point. He stood it upright in front of him like a miniature artillery shell. Then he knocked it over and rolled it under his fingers on the table. Then he placed it carefully and flicked it with his fingertip so that it rolled all the way along to me. It came in a wide graceful curve. It made a slow droning sound on the wood. I let it roll off the end of the table and caught it in my hand. It was an unjacketed Remington.44 Magnum. Heavy, probably more than three hundred grains. It was a brutal thing. Probably cost the best part of a dollar. It was warm from his pocket.

"You ever played Russian roulette?" he asked.

"I need to get rid of the car I stole," I said.

"We've already gotten rid of it," he said.

"Where?"

"Where it won't be found."

He went quiet. I said nothing. Just looked at him, like I was thinking Is that the sort of thing an ordinary businessman does? As well as registering his limousines through shell corporations? And instantly recalling the retail on a Colt Anaconda? And trapping a guest's prints on a whiskey tumbler?

"You ever played Russian roulette?" he asked again.

"No," I said. "I never did."

"I'm under attack," he said. "And I just lost two guys. Time like this I need to be adding guys, not losing them."

I waited, five seconds, ten. I made out like I was struggling with the concept.

"You asking to hire me?" I said. "I'm not sure I can stick around."

"I'm not asking anything," he said. "I'm deciding. You look like a useful guy. You could have that five thousand dollars to stay, not to go. Maybe."

I said nothing.

"Hey, if I want you, I've got you," he said. "There's a dead cop down in Massachusetts and I've got your name and I've got your prints."

"But?"

"But I don't know who you are."

"Get used to it," I said. "How do you know who anybody is?"

"I find out. I test people. Suppose I asked you to kill another cop? As a gesture of good faith?"

"I'd say no. I'd repeat that the first one was an unfortunate accident I regret very much. And I'd start wondering about what kind of an ordinary businessman you really are."

"My business is my business. It needn't concern you."

I said nothing.

"Play Russian roulette with me," he said.

"What would that prove?"

"A federal agent wouldn't do it."

"Why are you worried about federal agents?"

"That needn't concern you, either."

"I'm not a federal agent," I said.

"So prove it. Play Russian roulette with me. I mean, I'm already playing Russian roulette with you, in a manner of speaking, just letting you into my house without knowing exactly who you are."

"I saved your son."

"And I'm very grateful for that. Grateful enough that I'm still talking to you in a civilized manner. Grateful enough that I might yet offer you sanctuary and employment. Because I like a man who gets the job done."

"I'm not looking for work," I said. "I'm looking to hide out for maybe forty-eight hours and then move on."

"We'd look after you. Nobody would ever find you. You'd be completely safe here. If you pass the test."

"Russian roulette is the test?"

"The infallible test," he said. "In my experience."

 

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