Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(18)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(18)
Author: Lee Child

It was a standard two-part sliding thing. The bottom casement would slide upward in front of the top casement. There was no insect screen. The paint on the inside was thin and neat. The paint on the outside was thick and sloppy from where it had been continually redone to beat the climate. There was a brass catch. It was an ancient thing. There was no modern security. I slipped the catch and pushed the window up. It caught on the thick paint. But it moved. I got it open about five inches and cold sea air blew in on me. I bent down and looked for alarm pads. There weren't any. I heaved it all the way up and examined the whole of the frame. There was no sign of any security system at all. It was understandable. The window was fifty feet up above the rocks and the ocean. And the house itself was unreachable because of the high wall and the water.

I leaned out the window and looked down. I could see where I had been standing when Duke fired the bullet. I stayed half-in and half-out of the window for about five minutes, leaning on my elbows, staring at the black ocean, smelling the salt air, and thinking about the bullet. I had pulled the trigger six times. It would have made a hell of a mess. My head would have exploded. The rugs would have been ruined and the oak paneling would have splintered. I yawned. The thinking and the sea air were making me sleepy. I ducked back inside and slammed the casement down and went to bed.

I was already up and showered and dressed when I heard Duke unlock the door at six-fifteen the next morning, day twelve, Wednesday, Elizabeth Beck's birthday. I had already checked my e-mail. There were no messages. None at all. I wasn't worried. I spent ten quiet minutes at the window. The dawn was right there in front of me and the sea was gray and oily and subdued. The tide was out. Rocks were exposed. Pools had formed here and there. I could see birds on the shore. They were black guillemots. Their spring feathers were coming in. Gray was changing to black. They had bright red feet. I could see cormorants and black-backed gulls wheeling in the distance. Herring gulls swooping low, searching for breakfast.

I waited until Duke's footsteps had receded and went downstairs and walked into the kitchen and met the giant from the gatehouse face-to-face. He was standing at the sink, drinking water from a glass. He had probably just swallowed his steroid pills. He was a very big guy. I stand six feet five inches tall and I have to center myself quite carefully to walk through a standard thirty-inch doorway. This guy was at least six inches taller than me and probably ten inches wider across the shoulders. He probably outweighed me by two hundred pounds. Maybe by more. I got that core shudder I get when I'm next to a guy big enough to make me feel small. The world seems to tilt a little.

"Duke is in the gym," the guy said.

"There's a gym?" I said.

"Downstairs," he said. His voice was light and high-pitched. He must have been gobbling steroids like candy for years. His eyes were dull and his skin was bad. He was somewhere in his middle thirties, greasy blond, dressed in a muscle shirt and sweatpants. His arms were bigger than my legs. He looked like a cartoon.

"We work out before breakfast," he said.

"Fine," I said. "Go right ahead."

"You too."

"I never work out," I said.

"Duke's expecting you. You work here, you work out."

I glanced at my watch. Six twenty-five in the morning. Time ticking away.

"What's your name?" I asked.

He didn't answer. Just looked at me like I was setting some kind of a trap for him. That's another problem with steroids. Too many of them can rewire your head. And this guy's head didn't look like it had started from a very positive place to begin with. He looked mean and stupid. No better way to put it. And not a good combination. There was something in his face. I didn't like him. I was oh-for-two, as far as liking my new colleagues went.

"It's not a difficult question," I said.

"Paulie," he said.

I nodded. "Pleased to meet you, Paulie. I'm Reacher."

"I know," he said. "You were in the army."

"You got a problem with that?"

"I don't like officers."

I nodded. They had checked. They knew what rank I had held. They had some kind of access.

"Why not?" I asked. "Did you fail the OCS exam?"

He didn't answer.

"Let's go find Duke," I said.

He put his glass of water down and led me out to a back hallway and through a door to a set of wooden cellar stairs. There was a whole basement under the house. It must have been blasted out of solid rock. The walls were raw stone patched and smoothed with concrete. The air was a little damp and musty. There were naked lightbulbs hanging in wire cages close to the ceiling. There were numerous rooms. One was a good-sized space with white paint all over it. The floor was covered with white linoleum. There was a smell of old sweat. There was an exercise bicycle and a treadmill and a weights machine. There was a heavy bag hanging from a ceiling joist. There was a speed bag near it. Boxing gloves on a shelf. There were dumbbells stored in wall racks. There were free weights stacked loose on the floor next to a bench. Duke was standing right next to it. He was wearing his dark suit. He looked tired, like he had been up all night. He hadn't showered. His hair was a mess and his suit was creased and wrinkled, especially low down on the back of the coat.

Paulie went straight into some kind of a complicated stretching routine. He was so muscle-bound that his legs and arms had limited articulation. He couldn't touch his shoulders with his fingers. His biceps were too big. I looked at the weights machine. It had all kinds of handles and bars and grips. It had strong black cables that led through pulleys to a tall stack of lead plates. You would have to be able to lift about five hundred pounds to move them all.

"You working out?" I said to Duke.

"None of your business," he replied.

"Me either," I said.

Paulie turned his giant neck and glanced at me. Then he lay down on his back on the bench and shuffled around until his shoulders were positioned underneath a bar resting on a stand. The bar had a bunch of weights on either end. He grunted a bit and wrapped his hands around the bar and flicked his tongue in and out like he was preparing for a major effort. Then he pressed upward and lifted the bar off the stand. The bar bent and wobbled. There was so much weight on it that it curved way down at the ends, like old film of Russian weight-lifters at the Olympics. He grunted again and heaved it up until his arms were locked straight. He held it like that for a second and then crashed it back into the stand. He turned his head and looked straight at me, like I was supposed to be impressed. I was, and I wasn't. It was a lot of weight, and he had a lot of muscle. But steroid muscle is dumb muscle. It looks real good, and if you want to pit it against dead weight it works just fine. But it's slow and heavy and tires you out just carrying it around.

"Can you bench-press four hundred pounds?" he called. He was a little out of breath.

"Never tried," I said.

"Want to try now?"

"No," I said.

"Wimpy little guy like you, it could build you up."

"I'm officer class," I said. "I don't need building up. I want some four-hundred-pound weight bench-pressed, I just find some big stupid ape and tell him to do it for me."

He glowered at me. I ignored him and looked at the heavy bag. It was a standard piece of gym equipment. Not new. I pushed it with my palm and set it swinging gently on its chain. Duke was watching me. Then he was glancing at Paulie. He had picked up on some vibe I hadn't. I pushed the bag again. We had used heavy bags extensively in hand-to-hand combat training. We would be wearing dress uniforms to simulate street clothes and we used the bags to learn how to kick. I once split a heavy bag with the edge of my heel, years ago. The sand dumped right out on the floor. I figured that would impress Paulie. But I wasn't going to try it again. The e-mail thing was hidden in my heel and I didn't want to damage it. I made an absurd mental note to tell Duffy she should have put it in the left shoe instead. But then, she was left-handed. Maybe she had thought she was doing the right thing all along.

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