Home > Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(22)

Persuader (Jack Reacher #7)(22)
Author: Lee Child

"How is it up there?" Duffy asked.

"A nightmare," I said. I told her about the eight-foot granite wall and the razor wire and the gate and the metal detectors on the doors and the room with no inside keyhole. I told her about Paulie.

"Any sign of my agent?" she asked.

"I only just got there," I said.

"She's in that house," she said. "I have to believe that."

I said nothing.

"You need to make some progress," she said. "Every hour you spend there puts you deeper in trouble. And her."

"I know that," I said.

"What's Beck like?" she asked.

"Bent," I said. I told her about the fingerprints on the glass and the way the Maxima had disappeared. Then I told her about the Russian roulette.

"You played?"

"Six times," I said, and stared at the ramp.

She stared at me. "You're crazy. Six to one, you should be dead."

I smiled. "You ever played?"

"I wouldn't. I don't like those odds."

"You're like most people. Beck was the same. He thought the odds were six to one. But they're nearer six hundred to one. Or six thousand. You put a single heavy bullet in a well-made well-maintained gun like that Anaconda and it would be a miracle if the cylinder came to rest with the bullet near the top. The momentum of the spin always carries it to the bottom. Precision mechanism, a little oil, gravity helps you out. I'm not an idiot. Russian roulette is a lot safer than people think. And it was worth the risk to get hired."

She was quiet for a spell.

"You got a feeling?" she asked.

"He looks like a rug importer," I said. "There are rugs all over the damn place."

"But?"

"But he isn't," I said. "I'd bet my pension on it. I asked him about the rugs and he didn't say much. Like he wasn't very interested in them. Most people like to talk about their businesses. Most people, you can't shut them up."

"You get a pension?"

"No," I said.

Right then a gray Taurus identical to Duffy's except for the color burst up over the rise of the ramp. It slowed momentarily while the driver scanned around and then accelerated hard straight toward us. It was the old guy at the wheel, the one I had left in the gutter near the college gate. He slammed to a stop next to my blue truck and opened his door and heaved himself up and out in exactly the same way he had gotten out of the borrowed police Caprice. He had a big black-and-red Radio Shack bag in his hand. It was bulky with boxes. He held it up and smiled and stepped forward to shake my hand. He had a fresh shirt on, but his suit was the same. I could see blotches where he had tried to sponge the fake blood out. I could picture him, standing at his motel room sink, getting busy with the hand towel. He hadn't been very successful. It looked like he had been careless with the ketchup at dinner.

"They got you running errands already?" he asked.

"I don't know what they got me doing," I said. "We got a lead seal problem."

He nodded. "I figured. Shopping list like that, what else could it be?"

"You done one before?"

"I'm old-school," he said. "We did ten a day, once upon a time, way back. Truck stops all over the place, we'd be in and out before the guy had even ordered his soup."

He squatted down and emptied the Radio Shack bag on the blacktop. He had a soldering iron and a spool of dull solder. And an inverter that would power the iron from his car's cigar lighter. That meant he had to keep his engine running, so he started it up and reversed a little way so that the cord would reach.

The seal was basically a drawn lead wire with large tags molded on each end. The tags had been crushed together with some kind of a heated device so they had fused together in a large embossed blob. The old guy left the fused ends strictly alone. It was clear he had done this before. He plugged the iron in and let it heat. He tested it by spitting on the end. When he was satisfied he dabbed the tip on the sleeve of his suit coat and then touched it to the wire where it was thin. The wire melted and parted. He eased the gap wider like opening a tiny handcuff and slipped the seal out of its channel. He ducked into his car and laid it on the dash. I grabbed the door lever and turned it.

"OK," Duffy said. "So what have we got?"

We had rugs. The door rattled upward and daylight flooded the load area and we saw maybe two hundred rugs, all neatly rolled and tied with string and standing upright on their ends. They were all different sizes, with the taller rolls at the cab end and the shorter ones at the door end. They stepped down toward us like some kind of ancient basalt rock formation. They were rolled face-in, so all we saw were the back surfaces, coarse and dull. The string around them was rough sisal, old and yellowed. There was a strong smell of raw wool and a fainter smell of vegetable dye.

"We should check them," Duffy said. There was disappointment in her voice.

"How long have we got?" the old guy asked.

I checked my watch.

"Forty minutes," I said.

"Better just sample them," he said.

We hauled a couple out from the front rank. They were rolled tight. No cardboard tubes. They were just rolled in on themselves and tied tight with the string. One of them had a fringe. It smelled old and musty. The knots in the string were old and flattened. We picked at them with our nails but we couldn't get them undone.

"They must cut the string," Duffy said. "We can't do that."

"No," the old guy said. "We can't."

The string was coarse and looked foreign. I hadn't seen string like that for a long time. It was made from some kind of a natural fiber. Jute, maybe, or hemp.

"So what do we do?" the old guy asked.

I pulled another rug out. Hefted it in my hands. It weighed about what a rug should weigh. I squeezed it. It gave slightly. I rested it end-down on the road and punched it in the middle. It yielded a little, exactly how a tightly-rolled rug would feel.

"They're just rugs," I said.

"Anything under them?" Duffy asked. "Maybe those tall ones in back aren't tall at all. Maybe they're resting on something else."

We pulled rugs out one by one and laid them on the road in the order we would have to put them back in. We built ourselves a random zigzag channel through the load space. The tall ones were exactly what they appeared to be, tall rugs, rolled tight, tied with string, standing upright on their ends. There was nothing hidden. We climbed out of the truck and stood there in the cold surrounded by a crazy mess of rugs and looked at each other.

"It's a dummy load," Duffy said. "Beck figured you would find a way in."

"Maybe," I said.

"Or else he just wanted you out of the way."

"While he's doing what?"

"Checking you out," she said. "Making sure."

I looked at my watch. "Time to reload. I'm already going to have to drive like a madman."

"I'll come with you," she said. "Until we catch up with Eliot, I mean."

I nodded. "I want you to. We need to talk."

We put the rugs back inside, kicking and shoving them until they were neatly arranged in their original positions. Then I pulled the roller door down and the old guy got to work with the solder. He slipped the broken seal back through its channel and eased the parted ends close together. He heated the iron and bridged the gap with its tip and touched the free end of the solder roll to it. The gap filled with a large silvery blob. It was the wrong color and it was way too big. It made the wire look like a cartoon drawing of a snake that has just swallowed a rabbit.

 

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