Home > High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(13)

High Heat (Jack Reacher #17.5)(13)
Author: Lee Child

The door opened and he struggled upright and backed off a yard, just in case. But there was no sound inside. Croselli didn’t come out. There was nothing to see. Just darkness. The inside air smelled hot and stale.

Reacher stepped in, to what felt like a narrow lobby with a tiled floor. He slid his feet ahead, one after the other, and he felt a bottom stair. There was a handrail on the left. The opposite wall was less than three feet away. It was painted, and it was damp with condensation.

Reacher went up the stairs, his right hand out in front of him, his left holding the handrail. There was a yard-wide half landing, and then the stairs doglegged and continued upward. At the top was dusty superheated air and a six-by-three upstairs lobby with a sticky carpet and a door at each end. A front room, and a back room.

Under the back room door was a bar of faint warm light.

Reacher stared at it, like a thirsty man in the desert might stare at a cold drink. It was a candle, probably. It was the first manmade light he had seen in more than three hours.

He put his hand under his shirt at the back and pushed the button Hemingway had showed him. It’s red, she had said, which hadn’t helped, because he didn’t have eyes in the back of his head, and it was pitch dark anyway. So he had learned it by feel. He tapped his chest, so that a thump could mark the start of the recording. Then he put his hand on the doorknob.

* * *

Reacher twisted the knob and pushed the door, one, two, fast and hard, and he stepped into a room lit by a guttering candle. The flame danced in the rush of air. The room was a twenty-by-twenty space with a dark window in the back wall, and a row of old-fashioned safes on the left, like something out of a black-and-white Western movie about bank robbers, and on the right there was a row of file cabinets and a desk, and sitting at the desk in a leather reclining chair was Croselli. The chair was pushed out and turned sideways, so that he was sitting face-on to the door.

He had a gun in his hand.

It was a Colt M1911, a .45 automatic, standard military issue for sixty-six years, hence the model number. It looked a little scratched and battered. It was all lit up by the candle, which was on the desk, welded to a china plate by a pool of its own wax. A standard household item, a few cents at the hardware store, but it felt as bright as the sun.

Croselli said, “You.”

Reacher said nothing.

Croselli had shed his jacket and pulled down his tie, but his shirt was still wet. He said, “I was expecting Hemingway. What are you tonight, her knight in shining armor? Is she sending a boy to do a man’s job?”

Is he armed? Reacher had asked. Not in the city, Hemingway had said. He can’t afford to be. Not applicable inside his own premises, apparently. Which was a bitch. Reacher looked at the row of safes. There were six of them, shoulder to shoulder, each one about a yard wide and six feet tall. They had keyholes, not combination locks. The door on the far end was wide open, and the void behind it was empty. Their armory, Reacher guessed. For dire emergencies. Like that very night. Clearly Croselli’s soldiers were all armed, all out on the street, all insuring protection.

“You have a gun,” Reacher said, for the tape.

“I’m defending my property,” Croselli said.

“This is your place?”

“I’m not a common burglar.”

Reacher took a step. The Colt’s muzzle rose a degree, to track him. Reacher asked, “Is your name on the title?”

“I’m not that stupid.”

“Then this isn’t your place.”

“Only technically. Believe me, kid, everything you see here is mine.”

“What’s in the safes?”

“Inventory.”

“Yours?”

“I already told you.”

“I need to hear it in short simple words.”

“Why?”

“We could do business.”

“Business?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You and me?”

“If you’re smart,” Reacher said.

“You broke down my door.”

“Would you have let me in, if I had knocked?”

“What kind of business could we do, you and I?”

“You’re using the New Jersey Turnpike and the Holland Tunnel. Which means you’re getting supplied out of Miami, all the way up I-95. Which means you’re paying over the odds, and you’re losing some to unreliable mules, and you’re losing some to routine New Jersey State Police patrols. I could help you with all of that.”

“How?”

“I bring stuff in direct from the Far East. On military planes. No scrutiny. My dad’s a Marine officer.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Anything you want.”

“What kind of price, kid?”

“Show me what you’ve got and tell me what you paid. Then I’ll break your heart.”

“You hurt two of my men.”

Reacher said, “I hope so. I need you to understand. You do not mess with me.” He took another step. The Colt’s muzzle rose another degree. Reacher said, “Are you buying from Martinez?”

“I never heard of Martinez.”

“Then you’re way over the odds already. Who are you buying from?”

“The Medellin boys.”

“I could save you forty percent.”

Croselli said, “I think you’re full of shit. I think this is a Hemingway stunt.”

“You shut her down.”

“For which I paid good money. For which I expected a durable result. Anything else is liable to make me angry.”

“This has nothing to do with Hemingway.”

“Pull up your shirt.”

“Why?”

“I want to see the wire. Before I shoot you.”

Reacher thought: unregistered guns, a deceptive real estate title, a straight-up reference to the Medellin cartel out of Colombia, and a straight-up reference to bribery. The tape had enough. He took a deep, deep breath and put his hands on the hem of his T shirt. Then he jerked forward from the waist and blew out the candle.

* * *

The room went from softly glowing to blacker than the Earl of Hell’s winter coat all in a split second, and Reacher blundered straight ahead, forcing passage between Croselli’s chair and the desk, and Croselli whipped the Colt around in the same general direction and fired. But he missed by a mile, and the muzzle flash backlit him perfectly, like a photographer’s strobe, so Reacher picked his spot and slammed a straight right into the back of his neck, right where soft turns to hard, and Croselli pitched head first out of the chair and landed on his knees. Reacher groped for the chair and lifted it high by the armrests and slammed it down on Croselli’s back. He heard the sound of steel on linoleum as the Colt skittered away, and he brushed the chair aside and groped and patted blindly until he found the collar of Croselli’s shirt, which he bunched in his left hand while he pounded away with his right, short roundhouse punches to the side of Croselli’s head, his ear, his jaw, one, two, three, four, vicious clubbing blows, until he felt the steam go out of the guy, whereupon he reached forward and grabbed the guy’s wrists and yanked them up behind his back, high and painful, and he clamped them together in his left hand, human handcuffs, a party trick perfected years before, enabled by the freakish strength in his fingers, from which no one had ever escaped, not even his brother, who was of equal size, or his father, who was smaller but stronger. He hauled Croselli to his feet and slapped at his pants pockets until he heard the jingle of keys. Croselli got his second wind and started struggling hard, so Reacher turned him a little sideways and quieted him down again with a pile-driver jab to the kidney.

 

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