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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(29)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(29)
Author: Lee Child

‘If I ask you a question, will I get an honest answer?’

‘Depends.’

‘How many other unacknowledged assets is the United States sending?’

‘Five.’

‘How many undercover Brits?’

‘Last I heard, thirteen.’

‘And what about the other six countries?’

‘They’ll send two each, except for Russia, who will match us with seven.’

‘When will they all arrive?’

‘Ahead of us, probably. We might be late to the party.’

‘And how busy are these boys in Romford?’

‘Busy doing what?’

‘Doing deals. With suppliers and wholesalers and retailers and stuff like that.’

‘I have no idea.’

‘At least moderately busy, right? Drugs and girls and guns is all about buying and selling. And there’s always some new face on the scene with a better price, at one end of the deal or the other. So from time to time they talk to unknown people. They’re somewhat accustomed to it. So if some stranger shows up dressed like a tough guy with a bullshit deal, they won’t think too much about it. Maybe not with the second guy, even. But you just counted thirty-seven people who are all going to have the same idea as Rick Shoemaker did. After the third or the fourth the cordon is going to start shooting on sight. So we’re not going to do the spider-web thing. We’re going to do something else.’

‘What else?’

‘I’ll explain it later,’ I said, because at that point I was drawing a blank, and she had only five pills left.

TWENTY-FOUR

I SLEPT FOR maybe three hours, bolt upright, head clamped, and then about ninety minutes before arrival the lights came on and a whole lot of crashing and banging started up in the galleys. Casey Nice had the look of a person who hadn’t slept at all. She was a little pale and shiny and feverish. The joys of all-night travel. She said, ‘Have you been to London before?’

‘A few times,’ I said.

‘What do I need to know?’

‘You haven’t been before?’

‘Not for work.’

‘This isn’t work. We’re unacknowledged, remember?’

‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘I’m about to walk into a foreign country and break about a hundred laws and treaties. They take a dim view of that.’

‘Scarangello told me.’

‘She was right.’

‘In which case the airport will be your biggest problem. We should assume they’re on heightened alert. And they’re paranoid anyway. They have cameras and one-way glass everywhere. They’ll be watching us from the minute we step out the plane. From the jet bridge onward, literally. Us and everyone else. They’re looking for nervous or furtive behaviour. Because this is their first and best chance to catch people. And it doesn’t help us if we’re turned away at the border or locked up for questioning. So don’t look nervous or furtive. Don’t think about the hundred laws or treaties. Think about something else entirely.’

‘Like what?’

‘What would you most like to do in London? Like a secret desire. As stupid as you want.’

‘You really want to know?’

‘I want you to imagine you’re doing it. Or heading straight for it. That’s why you’re here. You’re going to catch a cab and go right there.’

‘OK.’

‘And then after the airport it gets much easier. Except that every square inch of every public space has a camera on it. Plus most private spaces, too. London has a quarter of the whole world’s supply of closed circuit cameras, all in one city. It’s not possible to avoid them. We have to accept it and move on. We’re making a movie, whether we want to or not, and the only thing we can do about it is get out real fast afterwards, before they start to look at the tapes.’

‘If we find Kott and Carson, we won’t need to get out fast. We’ll be invited to Buckingham Palace to get a medal.’

‘Depends what we do with them after we find them. And how well we do it. I’m sure the Brits like a nice clean job just as much as we do, but if it’s not clean, they’ll sell us out in a heartbeat. They’ll get questions in their Parliament, and there are all kinds of hostile newspapers there, so it will take them about a second and a half to come out swinging. They’ll claim they wanted a legal arrest and a Miranda warning and a fair trial all along. They’ll call us illegal foreign mercenaries. Murderers, in fact. We’ll be denounced. And if necessary we’ll be sacrificed. So all in all I like the fast exit strategy better. Plus I have no desire to go to Buckingham Palace anyway.’

‘Wouldn’t you like to meet the Queen?’

‘Not really. She’s just a person. We’re all equal. Has she expressed any interest in meeting me?’

‘Don’t think like that in the airport. You’ll be arrested for sure. They’ll think you’ve come to blow her up.’

Mornings over Heathrow were busy times of day, in terms of air traffic, and we circled for more than forty minutes, in long lazy loops over the centre of London, with some passengers uptight about the so-near-and-yet-so-far feel of it all, and others happy just to watch the view out the window, of the snaking river and the huge, sprawling, spreading city, and the famous buildings strewn all around, tiny in the vertical distance, but impossibly detailed. Then we got serious and lined up on approach, and the wheels came down, and we waddled in, low and slow, to a smooth landing and a fast taxi.

Disembarking took a good long time, with people standing and stretching, and re-establishing contact with their cellular networks, and retrieving their luggage, and looking under their seats for the things they had lost. So we entered the terminal as part of a ragged linear crowd, ones and twos and threes, all separated but clearly associated, all heading the same way at roughly the same speed, which was about halfway between impatient and fatigued. I saw no furtive behaviour in the passengers ahead of me. I didn’t look behind, in case I looked furtive myself.

We had no problem at the passport desk, after a long wait in a long line. Casey Nice went first, with her paperwork neatly filled out, and I lip-read a question about why she was visiting, and I saw her say, ‘Vacation,’ and then add, ‘I mean a holiday,’ like a bilingual person. I went next, and was asked no questions. My new passport got its first stamp, and I re-joined Nice beyond the podiums, and we headed out through the baggage hall, to Her Majesty’s Customs. Who were not a problem either. They were heavily invested in the hidden-surveillance thing. We walked past about an acre of one-way windows, and no visible humans at all.

Then came crowds of people waiting to greet folks other than us, and cold morning air blowing in through the kerbside doors, and overhead signs listing our onward transportation options, which were railroad or subway or bus or taxi. Heathrow was way west, and our hotel was way east, which was a long enough ride to be easily memorable by a taxi driver, as his best fare of the week. Plus the wads of money handed over by Shoemaker, while generous, were not infinite.

So we opted for the subway, for the experience more than anything, and because I believe you can best sense the mood of a city in its tunnels. The reverberant acoustic amplifies feelings of fear or tension, or reveals their absence.

It was a long ride, on hard benches, with two connections, rushing and slamming through tubes barely wider than the cars themselves. I felt no special edge in the air. Plenty of normal workaday angst and worry, but nothing more than that. We got out at a place called Barking, into mid-morning sunlight. Casey Nice looked like an abandoned waif, standing on the sidewalk outside the station with her rolling suitcase, tired and a little dishevelled. She figured our hotel was still some ways away. A long walk. I saw no cruising cabs. Too far from the centre. She said, ‘We really need a Town Car.’

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