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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(34)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(34)
Author: Lee Child

‘This is a different country.’

‘Cops are the same the world over. I know, because I was one, and I met plenty of others. Including here. This is not a different country when it comes to cops.’

‘Maybe that’s what they call their ID here.’

‘I think they call it a warrant card.’

‘Which he knew we wouldn’t understand. So he used different words.’

‘He would have said, I’m a police officer, and I’m going to put my hand in my pocket very slowly and show you ID. Or my ID. Or identification. Or credentials. Or something. But the word police would have been in there somewhere, for damn sure, and the word government would not have been, equally for damn sure.’

She said nothing for a minute, and then she bagged out her seat belt and squirmed around and knelt up for a look through the grille.

She said, ‘Reacher, one of them isn’t breathing.’

TWENTY-EIGHT

I GLANCED BACK, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the road long enough to be sure. Maybe he was just breathing very slowly. Casey Nice said, ‘Reacher, you have to do something.’

I said, ‘What am I, a doctor?’

‘We have to find a hospital.’

‘Hospitals have the cops on speed dial.’

‘We could dump the truck at the door, and run.’

I drove on, with no real idea where I was headed, taking the easy option at every junction, going with the flow, on roads that seemed endlessly long but never straight. I guessed we were aiming basically north, away from the river. I guessed Romford was somewhere on our right. We passed all kinds of places, including every kind of no-name fast food, kebabs, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and every kind of insurance bureau, and phone shops, and carpet shops. No hospitals. If the guy had stopped breathing, he had died minutes ago.

I pulled off into a lumpy blacktop rectangle boxed in on two sides by two rows of single-car garages. The space between them was empty, but for a broken and rusted bicycle. No people. No activity. I stopped the van and fumbled the shift into neutral and turned around.

And looked.

And waited.

The guy wasn’t breathing.

The other guy was staring at me. The bottom part of his face was a mask of red. The top part was pale. Now he was white. His nose was badly busted. His eyes were wide open. I said to him, ‘I’m going to come around and open up. You mess with me in any way at all, I’ll do to you what I did to him.’

He didn’t answer.

I said, ‘Do you understand?’

He said, ‘Yes.’

Little bubbles of blood formed at the corners of his mouth.

I opened the door and climbed out and walked around. Casey Nice did the same thing on her side. I turned the rear handle and opened up. The guy who was breathing was on the left, and the guy who wasn’t was on the right. I put my arm in, as a test. No reaction. So I found a wrist on the right and checked for a pulse.

Nothing there.

I leaned right in and knelt up and felt for the neck. The guy was still warm. I pulled his collar down a little and got my fingers in behind the point of his jaw. I kept them there a good long time, just in case. I looked here and there, waiting. The guy had a twice-pierced ear. And a small tattoo on his neck, just peeking out from under his collar. It looked like a leaf twisting in the wind.

He was dead.

I said, ‘We should search his pockets. We should search both of them.’

I stepped sideways, to start in on the live guy.

She said, ‘I can’t do that.’

I said, ‘Do what?’

‘Search a dead man.’

‘Why not?’

‘Too creepy.’

‘Want to swap?’

‘Could you do both?’

‘Sure,’ I said. So I did. The live guy had suspiciously little in his pockets. And what he had was a little suspicious. By the time I had finished with his pants I was sure he wasn’t a cop. He had too much cash money, for one thing. Hundreds and hundreds of British pounds, maybe even thousands, in a huge greasy roll. Cops are public servants, which doesn’t make them paupers, but they live lives of payments and budgets and credit cards bending under the strain. Added to which the guy had no communication device. Nothing at all. Nowhere. No cell phone, no radio. Which was unthinkable, for a cop during work hours.

I kept his money and passed his ID wallet to Nice and said, ‘Check it out.’

Then I started in on the dead guy, and came away with an identical haul. Cash money, and an ID wallet. I kept the money and gave the wallet to Nice. She had the first one in pieces. She said, ‘I guess you were right. This is phoney. The plastic is deliberately scratched, and I think the yellowing is a highlighter pen. The ID card is a Word document, and the shield is a low-resolution image printed off a website, I imagine.’

I looked back at the dead guy’s tattoo. Maybe it wasn’t a twisted leaf. Because why would a big tough guy want a twisted leaf? Or any kind of a leaf? Unless he was a conservationist, which I was sure he wasn’t.

Maybe it was something else.

I said, ‘Watch this.’

I leaned in and untied the guy’s tie, and snaked it out of his collar, and ripped open the first four buttons on his shirt, and folded it back like a guy at a disco way back in the day.

The tattoo was not a leaf. It was a curlicue, a little decorative flourish adorning the top left corner of a letter of the alphabet, a capital, which started the first word of a two-word name or label, written in a curve high on his chest, where a woman would wear a necklace.

Romford Boys.

‘In case they go to prison,’ I said. ‘The other guys leave them alone.’

I closed the doors again and checked the handle.

Secure.

Casey Nice said nothing.

‘What?’ I said.

‘It was too big of a risk. Suppose you were wrong? It was only words.’

‘It was people looking away. Because they know what’s good for them. Maybe they’re used to it. Maybe those black vans mean only one thing in that neighbourhood. Maybe that’s how people disappear, never to be seen again.’

She said nothing.

‘And there were only two of them. If we were being chased up as unacknowledged foreign assets, they’d have given the job to Special Branch, who need to justify their enormous budget, plus they love drama anyway, so they’d have brought half a dozen SWAT teams, with tear gas. We’d have been outnumbered fifty to one. It would have been a war zone. It’s not like the movies any more. They don’t walk around town wearing trench coats.’

‘When did you know?’

‘They should have used a sedan. And they should have said they were MI5. You expect all kinds of bullshit from those guys.’

We got back in the front of the van and I leaned over and checked the glove box. There were two cell phones in there, both pre-paid burners with a set number of pre-paid minutes, both still in their drugstore packaging, effectively untraceable if bought with cash, which I was sure they had been. Diligent security, overall. Clearly the Romford Boys ran a tight ship. Any kind of operation was a point of vulnerability. Even picking up two unsuspecting strangers outside a cheap hotel. Anything could have happened. We might have struggled, and an unbribed cop might have driven by, at exactly the wrong moment. Hence no guns, and no knives, and no used phones. Less latitude for the prosecutor, less data for the files.

I waggled the stick, left, and up, and bumped across the blacktop, back to the road.

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