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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(41)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(41)
Author: Lee Child

I said, ‘Only technically. Children of serving military are considered born in America for all legal and constitutional purposes.’

‘Serving military?’

‘You remember us, I’m sure. We came and kicked your ass in Kosovo.’

The guy paused a beat, and said, ‘And now you’re a bodyguard?’

I nodded.

I said, ‘You better believe it.’

He handed my passport back. He didn’t look at Casey Nice’s. One was enough. He said, ‘Come in the room and we’ll talk.’

The room was a semi-tight fifteen-by-fifteen space, walled off from the workshop many decades previously, in a fairly arbitrary position, to do with power lines, possibly. The walls looked like single-skin brick, plastered smooth and painted with shiny institutional paint, dull green in colour, like pea soup. There was a window with a metal frame, with a desk under it, and three armchairs. No gun cabinets. No closets. Just a place for doing business, like a salesman’s office behind a lot full of ten-year-old cars.

The guy said, ‘Please take a seat,’ and when we didn’t he took one himself, going first, perhaps as an example, or a reassurance.

We took a seat.

The guy said, ‘What are you looking for?’

I said, ‘What have you got?’

‘Handgun?’

‘Two. We both carry. People don’t expect that.’

‘What do you like?’

‘Anything that works. And that you’ve got ammunition for.’

‘Mostly we have nine-millimetre. It’s easy to get in Europe.’

‘Works for me.’

‘You like Glock?’

‘Is that what you’ve got?’

‘It’s what we’ve got most of. Glock 17s, brand new, if you want a matching pair.’

‘And a hundred rounds each.’

The guy paused a beat, and then he nodded, and he said, ‘I’ll go get you a price.’

He got up out of his chair, and stepped out of the room.

He closed the door behind him.

And locked it.

THIRTY-TWO

FOR A SECOND I took the snick of the lock to be normal, somehow consistent with the whole cloak-and-dagger drama-queen bullshit we had seen since the beginning, starting with the gnome behind the pawn-shop counter. Exaggerated lock-and-key precautions at the warehouse end of the operation might be seen as authentic, by some buyers, and maybe exciting, somehow suggestive of other locks and keys, perhaps to whole storerooms stacked with boxes, each one full of weapons still dewy with oil.

Then in the second second I dismissed that theory, because it was a lock too far. At that point we were still equal parties to a negotiation, both sides on best behaviour, properly wary and sceptical, for sure, like buying a used car, but at least polite.

No one locks customers in a room. Not so early in the game.

Therefore the third second was spent understanding something was seriously wrong, a familiar chill stabbing my face and my neck and my chest, and then I was glancing at Casey Nice, which upped the stakes, because she was glancing back at me, and then I was mentally listing the factors we had to deal with, purely on autopilot in the back of my brain, walls, a door, a window, four guys outside, and then in the fourth second the who and the why hit me, which made the whole thing worse.

Because as far as the Serbians were concerned, we were customers, nothing more. Just possibly conceivably some kind of a weird student-exchange programme whereby FBI agents from America were moonlighting in London, maybe with London coppers doing the same thing in New York or LA or Chicago. But probably not. So we were customers, no different than a junkie talking to one of their dealers, or a john hiring one of their hookers. And customers get service, not a locked door. Or an enterprise goes out of business, pretty damn quick.

So why? Only two possibilities. The first of which I hashed through during the fifth second. Maybe the Romford Boys were in such a state they had put out a general alert, like a price on our heads, with descriptions, all across the network. Maybe Charlie White had a red telephone on his desk, like in the Oval Office, for pride-swallowing calls between bosses. Maybe on this occasion he was willing to take help from anyone who would sell it.

Or, during the sixth second, the second possibility, which was right there in O’Day’s own words, at the conference after the aborted barbecue dinner. A Serbian outfit in the west of London, and an old-fashioned English gang in the east. Karel Libor was a thorn in both their sides, according to MI5.

In both their sides. Which might make this whole thing a co-production. A joint venture. An alliance, just for the duration. A one-time truce. Shared aims, shared benefits, shared duties, shared information. Kott and Carson completely safe, the whole of London covered, from east to west, like the District Line. What would that cost? A steady hand and a steady eye and a .50-calibre round, obviously, but money too, probably. A lot of money. Again, O’Day’s own words. These people are throwing money around. They’re not looking for value. They’re looking for easy solutions, and they have the budget to make them happen.

But whichever, hired hands or co-equal partners, they had locked us in for a purpose. And that purpose was to keep us there, ahead of some kind of an upcoming predetermined event. Which would almost certainly be the arrival of a third party. The claimant. The vested interest. The prisoner escort. Little Joey, for sure, mob-handed, with a whole crowd of guys at his back. He would come in his Bentley, and there would be other cars, more Jaguars maybe, and at least one plain black van.

For us.

Not good.

Nice said, ‘We walked right into it, didn’t we?’

I said, ‘We’ve got some time.’

‘How much?’

‘Not sure. But London is big and traffic is slow and we’re all the way on the other side of town. They’ve got to get a little convoy together. That’s ten minutes, right there, even if they’re all on the ball. Then they’ll have to loop all the way north in a big wide circle, or come all the way through the centre of the city. The East End, Westminster, Paddington. Could be we have an hour. Or more than an hour. Could be we have nearer to ninety minutes.’

‘To do what?’

‘Whatever needs doing.’

‘Can you kick down the door?’

The door was a stout wooden item, hardened with age, well fitted in its frame.

‘I could from the outside,’ I said. ‘Probably. But not from the inside.’

‘Can we break the window?’

The window was not a Victorian original. It was a 1930s pattern, I thought, a replacement, enhanced by the benefits of science. Low maintenance, because it was made of aluminium or some kind of galvanized metal. Which was evidently strong enough to support large panes of glass, for extra daylight. Large enough panes for an average person to climb out. The glass looked perfectly normal. I said, ‘I think we’re going to have to break it, yes.’

‘Where does it lead?’ She answered her own question by peering out, close up, nose against the glass, left and right. There was nothing ahead except a blank brick wall. She said, ‘It’s an alley. Fairly long and narrow. I think it’s closed off at both ends. We’d be trapped in it. Unless we could get in some other building’s back window. And then out their front door.’

I said, ‘Don’t worry about all that now.’

‘So when should I worry about it?’

‘First we wait. Five minutes. We could be wrong. Maybe it was just an excess of enthusiasm. Maybe he’ll come back with a price.’

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