Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(11)


by Lee Child

‘Why don’t you drive on up and see for yourself?’

‘We’re in a rental. They make you pay now, if you blow a tyre. And that track looks pretty bad.’

The guy said, ‘I don’t know if he’s home.’

‘How long has he lived there?’

‘About a year.’

‘Is he working?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Then how does he pay the rent?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘Do you see him coming and going?’

‘If I happen to be watching.’

‘When was the last time you saw him?’

‘Can’t say for sure.’

‘Today? Yesterday?’

‘Can’t say. I don’t spend a lot of time watching.’

‘A month ago? Two months?’

‘Can’t say.’

I asked, ‘What does he drive?’

‘An old blue pick-up truck,’ the guy said. ‘A Ford, from way back long ago.’

‘You ever hear shooting up there?’

‘Up where?’

‘In the woods. Or the hills.’

‘This is Arkansas,’ the guy said.

‘Does Mr Kott get visitors?’

‘Can’t say.’

‘Any strange people hanging around?’

‘What kind of strange people?’

‘Strange foreign people, maybe.’

‘You’re the first I’ve seen in a long time.’

I said, ‘I’m not a strange foreign person. I’m neither of those things.’

He asked, ‘Where were you born?’

To which there was no good answer. He could tell by my voice I wasn’t born in the South. And New York or Chicago or Los Angeles would be all the same to him. So I told him the truth. I said, ‘West Berlin.’

He didn’t reply.

‘Marine family,’ I said.

‘I was air force,’ he said. ‘I don’t like the Marines. Bunch of showboating glory hunters, in my opinion.’

‘No offence taken,’ I said.

The guy turned away and looked at Casey Nice, top to bottom, bottom to top, quite slowly, and he said, ‘I’m guessing you were never in prison.’

She said, ‘Only because they’re not smart enough to catch me.’

The guy smiled and ran his tongue out through the gap in his teeth. He said, ‘Catch you doing what, little missy?’

Casey Nice said, ‘You should get that tooth fixed. You’d have a nice smile, if you did. And you should take the washing machine out of the yard. I don’t think it’s compulsory.’

‘Are you making fun of me?’ The guy stepped up and stared at her, and then he glanced at me, and I gave him a blank-eyed look, like I had a fifth of a second to decide whether to leave him limping for a week, or in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He paused a beat, and then he said, ‘Well, I hope y’all have a nice visit with your buddy,’ and he walked away, around the back of his house again, but this time on the dish side. We stood for a second in the weak spring sun, and then we got back in the rented truck and aimed it across the two-lane’s hump, straight at the mouth of Kott’s stony track.

NINE

THE TRACK WAS little better than a dry riverbed, but at least it wasn’t straight. Not at first. It came in off the two-lane at a shallow angle, and then it turned sharp right, to climb up a bank, before it curved left again, to align itself with the ravine it was following. Then it was going to hairpin right. And beyond that we couldn’t see. Casey Nice was hunched forward, fighting the wheel, which was writhing and bucking in her hands.

I said, ‘You need to sit back. In fact you need to push your chair back.’

‘Why?’

‘Because when the shooting starts, you need to get down in the foot well. I don’t know if the engine in this thing is iron or aluminium, but either one is good protection. If you’re not killed instantly, that is.’

‘He’s in London.’

‘One of them is. The other three aren’t.’

‘He’s the pick of the litter.’

‘He’s been in prison fifteen years.’

‘With a plan. Either it worked or it didn’t. If it did, he’s as good as he ever was. Which is plenty good enough for Paris. Or he might even be better than he ever was. Have you thought of that? Which would be superhuman, basically.’

‘Is that the State Department’s official in-house analysis? You guys should stick to passports and visas.’

We crawled on up, towards the blind hairpin turn. We saw no surveillance. No one was monitoring our progress. The ravine we were following would look small from the air, like a scratch on a lover’s back, but up close and personal, on a human scale, it was plenty impressive. It was maybe thirty feet deep, like a long gash from a raked claw, and the bottom was filled with broken and tumbled rocks, so that not much grew there except small hardy weeds and bushes. The trees restarted at the tops of the banks, and their leaves were out, still curled and half-sized, but numerous enough to block the view.

I said, ‘Maybe we should walk from here.’

‘Seven feet apart?’

‘At least.’

She slowed the truck and came to a bouncing stop. There was nowhere to pull off. The track was about one truck wide. Which was good. I said, ‘If he’s out at the grocery store we’ll hear him get back. He’s going to honk his horn when he finds this thing here.’

‘He’s in London.’

‘Stay with the truck, if you want.’

‘I don’t want.’

‘Then you go first. Like you were selling encyclopedias. He won’t shoot you.’

‘You sure?’

‘You haven’t challenged him yet.’

‘See? You do know something about him.’

‘I’ll be about twenty yards behind. Holler if there’s a problem.’

I watched her go. She stepped neatly from rock to rock in the centre of the track, and carefully, as if the streambed had water in it, and she needed to keep her feet dry. I followed twenty yards back, stepping longer but slower, planting my feet like climbing a hill, even though the slope was gradual. She paused before the hairpin and looked back, and I shrugged, and she moved on out of sight. I stopped for a moment and listened hard, but heard nothing except the click of stones under her feet, so I moved on after her, a little faster, aiming to close the gap to what it had been before.