Killing Floor by Lee Child

Chapter Fifteen

I HEADED OVER TO WARBURTON A DAMN SIGHT FASTER than the prison driver had and I was there in less than fifty minutes. It was a hell of a sight. There was a storm coming in quickly from the west and shafts of low afternoon sun were escaping the clouds and hitting the place. The glittering metal towers and turrets were catching the orange rays. I slowed up and pulled into the prison approach. Stopped outside the first vehicle cage. I wasn't going in there. I'd had enough of that. Spivey was going to have to come out to me. I got out of the Bentley and walked over to the guard. He seemed friendly enough.

"Spivey on duty?" I asked him.

"You want him?" the guard said.

"Tell him Mr. Reacher's here," I said.

The guy ducked under a Perspex hood and made a call. Ducked back out again and shouted over to me.

"He doesn't know any Mr. Reacher," he said.

"Tell him Chief Morrison sent me," I said. "Over from Margrave. "

The guy went under the Perspex thing again and started talking. After a minute he was back out.

"OK, drive on through," he said. "Spivey will meet you at reception. "

"Tell him he's got to come out here," I said. "Meet me on the road. "

I walked away and stood in the dust on the edge of the blacktop. It was a battle of nerves. I was betting Spivey would come on out. I'd know in five minutes. I waited. I could smell rain coming out of the west. In an hour, it was going to roll right over us. I stood and waited.

Spivey came out. I heard the grilles on the vehicle cage grinding across. I turned and saw a dirty Ford driving through. It came out and stopped next to the Bentley. Spivey heaved himself out. He walked over. Big guy, sweating, red face and hands. His uniform was dirty.

"Remember me?" I asked him.

His small snake eyes flicked around. He was adrift and worried.

"You're Reacher," he said. "So what?"

"Right," I said. "I'm Reacher. From Friday. What was the deal?"

He shifted from foot to foot. He was going to play hard to get. But he'd already showed his hand. He'd come out to meet me. He'd already lost the game. But he didn't speak.

"What was the deal on Friday?" I said again.

"Morrison is dead," he said. Then he shrugged and clamped his thin lips. Wouldn't say any more.

I stepped casually to my left. Just a foot or so, to put Spivey's bulk between me and the gate guard. So the gate guard couldn't see. Morrison's switchblade appeared in my hand. I held it up at Spivey's eye level for a second. Just long enough for him to read the gold-filled engraving in the ebony. Then the blade popped out with a loud click. Spivey's small eyes were fixed on it.

"You think I used this on Morrison?" I said.

He was staring at the blade. It shone blue in the stormy sun.

"It wasn't you," he said. "But maybe you had good reason. "

I smiled at him. He knew it wasn't me who killed Morrison. Therefore he knew who had. Therefore he knew who Morrison's bosses were. Simple as that. Three little words, and I was getting somewhere. I moved the blade a fraction closer to his big red face.

"Want me to use this on you?" I said.

Spivey looked around wildly. Saw the gate guard thirty yards away.

"He's not going to help you," I said. "He hates your useless fat guts. He's just a guard. You sucked ass and got promotion. He wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. Why should he?"

"So what do you want?" Spivey said.

"Friday," I said. "What was the deal?"

"And if I tell you?" he said.

I shrugged at him.

"Depends what you tell me," I said. "You tell me the truth, I'll let you go back inside. Want to tell me the truth?"

He didn't reply. We were just standing there by the road. A battle of nerves. His nerves were shot to hell. So he was losing. His little eyes were darting about. They always came back to the blade.

"OK, I'll tell you," he said. "Time to time, I helped Morrison out. He called me Friday. Said he was sending two guys over. Names meant nothing to me. Never heard of you or the other guy. I was supposed to get the Hubble guy killed. That's all. Nothing was supposed to happen to you, I swear it. "

"So what went wrong?" I asked him.

"My guys screwed up," he said. "That's all, I swear it. It was the other guy we were after. Nothing was supposed to happen to you. You got out of there, right? No damage done, right? So why give me a hard time?"

I flashed the blade up real quick and nicked his chin. He froze in shock. A moment later a fat worm of dark blood welled out of the cut.

"What was the reason?" I asked him.

"There's never a reason," he said. "I just do what I'm told. "

"You do what you're told?" I said.

"I do what I'm told," he said again. "I don't want to know any reasons. "

"So who told you what to do?" I said.

"Morrison," he said. "Morrison told me what to do. "

"And who told Morrison what to do?" I asked him.

I held the blade an inch from his cheek. He was just about whimpering with fear. I stared into his small snake eyes. He knew the answer. I could see that, far back in those eyes. He knew who told Morrison what to do.

"Who told him what to do?" I asked him again.

"I don't know," he said. "I swear it, grave of my mother. "

I stared at him for a long moment. Shook my head.

"Wrong, Spivey," I said. "You do know. You're going to tell me. "

Now Spivey shook his head. His big red face jerked from side to side. The blood was running down his chin onto his slabby jowls.

"They'll kill me if I do," he said.

I flicked the knife at his belly. Slit his greasy shirt.

"I'll kill you if you don't," I said.

Guy like Spivey, he thinks short term. If he told me, he'd die tomorrow. If he didn't tell me, he'd die today. That's how he thought. Short term. So he set about telling me. His throat started working up and down, like it was too dry to speak. I stared into his eyes. He couldn't get any words out. He was like a guy in a movie who crawls up a desert dune and tries to call for water. But he was going to tell me.

Then he wasn't. Over his shoulder, I saw a dust plume far in the east. Then I heard the faint roar of a diesel engine. Then I made out the gray shape of the prison bus rolling in. Spivey snapped his head around to look at his salvation. The gate guard wandered out to meet the bus. Spivey snapped his head back to look at me. There was a mean gleam of triumph in his eyes. The bus was getting closer.

"Who was it, Spivey?" I said. "Tell me now, or I'll come back for you. "

But he just backed off and turned and hustled over to his dirty Ford. The bus roared in and blew dust all over me. I closed up the switchblade and put it back in my pocket. Jogged over to the Bentley and took off.

THE COMING STORM CHASED ME ALL THE WAY BACK EAST. I felt I had more than a storm after me. I was sick with frustration. This morning I had been just one conversation away from knowing everything. Now I knew nothing. The situation had suddenly turned sour.

I had no backup, no facilities, no help. I couldn't rely on Roscoe or Finlay. I couldn't expect either of them to agree with my agenda. And they had troubles of their own up at the station house. What had Finlay said? Working under the enemy's nose? And I couldn't expect too much from Picard. He was already way out on a limb. I couldn't count on anybody but myself.

On the other hand, I had no laws to worry about, no inhibitions, no distractions. I wouldn't have to think about Miranda, probable cause, constitutional rights. I wouldn't have to think about reasonable doubt or rules of evidence. No appeal to any higher authority for these guys. Was that fair? You bet your ass. These were bad people. They'd stepped over the line a long time ago. Bad people. What had Finlay said? As bad as they come. And they had killed Joe Reacher.

I rolled the Bentley down the slight hill to Roscoe's house. Parked on the road outside her place. She wasn't home. The Chevrolet wasn't there. The big chrome clock on the Bentley's dash showed ten of six. Ten minutes to wait. I got out of the front seat and got into the back. Stretched out on the big old car's leather bench.

I wanted to get away from Margrave for the evening. I wanted to get out of Georgia altogether. I found a map in a pocket on the back of the driver's seat. I peered at it and figured if we went west for an hour, hour and a half, back past Warburton again, we'd cross the state line into Alabama. That's what I wanted to do. Blast west with Roscoe into Alabama and pull into the first live music bar we came to. Put my troubles on hold until tomorrow. Eat some cheap food, drink some cold beer, hear some dirty music. With Roscoe. My idea of a hell of an evening. I settled back to wait for her. The dark was gathering in. I felt a faint chill in the evening air. About six o'clock huge drops started hammering on the roof of the Bentley. It felt like a big evening thunderstorm was moving in, but it never really arrived. It never really let loose. Just the big early drops spattering down like the sky was straining to unload but wouldn't let go. It went very dark and the heavy car rocked gently in the damp wind.

ROSCOE WAS LATE. THE STORM HAD BEEN THREATENING FOR about twenty minutes before I saw her Chevy winding down the rise. Her headlights swept and arced left and right. They washed over me as she swung into her driveway. They blazed against her garage door, then died as she cut the power. I got out of the Bentley and stepped over to her. We held each other and kissed. Then we went inside.

"You OK?" I asked her.

"I guess," she said. "Hell of a day. "

I nodded. It had been.

"Upset?" I asked her.

She was moving around switching lamps on. Pulling drapes.

"This morning was the worst thing I've ever seen," she said. "By far the worst thing. But I'm going to tell you something I would never tell anyone else. I wasn't upset. Not about Morrison. You can't get upset about a guy like that. But I'm upset about his wife. Bad enough living with a guy like Morrison without dying because of him too, right?"

"What about the rest of it?" I asked her. "Teale?"

"I'm not surprised," she said. "That whole family has been scum for two hundred years. I know all about them. His family and my family go way back together. Why should he be any different? But, God, I'm glad everybody else in the department turned out clean. I was dreading finding out one of those guys had been in it, too. I don't know if I could have faced that. "

She went into the kitchen and I followed. She went quiet. She wasn't falling apart, but she wasn't happy. She pulled open the refrigerator door. It was a gesture which said: the cupboard is bare. She smiled a tired smile at me.

"You want to buy me dinner?" she said.

"Sure," I said. "But not here. In Alabama. "

I told her what I wanted to do. She liked the plan. She brightened up and went to take a shower. I figured I could use a shower too, so I went with her. But we hit a delay because as soon as she started to unbutton her crisp uniform shirt, my priorities shifted. The lure of an Alabama bar receded. And the shower could wait, too. She was wearing black underwear beneath the uniform. Not very substantial items. We ended up in a frenzy on the bedroom floor. The thunderstorm was finally breaking outside. The rain was lashing the little house. Lightning was blazing and the thunder was crashing about.

We finally made it to the shower. By then, we really needed it. Afterward I lay on the bed while Roscoe dressed. She put on faded denims and a silky shirt. We turned off the lamps again and locked up and took off in the Bentley. It was seven thirty and the storm was drifting off to the east, heading for Charleston before boiling out over the Atlantic. Might hit Bermuda tomorrow. We headed west toward a pinker sky. I found the road back out to Warburton. Cruised down the farm roads between the endless dark fields and blasted past the prison. It squatted glowering in its ghastly yellow light.

A half hour after Warburton we stopped to fill the old car's gigantic tank. Threaded through some tobacco country and crossed the Chattahoochee by an old river bridge in Franklin. Then a sprint down to the state line. We were in Alabama before nine o'clock. We agreed to take a chance and stop at the first bar.

We saw an old roadhouse maybe a mile later. Pulled into the parking lot and got out. Looked OK. Big enough place, wide and low, built from tarred boards. Plenty of neon, plenty of cars in the lot, and I could hear music. The sign at the door said The Pond, live music seven nights a week at nine thirty. Roscoe and I held hands and walked in.

We were hit by bar noise and jukebox music and a blast of beery air. We pushed through to the back and found a wide ring of booths around a dance floor with a stage beyond. The stage was really just a low concrete platform. It might once have been some kind of a loading bay. The ceiling was low and the light was dim. We found an empty booth and slid in. Watched the band setting up while we waited for service. The waitresses were rushing around like basketball centers. One dived over and we ordered beers, cheese-burgers, fries, onion rings. Pretty much right away she ran back with a tin tray with our stuff on it. We ate and drank and ordered more.

"So what are you going to do about Joe?" Roscoe asked me.

I was going to finish his business. Whatever it was. Whatever it took. That was the decision I had made in her warm bed that morning. But she was a police officer. She was sworn to uphold all kinds of laws. Laws that were designed to get in my way. I didn't know what to say. But she didn't wait for me to say anything.

"I think you should find out who it was killed him," she said.

"And then what?" I asked her.

But that was as far as we got. The band started up. We couldn't talk anymore. Roscoe gave an apologetic smile and shook her head. The band was loud. She shrugged, saying sorry for the fact that I couldn't hear her talking. She sketched me a tell-you-later gesture across the table and we turned to face the stage. I wished I could have heard her reply to my question.

THE BAR WAS CALLED THE POND AND THE BAND WAS called Pond Life. They started pretty well. A classic trio. Guitar, bass, drums. Firmly into the Stevie Ray Vaughan thing. Since Stevie Ray died in his helicopter up near Chicago it seemed like you could count up all the white men under forty in the southern states, divide by three, and that was the number of Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute bands. Everybody was doing it. Because it didn't require much. Didn't matter what you looked like, didn't matter what gear you had. All you needed was to get your head down and play. The best of them could match Stevie Ray's on-a-dime changes from loose bar rock to the old Texas blues.

This lot was pretty good. Pond Life. They lived up to their ironic name. The bass and the drums were big messy guys, lots of hair all over, fat and dirty. The guitar player was a small dark guy, not unlike old Stevie Ray himself. The same gappy grin. He could play, too. He had a black Les Paul copy and a big Marshall stack. Good old-fashioned sound. The loose heavy strings and the big pickups overloading the ancient Marshall tubes, giving that glorious fat buzzy scream you couldn't get any other way.

We were having a good time. We drank a lot of beer, sat tight together in the booth. Then we danced for a while. Couldn't resist it. The band played on and on. The room got hot and crowded. The music got louder and faster. The waitresses sprinted back and forth with long-neck bottles.

Roscoe looked great. Her silky shirt was damp. She wasn't wearing anything underneath it. I could see that because of the way the damp silk stuck to her skin. I was in heaven. I was in a plain old bar with a stunning woman and a decent band. Joe was on hold until tomorrow. Margrave was a million miles away. I had no problems. I didn't want the evening to end.

The band played on until pretty late. Must have been way past midnight. We were juiced up and sloppy. Couldn't face the drive back. It was raining again, lightly. Didn't want to drive an hour and a half in the rain. Not so full of beer. Might end up in a ditch. Or in jail. There was a sign to a motel a mile further on. Roscoe said we should go there. She was giggly about it. Like we were eloping or something. Like I'd transported her across the state line for that exact purpose. I hadn't, specifically. But I wasn't about to put up a whole lot of objections.

So we stumbled out of the bar with ringing ears and got into the Bentley. We rolled the big old car cautiously and slowly down the streaming road for a mile. Saw the motel up ahead. A long, low old place, like something out of a movie. I pulled into the lot and went into the office. Roused the night guy at the desk. Gave him the money and arranged an early morning call. Got the key and went back out to the car. I pulled it around to our cabin and we went in. It was a decent, anonymous place. Could have been anywhere in America. But it felt warm and snug with the rain pattering on the roof. And it had a big bed.

I didn't want Roscoe to catch a chill. She ought to get out of that damp shirt. That's what I told her. She giggled at me.

Said she hadn't realized I had medical qualifications. I told her we'd been taught enough for basic emergencies.

"Is this a basic emergency?" she giggled.

"It will be soon," I laughed, "if you don't take that shirt off. "

So she did take it off. Then I was all over her. She was so beautiful, so provocative. She was ready for anything.

Afterward we lay in an exhausted tangle and talked. About who we were, about what we'd done. About who we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. She told me about her family. It was a bad-luck story stretching back generations. They sounded like decent people, farmers, people who had nearly made it but never did. People who had struggled through the hard times before chemicals, before machinery, hostages to the power of nature. Some old ancestor had nearly made it big, but he lost his best land when Mayor Teale's great-grandfather built the railroad. Then some mortgages were called in and the grudge rolled on down the years so that now she loved Margrave but hated to see Teale walking around like he owned it, which he did, and which Teales always had.

I talked to her about Joe. I told her things I'd never told anybody else. All the stuff I'd kept to myself. All about my feelings for him and why I felt driven to do something about his death. And how I was happy to do it. We went through a lot of personal stuff. Talked for a long time and fell asleep in each other's arms.

SEEMED LIKE MORE OR LESS STRAIGHTAWAY THE GUY WAS banging on the door with the early morning call. Tuesday. We got up and staggered around. The early sun was struggling against a damp dawn. Within five minutes we were back in the Bentley rolling east. The rising sun was blinding on the dewy windshield.

Slowly we woke up. We crossed the state line back into Georgia. Crossed the river in Franklin. Settled into a fast cruise through the empty farming country. The fields were hidden under a floating quilt of morning mist. It hung over the red earth like steam. The sun climbed up and set about burning it off.

Neither of us spoke. We wanted to preserve the quiet intimate cocoon as long as possible. Arriving back in Margrave was going to burst the bubble soon enough. So I guided the big stately car down the country roads and hoped. Hoped there'd be plenty more nights like that one. And quiet mornings like this one. Roscoe was curled up on the big hide chair beside me. Lost in thought. She looked very content. I hoped she was.

We blasted past Warburton again. The prison floated like an alien city on the carpet of low mist. We passed the little copse I'd seen from the prison bus. Passed the rows of bushes invisible in the fields. Reached the junction and turned south onto the county road. Past Eno's diner and the station house and the firehouse. Down onto Main Street. We turned left at the statue of the man who took good land for the railroad. Down the slope to Roscoe's place. I parked at the curb and we got out, yawning and stretching. We grinned briefly at each other. We'd had fun. We walked hand in hand down the driveway.

Her door was open. Not wide open, but an inch or two ajar. It was ajar because the lock was smashed. Someone had used a crowbar on it. The tangle of broken lock and splinters wouldn't allow the door to close all the way. Roscoe put her hand to her mouth and gave a silent gasp. Her eyes were wide. They slid from the door to me.

I grabbed her elbow and pulled her away. We stood flat against the garage door. Crouched down. Stuck close to the walls and circled right around the house. Listened hard at every window and risked ducking our heads up for a quick glance into every room. We arrived back at the smashed front door. We were wet from kneeling on the soaked ground and from brushing against the dripping evergreens. We stood up. Looked at each other and shrugged. Pushed the door open and went inside.

We checked everywhere. There was nobody in the house. No damage. No disturbance. Nothing was stolen. The stereo was still there, the TV was still there. Roscoe checked her closet. The police revolver was still on her belt. She checked her drawers and her bureau. Nothing had been touched. Nothing had been searched. Nothing was missing. We stood back in the hallway and looked at each other. Then I noticed something that had been left behind.

The low morning sun was coming in through the open door and playing a shallow beam over the floor. I could see a line of footprints on the parquet. A lot of footprints. Several people had tracked through from the front door into the living room. The line of prints disappeared on the bold living room rug. Reappeared on the wood floor leading into the bedroom. Came back out, through the living room, back to the front door. They had been made by people coming in from the rainy night. A slight film of muddy rainwater had dried on the wood leaving faint prints. Faint, but perfect. I could see at least four people. In and out. I could see the tread patterns they had left behind. They had been wearing rubber overshoes. Like you get for the winter up north.
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