The Hard Way by Lee Child


  Gloucester Terrace, Lancaster Gate. The kind of places that had thick crusted carpet in the hallways and thick scarred paint on the millwork and four meaningless symbols lit up above the front doors as if some responsible standards agency had evaluated the offered services and found them to be pleasing. Pauling rejected the first two places he found before understanding that there wasn't going to be anything better just around the next corner. So she gave up and agreed to the third, which was four neighboring townhouses knocked through to make a single long sloping not-quite-aligned building with a name seemingly picked at random from a selection of London tourist-trade hot-button buzzwords: Buckingham Suites. The desk guy was from Eastern Europe and was happy to take cash. The rate was cheap for London, if expensive for anyplace else in the world. There was no register. The Suites part of the name seemed to be justified by

  the presence of a small bathroom and a small table in each room. The bed was a queen with a green nylon counterpane. Beyond the bed and the bathroom and the table there wasn't a whole lot of space left.

  "We won't be here long," Reacher said.

  "It's fine,' Pauling said.

  She didn't unpack. Just propped her suitcase open on the floor and looked like she planned to live out of it. Reacher kept his toothbrush in his pocket. He sat on the bed while Pauling washed up. Then she came out of the bathroom and moved to the window and stood with her head tilted up, looking out over the rooftops and the chimneys opposite.

  "Nearly ninety-five thousand square miles," she said. "That's what's out there."

  "Smaller than Oregon," he said.

  "Oregon has three and a half million people. The U.K. has sixty million."

  "Harder to hide here, then. You've always got a nosy neighbor."

  "Where do we start?"

  "With a nap."

  "You want to sleep?"

  "Well, afterward."

  She smiled. It was like the sun coming out.

  "We'll always have Bayswater," she said.

  Sex and jet lag kept them asleep until four. Their one day's start, mostly gone.

  "Let's get going," Reacher said. "Let's call on the sisterhood."

  So Pauling got up and fetched her purse and took out a small device that Reacher hadn't seen her use before. An electronic organizer. A Palm Pilot. She called up a directory and scrolled down a screen and found a name and an address.

  "Gray's Inn Road," she said. "Is that near here?"

  "I don't think so," Reacher said. "I think it's east of here. Nearer the business district. Maybe where the lawyers are."

  "That would make sense."

  "Anyone closer?"

  "These people are supposed to be good."

  "We can get there on the subway, I guess. The Central Line, I think. To Chancery Lane. I should have bought a derby and an umbrella. I would have fit right in."

  "I don't think you would have. Those City people are very civilized." She rolled over on the bed and dialed the phone on the night table. Reacher heard the foreign ring tone from the earpiece, a double purr instead of a single. Then he heard someone pick up and he listened to Pauling's end of the conversation. She explained who she was, temporarily in town, a New York private investigator, ex-FBI, a member of some kind of an international organization, and she gave a contact name, and she asked for a courtesy appointment. The person on the other end must have agreed readily enough because she asked, "How does six o'clock suit you?" and then said nothing more than "OK, thank you, six o'clock it is," and hung up.

  Reacher said, "The sisterhood comes through."

  "Brotherhood," Pauling said. "The woman whose name I had seems to have sold the business. But they were always going to agree. Like that ten-sixty-two thing you tried with the general. What if they have to come to New York? If we don't help each other, who will?"

  Reacher said, "I hope Edward Lane doesn't have a Palm Pilot full of London numbers."

  They showered and dressed again and walked down to the subway stop at Lancaster Gate. Or, in London English, to the tube station. It had a dirty tiled lobby that looked like a ballpark toilet, except for a flower seller. But the platform was clean and the train itself was new. And futuristic. Somehow, like its name, it was more tubular than its New York counterparts. The tunnels were rounded, like they had been sucked down to an exact fit for the cars. Like the whole system could be powered by compressed air, not electricity.

  It was a crowded six-stop ride through stations with famous and romantic names. Marble Arch, Bond Street, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn. The names reminded Reacher of the cards in a British Monopoly set he had found abandoned on a NATO base as a kid. Mayfair and Park Lane had been the prize properties. Where the Park Lane Hilton was. Where Lane and his six guys were due in about eighteen hours.

  They came up out of the Chancery Lane station at a quarter to six into full daylight and narrow streets that were choked with traffic. Black cabs, red buses, white vans, diesel fumes, small five-door sedans that Reacher didn't recognize. Motorbikes, pedal bikes, sidewalks thick with people. Boldly striped pedestrian crossings, blinking lights, beeping signals. It was fairly cold but people were walking in shirtsleeves with jackets folded over their arms as if it was warm to them. There were no horns and no sirens. It was like the oldest parts of downtown Manhattan lopped off at the fifth floor and compressed in size and therefore heated up in speed but also somehow cooled down in temper and made more polite. Reacher smiled. Certainly he loved the open road and miles to go but he loved the crush of the worlds great cities just as much. New York yesterday, London today. Life was good.

  So far.

  They walked north on Gray's Inn Road, which looked longer than they had anticipated. There were old buildings left and right, modernized on the ground floors, ancient above. A sign said that the house where Charles Dickens had lived was ahead and on the left. But for all that London was a historic city Dickens wouldn't have recognized the place. No way. Not close. Even Reacher felt that things had changed a lot in the ten or so years since he had last been in town. He remembered red phone boxes and polite unarmed coppers in pointed hats. Now most of the phone boxes he saw were plain glass cabins and everyone was using cell phones anyway. And the cops he saw were patrolling in pairs, blank-faced, dressed in flak jackets and carrying Uzi machine pistols in the ready position. There were surveillance cameras on poles everywhere.

  Pauling said, "Big brother is watching you."

  "I see that," Reacher said. "We're going to have to take Lane out of town. Can't do anything to him here."

  Pauling didn't answer. She was checking doors for numbers. She spotted the one she wanted across the street on the right. It was a narrow maroon door with a glass fanlight. Through it Reacher could see a staircase that led to suites of rooms upstairs. Not dissimilar to Pauling's own place three thousand miles away. They crossed the street between standing traffic and checked the brass plates on the stonework. One was engraved: Investigative Services -pic. Plain script, plain message. Reacher pulled the door and thought it was locked until he remembered that British doors worked the other way around. So he pushed and found that it was open. The staircase was old but it was covered in new linoleum. They walked up two flights until they found the right door. It was standing open onto a small square room with a desk set at a forty-five-degree angle so that its occupant could see out the door and the window at the same time.

  The occupant was a small man with thin hair. He was maybe fifty years old. He was wearing a sleeveless sweater over a shirt and a tie.

  "You must be the Americans," he said. For a second Reacher wondered how exactly he had known. Clothes? Teeth? Smell? A deduction, like Sherlock Holmes? But then the guy said, "I stayed open especially for you. I would have been on my way home by now if you hadn't telephoned. I didn't have any other appointments."

  Pauling said, "Sorry to hold you up."

  "Not a problem," the guy said. "Always happy to help a fellow professional."

  "We're
looking for someone," Pauling said. "He arrived from New York two days ago. He's English, and his name is Taylor."

  The guy glanced up.

  "Twice in one day," he said. "Your Mr. Taylor is a popular person."

  "What do you mean?"

  "A man telephoned directly from New York with the same inquiry. Wouldn't give his name. I imagined he was trying all the London agencies one by one."

  "Was he American?"

  "Absolutely."

  Pauling turned to Reacher and mouthed, Lane.

  Reacher nodded. "Trying to go it alone. Trying to bilk me out of my fee." Pauling turned back to the desk. "What did you tell the guy on the phone?"

  "That there are sixty million people in Great Britain and that possibly several hundred thousand of them are called Taylor. It's a fairly common name. I told him that without better information I couldn't really help him."

  "Can you help us?"

  "That depends on what extra information you have."

  "We have photographs."

  "They might help eventually. But not at the outset. How long was Mr. Taylor in America?"

  "Many years, I think."

  "So he has no base here? No home?"

  "I'm sure he doesn't."

  "Then it's hopeless," the guy said. "Don't you see? I work with databases. Surely you do the same in New York? Bills, electoral registers, council tax, court records, credit reports, insurance policies, things like that. If your Mr. Taylor hasn't lived here for many years he simply won't show up anywhere."

  Pauling said nothing.

  "I'm very sorry," the guy said. "But surely you understand?" . Pauling shot Reacher a look that said: Great plan.

  Reacher said, "I've got a phone number for his closest relative."

  CHAPTER

  58

  REACHER SAID, "WE searched Taylor's apartment in New York and we found a desk phone that had ten speed-dials programmed. The only British number was labeled with the letter S. I'm guessing it's for his mother or father or his brother or sister. More likely a brother or sister because I think a guy like him would have used M or D for his mom or his dad. It'll be Sam, Sally, Sarah, Sean, something like that. And the sibling relationship will probably be fairly close, or else why bother to program a speed dial? And if the relationship is fairly close, then Taylor won't have come back to Britain without at least letting them know. Because they've probably got him on speed dial too, and they would worry if he wasn't answering his phone at home. So I'm guessing they'll have the information we need."

  "What was the number?" the guy asked.

  Reacher closed his eyes and recited the 01144 number he had memorized back on Hudson Street. The guy at the desk wrote it down on a pad of paper with a blunt pencil.

  "OK," he said. "We delete the international prefix, and we add a zero in its place." He did exactly that, manually, with his pencil. "Then we fire up the old computer and we look in the reverse directory." He spun his chair one-eighty to a computer table behind him and tapped the space bar and unlocked the screen with a password Reacher didn't catch. Then he pointed and clicked his way to a dialog box, where he entered the number. "This will give us the address only, you understand.

  We'll have to go elsewhere to discover the exact identity of the person who lives there." He hit submit

  and a second later the screen redrew and came up with an address.

  "Grange Farm," he said. "In Bishops Pargeter. Sounds rural." Reacher asked, "How rural?"

  "Not far from Norwich, judging by the postcode."

  "Bishops Pargeter is the name of a town?"

  The guy nodded. "It'll be a small village, probably. Or a hamlet, possibly. Perhaps a dozen buildings and a thirteenth-century Norman church. That would be typical. In the county of Norfolk, in East Anglia. Farming country, very flat, windy, the Fens, that kind of thing, north and east of here, about a hundred and twenty miles away."

  "Find the name."

  "Hang on, hang on, I'm getting there." The guy dragged and dropped the address to a temporary location elsewhere on the screen and opened up a different database. "The electoral register," he said. "That's always my preference. It's in the public domain, quite legal, and it's usually fairly comprehensive and reliable. If people take the trouble to vote, that is, which they don't always do, of course." He dragged the address back to a new dialog box and hit another submit command. There was a long, long wait. Then the screen changed. "Here we are," the guy said. "Two voters at that address. Jackson. That's the name. Mr. Anthony Jackson, and let's see, yes, Mrs. Susan Jackson. So there's your S. S for Susan."

  "A sister," Pauling said. "Married. This is like Hobart all over again."

  "Now then," the guy said. "Let's do a little something else. Not quite legal this time, but since I'm among friends and colleagues, I might as well push the boat out." He opened a new database that came up in

  old-fashioned plain DOS script. "Hacked, basically," he said. "That's why we don't get the fancy graphics. But we get the information. The Department of Health and Social Security. The nanny state at work." He entered Anthony Jackson's name and address and then added a complex keyboard command and the screen rolled down and came back with three separate names and a mass of figures. "Anthony Jackson is

  thirty-nine years old and his wife Susan is thirty-eight. Her maiden name was indeed Taylor. They have one child, a daughter, age eight, and they seem to have saddled her with the unfortunate name of Melody."

  "That's a nice name," Pauling said.

  "Not for Norfolk. I don't suppose she's happy at school."

  Reacher asked, "Have they been in Norfolk long? Is that where the Taylors are from? As a family?" The guy scrolled up the screen. "The unfortunate Melody seems to have been born in London, which would suggest not." He exited the plain DOS site and opened another. "The Land Registry," he said. He

  entered the address. Hit another submit command. The screen redrew. "No, they bought the place in Bishops Pargeter just over a year ago. Sold a place in south London at the same time. Which would suggest they're city folk heading back to the land. It's a common fantasy. I give them another twelve months or so before they get tired of it."

  "Thank you," Reacher said. "We appreciate your help."

  He picked up the guy's blunt pencil from the desk and took Patti Joseph's envelope out of his pocket and wrote Anthony, Susan, Melody Jackson, Grange Farm, Bishops Pargeter, Norfolk on it. Then he said,

  "Maybe you could forget all about this if the guy from New York calls again."

  "Money at stake?"

  "Lots of it."

  "First come, first served," the guy said. "The early bird catches the worm. And so on and so forth. My lips are sealed."

  "Thank you," Reacher said again. "What do we owe you?"

  "Oh, nothing at all," the guy said. "It was my pleasure entirely. Always happy to help a fellow professional."

  Back on the street Pauling said, "All Lane has to do is check Taylor's apartment and find the phone and he's level with us. He could get back to a different guy in London. Or call someone in New York. Those reverse directories are available on-line."

  "He won't find the phone," Reacher said. "And if he did, he wouldn't make the connection. Different skill set. Mirror on a stick."

  "Are you sure?"

  "Not entirely. So I took the precaution of erasing the number."

  "That's called taking an unfair advantage."

  "I want to make sure I get the money."

  "Should we just go ahead and call Susan Jackson?"

  "I was going to," Reacher said. "But then you mentioned Hobart and his sister and now I'm not so sure. Suppose Susan is as protective as Dee Marie? She'd just lie to us about anything she knows."

  "We could say we were buddies passing through."

  "She'd check with Taylor before she told us anything."

  "So what next?"

  "We're going to have to go up there ourselves. To Bishops Pargeter, wherever the hell that is."

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