The Hard Way by Lee Child


  CHAPTER

  59

  OBVIOUSLY THEIR HOTEL didn't even come close to offering concierge service so Reacher and Pauling had to walk down to Marble Arch to find a car rental office. Reacher had neither a driver's license nor a credit card so he left Pauling to fill in the forms and kept on going down Oxford Street to look for a bookstore. He found a big place that had a travel section in back with a whole shelf of motoring atlases of Britain. But the first three he checked didn't show Bishops Pargeter at all. No sign of it anywhere. It wasn't in the index. Too small, he figured. Not even a dot on the map. He found London and Norfolk and Norwich. No problem with those places. He found market towns and large villages. But nothing smaller. Then he saw a cache of Ordnance Survey maps. Four shelves, low down, against a wall. A whole series. Big folded sheets, meticulously drawn, government sponsored. For hikers, he guessed. Or for serious geography freaks. There was a choice of scales. Best was a huge thing that showed detail all the way down to some individual buildings. He pulled all the Norfolk sheets off the shelf and tried them one by one. He found Bishops Pargeter on the fourth attempt. It was a crossroads hamlet about thirty miles south and west of the Norwich outskirts. Two minor roads met. Not even the roads themselves showed up on the motoring atlases.

  He bought the map for detail and the cheapest atlas for basic orientation. Then he hiked back to the rental office and found Pauling waiting with the key to a Mini Cooper.

  "A red one," she said. "With a white roof. Very cool."

  He said, "I think Taylor might be right there. With his sister."

  "Why?"

  "His instinct would be to go hide somewhere lonely. Somewhere isolated. And he was a soldier, so deep down he'd want somewhere defensible. It's flat as a pool table there. I just read the map. He'd see

  someone coming from five miles away. If he's got a rifle he's impregnable. And if he's got four-wheel-drive he's got a three-sixty escape route. He could just take off across the fields in any direction."

  "You can't murder two people and steal more than ten million dollars and just go home to your sister."

  "He wouldn't have to give her chapter and verse. He wouldn't really have to tell her anything at all. And it might only be temporary. He might need a break. He's been under a lot of stress."

  "You sound sorry for him."

  "I'm trying to think like him. He's been planning for a long time and the last week must have been hell. He must be exhausted. He needs to hole up and sleep."

  "His sister's place would be too risky, surely. Family is the first thing anyone thinks of. We did, with

  Hobart. We tried every Hobart in the book."

  "His sister is a Jackson, not a Taylor. Like Graziano wasn't a Hobart. And Grange Farm is not an ancestral pile. The sister only just moved there. Anyone tracking his family would get bogged down in London."

  "There's a kid up there. His niece. Would he put innocent people in physical danger?"

  "He just killed two innocent people. He's a little underdeveloped in the conscience department." Pauling swung the car key on her finger. Back and forth, thinking.

  "It's possible," she said. "I guess. So what's our play?"

  "Taylor was with Lane three years," Reacher said. "So he never met you and he sure as hell never met me. So it doesn't really make much difference. He's not going to shoot ever)' stranger who comes to the house. He can't really afford to. It's something we should bear in mind, is all."

  "We're going right to the house?"

  Reacher nodded. "At least close enough to scope it out. If Taylor's there, we back off and wait for

  Lane. If he isn't, we go all the way in and talk to Susan."

  "When?"

  "Now."

  The rental guy brought the Mini Cooper out from a garage space in back and Reacher shoved the

  passenger seat hard up against the rear bench and slid inside. Pauling got in the driver's seat and started the engine. It was a cute car. It looked great in red. But it was a handful to drive. Stick shift, wrong side of the road, wheel on the right, early-evening traffic in one of the world's most congested cities. But they made it back to the hotel OK. They double parked and Pauling ran in to get her bag. Reacher stayed in the car. His toothbrush was already in his pocket. Pauling got back after five minutes and said, "We're on the west side here. Convenient for the airport. But now we need to exit the city from the east."

  "Northeast," Reacher said. "On a highway called the M-11."

  "So I have to drive all the way through the center of London in rush hour."

  "No worse than Paris or Rome."

  "I've never been to Paris or Rome."

  "Well, now you'll know what to expect if you ever get there."

  Heading east and north was a simple enough proposition but like any major city London was full of

  one-way systems and complex junctions. And it was full of lines of stalled traffic at every light. They made halting progress as far as a district called Shoreditch and then they found a wide road labeled A-10 that speared due north. Too early, but they took it anyway. They figured they would make the lateral adjustment later, away from the congestion. Then they found the M-25, which was a kind of beltway. They hit it clockwise and two exits later they were on the M-11, heading north and east for Cambridge, Newmarket, and ultimately Norfolk. Nine o'clock in the evening, and getting dark. Pauling asked, "You know this area we're going to?"

  "Not really," Reacher said. "It was Air Force country, not army. Bomber bases all over the place. Flat, spacious, close to Europe. Ideal."

  England was a lit-up country. That was for damn sure. Every inch of the highway was bathed in bright vapor glow. And people drove fast. The limit was posted at seventy miles an hour, but it was widely ignored. High eighties, low nineties seemed to be the norm. Lane discipline was good. Nobody passed on the inside. The highway exits all followed the same coherent grammar. Clear signs, plenty of warning, long deceleration lanes. Reacher had read that highway fatalities were low in Britain. Safety, through infrastructure.

  Pauling asked, "What's Grange Farm going to be like?"

  "I don't know," Reacher said. "Technically in Old English a grange was a large barn for grain storage. Then later it became a word for the main building in a gentleman's arable farm. So I guess we're going to see a big house and a bunch of smaller outbuildings. Fields all around. Maybe a hundred acres. Kind of feudal."

  "You know a lot."

  "A lot of useless information,' Reacher said. "Supposed to fire my imagination."

  "But you can't get no satisfaction?"

  "None at all. I don't like anything about this whole situation. It feels wrong."

  "Because there are no good guys. Just bad guys and worse guys."

  "They're all equally terrible."

  "The hard way," Pauling said. "Sometimes things aren't black and white." Reacher said, "I can't get past the feeling that I'm making a bad mistake."

  England is a small country but East Anglia was a large empty part of it. In some ways it was like driving across the prairie states. Endless forward motion without much visible result. The little red Mini Cooper hummed along. The clock in Reacher's head crawled around to ten in the evening. The last of the twilight disappeared. Beyond the bright ribbon of road was nothing but full darkness.

  They bypassed a town called Thetford. Much later they blew through a town called Fenchurch Saint Mary. The road narrowed and the streetlights disappeared. They saw a sign that said Norwich 40 Miles. So Reacher switched maps and they started hunting the turn down to Bishops Pargeter. The road signs were clear and helpful. But they were all written with the same size lettering and there seemed to be a maximum permitted length for a fingerpost. Which meant that the longer names were abbreviated. Reacher saw a sign to B'sh'-ps P'ter flash by and they were two hundred yards past it before he figured out what it meant. So Pauling jammed to a stop in the lonely darkness and U-turned and went back. Paused a second

  and then turned off the m
ain drag onto a much smaller road. It was narrow and winding and the surface was bad. Pitch dark beyond the headlight beams.

  "How far?" Pauling asked.

  Reacher spanned his finger and thumb on the map.

  "Maybe nine miles," he said. The motoring atlas had showed nothing but a blank white triangle between two roads that fanned out south of the city of Norwich. The Ordnance Survey sheet showed the triangle to be filled with a tracery of minor tracks and speckled here and there with small settlements. He put his finger on the Bishops Pargeter crossroad. Then he looked out the car window.

  "This is pointless," he said. "It's too dark. We're not even going to see the house, let alone who's living in it." He looked back at the map. It showed buildings about four miles ahead. One was labeled PH. He checked the legend in the corner of the sheet.

  "Public house," he said. "A pub. Maybe an inn. We should get a room. Go out again at first light." Pauling said, "Suits me, boss."

  He realized she was tired. Travel, jet lag, unfamiliar roads, driving stress. "I'm sorry," he said. "We overdid it. I should have planned better."

  "No, this works," she said. "We're right on the spot for the morning. But how much farther?"

  "Four miles to the pub now, and then five more to Bishops Pargeter tomorrow."

  "What time is it?"

  He smiled. "Ten forty-seven."

  "So you can do it in multiple time zones."

  "There's a clock on the dashboard. I can see it from here. I'm practically sitting in your lap."

  Eight minutes later they saw a glow in the distance that turned out to be the pub's spotlit sign. It was swinging in a gentle night breeze on a high gallows. The Bishop's Arms. There was a blacktopped parking lot with five cars in it and then a row of lit windows. The windows looked warm and inviting. Beyond the dark outline of the building there was absolutely nothing at all. Just endless flatness under a vast night sky.

  "Maybe it was a coaching inn," Pauling said.

  "Can't have been," Reacher said. "It's not on the way to anywhere. It was for farm laborers."

  She turned in at the entrance of the parking lot and slotted the tiny car between a dirty Land Rover and a battered sedan of indeterminate make and age. Turned the motor off and dropped her hands off the wheel with a sigh. Silence rolled in, and with it came the smell of moist earth. The night air was cold. A little damp. Reacher carried Pauling's bag to the pub's door. There was a foyer inside, with a swaybacked staircase on the right and a low beamed ceiling and a patterned carpet and about ten thousand brass ornaments. Dead ahead was a hotel reception counter made from dark old wood varnished to an amazing shine. It was unattended. To the left was a doorway marked Saloon Bar. It led to a room that seemed to be empty. To the right beyond the stairs was a doorway marked Public Bar. Through it Reacher could see a bartender at work and the backs of four drinkers hunched on stools. In the far corner he could see the back of a man sitting alone at a table. All five customers were drinking from pint pots of ale.

  Reacher stepped up to the empty reception counter and dinged the bell. A long moment later the bartender came in through a door behind the counter. He was about sixty, large and florid. Tired. He was wiping his hands on a towel.

  "We need a room," Reacher said to him.

  "Tonight?" he said back.

  "Yes, tonight."

  "It'll cost you forty pounds. But that's with breakfast included."

  "Sounds like a bargain."

  "Which room would you like?"

  "Which would you recommend?"

  "You want one with a bath?"

  Pauling said, "Yes, a bath. That would be nice."

  "OK, then. That's what you can have."

  She gave him four ten-pound notes and he gave her a brass key on a tasseled fob. Then he handed Reacher a ballpoint pen and squared a register in front of him. Reacher wrote J & L Bayswater on the Name line. Then he checked a box for Place of Business rather than Place of Residence and wrote Yankee Stadium's street address on the next line. East 161st Street, Bronx, New York, USA. He wished that was his place of business. He always had. In a space labeled Make of Vehicle he scrawled

  Rolls-Royce. He guessed Registration Number meant license plate and he wrote R34-CHR. Then he asked the bartender, "Can we get a meal?"

  "You're a little too late for a meal, I'm afraid," the bartender said. "But you could have sandwiches, if you like."

  "That would be fine," Reacher said.

  "You're Americans, aren't you? We get a lot of them here. They come to see the old airfields. Where they were stationed."

  "Before my time," Reacher said.

  The bartender nodded sagely and said, "Go on in and have a drink. Your sandwiches will be ready soon." Reacher left Pauling's bag at the foot of the stairs and stepped in through the door to the public bar. Five

  heads turned. The four guys at the bar looked like farmers. Red weathered faces, thick hands, blank uninterested expressions.

  The guy alone at the table in the corner was Taylor.

  CHAPTER

  60

  LIKE THE GOOD soldier he was Taylor kept his eyes on Reacher long enough to assess the threat level. Pauling's arrival behind Reacher's shoulder seemed to reassure him. A well-dressed man, a refined woman, a couple, tourists. He looked away. Turned back to his beer. Beginning to end he had stared only a fraction of a second longer than any man would in a barroom situation. And actually shorter than the farmers. They were slow and ponderous and full of the kind of entitlement a regular patron shows to a stranger.

  Reacher led Pauling to a table on the other side of the room from Taylor and sat with his back to the wall and watched the farmers turn back to the bar. They did it one by one, slowly. Then the last one picked up his glass again and the atmosphere in the room settled back to what it had been before. A moment later the bartender reappeared. He picked up a towel and started wiping glasses.

  Reacher said, "We should act normally. We should buy a drink." Pauling said, "I guess I'll try the local beer. You know, when in Rome.'

  So Reacher got up again and stepped over to the bar and tried to think back ten years to when he had last been in a similar situation. It was important to get the dialect right. He leaned between two of the farmers and put his knuckles on the bar and said, "A pint of best, please, and a half for the lady." It was important to get the manners right too, so he turned left and right to the four farmers and added: "And will you gentlemen join us?" Then he glanced at the bartender and said: "And can I get yours?" Then the whole dynamic in the room funneled toward Taylor as the only patron as yet uninvited. Taylor turned and looked up from his table as if compelled to and Reacher mimed a drinking action and called, "What can I get you?"

  Taylor looked back at him and said, "Thanks, but I've got to go." A flat British accent, a little like Gregory's. Calculation in his eyes. But nothing in his face. No suspicion. Maybe a little awkwardness. Maybe even a hint of dour amiability. A guileless half-smile, a flash of the bad teeth. Then he drained his glass and set it back on the table and got up and headed for the door.

  "Goodnight," he said, as he passed by.

  The bartender pulled six and a half pints of best bitter and lined them up like sentries. Reacher paid for them and pushed them around a little as a gesture toward distribution. Then he picked his own up and said,

  "Cheers," and took a sip. He carried Pauling's half-sized glass over to her, and the four farmers and the bartender all turned toward their table and toasted them. Reacher thought: Instant social acceptance for less than thirty bucks. Cheap at twice the price. But he said, "I hope I didn't offend that other fellow somehow."

  "Don't know him," one of the farmers said. "Never saw him before."

  "He's at Grange Farm," another farmer said. "Must be, because he was in Grange Farm's Land Rover. I

  saw him drive up in it."

  "Is he a farmer?" Reacher asked.

  "He don't look like one," the first farmer said. "I never saw him before."
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  "Where's Grange Farm?"

  "Down the road apiece. There's a family there now."

  "Ask Dave Kemp," the third farmer said. Reacher said, "Who's Dave Kemp?"

  "Dave Kemp in the shop," the third farmer said, impatiently, like Reacher was an idiot. "In Bishops

 
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