The Hard Way by Lee Child


  "How do people stand this every day?" Pauling said.

  "Houston and LA are as bad," Reacher said.

  "But it kind of explains why the Jacksons escaped."

  "I guess it does."

  And the traffic moved on slowly, circulating like water around a bathtub drain, before yielding to the inexorable pull of the city.

  They came in through St. John's Wood, where the Abbey Road studios were, past Regent's Park, through Marylebone, past Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes had lived, through Marble Arch again, and onto Park Lane. The Hilton hotel was at the south end, near the truly world-class automotive insanity that was Hyde Park Corner. They parked in a commercial garage underground at a quarter to eleven in the morning. Maybe an hour before Lane and his guys were due to check in.

  "Want lunch?" Pauling said.

  "Can't eat," Reacher said. "I'm too knotted up."

  "So you're human after all."

  "I feel like I'm delivering Taylor to an executioner."

  "He deserves to die."

  "I'd rather do it myself."

  "So make the offer."

  "Wouldn't be good enough. Lane wants the partner's name. I'm not up for torturing it out of the guy personally."

  "So walk away."

  "I can't. I want retribution for Kate and Jade and I want the money for Hobart. No other way of getting either. And we have a deal with your Pentagon buddy. He delivered, so now I have to deliver. But all things considered I think I'll skip lunch."

  Pauling asked, "Where do you want me?"

  "In the lobby. Watching. Then go get yourself a room somewhere else. Leave me a note at the Hilton's desk. Use the name Bayswater. I'll take Lane to Norfolk, Lane will deal with Taylor, I'll deal with Lane. Then I'll come back and get you, whenever. Then we'll go somewhere together. Bath, maybe. To the Roman spas. We'll try to get clean again."

  They walked past an automobile showroom that was displaying brand-new models of the Mini Cooper they had been driving. They walked past discreet set-back entrances to blocks of mansion flats. They went up a short flight of concrete steps to the Park Lane Hilton's lobby. Pauling detoured to a distant group of armchairs and Reacher walked to the desk. He stood in line. Watched the clerks. They were busy with their phones and their computers. There were printers and Xerox machines behind them on credenzas. Above the Xerox machines was a brass plaque that said: By statute some documents may not be

  photocopied. Like banknotes, Reacher thought. They needed a law, because modern Xerox machines were just too good. Above the credenzas was a line of clocks set to world time, from Tokyo to Los Angeles. He checked New York's against the time in his head. Spot on. Then the person in front of him finished up. He moved to the head of the line.

  "Edward Lane's party," he said. "Have they checked in yet?" The clerk tapped his keyboard. "Not yet, sir."

  "I'm waiting for them. When they get here, tell them I'm across the lobby."

  "Your name, sir?"

  "Taylor," Reacher said. He walked away, clear of the busiest areas, and found a quiet spot. He was going to be counting eight hundred thousand dollars in cash and he didn't want an audience. He dumped himself down in one of a group of four armchairs. He knew from long experience that nobody would try to join him. Nobody ever did. He radiated subliminal stay away signals and sane people obeyed them. Already a nearby family was watching him warily. Two kids and a mother, camped out in the next group of chairs, presumably off of an early flight and waiting for their room to be ready. The mother looked tired and the kids looked fractious. She had unpacked half their stuff, trying to keep them amused. Toys, coloring books, battered teddy bears, a doll missing an arm, battery-driven video games. He could hear the mother's halfhearted suggestions of how to fill the time: Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that? Why don't

  you draw a picture of something you're going to see? Like therapy.

  He turned away and watched the door. People came in, a constant stream. Some weary and

  travel-stained, some busy and bustling. Some with mountains of luggage, some with briefcases only. All kinds of nationalities. In the next group of chairs one kid threw a bear at the other kid's head. It missed and skidded across the tile and hit Reacher's foot. He leaned down and picked it up. All the stuffing was out of it. He tossed it back. Heard the mother suggesting some other pointless activity: Why don't you do this? He thought: Why don't you shut the hell up and sit still like normal human beings?

  He looked back at the door and saw Perez walk in. Then Kowalski. Then Edward Lane himself, third in line. Then Gregory, and Groom, and Addison, and Burke. Roll-on bags, duffels, suit carriers. Jeans and sport coats, black nylon warm-up jackets, ball caps, sneakers. Some shades, some earphones trailing thin wires. Tired from the overnight flight. A little creased and crumpled. But awake and alert and aware. They looked exactly like what they were: a group of Special Forces soldiers trying to travel incognito.

  He watched them line up at the desk. Watched them wait. Watched them shuffle up one place at a time. Watched them check in. Watched the clerk give Lane the message. Saw Lane turn around, searching. Lane's gaze moved over everybody in the lobby. Over Pauling, without stopping. Over the fractious family. Onto Reacher's own face. It stopped there. Lane nodded. Reacher nodded back. Gregory took a stack of key cards from the clerk and all seven men hoisted their luggage again and started through the lobby. They eased their way through the crowds shoulders first and stopped in a group outside the ring of armchairs. Lane dropped one bag and kept hold of another and sat down opposite Reacher. Gregory sat down too, and Carter Groom took the last chair. Kowalski and Perez and Addison and Burke were left standing, making a perimeter, with Burke and Perez facing outward. Awake and alert and aware, thorough and cautious.

  "Show me the money," Reacher said.

  "Tell me where Taylor is," Lane said.

  "You first."

  "Do you know where he is?"

  Reacher nodded. "I know where he is. I made visual contact twice. Last night, and then again this morning. Just a few hours ago."

  "You're good."

  "I know."

  "So tell me where he is."

  "Show me the money first."

  Lane said nothing. In the silence Reacher heard the harassed mother say: Draw a picture of

  Buckingham Palace. He said, "You called a bunch of London private eyes. Behind my back. You tried to get ahead of me."

  Lane said, "A man's entitled to save himself an unnecessary expense."

  "Did you get ahead of me?"

  "No."

  "Therefore the expense isn't unnecessary."

  "I guess not."

  "So show me the money."

  "OK," Lane said. "I'll show you the money." He slid the duffel off his knees and placed it on the floor and unzipped it. Reacher glanced right. Glanced left. Saw the kid about to throw the tattered bear again. Saw him catch the expression on Lane's face and saw him shrink back toward his mother. Reacher shuffled forward on his chair and leaned down. The duffel was full of money. One of the O-Town bales, newly opened, part depleted.

  "No trouble on the flight?" he asked.

  Lane said, "It was X-rayed. Nobody got their panties in a wad. You'll get it home OK. Assuming you earn it first."

  Reacher pulled back the torn plastic and put a fingernail under one of the paper bands. It was tight. Therefore full. There were four equal stacks of twenty bricks each. Total of eighty bricks, an even number. A hundred hundreds in each brick. Eighty times a hundred times a hundred was eight hundred thousand.

  So far, so good.

  He lifted the edge of a bill and rubbed it between his finger and thumb. Glanced across the lobby to the brass sign at the Xerox station: By statute some documents may not be photocopied. But these hadn't been. They were real. He could feel the engraving. He could smell the paper and the ink. Unmistakable.

  "OK," he said, and sat back.

  Lane leaned down and zipped the duffel. "So where is he?"
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  Reacher said, "First we have to talk."

  "You better be kidding me."

  "There are civilians there. Innocent people. Noncombatants. A family."

  “So?”

  "So I can't have you charging in there like maniacs. I can't allow collateral damage."

  "There won't be any."

  "I need to be sure of that."

  "You have my word."

  Reacher said, "Your word ain't worth shit."

  "We won't be shooting," Lane said. "Let's be clear on that. A bullet is too good for Taylor. We'll go in and we'll get him and we'll bring him out without harming a hair on his or anyone else's head. Because that's the way I want it. I want him all in one piece. I want him alive and well and conscious and feeling everything. He'll tell us about his partner and then he'll die, long, slow, and hard. Over a week or two. So a gunfight is no good to me. Not because I care about noncombatants, true. But because I don't want any accidents with Taylor. I would hate to give it to him easy. You can take my word on that."

  "OK," Reacher said.

  "So where is he?"

  Reacher paused. Thought about Hobart, and Birmingham, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee, and kindly white-haired doctors in lab coats holding artificial limbs.

  "He's in Norfolk," he said.

  "Where's that?"

  "It's a county, north and east of here. About a hundred and twenty miles."

  "Where in Norfolk?"

  "A place called Grange Farm."

  "He's on a farm?"

  "Flat country," Reacher said. "Like a pool table. With ditches. Easy to defend."

  "Nearest big city?"

  "It's about thirty miles south and west of Norwich."

  "Nearest town?" Reacher didn't reply.

  "Nearest town?" Lane asked again.

  Reacher glanced back at the reception desk. By statute some documents may not he photocopied. He watched a Xerox machine at work, a ghostly stripe of green light cycling horizontally back and forth

  beneath a lid. He glanced at the harassed mother and heard her voice in his head: Why don't you draw a picture of something you're going to see? He looked at the kid's doll, missing an arm. Heard Dave Kemp's voice, in the country store: It felt like a thin hook. Not many pages. A rubber band around it. Recalled the tiny imperceptible impact of the kid's tattered bear skidding on the tile and landing against his shoe.

  Lane said, "Reacher?"

  Reacher heard Lauren Pauling's voice in his mind: A little is sometimes all you need. Going out, they don't care as much as when you're coming in.

  Lane said, "Reacher? Hello? What's the nearest town?"

  Reacher dragged his focus back from the middle distance, slowly, carefully, painfully, and he looked directly into Lane's eyes. He said, "The nearest town is called Fenchurch Saint Mary. I'll show you exactly where it is. Be ready to leave in one hour. I'll come back for you."

  Then he stood up and concentrated hard on walking infinitely slowly across the lobby floor. One foot in front of the other. Left, then right. He caught Pauling's eye. Walked out the door. Down the concrete steps. He made it to the sidewalk.

  Then he ran like hell for the parking garage.

  CHAPTER

  63

  REACHER HAD PARKED the car, so he still had the keys. He blipped the door from thirty feet away and wrenched it open and threw himself inside. Jammed the key in the ignition and started the motor and shoved the stick in reverse. Stamped on the gas and hurled the tiny car out of the parking space and braked hard and spun the wheel and took off again forward with the front tires howling and smoking. He threw a ten-pound note at the barrier guy and didn't wait for the change. Just hit the gas as soon as the pole was raised forty-five degrees. He blasted up the ramp and shot straight across two lanes of oncoming traffic and jammed to a stop on the opposite curb because he saw Pauling hurrying toward him. He threw open her door and she slid inside and he took off again and he was twenty yards down the road before she got the door closed behind her.

  "North," he said. "Which way is north?"

  "North? North is behind us," she said. "Go around the traffic circle."

  Hyde Park Corner. He blew through two red lights and swerved the car like a dodgem from one lane to another. Came all the way around and back onto Park Lane in the other direction doing more than sixty miles an hour. Practically on two wheels.

  "Where now?" he said.

  "What the hell is going on?"

  "Just get me out of town."

  "I don't know how."

  "Use the atlas. There's a city plan."

  Reacher dodged buses and taxis. Pauling turned pages, frantically.

  "Go straight," she said.

  "Is that north?"

  "It'll get us there."

  They made it through Marble Arch with the engine screaming. They got green lights all the way past the Marylebone Road. They made it into Maida Vale. Then Reacher slowed a little. Breathed out for what felt like the first time in half an hour.

  "Where next?"

  "Reacher, what happened?"

  "Just give me directions."

  "Make a right onto St. John's Wood Road," Pauling said. "That will take us back to Regent's Park. Then make a left and go out the same way we came in. And please tell me exactly what the hell is going on."

  "I made a mistake," Reacher said. "Remember I told you I couldn't shake the feeling I was making a bad mistake? Well, I was wrong. It wasn't a bad mistake. It was a catastrophic mistake. It was the biggest single mistake ever made in the history of the cosmos."

  "What mistake?"

  "Tell me about the photographs in your apartment."

  "What about them?"

  "Nieces and nephews, right?"

  "Lots of them," Pauling said.

  "You know them well?"

  "Well enough."

  "Spend time with them?"

  "Plenty."

  "Tell me about their favorite toys."

  "Their toys? I don't really know about their toys. I can't keep up. X-boxes, video games, whatever. There's always something new."

  "Not the new stuff. Their old favorites. Tell me about their favorite old toys. What would they have run into a fire to save? When they were eight years old?"

  "When they were eight years old? I guess a teddy bear or a doll. Something they'd had since they were tiny."

  "Exactly," Reacher said. "Something comforting and familiar. Something they loved. The kind of thing they would want to take on a journey. Like the family next to me in the lobby just now. The mother got them all out of the suitcase to quiet them down."

  "So?"

  "What did those things look like?"

  "Like bears and dolls, I guess."

  "No, later. When the kids were eight years old."

  "When they were eight? They'd had them forever by then. They looked like crap."

  Reacher nodded at the wheel. "The bears all worn, with the stuffing out? The dolls all chipped, with the arms off?"

 
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