The Hard Way by Lee Child


  Taylor and Jackson came out of the house carrying the third and fourth rifles. Reacher didn't speak. Just took up a new station against the rear facade of the house, his shoulder against the corner, facing south. Taylor mirrored his position against the front wall. Reacher knew without looking that sixty feet behind

  them Jackson and Pauling were doing the same thing. Four weapons, four pairs of eyes, all trained outward. Reasonable security.

  For as long as they could bear to stay in position.

  CHAPTER

  70

  THEY STAYED IN position all day long. All through the morning and all through the afternoon and well into the evening. Fourteen straight hours.

  Lane didn't come.

  One at a time they took short meal breaks and shorter bathroom breaks. They rotated stations clockwise around the house for variety. Their eight-pound rifles started to feel like eight tons in their hands. Jackson slipped away for a minute and turned the bird scarer back on. Thereafter the stillness was periodically shattered by loud random shotgun blasts. Even though they knew for sure they were due each sentry jumped and ducked each time they arrived.

  Lane didn't come.

  Kate and Jade stayed in the house, out of sight. They made food and poured drinks and carried them on trays to the windows and the doors, tea for Taylor and Jackson, coffee for Reacher, orange juice for Pauling. The sun burned through the mist and the day grew warm, and then it grew cold again in the late afternoon.

  Lane didn't come.

  Jade drew pictures. Every twenty minutes or so she would bring a new one to a different window and ask for an opinion concerning its merit. When it was his turn to judge, Reacher would duck his head down and give the paper a look. Then he would turn back to the outward view and talk out of the side of his mouth. Very good, he would say. And generally the pictures merited the praise. The kid wasn't a bad little artist. She had switched from future predictions to straightforward reportage. She drew the red Mini Cooper, she drew Pauling with her gun, she drew Taylor with a mouth like a wrecked Buick's grille. She drew Reacher, huge, taller than the house. Then late in the day she switched from reportage to fantasy and drew farm animals in the barns, even though she had been told that the Jacksons didn't have any, not even a dog.

  Lane didn't come.

  Kate fixed sandwiches for an early dinner and Jade took to visiting the corner windows and asking everyone in turn if she could come outside and explore. Everyone in turn said no, she had to hide. On the third go-round Reacher heard her modify her request and ask Taylor if she could come out after dark, and he heard Taylor say maybe, like worn-down parents everywhere.

  Lane didn't come.

  By eight-thirty in the evening visibility had died away to nothing again and Reacher had been on his feet for nineteen hours. Pauling too. Taylor and Jackson had done twenty-four, spelled only by a five-hour

  break. They all met in a loose huddle in the gathering gloom by the front door, shaky with fatigue, frustrated, made anxious by fruitless vigilance.

  Taylor said, "He's waiting us out."

  "Therefore he's going to win," Jackson said. "We can't keep this up much longer."

  "He's had twenty-seven hours," Pauling said. "We have to assume he's armed by now."

  "He'll come tomorrow at dawn," Taylor said.

  "You sure?" Reacher asked.

  "Not really."

  "Me either. Three or four in the morning would work just as well."

  "Too dark."

  "If they've bought guns they could have bought night vision, too."

  "How would you do it?"

  "Three guys loop around and walk in from the north. The other four come up the driveway, maybe two

  in a car, lights off, high speed, with the other two flanking it on foot. Two directions, seven guys, their

  choice of seven windows, we couldn't stop at least three of them getting inside. They'd get you or a hostage before we could react."

  "You're a real ray of sunshine," Taylor said.

  "I'm just trying to think like them."

  "We'd get them before they got anywhere near the house."

  "Only if all four of us can stay awake and alert for the next eight hours. Or the next thirty-two hours, if he delays another day. Or the next fifty-six hours, if he delays two days. Which he might. He's in no hurry. And he's not dumb. If he's decided to wait us out, why not do it properly?"

  Taylor said, "We're not moving. This place is a stronghold."

  "Three-dimensionally it's fine," Reacher said. "But battles are fought in four dimensions, not three. Length, breadth, and height, plus time. And time is on Lane's side, not ours. This is a siege now. We're going to run out of food, and sooner or later all four of us are going to be asleep at the same time."

  "So we'll halve the guard. One man north, one man south, the other two resting but ready." Reacher shook his head. "No, it's time to get aggressive."

  "How?"

  "I'm going to go find them. They've got to be holed up somewhere close. It's time to pay them a visit. They won't be expecting that."

  "Alone?" Pauling said. "That's insane."

  "I have to anyway," Reacher said. "I didn't get Hobart's money yet. There's eight hundred grand out there. Can't let it go to waste."

  Taylor and Pauling stayed on guard and Reacher fetched the big Ordnance Survey map from the Mini's glove box. He took Jade's latest drawings off the kitchen table and piled them on a chair and spread out the map in their place. Then he went over it with Jackson. Jackson had a year's worth of local knowledge, which was less than Reacher would have liked, but it was better than nothing. The map clarified most of the terrain issues all by itself with its faint orange contour lines, which were very widely spaced and which curved only gently. Flat land, probably the flattest in the British Isles. Like a pool table. Grange Farm and Bishops Pargeter were roughly in the center of a wide triangle of empty space bounded to the east by the road that ran south from Norwich to Ipswich in Suffolk and to the west by the Thetford road that Reacher and Pauling had driven three times already. Elsewhere in the triangle were meandering minor tracks and

  isolated farm settlements. Here and there chance and history had nestled small communities in the angles of crossroads. They were shown on the map as tiny gray squares and rectangles. Some of the rectangles represented short rows of houses. Some of the larger buildings were shown individually. The only one within any kind of a reasonable distance from Bishops Pargeter and labeled PH was the Bishop's Arms.

  This is the only pub for miles, lad, the farmer at the bar had said. Why else do you think it's so crowded?

  "Are they there, do you think?" Reacher asked.

  Jackson said, "If they stopped in Fenchurch Saint Mary first and then aimed for Bishops Pargeter afterward, then that's the only place they could have passed. But they could have gone north. Nearer Norwich there are a lot of places."

  "Can't buy guns in Norwich," Reacher said. "Not if you had to call Holland."

  "Shotguns up there," Jackson said. "Nothing heavier."

  "So they probably didn't go there," Reacher said. He recalled the motoring atlas. The city of Norwich had been shown as a dense stain in the top-right corner of the bulge that was East Anglia. The end of the line. Not on the way to anyplace else.

  "I think they stayed close," he said.

  "Then the Bishop's Arms could be it," Jackson said.

  Five miles, Reacher thought. On foot, that's a three-hour round trip. Back by midnight.

  "I'm going to check it out," he said.

  He detoured via the mud room and collected two spare magazines for his G-36. Found Pauling's purse in the kitchen and borrowed her little Maglite. Folded the map and put it in his pocket. Then he huddled with the others in the dark outside the front door and agreed on a password. He didn't want to get shot at when he arrived back. Jackson suggested Canaries, which was the Norwich soccer team's nickname, for its

  yellow uniforms.

  "Are they any
good?" Reacher asked.

  "They used to be," Jackson said. "Twenty-some years ago, they were great."

  Them and me both, Reacher thought.

  "Take care," Pauling said, and kissed him on the cheek.

  "I'll be back," he said.

  He started by walking north behind the house. Then he turned west, staying parallel to the road, about a field's width away. There was a little leftover twilight in the sky. Just the last remnant. Torn and ragged clouds with pale stars beyond. The air was cold and a little damp. There was a knee-high blanket of thin mist clinging to the earth. The dirt was soft and heavy underfoot. He carried his G-36 by its handle,

  left-handed, ready to swing it up into position when needed. Reacher, alone in the dark.

  The Grange Farm boundary was a trench ten feet across with a muddy bottom six feet down. Drainage, for the flat land. Not exactly canals like in Holland, but not anything easily cleared, either. Not anything to just step across. Reacher had to slide down the near bank, struggle through the mud, and then climb up the far bank again. A mile into the trip his pants were a real mess. And he was going to have to invest some serious shoeshine time on the trip home. Or else deduct the price of a new pair of Cheaneys from Hobart's compensation. Maybe he could detour to the source. The motoring atlas had shown Northampton about forty miles west of Cambridge. Maybe he could talk Pauling into a two-hour shopping expedition. He had

  let her insist on Macy's after all.

  Two miles into the trip he was very tired. And slow. Behind schedule. He changed course and moved slightly south and west. Came closer to the road. Found a tractor route through the next farmer's fields. Huge tires had beaten the earth into hard ruts either side of a grassy center hump. He wiped his shoes on the grass and sped up a little. Found that the next ditch was crossed by an improvised trestle made of old railroad ties. Strong enough for a tractor, strong enough for him. He followed the tire tracks until they turned abruptly north. Then he struck off through the fields again on his own.

  After four miles the clock in his head told him that it was ten-thirty at night. Twilight had gone completely but the rags of cloud had cleared a little and the moon was bright. The stars were out. Far away to his left he could see occasional cars passing by on the road. Three had gone west and two had gone

  east. Bright lights, sedate speeds. Theoretically the two heading east could have been Lane's guys, but he doubted it. Ten and eleven in the evening was no kind of a time to attack. He guessed rural roads saw a minor traffic peak right around then. Pubs letting out, friends going home. Too many witnesses. If he knew it, then Lane knew it, too. Certainly Gregory knew it.

  He kept on going. The spare magazines in his pocket were bruising his hip. Five minutes before eleven o'clock he spotted the glow from the pub's sign. Just an electric brightness in the misty air, because the sign itself was hidden by the bulk of the building. He could smell woodsmoke from a chimney. He looped around toward the light and the smell, staying well to the north of the road, just in case Lane had watchers out. He kept to the fields until he was facing the back of the building from four hundred yards away. He saw small squares of harsh white fluorescent light. Windows. Undraped and unglamorous. Therefore kitchens and bathrooms, he guessed. Therefore frosted or pebbled glass. No view out.

  He headed south, straight for the squares of light.

  CHAPTER

  71

  DIRECTLY BEHIND THE pub the parking lot had been closed off and turned into a service yard. It was full of crates of bottles and stacks of metal beer kegs and big commercial-sized trash receptacles. There was a broken-down old car with bricks wedged under its brake drums. No wheels. Another old car, humped under a stained tarpaulin. Behind it the building had a rear door, inconspicuous among all the chaos,

  almost certainly unlocked during business hours to allow easy access from the kitchen to the trash pile. Reacher ignored the door. He circled the building in the dark, clockwise, thirty feet out from the walls,

  well away from the spill of light from the windows.

  The small bright rooms in back were clearly bathrooms. Their windows blazed with the kind of

  green-tinged light that comes from cheap tubes and white tile. Around the corner in the end wall to the east of the building there were no windows at all, just an unbroken expanse of brick. Around the next corner in the front wall east of the entrance there were three windows into the public bar. From a distance Readier peered in and saw the same four farmers he had seen two nights previously. On the same stools. And the same bartender, busy as before with his beer pumps and his towel. The lighting was dim, but there was nobody else in the room. None of the tables was occupied.

  Reacher moved on.

  The front door was closed. The parking lot had four cars in it, haphazardly slotted side by side. None of the cars was new. None of them was the kind of thing a Park Lane rental company could have produced in a hurry. They were all old and dirty and battered. Bald tires. Dented fenders. Streaks of mud and manure. Farmers' cars.

  Reacher moved on.

  West of the entrance were three more windows, into the saloon bar. Two nights previously the saloon bar had been empty.

  It wasn't empty anymore.

  Now a single table was occupied.

  By three men: Groom, and Burke, and Kowalski.

  Reacher could see them clearly. On the table in front of them he could see the long-dead remains of a meal and half a dozen empty glasses. And three half-full glasses. Pint mugs of beer, half-gone. It was a rectangular table. Kowalski and Burke were shoulder to shoulder on one side and Groom was opposite them, alone. Kowalski was talking and Burke was listening to him. Groom had his chair tipped back and was staring into space. There was a log fire burning in a soot-stained grate beyond him. The room was lit up warm and bright and inviting.

  Reacher moved on.

  Around the next corner there was a single window in the end wall to the west and through it Reacher got a different version of the same view. Groom, Burke, and Kowalski at their table. Drinking. Talking. Passing time. They were all alone in the room. The door to the foyer was closed. A private party.

  Reacher backtracked four short steps and then headed for the front corner of the building on an exact forty-five-degree angle. Invisible from any window. He touched the wall and dropped to his knees. He kept his right palm on the brick and shuffled north and stretched out his left arm as far as it would go and very carefully laid his rifle on the ground directly under the west-facing window. He put it tight against the base of the wall where the shadows were deep. Then he shuffled south and stood up again and backed away on the same angle and checked. He couldn't see the rifle. Nobody would find it, unless they tripped over it.

  He backed away until he was clear of the light spill and looped through the lot. Headed for the front door. Opened it up and stepped into the foyer. The low beams, the patterned carpet, the ten thousand brass ornaments. The shiny reception desk.

  The register.

  He stepped to the desk. To his right he could hear sociable silence from the public bar. The farmers, drinking, not saying much. The bartender, working quietly. To his left he could hear Kowalski's voice, muffled by the closed door. He couldn't make out what he was saying. He couldn't hear individual words. Just a low drone. Occasional rising intonations. Short barks of contempt. Old soldier's bullshit, probably.

  He turned the register through a hundred and eighty degrees. It moved easily, leather on shiny varnish. He opened it up. Leafed through the pages until he found his own entry. Two nights previously, J & L Bayswater, East 161st Street, Bronx, New York, USA, Rolls-Royce, R34-CHR. Then he scanned ahead. The following night three guests had registered: C. Groom, A. Burke, L. Kowalski. They had been less shy than Reacher himself about supplying personal information. Their business address had been accurately given as One 72nd Street, New York, New York, USA, which was the Dakota Building. Make of Vehicle had been given as Toyota Land Cruiser. There was a plate number
entered, a British seven-character mix of letters and numbers that meant nothing to Reacher beyond the fact that the car had to be a rental from London.

  No Toyota Land Cruiser in the lot.

  And where were Lane, Gregory, Perez, and Addison?

  He leafed backward through the book and saw that on any given night the Bishop's Arms had a

  maximum of three rooms to let. So assuming that Groom and Burke and Kowalski had been given a room each, there had been no room at the inn
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