The Hard Way by Lee Child

  figure stopped moving and turned around. Pointed at something waist-high to Reacher's right. There was a neatly engraved card taped to the door glass: Opening hours, 10 am-10 pm. Reacher shook his head and

  beckoned the small figure closer. It gave a little universal shrug of exasperation and headed his way. It was a woman. Short, dark, young, tired. She turned numerous complicated locks and opened the door against a thick steel chain.

  "We're closed," she said, through the narrow gap.

  "Department of Health," Reacher said.

  "You don't look like it," the woman said. And she was right. Reacher had looked convincing as a bum in a doorway. He didn't look convincing as a city bureaucrat. So he nodded at Gregory, in his neat gray suit.

  "He's with the city," he said. "I'm with him."

  "I was just inspected," the woman said.

  "This is about the building next door," Reacher said.

  "What about it?"

  Reacher glanced behind her. A confectionery store full of luxury items that nobody really needs. Therefore, a fragile client base. Therefore, an insecure proprietor.

  "Rats," he said. "I'm the exterminator. We've had reports."

  The woman went quiet.

  "You got a key for the alley gate?" Gregory asked her.

  The woman nodded. "But you can use my back door if you want. That would be quicker."

  She took the door off the chain. Led them inside through air intense with the smell of cocoa. The front of the store was dressed up for retail, and there was a working kitchen in back. Ovens, just now warming up. Dozens of shiny trays. Milk, butter, sugar. Vats of melting chocolate. Steel work-surfaces. A rear door, at the end of a short tiled hallway. The woman let them out through it and Reacher and Gregory found themselves in a brick alley about wide enough for the kind of carts and trucks they had in 1900. The alley ran east to west across the block with a single gated exit on Thompson Street at one end and a right-angle dogleg to the gate they had already seen on Spring at the other. The target building looked just as bad from the back as it had from the front. Or maybe even worse. Less graffiti, more decay. Ice damage on the

  brickwork, moss from spilling gutters.

  One ground floor window. And a back door.

  It was the same dull red color as the front door, but it looked even more decrepit. It looked like a wooden core sheeted over with steel and last painted by some GI looking for work after Korea. Or after World War Two. Or World War One. But it had a modern lock, just one, a good solid deadbolt. The handle was an old-fashioned brass ball, black and pitted with age. Impossible to tell whether it had been touched within the last hour. Reacher grabbed it and pushed. The door gave an eighth-inch and then stopped dead against the lock's steel tongue. No way in.

  Reacher turned back and headed for the chocolatier's kitchen. She was squeezing molten chocolate out of a heavy linen bag through a silver nozzle, dotting a baking sheet with one squeeze every two inches.

  "Want to lick the spoon?" she asked, watching him watching her.

  "You ever seen anyone next door?" he asked back.

  "Nobody," she said.

  "Not even coming and going?"

  "Never," she said. "It's a vacant building."

  "Are you here every day?"

  "From seven-thirty in the morning. I fire up the ovens first thing, and I turn them off at ten in the evening. Then I clean up and I'm out of here by eleven-thirty. Sixteen-hour days. I'm regular as clockwork."

  "Seven days a week?"

  "Small business. We never rest."

  "Hard life."

  "For you, too."


  "With the rats in this town." Reacher nodded. "Who's the owner next door?"

  "Don't you know?" the woman asked. "You're with the city."

  "You could save me some time," Reacher said. "The records are a mess."

  "I've got no idea," the woman said.

  "OK," Reacher said. "Have a great day."

  "Check the building permits on the front window. They have a bunch of phone numbers on them. The owner's probably listed. You should have seen the shit I had to list to get this place done."

  "Thanks," Reacher said.

  "Want a chocolate?"

  "Not on duty," he said.

  He followed Gregory out of the front of the store and they turned right and checked the target building's front window. It was backed with dark curtains. There were a dozen permits pasted to the glass. The glass was filthy with soot and the permits were dry and curled. All of them were long expired. But they still had phone numbers handwritten with a black marker pen, one number for each of the participants in the abandoned project. Architect, contractor, owner. Gregory didn't write them down. Just took out his small silver cell phone and took a picture with it. Then he used it again, this time to make a call to the Dakota.

  "Incoming," he said.

  He and Reacher walked west to Sixth Avenue and rode the C train eight stops north to 72nd Street. They came up into the daylight right next to Strawberry Fields. Walked into the Dakota's lobby at

  eight-thirty exactly.

  The woman who was watching the building saw them enter and made a note of the time.



  THE BAD NEWS put Edward Lane on a knife edge. Reacher watched him carefully and saw him struggling for control. He paced back and forth across the living room floor and curled his hands compulsively and scratched at his palms with his nails.

  "Conclusions?" he asked. Like a demand. Like an entitlement.

  "I'm revising my conclusions," Reacher said. "Maybe there aren't three guys. Maybe there are only two. One stays with Kate and Jade, the other comes down to the city alone. He doesn't really need to watch Gregory walk away down West Broadway because he's planning on using the back door anyway. He's already in the alley, out of sight."

  "Risky. Safer to be loose on the street."

  Reacher shook his head. "They did their homework. The neighbor is in her building from seven-thirty in the morning until eleven-thirty at night. Which explains the times they chose. Seven o'clock this morning, before she arrived. Eleven-forty the first night, after she left. Eleven-forty is a weirdly precise choice of time, don't you think? There had to be some reason for it."

  Edward Lane said nothing.

  Reacher said, "Or maybe there's only one guy. On his own. It's possible. If Kate and Jade are secured upstate, he could have come down alone."


  "Locked up somewhere. Maybe bound and gagged."

  "For twelve hours at a time? There and back?"

  "This is a kidnap. They're not at a health spa."

  "Just one guy?"

  "It's possible,' Reacher said again. "And maybe he wasn't in the alley at all. Maybe he was actually inside the building, waiting and ready. Maybe right behind the front door. Maybe Gregory dropped the keys right in his hand."

  "Will they call again?" Lane asked. "Will he?"

  "Four hours from now that same argument will start all over again."


  "What would you do?"

  Lane didn't answer directly. "If there's only one guy, how can he argue?"

  "With himself," Reacher said. "And that's the toughest kind of argument to have."

  Lane paced. But his hands stopped moving. It was like he had been hit with a new consideration. Reacher had been expecting it. Here it comes, he thought.

  "Maybe you're right," Lane said. "Maybe it isn't three guys."

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Maybe it's four guys," Lane said. "And maybe you're the fourth guy. Maybe that's why you were in that coffee shop the first night. You were watching your buddy's back. Making sure he got away OK."

  Reacher said nothing.

  "It was you who elected to watch the front door this morning," Lane said. "Because you knew nothing would happen there. You should have watched the car. You should have been on Sixth Avenue, not Spring Street. And you knew they were go
ing to ask for five million more. You're one of them, aren't you?"

  Silence in the room.

  "Two questions," Reacher said. "Why would I have gone back to the coffee shop the second night? Nothing was happening the second night. And if I was a bad guy, why would I have told Gregory I had seen anything at all?"

  Because you wanted to worm your way inside where you could steer us wrong. You knew I would send someone out to look for witnesses. That was obvious. And you were right there, like a spider waiting for a fly."

  Lane glanced around the room. Reacher followed his gaze. A quiet desperate atmosphere, subdued menace, six Special Forces veterans, all looking back at him, all as hard as nails, all full of hostility toward the stranger and all full of any fighting soldier's suspicion of an MR He checked their faces, one through six. Then he looked down at Kate

  Lane's photograph.

  "Pity," he said. "Your wife is a beautiful woman, Mr. Lane. And your daughter is a lovely kid. And if you want to get them back, then I'm all you've got. Because like I said, these guys here can start a war, but they're not investigators. They can't find what you're looking for. I know guys like these. Guys like these, they couldn't find their own assholes if I gave them a mirror on a stick."

  Nobody spoke.

  "You know where I live?" Reacher asked.

  "I could find out," Lane said.

  "You couldn't," Reacher said. "Because I don't really live anywhere. I move around. Here, there, and everywhere. So if I choose to walk out of here today, you'll never see me again, the whole rest of your life. You can count on that."

  Lane didn't answer.

  "And therefore Kate," Reacher said. "You'll never see her again, either. You can count on that, too."

  "You wouldn't get out of here alive," Lane said. "Not unless I chose to let you."

  Reacher shook his head. "You won't use firearms in here. Not inside the Dakota. I'm sure that would break the terms of your co-op lease. And I'm not worried about hand-to-hand combat. Not against little guys like these. You remember how it was back in the service, don't you? Your guys stepped out of line,

  who did you call? The 110th Special Unit, that's who. Hard men need harder cops. I was one of those cops. And I'm willing to be one again. Against all of you at once, if you like."

  Nobody spoke.

  "I'm not here to steer you wrong," Reacher said. "If I wanted to steer you wrong, I'd have given you descriptions of two fantasy guys this morning. Short, tall, fat, thin, whatever. Eskimos in fur hats. Africans in full tribal dress. I'd have had you chasing shadows all over the place. But I didn't. I came back here and told you I'm sorry that actually I'm not steering you anyplace yet. Because I am sorry about that. Really. I'm sorry about the whole damn thing."

  Nobody spoke.

  "But you need to hang with it," Reacher said. "We all do. Things like this are never easy."

  The room stayed quiet. Then Lane exhaled. He nodded.

  "I apologize," he said. "Most sincerely. Please forgive me. It's the stress."

  Reacher said, "No offense taken."

  Lane said, "One million dollars to find my wife."

  "For me?" Reacher said.

  "As a fee."

  "That's some raise. It was twenty-five grand a few hours ago."

  "The situation is more serious now than it was a few hours ago."

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Will you accept?" Lane asked.

  "We'll talk about a fee afterward," Reacher said. "If I succeed."


  "I'm way behind the curve here. Success depends on how much longer we can keep this thing going."

  "Will they call back again?"

  "Yes, I think they will."

  "Why did you mention Africans?"


  "Just now. You said Africans in full tribal dress. As an example of a fantasy description."

  "It was an example. Like you said."

  "What do you know about Africa?"

  "It's a large continent south of Europe. I've never been there."

  "What do we do next?"

  "We think," Reacher said.

  Lane went to his office and five men went out for breakfast. Reacher stayed in the living room. Gregory stayed in there with him. They sat across from each other on a pair of low sofas. Between the sofas was a coffee table. The coffee table was topped with French polished mahogany. The sofas were covered with flowery chintz. There were velvet throw pillows. The whole room seemed ludicrously overdecorated and overstyled and overcivilized, given the issues at hand. And it was totally dominated by the portrait of Kate Lane. Her eyes were everywhere.

  "Can you get her back?" Gregory asked.

  "I don't know," Reacher said. "Usually this kind of a thing doesn't end happily. Kidnapping is a brutal business. Usually it's the exact same thing as homicide, just delayed a little."

  "That's pretty defeatist."

  "No, it's realistic."

  "Any chance at all?"

  "Maybe some, if we're only halfway through. Probably none, if we're near the end. I don't have any traction yet. And any kidnap, the endgame is always the hardest part."

  "You think they were really in the building when I dropped the keys?"

  "It's possible. And it would make sense. Why wait outside when they could wait inside?"

  "OK," Gregory said. "So how about this: That's their base. That's where they are. Not upstate."

  "Where are the cars?"

  "In parking garages all around the city."

  "Why the five-hour delays?"

  "To create a false impression."

  "It would be one hell of a double-bluff," Reacher said. "They led us right there. Gave us the exact address."

  "But it's conceivable."

  Reacher shrugged. "Not very. But stranger things have happened, I guess. So go call those numbers. Find out what you can. If possible, aim to have someone meet us with a key. But not right there. On the corner of Thompson. Out of sight. Just in case."


  "Now. We need to be back here before the next ransom demand."

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