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Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(10)
Author: Lee Child

She said, ‘Only because they’re not smart enough to catch me.’

The guy smiled and ran his tongue out through the gap in his teeth. He said, ‘Catch you doing what, little missy?’

Casey Nice said, ‘You should get that tooth fixed. You’d have a nice smile, if you did. And you should take the washing machine out of the yard. I don’t think it’s compulsory.’

‘Are you making fun of me?’ The guy stepped up and stared at her, and then he glanced at me, and I gave him a blank-eyed look, like I had a fifth of a second to decide whether to leave him limping for a week, or in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He paused a beat, and then he said, ‘Well, I hope y’all have a nice visit with your buddy,’ and he walked away, around the back of his house again, but this time on the dish side. We stood for a second in the weak spring sun, and then we got back in the rented truck and aimed it across the two-lane’s hump, straight at the mouth of Kott’s stony track.


THE TRACK WAS little better than a dry riverbed, but at least it wasn’t straight. Not at first. It came in off the two-lane at a shallow angle, and then it turned sharp right, to climb up a bank, before it curved left again, to align itself with the ravine it was following. Then it was going to hairpin right. And beyond that we couldn’t see. Casey Nice was hunched forward, fighting the wheel, which was writhing and bucking in her hands.

I said, ‘You need to sit back. In fact you need to push your chair back.’


‘Because when the shooting starts, you need to get down in the foot well. I don’t know if the engine in this thing is iron or aluminium, but either one is good protection. If you’re not killed instantly, that is.’

‘He’s in London.’

‘One of them is. The other three aren’t.’

‘He’s the pick of the litter.’

‘He’s been in prison fifteen years.’

‘With a plan. Either it worked or it didn’t. If it did, he’s as good as he ever was. Which is plenty good enough for Paris. Or he might even be better than he ever was. Have you thought of that? Which would be superhuman, basically.’

‘Is that the State Department’s official in-house analysis? You guys should stick to passports and visas.’

We crawled on up, towards the blind hairpin turn. We saw no surveillance. No one was monitoring our progress. The ravine we were following would look small from the air, like a scratch on a lover’s back, but up close and personal, on a human scale, it was plenty impressive. It was maybe thirty feet deep, like a long gash from a raked claw, and the bottom was filled with broken and tumbled rocks, so that not much grew there except small hardy weeds and bushes. The trees restarted at the tops of the banks, and their leaves were out, still curled and half-sized, but numerous enough to block the view.

I said, ‘Maybe we should walk from here.’

‘Seven feet apart?’

‘At least.’

She slowed the truck and came to a bouncing stop. There was nowhere to pull off. The track was about one truck wide. Which was good. I said, ‘If he’s out at the grocery store we’ll hear him get back. He’s going to honk his horn when he finds this thing here.’

‘He’s in London.’

‘Stay with the truck, if you want.’

‘I don’t want.’

‘Then you go first. Like you were selling encyclopedias. He won’t shoot you.’

‘You sure?’

‘You haven’t challenged him yet.’

‘See? You do know something about him.’

‘I’ll be about twenty yards behind. Holler if there’s a problem.’

I watched her go. She stepped neatly from rock to rock in the centre of the track, and carefully, as if the streambed had water in it, and she needed to keep her feet dry. I followed twenty yards back, stepping longer but slower, planting my feet like climbing a hill, even though the slope was gradual. She paused before the hairpin and looked back, and I shrugged, and she moved on out of sight. I stopped for a moment and listened hard, but heard nothing except the click of stones under her feet, so I moved on after her, a little faster, aiming to close the gap to what it had been before.

After the hairpin turn there was a long straight stretch along the uphill side of the ravine, and then a suggestion of a clearing in the trees, and maybe a house made of the same dark boards as its neighbour. And maybe a wink of dull blue paint, to the left, behind distant leaves. Maybe a parked pick-up truck, from way back long ago. Total distance from me to there was about a hundred yards.

Up ahead Casey Nice had moved over to the edge of the track. Slower going, but I guess she felt better there. As did I. I crabbed over to the opposite edge. No point in presenting a single linear target. No point in her getting killed by a miss aimed at me, and no point in me getting killed by a miss aimed at her.

We moved on, in diagonal lock step, until she reached the edge of the clearing, where she paused and looked back. I gestured hold still, a standard infantry hand signal from way back in basic, but she got it and pulled back a step into the trees. I crossed the track, three long strides, and I joined her. She said, ‘Want me to go knock on the door?’

I said, ‘I think you’re going to have to.’

‘Does he have a dog?’

‘It would have barked already.’

She nodded and took a breath and stepped out. I heard the sound change under her feet, from clicking stones to crunching gravel. I heard her knock on the door. No bell. Just a loud tap-tap-tap from her knuckles on the wood, which might have sounded urgent in the city, but which seemed appropriate in the countryside, where people can be busy far away.

There was no response.

No tread or creak inside the house, no scuffle or crunch around it.


She knocked again.


Silence. No response. No one home, no watchers, no surveillance.

I stepped out and hiked across and joined her. Most of the windows in the house had closed drapes behind them, and what few peeks in we got showed us nothing much except plain rooms furnished cheaply some years ago. The house was a long low ranch, very similar in style to the neighbour’s below. Maybe built by the same people, at the same time. It was solid. The clearing where it stood was beaten earth half-heartedly sown with gravel. Last year’s weeds were coming back, thinner by the front door, because of foot traffic, and equally by the back door, and equally along informal curving paths that led from both doors to where the blue truck was parked.

The blue truck was indeed a Ford, and ancient. A hundred bucks in cash, probably. Perfect for a guy just out of Leavenworth. It was stone cold and looked like it hadn’t been moved in a while, but who could tell with a truck that old?

Casey Nice was looking for places to hide a spare key. Of which there was a notable lack. No flowerpots by the door, no statues, no stone lions. She said, ‘Should we break in?’

I saw a third path. Nothing more than a long shallow depression, and damaged weeds coming back differently, smaller in size, with dark bruised leaves. The path led beyond the old truck, and up towards the next ravine.

I said, ‘Let’s check this out first.’

She followed me single file, into the woods, right and left, and we found ourselves at the eastern end of another ravine. It was very like the one we had already seen, a gouge in the earth, maybe thirty feet deep, shaped like a bathtub of tremendous length. Some old geological event. Glaciation, possibly, a million years ago, giant sharp boulders embedded in a trillion tons of ice, grinding slow but certain, like ploughs in a field. Like its twin it had broken rocks in the bottom, with not much growing there. Either side the trees grew tall, emphasizing the trench’s depth, and exaggerating its length.

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