Persuader Chapter 15

Ten years ago I waited eighteen hours for him. I never doubted he was coming. I just sat in his armchair with the Ruger on my lap and waited. I didn't sleep. I barely even blinked. Just sat. All through the night. Through the dawn. All through the next morning. Midday came and went. I just sat and waited for him.

He came at two o'clock in the afternoon. I heard a car slowing on the road and stood up and kept well back from the window and watched as he turned in. He was in a rental, similar to mine. It was a red Pontiac. I saw him clearly through the windshield. He was neat and clean. His hair was combed. He was wearing a blue shirt with the collar open. He was smiling. The car swept past the side of the house and I heard it crunch to a stop on the dirt outside the kitchen. I stepped through to the hallway. Pressed myself against the wall next to the kitchen door.

I heard his key in the lock. Heard the door swing open. The hinges squealed in protest. He left it open. I heard his car idling outside. He hadn't switched it off. He wasn't planning on staying long. I heard his feet on the kitchen linoleum. A fast, light, confident tread. A man who thought he was playing and winning. He came through the door. I hit him in the side of the head with my elbow.

He went down on the floor on his back and I spanned my hand and pinned him by the throat. Laid the Ruger aside and patted him down. He was unarmed. I let go of his neck and his head came up and I smashed it back down with the heel of my hand under his chin. The back of his head hit the floor and his eyes rolled up in his head. I walked through the kitchen and closed the door. Stepped back and dragged him into the living room by the wrists. Dropped him on the floor and slapped him twice. Aimed the Ruger at the center of his face and waited for his eyes to open.

They opened and focused first on the gun and then on me. I was in uniform and all covered in badges of rank and unit designations so it didn't take him long to work out who I was and why I was there.

’’Wait,’’ he said.

’’For what?’’

’’You're making a mistake.’’

’’Am I?’’

’’You've got it wrong.’’

’’Have I?’’

He nodded. ’’They were on the take.’’

’’Who were?’’

’’Frasconi and Kohl.’’

’’Were they?’’

He nodded again. ’’And then he tried to cheat her.’’

’’How?’’

’’Can I sit up?’’

I shook my head. Kept the gun where it was.

’’No,’’ I said.

’’I was running a sting,’’ he said. ’’I was working with the State Department. Against hostile embassies. I was trawling.’’

’’What about Gorowski's kid?’’

He shook his head, impatiently. ’’Nothing happened with the damn kid, you idiot. Gorowski had a script to follow, that's all. It was a setup. In case the hostiles checked on him. We play these things deep. There has to be a chain to follow, in case anyone is suspicious. We were doing proper dead drops and everything. In case we were being watched.’’

’’What about Frasconi and Kohl?’’

’’They were good. They picked up on me real early. Assumed I wasn't legit. Which pleased me. Meant I was playing my part just right. Then they went bad. They came to me and said they'd slow the investigation if I paid them. They said they'd give me time to leave the country. They thought I wanted to do that. So I figured, hey, why not play along? Because who knows in advance what bad guys a trawl will find? And the more the merrier, right? So I played them out.’’

I said nothing.

’’The investigation was slow, wasn't it?’’ he said. ’’You must have noticed that. Weeks and weeks. It was real slow.’’

Slow as molasses.

’’Then yesterday happened,’’ he said. ’’I got the Syrians and the Lebanese and the Iranians in the bag. Then the Iraqis, who were the big fish. So I figured it was time to put your guys in the bag too. They came over for their final payoff. It was a lot of money. But Frasconi wanted it all. He hit me over the head. I came around and found he had sliced Kohl up. He was a crazy man, believe me. I got to a gun in a drawer and shot him.’’

’’So why did you run?’’

’’Because I was freaked. I'm a Pentagon guy. I never saw blood before. And I didn't know who else might be in it with your guys. There could have been more.’’

Frasconi and Kohl.

’’You're very good,’’ he said to me. ’’You came right here.’’

I nodded. Thought back to his eight-page bio, in Kohl's tidy handwriting. Parents'occupations, childhood home.

’’Whose idea was it?’’ I said.

’’Originally?’’ he said. ’’Frasconi's, of course. He outranked her.’’

’’What was her name?’’

I saw a flicker in his eyes.

’’Kohl,’’ he said.

I nodded again. She had gone out to make the arrest in dress greens. A black acetate nameplate above her right breast. Kohl. Gender-neutral. Uniform, female enlisted, the nameplate is adjusted to individual figure differences and centered horizontally on the right side between one and two inches above the top button of the coat. He would have seen it as soon as she walked in the door.

’’First name?’’

He paused.

’’Don't recall,’’ he said.

’’Frasconi's first name?’’

Uniform, male officer, the nameplate is centered on the right-side breast pocket flap equidistant between the seam and the button.

’’I don't recall.’’

’’Try,’’ I said.

’’I can't recall it,’’ he said. ’’It's only a detail.’’

’’Three out of ten,’’ I said. ’’Call it an E.’’

’’What?’’

’’Your performance,’’ I said. ’’A failing grade.’’

’’What?’’

’’Your dad was a railroad worker,’’ I said. ’’Your mom was a homemaker. Your full name is Francis Xavier Quinn.’’

’’So?’’

’’Investigations are like that,’’ I said. ’’You plan to put somebody in the bag, you find out all about them first. You were playing those two for weeks and weeks and never found out their first names? Never looked at their service records? Never made any notes? Never filed any reports?’’

He said nothing.

’’And Frasconi never had an idea in his life,’’ I said. ’’Never even took a dump unless somebody told him to. Nobody connected to those two would ever say Frasconi and Kohl. They'd say Kohl and Frasconi. You were dirty all the way and you never saw my guys in your life before the exact minute they showed up at your house to arrest you. And you killed them both.’’

He proved I was right by trying to fight me. I was ready for him. He started to scramble up. I knocked him back down, a lot harder than I really needed to. He was still unconscious when I put him in the trunk of his car. Still unconscious when I transferred him to the trunk of mine, behind the abandoned diner. I drove a little way south on U.S. 101 and took a right that led toward the Pacific. I stopped on a gravel turnout. There was a fabulous view. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was shining and the ocean was blue. The turnout had a knee-high metal barrier and then there was another half-yard of gravel and then there was a long vertical drop into the surf. Traffic was very light. Maybe a car every couple of minutes. The road was just an arbitrary loop off the highway.

I opened the trunk and then slammed it again just in case he was awake and planning to jump out at me. But he wasn't. He was starved of air and barely conscious. I dragged him out and propped him up on rubbery legs and made him walk. Let him look at the ocean for a minute while I checked for potential witnesses. There were none. So I turned him around. Stepped away five paces.

’’Her name was Dominique,’’ I said.

Then I shot him. Twice in the head, once in the chest. I expected him to go straight down on the gravel, whereupon I was planning to step in close and put a fourth up through his eye socket before throwing him into the ocean. But he didn't go straight down on the gravel. He staggered backward and tripped on the rail and went over it and hit the last half-yard of America with his shoulder and rolled straight over the cliff. I grabbed the barrier with one hand and leaned over and looked down. Saw him hit the rocks. The surf closed over him. I didn't see him again. I stayed there for a full minute. Thought: Two in the head, one in the heart, a hundred-twenty-foot fall into the ocean, no way to survive that.

I picked up my shell cases. ’’Ten-eighteen, Dom,’’ I said to myself, and walked back to my car.

Ten years later it was going dark very fast and I was picking my way over the rocks behind the garage block. The sea was heaving and thrashing on my right. The wind was in my face. I didn't expect to see anybody out and about. Especially not at the sides or the back of the house. So I was moving fast, head up, alert, a Persuader in each hand. I'm coming to get you, Quinn.

When I cleared the rear of the garage block I could see the catering company's truck parked at the back corner of the building. It was exactly where Harley had put the Lincoln to unload Beck's maid from the trunk. The truck's rear doors were open and the driver and the passenger were shuttling back and forth unpacking it. The metal detector on the kitchen door was beeping at every foil dish they carried. I was hungry. I could smell hot food on the wind. Both guys were in tuxedos. Their heads were ducked down because of the weather. They weren't paying attention to anything except their jobs. But I gave them a wide berth anyway. I stayed all the way on the edge of the rocks and skirted around in a loop. Jumped over Harley's cleft and kept on going.

When I was as far from the caterers as I could get I cut in and headed for the opposite back corner of the house. I felt real good. I felt silent and invisible. Like some kind of a primeval force, howling in from the sea. I stood still and worked out which would be the dining room windows. I found them. The lights were on in the room. I stepped in close and risked a look through the glass.

First person I saw was Quinn. He was standing up straight in a dark suit. He had a drink in his hand. His hair was pure gray. The scars on his forehead were small and pink and shiny. He was a little stooped. A little heavier than he had been. He was ten years older.

Next to him was Beck. He was in a dark suit, too. He had a drink. He was shoulder to shoulder with his boss. Together they were facing three Arab guys. The Arabs were short, with black oiled hair. They were in American clothes. Sharkskin suits, light grays and blues. They had drinks, too.

Behind them Richard and Elizabeth Beck were standing close together, talking. The whole thing was like a free-form cocktail party crammed around the edges of the giant dining table. The table was set with eighteen places. It was very formal. Each setting had three glasses and enough flatware to last a week. The cook was bustling about the room with a tray of drinks. I could see champagne flutes and whiskey tumblers. She was in a dark skirt and a white blouse. She was relegated to cocktail waitress. Maybe her expertise didn't stretch to Middle Eastern cuisine.

I couldn't see Teresa Daniel. Maybe they planned to make her jump out of a cake, later. The other occupants of the room were all men. Three of them. Quinn's best boys, presumably. They were a random trio. A mixture. Hard faces, but probably no more dangerous than Angel Doll or Harley had been.

So, eighteen settings, but only ten diners. Eight absentees. Duke, Angel Doll, Harley, and Emily Smith made four of them. The guy they had sent to the gatehouse to replace Paulie was presumably the fifth. That left three unaccounted for. One on the front door, one in Duke's window, and one with Teresa Daniel, probably.

I stayed on the outside, looking in. I had been to cocktail parties and formal dinners plenty of times. Depending on where you served they played a big part in base life. I figured these people would be in there four hours, minimum. They wouldn't come out except for bathroom breaks. Quinn was talking. He was sharing eye contact scrupulously among the three Arabs. He was holding forth. Smiling, gesturing, laughing. He looked like a guy who was playing and winning. But he wasn't. His plans had been disrupted. A banquet for eighteen had become dinner for ten, because I was still around.

I ducked under the window and crawled toward the kitchen. Stayed on my knees and slipped out of my coat and left the Persuaders wrapped in it where I could find them again. Then I stood up and walked straight into the kitchen. The metal detector beeped at the Beretta in my pocket. The catering guys were in there. They were doing something with aluminum foil. I nodded at them like I lived there and walked straight into the hallway. My feet were quiet on the thick rugs. I could hear the loud buzz of cocktail conversation from the dining room. I could see a guy at the front door. He had his back to me and he was staring out the window. He had his shoulder leaning on the edge of the window recess. His hair was haloed blue by the wall lights in the distance. I walked straight up behind him. Shoot to kill. Them or me. I paused for one second. Reached around and cupped my right hand under his chin. Put my left knuckles against the base of his neck. Jerked up and back with my right and down and forward with my left and snapped his neck at the fourth vertebra. He sagged back against me and I caught him under the arms and walked him into Elizabeth Beck's parlor and dumped him on the sofa. Doctor Zhivago was still there on a side table.

One down.

I closed the parlor door on him and headed for the stairs. Went up, quick and quiet. Stopped outside Duke's room. Eliot was sprawled just inside the doorway. Dead. He was on his back. His jacket was thrown open and his shirt was stiff with blood and full of holes. The rugs under him were crusty. I stepped over him and kept behind the door and glanced into the room. Saw why he had died. The NSV had jammed. He must have taken Duffy's call and been on his way out of the room when he looked up and saw a convoy coming toward him on the road. He must have darted toward the big gun. Squeezed the trigger and felt it jam. It was a piece of junk. The mechanic had it field-stripped on the floor and was crouched over it trying to repair the belt feed mechanism. He was intent on his task. Didn't see me coming. Didn't hear me.

Shoot to kill. Them or me.

Two down.

I left him lying on top of the machine gun. The barrel stuck out from under him and looked like a third arm. I checked the view from the window. The wall lights were still blazing. I checked my watch. I was exactly thirty minutes into my hour.

I went back downstairs. Through the hallway. Like a ghost. To the basement door. The lights were on down there. I went down the stairs. Through the gymnasium. Past the washing machine. I pulled the Beretta out of my pocket. Clicked the safety. Held it out in front of me and turned the corner and walked straight toward the two rooms. One of them was empty and had its door standing open. The other was closed up and had a young thin guy sitting on a chair in front of it. He had the chair tilted back against it. He looked straight at me. His eyes went wide. His mouth came open. No sound came out. He didn't seem like much of a threat. He was wearing a T-shirt with Dell on it. Maybe this was Troy, the computer geek.

’’Keep quiet if you want to live,’’ I said.

He kept quiet.

’’Are you Troy?’’

He stayed quiet and nodded yes.

’’OK, Troy,’’ I said.

I figured we were right underneath the dining room. I couldn't risk firing a gun in a stone cellar right under everybody's feet. So I put the Beretta back in my pocket and caught him around the neck and banged his head on the wall, twice, and put him to sleep. Maybe I cracked his skull, maybe I didn't. I didn't really care either way. His keyboard work had killed the maid.

Three down.

I found the key in his pocket. Used it in the lock and swung open the door and found Teresa Daniel sitting on her mattress. She turned and looked straight at me. She looked exactly like the photographs Duffy had shown me in my motel room early in the morning on day eleven. She looked in perfect health. Her hair was washed and brushed. She was wearing a virginal white dress. White panty hose and white shoes. Her skin was pale and her eyes were blue. She looked like a human sacrifice.

I paused a moment, unsure. I couldn't predict her reaction. She must have figured out what they wanted from her. And she didn't know me. As far as she knew, I was one of them, ready to lead her right to the altar. And she was a trained federal agent. If I asked her to come with me, she might start fighting. She might be storing it up, waiting for her chance. And I didn't want things to get noisy. Not yet.

But then I looked again at her eyes. One pupil was enormous. The other was tiny. She was very still. Very quiet. Slack and dazed. She was all doped up. Maybe with some kind of a fancy substance. What was it? The date rape drug? Rohypnol? Rophynol? I couldn't remember its name. Not my area of expertise. Eliot would have known. Duffy or Villanueva would still know. It made people passive and obedient and acquiescent. Made them lie back and take anything they were told to take.

’’Teresa?’’ I whispered.

She didn't answer.

’’You OK?’’ I whispered.

She nodded.

’’I'm fine,’’ she said.

’’Can you walk?’’

’’Yes,’’ she said.

’’Walk with me.’’

She stood up. She was unsteady on her feet. Muscle weakness, I guessed. She had been caged for nine weeks.

’’This way,’’ I said.

She didn't move. She just stood there. I put out my hand. She reached out and took it. Her skin was warm and dry.

’’Let's go,’’ I said. ’’Don't look at the man on the floor.’’

I stopped her again just outside the door. Let her hand go and dragged Troy into the room and closed the door on him and locked it. Took Teresa's hand again and walked away. She was very suggestible. Very obedient. She just fixed her gaze out in front of her and walked with me. We turned the corner and passed by the washing machine. We walked through the gymnasium. Her dress was silky and lacy. She was holding my hand like a date. I felt like I was going to the prom. We walked up the stairs, side by side. Reached the top.

’’Wait here,’’ I said. ’’Don't go anywhere without me, OK?’’

’’OK,’’ she whispered.

’’Don't make any noise at all, OK?’’

’’I won't.’’

I closed the door on her and left her on the top step, with her hand resting lightly on the rail and a bare lightbulb burning behind her. I checked the hallway carefully and headed back to the kitchen. The food guys were still busy in there.

’’You guys called Keast and Maden?’’ I said.

The one nearer me nodded.

’’Paul Keast,’’ he said.

’’Chris Maden,’’ his partner said.

’’I need to move your truck, Paul,’’ I said.

’’Why?’’

’’Because it's in the way.’’

The guy just looked at me. ’’You told me to put it there.’’

’’I didn't tell you to leave it there.’’

He shrugged and rooted around on a counter and came up with his keys.

’’Whatever,’’ he said.

I took the keys and went outside and checked the back of the truck. It was fitted out with metal racks on either side. For trays of food. There was a narrow aisle running down the center. No windows. It would do. I left the rear doors open and slid into the driver's seat and fired it up. Backed it out to the carriage circle and turned it around and reversed it back to the kitchen door. Now it was facing the right way. I killed the motor but left the keys in it. Went back inside the kitchen. The metal detector beeped.

’’What are they eating?’’ I asked.

’’Lamb kebabs,’’ Maden said. ’’With rice and couscous and humus. Stuffed grape leaves to start. Baklava for dessert. With coffee.’’

’’That's Libyan?’’

’’It's generic,’’ he said. ’’They eat it everywhere.’’

’’I used to get that for a dollar,’’ I said. ’’You're charging fifty-five.’’

’’Where? In Portland?’’

’’In Beirut,’’ I said.

I stepped out and checked the hallway. All quiet. I opened the basement door. Teresa Daniel was waiting right there, like an automaton. I held out my hand.

’’Let's go,’’ I said.

She stepped out. I closed the door behind her. Walked her into the kitchen. Keast and Maden stared at her. I ignored them and walked her through. Out through the door. Over to the truck. She shivered in the cold. I helped her climb into the back.

’’Wait there for me now,’’ I said. ’’Very quiet, OK?’’

She nodded and said nothing.

’’I'm going to close the doors on you,’’ I said.

She nodded again.

’’I'll get you out of there soon,’’ I said.

’’Thank you,’’ she said.

I closed the doors on her and went back to the kitchen. Stood still and listened. I could hear talking from the dining room. It all sounded reasonably social.

’’When do they eat?’’ I said.

’’Twenty minutes,’’ Maden said. ’’When they're through with the drinks. There was champagne included in the fifty-five dollars, you know.’’

’’OK,’’ I said. ’’Don't take offense.’’

I checked my watch. Forty-five minutes gone. Fifteen minutes to go.

Show time.

I went back outside into the cold. Slipped into the food truck and fired it up. Eased it forward, slowly around the corner of the house, slowly around the carriage circle, slowly down the driveway. Away from the house. Through the gate. Onto the road. I hit the gas. Took the curves fast. Jammed to a stop level with Villanueva's Taurus. Jumped out. Villanueva and Duffy were instantly out to meet me.

’’Teresa's in the back,’’ I said. ’’She's OK but she's all doped up.’’

Duffy pumped her fists and jumped on me and hugged me hard and Villanueva wrenched open the doors. Teresa fell into his arms. He lifted her down like a child. Then Duffy grabbed her away from him and he took a turn hugging me.

’’You should take her to the hospital,’’ I said.

’’We'll take her to the motel,’’ Duffy said. ’’We're still off the books.’’

’’You sure?’’

’’She'll be OK,’’ Villanueva said. ’’Looks like they gave her roofies. Probably from their dope-dealer pals. But they don't last long. They flush out fast.’’

Duffy was hugging Teresa like a sister. Villanueva was still hugging me.

’’Eliot's dead,’’ I said.

That put a real damper on the mood.

’’Call ATF from the motel,’’ I said. ’’If I don't call you first.’’

They just looked at me.

’’I'm going back now,’’ I said.

I turned the truck around and headed back. I could see the house ahead of me. The windows were lit up yellow. The wall lights flared blue in the mist. The truck fought the wind. Plan B, I decided. Quinn was mine, but the others could be ATF's headache.

I stopped on the far side of the carriage circle and reversed down the side of the house. Stopped outside the kitchen. Got out and walked around the back of the house and found my coat. Unwrapped the Persuaders. Put my coat on. I needed it. It was a cold night and I would be on the road again in about five minutes.

I stepped across to the dining room windows to check inside. They had closed the drapes. Makes sense, I thought. It was a wild blustery night. The dining room would look better with closed drapes. Cozier. Oriental rugs on the floor, wood paneling, silver on the linen tablecloth.

I picked up the Persuaders and walked back to the kitchen. The metal detector squealed. The food guys had ten plates with stuffed grape leaves all lined up on a counter. The leaves looked dark and oily and tough. I was hungry but I couldn't have eaten one. The way my teeth were right then would have made it impossible. I figured I would be eating ice cream for a week, thanks to Paulie.

’’Hold off with the food for five minutes, OK?’’ I said.

Keast and Maden stared at the shotguns.

’’Your keys,’’ I said.

I dropped them next to the grape leaves. I didn't need them anymore. I had the keys Beck had given me. I figured I would leave by the front door and use the Cadillac. Faster. More comfortable. I took a knife from the wooden block. Used it to put a slit in the inside of my right-hand coat pocket, just wide enough to allow a Persuader's barrel down into the lining. I picked the gun I had killed Harley with and holstered it there. I held the other one two-handed. Took a breath. Stepped into the hallway. Keast and Maden watched me go. First thing I did was check the powder room. No point in getting all dramatic if Quinn wasn't even in the dining room. But the powder room was empty. Nobody on bathroom break.

The dining room door was closed. I took another breath. Then another. Then I kicked it in and stepped inside and fired two Brennekes into the ceiling. They were like stun grenades. The twin explosions were colossal. Plaster and wood rained down. Dust and smoke filled the air. Everybody froze like statues. I leveled the gun at Quinn's chest. Echoes died away.

’’Remember me?’’ I said.

Elizabeth Beck screamed in the sudden silence.

I moved another step into the room and kept the muzzle on Quinn.

’’Remember me?’’ I said again.

One second. Two. His mouth started moving.

’’I saw you in Boston,’’ he said. ’’On the street. A Saturday night. Maybe two weeks ago.’’

’’Try again,’’ I said.

His face was completely blank. He didn't remember me. They diagnosed amnesia, Duffy had said. Certainly about the trauma, because that's almost inevitable. They figured he might be genuinely blank about the incident and the previous day or two.

’’I'm Reacher,’’ I said. ’’I need you to remember me.’’

He glanced helplessly at Beck.

’’Her name was Dominique,’’ I said.

He turned back to me. Stared at me. Eyes wide. Now he knew who I was. His face changed. Blood drained out and fury swarmed in. And fear. The.22 scars went pure white. I thought about aiming right between them. It would be a difficult shot.

’’You really thought I wouldn't find you?’’ I said.

’’Can we talk?’’ he said. Sounded like his mouth was dry.

’’No,’’ I said. ’’You've already been talking ten extra years.’’

’’We're all armed here,’’ Beck said. He sounded afraid. The three Arabs were staring at me. They had plaster dust stuck to the oil in their hair.

’’So tell everybody to hold their fire,’’ I said. ’’No reason for more than one casualty here.’’

People eased away from me. Dust settled on the table. A slab of falling ceiling had broken a glass. I moved with the crowd and turned and adjusted the geometry to herd the bad guys together at one end of the room. At the same time I tried to force Elizabeth and Richard and the cook together at the other. Where they would be safe, by the window. Pure body language. I turned my shoulder and inched forward and even though the table was between me and most of them they went where I wanted them. The little gathering parted obediently into two groups, eight and three.

’’Everybody should step away from Mr. Xavier now,’’ I said.

Everybody did, except Beck. Beck stayed right at his shoulder. I stared at him. Then I realized Quinn had a grip on his arm. He was holding it tight just above the elbow. Pulling on it. Pulling on it hard. Looking for a human shield.

’’These slugs are an inch wide,’’ I said to him. ’’As long as I can see an inch of you, that won't work very well.’’

He said nothing back. Just kept on pulling. Beck was resisting. There was fear in his eyes, too. It was a static little slow-motion contest. But I guessed Quinn was winning it. Inside ten seconds Beck's left shoulder was overlapping Quinn's right. Both of them were quivering with effort. Even though the Persuader had a pistol grip instead of a stock I raised it high to my shoulder and sighted carefully down the barrel.

’’I can still see you,’’ I said.

’’Don't shoot,’’ Richard Beck said, behind me.

Something in his voice.

I glanced back at him. Just a brief turn of my head. Just a flash. There and back. He had a Beretta in his hand. It was identical to the one in my pocket. It was pointed at my head. The electric light was harsh on it. It was highlighted. Even though I had only looked for a fraction of a second I had seen the elegant engraving on the slide. Pietro Beretta. I had seen the dew of new oil. I had seen the little red dot that is revealed when the safety is pushed to fire.

’’Put it away, Richard,’’ I said.

’’Not while my father is there,’’ he said.

’’Let go of him, Quinn,’’ I said.

’’Don't shoot, Reacher,’’ Richard said. ’’I'll shoot you first.’’

By then Quinn had Beck almost all the way in front of him.

’’Don't shoot,’’ Richard said again.

’’Put it down, Richard,’’ I said.

’’No.’’

’’Put it down.’’

’’No.’’

I listened carefully to his voice. He wasn't moving. He was standing still. I knew exactly where he was. I knew the angle I would have to turn through. I rehearsed it in my head. Turn. Fire. Pump. Turn. Fire. I could get them both within a second and a quarter. Too fast for Quinn to react. I took a breath.

Then I pictured Richard in my mind. The silly hair, the missing ear. The long fingers. I pictured the big Brenneke slug blasting through him, crushing, bludgeoning, the immense kinetic energy blowing him apart. I couldn't do it.

’’Put it away,’’ I said.

’’No.’’

’’Please.’’

’’No.’’

’’You're helping them.’’

’’I'm helping my dad.’’

’’I won't hit your dad.’’

’’I can't take that risk. He's my dad.’’

’’Elizabeth, tell him.’’

’’No,’’ she said. ’’He's my husband.’’

Stalemate.

Worse than stalemate. Because there was absolutely nothing I could do. I couldn't fire on Richard. Because I wouldn't let myself. Therefore I couldn't fire on Quinn. And I couldn't say I wasn't going to fire on Quinn because then eight guys would immediately pull guns on me. I might get a few of them, but sooner or later one of them would get me. And I couldn't separate Quinn from Beck. No way was Quinn going to let go of Beck and walk out of the room alone with me. Stalemate.

Plan C.

’’Put it away, Richard,’’ I said.

Listen.

’’No.’’

He hadn't moved. I rehearsed it again. Turn. Fire. I took a breath. Spun and fired. A foot to Richard's right, at the window. The slug smashed through the drapes and caught the casement frame and blew it away. I ran three paces and went headfirst through the hole. Rolled twice wrapped in a torn velvet curtain and scrambled up on my feet and ran. Straight out on the rocks.

I turned back after twenty yards and stood still. The remaining curtain was billowing in the wind. It was flapping in and out of the hole. I could hear the fabric snapping and beating. Yellow light shone behind it. I could see backlit figures crowding together behind the shattered glass. Everything was moving. The curtain, the people. The light was fading and blazing as the curtain flapped in and out. Then shots started coming at me. Handguns were firing. First two, then four, then five. Then more. Rounds were buzzing through the air all around me. Hitting the rocks and sparking and ricocheting. Chips of stone flew everywhere. The shots sounded quiet. They sounded like dull insignificant pops. Their sound was lost in the howl of the wind and the crash of the waves. I dropped to my knees. Raised the Persuader. Then the shooting stopped. I held my fire. The curtain disappeared. Somebody had torn it down. Light flooded out at me. I saw Richard and Elizabeth forced to the front of the crowd at the window. Their arms were twisted up behind them. I saw Quinn's face behind Richard's shoulder. He was aiming a gun straight at me.

’’Shoot me now,’’ he screamed.

His voice was nearly lost in the wind. I heard the seventh wave crash in behind me. Spray burst upward and the wind caught it and it hit me hard in the back of the head. I saw one of Quinn's guys behind Elizabeth. Her face was twisted in pain. His right wrist was resting on her shoulder. His head was behind her head. He had a gun in his hand. I saw another gun butt come forward and knock shards of glass out of the frame. It raked it clean. Then Richard was jerked forward. His knee came up on the sill. Quinn pushed him all the way outside. Came out after him, still holding him close.

’’Shoot me now,’’ he screamed again.

Behind him Elizabeth was lifted out through the window. There was a thick arm around her waist. Her legs kicked desperately. She was planted on the ground and pulled backward to cover the guy holding her. I could see her face, pale in the darkness. Twisted in pain. I shuffled backward. More people climbed out. They swarmed. They formed up together. They made a wedge. Richard and Elizabeth were held shoulder to shoulder at the front like a blunt point. The wedge started lurching toward me. It was uncoordinated. I could see five guns. I shuffled backward. The wedge kept coming. The guns started firing again.

They were aiming to miss. They were aiming to corral me. I moved backward. Counted rounds. Five guns, full mags, they had at least seventy-five shells between them. Maybe more. And they had fired maybe twenty. They were a long way from empty. And their fire was controlled. They weren't just blasting away. They were aiming left and right of me, into the rocks, regular spaced shots every couple of seconds. Coming on like a machine. Like a tank armored with humans. I stood up. Moved backward. The wedge kept coming at me.

Richard was on the right and Elizabeth was on the left. I picked a guy behind Richard and to his right and aimed. The guy saw me do it and crowded in tight. The wedge jammed together. Now it was a narrow column. It kept on coming. I had no shot. I walked backward, step by step.

My left heel found the edge of Harley's cleft.

Water boiled in and covered my shoe. I heard the waves. Gravel rattled and sucked. I moved my right foot level with my left. Balanced on the edge. I saw Quinn smiling at me. Just the gleam of his teeth in the dark.

’’Say good night now,’’ he screamed.

Stay alive. See what the next minute brings.

The column grew arms. Six or seven of them, reaching out, turning forward with their guns. Aiming. They were waiting for a command. I heard the seventh wave crash in at my feet. It came up over my ankles and flooded ten feet in front of me. It paused there for a second and then it drained back, indifferent, like a metronome. I looked at Elizabeth and Richard. Looked at their faces. Took a deep breath. Thought: Them or me. I dropped the Persuader and threw myself backward into the water.

First was the shock of the cold, and then it was like falling off a building. Except it wasn't a free fall. It was like landing in a freezing lubricated tube and being sucked down it at a steep and controlled angle. With acceleration. I was upside down. I was traveling head-first. I had landed on my back and for a split second I had felt nothing. Just the freezing water in my ears and my eyes and my nose. It stung my lip. I was about a foot under the surface. I wasn't going anywhere. I was worried about floating back up. I would bob to the surface right in front of them. They would be crowding around the lip of the cleft with their guns aimed down at the water.

But then I felt my hair stand up. It was a gentle sensation. Like somebody was combing it upright and pulling on it. Then I felt a grip on my head. Like a strong man with big hands was clamping my face between his palms and pulling, very gently at first, and then a little harder. And harder. I felt it in my neck. It was like I was getting taller. Then I felt it in my chest and my shoulders. My arms were floating free and suddenly they were wrenched up above my head. Then I fell off the building. It was like a perfect swallow dive, on my back. I just arched downward. But I accelerated. Much faster than a free fall through the air. It was like I was being reeled in by a gigantic elastic cord.

I couldn't see anything. I didn't know if my eyes were open or shut. The cold was so stunning and the pressure on my body was so uniform that I didn't really feel anything, either. No physical force. It was completely fluid. It was like some kind of science fiction transportation. Like I was being beamed down. Like I was liquid. Like I had been elongated. Like I was suddenly thirty feet tall and an inch wide. There was blackness and coldness everywhere. I held my breath. All the tension went out of me and I leaned my head back to feel the water on my scalp. Pointed my toes. Arched my spine. Stretched my arms far up ahead of me. Opened my fingers to feel the water flow between them. It felt very peaceful. I was a bullet. I liked it.

Then I felt a panicked thump all through my chest and knew I was drowning. So I started to fight. I tumbled myself over and my coat came up around my head. I tore it off, spinning and somersaulting in the freezing tube. The coat whipped across my face and hurtled away. I slid out of my jacket. It disappeared. I suddenly felt the bitter cold. I was still going down fast. My ears were hissing. I was tumbling in slow motion. Whipping down and down faster than I had ever traveled and rolling and tumbling like I was mired in treacle.

How wide was the tube? I didn't know. I kicked desperately and clawed at the water around me. It felt like quicksand. Don't swim down. I kicked and fought and tried to find the edge. Bargained with myself. Concentrate. Find the edge. Make progress. Stay calm. Let it take you down fifty feet for every foot you move sideways. I stopped for a second and regrouped and started swimming properly. And hard. Like the tube was the flat surface of a pool and I was in a race. Like there was a girl and a drink and a chair on the patio for the winner.

How long had I been down? I didn't know. Maybe fifteen seconds. I could hold my breath for maybe a minute. So relax. Swim hard. Find the edge. There had to be an edge. The whole ocean wasn't moving like this. It couldn't be, otherwise Portugal was going to be under water. And half of Spain. Pressure roared in my ears.

Which way was I facing? Didn't matter. I just had to get out of the current. I swam onward. Felt the tide fighting me. It was incredibly powerful. It had been gentle before. Now it tore at me. Like it resented my decision to fight back. I clamped my teeth and kicked on. It was like crawling across a floor with a thousand tons of bricks on my back. My lungs swelled and burned. I trickled air out between my lips. Kicked on and on. Clawed the water ahead of me.

Thirty seconds. I was drowning. I knew it. I was weakening. My lungs were empty. My chest was crushed. I had a billion tons of water on top of me. I could feel my face twisting in pain. My ears were roaring. My stomach was knotted. My left shoulder was burning where Paulie had hit it. I heard Harley's voice in my head: We never had one come back. I kicked on.

Forty seconds. I was making no progress. I was being hurled down into the depths. I was going to hit the seabed. I kicked on. Clawed at the tide. Fifty seconds. My ears were hissing. My head was bursting. My lips were clamped against my teeth. I was very angry. Quinn had made it out of the ocean. Why couldn't I?

I kicked on desperately. A whole minute. My fingers were frozen and cramped. My eyes were scoured. More than a minute. I flailed and lashed. I battered my way through the water. Kicked and fought. Then I felt a change in the tide. I found the edge. It was like grabbing a telegraph pole from a speeding train. I punched through the skin of the tube and a new tide seized my hands and hit me in the head and turbulence battered me and I was suddenly cartwheeling head over feet and floating free in water that felt still and clear and freezing.

Now think. Which way is up? I used every ounce of self-control I had and stopped fighting. Just floated. Tried to gauge my direction. I went nowhere. My lungs were empty. My lips were clamped tight. I couldn't breathe. I had neutral buoyancy. I wasn't moving. I was dead in the water. In a cubic mile of black ocean. I opened my eyes. Stared all around me. Above me, below me, to the sides. I twisted and turned. Saw nothing. It was like outer space. Everything was pitch dark. No light at all. We never had one come back.

I felt slight pressure on my chest. Less on my back. I was hanging facedown in the water. Suspended. I was floating upward, very slowly, back-first. I concentrated hard. Fixed the sensation clearly in my mind. Fixed my position. Arched my spine. Scrabbled with my hands. Kicked my legs down. Stretched my arms toward the surface. Now go. Don't breathe.

I kicked furiously. Scooped huge strokes with my arms. Clamped my lips. I had no air. I held my face up at an angle so that the first thing to break the surface would be my mouth. How far? It was black above me. There was nothing there. I was a mile down. I had no air. I was going to die. I opened my lips. Water flooded my mouth. I spat and swallowed. Kicked onward. I could see purple colors in my eyes. My head hummed. I felt feverish. Like I was burning. Then like I was freezing. Then like I was wrapped in thick feather quilts. They were soft. I could feel nothing at all.

I stopped kicking then, because I was pretty sure I had died. So I opened my mouth to breathe. Sucked in seawater. My chest spasmed and coughed it out. In and out, twice more. I was breathing pure water. I kicked once more. It was all I could manage. One last kick. I made it a big one. Then I just closed my eyes and floated and breathed the cold water.

I hit the surface half a second later. I felt the air on my face like a lover's caress. I opened my mouth and my chest heaved and a high spout of water shot up and I gulped air even before it came back down on me. Then I fought like a madman to keep my face up in the cold sweet oxygen. Just kicked and panted and breathed, sucking and blowing and coughing and retching.

I spread my arms wide and let my legs float up and tilted my head back with my mouth wide open. Watched my chest rise and fall, rise and fall, fill and empty. It moved incredibly fast. I felt tired. And peaceful. And vague. I had no oxygen in my brain. I tossed around in the water for a full minute, just breathing. My vision cleared. I saw dull clouds above me. My head cleared. I breathed some more. In, out, in, out, with my lips pursed, blowing like a locomotive. My head starting aching. I trod water and looked for the horizon. Couldn't find it. I was pitching and falling on fast urgent waves, up and down, up and down, maybe ten or fifteen feet at a time. I kicked a little and timed it so the next wave carried me up to its peak. Stared ahead. Saw nothing at all before I fell back into its trough.

I had no idea where I was. I turned ninety degrees and rode the next peak and looked again. To my right. Maybe there would be a boat out there somewhere. There wasn't. There was nothing. I was alone in the middle of the Atlantic. Drifting. We never had one come back.

I turned one-eighty and rode a peak and looked to my left. Nothing there. I fell back into the trough and rode the next peak and looked behind me.

I was a hundred yards from shore.

I could see the big house. I could see lit windows. I could see the wall. I could see the blue haze of its lights. I hauled my shirt up on my shoulders. It was soaked and heavy. I took a breath. Rolled onto my front and started swimming.

One hundred yards. Any kind of a halfway decent Olympic competitor could swim a hundred yards in about forty-five seconds. And any kind of a halfway decent high school swimmer could do it in less than a minute. It took me nearly fifteen. The tide was going out. I felt like I was going backward. I felt like I was still drowning. But eventually I touched the shore and got my arms around a smooth rock that was coated with freezing slime and held on tight. The sea was still rough. Big waves thumped in on me and smashed my cheek against the granite, regular as clockwork. I didn't care. I savored the impacts. Each and every one of them. I loved that rock.

I rested on it for a minute more and then crawled my way around behind the garage block, sloshing along half in and half out of the water, crouched low. Then I crawled out on my hands and knees. Rolled over on my back. Stared up at the sky. Now you had one come back, Harley.

The waves came in and reached my waist. I shuffled on my back until they reached only my knees. Rolled onto my front again. Lay with my face pressed down on the rock. I was cold. Chilled to the bone. My coat was gone. My jacket was gone. The Persuaders were gone. The Beretta was gone.

I stood up. Water sluiced off me. I staggered a couple of steps. Heard Leon Garber in my head: What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. He thought JFK had said it. I thought it was actually Friedrich Nietzsche, and he said destroy, not kill. What doesn't destroy us makes us stronger. I staggered two more steps and leaned up against the back of the courtyard wall and threw up about a gallon of salt water. That made me feel a little better. I jerked my arms around and kicked each leg in turn to try to get some circulation going and some water out of my clothes. Then I plastered my soaking hair back on my head and tried a couple of long slow breaths. I was worried about coughing. My throat was raw and aching from the cold and the salt.

Then I walked along the back wall and turned at the corner. Found my little dip and visited my hidden bundle one last time. I'm coming to get you, Quinn.

My watch was still working and it showed me my hour was long gone. Duffy would have called ATF twenty minutes ago. But their response would be slow. I doubted if they had a field office in Portland. Boston was probably the closest. Where the maid had been sent out from. So I still had enough time.

The food truck was gone. Evidently dinner had been canceled. But the other vehicles were still there. The Cadillac, the Town Car, the two Suburbans. Eight hostiles still in the house. Plus Elizabeth and the cook. I didn't know which category to put Richard in.

I kept tight against the house wall and looked in every window. The cook was in the kitchen. She was cleaning up. Keast and Maden had left all their stuff there. I ducked under the sill and moved on. The dining room was a ruin. The wind blowing in through the shattered window had caught the linen tablecloth and thrown plates and glasses everywhere. There were dunes of plaster dust in the corners where the wind had piled them. There were two big holes in the ceiling. Probably in the ceiling of the room above, and the room above that, too. The Brennekes had probably made it all the way out through the roof, like moon shots.

The square room where I had played Russian roulette had the three Libyans and Quinn's three guys in it. They were all sitting around the oak table, doing nothing. They looked blank and shocked. But they looked settled. They weren't going anywhere. I ducked under the sill and moved on. Came all the way around to Elizabeth Beck's parlor. She was in there. With Richard. Somebody had taken the dead guy out. She was on her sofa, talking fast. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but Richard was listening hard. I ducked under the sill and moved on.

Beck and Quinn were in Beck's little room. Quinn was in the red armchair and Beck was standing in front of the cabinet with the machine gun display. Beck looked pale and grim and hostile and Quinn looked full of himself. He had a fat unlit cigar in his hand. He was rolling it between his fingers and thumb and lining up a silver cutter at the business end.

I made it back to the kitchen after completing a whole circle. Stepped inside. I didn't make a sound. The metal detector stayed quiet. The cook didn't hear me coming. I caught her from behind. Clamped a hand over her mouth and dragged her over to a counter. I wasn't taking any chances after what Richard had done to me. I found a linen towel in a drawer and used it as a gag. Found another to tie her wrists. Found another to tie her ankles. I left her sitting uncomfortably on the floor next to the sink. I found a fourth towel and put it in my pocket. Then I stepped out into the hallway.

It was quiet. I could hear Elizabeth Beck's voice, faintly. Her parlor door was standing open. I couldn't hear anything else. I went straight to the door of Beck's den. Opened it. Stepped inside. Closed it again.

I was met by a haze of cigar smoke. Quinn had just lit up. I got the feeling he had been laughing about something. Now he was frozen with shock. Beck was the same. Pale, and frozen. They were just staring at me.

’’I'm back,’’ I said.

Beck had his mouth open. I hit him with a cigarette punch. His mouth slammed shut and his head snapped back and his eyes rolled up and he went straight down on the three-deep rugs on the floor. It was a decent blow, but not my best. His son had saved his life after all. If I hadn't been so tired from swimming, a better punch would have killed him.

Quinn came straight at me. Straight out of the chair. He dropped his cigar. Went for his pocket. I hit him in the stomach. Air punched out of him and he folded forward and dropped to his knees. I hit him in the head and pushed him down on his stomach. Knelt on his back, with my knees high up between his shoulder blades.

’’No,’’ he said. He had no air. ’’Please.’’

I put the flat of one hand on the back of his head. Took my chisel out of my shoe and slid it in behind his ear and up into his brain, slowly, inch by inch. He was dead before it was halfway in, but I kept it going until it was buried all the way to the hilt. I left it there. I wiped the handle with the towel from my pocket and then I spread the towel over his head and stood up, wearily.

’’Ten-eighteen, Dom,’’ I said to myself.

I stepped on Quinn's burning cigar. Took Beck's car keys out of his pocket and slipped back into the hallway. Walked through the kitchen. The cook followed me with her eyes. I stumbled around to the front of the house. Slid into the Cadillac. Fired it up and took off west.

It took me thirty minutes to get to Duffy's motel. She and Villanueva were together in his room with Teresa Justice. She wasn't Teresa Daniel anymore. She wasn't dressed like a doll anymore, either. They had her in a motel robe. She had showered. She was coming around fast. She looked weak and wan, but she looked like a person. Like a federal agent. She stared at me in horror. At first I thought she was confused about who I was. She had seen me in the cellar. Maybe she thought I was one of them.

But then I saw myself in the mirror on the closet door and I saw her problem. I was wet from head to toe. I was shaking and shivering. My skin was dead white. The cut on my lip had opened and turned blue on the edges. I had fresh bruises where the waves had butted me against the rock. I had seaweed in my hair and slime on my shirt.

’’I fell in the sea,’’ I said.

Nobody spoke.

’’I'll take a shower,’’ I said. ’’In a minute. Did you call ATF?’’

Duffy nodded. ’’They're on their way. Portland PD has already secured the warehouse. They're going to seal the coast road, too. You got out just in time.’’

’’Was I ever there?’’

Villanueva shook his head. ’’You don't exist. Certainly we never met you.’’

’’Thank you,’’ I said.

’’Old school,’’ he said.

I felt better after the shower. Looked better, too. But I had no clothes. Villanueva lent me a set of his. They were a little short and wide. I used his old raincoat to hide them. I wrapped it tight around me, because I was still cold. We had pizza delivered. We were all starving. I was very thirsty, from the salt water. We ate and we drank. I couldn't bite on the pizza crust. I just sucked the topping off. After an hour, Teresa Justice went to bed. She shook my hand. Said good night, very politely. She had no idea who I was.

’’Roofies wipe out their short-term memory,’’ Villanueva told me.

Then we talked business. Duffy was very down. She was living a nightmare. She had lost three agents in an illegal operation. And getting Teresa out was no kind of upside. Because Teresa shouldn't have been in there in the first place.

’’So quit,’’ I said. ’’Join ATF instead. You just handed them a big result on a plate. You'll be flavor of the month.’’

’’I'm going to retire,’’ Villanueva said. ’’I'm old enough and I've had enough.’’

’’I can't retire,’’ Duffy said.

In the restaurant the night before the arrest, Dominique Kohl had asked me, ’’Why are you doing this?’’

I wasn't sure what she meant. ’’Having dinner with you?’’

’’No, working as an MP. You could be anything. You could be Special Forces, Intelligence, Air Cavalry, Armored, anything you wanted.’’

’’So could you.’’

’’I know. And I know why I'm doing this. I want to know why you're doing it.’’

It was the first time anybody had ever asked me.

’’Because I always wanted to be a cop,’’ I said. ’’But I was predestined for the military. Family background, no choice at all. So I became a military cop.’’

’’That's not really an answer. Why did you want to be a cop in the first place?’’

I shrugged. ’’It's just the way I am. Cops put things right.’’

’’What things?’’

’’They look after people. They make sure the little guy is OK.’’

’’That's it? The little guy?’’

I shook my head.

’’No,’’ I said. ’’Not really. I don't really care about the little guy. I just hate the big guy. I hate big smug people who think they can get away with things.’’

’’You produce the right results for the wrong reasons, then.’’

I nodded. ’’But I try to do the right thing. I think the reasons don't really matter. Whatever, I like to see the right thing done.’’

’’Me too,’’ she said. ’’I try to do the right thing. Even though everybody hates us and nobody helps us and nobody thanks us afterward. I think doing the right thing is an end in itself. It has to be, really, doesn't it?’’

’’Did you do the right thing?’’ I asked, ten years later.

Duffy nodded.

’’Yes,’’ she said.

’’No doubt at all?’’

’’No,’’ she said.

’’You sure?’’

’’Totally.’’

’’So relax,’’ I said. ’’That's the best you can ever hope for. Nobody helps and nobody says thanks afterward.’’

She was quiet for a spell.

’’Did you do the right thing?’’ she said.

’’No question,’’ I said.

We left it at that. Duffy had put Teresa Justice in Eliot's old room. That left Villanueva in his, and me in Duffy's. She seemed a little awkward about what she had said before. About our lack of professionalism. I wasn't sure if she was trying to reinforce it or trying to withdraw it.

’’Don't panic,’’ I said. ’’I'm way too tired.’’

And this time, I proved I was. Not for lack of trying. We started. She made it clear she wanted to withdraw her earlier objection. Made it clear she agreed that saying yes was better than saying no. I was very happy about that, because I liked her a lot. So we started. We got naked and got in bed together and I remember kissing her so hard it made my mouth hurt. But that's all I remember. I fell asleep. I slept the sleep of the dead. Eleven hours straight. They were all gone when I woke up. Gone to face whatever their futures held for them. I was alone in the room, with a bunch of memories. It was late morning. Sunlight was coming in through the shades. Motes of dust were dancing in the air. Villanueva's spare outfit was gone from the back of the chair. There was a shopping bag there instead. It was full of cheap clothes. They looked like they would fit me very well. Susan Duffy was a good judge of sizes. There were two complete sets. One was for cold weather. One was for hot. She didn't know where I was headed. So she had catered for both possibilities. She was a very practical woman. I figured I would miss her. For a time.

I dressed in the hot weather stuff. Left the cold weather stuff right there in the room. I figured I could drive Beck's Cadillac out to I-95. To the Kennebunk rest area. I figured I could abandon it there. Figured I could catch a ride south without any problem. And I-95 goes to all kinds of places, all the way down to Miami.


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