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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(11)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(11)
Author: Lee Child

Three trees had blown over. Right at the eastern end of the hole. Three pines, straight and true. Two had come down parallel, about ten feet from each other, spanning the drop like the outer frame of a bridge. The third had been chainsawed into ten-foot lengths, which had been lashed across the gap between the fallen trunks to make a solid platform. The platform’s upper face was an eight-by-four plywood board, exterior grade, nailed down hard.

Casey Nice said, ‘For what?’

We climbed on to the platform, inching out, using overhanging branches for support, unsteady for a second, and then we stood still on the board and looked all around. Behind us were trees. To our left and our right were trees. In front of us the ravine ran away west, into the far distance, straight and narrow. What little that grew in it was way down below us. The far end was almost out of sight. There was a smudge of grey there, an interruption, as if the trench was stopping shorter than it wanted to, maybe because of an unrelated rockfall aeons later.

I looked down at the plywood and saw two vague oval shapes, close together, each one of them about the size of an ostrich egg, or a quarter-size football, side by side, like footprints from a person standing still. The shapes were grey, or slightly silvery, the way plywood gets when rubbed with metal, and there was graphite too, from lubricating grease, as well as plain old dirt from the air, because deep down at a microscopic level the grease would always be sticky.

I squatted down and traced the shapes with my finger. I said, ‘A rifle that size has biped legs coming down off the front of the forestock. They can lock up or down. He put a little grease on the hinges, to protect them, like a cautious man should, and he wiped the excess with a cloth, and then he rubbed the cloth on the biped legs, against corrosion, especially the feet, which are the only parts that touch the world, after all, and then he came out here to practise so many times and in so many slightly different positions he left marks this big.’

‘Sherlock Homeless,’ she said.

I stared down the length of the ravine. I said, ‘Suppose those rocks make a kind of shelf or table? Suppose that’s where he put his targets?’

She said, ‘What rocks?’

We paced it out, exactly parallel in the woods, staying straight, compensating for dodged trees, with me stepping a comfortable yard every time, with her counting, silently at first, and then when we got to twelve hundred and fifty she started counting out loud, initially in a low mutter, pure routine, and then she started to speak with more clarity and excitement as the numbers grew larger and larger, only to end with a low quizzical tone as I stepped absolutely level with the last of the tumbled grey rocks and she said, ‘Fourteen hundred yards.’

TEN

THE ROCKS WERE indeed the result of an ancient fall, as far as I could tell, and they did indeed make a kind of shelf or table. Only twelve inches deep and four feet wide at its flattest. But apparently that was enough for a whole bunch of beer cans and bottles. There were shreds of metal and powdered glass everywhere. Shreds of white, too, as if he had rigged paper targets from time to time. Behind the shelf the rocks themselves were chipped and cratered all over. They were seriously blasted. Hundreds and hundreds of rounds had been fired. Maybe even thousands.

I said, ‘We need a container.’

Casey Nice said, ‘What kind?’

‘Just some little thing.’ I pointed below the chipped and cratered rocks. ‘We should take some dust with us. For the gas chromatograph. We need to know if they’re the same bullets.’

She patted her pockets, and I saw her hit a possibility, and discount it, and then come back to it when she ran out of alternatives. She looked at me, a little embarrassed.

I said, ‘What?’

She said, ‘I have a pill bottle.’

‘That should work.’

She put her hand in her pocket and took out a small orange bottle with a label. She popped the top and spilled a bunch of pills into her palm. She shovelled the pills back in her pocket loose, and she put the top back on the empty bottle, and she tossed it to me.

‘Thanks,’ I said. I brushed dust and grit and dirt into piles, and pinched it all up with finger and thumb, and dropped it in the bottle, over and over again, a little at a time. I had no real idea what a gas chromatograph was, except I was sure it was very sophisticated and could work with the tiniest of samples, but we needed lead fragments, and I wanted to increase the odds. So I kept on pinching and dropping until the bottle was more than half full, and then I put the top back on, and I put the bottle in my pocket, and I said, ‘OK, now we’ll go break into his house.’

Which we did by kicking down the door. Which was easy enough. A question of force, obviously, which is the product of mass times velocity squared, and that squared part puts a premium on speed, not weight. Bulking up by twenty pounds at the gym is good, because it throws an extra twenty pounds in the mix, but moving your foot 20 per cent faster is better. It does you 400 per cent of a favour. Because it gets squared. Which means multiplied by itself. Money for nothing. Like in baseball. You can swing a heavy bat slow or a light bat fast, and the slow heavy bat gets you a high fly to the warning track, and the light fast bat puts the ball in the bleachers. A principle too often forgotten. People treat doors with too much respect. They eye them warily and shuffle close and then do little more than press their soles against the wood.

Not me. We chose the rear door over the front, because it looked one category down in certain respects, like the thickness and the hinges and the lock, and the run-up would be longer back there. I needed three clear strides. Which I took at a comfortable walk. Nothing dramatic was required. As long as I was moving, then my upper leg could move faster, and my lower leg faster still, and my foot even faster, and then my heel could punch through the lock like it wasn’t even there.

Which is what happened. I caught the door on the bounce and Casey Nice stepped in ahead of me. To a kitchen. I stepped in behind her and saw countertops and cabinets, and a metal sink, and a refrigerator the colour of an avocado pear, and a range made of pressed metal, all curved and swooping, like a 1950s car. The countertops were dull, and the cabinets were painted a miserable colour that might have been green or brown or anywhere in between.

The air was still, and it smelled dry, and there were no real kitchen odours. No onions, no garbage. Just a kind of neutral, inorganic nothing.

The air smelled old.

Casey Nice moved towards the hallway door and said, ‘Ready?’

‘Wait,’ I said. I wanted to listen, for the low vibration any living thing gives out. But I heard none. The house was silent and empty. Forlorn, even, as if it had been empty for a good long time.

I said, ‘I’ll check the living room. You check the bedrooms.’

She went first, out into a hallway, which was panelled with plywood stained a dark sludge colour, and she glanced around and headed left, so I went right, and found a living room with an L-shaped dining nook. It was a well-built room, and graceful in its proportions, but it was heavy with dark wood, and what wasn’t dark wood was covered in bland vinyl wallpaper, like a mid-priced hotel. The furniture was a sofa and an ottoman and two armchairs, all in brown corduroy, all well used. There were two side tables, and no television. No newspapers, either, or magazines. Or books. There was no telephone. No old sweater dumped over the arm of a chair, no dried-up beer glass, no half-full ashtray. Nothing personal at all. No real sign of life, except the wear and tear and the permanent slumped impressions in the sofa.

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