Killing floor, p.4
FINLAY LEANED RIGHT BACK IN HIS CHAIR. HIS LONG ARMS were folded behind his head. He was a tall, elegant man. Educated in Boston. Civilized. Experienced. And he was sending me to jail for something I hadn't done. He levered himself upright. Spread his hands on the desk, palms up.
"I'm sorry, Reacher," he said to me.
"You're sorry?" I said. "You're sending two guys who couldn't have done it to jail and you're sorry?"
He shrugged. Looked unhappy about it.
"This is the way Chief Morrison wants it," he said. "He's calling it a done deal. Closing us down for the weekend. And he's the boss man, right?"
"You got to be joking," I said. "He's an asshole. He's calling Stevenson a liar. His own man. "
"Not exactly," Finlay shrugged. "He's saying it's maybe a conspiracy, you know, maybe Hubble wasn't literally there, but he recruited you to do it. A conspiracy, right? He reckons the confession is exaggerated because maybe Hubble's afraid of you and is scared to finger you right away. Morrison figures you were on your way down to Hubble's place to get paid when we hauled you in. He figures that's why you waited the eight hours. Figures that's why Hubble was at home today. Didn't go to work because he was waiting around to pay you off. "
I was silent. I was worried. Chief Morrison was dangerous. His theory was plausible. Until Finlay did the checking. If Finlay did the checking.
"So, Reacher, I'm sorry," he said. "You and Hubble stay in the bag until Monday. You'll get through it. Over in Warburton. Bad place, but the holding pens are OK. Worse if you go there for a stretch. Much worse. Meantime, I'll work on it before Monday. I'll ask Officer Roscoe to come in Saturday and Sunday. She's the pretty one outside. She's good, the best we got. If what you say is right, you'll be free and clear on Monday. OK?"
I stared at him. I was getting mad.
"No, Finlay, not OK," I said. "You know I didn't do a damn thing. You know it wasn't me. You're just shit scared of that useless fat bastard Morrison. So I'm going to jail because you're just a spineless damn coward. "
He took it pretty well. His dark face flushed darker. He sat quietly for a long time. I took a deep breath and glared at him. My glare subsided to a gaze as my temper cooled. Back under control. His turn to glare at me.
"Two things, Reacher," he said. Precise articulation. "First, if necessary I'll take care of Chief Morrison on Monday. Second, I am not a coward. You don't know me at all. Nothing about me. "
I gazed back at him. Six o'clock. Bus time.
"I know more than you think," I said. "I know you're a Harvard postgrad, you're divorced and you quit smoking in April. "
Finlay looked blank. Baker knocked and entered to say the prison bus had arrived. Finlay got up and walked around the desk. Told Baker he would bring me out himself. Baker went back to fetch Hubble.
"How do you know that stuff?" Finlay asked me.
He was intrigued. He was losing the game.
"Easy," I said. "You're a smart guy, right? Educated in Boston, you told me. But when you were college age, Harvard wasn't taking too many black guys. You're smart, but you're no rocket scientist, so I figure Boston U. for the first degree, right?"
"Right," he conceded.
"And then Harvard for postgrad," I said. "You did well at Boston U. , life moved on, you got into Harvard. You talk like a Harvard guy. I figured it straight away. Ph. D. in Criminology?"
"Right," he said again. "Criminology. "
"And then you got this job in April," I said. "You told me that. You've got a pension from Boston PD, because you did your twenty. So you've come down here with cash to spare. But you've come down here with no woman, because if you had, she'd have spent some of that spare cash on new clothes for you. She probably hated that wintry tweed thing you're wearing. She'd have junked it and put you in a Sunbelt outfit to start your new life on the right foot. But you're still wearing that terrible old suit, so the woman is gone. She either died or divorced you, so it was a fifty-fifty guess. Looks like I guessed right. "
He nodded blankly.
"And the smoking thing is easy," I said. "You were just stressed out and you were patting your pockets, looking for cigarettes. That means you quit fairly recently. Easy guess is you quit in April, you know, new life, new job, no more cigarettes. You figured quit now and you might beat the cancer thing. "
Finlay glared at me. A bit grudging.
"Very good, Reacher," he said. "Elementary deduction, right?"
I shrugged. Didn't say anything.
"So deduce who aced the guy up at the warehouse," he said.
"I don't care who aced any guy anywhere," I said. "That's your problem, not mine. And it's the wrong question, Finlay. First you got to find out who the guy was, right?"
"So you got any way to do that, smart guy?" he asked me. "No ID, no face left, nothing from the prints, Hubble won't say diddly?"
"Run the prints again," I said. "I'm serious, Finlay. Get Roscoe to do it. "
"Why?" he said.
"Something wrong there," I said.
"What something?" he asked me.
"Run them again, OK?" I said. "Will you do that?"
He just grunted. Didn't say yes or no. I opened the office door and stepped out. Roscoe had gone. Nobody was there except Baker and Hubble over at the cells. I could see the desk sergeant outside through the front doors. He was writing on a clipboard held by the prison bus driver. As a backdrop behind the two of them was the prison bus. It was stationary in the semicircular driveway. It filled the view through the big plate-glass entrance. It was a school bus painted light gray. On it was written: State of Georgia Department of Corrections. That inscription ran the full length of the bus, under the line of windows. Under the inscription was a crest. The windows had grilles welded over them.
Finlay came out of the office behind me. Touched my elbow and walked me over to Baker. Baker was holding three sets of handcuffs hooked over his thumb. They were painted bright orange. The paint was chipped. Dull steel showed through. Baker snapped a pair of handcuffs onto each of my wrists separately. He unlocked Hubble's cell and signaled the scared banker to come out. Hubble was blank and dazed, but he stepped out. Baker caught the dangling cuff on my left wrist and snapped it onto Hubble's right wrist. He put the third set of cuffs on Hubble's other wrist. Ready to go.
"Take his watch, Baker," I said. "He'll lose it in jail. "
He nodded. He knew what I meant. Guy like Hubble could lose a lot in jail. Baker unlatched the heavy Rolex from Hubble's wrist. The bracelet wouldn't slide over the handcuff, so Baker had to fiddle and fuss with taking the handcuff off and putting it back on again. The prison driver cracked the door and glared in. A man with a timetable. Baker dropped Hubble's watch on the nearest desk. Exactly where my friend Roscoe had put her coffee cup.
"OK, guys, let's hit the road," Baker said.
He walked us to the doors. We went out into a dazzling hot bar of sunshine. Handcuffed together. Walking was awkward. Before crossing to the bus, Hubble stopped. He craned his neck and looked around carefully. He was being more vigilant than Baker or the prison driver. Maybe scared of a neighbor seeing him. But there was nobody around. We were three hundred yards north of the town. I could see the church steeple in the distance. We walked over to the bus through the evening warmth. My right cheek tingled in the low sun.
The driver pushed the bus door inward. Hubble shuffled sideways onto the step. I followed him. Made a clumsy turn into the aisle. The bus was empty. The driver directed Hubble into a seat. He slid over the vinyl to the window. I was pulled alongside. The driver knelt on the seat in front and clicked our outer wrists to the chromium hoop which ran across the top. He rattled each of our three cuffs in turn. Wanted to know they were secure. I didn't blame him. I've done that job. Nothing worse than driving with prisoners loose behind you.
The driver walked forward to his seat. He started the engine with a loud diesel clatter. The bus f
We drove north out of the police lot, turning our backs on the town, heading up toward the highway. We passed Eno's diner after a half mile. His lot was empty. Nobody looking for an early dinner. We carried on north for a spell. Then we turned a tight left off the county road and struck out west down a road between fields. The bus settled to a noisy cruise. Endless rows of bushes flicked past. Endless drills of red earth between. Ahead of me the sun was on the way down. It was a giant red ball heading for the fields. The driver had the large sun visor down. On it were printed manufacturer's instructions about how to operate the bus.
Hubble rocked and bounced beside me. He said nothing. He had slumped down with his face parallel to the floor. His left arm was raised because it was handcuffed to the chrome bar in front of us. His right arm rested inert between us. He still had his expensive sweater draped across his shoulders. Where the Rolex had been was a band of pale skin. The life force had just about drained out of him. He was in the grip of a paralyzing fear.
WE ROCKED AND BOUNCED FOR THE BEST PART OF ANOTHER hour through the huge landscape. A small stand of trees flashed past on my right. Then way in the far distance I saw a structure. It sat alone in a thousand acres of flat farmland. Against the low red sun it looked like a protrusion from hell. Something forced up through the crust of the earth. It was a complex of buildings. Looked like a chemical factory or a nuclear place. Massive concrete bunkers and glittering metal walkways. Tubing running here and there with steam drifting. All surrounded with fencing punctuated by towers. As we drew closer I could see arc lights and razor wire. Searchlights and rifles in the towers. Layers of fences separated with plowed red earth. Hubble didn't look up. I didn't nudge him. It wasn't the Magic Kingdom up ahead.
The bus slowed as we approached. The outermost fence was about a hundred yards out, forming a giant perimeter. It was a substantial fence. Possibly fifteen feet tall, studded along its entire length with pairs of sodium floodlights. One of each pair was trained inward across the hundred-yard breadth of plowed earth. One was trained out over the surrounding farmland. All the floodlights were lit. The whole complex blazed with yellow sodium light. Up close it was very bright. The yellow light turned the red earth to a ghastly tan.
The bus rattled to a halt. The idling engine set up a vibration. What little ventilation there had been ceased. It was stifling. Hubble finally looked up. He peered out through his gold rims. He looked around him and out the window. He groaned. It was a groan of hopeless dejection. He dropped his head.
The driver was waiting for a signal from the first gate guard. The guard was speaking into a radio. The driver blipped the engine and crunched into gear. The guard signaled to him, using his radio as a baton, waving us through. The bus ground forward into a cage. We passed a long low sign at the curb: Warburton Correctional Facility, State of Georgia Department of Corrections. Behind us a gate swung closed. We were sealed in a wire cage. It was roofed with wire. At the far end a gate swung open. The bus ground through.
We drove the hundred yards to the next fence. There was another vehicle cage. The bus went in, waited and drove on out. We drove right into the heart of the prison. We stopped opposite a concrete bunker. The reception area. The engine noise beat against the concrete surrounding us. Then it shut down and the vibration and clatter died away to silence. The driver swung out of his seat and walked up the aisle, stooping, pulling himself like a climber on the seat backs. He pulled out his keys and unlocked the cuffs fixing us to the seat in front.
"OK, boys, let's go," he grinned. "Party time. "
We hauled ourselves out of our seat and shuffled down the bus. My left arm was pulled back by Hubble. The driver stopped us at the front. He removed all three sets of handcuffs and dropped them in a bin next to his cab. Hauled on a lever and sprang the door. We got out of the bus. A door opened opposite and a guard stepped out. Called us over. He was eating a donut and spoke with his mouth full. A sugar mustache frosted his lip. He was a pretty casual guy. We went through the door into a small concrete chamber. It was filthy. Deal chairs surrounded a painted table. Another guard sat on the table reading from a battered clipboard.
"Sit down, OK?" he said. We sat. He stood up. His partner with the donut locked the outer door and joined him.
"Here's the deal," said the clipboard guy. "You guys are Reacher and Hubble. In from Margrave. Not convicted of any crime. In custody pending investigation. No bail application for either of you. Hear what I say? Not convicted of any crime. That's the important thing. Excuses you from a lot of shit in here, OK? No uniform, no processing, no big deal, you understand? Nice accommodations on the top floor. "
"Right," said the donut guy. "Thing is, if you were convicts, we'd be poking and prodding and hitting on you, and you'd get the uniform, and we'd shove you on the convict floors with the other animals and we'd just sit back and watch the fun, right?"
"Right," his partner said. "So what we're saying is this. We ain't here to give you a hard time, so don't you boys be giving us a hard time neither, you understand? This damn facility ain't got the manpower. Governor laid off about a half of the staff, OK? Got to meet the budget, right? Got to cut the deficit, right? So we ain't got the men to do the job the way it ought to be done. Trying to do our job with a half a crew on every shift, right? So what I'm saying is we shove you in there, and we don't want to see you again until we pull you out on Monday. No hassle, right? We ain't got the manpower for hassle. We ain't got the manpower for hassle on the convict floors, let alone hassle on the holding floor, you understand? Yo, Hubble, you understand?"
Hubble looked up at him and nodded blankly. Didn't speak.
"Reacher?" the clipboard guy said. "You understand?"
"Sure," I said. I understood. This guy was understaffed. Having problems because of a budget. While his friends collected unemployment. Tell me about it.
"Good," he said. "So the deal is this. The two of us are off duty at seven o'clock. Which is in about one minute's time. We ain't staying late for you boys. We don't want to and the union wouldn't let us anyway. So you get a meal, then you're locked down in here until they got manpower to take you upstairs. No manpower until lights out, maybe ten o'clock, OK? But then no guards will move prisoners around after lights out anyway, right? Union won't let 'em. So Spivey will come get you himself. Assistant warden. Top boy tonight. About ten o'clock, OK? You don't like it, you don't tell me, you tell the governor, OK?"
The donut eater went out into the corridor and came back a long moment later with a tray. On it were covered plates, paper cups and a Thermos. He put the tray on the table and the two of them swung out through the corridor. Locked the door from the outside. It went quiet as a tomb in there.
We ate. Fish and rice. Friday food. Coffee in the Thermos. Hubble didn't speak. He left most of the coffee for me. Score one for Hubble. I put the debris on the tray and the tray on the floor. Another three hours to waste. I tipped my chair back and put my feet up on the table. Not comfortable, but as good as I was going to get. A warm evening. September in Georgia.
I looked over at Hubble without curiosity. He was still silent. I had never heard him speak except on Finlay's speakerphone. He looked back at me. His face was full of dejection and fear. He looked at me like I was a creature from another world. He stared at me like I worried him. Then he looked away.
MAYBE I WOULDN'T HEAD BACK TO THE GULF. BUT IT WAS too late in the year to head north. Too cold up there. Maybe skip right down to the islands. Jamaica, maybe. Good music there. A hut on the beach. Live out the winter in a hut on a Jamaica beach. Smoke a pound of grass a week. Do whatever Jamaica people do. Maybe two pounds of grass a week with someone to share the hut. Roscoe kept drifting into the picture. Her uniform shirt was fabulously crisp.
It was her wink that did it to me. She took my coffee cup. She said I had nice eyes. And she winked. Got to mean something, right? The eyes thing, I've heard that before. An English girl I'd had good times with for a while, she liked my eyes. Said it all the time. They're blue. Equally people have said they look like icebergs in an Arctic sea. If I concentrate I can stop them blinking. Gives a stare an intimidating effect. Useful. But Roscoe's wink had been the best part of the day. The only part of the day, really, except Eno's scrambled eggs, which weren't bad. Eggs you can get anywhere. But I'd miss Roscoe. I floated on through the empty evening.
NOT LONG AFTER TEN THE DOOR FROM THE CORRIDOR WAS unlocked. A uniformed man came in. He carried a clipboard. And a shotgun. I looked him over. A son of the South. A heavy, fleshy man. Reddened skin, a big hard belly and a wide neck. Small eyes. A tight greasy uniform straining to contain him. Probably born right there on the farm they commandeered to build the prison. Assistant Warden Spivey. This shift's top boy. Understaffed and harassed. Ushering the short-stay guests around by himself. With a shotgun in his big red farmer's hands.
He studied his clipboard.
"Which one of you is Hubble?" he asked.
He had a high-pitched voice. At odds with his bulk. Hubble raised his hand briefly, like a boy at grade school. Spivey's little eyes flicked over him. Up and down. Like a snake's eyes. He grunted and signaled with the clipboard. We formed up and moved out. Hubble was blank and acquiescent. Like an exhausted trooper.
"Turn left and follow the red line," Spivey said.
He waved left with the shotgun. There was a red line painted on the wall at waist height. It was a fire lane guide. I guessed it must lead outside, but we were going in the wrong direction. Into the prison, not out of it. We followed the red line through corridors, up stairs and around corners. Hubble first, then me. Then Spivey with the shotgun. It was very dark. Just dim emergency lighting. Spivey called a halt on a landing. He overrode an electronic lock with his key. A lock which would spring the fire door when the alarm went.
"No talking," he said. "Rules here say absolute silence at all times after lights out. Cell at the end on the right. "
We stepped in through the out door. The foul odor of prison hit me. The night exhalation of countless dispirited men. It was nearly pitch black. A night-light glowed dimly. I sensed rather than saw rows of cells. I heard the babble of night sounds. Breathing and snoring. Muttering and whimpering. Spivey walked us to the end of the row. Pointed to an empty cell. We crowded in. Spivey swung the bars shut behind us. They locked automatically. He walked away.
The cell was very dark. I could just about see a bunk bed, a sink and a john. Not much floor space. I took off my coat and lobbed it onto the top bunk. Reached up and remade the bed with the pillow away from the bars. I liked it better that way. Worn sheet and blanket, but they smelled clean enough.
Hubble sat quietly on the lower bed. I used the john and rinsed my face at the sink. Pulled myself up into bed. Took off my shoes. Left them on the foot of the bed. I wanted to know where they were. Shoes can get stolen, and these were good shoes. Bought many years ago in Oxford, England. A university town near the airbase where I was stationed. Big heavy shoes with hard soles and a thick welt.
The bed was too short for me, but most beds are. I lay there in the dark and listened to the restless prison. Then I closed my eyes and floated back to Jamaica with Roscoe. I must have fallen asleep there with her because the next thing I knew it was Saturday. I was still in prison. And an even worse day was beginning.
by Lee Child / Literature & Fiction / Mystery & Thrillers have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on41 votes