Matchup, p.20
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       MatchUp, p.20
 

           Lee Child

  “That’s the man I saw in London. Are we visible to him?”

  “It’s a one-way glass.”

  “Then I need to go in there so Demidov can see my face. Once he recognizes me, he won’t be able to keep claiming that all he speaks is Russian.”

  Fadiman nodded and stepped toward a door on the right. He pressed numbers on an electronic pad. With a soft click, the door unlocked.

  The man on the bed sat up.

  Fadiman opened the door. “I’ve got an old friend to see you.”

  Demidov shook his head, seeming not to understand the words Fadiman used.

  “Hi, Nick. Surely you remember me from London,” Simon said.

  Again, Demidov shook his head, this time in what seemed genuine confusion.

  “Yes, you and I and your sister had a long talk in London,” Simon continued. “If you want to see her anytime soon, you need to do what I tell you. Do you understand? Do you want to see her? Say it in English so I know we’re communicating.”

  There was a flash in Demidov’s eyes. Anger? No, more disgust.

  “My sister?” the prisoner asked.

  “Damn,” Fadiman said. “That’s what I call fast results.”

  The agent suddenly groaned as Simon thrust an arm around his throat, pulled the man’s pistol from beneath his jacket and pushed him into the room. Not knowing if Fadiman had a round in the chamber, Simon racked back the slide. Now, for sure, the weapon was ready to fire.

  Fadiman held up his hands. “Are you fucking crazy?”

  Standing inside the doorway where he could keep his pistol aimed at both Fadiman and Demidov, Simon ordered the Russian out.

  Demidov moved smoothly past him and Simon followed, closing the door, making sure it locked. Through the glass wall he saw Fadiman charge toward the door and yank at the handle.

  “Where’s my bitch sister?” Demidov asked angrily.

  “Waiting.”

  Simon whipped the pistol across his face.

  LIZ’S EARLOBE FELT ON FIRE.

  Her shoulders and wrists throbbed.

  But more than anything, she was filled with rage. Adrenaline pulsing through her, she’d heard Simon talk with someone named Fadiman about Nick Demidov, the man Simon had been asking about at the FBI. The sound of a scuffle was followed by someone groaning.

  Rudy and Max listened intently.

  From the room’s speaker came Simon’s voice. “Let’s go, asshole. Your sister’s waiting for you.”

  Max cheered. “He must’ve decked the FBI agent.”

  The transmission crackled, garbling what Simon and Demidov were saying.

  “Cell phone must’ve gone out of range. Simon Childs isn’t Rambo,” Rudy said. “But he busted out our Rambo!”

  “Yeah, Demidov’s a hotshot,” Max said. “But that’s what it takes to run this outfit. Once he’s back, things’ll get normal again.”

  “Drugs and whores,” Rudy whooped.

  Max shook his head and laughed. “You’re so lame.”

  Now Liz understood. Nick Demidov wasn’t a mere courier. He was the head of their Mafia clan. That’s why they’d gone to so much trouble to kidnap her and force Simon to help them.

  Max set his coffee mug down on the security console. “I’m gonna celebrate the boss’s escape by taking a leak.” He hefted himself up and marched across the room toward the door on Liz’s left.

  “No prob. I’ve got lots of entertainment here.”

  Rudy cocked his head at Liz.

  She looked away and made her voice small, frightened. “You’re not going to slam my wrists up and down again, are you?”

  “That’s an idea.” Setting the big knife on the floor beside the multigym, Rudy returned to the chest press. “You’re a mess. Even if we let you live, your boyfriend would never marry you now.” He gripped the handles and pushed his arms out and away from his body.

  The weights lifted.

  Her wrists jolted up.

  Tears slid down her cheeks from the pain, but what Rudy didn’t know was that while he’d been torturing her, the mechanism had been pounding her zip-tie cuffs. Earlier, she’d centered the tie. Since then she’d pulled her wrists wide apart to make the plastic taut every time Rudy used the machine.

  Her wrists oozed blood.

  Again Rudy slammed the chest press.

  Clenching her jaw, Liz pulled, stretching the cuff. She thought of the Rambo movie that Rudy had described, Rambo tied to upright bedsprings, electricity making him shudder and writhe with pain and rage, furiously twisting at the rope that held him.

  With a snap, the zip-tie broke, freeing her hands.

  She lunged for Rudy’s knife on the floor.

  Her fingers were numb from lack of circulation. She needed both hands to grab the knife and keep from dropping it. Furious, she spun upward, slashing the blade across Rudy’s throat. A deep cartilage split.

  Blood spurted over her.

  She stepped back. Fuck you.

  Rudy fell off the Nautilus machine. She quickly knelt, preparing to turn him and retrieve the .40 S&W from his shoulder holster.

  Somewhere in the distance, a toilet flushed.

  Liz’s numb right hand pulled Rudy onto his side. Her fingers seemed not to belong to her as she tugged at the pistol in his holster.

  The pistol didn’t move.

  “Rudy, is something wrong?” Max said.

  She pulled harder with her senseless fingers, but the pistol was snagged on Rudy’s coat.

  Heavy footsteps approached on the other side of the door.

  No time.

  Pressing the knife to her side to keep from dropping it, she rushed toward the iPhone on the desk and swept it into the pocket of her jogging jacket.

  As if the dogs of hell were on her heels, she dashed up the stairs and through a huge room with an immense stone fireplace and antlered deer heads on the walls. Fumbling, she unbolted the front door and rushed outside. The van in which they’d brought her was still parked in front. But when she reached it, she saw that the keys weren’t in the ignition switch.

  A thick mountain mist drifted around her.

  Chilled, she raced into it.

  “LET’S GO, ASSHOLE,” SIMON SAID. “Your sister’s waiting for you.”

  Demidov clutched the gash in his cheek, as blood dripped past his fingers.

  Simon tore a sheet of paper from a notepad, crumpled it, and shoved it into the pocket that held the nosy cell phone. Whenever he moved, the crumpled paper would scrape against the phone, sounding like bad reception, making it difficult for anyone to hear what he and Demidov said.

  “Yeah, I can’t wait,” Demidov rumbled. “Lead me to her.”

  He whipped the gun barrel against Demidov’s other cheek. “First we need to have an understanding.”

  “Goddamn you.” Demidov lurched back against the wall. “If you didn’t have that gun—”

  “But I do.” Simon grabbed the ring of keys that he’d noticed next to the cell phone earlier. “Move.”

  Demidov walked ahead, passing the sofa and coffee table, and opened a far door. A black sedan occupied half of a garage. Simon touched the button on the key fob that unlatched the trunk. Seeing the trunk lid rise, Demidov stiffened, whirled, and lunged hard and fast, his shoulder slamming into Simon’s chest, throwing both of them back against a workbench. Simon grabbed Demidov around the neck and shoved the muzzle of the pistol into his ear.

  “You know what you have to do,” he told him. “Get in the trunk.”

  “Bite my—”

  He screwed the muzzle into Demidov’s ear. “Maybe you’d like to bite this. If you get in the damned trunk, I’ll let you talk to your sister.”

  There was a moment’s hesitation. “Oh, I definitely want to talk to her.”

  “Move slowly,” Simon ordered.

  He relaxed his grip around Demidov’s neck and eased the gun away from his ear. Without taking his eyes off Simon, Demidov stepped back, then crawled into the trunk. Simon sa
w a roll of duct tape on a bench and threw it to him. “Wrap this around your ankles.”

  “Why don’t you wrap it around your—”

  He picked up a length of pipe and whacked the Russian.

  “All right. All right.”

  As Demidov bound his legs together with the duct tape, Simon removed the phone from his pocket. After activating the video camera, he focused on the blood-smeared face.

  “What time is it?” Simon demanded.

  “Time? Why the hell does that matter?”

  “Believe me, it does.” He aimed the pistol and the camera. “Tell your sister what time it is, or I’ll use this pipe to break your knees.”

  “When this is over—” Demidov glared at his watch, telling the camera, “Twelve twenty-eight. Marta, I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s batshit crazy. You’ve really screwed up this time.”

  “Marta? Thanks for telling me her name.”

  Simon ended the video and sent it.

  “Now what?”

  “Roll onto your stomach.” He jabbed Demidov with the pipe. “Put your wrists behind your back.”

  No sooner did he finish taping the guy’s arms behind him than the phone buzzed.

  “Hi, Marta,” he said, mimicking the tone of an old friend. “The good news is that no matter how bad your brother looks, a minute ago he was still alive.”

  “You’ll never see your fiancée again unless you release him.”

  Marta’s voice sounded worried.

  “I always assumed you’d kill her, so I’m not losing anything.” He climbed into the car. “The thing is, that works the other way around too. You’ll never see your brother again, unless you release my fiancée. So from this point on, I suggest you treat Liz gently. Because I swear to you, Marta, whatever you do to her, I’ll do to your brother.”

  He pushed a button on a garage-door opener attached to the car’s sun visor. The door rumbled open and gray daylight filled the garage.

  “I’m moving the timetable up,” he told her. “Five p.m. That’s the new deadline for the exchange.” He backed the car out of the garage and drove off along the quiet street. “At the Lincoln Memorial. Lots of witnesses if you try something stupid.”

  “I’ll need more time than that.”

  “While you track me? Using the GPS on the phone you gave me?”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Hang on a second.” Simon stopped the car across from a small park where city workers were gathering trash bags. He accessed the call history of the phone he’d been given and memorized the number it was linked to. Then he called that number, but this time he used his own phone. “Marta, that buzz you hear is me. It’s coming from my personal phone. Answer it.”

  She sounded confused, but did as he instructed.

  He resumed driving, came abreast of the city’s open-backed truck, and tossed her phone among the garbage bags.

  “I’m untethered, Marta,” he said into his own phone. “Five o’clock. The Lincoln Memorial. Don’t forget. Anything you do to Liz, I’ll do to your brother.”

  IN THE BACK OFFICE OF a dry cleaner’s shop in McLean, Virginia, a tall woman with long blond hair, intense blue eyes, and strong Slavic features pressed the End button on her phone. She was in her midthirties and might have been considered a beauty if not for the cruelty around her mouth. She stared at a monitor where a pulsing green dot in Tysons Corner no longer moved. In the front of the shop, steam presses hissed and machines rumbled, but she barely heard them or registered the chemical smell that permeated the office.

  Her brother had laughed at her when she’d suggested buying the business and using it as one of their fronts.

  “What’s so funny?” she’d asked.

  “Don’t you get it? Dry cleaning. That’s what needs to happen to all the cash we bring in from the drugs and the gambling and the whores. We should buy a couple of laundries also. Just don’t screw this up like you did when you bought those restaurants that gave people food poisoning.”

  Marta kept staring at the pulsing dot.

  She heard the voices of what seemed to be workmen talking about the unusual amount of trash they’d picked up in a park. Obviously Simon Childs had thrown away the phone he’d been given and was now using his own.

  Could she trust him not to have police and FBI agents positioned near the Memorial?

  Hardly.

  “Let’s see how much you love your fiancée,” she muttered.

  She pressed the button for the phone at the hunting lodge.

  MAX OPENED THE DOOR.

  “Rudy, what were you shouting about?”

  He tensed when he saw the streaks of blood across the floor and then Rudy’s body slumped next to the Nautilus machine.

  He drew his pistol and spun to make sure he wasn’t threatened, then rushed to his cousin. Rudy lay on his side, his crimson throat gaping. He couldn’t possibly be alive, but Max felt for a pulse anyhow, shaking Rudy gently, hoping there was something he could do. But no one could have survived such a deep gash to the throat.

  He spun and quickly checked the bunker.

  Liz Sansborough wasn’t there.

  He raced past the monitors toward the stairs and charged upward. There was a chance she was hiding at the top, ready to slash at him.

  Rather than approach cautiously, he rushed through the opening. But she wasn’t there, and he kept running across the lodge’s community room toward the open front door. Behind him, below in the bunker, he heard a phone ring, but he didn’t dare stop to answer it.

  The bitch was only thirty seconds ahead of him.

  The outside air was gray and cool.

  Mist encircled him.

  Behind him, faintly, the phone kept ringing.

  He heard something else, though.

  Past the van.

  Footsteps running across gravel.

  LIZ PLUNGED INTO THE MISTY forest.

  The weather had softened the autumn leaves, but they still made noise, and thinking quickly, she veered toward the soft duff of pine needles, leaping over patches of leaves as she came to them.

  Sensation was returning to her fingers. She used the knife to cut off the plastic cuffs, wincing as the tip dug into the skin under them. Then she pulled out the iPhone she’d stolen. She needed to use its GPS to determine her location and text Simon. She prayed he was all right. As she touched the icon activating the map, she lifted her head, listening. Feet were crunching quickly through the leaves behind her. It had to be Max, and he’d be armed with his pistol, while all she had was the knife.

  No time to text.

 
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