MatchUp, p.31Lee Child
He cocked his head, wondering why Perry and Pritchard weren’t looking for him. “Double was supposed to meet Nora in the alley so he could take the car to the chop shop. He saw you and Antonio standing over his dead sister and decided to kidnap the man who was responsible.” He remembered a detail. “Only, Double’s not so single-minded that he doesn’t take the bulk of the coke with him, which is how you ended up here on this mountain.”
Paulson climbed out of the car. “I woulda got away with it except for those meddling kids.” The gun stayed on him as Paulson tried in vain to straighten his utility belt. “Oh, wait. I’m the meddling kid, and I am getting away with it.”
He’d underestimated Paulson’s abilities.
Or maybe motivations.
The guy hadn’t seemed eager to kill another man in response to the cold-blooded murder of a girl, but he sure as shit seemed eager to murder a man over some coke, guns, and money.
“Turn around,” Paulson said. “Start walking.”
He did. It was slow going. The snow was piled up past his knees. He couldn’t see the truck, but he could hear the engine. He hoped to God that Pritchard was as smart as he looked, and Perry was as cunning as he seemed, and they’d both figured out that something was not right. Though, considering his recent streak of bad luck, the two cops were probably warming themselves inside the truck, Perry explaining to Pritchard that Hoth is the sixth planet in some star system while Pritchard tried not to strangle him.
Not that Paulson was driving Jeffrey toward the truck.
The engine noise was actually fading.
“Where are we going?” he asked. “Doesn’t seem wise to go deeper into the forest.”
He wasn’t planning on shutting up, but then he felt the gun press into his head, and knew that Paulson had a habit of leaving his finger on the trigger, so he did.
Paulson said, “I don’t want to shoot you.”
The refrain echoed from the alleyway this morning, but out in the dark, cold woods, he realized that Paulson didn’t have to shoot him to kill him.
“You just gonna leave me out here to die? Let’s talk this out, Paulson. Those two cops back there ain’t dummies. They’re gonna figure this out.”
“I’m betting they don’t.”
Then Paulson stumbled. His utility belt clattered.
The gun banged into Jeffrey’s skull.
“DuPree ain’t figured it out,” Paulson said, “and I’ve been selling coke outta my squad car for years.” Paulson stumbled again. “Stupid tourists come up here thinking they’re gonna have some fun. They go to the waterfall, take a couple’a three pictures, then head back into town and ask what the fuck do we do next.”
He realized that the rush of water he’d heard when he first got out of the Malibu had slowed to a trickle.
“Through here,” Paulson said.
He turned into a clearing and they were at the falls. Or what was the falls when the temperature wasn’t in the polar region. He heard a weird noise and realized it was coming from the surface layer of the water. It kept freezing, cracking, then freezing again. The sound was like a squeaky basement door slowly opening in every single horror movie ever filmed.
There were no trees overhead, just an open, snowy sky with moonlight streaking down onto the frozen water. He’d read the brochure back at the hotel. Anna Ruby Falls was actually two waterfalls that were created by Curtis Creek and York Creek. The Curtis side dropped one hundred fifty-three feet. The York side fifty feet. They joined at the base of the falls to form Smith Creek. Jeffrey craned his neck to look over the side. Smith Creek was starting to freeze, a thin skein of ice making its way toward the falls. If you didn’t want to shoot a man, but you wanted to kill him, this was the place to do it.
Paulson said, “Move.”
He did, but only so that his toes were about eighteen inches from the edge of the falls. Again, he craned his neck to look over. They were on the Curtis side. One hundred fifty-three feet, most of it ice. What were the odds that he could survive the fall? Better than his odds of turning around, grabbing the gun out of Paulson’s hands and beating the shit out of him?
Paulson said, “You wanna jump or you wanna be pushed?”
He riffled through his options. Paulson was a man who kept his finger on the trigger. Grab the gun and he would squeeze.
“You’re gonna have to push me.”
Paulson jammed his gun between Jeffrey’s shoulder blades.
He didn’t move.
Paulson jammed him again.
He still didn’t move.
The math was against Paulson. He was taller, sure, but he was roughly one part bone and the other part gristle. Stuff like muscle and tendon had yet to develop.
“Come on, you’re doing this on purpose,” Paulson said.
“I need you to shove me harder than that.”
Paulson used his free hand to push Jeffrey’s shoulder, which torqued, but his feet stayed firmly planted.
Paulson sounded exasperated.
He heard him jam his gun back into his holster.
Then two hands pressed flat to Jeffrey’s back.
That’s when he darted right and Paulson fell forward.
The plan was to catch the guy before he went over the side, but Jeffrey didn’t count on his hands being frozen, his arms moving like they were in quicksand, his legs refusing to budge or Paulson, frankly, being so skinny that the only part of him that he was able to grab was the utility belt around his narrow waist.
Two fingers slipped inside the belt, which was actually a belt on top of a belt. The sixty pounds of equipment that a cop had to wear was so heavy that first you had to put an underbelt through the loops on your pants, then you attached two metal hooks that held the outer belt with all the equipment. When worn correctly, the belt system worked great when you were chasing bad guys. Not so much when you were teetering on the edge of a frozen waterfall.
Paulson mouthed the word more than said it.
Jeffery leaned back, trying to dig in his feet. Paulson’s belt slipped up to his armpits. He squealed. His gun clattered down the frozen falls. His arms windmilled.
“Don’t struggle.” Jeffery reached his other hand toward the belt and managed to loop in three fingers. “Stop struggling.”
Paulson’s mouth moved. He was praying. He kept flailing his arms. Jeffrey groaned. His fingers were going to snap in two. The muscles in his arms were like tightened wires. His shoulders were burning. Cold air stabbed his lungs.
“Listen to me,” he told Paulson, using the same calming voice he’d used in the alleyway this morning. “Slowly, I want you to put one of your hands on mine. Then try to climb your way back toward—”
“Help,” Paulson cried out. The bank of the creek was starting to give way. One of his feet slipped.
“Don’t panic,” he coaxed as panic filled every single cell in his body. “Just—”
He felt someone grab him from behind.
Who held him in a bear hug.
Jeffery reached out for Paulson’s belt, but it was too late. The ground fell out from underneath Paulson’s feet. Jeffrey struggled to hold on to the belt as gravity took over. It all happened in slow motion, like the cold was trying to freeze them in place.
Paulson’s narrow shoulders rolled.
The belt slid up higher, over the arms, past the head, then finally past the hands. Like watching a magician pass a hula hoop over his floating assistant.
Ice cracked beneath Paulson. Water poured out. Paulson screamed and groaned, then pitched down into the creek below. He must’ve been like a pine needle hitting the water straight on. There was barely a splash.
Time sped back up to normal.
Jeffrey fell against Pritchard, the belt still in his hands. Perry fell back, too. He held on to the belt as tightly as Jeffrey.
They all three got down on their knees and peered over the side.
The skein of ice had broken apart.
Paulson was floating on the top of the water. His hands were still over his head. His legs were splayed. He was trapped somewhere between a snow angel and a crucifixion.
Pritchard stood up and brushed the snow off his pants.
Perry was still staring at the river, even though Paulson was now out of sight.
Paulson had been a piece of shit, but they’d all wanted him in a cell, not being dredged out of the creek whenever the ice thawed.
Jeffrey coughed. He’d swallowed more damn snow. Why did he keep opening his mouth when he fell?
“What now?” Perry said.
“I guess we deal with what we’ve got left,” Pritchard said.
And Jeffrey nodded.
There was nothing they could do for Paulson except tell the coroner where to find the body. Double would have to be put in a cell. Antonio Childers, on a plane—once his broken legs were set at the hospital.
“One good thing about the snow,” Perry said as he turned from the water. “The trail back is clear enough.”
Jeffrey took one last look at the frozen falls. He shivered from the bitter cold. His fingers ached. His arms ached. His balls still ached.
The last part was easily fixable.
Nora hadn’t been the only woman at the bar last night. There was another girl he’d talked to—tall, brunette, not so smart, but smart didn’t really matter. She’d said that she was heading out of town this afternoon, but nobody in their right mind had headed anywhere this afternoon. Maybe no one would be leaving tomorrow, or the next day, or maybe for the rest of the week. If he was going to be trapped in this alpine version of hell, the least he could do was make sure he had a warm body to wile away the hours with.
He turned around and headed toward the truck.
Perry was right about the trail being clear. Even with the snow falling in waves, walking back the way he’d come was a hell of a lot easier than forging new ground.
Which seemed the story of his life.
At least so far.
CHARLAINE HARRIS AND ANDREW GROSS
THIS TEAM MAY BE THE epitome of everything we strive for with an anthology. Andy and Charlaine are nothing alike. Charlaine is a Mississippi girl, who cut her teeth on mysteries before making a name for herself with vampires. Andy is a born and bred New Yorker, who started off writing with James Patterson before forging a career of his own with what he calls “suburban thrillers.” Their characters are likewise utterly different. Andy’s Ty Hauck is a rough and gritty detective hailing from the land of the wealthy in Greenwich, Connecticut, while Charlaine’s Harper Connelly is a young woman who, after being struck by lightning, is able to locate dead bodies, then visualize their last moments.
But it was all these differences that made everything click.
The idea for the story came from Andy. He’d taken a trip to Alexandria, Egypt, a city literally built on the bones of other ancient civilizations. Once learning of Harper’s ability to communicate with the dead, he knew the story had to be set there. Charlaine was a bit dubious at first, but together they adapted both their characters, and individual styles, into a superb tale. Their only problem came with their personal generosity, each trying to give the other’s character more page time.
But they found the right balance.
THE WOMAN IN THE PALE blue headscarf came out to meet him. She was around forty, attractive, in Western clothes, other than the blue hijab. “You’re the American? Mr. Hauck?”
“I am,” Ty Hauck said, standing up to meet her. He’d been in the outside waiting room of Sikka Hadid police station for an hour, and he’d been getting restless.
They shook hands.
“I’m Inspector Honsi, but everyone calls me Nabila. We’re all a little rushed today. Some bigwigs are in town. Come on back.”
Nabila took him into a large room crammed with rows of desks. It looked similar to a hundred other detective bullpens Hauck had seen in the States, down to the Siemens computers. Men in open shirts, jackets off. The temperature in the eighties, but the electric fans made the room comfortable.
“Welcome to Alexandria,” Nabila said, pointing him to her desk. “First time here?”
It didn’t escape Hauck’s notice that Nabila was the only female detective in the room.
“It’s everyone’s first time in Alexandria these days. Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has kind of been on lockdown to the world. There’s a cruise ship in the port. First one in two years. We used to get two a week.” They sat at Nabila’s desk, which was crowded with folders and computer printouts. “Now all tourists want to do is go to Cairo, see the Nile and the pyramids for a day, and then get out as fast as they can. May I offer you some tea?”
“No, thanks. I had some at the hotel. Mind if I take off my jacket?” He didn’t want to offend Inspector Honsi by breaking local protocol.
“Of course not. It’s not as hot here as everyone expects, since we’re on the coast, but it’s definitely a warm day. And I’m sure you are probably used to air-conditioning. Where are you from in the States?”
“Greenwich,” he replied. “It’s in Connecticut. Near New York.”
“I know where Connecticut is,” she said.
Inspector Honsi was pretty, her dark hair streaked with traces of blond highlights pulled back beneath her headscarf, one of a hundred mixes of the old and the modern he’d seen here in just a day. She had smooth, coffee-colored skin, and sharp, dark almond-shaped eyes. He didn’t know if the glances the male detectives sent their way were because Nabila was pretty, or because they wanted to be sure an American minded his manners around an Egyptian woman.
“You’ve studied American geography?” he said, smiling.
She laughed. “I spent two years studying criminology in D.C. American University. I became a basketball fan there. And I fell in love with hockey. The Capitals. Imagine, an Egyptian. Here, you’re lucky to get enough ice to put in your drink. Mr. Hauck, did I understand correctly that you’re a police inspector?”
“I was.” For twenty years, he’d been a detective both in New York City, and in Greenwich, where he’d been head of Violent Crime. “Now I’m a partner in a private security firm. And please call me Ty.” He took out his wallet and slid his card across the desk.
“Talon,” she noted. “Offices in Greenwich, New York, London, and Dubai. Sounds like a lot of employees?”
“It’s a good size. We do a lot of forensic stuff in finance, IT. Some field protection work as well.”
“And you are here to look into the disappearance of Stephanie Winters. I’m told you have some connection to the family?”
“Not personally,” he explained. “My boss told me to come. Ms. Winters’s father is a client of Talon.”
“Talon must have a lot of clout,” she said. “I was told by Chief Inspector Farnoush to make myself available to you and share what we know. Your boss talked to my boss, so to speak. The men upstairs. And here we are. Did you travel here from the States?”
“I happened to be in Tel Aviv on a money-laundering investigation. Fake antiquities out of Syria. The money was going somewhere in Connecticut. By the way, I was told there was another American consultant coming in?”
“Later today,” the inspector said. She opened a drawer, pulled out a thick file, and slipped on her glasses. Pretty stylish. Fendi
MatchUp by Lee Child / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes