Matchup, p.4
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       MatchUp, p.4
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           Lee Child

  “Sort of depends on who you ask, doesn’t it?”

  Pickett said nothing for a moment, then cleared his throat. “I was thinking elk or deer.”

  “Long ago in Idaho, with my dad,” he said.

  He’d been twelve years old. His father shot a mule deer from the window of their truck before the sun came up, which was illegal. In the headlights, his dad had put the wounded animal out of its misery by hitting it on the head with a shovel.

  “Didn’t like it much,” he said.

  “Maybe you can still relate to my point.”

  “Which is?”

  “You can spend weeks in a wilderness like this, going after elk or moose. Stalking. Camping. Moving on foot. The first few years you hunt you’re filled with bloodlust. It’s how men are wired. We want to blast away and kill something and get our hands bloody. But it gets frustrating after a while because these animals we hunt are prey. That’s how they’re wired. They aren’t particularly smart, but they know not to charge into a confrontation. Instead, they avoid ’em.”

  “What does that have to do with us?”

  “Maybe nothing. But from what you tell me, these One Nation guys are just dumb rednecks. If they were smart, they’d hightail it out of these mountains while they’ve had the chance. Either that, or they’d wait until morning and sneak down here to make sure we’re dead. But these guys are dumb. And violent. They have bloodlust. So they’re itching to confirm their kills, bury our bodies, and get to working on this building again so they can go back to inciting a race war. In other words, they don’t have much patience and they’re probably hungry, like I am.” Pickett chinned toward the coolers and canned goods in the shadow of the trees. “They want their Dinty Moore stew.”

  Coburn saw the logic in what Pickett said. Besides, in the shape he was in, he couldn’t launch an attack on a butterfly, much less two idiots with firepower and a cause.

  “So we wait them out?”

  “Till they make a move,” Pickett said.

  “Or I drain dry of blood.”

  “Whichever comes first.”

  “EMILY.”

  Pickett opened his eyes.

  It had been an hour and a half since either of them had spoken. They had thirty minutes of light left, although it had been a while since they’d seen the sun. The dark walls of trees seemed to be closing in, and because the breeze had stopped it seemed incredibly still and totally silent except for Coburn’s whisper of a name.

  “What?” he whispered back.

  “Honor and Emily.”

  He was puzzled. “That’s a new one.”

  Coburn shook his head. “Honor is the name of my . . . woman. Emily’s her daughter. Five years old.”

  He tried to keep his surprise from showing. “So you have a family?”

  “Barely.”

  Joe waited for more that didn’t come. Finally, he said, “I’ve got a great wife and three daughters. I don’t mind admitting that, if it weren’t for them, I don’t know what good I’d be.”

  Coburn looked over hard at him. “You mean like me.”

  “I didn’t say that.”

  “You wouldn’t be far off the mark. She and I have only been together three months.”

  “Marybeth and I met in college.”

  Coburn shifted uncomfortably. “Honor and I met under more unusual circumstances.”

  He waited for more.

  “I crawled out of a swamp into her yard, held her at gunpoint, threatened her life, and tied her up.”

  “Never would’ve taken you for such a romantic.”

  Coburn puffed a laugh. “She was involved in this case I was working.”

  He motioned toward Coburn’s belly. “Is that when that happened?”

  “Yep. Didn’t know if I’d ever see her again. I started going out to the airport every day.” Coburn paused. “Anyhow, that asshole I told you about? My boss. Hamilton? Honor threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t tell her where I was. She would’ve been better off staying in Louisiana. But one day there she was. With Emily and Elmo.”

  “That sounds like a happy ending.”

  Coburn shrugged. “Maybe for a guy who wants to settle down. Maybe for a guy like you. A guy who knows who Elmo is.”

  He chuckled. “A little girl, huh? So you’re awash in estrogen.”

  “You could say that.”

  “Sometimes I think of my place as the ‘House of Feelings,’ ” he said. “It can be quite a shocker to spend the day alone out in the field and return home to that.”

  “Four of ’em,” Coburn said, shaking his head. “I have trouble handling two. I’ve spent my whole life on my own. Keeping my own company. Not sharing anything with anybody, especially space. Now I’m having discussions about things like curtains. I don’t care what color they are. I just want to know if they shut.”

  He nodded. “I hear you. And what’s the thing with throw pillows?”

  “Hell if I know.”

  They pondered the imponderable for a few seconds.

  “Can Honor cook?” he asked.

  Coburn smiled. “Oh, yeah. And don’t get me wrong. She’s wonderful. I can’t keep my hands off her. It’s the other stuff I gotta work through. I keep asking myself, Can I do this?”

  “That’s not the question you should be asking.”

  “Enlighten me.”

  “Do you want to do it?”

  He gave him time to answer, but nothing came, so he said, “You can do it, Coburn. If I can put up with a mother-in-law who never fails to remind me that her daughter married down, you can put up with curtains and throw pillows. Builds character. Maybe Honor will take the edge off you.”

  “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

  “With all due respect, you could be less of a hard-ass. And one other thing. When we get out of this thing, go have Emily’s name added to your arm. Don’t chicken out this time.”

  Coburn glanced at his still seeping wound. “If we get out of this thing.”

  “We’ll find out soon enough, I think.”

  By eight thirty a sliver of moon had wedged between the spindled tops of two pine trees, the sky overhead almost cloudy from the countless stars. A sight Pickett never tired of seeing.

  Two men stepped out of the trees on the south side of the clearing. One was stocky and short with a barrel chest. The other cadaverous, and he pulled his left leg behind him as he walked. Silver light reflected off the barrels of their rifles.

  The stocky man whispered, “You gonna make it?”

  “I better,” the skinny man said in a southern twang. “Ain’t never tried to walk on a shot-up leg before.”

  The stocky man chuckled.

  They moved deliberately across the clearing toward the walls of the lodge. Condensation puffed from their mouths with every breath. They kept low as they neared the log walls.

  When they were leaning against it, the stocky one whispered, “One, two, three.”

  And they both sprang up and looked over the wall, their rifles sweeping the dirt floor.

  After a beat, the stocky man said, “Where the hell did they go?”

  “Right behind you,” Coburn said, raising the .45 with his left hand.

  Joe didn’t even have the stock of the shotgun up to his cheek before there were two loud booms and orange fireballs erupted from the muzzle of Coburn’s weapon. Both the rednecks were thrown into the wall by the bullets’ impact. The skinny man fell like a puppet with his strings clipped. The stocky one regained his balance, turned, and raised his rifle. Coburn shot him again and the man dropped to the ground.

  Pickett’s ears rang.

  He barely heard Coburn say, “I think I forgot to say freeze.”

  COBURN EYED PICKETT IN THE amber light from the campfire. The game warden had finally stopped talking and had settled in to shoveling spoonful after spoonful of canned stew into his mouth.

  “I can’t believe I’m so hungry,” Pickett said. “Usually when I see a dead person, I
get sick.”

  “Then drink,” Coburn said, extending a bottle of bourbon they’d found in the One Nation cache.

  Pickett grabbed the bottle, sucked a long swig, then grimaced.

  “Good, huh?” Coburn said, taking it back.

  The liquor dulled the pain from his shoulder but not as much as he would like.

  “How did you know they wouldn’t see us leave that shelter to hide in the trees?”

  “The darkest time of the night is that ten-minute window after the sun goes down, and just before the moon comes out. It takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. You learn that by chasing poachers around. That’s why we left when we did.”

  He nodded.

  Smart thinking.

  Something emerged from the trees.

  Like a ghost, twenty feet from the fire, startling them both.

  “My steed,” Pickett said, definitely pleased. “Rojo.”

  The horse snorted.

  Pickett stood with a grunt and led the animal closer to the fire, tying him to a tree trunk and fishing a radio out of the saddlebag.

  “I’m going to contact the Teton County Sheriff’s Department. When the good guys get here, do you want to go straight to the hospital?”

  “Where else?”

  “Thought maybe you’d want to roust your tattoo guy first.”

  Coburn savored another deep drink of the bourbon.

  And grinned.

  VAL MCDERMID AND PETER JAMES

  VAL MCDERMID TELLS ME THAT the idea for this story came while she was having her feet worked on by a brisk German reflexologist. While lying there she kept thinking about how most people consider feet unattractive, and yet for some they’re a powerful sexual fetish.

  A thought occurred.

  What would happen if a foot-fetishist reflexologist confronted a pair of feet so perfect he wanted to keep them forever.

  And the story was born.

  Both Peter and Val are British crime (thriller) writers. But their novels are set at opposite ends of the country. Val’s principal characters are a detective and a psychological profiler. Peter’s is a pure detective. For them both, the whole world of foot fetishists was a relatively unexplored subject. Learning about the weird and wonderful world of feet, as objects of eroticism, seemed a bit mind-boggling for them.

  But there was an element of fun to it too.

  Peter wrote the skeleton of an outline. Val then fleshed it out and drafted the opening, setting the scene and the tone. Together, they then worked back and forth, each writing segments of about a thousand words. Val counted on Peter for all the police procedural elements, which gave her free rein to have some fun with the characters. And they both had “a bit of a giggle” at each other’s terrible puns about feet.

  The result is something quite unique.

  Footloose.

  FOOTLOOSE

  A WATERY RED SUN WAS struggling to defeat skeins of cloud above the moors of either Lancashire or West Yorkshire, depending on personal allegiance. A narrow ribbon of road wound down from the high tops toward the outskirts of Bradfield, its gray sprawl just emerging from the dawn light. Gary Naylor steered a van crammed with bacon, sausages, and black pudding from his organic piggery down the moorside, knowing his bladder wasn’t going to make it to the first delivery.

  There was, he knew, a lay-by round the next bend, tucked in against a dry stone wall. He’d stop there for a quick slash. Nobody around to see at this time of the morning. He pulled over and squirmed out, duckwalking over to the wall. He had eyes for nothing but his zip and his hands and then, oh, the relief as he directed his hot stream over the low wall.

  That was when he noticed her.

  Sprawled on the far side of the gray drystone dike lay a woman.

  Blond, beautiful, dressed in a figure-hugging dress, wide-eyed and indisputably dead.

  Dead and covered in his steaming piss.

  DETECTIVE CHIEF INSPECTOR CAROL JORDAN of the Regional Major Incident Team had already been awake when the call came in. She’d been halfway up the hill behind her converted barn home, exercising Flash, her border collie. She walked; the dog quartered the hillside in a manic outpouring of energy that made her feel faintly inadequate. She took the call and turned, whistling the dog to follow. Five yards in and Flash was in front of her, heading like an arrow for home.

  She let the dog in and called to the man who shared her home but not her bed.

  Dr. Tony Hill emerged from his separate suite at the far end of the barn, hair wet from the shower, tucking his shirt into his jeans.

  “What’s up?” he asked.

  “Body of a woman found up on the moors. A fresh kill, by all accounts.”

  “And it’s one for ReMIT?”

  “Oh yes. It’s definitely one for us. She’s got no feet.”

  Carol Jordan and Tony Hill were a better fit in their professional lives than they’d ever managed personally.

  He was a clinical psychologist who specialized in unraveling the motivations of the twisted killers who wanted to express themselves again and again. She was the kind of detective for whom justice matters more than any other consideration. Now she’d been put in charge of ReMIT, he was at the heart of the tight-knit team she’d built to deal with major crimes across six police areas. So when they turned up at the lay-by on the moors, there was a perceptible lowering of the level of tension among the local officers who’d been called to the scene first.

  They could relax a bit.

  This wasn’t going to be down to them if it all went tits up.

  The detective sergeant who’d been on duty when the call came in introduced them to Gary Naylor, sitting hunched in his van with the door open.

  “I’m sorry,” Naylor said. “I’m so, so sorry. I never saw her till it was too late.”

  For a moment Carol thought she was hearing a confession.

  But the DS explained. “Mr. Naylor urinated on the woman’s body. Then when he realized what he’d done, he threw up.” He tried to keep his voice level, but the disgust showed in the line of his mouth.

  “That must have been upsetting for you,” Tony said.

  “Have we taken a statement from Mr. Naylor?” Carol asked.

  “We were waiting for you, ma’am,” the DS said.

  “Have someone take a statement from Mr. Naylor, then let the poor man get on with his day.”

 
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