Which was a neat trick, potentially, in that we would be staring at the guy’s moving hand, inching its way into his pocket, pausing there, inching back out, and meanwhile the other guy could have been doing anything at all. He could have been assembling a brand-new Heckler and Koch from a kit of parts.
But then, if they thought they needed weapons, they would have come out the van holding them.
I said, ‘I understand.’
The guy glanced at Casey Nice and said, ‘Miss?’
She said, ‘Go ahead.’
So he did, slowly, and he came out with a leather ID wallet. It was black, and it looked old and worn. He opened it, finger and thumb. It had two plastic windows, a little yellowed, face to face. Behind one was a version of the Metropolitan Police badge. Sculpted and shiny and very impressive on their pointed helmets, not so much when printed on paper. Behind the other plastic window was an ID card.
The guy held out the wallet.
His thumb was over the picture.
I said, ‘Your thumb is over the picture.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
He moved his thumb off the picture. The picture was him.
Above his face was printed Metropolitan Police.
He said, ‘We need to ask you some questions.’
I said, ‘What questions?’
‘We need you to get in the van.’
‘Where will you sit?’
The guy missed a beat, and said, ‘We need you to get in the back of the van.’
I said, ‘I don’t like the dark.’
‘There’s a wire screen at the front. You’ll get plenty of light.’
‘OK,’ I said.
Which seemed to surprise him a little. He missed another beat. Then he nodded and stepped forward, and his partner came with him, and we stepped backward, and half turned, and stepped off the kerb into the road, and then we hung back and waited politely for one of them to open the doors.
The one who had hustled around the hood did it, first by turning the handle, then by pulling the right-hand panel, and propping it, then by pulling the left-hand panel, and propping it too, both doors standing open more than ninety degrees, so that together they made a chute. The load area inside was completely empty, and completely unmarked, and every bit as clean as the outside. All bare metal, all painted black, all waxed and polished. The interior walls were stamped and pressed for strength. The floor was ribbed. And as promised there was a thick wire grille welded full-width and full-height behind the passenger compartment.
There were no handles on the inside of the doors.
The guy turned back from the left-hand door, coming up a little, because he had stooped to operate the prop, and I launched off my back foot and jerked at the waist and smashed my elbow into the bridge of his nose, a clubbing blow, slightly downward. His knees crumpled and his head snapped back and bounced off the door with a metallic boom, but I didn’t see what happened to him next, because by that point I had already twisted counterclockwise and knocked Casey Nice out the way and launched the same elbow at the first guy, who was a big strong man, but clearly not much of a fighter. Maybe he had gotten too comfortable with getting by on appearance and reputation alone. Maybe it was years since he had been involved in an actual scuffle. The only way to deal with a sudden incoming elbow was to twist and drive forward and take it on the meat of the upper arm, which is always painful and sometimes numbing, but generally you stay on your feet. But the guy went the other way. He chose the wrong option. He reared up and back, chin high, hoping to dodge the blow, which didn’t work at all, and never really could. The elbow caught him full in the throat, perfectly horizontal, like an iron bar moving close to thirty miles an hour. Speed matters, like in baseball and busting down doors. And the human throat is full of all kinds of vulnerable gristle and small bones. I felt my elbow crush a lot of it, and then I whipped back to the other guy, but he didn’t need a follow-up question. He was sitting on his ass, propped against the open door, blood streaming from his nose, out for an eight count. So I turned back again and saw the guy I had hit in the throat flat on his back in the gutter. He was whooping and wheezing and pawing at his windpipe.
I knelt next to him and patted him down. No gun. No knife. I went back to the guy on his ass. No gun. No knife. Not in broad daylight, I guessed. Not in London.
Casey Nice staggered back into view. She looked very pale. She said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
I said, ‘Talk later. We’re in public here. Get them in the van first.’
The guy in the gutter was barely breathing. I bunched the front of his raincoat in my hands and lifted him up and turned him around and got his head and shoulders into the load space, and then I shovelled the rest of him inside, and then I did the same thing with the other guy, but with his collar from behind, and the back of his belt, because he was bleeding badly all down his front, and I didn’t want to get marked or sticky. I kicked the props and closed the doors on them, and checked the handle.
Casey Nice said, ‘Why did you do that?’
I said, ‘You didn’t want to be sidetracked.’
‘They’re cops, for God’s sake.’
‘Get in the front. We need to dump this thing somewhere.’
I looked all around, and saw some cars and people, but they all seemed to be going about their normal business. No big crowd was gathering. No one was standing with a flat hand over an open mouth, or fumbling for a cell phone. We were being ignored. Almost consciously. The same the world over. People look away.
I said, ‘You told me if we get a problem, we should deal with it fast and decisively.’
I stepped back up on the sidewalk and tracked around to the driver’s door. I got in and pushed the seat back as far as it would go, which wasn’t very far, because of the wire screen. I was going to be driving with my knees up around my ears, on the left side of the road, with a stick shift and a diesel engine, none of which I was used to.
Casey Nice got in next to me. She was still pale. The key was still in the ignition. I started the motor and pressed the clutch and waggled the stick. There seemed to be a whole lot of gears in there. At least seven of them, including reverse. I took an educated guess and shoved the stick left, and up, and looked for the stalk that would work the turn signals.
Casey Nice said, ‘I meant different problems than cops.’
I said, ‘Cops are the same problem as anything else. Worse, in fact. They can take us back to the airport in handcuffs. No one else can do that.’
‘Which they will now. For sure. They’ll hunt us down with a vengeance. You just assaulted two police officers. We’re on the run, as of this minute. You just made things a thousand times harder. A million times harder. You just made things impossible.’
I clicked the turn signal and checked the door mirror. I moved off, with a lurch, because of a clumsy left foot.
I said, ‘Except they weren’t police officers.’
I changed gear, once, twice, three times, a little smoother as I went along, and I got straight and centred in the left-hand lane.
She said, ‘We saw his badge.’
‘I bet it was done on a home computer.’
‘You bet? What does that even mean? You’re going to assault a hundred cops just in case one of them isn’t?’
I changed gear again and sped up a little, to blend in.
I said, ‘No cop on earth would call his badge a government identification document. Cops don’t work for the government. Not in their minds. They work for their department. For each other. For the whole worldwide brotherhood. For the city, just maybe, at the very best. But not the government. They hate the government. The government is their worst enemy, at every level. National, county, local, no one understands cops and everyone makes their lives more and more miserable with an endless stream of bullshit. A cop wouldn’t use the word.’