The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got
shot. He moved like he knew his fate in advance. He pushed the door
against the resistance of a stiff hinge and swiveled slowly on the
worn vinyl seat and planted both feet flat on the road. Then he
grasped the door frame with both hands and heaved himself up and
out. He stood in the cold clear air for a second and then turned
and pushed the door shut again behind him. Held still for a second
longer. Then he stepped forward and leaned against the side of the
hood up near the headlight.
The car was a seven-year-old Chevy Caprice. It was black and had no
police markings. But it had three radio antennas and plain chrome
hubs. Most cops you talk to swear the Caprice is the best police
vehicle ever built. This guy looked like he agreed with them. He
looked like a veteran plain-clothes detective with the whole of the
motor pool at his disposal. Like he drove the ancient Chevy because
he wanted to. Like he wasn't interested in the new Fords. I could
see that kind of stubborn old-timer personality in the way he held
himself. He was wide and bulky in a plain dark suit made from some
kind of heavy wool. He was tall but stooped. An old man. He turned
his head and looked north and south along the road and then craned
his thick neck to glance back over his shoulder at the college
gate. He was thirty yards away from me.
The college gate itself was purely a ceremonial thing. Two tall
brick pillars just rose up from a long expanse of tended lawn
behind the sidewalk. Connecting the pillars was a high double gate
made from iron bars bent and folded and twisted into fancy shapes.
It was shiny black. It looked like it had just been repainted. It
was probably repainted after every winter. It had no security
function. Anybody who wanted to avoid it could drive straight
across the lawn. It was wide open, anyway. There was a driveway
behind it with little knee-high iron posts set eight feet back on
either side. They had latches. Each half of the gate was latched
into one of them. Wide open. The driveway led on down to a huddle
of mellow brick buildings about a hundred yards away. The buildings
had steep mossy roofs and were overhung by trees. The driveway was
lined with trees. The sidewalk was lined with trees. There were
trees everywhere. Their leaves were just about coming in. They were
tiny and curled and bright green. Six months from now they would be
big and red and golden and photographers would be swarming all over
the place taking pictures of them for the college brochure.
Twenty yards beyond the cop and his car and the gate was a pickup
truck parked on the other side of the road. It was tight against
the curb. It was facing toward me, fifty yards away. It looked a
little out of place. It was faded red and had a big bull bar on the
front. The bar was dull black and looked like it had been bent and
straightened a couple of times. There were two men in the cab. They
were young, tall, clean-cut, fair-haired. They were just sitting
there, completely still, gazing forward, looking at nothing in
particular. They weren't looking at the cop. They weren't looking
I was set up to the south. I had an anonymous brown panel van
parked outside a music store. The store was the kind of place you
find near a college gate. It had used CDs in racks out on the
sidewalk and posters in the windows behind them advertising bands
people have never heard of. I had the van's rear doors open. There
were boxes stacked inside. I had a sheaf of paperwork in my hands.
I was wearing a coat, because it was a cold April morning. I was
wearing gloves, because the boxes in the van had loose staples
where they had been torn open. I was wearing a gun, because I often
do. It was wedged in my pants, at the back, under the coat. It was
a Colt Anaconda, which is a huge stainless steel revolver chambered
for the .44 Magnum cartridge. It was thirteen and a half inches
long and weighed almost four pounds. Not my first choice of weapon.
It was hard and heavy and cold and I was aware of it all the
I paused in the middle of the sidewalk and looked up from my papers
and heard the distant pickup's engine start. It stayed where it
was, just idling. White exhaust pooled around its rear wheels. The
air was cold. It was early and the street was deserted. I stepped
behind my van and glanced down the side of the music store toward
the college buildings. Saw a black Lincoln Town Car waiting outside
one of them. There were two guys standing next to it. I was a
hundred yards away but neither one of them looked like a limo
driver. Limo drivers don't come in pairs and they don't look young
and heavy and they don't act tense and wary. These guys looked
exactly like bodyguards.
The building the Lincoln was waiting outside of looked like some
kind of a small dormitory. It had Greek letters over a big wooden
door. I watched and the big wooden door opened up and a young thin
guy stepped out. He looked like a student. He had long messy hair
and was dressed like a homeless person but carried a bag that
looked like shiny expensive leather. One of the bodyguards stood
point while the other held the car door and the young thin guy
tossed his bag onto the back seat and slid right in after it. He
pulled the door shut behind himself. I heard it slam, faint and
muffled from a hundred yards away. The bodyguards glanced around
for a second and then got in the front together and a short moment
later the car moved away. Thirty yards behind it a college security
vehicle snuffled slowly in the same direction, not like it was
intending to make up a convoy but like it just happened to be there
anyway. There were two rent-a-cops in it. They were slumped down
low in their seats and they looked aimless and bored.
I took my gloves off and tossed them into the back of my van.
Stepped out into the road where my view was better. I saw the
Lincoln come up the driveway at a moderate speed. It was black and
shiny and immaculate. It had plenty of chrome on it. Plenty of wax.
The college cops were way behind it. It paused at the ceremonial
gate and turned left and came south toward the black police
Caprice. Toward me.
What happened next occupied eight seconds, but it felt like the
blink of an eye.
The faded red pickup moved off the curb twenty yards back. It
accelerated hard. It caught up with the Lincoln and pulled out and
passed it exactly level with the cop's Caprice. It came within a
foot of the cop's knees. Then it accelerated again and pulled a
little ways ahead and its driver swung the wheel hard and the
corner of the bull bar smashed square into the Lincoln's front
fender. The pickup driver kept the wheel turned and his foot hard
down and forced the Lincoln off the road onto the shoulder. The
grass tore up and the Lincoln slowed radically and then hit a tree
head-on. There was the boom of metal caving and tearing and
headlight glass shattering and there was a big cloud of steam and
the tree's tiny green leaves shook and quivered noisily in the
still morning air.
Then the two guys in the pickup came out shooting. They had black
machine pistols and were firing them at the Lincoln. The sound was
deafening and I could see arcs of spent brass raining down on the
blacktop. Then the guys were pulling at the Lincoln's doors.
Hauling them open. One of them leaned into the back and started
dragging the thin kid out. The other was still firing his gun into
the front. Then he reached into his pocket left-handed and came out
with some kind of a grenade. Tossed it inside the Lincoln and
slammed the doors and grabbed his buddy and the kid by the
shoulders and turned them away and hauled them down into a crouch.
There was a loud bright explosion inside the Lincoln. All six
windows shattered. I was more than twenty yards away and felt every
bit of the concussion. Pebbles of glass blew everywhere. They made
rainbows in the sun. Then the guy who had tossed the grenade
scrambled up and sprinted for the passenger side of the pickup and
the other straight-armed the kid inside the cab and crowded right
in after him. The doors slammed shut and I saw the kid trapped in
there on the center seat. I saw terror in his face. It was white
with shock and right through the dirty windshield I saw his mouth
opening in a silent scream. I saw the driver working the gears and
heard the engine roaring and the tires squealing and then the truck
was coming directly at me.
It was a Toyota. I could see toyota on the grille behind the bull
bar. It rode high on its suspension and I could see a big black
differential at the front. It was the size of a soccer ball.
Four-wheel drive. Big fat tires. Dents and faded paint that hadn't
been washed since it left the factory. It was coming straight at
I had less than a second to decide.
I flipped the tail of my coat and pulled out the Colt. Aimed very
carefully and fired once at the Toyota's grille. The big gun
flashed and roared and kicked in my hand. The huge .44 slug
shattered the radiator. I fired again at the left front tire. Blew
it out in a spectacular explosion of black rubber debris. Yards of
blown tread whipped through the air. The truck slewed and stopped
with the driver's side facing me. Ten yards away. I ducked behind
the back of my van and slammed the rear doors and came out on the
sidewalk and fired again at the left rear tire. Same result. Rubber
everywhere. The truck crashed down on its left-side rims at a steep
angle. The driver opened his door and spilled out on the blacktop
and scrambled up on one knee. He had his gun in the wrong hand. He
juggled it across and I waited until I was fairly sure he was going
to point it at me. Then I used my left hand to cradle my right
forearm against the Colt's four-pound weight and aimed carefully at
center mass like I had been taught a long time ago and pulled the
trigger. The guy's chest seemed to explode in a huge cloud of
blood. The skinny kid was rigid inside the cab. Just staring in
shock and horror. But the second guy was out of the cab and
scrambling around the front of the hood toward me. His gun was
coming around at me. I swiveled left and paused a beat and cradled
my forearm. Aimed at his chest. Fired. Same result. He went down on
his back behind the fender in a cloud of red vapor.
Now the skinny kid was moving in the cab. I ran for him and pulled
him out right over the first guy's body. Ran him back to my van. He
was limp with shock and confusion. I shoved him into the passenger
seat and slammed the door on him and spun around and headed for the
driver's side. In the corner of my eye I saw a third guy coming
right at me. Reaching into his jacket. Some tall heavy guy. Dark
clothes. I braced my arm and fired and saw the big red explosion in
his chest at exactly the same split second I realized it was the
old cop from the Caprice and he had been reaching into his pocket
for his badge. The badge was a gold shield in a worn leather holder
and it flew up out of his hand and tumbled end over end and landed
hard against the curb right in front of my van.
Time stood still.
I stared at the cop. He was on his back in the gutter. His whole
chest was a mess of red. It was all over him. There was no welling
or pumping. No sign of a heartbeat. There was a big ragged hole in
his shirt. He was completely still. His head was turned and his
cheek was hard against the blacktop. His arms were flung out and I
could see pale veins in his hands. I was aware of the blackness of
the road and the vivid green of the grass and the bright blue of
the sky. I could hear the thrill of the breeze in the new leaves
over the gunshots still roaring in my ears. I saw the skinny kid
staring out through my van's windshield at the downed cop and then
staring at me. I saw the college security cruiser coming left out
of the gate. It was moving slower than it should have been. Dozens
of shots had been fired. Maybe they were worried about where their
jurisdiction began and where it ended. Maybe they were just scared.
I saw their pale pink faces behind their windshield. They were
turned in my direction. Their car was doing maybe fifteen miles an
hour. It was crawling straight at me. I glanced at the gold shield
in the gutter. The metal was worn smooth by a lifetime of use. I
glanced at my van. Stood completely still. One thing I learned a
long time ago is that it's easy enough to shoot a man. But there's
absolutely no way to unshoot one.
I heard the college car rolling slowly toward me. Heard its tires
crushing grit on the blacktop. Everything else was silence. Then
time restarted and a voice in my head screamed go go go and I ran
for it. I scrambled into the van and threw the gun down on the
middle seat and fired up the engine and pulled a U-turn so hard we
came up on two wheels. The skinny kid was thrown all over the
place. I got the wheel straight and stamped on the gas and took off
south. I had a limited view in the mirror but I saw the college
cops light up their roof bar and come right after me. The kid next
to me was totally silent. His mouth was hanging open. He was
concentrating on staying in his seat. I was concentrating on
accelerating as hard as I could. Traffic was mercifully light. It
was a sleepy New England town, early in the morning. I got the van
wound up to about seventy miles an hour and tightened my hands on
the wheel until my knuckles showed white and just stared at the
road ahead, like I didn't want to see what was behind me.
"How far back are they?" I asked the kid.
He didn't respond. He was slack with shock and crunched up in the
corner of his seat, as far away from me as he could get. He was
staring at the roof. He had his right hand braced against the door.
Pale skin, long fingers.
"How far back?" I asked again. The engine was roaring loud.
"You killed a cop," he said. "That old guy was a cop, you
"You shot him."
"Accident," I said. "How far back are the others?"
"He was showing you his badge."
"How far back are the others?"
He stirred himself and turned around and ducked his head so he
could line up the view out of the small rear windows.
"Hundred feet," he said. He sounded vague and scared. "Real close.
One of them is hanging out the window with a gun."
Right on cue I heard the distant pop of a handgun over the roar of
the engine and the whine of the tires. I picked up the Colt from
the seat beside me. Dropped it again. It was empty. I had fired six
times already. A radiator, two tires, two guys. And one
Excerpted from PERSUADER © Copyright 2003 by Lee Child.
Reprinted with permission by Dell, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved.