Die trying, p.15
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       Die Trying, p.15

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter Fifteen

  THE WHITE TRUCK droned on, steadily, another hour, maybe sixty more miles. The clock inside Reacher's head ticked around from eleven to twelve noon. The first faint stirrings of worry were building inside him. They had been gone a day. Nearly a full twenty-four hours. Out of the first phase, into the middle phase. No progress. And he was uncomfortable. The air inside the vehicle was about as hot as air could get. They were still lying flat on their backs on the hot mattress, heads together. The horsehair padding was overheating them. Holly's dark hair was damp and spread out. On her left, it was curled against Reacher's bare shoulder.

  "Is it because I'm a woman?" she asked. Tense. "Or because I'm younger than you? Or both?"

  "Is what because?" he asked back. Wary.

  "You think you've got to take care of me," she said. "You're worrying about me, because I'm young and a woman, right? You think I need some older man's help. "

  Reacher stirred. He didn't really want to move. He wasn't comfortable, but he guessed he was happy enough where he was. In particular, he was happy with the feel of Holly's hair against his shoulder. His life was like that. Whatever happened, there were always some little compensations available.

  "Well?" she asked.

  "It's not a gender thing, Holly," he said. "Or an age thing. But you do need help, right?"

  "And I'm a younger woman and you're an older man," she said. "Therefore obviously you're the one qualified to give it. Couldn't be the other way around, right?"

  Reacher shook his head, lying down.

  "It's not a gender thing," he said again. "Or an age thing. I'm qualified because I'm qualified, is all. I'm just trying to help you out. "

  "You're taking stupid risks," she said. "Pushing them and antagonizing them is not the way to do this, for God's sake. You'll get us both killed. "

  "Bullshit," Reacher said. "They need to see us as people, not cargo. "

  "Says who?" Holly snapped. "Who suddenly made you the big expert?"

  He shrugged at her.

  "Let me ask you a question," he said. "If the boot was on the other foot, would you have left me alone in that barn?"

  She thought about it.

  "Of course I would have," she said.

  He smiled. She was probably telling the truth. He liked her for it.

  "OK," he said. "Next time you tell me, I'm gone. No argument. "

  She was quiet for a long moment.

  "Good," she said. "You really want to help me out, you do exactly that. "

  He shrugged. Moved a half-inch closer to her.

  "Risky for you," he said. "I get away, they might figure on just wasting you and disappearing. "

  "I'll take the risk," she said. "That's what I'm paid for. "

  "So who are they?" he asked her. "And what do they want?"

  "No idea," she said.

  She said it too quickly. He knew she knew.

  "They want you, right?" he said. "Either because they want you personally, or because they want any old FBI agent and you were right there on the spot. How many FBI agents are there?"

  "Bureau has twenty-five thousand employees," she said. "Of which ten thousand are agents. "

  "OK," he said. "So they want you in particular. One out of ten thousand is too big a coincidence. This is not random. "

  She looked away. He glanced at her.

  "Why, Holly?" he asked.

  She shrugged and shook her head.

  "I don't know," she said.

  Too quickly. He glanced at her again. She sounded sure, but there was some big defensive edge there in her reply.

  "I don't know," she said again. "All I can figure is maybe they mistook me for somebody else from the office. "

  Reacher laughed and turned his head toward her. His face touched her hair.

  "You're joking, Holly Johnson," he said. "You're not the type of woman gets confused with somebody else. And they watched you three weeks. Long enough to get familiar. "

  She smiled away from him, up at the metal roof, ironically.

  "Once seen, never forgotten, right?" she said. "I wish. "

  "You in any doubt about that?" Reacher said. "You're the best-looking person I saw this week. "

  "Thanks, Reacher," she said. "It's Tuesday. You first saw me Monday. Big compliment, right?"

  "But you get my drift," he said.

  She sat up, straight from the waist like a gymnast, and used both hands to flip her leg sideways. Propped herself on one elbow on the mattress. Hooked her hair behind her ear and looked down at him.

  "I don't get anything about you," she said.

  He looked back up at her. Shrugged.

  "You got questions, you ask them," he said. "I'm all in favor of freedom of information. "

  "OK," she said. "Here's the first question: who the hell are you?"

  He shrugged again and smiled.

  "Jack Reacher," he said. "No middle name, thirty-seven years and eight months old, unmarried, club doorman in Chicago. "

  "Bullshit," she said.

  "Bullshit?" he repeated. "Which part? My name, my age, my marital status, or my occupation?"

  "Your occupation," she said. "You're not a club doorman. "

  "I'm not?" he said. "So what am I?"

  "You're a soldier," she said. "You're in the Army. "

  "I am?" he said.

  "It's pretty obvious," she said. "My dad is Army. I've lived on bases all my life. Everybody I ever saw was in the Army, right up until I was eighteen years old. I know what soldiers look like. I know how they act. I was pretty sure you were one. Then you took your shirt off, and I knew for definite. "

  Reacher grinned.

  "Why?" he said. "Is that a really uncouth, soldierly kind of a thing to do?"

  Holly grinned back at him. Shook her head. Her hair came loose. She swept it back behind her ear, one finger bent like a small pale hook.

  "That scar on your stomach," she said. "Those awful stitches. That's a MASH job for sure. Some field hospital somewhere, took them about a minute and a half. Any civilian surgeon did stitches like that, he'd get sued for malpractice so fast he'd get dizzy. "

  Reacher ran his finger over the lumpy skin. The stitches looked like a plan of the ties at a railroad yard.

  "The guy was busy," he said. "I thought he did pretty well, considering the circumstances. It was in Beirut. I was a long way down the priority list. I was only bleeding to death slowly. "

  "So I'm right?" Holly said. "You're a soldier?"

  Reacher smiled up at her again and shook his head.

  "I'm a doorman," he said. "Like I told you. Blues joint on the South Side. You should try it. Much better than the tourist places. "

  She glanced between his huge scar and his face. Clamped her lips and slowly shook her head. Reacher nodded at her, like he was conceding the point.

  "I used to be a soldier," he said. "I got out, fourteen months ago. "

  "What unit?" she asked.

  "Military police," he said.

  She screwed her face up in a mock grimace.

  "The baddest of the bad," she said. "Nobody likes you guys. "

  "Tell me about it," Reacher said.

  "Explains a lot of things," she said. "You guys get a lot of special training. So I guess you really are qualified. You should have told me, damn it. Now I guess I have to apologize for what I said. "

  He made no reply to that.

  "Where were you stationed?" she asked.

  "All over the world," he said. "Europe, Far East, Middle East. Got so I didn't know which way was up. "

  "Rank?" she asked.

  "Major," he said.

  "Medals?" she asked.

  He shrugged.

  "Dozens of the damn things," he said. "You know how it is. Theater medals, of course, plus a Silver Star, two Bronzes, Purple Heart from Beirut, campaign things from Panama and Grenada and Desert Shield and
Desert Storm. "

  "A Silver Star?" she asked. "What for?"

  " Beirut," he said. "Pulled some guys out of the bunker. "

  "And you got wounded doing that?" she said. "That's how you got the scar and the Purple Heart?"

  "I was already wounded," he said. "Got wounded before I went in. I think that was what impressed them. "

  "Hero, right?" she said.

  He smiled and shook his head.

  "No way," he said. "I wasn't feeling anything. Wasn't thinking. Too shocked. I didn't even know I was hit until afterward. If I'd known, I'd have fallen down in a dead faint. My intestine was hanging out. Looked really awful. It was bright pink. Sort of squashy. "

  Holly was quiet for a second. The truck droned on. Another twenty miles covered. North or south or west. Probably.

  "How long were you in the service?" she asked.

  "All my life," he said. "My old man was a Marine officer, served all over. He married a Frenchwoman in Korea. I was born in Berlin. Never even saw the States until I was nine years old. Five minutes later we were in the Philippines. Round and round the world we went. Longest I was ever anywhere was four years at West Point. Then I joined up and it started all over again. Round and round the world. "

  "Where's your family now?" she asked.

  "Dead," he said. "The old man died, what? Ten years ago, I guess. My mother died two years later. I buried the Silver Star with her. She won it for me, really. Do what you're supposed to do, she used to tell me. About a million times a day, in a thick French accent. "

  "Brothers and sisters?" she said.

  "I had a brother," he said. "He died last year. I'm the last Reacher on earth, far as I know. "

  "When did you muster out?" she said.

  "April last year," he said. "Fourteen months ago. "

  "Why?" she asked.

  Reacher shrugged.

  "Just lost interest, I guess," he said. "The defense cuts were happening. Made the Army seem unnecessary, somehow. Like if they didn't need the biggest and the best, they didn't need me. Didn't want to be part of something small and second-rate. So I left. Arrogant, or what?"

  She laughed.

  "So you became a doorman?" she said. "From a decorated Major to a doorman? Isn't that kind of second-rate?"

  "Wasn't like that," he said. "I didn't set out to be a doorman, like it was a new career move or anything. It's only temporary. I only got to Chicago on Friday. I was planning to move on, maybe Wednesday. I was thinking about going up to Wisconsin. Supposed to be a nice place, this time of year. "

  "Friday to Wednesday?" Holly said. "You got a problem with commitment or something?"

  "I guess," he said. "Thirty-six years I was always where somebody else told me to be. Very structured sort of a life. I suppose I'm reacting against it. I love moving around when I feel like it. It's like a drug. Longest I've ever stayed anywhere was ten consecutive days. Last fall, in Georgia. Ten days, out of fourteen months. Apart from that, I've been on the road, more or less all the time. "

  "Making a living by working the door at clubs?" she asked.

  "That was unusual," he said. "Mostly I don't work at all, just live off my savings. But I came up to Chicago with a singer, one thing led to another, I got asked to work the door at the club the guy was headed for. "

  "So what do you do if you don't work?" she asked.

  "I look at things," he said. "You got to remember, I'm a thirty-seven-year-old American, but I've never really been in America much. You been up the Empire State Building?"

  "Of course," she said.

  "I hadn't," he said. "Not before last year. You been to the Washington museums?"

  "Sure," she said.

  "I hadn't," he said again. "Not before last year. All that kind of stuff. Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans, Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate, Niagara. I'm like a tourist. Like I'm catching up, right?"

  "I'm the other way around," Holly said. "I like to travel overseas. "

  Reacher shrugged.

  "I've seen overseas," he said. "Six continents. I'm going to stay here now. "

  "I've seen the States," she said. "My dad traveled all the time, but we stayed here, apart from two tours to Germany. "

  Reacher nodded. Thought back to the time he'd spent in Germany, man and boy. Many years, in total.

  "You picked up on the soccer in Europe?" he asked.

  "Right," Holly said. "Really big deal there. We were stationed one time near Munich, right? I was just a kid, eleven maybe. They gave my father tickets to some big game in Rotterdam, Holland. European Cup, the Bayern Munich team against some English team, Aston Villa, you ever heard of them?"

  Reacher nodded.

  "From Birmingham, England," he said. "I was stationed near a place called Oxford at one point. About an hour away. "

  "I hated the Germans," Holly said. "So arrogant, so overpowering. They were so sure they were going to cream these Brits. I didn't want to go and watch it happen. But I had to, right? NATO protocol sort of a thing, would have been a big scandal if I'd refused. So we went. And the Brits creamed the Germans. The Germans were so furious. I loved it. And the Aston Villa guys were so cute. I was in love with soccer from that night on. Still am. "

  Reacher nodded. He enjoyed watching soccer, to an extent. But you had to be exposed early and gradually. It looked very free-form, but it was a very technical game. Full of hidden attractions. But he could see how a young girl could be seduced by it, long ago in Europe. A frantic night under floodlights in Rotterdam. Resentful and unwilling at first, then hypnotized by the patterns made by the white ball on the green turf. Ending up in love with the game afterward. But something was ringing a warning bell. If the eleven-year-old daughter of an American serviceman had refused to go, it would have caused some kind of an embarrassment within NATO? Was that what she had said?

  "Who was your father?" he asked her. "Sounds like he must have been an important sort of a guy. "

  She turned her head away. Wouldn't answer. Reacher stared at her. Another warning bell was ringing.

  "Holly, who the hell is your father?" he asked urgently.

  The defensive tone that had been in her voice spread to her face. No answer.

  "Who, Holly?" Reacher asked again.

  She looked away from him. Spoke to the metal siding of the truck. Her voice was almost lost in the road noise. Defensive as hell.

  "General Johnson," she said quietly. "At that time, he was C-in-C Europe. Do you know him?"

  Reacher stared up at her. General Johnson. Holly Johnson. Father and daughter.

  "I've met him," he said. "But that's not the point, is it?"

  She glared at him. Furious.

  "Why?" she said. "What exactly is the damn point?"

  "That's the reason," he said. "Your father is the most important military man in America, right? That's why you've been kidnapped, Holly, for God's sake. These guys don't want Holly Johnson, FBI agent. The whole FBI thing is incidental. These guys want General Johnson's daughter. "

  She looked down at him like he had just slapped her hard in the face.

  "Why?" she said. "Why the hell does everybody assume everything that ever happens to me is because of who my damn father is?"

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