Die trying, p.16
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       Die Trying, p.16

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

  MCGRATH BROUGHT BROGAN with him and met Milosevic at Meigs Field Airport in Chicago. He brought the four computer-aided mug shots and the test picture of Holly Johnson. He came expecting total cooperation from the airport staff. And he got it. Three hyped-up FBI agents in the grip of fear about a colleague are a difficult proposition to handle with anything other than total cooperation.

  Meigs Field was a small commercial operation, right out in the lake, water on three sides, just below the 12th Street beach, trying to make a living in the gigantic shadow of O'Hare. Their record keeping was immaculate and their efficiency was first-class. Not so they could be ready to handle FBI inquiries on the spur of the moment, but so they could keep on operating and keep on getting paid right under the nose of the world's toughest competitor. But their records and their efficiency helped McGrath. Helped him realize within about thirty seconds that he was heading up a blind alley.

  The Meigs Field staff were certain they had never seen Holly Johnson or any of the four kidnappers at any time. Certainly not on Monday, certainly not around one o'clock. They were adamant about it. They weren't overdoing it. They were just sure about it, with the quiet certainty of people who spend their working days being quietly sure about things, like sending small planes up into the busiest air lanes on the planet.

  And there were no suspicious takeoffs from Meigs Field, nowhere between noon and, say, three o'clock. That was clear. The paperwork was explicit on the subject. The three agents were out of there as briskly as they had entered. The tower staff nodded to themselves and forgot all about them before they were even back in their cars in the small parking lot.

  "OK, square one," McGrath said. "You guys go check out this dentist situation up in Wilmette. I've got things to do. And I've got to put in a call to Webster. They must be climbing the walls down there in D. C. "

  SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND two miles from Meigs Field the young man in the woods wanted instructions. He was a good agent, well trained, but as far as undercover work was concerned he was new and relatively inexperienced. Demand for undercover operators was always increasing. The Bureau was hard put to fill all the slots. So people like him got assigned. Inexperienced people. He knew as long as he always remembered he didn't have all the answers, he'd be OK. He had no ego problem with it. He was always willing to ask for guidance. He was careful. And he was realistic. Realistic enough to know he was now in over his head. Things were turning bad in a way which made him sure they were about to explode into something much worse. How, he didn't know. It was just a feeling. But he trusted his feelings. Trusted them enough to stop and turn around before he reached his special tree. He breathed hard and changed his mind and set off strolling back the way he had come.

  WEBSTER HAD BEEN waiting for McGrath's call. That was clear. McGrath got him straightaway, like he'd been sitting there in his big office suite just waiting for the phone to ring.

  "Progress, Mack?" Webster asked.

  "Some," McGrath said. "We know exactly what happened. We got it all on a security video in a dry cleaner's store. She went in there at twelve-ten. Came out at twelve-fifteen. There were four guys. Three on the street, one in a car. They grabbed her. "

  "Then what?" Webster asked.

  "They were in a stolen sedan," McGrath said. "Looks like they killed the owner to get it. Drove her five miles south, torched the sedan. Along with the owner in the trunk. They burned him alive. He was a dentist, name of Rubin. What they did with Holly, we don't know yet. "

  In Washington, Harland Webster was silent for a long time.

  "Is it worth searching the area?" he asked, eventually.

  McGrath's turn to be quiet for a second. Unsure of the implications. Did Webster mean search for a hideout, or search for another body?

  "My gut says no," he said. "They must know we could search the area. My feeling is they moved her somewhere else. Maybe far away. "

  There was silence on the line again. McGrath could hear Webster thinking.

  "I agree with you, I guess," Webster said. "They moved her out. But how, exactly? By road? By air?"

  "Not air," McGrath said. "We covered commercial flights yesterday. We just hit a private field. Nothing doing. "

  "What about a helicopter?" Webster said. "In and out, secretly?"

  "Not in Chicago, chief," McGrath said. "Not right next door to O'Hare. More radar here than the Air Force has got. Any unauthorized choppers in and out of here, we'd know about it. "

  "OK," Webster said. "But we need to get this under control. Abduction and homicide, Mack, it's not giving me a good feeling. You figure a second stolen vehicle? Rendezvoused with the stolen sedan?"

  "Probably," McGrath said. "We're checking now. "

  "Any ideas who they were?" Webster said.

  "No," McGrath told him. "We got pretty good pictures off the video. Computer enhancements. We'll download them to you right away. Four guys, white, somewhere between thirty and forty, three of them kind of alike, ordinary, neat, short hair. The fourth guy is real tall, computer says he's maybe six five. I figure him for the ringleader. He was the one got to her first. "

  "You got any feeling for a motive yet?" Webster asked.

  "No idea at all," McGrath said.

  There was silence on the line again.

  "OK," Webster said. "You keeping it real tight up there?"

  "Tight as I can," McGrath said. "Just three of us. "

  "Who are you using?" Webster asked.

  "Brogan and Milosevic," McGrath said.

  "They any good?" Webster asked.

  McGrath grunted. Like he would choose them if they weren't?

  "They know Holly pretty well," he said. "They're good enough. "

  "Moaners and groaners?" Webster asked. "Or solid, like people used to be?"

  "Never heard them complain," McGrath said. "About anything. They do the work, they do the hours. They don't even bitch about the pay. "

  Webster laughed.

  "Can we clone them?" he said.

  The levity peaked and died within a couple of seconds. But McGrath appreciated the attempt at morale.

  "So how you doing down there?" he asked.

  "In what respect, Mack?" Webster said, serious again.

  "The old man," McGrath said. "He giving you any trouble?"

  "Which one, Mack?" Webster asked.

  "The General?" McGrath said.

  "Not yet," Webster said. "He called this morning, but he was polite. That's how it goes. Parents are usually pretty calm, the first day or two. They get worked up later. General Johnson won't be any different. He may be a big shot, but people are all the same underneath, right?"

  "Right," McGrath said. "Have him call me, if he wants firsthand reports. Might help his situation. "

  "OK, Mack, thanks," Webster said. "But I think we should keep this dentist thing away from everybody, just for the moment. Makes the whole deal look worse. Meantime, send me your stuff. I'll get our people working on it. And don't worry. We'll get her back. Bureau looks after its own, right? Never fails. "

  The two Bureau chiefs let the lie die into silence and hung up their phones together.

  THE YOUNG MAN strolled out of the forest and came face-to-face with the commander. He was smart enough to throw a big salute and look nervous, but he kept it down to the sort of nervousness any grunt showed around the commander. Nothing more, nothing suspicious. He stood and waited to be spoken to.

  "Job for you," the commander said. "You're young, right? Good with all this technical shit?"

  The man nodded cautiously.

  "I can usually puzzle stuff out, sir," he said.

  The commander nodded back.

  "We got a new toy," he said. "Scanner, for radio frequencies. I want a watch kept. "

  The young man's blood froze hard.

  "Why, sir?" he asked. "You think somebody's using a radio transmitter?"

  "Possibly," the
commander said. "I trust nobody and I suspect everybody. I can't be too careful. Not right now. Got to look after the details. You know what they say? Genius is in the details, right?"

  The young man swallowed and nodded.

  "So get it set up," the commander said. "Make a duty rota. Two shifts, sixteen hours a day, OK? Constant vigilance is what we need right now. "

  The commander turned away. The young man nodded and breathed out. Glanced instinctively back in the direction of his special tree and blessed his feelings.

  MILOSEVIC DROVE BROGAN north in his new truck. They detoured via the Wilmette post office so Brogan could mail his twin alimony checks. Then they went looking for the dead dentist's building. There was a local uniform waiting for them in the parking lot in back. He was unapologetic about sitting on the report from the dentist's wife. Milosevic started giving him a hard time about that, like it made the guy personally responsible for Holly Johnson's abduction.

  "Lots of husbands disappear," the guy said. "Happens all the time. This is Wilmette, right? Men are the same here as anywhere, only here they got the money to make it all happen. What can I say?"

  Milosevic was unsympathetic. The cop had made two other errors. First, he had assumed that it was the murder of the dentist that had brought the FBI out into his jurisdiction. Second, he was more uptight about covering his own ass on the issue than he was about four killers snatching Holly Johnson right off the street. Milosevic was out of patience with the guy. But then the guy redeemed himself.

  "What is it with people?" he said. "Burning automobiles? Some asshole burned a car out by the lake. We got to get it moved. Residents are giving us noise. "

  "Where exactly?" Milosevic asked him.

  The cop shrugged. He was anxious to be very precise.

  "That turnout on the shore," he said. "On Sheridan Road, just this side of Washington Park. Never saw such a thing before, not in Wilmette. "

  Milosevic and Brogan went to check it out. They followed the cop in his shiny cruiser. He led them to the place. It wasn't a car. It was a pickup, a ten-year-old Dodge. No license plates. Doused with gasoline and pretty much totally burned out.

  "Happened yesterday," the cop said. "Spotted about seven-thirty in the morning. Commuters were calling it in, on their way to work, one after the other. "

  He circled around and looked over the wreck, carefully.

  "Not local," he said. "That's my guess. "

  "Why not?" Milosevic asked him.

  "This is ten years old, right?" the guy said. "Around here, there are a few pickups, but they're toys, you know? Big V-8s, lots of chrome? An old thing like this, nobody would give it room on their driveway. "

  "What about gardeners?" Brogan asked. "Pool boys, something like that?"

  "Why would they burn it?" the cop said. "They needed to change it, they'd chop it in against a new one, right? Nobody burns a business asset, right?"

  Milosevic thought about it and nodded.

  "OK," he said. "This is ours. Federal investigation. We'll send a flatbed for it soon as we can. Meanwhile, you guard it, OK? And do it properly, for God's sake. Don't let anybody near it. "

  "Why?" the cop asked.

  Milosevic looked at him like he was a moron.

  "This is their truck," he said. "They dumped it here and stole the Lexus for the actual heist. "

  The Wilmette cop looked at Milosevic's agitated face and then he looked across at the burned truck. He wondered for a moment how four guys could fit across the Dodge's bench seat. But he didn't say anything. He didn't want to risk more ridicule. He just nodded.

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