Die trying, p.18
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       Die Trying, p.18

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

  SEVEN-TWENTY WEDNESDAY MORNING East Coast time, General Johnson left the Pentagon. He was out of uniform, dressed in a lightweight business suit, and he walked. It was his preferred method of getting around. It was a hot morning in Washington, and already humid, but he stepped out at a steady speed, arms swinging loosely through a small arc, head up, breathing hard.

  He walked north through the dust on the shoulder of George Washington Boulevard, along the edge of the great cemetery on his left, through Lady Bird Johnson Park, and across the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Then he walked clockwise around the Lincoln Memorial, past the Vietnam Wall, and turned right along Constitution Avenue, the reflecting pool on his right, the Washington Monument up ahead. He walked past the National Museum of American History, past the National Museum of Natural History, and turned left onto 9th Street. Exactly three and a half miles, on a glorious morning, an hour's brisk walk through one of the world's great capital cities, past landmarks the world's tourists flock to photograph, and he saw absolutely nothing at all except the dull mist of worry hanging just in front of his eyes.

  He crossed Pennsylvania Avenue and entered the Hoover Building through the main doors. Laid his hands palms down on the reception counter.

  "The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he said. "To see the Director. "

  His hands left two palm-shaped patches of dampness on the laminate. The agent who came down to show him upstairs noticed them. Johnson was silent in the elevator. Harland Webster was waiting for him at the door to his private suite. Johnson nodded to him. Didn't speak. Webster stood aside and gestured him into the inner office. It was dark. There was a lot of mahogany paneling, and the blinds were closed. Johnson sat down in a leather chair and Webster walked around him to his desk.

  "I don't want to get in your way," Johnson said.

  He looked at Webster. Webster worked for a moment, decoding that sentence. Then he nodded, cautiously.

  "You spoke with the President?" he asked.

  Johnson nodded.

  "You understand it's appropriate for me to do so?" he asked.

  "Naturally," Webster said. "Situation like this, nobody should worry about protocol. You call him or go see him?"

  "I went to see him," Johnson said. "Several times. I had several long conversations with him. "

  Webster thought: face-to-face. Several long conversations. Worse than I thought, but understandable.

  "And?" he asked.

  Johnson shrugged.

  "He told me he'd placed you in personal command," he said.

  Webster nodded.

  "Kidnapping," he said. "It's Bureau territory, whoever the victim is. "

  Johnson nodded, slowly.

  "I accept that," he said. "For now. "

  "But you're anxious," Webster said. "Believe me, General, we're all anxious. "

  Johnson nodded again. And then he asked the question he'd walked three and a half miles to ask.

  "Any progress?" he said.

  Webster shrugged.

  "We're into the second full day," he said. "I don't like that at all. "

  He lapsed into silence. The second full day of a kidnap is a kind of threshold. Any early chance of a resolution is gone. The situation starts to harden up. It starts to become a long, intractable set-piece. The danger to the victim increases. The best time to clear up a kidnap is the first day. The second day, the process gets tougher. The chances get smaller.

  "Any progress?" Johnson asked again.

  Webster looked away. The second day is when the kidnappers start to communicate. That had always been the Bureau's experience. The second day, sick and frustrated about missing your first and best chance, you sit around, hoping desperately the guys will call. If they don't call on the second day, chances are they aren't going to call at all.

  "Anything I can do?" Johnson asked.

  Webster nodded.

  "You can give me a reason," he said. "Who would threaten you like this?"

  Johnson shook his head. He had been asking himself the same question since Monday night.

  "Nobody," he said.

  "You should tell me," Webster said. "Anything secret, anything hidden, better you tell me right now. It's important, for Holly's sake. "

  "I know that," Johnson said. "But there's nothing. Nothing at all. "

  Webster nodded. He believed him, because he knew it was true. He had reviewed the whole of Johnson's Bureau file. It was a weighty document. It started on page one with brief biographies of his maternal great-grandparents. They had come from a small European principality which no longer existed.

  "Will Holly be OK?" Johnson asked quietly.

  The recent file pages recounted the death of Johnson's wife. A surprise, a vicious cancer, no more than six weeks, beginning to end. Covert psychiatric opinion commissioned by the Bureau had predicted the old guy would hold up because of his daughter. It had proven to be a correct diagnosis. But if he lost her too, you didn't need to be a psychiatrist to know he wouldn't handle it well. Webster nodded again and put some conviction into his voice.

  "She'll be fine," he said.

  "So what have we got so far?" Johnson asked.

  "Four guys," Webster said. "We've got their pickup truck. They abandoned it prior to the snatch. Burned it and left it. We found it north of Chicago. It's being airlifted down here to Quantico, right now. Our people will go over it. "

  "For clues?" Johnson said. "Even though it burned?"

  Webster shrugged.

  "Burning is pretty dumb," he said. "It doesn't really obscure much. Not from our people, anyway. We'll use that pickup to find them. "

  "And then what?" Johnson asked.

  Webster shrugged again.

  "Then we'll go get your daughter back," he said. "Our Hostage Rescue Team is standing by. Fifty guys, the best in the world at this kind of thing. Waiting right by their choppers. We'll go get her, and we'll tidy up the guys who grabbed her. "

  There was a short silence in the dark quiet room.

  "Tidy them up?" Johnson said. "What does that mean?"

  Webster glanced around his own office and lowered his voice. Thirty-six years of habit.

  "Policy," he said. "A major D. C. case like this? No publicity. No media access. We can't allow it. This sort of thing gets on TV, every nut in the country is going to be trying it. So we go in quietly. Some weapons will get discharged. Inevitable in a situation like this. A little collateral damage here and there. "

  Johnson nodded slowly.

  "You're going to execute them?" he asked, vaguely.

  Webster just looked at him, neutrally. Bureau psychiatrists had suggested to him the anticipation of deadly revenge could help sustain self-control, especially with people accustomed to direct action, like other agents, or soldiers.

  "Policy," he said again. "My policy. And like the man says, I've got personal command. "

  THE CHARRED PICKUP was lifted onto an aluminum platform and secured with nylon ropes. An Air Force Chinook hammered over from the military compound at O'Hare and hovered above it, its downdraft whipping the lake into a frenzy. It winched its chain down and eased the pickup into the air. Swung around over the lake and dipped its nose and roared back west to O'Hare. Set its load down right in front of the open nose of a Galaxy transport. Air Force ground crew winched the platform inside. The cargo door closed on it and four minutes later the Galaxy was taxiing. Four minutes later again it was in the air, groaning east toward Washington. Four hours after that, it was roaring over the capital, heading for Andrews Air Force Base. As it landed, another borrowed Chinook took off and waited in midair. The Galaxy taxied to its apron and the pickup was winched out. The Chinook swooped down and swung it into the air. Flew it south, following I-95 into Virginia, forty miles, all the way to Quantico.

  The Chinook set it down gently on the tarmac right outside the vehicle lab. Bureau techs ran out, white c
oats flapping in the fierce downdraft, and dragged the platform in through the roller door. They winched the wreck off the platform and pulled it into the center of the large shed. They rolled arc lights into a rough circle around it and lit them up. Then they stood there for a second, looking exactly like a team of pathologists getting ready to go to work on a corpse.

  GENERAL JOHNSON RETRACED his steps exactly. He made it down 9th Street, past Natural History, past American History, his mouth forced into a tense rigid oval, breathing hard. He walked the length of the reflecting pool with his throat clamping and gagging. He swung left onto Constitution Avenue and made it as far as the Vietnam Wall. Then he stopped. There was a fair crowd, stunned and quiet, as always. He looked at them. He looked at himself in the black granite. He didn't stand out. He was in a lightweight gray suit. It was OK. So he let his vision blur with his tears and he moved forward and turned and sat against the base of the wall, sobbing and crying with his back pressed against the golden names of boys who had died thirty years ago.

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