Die trying, p.19
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       Die Trying, p.19

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

  REACHER BALLED HIS loose chain into his hand and slipped out of the barn into the predawn twilight. He walked twenty paces and stopped. Freedom. The night air was soft and infinite around him. He was unconfined. But he had no idea where he was. The barn stood alone, isolated fifty yards from a clutch of farm buildings of similar old vintage. There was a house, and a couple of small sheds, and an open structure with a new pickup parked in it. Next to the pickup was a tractor. Next to the tractor, ghostly white in the moonlight, was the truck. Reacher walked over the rocky track toward it. The front doors were locked. The rear doors were locked. He ran back to the horse barn and searched through the dead driver's pockets. Nothing except the padlock key from the barn door. No keys to the truck.

  He ran back, squeezing the mass of chain to keep it from making a sound, past the motor barn, and looked at the house. Walked right around it. The front door was locked tight. The back door was locked tight. And there was a dog behind it. Reacher heard it move in its sleep. He heard a low, sleepy growl. He walked away.

  He stood on the track, halfway back to the horse barn, and looked around. He trained his eyes on the indistinct horizon and turned a full circle in the dark. Some kind of a huge, empty landscape. Flat, endless, no discernible features. The damp night smell of a million acres of something growing. A pale streak of dawn in the east. He shrugged and ducked back inside. Holly raised herself on one elbow and looked a question at him.

  "Problems," he said. "The handcuff keys are in the house. So are the truck keys. I can't go in for them because there's a dog in there. It's going to bark and wake everybody up. There's more than the two others in there. This is some kind of a working farm. There's a pickup and a tractor. Could be four or five armed men in there. When that damn dog barks, I've had it. And it's nearly daylight. "

  "Problems," Holly said.

  "Right," he said. "We can't get at a vehicle, and we can't just walk away, because you're chained up and you can't walk and we're about a million miles from anywhere, anyway. "

  "Where are we?" she asked.

  He shrugged.

  "No idea," he said.

  "I want to see," she said. "I want to see outside. I'm sick of being closed in. Can't you get this chain off?"

  Reacher ducked behind her and looked at the iron ring in her wall. The timber looked a little better than his had been. Closer-grained. He shook the ring and he knew it was hopeless. She nodded, reluctantly.

  "We wait," she said. "We wait for a better chance. "

  He hurried back to the middle stalls and checked the walls, low down, where it was dampest and the siding was made from the longest boards. He tapped and kicked at them. Chose one particular place and pressed hard with his foot. The board gave slightly and opened a gap against its rusty nail. He worked the gap and sprung the next board, and the next, until he had a flap which would open tall enough to crawl through. Then he ducked back into the center aisle and piled the loose end of his chain onto the dead driver's stomach. Fished in the trouser pocket and pulled out the padlock key. Held it in his teeth. Bent down and picked up the body and the chain together. Carried it out through the open door.

  He carried it about twenty-five yards. Away from the house. Then he rested the body on its feet, supporting it by the shoulders, like he was dancing with a drunken partner. Ducked forward and jacked it up onto his shoulder. Caught the chain with one hand and walked away down the track.

  He walked fast for twenty minutes. More than a mile. Along the track to a road. Turned left down the road and out into the empty countryside. It was horse country. Railed paddocks ran left and right beside the road. Endless flat grassland, cool and damp in the last of the night. Occasional trees looming through the dark. A narrow, straight, lumpy road surface.

  He walked down the center of the road. Then he ducked onto the grassy shoulder and found a ditch. It ran along the base of the paddock rail. He turned a complete circle, with the dead driver windmilling on his shoulder. He could see nothing. He was more than a mile from the farm and he could have been more than a hundred from the next one. He bent over and dropped the body into the ditch. It flopped down through the long grass and landed facedown in mud. Reacher turned and ran the mile back to the farm. The streak of dawn was lightening the sky.

  He turned into the rough track. There were lights in the windows of the farmhouse. He sprinted for the barn. Pushed the heavy wooden doors closed from the outside. Lifted the crossbeam into its supports and locked it in place with the padlock key. Ran back to the track and hurled the key far into the field. Wednesday was flaming up over the horizon. He sprinted for the far side of the barn and found the gap he'd sprung in the siding. Pushed his chain in ahead of him. Squeezed his shoulders through and forced his way back inside. Pulled the boards back flush with the old timbers, best as he could. Then he came back into the aisle and stood bent over, breathing hard.

  "All done," he said. "They'll never find him. "

  He scooped up the metal messtin with the cold remains of the soup in it. Scratched around in his stall for the fallen bolts. He gathered as many wood splinters as he could find. Slopped them around in the cold soup and forced them back into the ragged bolt holes. He walked over to Holly's stall and put the tin back on the ground. Kept the spoon. He assembled the bolts through the holes in the base of the iron ring, hanging there off his length of chain. Forced them home among the sticky splinters. Used the back of the spoon to press them firmly in. He ran the chain through the loop until it was hanging straight down and resting on the stone floor. Minimum stress on the fragile assembly.

  He tossed the spoon back to Holly. She caught it one-handed and put it back in the tin. Then he ducked down and listened through the boards. The dog was outside. He could hear it snuffling. Then he heard people. Footsteps on the track. They ran to the doors of the barn. They shook and rattled the crossbeam. Retreated. There was shouting. They were calling a name, over and over again. The crack around the barn door was lighting up with morning. The timbers of the barn were creaking as the sun flooded over the horizon and warmed them through.

  The footsteps ran back to the barn. The padlock rattled and the chain came off. The crossbeam thumped to the ground. The door groaned open. Loder stepped inside. He had the Glock in his hand and strain showing in his face. He stood just inside the door. His eyes were flicking back and forth between Reacher and Holly. The strain in his face was edged by anger. Some kind of a cold light in his eyes. Then the jumpy guy stepped in behind him. Stevie. He was carrying the driver's shotgun. And smiling. He crowded past Loder and ran down the central cobbled aisle. Raised the shotgun and pointed it straight at Reacher. Loder started after him. Stevie crunched a round into the chamber. Reacher shifted a foot to his left, so the iron ring was hidden from view behind him.

  "What's the problem?" he asked.

  "You are, asshole," Loder said. "Situation has changed. We're a man short. So you just became one person too many. "

  Reacher was on his way to the floor as Stevie pulled the trigger. He landed flat on the hard cobbles and hurled himself forward as the shotgun boomed and the stall blew apart. The air was instantly thick with splinters of damp wood and the stink of gunpowder. The plank holding the iron ring fell out of the shattered wall and the chain clattered to the floor. Reacher rolled over and glanced up. Stevie lifted the shotgun vertical and crunched another round into the chamber. Swung the barrel down and aimed again.

  "Wait!" Holly screamed.

  Stevie glanced at her. Impossible not to.

  "Don't be a damn fool," she yelled. "Hell are you doing? You don't have the time for this. "

  Loder turned to face her.

  "He's run, right?" she said. "Your driver? Is that what happened? He bailed out and ran for it, right? So you need to get going. You don't have time for this. "

  Loder stared at her.

  "Right now you're ahead of the game," Holly said urgently. "But you sho
ot this guy, you got the local cops a half hour behind you. You need to get going. "

  Reacher gasped up at her from the floor. She was magnificent. She was sucking all their attention her way. She was saving his life.

  "Two of you, two of us," she said urgently. "You can handle it, right?"

  There was silence. Dust and powder drifted in the air. Then Loder stepped back, covering them both with his automatic. Reacher watched the disappointment on Stevie's face. He stood slowly and pulled the chain clear of the wreckage. The iron ring fell out of the smashed wood and clanked on the stones.

  "Bitch is right," Loder said. "We can handle it. "

  He nodded to Stevie. Stevie ran for the door and Loder turned and pulled his key and unlocked Holly's wrist. Dropped her cuff on her mattress. The weight of the chain pulled it back toward the wall. It pulled off the edge of the mattress and slid onto the cobblestones with a loud metallic sound.

  "OK, asshole, real quick," Loder said. "Before I change my mind. "

  Reacher looped his chain into his hand. Ducked down and picked Holly up, under her knees and shoulders. They heard the truck start up. It slewed backward into the entrance. Jammed to a stop. Reacher ran Holly to the truck. Laid her down inside. Climbed in after her. Loder slammed the doors and shut them into darkness.

  "NOW I GUESS I owe you. " Reacher said quietly.

  Holly just waved it away. An embarrassed little gesture. Reacher stared at her. He liked her. Liked her face. He gazed at it. Recalled it white and disgusted as the driver taunted her. Saw the smooth swell of her breasts under his filthy drooling gaze. Then the picture changed to Stevie smiling and shooting at him, chained to the wall. Then he heard Loder say: the situation has changed.

  Everything had changed. He had changed. He lay and felt the old anger inside him grinding like gears. Cold, implacable anger. Uncontrollable. They had made a mistake. They had changed him from a spectator into an enemy. A bad mistake to make. They had pushed open the forbidden door, not knowing what would come bursting back out at them. He lay there and felt like a ticking bomb they were carrying deep into the heart of their territory. He felt the flood of anger, and thrilled with it, and savored it, and stored it up.

  NOW THERE WAS only one mattress inside the truck. It was only three feet wide. And Stevie was a very erratic driver. Reacher and Holly were lying down, pressed tight together. Reacher's left wrist still had the cuff and the chain locked onto it. His right arm was around Holly's shoulders. He was holding her tight. Tighter than he really needed to.

  "How much farther?" she asked.

  "We'll be there before nightfall," he said, quietly. "They didn't bring your chain. No more overnight stops. "

  She was silent for a moment.

  "I don't know if I'm glad or not," she said. "I hate this truck, but I don't know if I want to actually arrive anywhere. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "It reduces our chances," he said. "Rule of thumb is escape while you're on the move. It gets much harder after that. "

  The motion of the truck indicated they were on a highway. But either the terrain was different, or Stevie couldn't handle the truck, or both, because they were swaying violently. The guy was swinging late into turns and jamming the vehicle from side to side, like he was having a struggle staying between the lane markers. Holly was getting thrown against Reacher's side. He pulled her closer and held her tighter. She snuggled in close, instinctively. He felt her hesitate, like she realized she'd acted without thinking, then he felt her decide not to pull away again.

  "You feel OK?" she asked him. "You killed a man. "

  He was quiet for a long moment.

  "He wasn't the first," he said. "And I just decided he won't be the last. "

  She turned her head to speak at the same time he did. The truck swayed violently to the left. Their lips were an inch apart. The truck swayed again. They kissed. At first it was light and tentative. Reacher felt the new soft lips on his, and the unfamiliar new taste and smell and feel. Then they kissed harder. Then the truck started hammering through a series of sharp curves, and they forgot all about kissing and just held on tight, trying not to be thrown right off the mattress onto the ridged metal floor.

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