Die trying, p.21
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       Die Trying, p.21

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
slower 1  faster
Chapter Twenty-One

  THE WHITE ECONOLINE droned on. It was moving faster than it had been before. But it was out of the curves. It had lurched around the last of the tight bends, and it had settled to a fast, straight cruise. Noisier than before, because of the extra speed and the whine of the slipstream through the hundred random holes in the roof.

  Reacher and Holly were tight together on the three-foot mattress. They were lying on their backs, staring up at the holes. Each hole was a bright point of light. Not blue, just a point of light so bright it had no color at all. Just a bright point in the dark. Like a mathematical proposition. Total light against the total dark of the surrounding sheet metal. Light, the opposite of dark. Dark, the absence of light. Positive and negative. Both propositions were contrasted vividly up there on the metal roof.

  "I want to see the sky," Holly said.

  It was warm in the truck. Not hot, like it had been the first day and a half. The whistling slipstream had solved that problem. The rush of air was keeping it comfortable. But it was warm enough that Reacher had taken his shirt off. He had balled it up and crammed it under his head.

  "I want to see the whole sky," Holly said. "Not just little bits of it. "

  Reacher said nothing in reply. He was counting the holes.

  "What time is it?" Holly asked him.

  "Hundred and thirteen," Reacher said.

  Holly turned her head to him.

  "What?" she said.

  "Hundred and thirteen holes in the roof," he said.

  "Great," she said. "What time is it?"

  "Three-thirty, Central," he said.

  She snuggled closer. She moved her weight onto her side. Her head was resting on his right shoulder. Her leg was resting on his. His thigh was jammed between hers.

  "Wednesday, right?" she said.

  "Wednesday," he said.

  She was physically closer to him than many women had allowed themselves to get. She felt lithe and athletic. Firm, but soft. Young. Scented. He was drifting away and enjoying the sensation. He was slightly breathless. But he wasn't kidding himself about her motivation. She was relaxed about it, but she was doing it to rest her painful knee, and to keep herself from rolling off the mattress onto the floor.

  "Fifty-one hours," she said. "Fifty-one hours, and I haven't seen the sky. "

  One hundred and thirteen was a prime number. You couldn't make it by multiplying any other numbers together. Hundred and twelve, you could make by multiplying fifty-six by two, or twenty-eight by four, or fourteen by eight. Hundred and fourteen, you could make by multiplying fifty-seven by two or nineteen by six, or thirty-eight by three. But one hundred and thirteen was prime. No factors. The only way to make a hundred and thirteen was by multiplying a hundred and thirteen by one. Or by firing a shotgun into a truck in a rage.

  "Reacher, I'm getting worried," Holly said.

  Fifty-one hours. Fifty-one was not a prime number. You could make fifty-one by multiplying seventeen by three. Three tens are thirty, three sevens are twenty-one, thirty and twenty-one make fifty-one. Not a prime number. Fifty-one had factors. He dragged the weight of the chain up with his left wrist and held her tight, both arms around her.

  "You'll be OK," he said to her. "They're not going to hurt you. They want to trade you for something. They'll keep you fit and well. "

  He felt her shake her head against his shoulder. Just one small shake, but it was very definite.

  "I'm not worried about me," she said. "I'm worried about you. Who the hell's going to trade something for you?"

  He said nothing. Nothing he could say to that. She snuggled closer. He could feel the scratch of her eyelashes against the skin on the side of his chest as she blinked. The truck roared on, faster than it wanted to go. He could feel the driver pushing it against its natural cruising speed.

  "So I'm getting a little worried," she said.

  "You look out for me," he said. "And I'll look out for you. "

  "I'm not asking you to do that," she said.

  "I know you're not," he said.

  "Well, I can't let you do that," she said.

  "You can't stop me," he said. "This is about me now, too. They made it that way. They were going to shoot me down. I've got a rule, Holly: people mess with me at their own risk. I try to be patient about it. I had a teacher once, grade school somewhere. Philippines, I think, because she always wore a big white hat. So it was somewhere hot. I was always twice the size of the other kids, and she used to say to me: count to ten before you get mad, Reacher. And I've counted way past ten on this one. Way past. So you may as well face it, win or lose, now we do it together. "

  They went quiet. The truck roared on.

  "Reacher?" Holly said.

  "What?" he said.

  "Hold me," she said.

  "I am holding you," he said.

  He squeezed her gently, both arms, to make his point. She pressed closer.

  "Reacher?" she said again.

  "Yes?" he said.

  "You want to kiss me again?" she said. "Makes me feel better. "

  He turned his head and smiled at her in the dark.

  "Doesn't do me a whole lot of harm, either," he said.

  EIGHT HOURS AT maybe sixty-five or seventy miles an hour. Somewhere between five hundred and five hundred and fifty miles. That's what they'd done. That was Reacher's estimation. And it was beginning to give him a clue about where they were.

  "We're somewhere where they abolished the speed limit," he said.

  Holly stirred and yawned.

  "What?" she said.

  "We've been going fast," he said. "Up to seventy miles an hour, probably, for hours. Loder is pretty thorough. He wouldn't let Stevie drive this fast if there was any danger of getting pulled over for it. So we're somewhere where they raised the limit, or abolished it altogether. Which states did that?"

  She shrugged.

  "I'm not sure," she said. "Mainly the western states, I think. "

  Reacher nodded. Traced an arc on the map in his head.

  "We didn't go east," he said. "We figured that already. So I figure we're in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, or Montana. Maybe as far as Idaho, Utah, Nevada, or Arizona. Not in California yet. "

  The truck slowed slightly, and they heard the engine note harden up. Then they heard the crunch as the driver came down out of fifth gear into fourth.

  "Mountains," Holly said.

  It was more than a hill. More than an upgrade. It was a smooth, relentless climb. A highway through the mountains. Clearly engineered to help out the laboring traffic, but they were adding hundreds of feet, every mile they drove. Reacher felt the lurch as the truck pulled out to pass slower vehicles. Not many, but a few. It stayed in fourth gear, the guy's foot hard down, hammering uphill, then relaxing, changing up to fifth, then down again, charging upward.

  "We could run out of gas," Holly said.

  "It's diesel, not gas," Reacher said. "We used these things in the Army. Thirty-five-gallon tank. Diesel will do maybe twenty-five to the gallon, highway mileage. Best part of nine hundred miles, before they run out. "

  "That could get us all the way out of the States," she said.

  THEY CRUISED ON. The truck roared through the mountains for hours, then it left the highway. Night had fallen. The bright holes in the roof had dimmed. Then they had disappeared. They had turned darker than the roof itself. Positive and negative. They felt the lurch as the truck pulled to the right, off the highway, and they felt the tires grabbing at the pavement as the truck hauled around a tight right. Then there was a confusing blur of turns and stops and starts. Bumpy downhill bends and tight uphill turns with the truck grinding in a low gear. Periods of cruising down gently winding roads, bad surfaces, good surfaces, gradients, gravel under the wheels, potholes in the road. Reacher could imagine the headlight beams flicking left and right and bouncing up and down.

  The truck sl
owed almost to a stop. Turned a tight right. Pattered over some kind of a wooden bridge. Then it yawed and bumped its way along a rutted track. It was moving slowly, shuddering from side to side. It felt like they were driving up a dry riverbed. Some kind of a stony narrow track. It felt like this was the very last leg of the journey. It felt like they were very close to their destination. The urgency had gone out of the guy's driving. It felt like the truck was nearly home.

  But the final leg took a long time. The speed was low and the road was bad. Stones and small rocks were popping under the tires. The tires were squirming sideways across the loose surface. The truck ground on for forty minutes. Fifty minutes. Reacher got cold. He sat up and shook out his shirt. Put it on. An hour on the bumpy track. At this speed, maybe fifteen miles, maybe twenty.

  Then they were there. The truck lurched up over a final heave and leveled out. Rolled forward another few yards and stopped. The engine noise died. It was replaced by an awesome silence. Reacher could hear nothing at all except a vast emptiness and the ticking of the muffler as it cooled. He could hear the two guys in front, sitting quiet and exhausted. Then they got out. He heard their doors open, and their seat springs bounce. He heard their feet on gravel. Their doors slammed, enormously loud metallic clangs in the stillness. He heard them crunch around to the rear. He could hear the sound of the keys swinging gently in the driver's hand.

  The key slid into the lock. The lock clicked back. The handle turned. The door swung open. Loder propped it back with the metal stay. Then he opened the other door. Propped it back. Gestured them out with the Glock. Reacher helped Holly along the ridged floor. He stepped down. The chain on his wrist clattered to the earth. He lifted Holly down beside him. They stood together, leaning back against the edge of the truck's ridged metal floor. Looking out and around.

  Holly had wanted to see the sky. She was standing there under the vastest sky Reacher had ever seen. It was a dark inky blue, almost black, and it was huge. It stretched up to an infinite height. It was as big as a planet. It was peppered with a hundred billion bright stars. They were far away, but they were unnaturally vivid. They dusted back to the far cold reaches of the universe. It was a gigantic night sky and it stretched on forever.

  They were in a forest clearing. Reacher could smell a heavy scent of pines. It was a strong smell. Clean and fresh. There was a black mass of trees all around. They covered the jagged slopes of mountains. They were in a forest clearing, surrounded by mountainous wooded slopes. It was a big clearing, infinitely dark, silent. Reacher could see the faint black outlines of buildings off to his right. They were long, low huts. Some kind of wooden structures, crouching in the dark.

  There were people on the edge of the clearing. Standing among the nearest trees. Reacher could see their vague shapes. Maybe fifty or sixty people. Just standing there, silent. They were in dark clothing. They had darkened faces. Their faces were smudged with night camouflage. He could see their eyes, white against the black trees. They were holding weapons. He could see rifles and machine guns. Slung casually over the shoulders of the silent, staring people. They had dogs. Several big dogs, on thick leather leashes.

  There were children among the people. Reacher could make them out. Children, standing together in groups, silent, staring, big sleepy eyes. They were clustered behind the adults, still, their shoulders facing diagonally away in fear and perplexity. Sleepy children, woken up in the middle of the night to witness something.

  Loder turned himself around in a slow circle and waved the silent staring people nearer. He moved his arm in a wide inclusive gesture, like a ringmaster in a circus.

  "We got her," he yelled into the silence. "The federal bitch is here. "

  His voice boomed back off the distant mountains.

  "Where the hell are we?" Holly asked him.

  Loder turned back and smiled at her.

  "Our place, bitch," he said, quietly. "A place where your federal buddies can't come get you. "

  "Why not?" Holly asked him. "Where the hell are we?"

  "That could be hard for you to understand," Loder said.

  "Why?" Holly said. "We're somewhere, right? Somewhere in the States?"

  Loder shook his head.

  "No," he said.

  Holly looked blank.

  " Canada?" she said.

  The guy shook his head again.

  "Not Canada, bitch," he said.

  Holly glanced around at the trees and the mountains. Glanced up at the vast night sky. Shuddered in the sudden chill.

  "Well, this isn't Mexico," she said.

  The guy raised both arms in a descriptive little gesture.

  "This is a brand-new country," he said.

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