Die trying, p.23
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       Die Trying, p.23

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter Twenty-Three

  NOBODY COULD SEE Holly because she was alone, locked in the prison room that had been built for her. She had been taken from the forest clearing by four silent women dressed in dull green fatigues, night camouflage smearing their faces, automatic weapons slung at their shoulders, ammunition pouches chinking and rattling on their belts. They had pulled her away from Reacher and dragged her in the dark across the clearing, into the trees, through a gauntlet of hissing, spitting, jeering people. Then a painful mile down a stony path, out of the forest again and over to the large white building. They had not spoken to her. Just marched her in and pushed her up the stairs to the second floor. They had pulled open the stout new door and pushed her up the step into the room. The step was more than a foot high, because the floor inside the room was built up higher than the floor in the hallway outside. She crawled up and in and heard the door slamming and the key turning loudly behind her.

  There were no windows. A bulb in the ceiling behind a wire grille lit the room with a vivid hot yellow light. All four walls and the floor and the ceiling were made from new pine boards, unfinished, smelling strongly of fresh lumber. At the far end of the room was a bed. It had a simple iron frame and a thin crushed mattress. Like an Army bed, or a prison cot. On the bed were two sets of clothing. Two pairs of fatigue pants and two shirts. Dull green, like the four silent women had been wearing. She limped over to the bed and touched them. Old and worn, but clean. Pressed. The creases in the pants were like razors.

  She turned back and inspected the room, closely. It was not small. Maybe sixteen feet square. But she sensed it was smaller than it should have been. The proportions were odd. She had noticed the raised floor. It was more than a foot higher than it should have been. She guessed the walls and the ceiling were the same. She limped to the wall and tapped the new boarding. There was a dull sound. A cavity behind. Somebody had built this simple timber shell right inside a bigger room. And they had built it well. The new boards were tight and straight. But there was damp in the tiny cracks between them. She stared at the damp and sniffed the air. She shivered. The room smelled of fear.

  One corner was walled off. There was a door set in a simple diagonal partition. She limped over to it and pulled it open. A bathroom. A john, a sink. A trash can, with a new plastic liner. And a shower over a tub. Cheap white ceramic, but brand-new. Carefully installed. Neat tiling. Soap and shampoo on a shelf. She leaned on the doorjamb and stared at the shower. She stared at it for a long time. Then she shrugged off her filthy Armani suit. She balled it up and threw it in the trash can. She started the shower running and stepped under the torrent of water. She washed her hair three times. She scrubbed her aching body all over. She stood in the shower for the best part of an hour.

  Then she limped back to the bed and selected a set of the old fatigues. They fit her just about perfectly. She lay down on the bed and stared at the pine ceiling and listened to the silence. For the first time in more than sixty hours, she was alone.

  REACHER WAS NOT alone. He was still in the forest clearing. He was twenty feet from the white Econoline, chained to a tree, guarded by six silent men with machine guns. Dogs were padding free through the clearing. Reacher was leaning back on the rough bark, waiting, watching his guards. He was cold. He could feel pine resin sticking to his thin shirt. The guards were cautious. They were standing in a line, six feet away from him, weapons pointed at him, eyes gleaming white out of darkened faces. They were dressed in olive fatigues. There were some kind of semicircular flashes on their shoulders. It was too dark for Reacher to read them.

  The six men were all maybe forty years old. They were lean and bearded. Comfortable with their weapons. Alert. Silent. Accustomed to night duty. Reacher could see that. They looked like the survivors of a small infantry platoon. Like they had stepped into the forest on night patrol twenty years ago as young recruits, and had never come back out again.

  They snapped to attention at the sound of footsteps approaching behind them. The sounds were grotesquely loud in the still night. Boots smashed into shale and gun stocks slapped into palms. Reacher glanced into the clearing and saw a seventh man approaching. Younger, maybe thirty-five. A tall man, clean-shaven, no camouflage on his face, crisp fatigues, shiny boots. Same semicircular flashes at the shoulder. Some kind of an officer.

  The six forty-year-old grunts stood back and saluted and the new guy crunched up face-to-face with Reacher. He took a cigarette pack from his pocket and a cigarette from the pack. Lit it and kept the lighter burning to illuminate Reacher's face. Stared over the wavering flame with an expressionless gaze. Reacher stared back at him. The guy had a small head on wide shoulders, a thin hard face starved into premature lines and crevices. In the harsh shadow of the flame, it looked like he had no lips. Just a slit, where his mouth should be. Cold eyes, burning under the thin skin stretched over his brow. A military buzz cut, maybe a week old, just growing out. He stared at Reacher and let the flame die. Ran a hand across his scalp. Reacher heard the loud rasp of the stubble passing under his palm in the still night air.

  "I'm Dell Fowler," the guy said. "I'm chief of staff here. "

  A quiet voice. West Coast. Reacher looked back at him and nodded, slowly.

  "You want to tell me what staff you're chief of?" he said.

  "Loder didn't explain?" the guy called Fowler asked.

  "Loder didn't explain anything," Reacher said. "He had his hands full just getting us here. "

  Fowler nodded and smiled a chilly smile.

  "Loder's an idiot," he said. "He made five major mistakes. You're one of them. He's in all kinds of deep shit now. And so are you. "

  He gestured to one of the guards. The guard stepped forward and handed him a key from his pocket. The guard stood with his weapon ready and Fowler unlocked Reacher's chain. It clattered down the tree trunk to the ground. Metal on wood, a loud sound in the forest night. A dog padded near and sniffed. People moved in the trees. Reacher pushed away from the trunk and squeezed some circulation back into his forearm. All six guards took a pace forward. Weapons slapped back to the ready position. Reacher watched the muzzles and Fowler caught his arm and turned him. Cuffed his hands together again, behind his back. Nodded. Two guards melted away into the trees. A third jabbed the muzzle of his gun into Reacher's back. A fourth took up position to the rear. Two walked point out in front. Fowler fell in beside Reacher and caught his elbow. Walked him across toward a small wooden hut on the opposite edge of the clearing. Clear of the trees, the moonlight was brighter. Reacher could make out the writing on Fowler's shoulder flash. It read: Montana Militia.

  "This is Montana?" he said. "Loder called it a brand-new country. "

  Fowler shrugged as he walked.

  "He was premature," he said. "Right now, this is still Montana. "

  They reached the hut. The point men opened the door. Yellow light spilled out into the darkness. The guard with the weapon in Reacher's back used it to push him inside. Loder was standing against the far wall. His hands were cuffed behind him. He was guarded by another lean, bearded man with a machine gun. This guy was a little younger than the other grunts, neater beard. A livid scar running laterally across his forehead.

  Fowler walked around and sat behind a plain desk. Pointed to a chair. Reacher sat down, handcuffed, six soldiers behind him. Fowler watched him sit and then transferred his attention across to Loder. Reacher followed his gaze. First time he'd seen Loder on Monday, he'd seen a degree of calm competence, hard eyes, composure. That was all gone. The guy was shaking with fear. His cuffs were rattling behind him. Reacher watched him and thought: this guy is terrified of his leaders.

  "So, five mistakes," Fowler said.

  His voice was still quiet. And it was confident. Relaxed. The quiet confident voice of a person very secure about his power. Reacher heard the voice die into silence and listened to the creak of boots on wood behind him.

  "I did my best," Loder said. "She's her
e, right?"

  His voice was supplicant and miserable. The voice of a man who knows he's in deep shit without really understanding exactly why.

  "She's here, right?" he said again.

  "By a miracle," Fowler replied. "You caused a lot of stress elsewhere. People had their work cut out covering for your incompetence. "

  "What did I do wrong?" Loder asked.

  He pushed forward off the wall, hands cuffed behind him, and moved into Reacher's view. Glanced desperately at him, like he was asking for a testimonial.

  "Five mistakes," Fowler said again. "One, you burned the pickup, and two, you burned the car. Way too visible. Why didn't you just put an ad in the damn paper?"

  Loder made no reply. His mouth was working, but no sound was coming out.

  "Three, you snarled this guy up," Fowler said.

  Loder glanced at Reacher again and shook his head vigorously.

  "This guy's a nobody," he said. "No heat coming after him. "

  "You should still have waited," Fowler said. "And four, you lost Peter. What exactly happened to him?"

  Loder shrugged again.

  "I don't know," he said.

  "He got scared," Fowler said. "You were making so many mistakes, he got scared and he ran. That's what happened. You got any other explanation?"

  Loder was just staring blankly.

  "And five, you killed the damn dentist," Fowler said. "They're not going to overlook that, are they? This was supposed to be a military operation, right? Political? You added an extra factor there. "

  "What dentist?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler glanced at him and smiled a lipless smile, indulgent, like Reacher was an audience he could use to humiliate Loder a little more.

  "They stole the car from a dentist," he said. "The guy caught them at it. They should have waited until he was clear. "

  "He got in the way," Loder said. "We couldn't bring him with us, could we?"

  "You brought me," Reacher said to him.

  Loder stared at him like he was a moron.

  "The guy was a Jew," he said. "This place isn't for Jews. "

  Reacher glanced around the room. Looked at the shoulder flashes. Montana Militia, Montana Militia, Montana Militia. He nodded slowly. A brand-new country.

  "Where have you taken Holly?" he asked Fowler.

  Fowler ignored him. He was still dealing with Loder.

  "You'll stand trial tomorrow," he told him. "Special tribunal. The commander presiding. The charge is endangering the mission. I'm prosecuting. "

  "Where's Holly?" Reacher asked him again.

  Fowler shrugged. A cool gaze.

  "Close by," he said. "Don't you worry about her. "

  Then he glanced up over Reacher's head and spoke to the guards.

  "Put Loder on the floor," he said.

  Loder offered no resistance at all. Just let the younger guy with the scar hold hire upright. The nearest guard reversed his rifle and smashed the butt into Loder's stomach. Reacher heard the air punch out of him. The younger guy dropped him and stepped neatly over him. Walked out of the hut, alone, duty done. The door slammed noisily behind him. Then Fowler turned back to Reacher.

  "Now let's talk about you," he said.

  His voice was still quiet. Quiet, and confident. Secure. But it was not difficult to be secure holed up in the middle of nowhere with six armed subordinates surrounding a handcuffed man on a chair. A handcuffed man who has just witnessed a naked display of power and brutality. Reacher shrugged at him.

  "What about me?" he said. "You know my name. I told Loder. No doubt he told you. He probably got that right. There isn't much more to say on the subject. "

  There was silence. Fowler thought about it. Nodded.

  "This is a decision for the commander," he said.

  IT WAS THE shower which convinced her. She based her conclusions on it. Some good news, some bad. A brand-new bathroom, cheaply but carefully fitted out in the way a pathetic house-proud woman down on her luck in a trailer park would choose. That bathroom communicated a lot to Holly.

  It meant she was a hostage, to be held long-term, but to be held with a certain measure of respect. Because of her value in some kind of a trade. There were to be no doubts about her day-to-day comfort or safety. Those factors were to be removed from the negotiation. Those factors were to be taken for granted. She was to be a high-status prisoner. Because of her value. Because of who she was.

  But not because of who she was. Because of who her father was. Because of the connections she had. She was supposed to sit in this crushing, fear-filled room and be somebody's daughter. Sit and wait while people weighed her value, one way and the other. While people reacted to her plight, feeling a little reassured by the fact that she had a shower all to herself.

  She eased herself off the bed. To hell with that, she thought. She was not going to sit there and be negotiated over. The anger rose up inside her. It rose up and she turned it into a steely determination. She limped to the door and tried the handle for the twentieth time. Then she heard footsteps on the stairs. They clattered down the corridor. Stopped at her door. A key turned the lock. The handle moved against her grip. She stepped back and the door opened.

  Reacher was pushed up into the room. A blur of camouflaged figures behind him. They shoved him up through the door and slammed it shut. She heard it locking and the footsteps tramping away. Reacher was left standing there, gazing around.

  "Looks like we have to share," he said.

  She looked at him.

  "They were only expecting one guest," he added.

  She made no reply to that. She just watched his eyes examining the room. They flicked around the walls, the floor, the ceiling. He twisted and glanced into the bathroom. Nodded to himself. Turned back to face her, waiting for her comment. She was pausing, thinking hard about what to say and how to say it.

  "It's only a single bed," she said at last.

  She tried to make the words count for more. She tried to make them like a long speech. Like a closely reasoned argument. She tried to make them say: OK, in the truck, we were close. OK, we kissed. Twice. The first time, it just happened. The second time, I asked you to, because I was looking for comfort and reassurance. But now we've been apart for an hour or two. Long enough for me to get to feeling a little silly about what we did. She tried to make those five words say all that, while she watched his eyes for his reaction.

  "There's somebody else, right?" he said.

  She saw that he said it as a joke, as a throwaway line to show her he agreed with her, that he understood, as a way to let them both off the hook without getting all heavy about it. But she didn't smile at him. Instead, she found herself nodding.

  "Yes, there is somebody," she said. "What can I say? If there wasn't, maybe I would want to share. "

  She thought: He looks disappointed.

  "In fact, I probably would want to," she added. "But there is somebody, and I'm sorry. It wouldn't be a good idea. "

  It showed in his face, and she felt she had to say more.

  "I'm sorry," she said again. "It's not that I wouldn't want to. "

  She watched him. He just shrugged at her. She saw he was thinking: it's not the end of the world. And then he was thinking: it just feels like it. She blushed. She was absurdly gratified. But ready to change the subject.

  "What's going on here?" she asked. "They tell you anything?"

  "Who's the lucky guy?" Reacher asked.

  "Just somebody," she said. "What's going on here?"

  His eyes were clouded. He looked straight at her.

  "Lucky somebody," he said.

  "He doesn't even know," she said.

  "That you're gone?" he asked.

  She shook her head.

  "That I feel this way," she said.

  He stared at her. Didn't reply. There was a long silence in the room. Then she heard footsteps aga
in. Hurrying, outside the building. Clattering inside. Coming up the stairs. They stopped outside the door. The key slid in. The door opened. Six guards clattered inside. Six machine guns. She took a painful step backward. They ignored her completely.

  "The commander is ready for you, Reacher," the point man said.

  He signaled him to turn around. He clicked handcuffs on, behind his back. Tightened them hard. Pushed him to the door with the barrel of his gun and out into the corridor. The door slammed and locked behind the gaggle of men.

  FOWLER PULLED THE headphones off and stopped the tape recorder.

  "Anything?" the commander asked him.

  "No," Fowler said. "She said it's only a single bed, and he sounded pissed, like he wants to get in her pants. So she said she's got another boyfriend. "

  "I didn't know that," the commander said. "Did she say who?"

  Fowler shook his head.

  "But it works OK?" the commander asked him.

  "Clear as a bell," Fowler said.

  REACHER WAS PUSHED down the stairs and back out into the night. Back the way he had come, a mile up a stony path. The point man gripped his elbow and hustled him along. They were hurrying. Almost running. They were using their gun muzzles like cattle prods. They covered the distance in fifteen minutes. They crunched across the clearing to the small wooden hut. Reacher was pushed roughly inside.

  Loder was still on the floor. But there was somebody new sitting at the plain wooden desk. The commander. Reacher was clear on that. He was an extraordinary figure. Maybe six feet tall, probably four hundred pounds. Maybe thirty-five years old, thick hair, so blond it was nearly white, cut short at the sides and brushed long across the top like a German schoolboy's. A smooth pink face, bloated tight by his bulk, bright red nickel-sized spots burning high up on the cheeks. Tiny colorless eyes forced into slits between the cheeks and the white eyebrows. Wet red lips pursed above a chin strong enough to hold its shape in the blubber.

  He was wearing an enormous black uniform. An immaculate black shirt, military cut, no insignia except a pair of the same shoulder flashes everybody else was wearing. A wide leather belt, gleaming like a mirror. Crisp black riding pants, flared wide at the top, tucked into high black boots which matched the belt for shine.

  "Come in and sit down," he said, quietly.

  Reacher was pushed over to the chair he had occupied before. He sat, with his hands crushed behind him. The guards stood to rigid attention all around him, not daring to breathe, just staring blankly into space.

  "I'm Beau Borken," the big man said. "I'm the commander here. "

  His voice was high. Reacher stared at the guy and felt some kind of an aura radiating out of him, like a glow. The glow of total authority.

  "I have to make a decision," Borken said. "I need you to help me with it. "

  Reacher realized he was looking away from the guy. Like the glow was overpowering him. He forced himself to turn his head slowly and stare directly into the big white face.

  "What decision?" he asked.

  "Whether you should live," Borken said. "Or whether you should die. "

  HOLLY PULLED THE side panel off the bath. She had known plumbers leave trash under the tub, out of sight behind the panel. Offcuts of pipe, scraps of wood, even tools. Used blades, lost wrenches. Stuff that could prove useful. Some apartments she'd had, she'd found all kinds of things. But there was nothing. She lay down and felt right into the back recesses and came up with nothing at all.

  And the floor was solid all the way under the fixtures. The plumbing ran down through tight holes. It was an expert job. It was possible she could force a lever down alongside the big pipe running down out of the john. If she had a pry bar she might get a board loose. But there was no pry bar in the room. Nor any substitute. The towel bar was plastic. It would bend and break. There was nothing else. She sat on the floor and felt the disappointment wash over her. Then she heard more footsteps outside her door.

  This time, they were quiet. They were muffled, not clattering. Somebody approaching quietly and cautiously. Somebody with no official business. She stood up slowly. Stepped out of the bathroom and pulled the door to hide the dismantled tub. Limped back toward the bed as the lock clicked and the door opened.

  A man came into the room. He was a youngish man, dressed in camouflage fatigues, black smears on his face. A vivid red scar running laterally across his forehead. A machine gun slung at his shoulder. He turned and closed the door, quietly. Turned back with his fingers to his lips.

  She stared at him. Felt her anger rising. This time, she wasn't chained up. This time, the guy was going to die. She smiled a crazy smile at the logic of it. The bathroom was going to save her. She was a high-status prisoner. Supposed to be held with dignity and respect. Somebody came in to abuse her, and she killed him, they couldn't argue with that, could they?

  But the guy with the scar just held his fingers to his lips and nodded toward the bathroom. He crept quietly over and pushed the door. Gestured for her to follow. She limped after him. He glanced down at the side panel on the floor and shook his head. Reached in and started the shower. Set it running hard against the empty tub.

  "They've got microphones," the guy said. "They're listening for me. "

  "Who the hell are you?" she asked.

  He squatted down and put the panel back on the bath.

  "No good," he said. "There's no way out. "

  "Got to be," she said.

  The guy shook his head.

  "They had a trial run," he said. "The commander put one of the guys who built this place in here. Told him if he didn't get out, he'd cut his arms off. So I assume he tried real hard. "

  "And what happened?" she asked.

  The guy shrugged.

  "The commander cut his arms off," he said.

  "Who the hell are you?" she asked again.

  "FBI," the guy said. "Counterterrorism. Undercover. I guess I'm going to have to get you out. "

  "How?" she asked.

  "Tomorrow," he said. "I can get a jeep. We'll have to make a run for it. I can't call in for assistance because they're scanning for my transmitter. We'll just get the jeep and head south and hope for the best. "

  "What about Reacher?" she asked. "Where have they taken him?"

  "Forget him," the guy said. "He'll be dead by morning. "

  Holly shook her head.

  "I'm not going without him," she said.

  "LODER DISPLEASED ME," Beau Borken said.

  Reacher glanced downward. Loder had squirmed up into a sideways sitting position, crammed into the angle between the floor and the wall.

  "Did he displease you?" Borken asked.

  Reacher made no reply.

  "Would you like to kick him?" Borken asked.

  Reacher kept quiet. He could see where this game was going. If he said yes, he'd be expected to hurt the guy badly. Which he had no objection to in principle, but he'd prefer to do it on his own terms. If he said no, Borken would call him a coward with no sense of natural justice and no self-respect. An obvious game, with no way to win. So he kept quiet, which was a tactic he'd used a thousand times before: when in doubt, just keep your mouth shut.

  "In the face?" Borken asked. "In the balls, maybe?"

  Loder was staring up at Reacher. Something in his face. Reacher saw what it was. His eyes widened in surprise. Loder was pleading with him to give him a kicking, so that Borken wouldn't.

  "Loder, lie down again," Borken said.

  Loder squirmed his hips away from the wall and dropped his shoulders to the floor. Wriggled and pushed until he was lying flat on his back. Borken nodded to the nearest guard.

  "In the face," he said.

  The guard stepped over and used the sole of his boot to force Loder's head sideways, so his face was presented to the room. Then he stepped back and kicked out. A heavy blow from a heavy boot. Loder's head snapped backward and thumpe
d into the wall. Blood welled from his nose. Borken watched him bleed for a long moment, mildly interested. Then he turned back to Reacher.

  "Loder's one of my oldest friends," he said.

  Reacher said nothing.

  "Begs two questions, doesn't it?" Borken said. "Question one: why am I enforcing such strict discipline, even against my old friends? And question two: if that's how I treat my friends, how the hell do I treat my enemies?"

  Reacher said nothing. When in doubt, just keep your mouth shut.

  "I treat my enemies a hell of a lot worse than that," Borken said. "So much worse, you really don't want to think about it. You really don't, believe me. And why am I being so strict? Because we're two days away from a unique moment in history. Things are going to happen which will change the world. Plans are made and operations are under way. Therefore I have to bring my natural caution to a new pitch. My old friend Loder has fallen victim to a historical force. So, I'm afraid, have you. "

  Reacher said nothing. He dropped his gaze and watched Loder. He was unconscious. Breathing raggedly through clotting blood in his nose.

  "You got any value to me as a hostage?" Borken asked.

  Reacher thought about it. Made no reply. Borken watched his face and smiled. His red lips parted over small white teeth.

  "I thought not," he said. "So what should I do with a person who's got no value to me as a hostage? During a moment of great historical tension?"

  Reacher stayed silent. Just watching. Easing his weight forward, ready.

  "You think you're going to get a kicking?" Borken asked.

  Reacher tensed his legs, ready to spring.

  "Relax," Borken said. "No kicking for you. When the time comes, it'll be a bullet through the head. From behind. I'm not stupid, you know. I've got eyes, and a brain. What are you, six-five? About two-twenty? Clearly fit and strong. And look at you, tension in your thighs, getting ready to jump up. Clearly trained in some way. But you're not a boxer. Because your nose has never been broken. A heavyweight like you with an unbroken nose would need to be a phenomenal talent, and we'd have seen your picture in the newspapers. So you're just a brawler, probably been in the service, right? So I'll be cautious with you. No kicking, just a bullet. "

  The guards took their cue. Six rifles came down out of the slope and six fingers hooked around six triggers.

  "You got felony convictions?" Borken asked.

  Reacher shrugged and spoke for the first time.

  "No," he said.

  "Upstanding citizen?" Borken asked.

  Reacher shrugged again.

  "I guess," he said.

  Borken nodded.

  "So I'll think about it," he said. "Live or die, I'll let you know, first thing in the morning, OK?"

  He lifted his bulky arm and snapped his fingers. Five of the six guards moved. Two went to the door and opened it. A third went out between them. The other two waited. Borken stood up with surprising grace for a man of his size and walked out from behind the desk. The wooden floor creaked under his bulk. The four waiting guards fell in behind him and he walked straight out into the night without a backward glance.

  HE WALKED ACROSS the clearing and into another hut. Fowler was waiting for him, the headphones in his hand.

  "I think somebody went in there," he said.

  "You think?" Borken said.

  "The shower was running," Fowler said. "Somebody went in there who knows about the microphones. She wouldn't need another shower. She just had one, right? Somebody went in there and ran the shower to mask the talking. "

  "Who?" Borken asked.

  Fowler shook his head.

  "I don't know who," he said. "But I can try to find out. "

  Borken nodded.

  "Yes, you can do that," he said. "You can try to find out. "

  IN THE ACCOMMODATION huts, men and women were working in the gloom, cleaning their rifles. The word about Loder had traveled quickly. They all knew about the tribunal. They all knew the likely outcome. Any six of them could be selected for the firing squad. If there was going to be a firing squad. Most people figured there probably was. An officer like Loder, the commander might limit it to a firing squad. Probably nothing worse. So they cleaned their rifles, and left them locked and loaded next to their beds.

  Those of them with enough demerits to be on tomorrow's punishment detail were trying to get some sleep. If he didn't limit it to a firing squad, they could be in for a lot of work. Messy, unpleasant work. And even if Loder got away with it, there was always the other guy. The big guy who had come in with the federal bitch. There wasn't much chance of him surviving past breakfast time. They couldn't remember the last time any stray stranger had lasted longer than that.

  HOLLY JOHNSON HAD a rule. It was a rule bred into her, like a family motto. It had been reinforced by her long training at Quantico. It was a rule distilled from thousands of years of military history and hundreds of years of law enforcement experience. The rule said: hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

  She had no reason to believe she would not be speeding south in a jeep just as soon as her new ally could arrange it. He was Bureau-trained, the same as she was. She knew that if the tables were turned, she would get him out, no problem at all. So she knew she could just sit tight and wait. But she wasn't doing that. She was hoping for the best, but she was planning for the worst.

  She had given up on the bathroom. No way out there. Now she was going over the room itself, inch by inch. The new pine boarding was nailed tight to the frame, all six surfaces. It was driving her crazy. Inch-thick pine board, the oldest possible technology, used for ten thousand years, and there was no way through it. For a lone woman without any tools, it might as well have been the side of a battleship.

  So she concentrated on finding tools. It was like she was personally speeding through Darwin 's evolutionary process. Apes came down from the trees and they made tools. She was concentrating on the bed. The mattress was useless. It was a thin, crushed thing, no wire springs inside. But the bed frame was more promising. It was bolted together from iron tubes and flanges. If she could take it apart, she could put one of the little right-angle flanges in the end of the longest tube and make a pry bar seven feet long. But the bolts were all painted over. She had strong hands, but she couldn't begin to move them. Her fingers just bruised and slipped on her sweat.

  LODER HAD BEEN dragged away and Reacher was locked up alone with the last remaining guard from the evening detail. The guard sat behind the plain desk and propped his weapon on the wooden surface with the muzzle pointing directly at him sitting on his chair. His hands were still cuffed behind him. He had decisions to make. First was no way could he sit all night like that. He glanced calmly at the guard and eased himself up and slid his hands underneath. Pressed his chest down onto his thighs and looped his hands out under his feet. Then he sat up and leaned back and forced a smile, hands together in his lap.

  "Long arms," he said. "Useful. "

  The guard nodded slowly. He had small piercing eyes, set back in a narrow face. They gleamed out above the big beard, through the camouflage smudges, but the gleam looked innocent enough.

  "What's your name?" Reacher asked him.

  The guy hesitated. Shuffled in his seat. Reacher could see some kind of natural courtesy was prompting a reply. But there were obvious tactical considerations for the guy. Reacher kept on forcing the smile.

  "I'm Reacher," he said. "You know my name. You got a name? We're here all night, we may as well be a little civilized about it, right?"

  The guy nodded again, slowly. Then he shrugged.

  "Ray," he said.

  "Ray?" Reacher said. "That your first name or your last?"

  "Last," the guy said. "Joseph Ray. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "OK, Mr. Ray," he said. "Pleased to meet you. "

  "Call me Joe," Joseph Ray said.

  Reacher forc
ed the smile again. The ice was broken. Like conducting an interrogation. Reacher had done it a thousand times. But never from this side of the desk. Never when he was the one wearing the cuffs.

  "Joe, you're going to have to help me out a little," he said. "I need some background here. I don't know where I am, or why, or who all you guys are. Can you fill me in on some basic information?"

  Ray was looking at him like he was maybe having difficulty knowing where to start. Then he was glancing around the room like maybe he was wondering whether he was allowed to start at all.

  "Where exactly are we?" Reacher asked him. "You can tell me that, right?"

  " Montana," Ray said.

  Reacher nodded.

  "OK," he said. "Where in Montana?"

  "Near a town called Yorke," Ray said. "An old mining town, just about abandoned. "

  Reacher nodded again.

  "OK," he said. "What are you guys doing here?"

  "We're building a bastion," Ray said. "A place of our own. "

  "What for?" Reacher asked him.

  Ray shrugged. An inarticulate guy. At first, he said nothing. Then he sat forward and launched into what seemed to Reacher like a mantra, like something the guy had rehearsed many times. Or like something the guy had been told many times.

  "We came up here to escape the tyranny of America," he said. "We have to draw up our borders and say, it's going to be different inside here. "

  "Different how?" Reacher asked him.

  "We have to take America back, piece by piece," Ray said. "We have to build a place where the white man can live free, unmolested, in peace, with proper freedoms and proper laws. "

  "You think you can do that?" Reacher said.

  "It happened before," Ray said. "It happened in 1776.

  People said enough is enough. They said we want a better country than this. Now we're saying it again. We're saying we want our country back. And we're going to get it back. Because now we're acting together. There were a dozen militias up here. They all wanted the same things. But they were all acting alone. Beau's mission was to put people together. Now we're unified and we're going to take our country back. We're starting here. We're starting now. "

  Reacher nodded. Glanced to his right and down at the dark stain where Loder's nose had bled onto the floor.

  "Like this?" he said. "What about voting and democracy? All that kind of stuff? You should vote people out and vote new people in, right?"

  Ray smiled sadly and shook his head.

  "We've been voting for two hundred and twenty years," he said. "Gets worse all the time. Government's not interested in how we vote. They've taken all the power away from us. Given our country away. You know where the government of this country really is?"

  Reacher shrugged.

  "D. C. , right?" he said.

  "Wrong," Ray said. "It's in New York. The United Nations building. Ever asked yourself why the UN is so near Wall Street? Because that's the government. The United Nations and the banks. They run the world. America 's just a small part of it. The President is just one voice on a damn committee. That's why voting is no damn good. You think the United Nations and the world banks care what we vote?"

  "You sure about all this?" Reacher asked.

  Ray nodded, vigorously.

  "Sure I'm sure," he said. "I've seen it at work. Why do you think we send billions of dollars to the Russians when we got poverty here in America? You think that's the free choice of an American government? We send it because the world government tells us to send it. You know we got camps here? Hundreds of camps all over the country? Most of them are for United Nations troops. Foreign troops, waiting to move in when we start any trouble. But forty-three of them are concentration camps. That's where they're going to put us when we start speaking out. "

  "You sure?" Reacher said again.

  "Sure I'm sure," Ray said again. "Beau's got the documents. We've got the proof. There are things going on you wouldn't believe. You know it's a secret federal law that all babies born in the hospital get a microchip implanted just under their skin? When they take them away, they're not weighing them and cleaning them up. They're implanting a microchip. Pretty soon the whole population is going to be visible to secret satellites. You think the space shuttle gets used for science experiments? You think the world government would authorize expenditure for stuff like that? You got to be kidding. The space shuttle is there to launch surveillance satellites. "

  "You're joking, right?" Reacher said.

  Ray shook his head.

  "No way," he said. "Beau's got the documents. There's another secret law, guy in Detroit sent Beau the stuff. Every car built in America since 1985 has a secret radio transmitter box in it, so the satellites can see where it's going. You buy a car, the radar screens in the UN building know where you are, every minute of the day and night. They've got foreign forces training in America, right now, ready for the official takeover. You know why we send so much money to Israel? Not because we care what happens to the Israelis. Why should we care? We send the money because that's where the UN is training the secret world army. It's like an experimental place. Why do you think the UN never stops the Israelis from invading people? Because the UN has told them what to do in the first place. Training them for the world takeover. There are three thousand helicopters right now, at airbases round the U. S. , all ready for them to use. Helicopters, painted flat black, no markings. "

  "You sure?" Reacher said again. He was keeping his voice somewhere between worried and skeptical. "I never heard about any of this stuff. "

  "That proves it, right?" Ray said.

  "Why?" Reacher asked.

  "Obvious, right?" Ray said. "You think the world government is going to allow media access to that stuff? World government controls the media, right? They own it. So it's logical that whatever doesn't appear in the media is what is really happening, right? They tell you the safe stuff, and they keep the secrets away from you. It's all true, believe me. I told you, Beau's got the documents. Did you know every U. S. highway sign has a secret mark on the back? You drive out and take a look. A secret sign, to direct the world troops around the country. They're getting ready to take over. That's why we need a place of our own. "

  "You think they're going to attack you?" Reacher asked.

  "No doubt about it," Ray said. "They're going to come right after us. "

  "And you figure you can defend yourselves?" Reacher said. "A few guys in some little town in Montana?"

  Joe Ray shook his head.

  "Not a few guys," he said. "There are a hundred of us. "

  "A hundred guys?" Reacher said. "Against the world government?"

  Ray shook his head again.

  "We can defend ourselves," he said. "Beau's a smart leader. This territory is good. We're in a valley here. Sixty miles north to south, sixty miles east to west. Canadian border along the northern edge. "

  He swept his hand through the air, above eye level, left to right like a karate chop, to demonstrate the geography. Reacher nodded. He was familiar with the Canadian border. Ray used his other hand, up and down the left edge of his invisible map.

  " Rapid River," he said. "That's our western border. It's a big river, completely wild. No way to cross it. "

  He moved the Canadian border hand across and rubbed a small circle in the air, like he was cleaning a pane of glass.

  "National forest," he said. "You seen it? Fifty miles, east to west. Thick virgin forest, no way through. You want an eastern border, that forest is as good as you're going to get. "

  "What about the south?" Reacher asked.

  Ray chopped his hand sideways at chest level.

  "Ravine," he said. "Natural-born tank trap. Believe me, I know tanks. No way through, except one road and one track. Wooden bridge takes the track over the ravine. "

  Reacher nodded. He remembered the white truck pattering over a wooden structure.

&
nbsp; "That bridge gets blown," Ray said. "No way through. "

  "What about the road?" Reacher asked.

  "Same thing," Ray said. "We blow the bridge, and we're safe. Charges are set right now. "

  Reacher nodded slowly. He was thinking about air attack, artillery, missiles, smart bombs, infiltration of Special Forces, airborne troops, parachutes. He was thinking about Navy SEALs bridging the river or Marines bridging the ravine. He was thinking about NATO units rumbling straight down from Canada.

  "What about Holly?" he asked. "What do you want with her?"

  Ray smiled. His beard parted and his teeth shone out as bright as his eyes. "Beau's secret weapon," he said. "Think about it. The world government is going to use her old man to lead the attack. That's why they appointed him. You think the President appoints those guys? You got to be joking. Old man Johnson's a world government guy, just waiting for the secret command to move. But when he gets here, what's he going to find?"

  "What?" Reacher asked.

  "He comes up from the south, right?" Ray said. "First building he sees is that old courthouse, southeast corner of town. You were just there. She's up on the second floor, right? You notice the new construction? Special room, double walls, twenty-two inches apart. The space is packed with dynamite and blasting caps from the old mine stores. The first stray shell will blow old man Johnson's little girl to kingdom come. "

  Reacher nodded again, slowly. Ray looked at him.

  "We're not asking much," he said. "Sixty miles by sixty miles, what is that? Thirty-six hundred square miles of territory. "

  "But why now?" Reacher asked. "What's the big hurry?"

  "What's the date?" Ray asked back.

  Reacher shrugged.

  "July something?" he said.

  "July second," Ray said. "Two days to go. "

  "To what?" Reacher said.

  "Independence Day," Ray said. "July fourth. "

  "So?" Reacher asked.

  "We're declaring independence," Ray said. "Day after tomorrow. The birth of a brand-new nation. That's when they'll come for us, right? Freedom for the little guys? That's not in their plan. "

 
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