Die trying, p.27
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       Die Trying, p.27

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

  FOUR MEN WERE dragging Loder's body away and the crowd was dispersing quietly. Reacher was left standing on the courthouse steps with his six guards and Fowler. Fowler had finally unlocked the handcuffs. Reacher was rolling his shoulders and stretching. He had been cuffed all night and all morning and he was stiff and sore. His wrists were marked with red weals where the hard metal had bitten down.

  "Cigarette?" Fowler asked.

  He was holding his pack out. A friendly gesture. Reacher shook his head.

  "I want to see Holly," he said.

  Fowler was about to refuse, but then he thought some more and nodded.

  "OK," he said. "Good idea. Take her out for some exercise. Talk to her. Ask her how we're treating her. That's something you're sure to be asked later. It'll be very important to them. We don't want you giving them any false impressions. "

  Reacher waited at the bottom of the steps. The sun had gone pale and watery. Wisps of mist were gathering in the north. But some of the sky was still blue and clear. After five minutes, Fowler brought Holly down. She was walking slowly, with a little staccato rhythm as her good leg alternated with the thump of her crutch. She walked through the door and stood at the top of the steps.

  "Question for you, Reacher," Fowler called down. "How far can you run in a half hour with a hundred and twenty pounds on your back?"

  Reacher shrugged.

  "Not far enough, I guess," he said.

  Fowler nodded.

  "Right," he said. "Not far enough. If she's not standing right here in thirty minutes, we'll come looking for you. We'll give it a two-mile radius. "

  Reacher thought about it and nodded. A half hour with a hundred and twenty pounds on his back might get him more than two miles. Two miles was probably pessimistic. But he thought back to the map on Borken's wall. Thought about the savage terrain. Where the hell would he run? He made a show of checking his watch. Fowler walked away, up behind the ruined office building. The guards slung their weapons over their shoulders and stood easy. Holly smoothed her hair back. Stood face up to the pale sun.

  "Can you walk for a while?" Reacher asked her.

  "Slowly," she said.

  She set off north along the middle of the deserted street. Reacher strolled beside her. They waited until they were out of sight. They glanced at each other. Then they turned and flung themselves together. Her crutch toppled to the ground and he lifted her a foot in the air. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck.

  "I'm going crazy in there," she said.

  "I've got bad news," he said.

  "What?" she said.

  "They had a helper in Chicago," he said.

  She stared up at him.

  "They were only gone five days," he said. "That's what Fowler said at the trial. He said Loder had been gone just five days. "

  "So?" she said.

  "So they didn't have time for surveillance," he said. "They hadn't been watching you. Somebody told them where you were going to be, and when. They had help, Holly. "

  The color in her face drained away. It was replaced by shock.

  "Five days?" she said. "You sure?"

  Reacher nodded. Holly went quiet. She was thinking hard.

  "So who knew?" he asked her. "Who knew where you'd be, twelve o'clock Monday? A roommate? A friend?"

  Her eyes were darting left and right. She was racing through the possibilities.

  "Nobody knew," she said.

  "Were you ever tailed?" he asked.

  She shrugged helplessly. Reacher could see she desperately wanted to say yes, I was tailed. Because he knew to say no was too awful for her to contemplate.

  "Were you?" he asked again.

  "No," she said quietly. "By a bozo like one of these? Forget it. I'd have spotted them. And they'd have had to hang around all day outside the Federal Building, just waiting. We'd have picked them up in a heartbeat. "

  "So?" he asked.

  "My lunch break was flexible," she said. "It varied, sometimes by a couple of hours either way. It was never regular. "

  "So?" he asked again.

  She stared at him.

  "So it was inside help," she said. "Inside the Bureau. Had to be. Think about it, no other possibility. Somebody in the office saw me leave and dropped a dime. "

  He said nothing. Just watched the dismay on her face. "A mole inside Chicago," she said. A statement, not a question. "Inside the Bureau. No other possibility. Shit, I don't believe it. "

  Then she smiled. A brief, bitter smile.

  "And we've got a mole inside here," she said. "Ironic, right? He identified himself to me. Young guy, big scar on his forehead. He's undercover for the Bureau. He says we've got people in a lot of these groups. Deep undercover, in case of emergency. He called it in when they put the dynamite in my walls. "

  He stared back at her.

  "You know about the dynamite?" he said.

  She grimaced and nodded.

  "No wonder you're going crazy in there," he said.

  Then he stared at her in a new panic.

  "Who does this undercover guy call in to?" he asked urgently.

  "Our office in Butte," Holly said. "It's just a satellite office. One resident agent. He communicates by radio. He's got a transmitter hidden out in the woods. But he's not using it now. He says they're scanning the frequencies. "

  He shuddered.

  "So how long before the Chicago mole blows his cover?" he said.

  Holly went paler.

  "Soon, I guess," she said. "Soon as somebody figures we were headed out in this direction. Chicago will be dialing up the computers and trawling for any reports coming out of Montana. His stuff will be top of the damn pile. Christ, Reacher, you've got to get to him first. You've got to warn him. His name is Jackson. "

  They turned back. Started hurrying south through the ghost town.

  "He says he can break me out," Holly said. "Tonight, by jeep. "

  Reacher nodded grimly.

  "Go with him," he said.

  "Not without you," she said.

  "They're sending me anyway," he said. "I'm supposed to be an emissary. I'm supposed to tell your people it's hopeless. "

  "Are you going to go?" she asked.

  He shook his head.

  "Not if I can help it," he said. "Not without you. "

  "You should go," she said. "Don't worry about me. "

  He shook his head again.

  "I am worrying about you," he said.

  "Just go," she said. "Forget me and get out. "

  He shrugged. Said nothing.

  "Get out if you get the chance, Reacher," she said. "I mean it. "

  She looked like she meant it. She was glaring at him.

  "Only if you're gone first," he said finally. "I'm sticking around until you're out of here. I'm definitely not leaving you with these maniacs. "

  "But you can't stick around," she said. "If I'm gone, they'll go apeshit. It'll change everything. "

  He looked at her. Heard Borken say: she's more than his daughter.

  "Why, Holly?" he said. "Why will it change everything? Who the hell are you?"

  She didn't answer. Glanced away. Fowler strolled into view, coming north, smoking. He walked up to them. Stopped right in front of them. Pulled his pack.

  "Cigarette?" he asked.

  Holly looked at the ground. Reacher shook his head.

  "She tell you?" Fowler asked. "All the comforts of home?"

  The guards were standing to attention. They were in a sort of honor guard on the courthouse steps. Fowler walked Holly to them. A guard took her inside. At the door, she glanced back at Reacher. He nodded to her. Tried to make it say: see you later, OK? Then she was gone.

  "NOW FOR THE grand tour," Fowler said. "You stick close to me. Beau's orders. But you can ask any questions you want, OK?"

cher glanced vaguely at him and nodded. Glanced at the six guards behind him. He walked down the steps and paused. Looked over at the flagpole. It was set dead center in the remains of a fine square of lawn in front of the building. He walked across to it and stood in Loder's blood and looked around.

  The town of Yorke was pretty much dead. Looked like it had died some time ago. And it looked like it had never been much of a place to begin with. The road came through north to south, and there had been four developed blocks flanking it, two on the east side and two on the west. The courthouse took up the whole of the southeastern block and it faced what might have been some kind of a county office on the southwestern block. The western side of the street was higher. The ground sloped way up. The foundation of the county office building was about level with the second floor of the courthouse. It had started out the same type of structure, but it had fallen into ruin, maybe thirty years before. The paint was peeled and the siding showed through iron-gray. There was no glass in any window. The sloping knoll surrounding it had returned to mountain scrub. There had been an ornamental tree dead center. It had died a long time ago, and it was now just a stump, maybe seven feet high, like an execution post.

  The northern blocks were rows of faded, boarded-up stores. There had once been tall ornate frontages concealing simple square buildings, but the decay of the years had left the frontages the same dull brown as the boxy wooden structures behind. The signs above the doors had faded to nothing. There were no people on the sidewalks. No vehicle noise, no activity, no nothing. The place was a ghost. It looked like an abandoned cowboy town from the Old West.

  "This was a mining town," Fowler said. "Lead, mostly, but some copper, and a couple of seams of good silver for a while. There was a lot of money made here, that's for damn sure. "

  "So what happened?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler shrugged.

  "What happens to any mining place?" he said. "It gets worked out, is what. Fifty years ago, people were registering claims in that old county office like there was no tomorrow, and they were disputing them in that old courthouse, and there were saloons and banks and stores up and down the street. Then they started coming up with dirt instead of metal, and they moved on, and this is what got left behind. "

  Fowler was looking around at the dismal view and Reacher was following his gaze. Then he transferred his eyes upward a couple of degrees and took in the giant mountains rearing on the horizon. They were massive and indifferent, still streaked with snow on the third of July. Mist hung in the passes and floated through the dense conifers. Fowler moved and Reacher followed him up a track launching steeply northwest behind the ruined county office. The guards followed in single file behind. He realized this was the track he'd stumbled along twice in the dark the night before. After a hundred yards, they were in the trees. The track wound uphill through the forest. Progress was easier in the filtered green daylight. After a mile of walking they had made maybe a half mile of straight-line progress and they came out in the clearing the white truck had driven into the previous night. There was a small sentry squad, armed and immaculate, standing at attention in the center of the space. But there was no sign of the white truck. It had been driven away.

  "We call this the Bastion," Fowler said. "These were the very first acres we bought. "

  In the clear daylight, the place looked different. The Bastion was a big tidy clearing in the brush, nestled in a mountain bowl three hundred feet above the town itself. There was no man-made perimeter. The perimeter had been supplied a million years ago by the great glaciers grinding down from the Pole. The north and west sides were mountainous, rearing straight up to the high peaks. Reacher saw snow again, packed by the wind into the high north-facing gullies. If it was there in July, it had to be there twelve months of the year.

  To the southeast, the town was just visible below them through the gaps in the trees where the track had been carved out. Reacher could see the ruined county building and the white courthouse set below it like models. Directly south, the mountain slopes fell away into the thick forest. Where there were no trees, there were savage ravines. Reacher gazed at them, quietly. Fowler pointed.

  "Hundred feet deep, some of those," he said. "Full of elk and bighorn sheep. And we got black bears roaming. A few of the folk have seen mountain lions on the prowl. You can hear them in the night, when it gets real quiet. "

  Reacher nodded and listened to the stunning silence. Tried to figure out how much quieter the nights could be. Fowler turned and pointed here and there.

  "This is what we built," he said. "So far. "

  Reacher nodded again. The clearing held ten buildings. They were all large utilitarian wooden structures, built from plywood sheet and cedar, resting on solid concrete piles. There was an electricity supply into each building from a loop of heavy cable running between them.

  "Power comes up from the town," Fowler said. "A mile of cable. Running water, too, piped down from a pure mountain lake through plastic tubing, installed by militia labor. "

  Reacher saw the hut he'd been locked into most of the night. It was smaller than the others.

  "Administration hut," Fowler said.

  One of the huts had a whip antenna on the roof, maybe sixty feet high. Shortwave radio. And Reacher could see a thinner cable, strapped to the heavy power line. It snaked into the same hut, and didn't come out again.

  "You guys are on the phone?" he asked. "Unlisted, right?"

  He pointed and Fowler followed his gaze.

  "The phone line?" he said. "Runs up from Yorke with the power cable. But there's no telephone. World government would tap our calls. "

  He gestured for Reacher to follow him over to the hut with the antenna, where the line terminated. They pushed in together through the narrow door. Fowler spread his hands in a proud little gesture.

  "The communications hut," he said.

  The hut was dark and maybe twenty feet by twelve. Two men inside, one crouched over a tape recorder, listening to something on headphones, the other slowly turning the dial of a radio scanner. Both long sides of the hut had crude wooden desks built into the walls. Reacher glanced up at the gable and saw the telephone wire running in through a hole drilled in the wall. It coiled down and fed a modem. The modem was wired into a pair of glowing desktop computers.

  "The National Militia Internet," Fowler said.

  A second wire bypassed the desktops and fed a fax machine. It was whirring away to itself and slowly rolling a curl of paper out.

  "The Patriotic Fax Network," Fowler said.

  Reacher nodded and walked closer. The fax machine sat on the counter next to another computer and a large shortwave radio.

  "This is the shadow media," Fowler said. "We depend on all this equipment for the truth about what's going on in America. You can't get the truth any other way. "

  Reacher took a last look around and shrugged.

  "I'm hungry," he said. "That's the truth about me. No dinner and no breakfast. You got someplace with coffee?"

  Fowler looked at him and grinned.

  "Sure," he said. "Mess hall serves all day. What do you think we are? A bunch of savages?"

  He dismissed the six guards and gestured again for Reacher to follow him. The mess hall was next to the communications hut. It was about four times the size, twice as long and twice as wide. Outside, it had a sturdy chimney on the roof, fabricated from bright galvanized metal. Inside, it was full of rough trestle tables in neat lines, simple benches pushed carefully underneath. It smelled of old food and the dusty smell that large communal spaces always have.

  There were three women working in there. They were cleaning the tables. They were dressed in olive fatigues, and they all had long, clean hair and plain, unadorned faces, red hands and no jewelry. They paused when Fowler and Reacher walked in. They stopped working and stood together, watching. Reacher recognized one of them from the courtroom. She gave him a cautious nod of greetin
g. Fowler stepped forward.

  "Our guest missed breakfast," he said.

  The cautious woman nodded again.

  "Sure," she said. "What can I get you?"

  "Anything," Reacher said. "As long as it's got coffee with it. "

  "Five minutes," the woman said.

  She led the other two away through a door where the kitchen was bumped out in back. Fowler sat down at a table and Reacher took the bench opposite.

  "Three times a day, this place gets used for meals," Fowler said. "The rest of the time, afternoons and evenings mainly, it gets used as the central meeting place for the community. Beau gets up on the table and tells the folk what needs doing. "

  "Where is Beau right now?" Reacher asked.

  "You'll see him before you go," Fowler said. "Count on it. "

  Reacher nodded slowly and focused through the small window toward the mountains. The new angle gave him a glimpse of a farther range, maybe fifty miles distant, hanging there in the clear air between the earth and the sky. The silence was still awesome.

  "Where is everybody?" he asked.

  "Working," Fowler said. "Working, and training. "

  "Working?" Reacher said. "Working at what?"

  "Building up the southern perimeter," Fowler said. "The ravines are shallow in a couple of places. Tanks could get through. You know what an abatis is?"

  Reacher looked blank. He knew what an abatis was. Any conscientious West Pointer who could read knew what an abatis was. But he wasn't about to let Fowler know exactly how much he knew about anything. So he just looked blank.

  "You fell some trees," Fowler said. "Every fifth or sixth tree, you chop it down. You drop it facing away from the enemy. The trees around here, they're mostly wild pines, the branches face upward, right? So when they're felled, the branches are facing away from the enemy. Tank runs into the chopped end of the tree, tries to push it along. But the branches snag against the trees you left standing. Pretty soon, that tank is trying to push two or three trees over. Then four or five. Can't be done. Even a big tank like an Abrams can't do it. Fifteen-hundred-horsepower gas turbine on it, sixty-three tons, it's going to stall when it's trying to push all those trees over. Even if they ship the big Russian tanks in against us, it can't be done. That's an abatis, Reacher. Use the power of nature against them. They can't get through those damn trees, that's for sure. Soviets used it against Hitler, Kursk, World War Two. An old Commie trick. Now we're turning it around against them. "

  "What about infantry?" Reacher said. "Tanks won't come alone. They'll have infantry right there with them. They'll just skip ahead and dynamite the trees. "

  Fowler grinned.

  "They'll try," he said. "Then they'll stop trying. We've got machine gun positions fifty yards north of the abatises. We'll cut them to pieces. "

  The cautious woman came back out of the kitchen carrying a tray. She put it down on the table in front of Reacher. Eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, beans, all on an enamel plate. A metal pint mug of steaming coffee. Cheap flatware.

  "Enjoy," she said.

  "Thank you," Reacher said.

  "I don't get coffee?" Fowler said.

  The cautious woman pointed to the back.

  "Help yourself," she said.

  Fowler tried a man-to-man look at Reacher and got up. Reacher kept on looking blank. Fowler walked back to the kitchen and ducked in the door. The woman watched him go and laid a hand on Reacher's arm.

  "I need to talk to you," she whispered. "Find me after lights-out, tonight. I'll meet you outside the kitchen door, OK?"

  "Talk to me now," Reacher whispered back. "I could be gone by then. "

  "You've got to help us," the woman whispered.

  Then Fowler came back out into the hall and the woman's eyes clouded with terror. She straightened up and hurried away.

  THERE WERE SIX bolts through each of the long tubes in the bed frame. Two of them secured the mesh panel which held up the mattress. Then there were two at each end, fixing the long tube to the right-angle flanges attached to the legs. She had studied the construction for a long time, and she had spotted an improvement. She could leave one flange bolted to one end. It would stand out like a rigid right-angled hook. Better than separating the flange and then jamming it into the open end. More strength.

  But it still left her with six bolts. She would have to take the flange off the leg. An improvement, but not a shortcut. She worked fast. No reason to believe Jackson would fail, but his odds had just worsened. Worsened dramatically.

  NEXT TO THE mess hall were the dormitories. There were four large buildings, all of them immaculate and deserted. Two of them were designated as barracks for single men and single women. The other two were subdivided by plywood partitions. Families lived there, the adults in pairs in small cubicles behind the partitions, the children in an open dormitory area. Their beds were three-quarter-size iron cots, lined up in neat rows. There were half-size foot-lockers at the ends of the cots. No drawings on the walls, no toys. The only decor was a tourist poster from Washington, D. C. It was an aerial photograph taken from the north on a sunny spring day, with the White House in the right foreground, the Mall in the middle and the Capitol end-on to the left. It was framed in plastic and the tourist message had been covered over with paper and a new title had been hand-lettered in its place. The new title read: This Is Your Enemy.

  "Where are all the kids right now?" Reacher asked.

  "In school," Fowler said. "Winter, they use the mess hall. Summer, they're out in the woods. "

  "What do they learn?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler shrugged.

  "Stuff they need to know," he said.

  "Who decides what they need to know?" Reacher asked.

  "Beau," Fowler said. "He decides everything. "

  "So what has he decided they need to know?" Reacher asked.

  "He studied it pretty carefully," Fowler said. "Comes down to the Bible, the Constitution, history, physical training, woodsmanship, hunting, weapons. "

  "Who teaches them all that stuff?" Reacher asked.

  "The women," Fowler replied.

  "The kids happy here?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler shrugged again.

  "They're not here to be happy," he said. "They're here to survive. "

  The next hut was empty, apart from another computer terminal, standing alone on a desk in a corner. Reacher could see a big keyboard lock fastened to it.

  "I guess this is our Treasury Department," Fowler said. "All our funds are in the Caymans. We need some, we use that computer to send it anywhere we want. "

  "How much you got?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler smiled, like a conspirator.

  "Shitloads," he said. "Twenty million in bearer bonds. Less what we've spent already. But we got plenty left. Don't you worry about us getting short. "

  "Stolen?" Reacher asked.

  Fowler shook his head and grinned.

  "Captured," he said. "From the enemy. Twenty million. "

  The final two buildings were storehouses. One stood in line with the last dormitory. The other was set some distance away. Fowler led Reacher into the nearer shed. It was crammed with supplies. One wall was lined with huge plastic drums filled with water.

  "Beans, bullets and bandages," Fowler said. "That's Beau's motto. Sooner or later we're going to face a siege. That's for damn sure. And it's pretty obvious the first thing the government is going to do, right? They're going to fire artillery shells armed with plague germs into the lake that feeds our water system. So we've stockpiled drinking water. Twenty-four thousand gallons. That was the first priority. Then we got canned food, enough for two years. Not enough if we get a lot of people coming in to join us, but it's a good start. "

  The storage shed was crammed. One floor-to-ceiling bay was packed with clothing. Familiar olive fatigues, camouflage jackets, boots. All washed and pressed in some Army laundry, pac
ked up and sold off by the bale.

  "You want some?" Fowler asked.

  Reacher was about to move on, but then he glanced down at what he was wearing. He had been wearing it continuously since Monday morning. Three days solid. It hadn't been the best gear to start with, and it hadn't improved with age.

  "OK," he said.

  The biggest sizes were at the bottom of the pile. Fowler heaved and shoved and dragged out a pair of pants, a shirt, a jacket. Reacher ignored the shiny boots. He liked his own shoes better. He stripped and dressed, hopping from foot to foot on the bare wooden floor. He did up the shirt buttons and shrugged into the jacket. The fit felt good enough. He didn't look for a mirror. He knew what he looked like in fatigues. He'd spent enough years wearing them.

  Next to the door, there were medical supplies ranged on shelves. Trauma kits, plasma, antibiotics, bandages. All efficiently laid out for easy access. Neat piles, with plenty of space between. Borken had clearly rehearsed his people in rushing around and grabbing equipment and administering emergency treatment.

  "Beans and bandages," Reacher said. "What about the bullets?"

  Fowler nodded toward the distant shed.

  "That's the armory," he said. "I'll show you. "

  The armory was bigger than the other storage shed. Huge lock on the door. It held more weaponry than Reacher could remember seeing in a long time. Hundreds of rifles and machine guns in neat rows. The stink of fresh gun oil everywhere. Floor-to-ceiling stacks of ammo boxes. Familiar wooden crates of grenades. Shelves full of handguns. Nothing heavier than an infantryman could carry, but it was still a hell of an impressive sight.

  THE TWO BOLTS securing the mesh base were the easiest. They were smaller than the others. The big bolts holding the frame together took all the strain. The mesh base just rested in there. The bolts holding it down were not structural. They could have been left out altogether, and the bed would have worked just the same.

  She flaked and scraped the paint back to the bare metal. Heated the bolt heads with the towel. Then she pulled the rubber tip off her crutch and bent the end of the aluminum tube into an oval. She used the strength in her fingers to crush the oval tight over the head of the bolt. Used the handle to turn the whole of the crutch like a giant socket wrench. It slipped off the bolt. She cursed quietly and used one hand to crush it tighter. Turned her hand and the crutch together as a unit. The bolt moved.

  THERE WAS A beaten earth path leading out north from the ring of wooden buildings. Fowler walked Reacher down it. It led to a shooting range. The range was a long, flat alley painstakingly cleared of trees and brush. It was silent and unoccupied. It was only twenty yards wide, but over a half-mile long. There was matting laid at one end for the shooters to lie on, and far in the distance Reacher could see the targets. He set off on a slow stroll toward them. They looked like standard military-issue plywood cutouts of running, crouching soldiers. The design dated right back to World War II. The crude screen-printing depicted a German infantryman, with a coal-scuttle helmet and a savage snarl. But as he got closer Reacher could see these particular targets had crude painted additions of their own. They had new badges daubed on the chests in yellow paint. Each new badge had three letters. Four targets had: FBI. Four had: ATF. The targets were staggered backward over distances ranging from three hundred yards right back to the full eight hundred. The nearer targets were peppered with bullet holes.

  "Everybody has to hit the three-hundred-yard targets," Fowler said. "It's a requirement of citizenship here. "

  Reacher shrugged. Wasn't impressed. Three hundred yards was no kind of a big deal. He kept on strolling down the half-mile. The four-hundred-yard targets were damaged, the five-hundred-yard boards less so. Reacher counted eighteen hits at six hundred yards, seven at seven hundred, and just two at the full eight hundred.

  "How old are these boards?" he asked.

  Fowler shrugged.

  "A month," he said. "Maybe two. We're working on it. "

  "You better," Reacher said.

  "We don't figure to be shooting at a distance," Fowler replied. "Beau's guess is the UN forces will come at night. When they think we're resting up. He figures they might succeed in penetrating our perimeter to some degree. Maybe by a half-mile or so. I don't think they will, but Beau's a cautious guy. And he's the one with all the responsibility. So our tactics are going to be nighttime outflanking maneuvers. Encircle the UN penetration in the forest and mow it down with cross fire. Up close and personal, right? That training's going pretty well. We can move fast and quiet in the dark, no lights, no sound, no problem at all. "

  Reacher looked at the forest and thought about the wall of ammunition he'd seen. Thought about Borken's boast: impregnable. Thought about the problems an army faces fighting committed guerrillas in difficult terrain. Nothing is ever really impregnable, but the casualties in taking this place were going to be spectacular.

  "This morning," Fowler said. "I hope you weren't upset. "

  Reacher just looked at him.

  "About Loder, I mean," Fowler said.

  Reacher shrugged. Thought to himself: it saved me a job of work.

  "We need tough discipline," Fowler said. "All new nations go through a phase like this. Harsh rules, tough discipline. Beau's made a study of it. Right now, it's very important. But it can be upsetting, I guess. "

  "It's you should be upset," Reacher said. "You heard of Joseph Stalin?"

  Fowler nodded.

  "Soviet dictator," he said.

  "Right," Reacher said. "He used to do that. "

  "Do what?" Fowler asked.

  "Eliminate his potential rivals," Reacher said. "On trumped-up charges. "

  Fowler shook his head.

  "The charges were fair," he said. "Loder made mistakes. "

  Reacher shrugged.

  "Not really," he said. "He did a reasonable job. "

  Fowler looked away.

  "You'll be next," Reacher said. "You should watch your back. Sooner or later, you'll find you've made some kind of a mistake. "

  "We go back a long way," Fowler said. "Beau and me. "

  "So did Beau and Loder, right?" Reacher said. "Stevie will be OK. He's no threat. Too dumb. But you should think about it. You'll be next. "

  Fowler made no reply. Just looked away again. They walked together back down the grassy half-mile. Took another beaten track north. They stepped off the path to allow a long column of children to file past. They were marching in pairs, boys and girls together, with a woman in fatigues at the head of the line and another at the tail. The children were dressed in cut-down military surplus gear and they were carrying tall staffs in their right hands. Their faces were blank and acquiescent. The girls had untrimmed straight hair, and the boys had rough haircuts done with bowls and blunt shears. Reacher stood and watched them pass. They stared straight ahead as they walked. None of them risked a sideways glance at him.

  The new path ran uphill through a thin belt of trees and came out on a flat area fifty yards long and fifty yards wide. It had been leveled by hand. Discarded fieldstone had been painted white and laid at intervals around the edge. It was quiet and deserted.

  "Our parade ground," Fowler said, sourly.

  Reacher nodded and scanned around. To the north and west, the high mountains. To the east, thick virgin forest. South, he could see over the distant town, across belts of trees, to the fractured ravines beyond. A cold wind lifted his new jacket and grabbed at his shirt, and he shivered.

  THE BIGGER BOLTS were much harder. Much more contact area, metal to metal. Much more paint to scrape. Much more force required to turn them. The more force she used, the more the crushed end of the crutch was liable to slip off. She took off her shoe and used it to hammer the end into shape. She bent and folded the soft aluminum around the head of the bolt. Then she clamped it tight with her fingers. Clamped until the slim tendons in her arm stood out like ropes and sweat ran down he
r face. Then she turned the crutch, holding her breath, waiting to see which would give first, the grip of her fingers or the grip of the bolt.

  THE WIND GRABBING at Reacher's shirt also carried some faint sounds to him. He glanced at Fowler and turned to face the western edge of the parade ground. He could hear men moving in the trees. A line of men, bursting out of the forest.

  They crashed out of the trees, six men line abreast, automatic rifles at the slope. Camouflage fatigues, beards. The same six guards who had stood in front of the judge's bench that morning. Borken's personal detail. Reacher scanned across the line of faces. The younger guy with the scar was at the left-hand end of the line. Jackson, the FBI plant. They paused and reset their course. Rushed across the leveled ground toward Reacher. As they approached, Fowler stood back, leaving Reacher looking like an isolated target. Five of the men fanned out into a loose arc. Five rifles aimed at Reacher's chest. The sixth man stepped up in front of Fowler. No salute, but there was a deference in his stance which was more or less the same thing.

  "Beau wants this guy back," the soldier said. "Something real urgent. "

  Fowler nodded.

  "Take him," he said. "He's beginning to piss me off. "

  The rifle muzzles jerked Reacher into a rough formation and the six men hustled him south through the thin belt of trees, moving fast. They passed through the shooting range and followed the beaten earth path back to the Bastion. They turned west and walked past the armory and on into the forest toward the command hut. Reacher lengthened his stride and sped up. Pulled ahead. Let his foot hit a root and went down heavily on the stones. First guy to reach him was Jackson. Reacher saw the scarred forehead. He grabbed Reacher's arm.

  "Mole in Chicago," Reacher breathed.

  "On your feet, asshole," Jackson shouted back.

  "Hide out and run for it tonight," Reacher whispered. "Maximum care, OK?"

  Jackson glanced at him and replied with a squeeze of his arm. Then he pulled him up and shoved him ahead down the path into the smaller clearing. Beau Borken was framed in his command hut doorway. He was dressed in huge baggy camouflage fatigues, dirty and disheveled. Like he had been working hard. He stared at Reacher as he approached.

  "I see we gave you new clothes," he said.

  Reacher nodded.

  "So let me apologize for my own appearance," Borken said. "Busy day. "

  "Fowler told me," Reacher said. "You've been building abatises. "

  "Abatises?" Borken said. "Right. "

  Then he went quiet. Reacher saw his big white hands, opening and closing.

  "Your mission is canceled," Borken said quietly.

  "It is?" Reacher said. "Why?"

  Borken eased his bulk down out of the doorway and stepped close. Reacher's gaze was fixed on his blazing eyes and he never saw the blow coming. Borken hit him in the stomach, a big hard fist on the end of four hundred pounds of body weight. Reacher went down like a tree and Borken smashed a foot into his back.

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