Die trying, p.29
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       Die Trying, p.29

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

  SHE HEARD FOOTSTEPS in the corridor at the exact moment the sixth bolt came free. A light tread. Not Jackson. Not a man treading carefully. A woman, walking normally. The steps halted outside her door. There was a pause. She rested the long tube back on the frame. A key went into the lock. She pulled the mattress back into place. Dragged the blanket over it. Another pause. The door opened.

  A woman came into the room. She looked like all of them looked, white, lean, long straight hair, strong plain face, no makeup, no adornment, red hands. She was carrying a tray, with a white cloth mounded up over it. No weapon.

  "Lunch," she said.

  Holly nodded. Her heart was pounding. The woman was standing there, the tray in her hands, looking around the room, staring hard at the new pine walls.

  "Where do you want this?" she asked. "On the bed?"

  Holly shook her head.

  "On the floor," she said.

  The woman bent and placed the tray on the floor.

  "Guess you could use a table," she said. "And a chair. "

  Holly glanced down at the flatware and thought: tools.

  "You want me to get them to bring you a chair?" the woman asked.

  "No," Holly said.

  "Well, I could use one," the woman said. "I've got to wait and watch you eat. Make sure you don't steal the silverware. "

  Holly nodded vaguely and circled around the woman. Glanced at the open door. The woman followed her gaze and grinned.

  "Nowhere to run," she said. "We're a long way from anywhere, and there's some difficult terrain in the way. North, you'd reach Canada in a couple of weeks, if you found enough roots and berries and bugs to eat. West, you'd have to swim the river. East, you'd get lost in the forest or eaten by a bear, and even if you didn't, you're still a month away from Montana. South, we'd shoot you. The border is crawling with guards. You wouldn't stand a chance. "

  "The road is blocked?" Holly asked.

  The woman smiled.

  "We blew the bridge," she said. "There is no road, not anymore. "

  "When?" Holly asked her. "We drove in. "

  "Just now," the woman said. "You didn't hear it? I guess you wouldn't, not with these walls. "

  "So how does Reacher get sent out?" Holly asked. "He's supposed to be carrying some sort of a message. "

  The woman smiled again.

  "That plan has changed," she said. "Mission canceled. He's not going. "

  "Why not?" Holly asked.

  The woman looked straight at her.

  "We found out what happened to Peter Bell," she said.

  Holly went quiet.

  "Reacher killed him," the woman said. "Suffocated him. In North Dakota. We were just informed. But I expect you know all about it, right?"

  Holly stared at her. She thought: Reacher's in big trouble. She saw him, handcuffed and alone somewhere.

  "How did you find out?" she asked quietly.

  The woman shrugged.

  "We have a lot of friends," she said.

  Holly kept on staring at her. She thought: the mole. They know we were in North Dakota. Takes a map and a ruler to figure out where we are now. She saw computer keyboards clicking and Jackson's name scrolling up on a dozen screens.

  "What's going to happen to Reacher?" she asked.

  "A life for a life," the woman said. "That's the rule here. Same for your friend Reacher as for anybody else. "

  "But what's going to happen to him?" Holly asked again.

  The woman laughed.

  "Doesn't take much imagination," she said. "Or maybe it does. I don't expect it's going to be anything real simple. "

  Holly shook her head.

  "It was self-defense," she said. "The guy was trying to rape me. "

  The woman looked at her, scornfully.

  "So how is that self-defense?" she said. "Wasn't trying to rape Reacher, was he? And you were probably asking for it, anyhow. "

  "What?" Holly said.

  "Shaking your tail at him?" the woman said. "We know all about smart little city bitches like you. Poor old Peter never stood a chance. "

  Holly just stared at her. Then she glanced at the door.

  "Where is Reacher now?" she asked.

  "No idea," the woman said. "Chained to a tree somewhere, I guess. "

  Then she grinned.

  "But I know where he's going," she said. "The parade ground. That's where they usually do that sort of stuff. We're all ordered up there to watch the fun. "

  Holly stared at her. Then she swallowed. Then she nodded.

  "Will you help me with this bed?" she asked. "Something wrong with it. "

  The woman paused. Then she followed her over.

  "What's wrong with it?" she asked.

  Holly pulled the blanket back and heaved the mattress onto the floor.

  "The bolts seem a little loose," she said.

  "Where?" the woman said.

  "Here," Holly said.

  She used both hands on the long tube. Whipped it upward and spun and smashed it like a blunt spear into the side of the woman's head. The flange hit her like a metal fist. Skin tore and a neat rectangle of bone punched deep into her brain and she bounced off the mattress and was dead before she hit the floor. Holly stepped carefully over the tray of lunch and limped calmly toward the open door.

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