Die trying, p.3
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       Die Trying, p.3

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

  THEY HAD BEEN on the road an hour and thirty-three minutes. Some urban crawling, then an acceleration to a steady cruise. Maybe sixty miles covered. But in the noisy darkness inside the panel truck Reacher had no idea which direction those sixty miles were taking him.

  He was handcuffed to the young woman with the bad leg and within the first few minutes of their forced acquaintance they had worked out how to get as comfortable as they were ever going to get. They had crabbed around inside the truck until they were sitting sideways on the floor, legs straight out, propped against the big wheel well on the right, braced against the motion. The woman sat against the rear side and Reacher sat on the forward side. Their cuffed wrists lay together on the flat top of the metal bulge like they were lovers idling their time away in a cafe.

  At first, they hadn't spoken. They just sat for a long time in stunned silence. The immediate problem was the heat. It was the middle of the last day of June in the Midwest. They were shut into an enclosed metal space. There was no ventilation. Reacher figured the rush of air over the outside of the truck's body must be cooling it to an extent, but nowhere near enough.

  He just sat there in the gloom and used the hot dead time thinking and planning like he was trained to do. Staying calm, staying relaxed, staying ready, not burning his energy away with useless speculation. Assessing and evaluating. The three guys had shown a measure of efficiency. No great talent, no real finesse, but no significant mistakes. The jumpy guy with the second Glock was the weakest component of the team, but the leader had covered for him pretty well. An efficient threesome. Not at all the worst he'd ever seen. But at that point, he wasn't worrying. He'd been in worse situations and survived them. Much worse situations, and more than once. So he wasn't worrying yet.

  Then he noticed something. He noticed that the woman was not worrying yet, either. She was calm, too. She was just sitting there, swaying, cuffed to his wrist, thinking and planning like maybe she was trained to do, as well. He glanced across at her in the gloom and saw her looking steadily at him. A quizzical stare, calm, in control, faintly superior, faintly disapproving. The confidence of youth. She met his gaze. Held it for a long moment. Then she stuck out her cuffed right hand, which jarred his left wrist, but it was an encouraging gesture. He reached around and shook her hand and they smiled brief ironic smiles together at their mutual formality.

  "Holly Johnson," she said.

  She was assessing him carefully. He could see her eyes traveling around his face. Then they flicked down to his clothing, and back up to his face. She smiled again, briefly, like she had decided he merited some kind of courtesy.

  "Nice to meet you," she said.

  He looked back at her. Looked at her face. She was a very good-looking woman. Maybe twenty-six, twenty-seven. He looked at her clothes. A line from an old song ran through his head: hundred-dollar dresses, that I ain't paid for yet. He waited for the next line, but it didn't come. So he smiled back at her and nodded.

  "Jack Reacher," he said. "Pleasure's all mine, Holly, believe me. "

  It was difficult to speak, because the truck was cruising noisily. The sound of the engine was fighting with the roar from the road. Reacher would have been happy to sit quiet for a time, but Holly wasn't.

  "I need to get rid of you," she said.

  A confident woman, well in control of herself. He made no reply. Just glanced at her and glanced away. The next line was: cold, cold-blooded woman. A dying fall, a sad poignant line. An old Memphis Slim song. But the line was not right for her. Not right at all. This was not a cold-blooded woman. He glanced over again and shrugged at her. She was staring at him. Impatient with his silence.

  "You understand exactly what's happening?" she asked him.

  He watched her face. Watched her eyes. She was staring straight at him. Astonishment on her face. She thought she was stuck in there with an idiot. She thought he didn't understand exactly what was happening.

  "It's pretty clear, right?" he said. "From the evidence?"

  "What evidence?" she said. "It was all over in a split second. "

  "Exactly," he said. "That's all the evidence I need, right? Tells me more or less what I need to know. "

  He stopped talking and started resting again. Next opportunity to get away would be the next time the truck stopped. Could be some hours away. He felt he could be in for a long day. Felt he should be prepared to conserve his resources.

  "So what do you need to know?" the woman said.

  Her eyes were steady on his.

  "You've been kidnapped," he said. "I'm here by accident. "

  She was still looking at him. Still confident. Still thinking. Still not sure whether or not she was cuffed to an idiot.

  "It's pretty clear, right?" he said again. "It wasn't me they were after. "

  She made no reply. Just arched a fine eyebrow.

  "Nobody knew I was going to be there," he said. "I didn't even know I was going to be there. Until I got there. But it was a well-planned operation. Must have taken time to set up. Based on surveillance, right? Three guys, one in the car, two on the street. The car was parked exactly level. They had no idea where I was going to be. But obviously they knew for sure where you were going to be. So don't be looking at me like I'm the idiot here. You're the one made the big mistake. "

  "Mistake?" the woman said.

  "You're too regular in your habits," Reacher said. "They studied your movements, maybe two or three weeks, and you walked right into their arms. They weren't expecting anybody else to be there. That's clear, right? They only brought one set of handcuffs. "

  He raised his wrist, which raised hers too, to make his point. The woman went quiet for a long moment. She was revising her opinion of him. Reacher rocked with the motion of the vehicle and smiled.

  "And you should know better," he said. "You're a government agent of some sort, right? DEA, CIA, FBI, something like that, maybe a Chicago PD detective? New in the job, still fairly dedicated. And fairly wealthy. So somebody is either looking for a ransom, or you've already become a potential problem to somebody, even though you're new, and either way you should have taken more care of yourself. "

  She looked across at him. Nodded, eyes wide in the gloom. Impressed.

  "Evidence?" she asked.

  He smiled at her again.

  "Couple of things," he said. "Your dry cleaning? My guess is every Monday lunch break you take last week's clothes in to get them cleaned, and you pick up this week's clothes to wear. That means you must have about fifteen or twenty outfits. Looking at that thing you got on, you're not a cheap dresser. Call it four hundred bucks an outfit, you've got maybe eight grand tied up in things to wear. That's what I call moderately wealthy, and that's what I call too regular in your habits. "

  She nodded slowly.

  "OK," she said. "Why am I a government agent?"

  "Easy enough," he said. "You had a Glock 17 shoved at you, you were bundled into a car, you were thrown in a truck, handcuffed to a complete stranger and you've got no idea where the hell they're taking you, or why. Any normal person would be falling apart over all that, screaming the place down. But not you. You're sitting there quite calmly, which suggests some kind of training, maybe some kind of familiarity with upsetting or dangerous situations. And maybe some kind of sure knowledge there'll be a bunch of people looking to get you back soon as they can. "

  He stopped and she nodded for him to continue.

  "Also, you had a gun in your bag," he said. "Something fairly heavy, maybe a thirty-eight, long barrel. If it was a private weapon, a dresser like you would choose something dainty, like a snub twenty-two. But it was a big revolver, so you were issued with it. So you're some kind of an agent, maybe a cop. "

  The woman nodded again, slowly.

  "Why am I new in the job?" she asked.

  "Your age," Reacher said. "What are you? Twenty-six?"

  "Twenty-seven," she said.

  "That's young for a detective," he said. "College, a few years in uniform? Young for the FBI, DEA, CIA, too. So whatever you are, you're new at it. "

  She shrugged.

  "OK," she said. "Why am I fairly dedicated?"

  Reacher pointed, left-handed, rattling their shared handcuff.

  "Your injury," he said. "You're back to work after some kind of an accident, before you're really recovered. You're still using that crutch for your bad leg. Most people in your position would be staying home and drawing sick pay. "

  She smiled.

  "I could be handicapped," she said. "Could have been born this way. "

  Reacher shook his head in the gloom.

  "That's a hospital crutch," he said. "They loaned it to you, short-term, until you're over your injury. If it was a permanent thing, you'd have bought your own crutch. Probably you'd have bought a dozen. Sprayed them all different to match all your expensive outfits. "

  She laughed. It was a pleasant sound above the drone and boom of the truck's engine and the roar of the road.

  "Pretty good, Jack Reacher," she said. "I'm an FBI Special Agent. Since last fall. I just ripped up my cruciate ligaments playing soccer. "

  "You play soccer?" Reacher said. "Good for you, Holly Johnson. What kind of an FBI agent since last fall?"

  She was quiet for a beat.

  "Just an agent," she said. "One of many at the Chicago office. "

  Reacher shook his head.

  "Not just an agent," he said. "An agent who's doing something to somebody who maybe wants to retaliate. So who are you doing something to?"

  She shook her head back at him.

  "I can't discuss that," she said. "Not with civilians. "

  He nodded. He was comfortable with that.

  "OK," he said.

  "Any agent makes enemies," she said.

  "Naturally," he replied.

  "Me as much as anybody," she said.

  He glanced across at her. It was a curious remark. Defensive. The remark of a woman trained and eager and ready to go, but chained to a desk since last fall.

  "Financial section?" he guessed.

  She shook her head.

  "I can't discuss it," she said again.

  "But you already made enemies," he said.

  She gave him a half-smile which died fast. Then she went quiet. She looked calm, but Reacher could feel in her wrist that she was worried for the first time. But she was hanging in there. And she was wrong.

  "They're not out to kill you," he said. "They could have killed you in that vacant lot. Why haul you away in this damn truck? And there's your crutch, too. "

  "What about my crutch?" she said.

  "Doesn't make any sense," he said. "Why would they toss your crutch in here if they're going to kill you? You're a hostage, Holly, that's what you are. You sure you don't know these guys? Never saw them before?"

  "Never," she said. "I don't know who the hell they are, or what the hell they want from me. "

  He stared at her. She sounded way too definite. She knew more than she was telling him. They went quiet in the noise. Rocked and bounced with the movement of the truck. Reacher stared into the gloom. He could feel Holly making decisions, next to him. She turned sideways again.

  "I need to get you out of here," she said again.

  He glanced at her. Glanced away and grinned.

  "Suits me, Holly," he said. "Sooner the better. "

  "When will somebody miss you?" she asked.

  That was a question he would have preferred not to answer. But she was looking hard at him, waiting. So he thought about it, and he told her the truth.

  "Never," he said.

  "Why not?" she asked. "Who are you, Reacher?"

  He looked across at her and shrugged.

  "Nobody," he said.

  She kept on looking at him, quizzically. Maybe irritated.

  "OK, what kind of nobody?" she asked.

  He heard Memphis Slim in his head: got me working in a steel mill.

  "I'm a doorman," he said. "At a club in Chicago. "

  "Which club?" she asked.

  "A blues place on the South Side," he said. "You probably don't know it. "

  She looked at him and shook her head.

  "A doorman?" she said. "You're playing this pretty cool for a doorman. "

  "Doormen deal with a lot of weird situations," he said.

  She looked like she wasn't convinced and he put his face down near his wristwatch to check the time. Two-thirty in the afternoon.

  "And how long before somebody misses you?" he asked.

  She looked at her own watch and made a face.

  "Quite a while," she said. "I've got a case conference starting at five o'clock this afternoon. Nothing before then. Two and a half hours before anybody even knows I'm gone. "

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