Die trying, p.30
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       Die Trying, p.30

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

  HARLAND WEBSTER GOT back to the Hoover Building from Colorado at three o'clock Thursday afternoon, East Coast time. He went straight to his office suite and checked his messages. Then he buzzed his secretary.

  "Car," he said.

  He went down in his private elevator to the garage and met his driver. They walked over to the limousine and got in.

  "White House," Webster said.

  "You seeing the President, sir?" the driver asked, surprised.

  Webster scowled forward at the back of the guy's head. He wasn't seeing the President. He didn't see the President very often. He didn't need reminding of that, especially not by a damn driver sounding all surprised that there even was such a possibility.

  "Attorney General," he said. "White House is where she is right now. "

  His driver nodded silently. Cursed himself for opening his big mouth. Drove on smoothly and unobtrusively. The distance between the Hoover Building and the White House was exactly sixteen hundred yards. Less than a mile. Not even far enough to click over the little number in the speedometer on the limousine's dash. It would have been quicker to walk. And cheaper. Firing up the cold V-8 and hauling all that bulletproof plating sixteen hundred yards really ate up the gas. But the Director couldn't walk anywhere. Theory was he'd get assassinated. Fact was, there were probably about eight people in the city who would recognize him. Just another D. C. guy in a gray suit and a quiet tie. Anonymous. Another reason old Webster was never in the best of tempers, his driver thought.

  WEBSTER KNEW THE Attorney General pretty well. She was his boss, but his familiarity with her did not come from their face-to-face meetings. It came instead from the background checks the Bureau had run prior to her confirmation. Webster probably knew more about her than anybody else on earth did. Her parents and friends and ex-colleagues all knew their own separate perspectives. Webster had put all of those together and he knew the whole picture. Her Bureau file took up as much disk space as a short novel. Nothing at all in the file made him dislike her. She had been a lawyer, faintly radical at the start of her career, built up a decent practice, grabbed a judgeship, never annoyed the law enforcement community, without ever becoming a rabid foaming-at-the-mouth pain in the ass. An ideal appointment, sailed through her confirmation with no problem at all. Since then, she had proven to be a good boss and a great ally. Her name was Ruth Rosen and the only problem Webster had with her was that she was twelve years younger than him, very good-looking, and a whole lot more famous than he was.

  His appointment was for four o'clock. He found Rosen alone in a small room, two floors and eight Secret Service agents away from the Oval Office. She greeted him with a strained smile and an urgent inclination of her elegant head.

  "Holly?" she asked.

  He nodded. He gave her the spread, top to bottom. She listened hard and ended up pale, with her lips clamped tight.

  "We totally sure this is where she is?" she asked.

  He nodded again.

  "Sure as we can be," he said.

  "OK," she said. "Wait there, will you?"

  She left the small room. Webster waited. Ten minutes, then twenty, then a half hour. He paced. He gazed out of the window. He opened the door and glanced out into the corridor. A Secret Serviceman glanced back at him. Took a pace forward. Webster shook his head in answer to the question the guy hadn't asked and closed the door again. Just sat down and waited.

  Ruth Rosen was gone an hour. She came back in and closed the door. Then she just stood there, a yard inside the small room, pale, breathing hard, some kind of shock on her face. She said nothing. Just let it dawn on him that there was some kind of a big problem happening.

  "What?" he asked.

  "I'm out of the loop on this," she said.

  "What?" he asked again.

  "They took me out of the loop," she said. "My reactions were wrong. Dexter is handling it from here. "

  "Dexter?" he repeated. Dexter was the President's White House Chief of Staff. A political fixer from the old school. As hard as a nail, and half as sentimental. But he was the main reason the President was sitting there in the Oval Office with a big majority of the popular vote.

  "I'm very sorry, Harland," Ruth Rosen said. "He'll be here in a minute. "

  He nodded sourly and she went back out the door and left him to wait again.

  THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN the rest of the FBI and the Field Office in Butte, Montana, is similar to the relationship between Moscow and Siberia, proverbially speaking. It's a standard Bureau joke. Screw up, the joke goes, and you'll be working out of Butte tomorrow. Like some kind of an internal exile. Like KGB foul-ups were supposedly sent out to write parking tickets in Siberia.

  But on that Thursday July third, the Field Office in Butte felt like the center of the universe for McGrath and Milosevic and Brogan. It felt like the most desirable posting in the world. None of the three had ever been there before. Not on business, not on vacation. None of them would have ever considered going there. But now they were peering out of the Air Force helicopter like kids on their way to the Magic Kingdom. They were looking at the landscape below and swiveling their gaze northwest toward where they knew Yorke County was hiding under the distant hazy mist.

  The Resident Agent at Butte was a competent Bureau veteran still reeling after a personal call from Harland Webster direct from the Hoover Building. His instructions were to drive the three Chicago agents to his office, brief them on the way, get them installed, rent them a couple of jeeps, and then get the hell out and stay the hell out until further notice. So he was waiting at the Silver Bow County airport when the dirty black Air Force chopper clattered in. He piled the agents into his government Buick and blasted back north to town.

  "Distances are big around here," he said to McGrath. "Don't ever forget that. We're still two hundred forty miles shy of Yorke. On our roads, that's four hours, absolute minimum. Me, I'd get some mobile units and move up a lot closer. Basing yourselves down here won't help you much, not if things start to turn bad up there. "

  McGrath nodded.

  "You hear from Jackson again?" he asked.

  "Not since Monday," the Resident Agent said. "The dynamite thing. "

  "Next time he calls, he speaks to me, OK?" McGrath said.

  The Butte guy nodded. Fished one-handed in his pocket while he drove. Pulled out a small radio receiver. McGrath took it from him. Put it into his own pocket.

  "Be my guest," the Butte guy said. "I'm on vacation. Webster's orders. But don't hold your breath. Jackson doesn't call often. He's very cautious. "

  The Field Office was just a single room, second floor of a two-floor municipal building. A desk, two chairs, a computer, a big map of Montana on the wall, a lot of filing space, and a ringing telephone. McGrath answered it. He listened and grunted. Hung up and waited for the Resident Agent to take the hint.

  "OK, I'm gone," the old guy said. "Silver Bow Jeep will bring you a couple of vehicles over. Anything else you guys need?"

  "Privacy," Brogan said.

  The old guy nodded and glanced around his office. Then he was gone.

  "Air Force has put a couple of spy planes up there," McGrath said. "Satellite gear is coming in by road. The General and his aide are coming here. Looks like they're going to be our guests for the duration. Can't really argue with that, right?"

  Milosevic was studying the map on the wall.

  "Wouldn't want to argue with that," he said. "We're going to need some favors. You guys ever seen a worse-looking place?"

  McGrath and Brogan joined him in front of the map. Milosevic's finger was planted on Yorke. Ferocious green and brown terrain boiled all around it.

  "Four thousand square miles," Milosevic said. "One road and one track. "

  "They chose a good spot," Brogan said.

  "I SPOKE WITH the President," Dexter said.

  He sat back and paused. Webster stared at him
. What the hell else would he have been doing? Pruning the Rose Garden? Dexter was staring back. He was a small guy, burned up, dark, twisted, the way a person gets to look after spending every minute of every day figuring every possible angle.

  "And?" Webster said.

  "There are sixty-six million gun owners in this country," Dexter said.

  "So?" Webster asked.

  "Our analysts think they all share certain basic sympathies," Dexter said.

  "What analysts?" Webster said. "What sympathies?"

  "There was a poll," Dexter said. "Did we send you a copy? One adult in five would be willing to take up arms against the government, if strictly necessary. "

  "So?" Webster asked again.

  "There was another poll," Dexter said. "A simple question, to be answered intuitively, from the gut. Who's in the right, the government or the militias?"

  "And?" Webster said.

  "Twelve million Americans sided with the militias," Dexter said.

  Webster stared at him. Waited for the message.

  "So," Dexter said. "Somewhere between twelve and sixty-six million voters. "

  "What about them?" Webster asked.

  "And where are they?" Dexter asked back. "You won't find many of them in D. C. or New York or Boston or L. A. It's a skewed sample. Some places they're a tiny minority. They look like weirdos. But other places, they're a majority. Other places, they're absolutely normal, Harland. "

  "So?" he said.

  "Some places they control counties," Dexter said. "Even states. "

  Webster stared at him.

  "God's sake, Dexter, this isn't politics," he said. "This is Holly. "

  Dexter paused and glanced around the small White House room. It was painted a subtle off-white. It had been painted and repainted that same subtle color every few years, while Presidents came and went. He smiled a connoisseur's smile.

  "Unfortunately, everything's politics," he said.

  "This is Holly," Webster said again.

  Dexter shook his head. Just a slight movement.

  "This is emotion," he said. "Think about innocent little emotional words, like patriot, resistance, crush, underground, struggle, oppression, individual, distrust, rebel, revolt, revolution, rights. There's a certain majesty to those words, don't you think? In an American context?"

  Webster shook his head doggedly.

  "Nothing majestic about kidnapping women," he said. "Nothing majestic about illegal weapons, illegal armies, stolen dynamite. This isn't politics. "

  Dexter shook his head again. The same slight movement.

  "Things have a way of becoming politics," he said. "Think about Ruby Ridge. Think about Waco, Harland. That wasn't politics, right? But it became politics pretty damn soon. We hurt ourselves with maybe sixty-six million voters there. And we were real dumb about it. Big reactions are what these people want. They figure that harsh reprisals will upset people, bring more people into their fold. And we gave them big reactions. We fueled their fire. We made it look like big government was just about itching to crush the little guy. "

  The room went silent.

  "The polls say we need a better approach," Dexter said. "And we're trying to find one. We're trying real hard. So how would it look if the White House stopped trying just because it happens to be Holly who's involved? And right now? The Fourth of July weekend? Don't you understand anything? Think about it, Harland. Think about the reaction. Think about words like vindictive, self-interested, revenge, personal, words like that, Harland. Think about what words like those are going to do to our poll numbers. "

  Webster stared at him. The off-white walls crushed in on him.

  "This is about Holly, for God's sake," he said. "This is not about poll numbers. And what about the General? Has the President said all this to him?"

  Dexter shook his head.

  "I've said it all to him," he said. "Personally. A dozen times. He's been calling every hour, on the hour. "

  Webster thought: now the President won't even take Johnson's calls anymore. Dexter has really fixed him.

  "And?" he asked.

  Dexter shrugged.

  "I think he understands the principle," he said. "But naturally, his judgment is kind of colored right now. He's not a happy man. "

  Webster lapsed into silence. Started thinking hard. He was a smart enough bureaucrat to know if you can't beat them, you join them. You force yourself to think like they think.

  "But busting her out could do you good," he said. "A lot of good. It would look tough, decisive, loyal, no-nonsense. Could be advantageous. In the polls. "

  Dexter nodded.

  "I totally agree with you," he said. "But it's a gamble, right? A real big gamble. A quick victory is good, a foul-up is a disaster. A big gamble, with big poll numbers at stake. And right now, I'm doubting if you can get the quick victory. Right now, you're half-cocked. So right now my money would be on the foul-up. "

  Webster stared at him.

  "Hey, no offense, Harland," Dexter said. "I'm paid to think like this, right?"

  "So what the hell are you saying here?" Webster asked him. "I need to move the Hostage Rescue Team into place right now?"

  "No," Dexter said.

  "No?" Webster repeated incredulously.

  Dexter shook his head.

  "Permission denied," he said. "For the time being. "

  Webster just stared at him.

  "I need a position," he said.

  The room stayed silent. Then Dexter spoke to a spot on the off-white wall, a yard to the left of Webster's chair.

  "You remain in personal command of the situation," he said. "Holiday weekend starts tomorrow. Come talk to me Monday. If there's still a problem. "

  "There's a problem now," Webster said. "And I'm talking to you now. "

  Dexter shook his head again.

  "No, you're not," he said. "We didn't meet today, and I didn't speak with the President today. We didn't know anything about it today. Tell us all about it on Monday, Harland, if there's still a problem. "

  Webster just sat there. He was a smart enough guy, but right then he couldn't figure if he was being handed the deal of a lifetime, or a suicide pill.

  JOHNSON AND HIS aide arrived in Butte an hour later. They came in the same way, Air Force helicopter from Peterson up to the Silver Bow County airport. Milosevic took an air-to-ground call as they were on approach and went out to meet them in a two-year-old Grand Cherokee supplied by the local dealership. Nobody spoke on the short ride back to town. Milosevic just drove and the two military men bent over charts and maps from a large leather case the aide was carrying. They passed them back and forth and nodded, as if further comment was unnecessary.

  The upstairs room in the municipal building was suddenly crowded. Five men, two chairs. The only window faced southeast over the street. The wrong direction. The five men were instinctively glancing at the blank wall opposite. Through that wall was Holly, two hundred and forty miles away.

  "We're going to have to move up there," General Johnson said.

  His aide nodded.

  "No good staying here," he said.

  McGrath had made a decision. He had promised himself he wouldn't fight turf wars with these guys. His agent was Johnson's daughter. He understood the old guy's feelings. He wasn't going to squander time and energy proving who was boss. And he needed the old guy's help.

  "We need to share facilities," he said. "Just for the time being. "

  There was a short silence. The General nodded slowly. He knew enough about Washington to decode those five words with a fair degree of accuracy.

  "I don't have many facilities available," he said in turn. "It's the holiday weekend. Exactly seventy-five percent of the U. S. Army is on leave. "

  Silence. McGrath's turn to do the decoding and the slow nodding.

  "No authorization to cancel leave?" he asked.

The General shook his head.

  "I just spoke with Dexter," he said. "And Dexter just spoke with the President. Feeling was this thing is on hold until Monday. "

  The crowded room went silent. The guy's daughter was in trouble, and the White House fixer was playing politics.

  "Webster got the same story," McGrath said. "Can't even bring the Hostage Rescue Team up here yet. Time being, we're on our own, the three of us. "

  The General nodded to McGrath. It was a personal gesture, individual to individual, and it said: we've leveled with each other, and we both know what humiliation that cost us, and we both know we appreciate it.

  "But there's no harm in being prepared," the General said. "Like the little guy suspects, the military is comfortable with secret maneuvers. I'm calling in a few private favors that Mr. Dexter need never know about. "

  The silence in the room eased. McGrath looked a question at him.

  "There's a mobile command post already on its way," the General said.

  He took a large chart from his aide and spread it out on the desk.

  "We're going to rendezvous right here," he said.

  He had his finger on a spot northwest of the last habitation in Montana short of Yorke. It was a wide curve on the road leading into the county, about six miles shy of the bridge over the ravine.

  "The satellite trucks are heading straight there," he said. "I figure we move in, set up the command post, and seal off the road behind us. "

  McGrath stood still, looking down at the map. He knew that to agree was to hand over total control to the military. He knew that to disagree was to play petty games with his agent and this man's daughter. Then he saw that the General's finger was resting a half-inch south of a much better location. A little farther north, the road narrowed dramatically. It straightened to give a clear view north and south. The terrain tightened. A better site for a roadblock. A better site for a command post. He was amazed that the General hadn't spotted it. Then he was flooded with gratitude. The General had spotted it. But he was leaving room for McGrath to point it out. He was leaving room for give-and-take. He didn't want total control.

  "I would prefer this place," McGrath said.

  He tapped the northerly location with a pencil. The General pretended to study it. His aide pretended to be impressed.

  "Good thinking," the General said. "We'll revise the rendezvous. "

  McGrath smiled. He knew damn well the trucks were already heading for that exact spot. Probably already there. The General grinned back. The ritual dance was completed.

  "What can the spy planes show us?" Brogan asked.

  "Everything," the General's aide said. "Wait until you see the pictures. The cameras on those babies are unbelievable. "

  "I don't like it," McGrath said. "It's going to make them nervous. "

  The aide shook his head.

  "They won't even know they're there," he said. "We're using two of them, flying straight lines, east to west and west to east. They're thirty-seven thousand feet up. Nobody on the ground is even going to be aware of them. "

  "That's seven miles up," Brogan said. "How can they see anything from that sort of height?"

  "Good cameras," the aide said. "Seven miles is nothing. They'll show you a cigarette pack lying on the sidewalk from seven miles. The whole thing is automatic. The guys up there hit a button, and the camera tracks whatever it's supposed to track. Just keeps pointing at the spot on the ground you chose, transmitting high-quality video by satellite, then you turn around and come back, and the camera swivels around and does it all again. "

  "Undetectable?" McGrath asked.

  "They look like airliners," the aide said. "You look up and you see a tiny little vapor trail and you think it's TWA on the way somewhere. You don't think it's the Air Force checking whether you polished your shoes this morning, right?"

  "Seven miles, you'll see the hairs on their heads," Johnson said. "What do you think we spent all those defense dollars on? Crop dusters?"

  McGrath nodded. He felt naked. Time being, he had nothing to offer except a couple of rental jeeps, two years old, waiting at the sidewalk.

  "We're getting a profile on this Borken guy," he said. "Shrinks at Quantico are working it up now. "

  "We found Jack Reacher's old CO," Johnson said. "He's doing desk duty in the Pentagon. He'll join us, give us the spread. "

  McGrath nodded.

  "Forewarned is forearmed," he said.

  The telephone rang. Johnson's aide picked it up. He was the nearest.

  "When are we leaving?" Brogan asked.

  McGrath noticed he had asked Johnson direct.

  "Right now, I guess," Johnson said. "The Air Force will fly us up there. Saves six hours on the road, right?"

  The aide hung up the phone. He looked like he'd been kicked in the gut.

  "The missile unit," he said. "We lost radio contact, north of Yorke. "

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