Die trying, p.32
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       Die Trying, p.32

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
slower 1  faster
Chapter Thirty-Two

  THE CROWD WAS silent. Their breathing was swallowed up by the awesome mountain silence. Everybody was staring at Holly. She was holding the Ingram reversed, the muzzle jammed into a spot above her heart. Thumb backward on the trigger, tensed. Borken's bloated face was greased with panic. His huge frame was shaking and trembling. He was hopping around next to his upturned box, staring wide-eyed at her. She was looking back at him, calmly.

  "I'm a hostage, right?" she said to him. "Important to them, important to you, because of who I am. All kinds of importance to all kinds of people. You expect them to do stuff to keep me alive. So now it's your turn. Let's talk about what stuff you're prepared to do to keep me alive. "

  Borken saw her glance at Reacher.

  "You don't understand," he screamed at her. Wild urgency in his voice. "I'm not going to kill this guy. This guy stays alive. The situation has changed. "

  "Changed how?" she asked, calmly.

  "I'm commuting his sentence," Borken said. Still panic in his voice. "That's why we're here. I was just going to announce it. We know who he is. We just found out. We were just informed. He was in the Army. Major Jack Reacher. He's a hero. He won the Silver Star. "

  "So?" Holly asked.

  "He saved a bunch of Marines," Borken said urgently. "In Beirut. Ordinary fighting men. He pulled them out of a burning bunker. Marines will never attack us while he's here. Never. So I'm going to use him as another hostage. He's good insurance, against the damn Marines. I need him. "

  She stared at him. Reacher stared at him.

  "His sentence is commuted," Borken said again. "Five years on punishment detail. That's all. Nothing else. No question about it. I need him alive. "

  He stared at her with a salesman's beam like the problem was solved. She stared back and forth between him and Reacher. Reacher was watching the crowd. The crowd was angry. The circus had left town before the performance. Reacher felt like they had all taken a step toward him. They were testing Borken's power over them. Holly glanced at him, fear in her eyes. Nodded to him. An imperceptible movement of her head. She would be safe, she was saying, whatever happened. Her identity protected her like an invisible magic cloak. Reacher nodded back. Without turning around, he judged the distance to the trees behind him. Maybe twenty feet. Shove Fowler at the front rank, drag the chain, sprint like hell, he might be in the trees before anybody could aim a weapon. Twenty feet, standing start, using the momentum of shouldering Fowler away to help him, maybe four or five strides, maybe three seconds, maybe four. In the trees, he would stand a chance against the bullets. He imagined them smacking into the trunks either side of him as he ran and dodged. A forest is a fugitive's best friend. It takes a lot of luck to hit a guy running through trees. He shifted his weight and felt his ham-strings tighten. Felt the flood of adrenaline. Fight or flight. But then Borken flung his arms wide again. Held them out like an angel's wings and used the awesome power of his eyes on his people.

  "I have made my decision," he called. "Do you understand?"

  There was a long pause. It went on for seconds. Then a hundred heads snapped back.

  "Yes sir!" a hundred voices yelled.

  "Do you understand?" he called again.

  A hundred heads snapped back again.

  "Yes sir!" a hundred voices yelled.

  "Five years on punishment detail," Borken called. "But only if he can prove who he is. We are informed this man is the only non-Marine in history to win the Marine Sniper competition. We are told this man can put six bullets through a silver dollar a thousand yards away. So I'm going to shoot against him. Eight hundred yards. If he wins, he lives. If he loses, he dies. Do you understand?"

  A hundred heads snapped back.

  "Yes sir!" a hundred voices yelled.

  The rumble from the crowd started up again. This time, they sounded interested. Reacher smiled inwardly. Smart move, he thought. They wanted a spectacle, Borken was giving them one. Fowler breathed out and pulled a key from his pocket. Ducked around and unlocked the handcuffs. The chain fell to the floor. Reacher breathed out and rubbed his wrists.

  Then Fowler stepped over to Holly in the press of people. Stepped right in front of her. She paused for a long moment and glanced at Borken. He nodded.

  "You have my word," he said, with as much dignity as he could recover.

  She glanced at Reacher. He shrugged and nodded. She nodded back and looked down at the Ingram. Clicked the safety on and looped the strap off her shoulder. Grinned and dropped the gun to the floor. Fowler bent at her feet and scooped it up. Borken raised his arms for quiet.

  "To the rifle range," he called out. "Orderly fashion. Dismiss. "

  Holly limped over and walked next to Reacher.

  "You won the Wimbledon?" she asked, quietly.

  He nodded.

  "So can you win this?" she asked.

  He nodded again.

  "With my head in a bag," he said.

  "Is that such a good idea?" she asked quietly. "Guy like this, he's not going to be happy to get beat. "

  Reacher shrugged.

  "He wants a big performance, he's going to get one," he said. "He's all shaken up. You started it. I want to keep it going. Long run, it'll do us good. "

  "Well, take care," she said.

  "Watch me," Reacher said.

  TWO BRAND-NEW TARGETS were placed side by side at the extreme end of the range. Borken's was on the left, with ATF daubed across its chest. Reacher's was on the right, with FBI over its heart. The rough matting was pulled back to give maximum distance. Reacher figured he was looking at about eight hundred and thirty yards. Fifty yards shy of a full half-mile. A hell of a long way.

  The swarm of people had settled into a rough semicircle, behind and beside the matting. The nearer targets were flung into the undergrowth to clear their view. Several people had field glasses. They peered up the range and then their noise faded as one after the other they settled into quiet anticipation.

  Fowler made the trip to the armory in the clearing below. He walked back with a rifle in each hand. One for Borken, one for Reacher. Identical guns. The price of a small family car in each hand. They were. 50-inch Barrett Model 90s. Nearly four feet long, over twenty-two pounds in weight. Bolt-action repeaters, fired a bullet a full half-inch across. More like an artillery shell than a rifle bullet.

  "One magazine each," Borken said. "Six shots. "

  Reacher took his weapon and laid it on the ground at his feet. Little Stevie marshaled the crowd backward to clear the matting. Borken checked his rifle and flicked the bipod legs out. Smacked the magazine into place. He set the weapon down gently on the matting.

  "I shoot first," he said.

  He dropped to his knees and forced his bulk down behind the rifle. Pulled the stock to him and snuggled it in close. Dragged the bipod legs an inch to the left and swung the butt a fraction to the right. He smacked the bolt in and out and pressed himself close to the ground. Eased his cheek against the stock and put his eye to the scope. Joseph Ray stepped from the edge of the crowd and offered Reacher his field glasses. Reacher nodded silently and took them. Held them ready. Borken's finger tightened against the trigger. He fired the first shot.

  The Barrett's huge muzzle brake blasted gas sideways and downward. Dust blasted back up off the matting. The rifle kicked and boomed. The sound crashed through the trees and came back off the mountains, seconds later. A hundred pairs of eyes flicked from Borken to the target. Reacher raised the field glasses and focused eight hundred and thirty yards up the range.

  It was a miss. The target was undamaged. Borken peered through the scope and grimaced. He hunkered down again and waited for the dust to clear. Reacher watched him. Borken was just waiting. Steady breathing. Relaxed. Then his finger tightened again. He fired the second shot. The rifle kicked and crashed and the dust blasted upward. Reacher raised the field glasses again. A hit. There was a splintered hole on
the target's right shoulder.

  There was a murmur from the crowd. Field glasses were passed from hand to hand. The whispers rose and fell. The dust settled. Borken fired again. Too quickly. He was still wriggling. Reacher watched him making the mistake. He didn't bother with the field glasses. He knew that half-inch shell would end up in Idaho.

  The crowd whispered. Borken glared through the scope. Reacher watched him do it all wrong. His relaxation was disappearing. His shoulders were tensed. He fired the fourth. Reacher handed the field glasses back to Joseph Ray on the edge of the crowd. He didn't need to look. He knew Borken was going to miss with the rest. In that state, he'd have missed at four hundred yards. He'd have missed at two hundred. He'd have missed across a crowded room.

  Borken fired the fifth and then the sixth and stood up slowly. He lifted the big rifle and used the scope to check what everybody already knew.

  "One hit," he said.

  He lowered the rifle and looked across at Reacher.

  "Your shot," he said. "Life or death. "

  Reacher nodded. Fowler handed him his magazine. Reacher used his thumb to test the spring. He pressed down on the first bullet and felt the smooth return. The bullets were shiny. Polished by hand. Sniper's bullets. He bent and lifted the heavy rifle. Held it vertical and clicked the magazine into place. He didn't smack at it, like Borken had done. He pressed it home gently with his palm.

  He opened the bipod legs, one at a time. Clicked them against their detents. Glanced up the range and laid the rifle on the matting. Squatted next to it and lay down, all in one fluid motion. He lay like a dead man, arms flung upward around the gun. He wanted to lie like that for a long time. He was tired. Deathly tired. But he stirred and laid his cheek gently against the stock. Snuggled his right shoulder close to the butt. Clamped his left hand over the barrel, fingers under the scope. Eased his right hand toward the trigger. Moved his right eye to the scope. Breathed out.

  Firing a sniper rifle over a long distance is a confluence of many things. It starts with chemistry. It depends on mechanical engineering. It involves optics and geophysics and meteorology. Governing everything is human biology.

  The chemistry is about explosions. The powder behind the bullet in the shell case has to explode perfectly, predictably, powerfully, instantly. It has to smash the projectile down the barrel at maximum speed. The half-inch bullet in the Barrett chamber weighs a hair over two ounces. One minute it's stationary. A thousandth of a second later, it's doing nearly nineteen hundred miles an hour, leaving the barrel behind on its way to the target. That powder has to explode fast, explode completely, and explode hard. Difficult chemistry. Weight for weight, that explosion has got to be the best explosion on the planet.

  Then mechanical engineering takes over for a spell. The bullet itself has to be a perfect little artifact. It's got to be as good as any manufactured article has ever been. It has got to be cast better than any jewelry. It must be totally uniform in size and weight. Perfectly round, perfectly streamlined. It has to accept ferocious rotation from the rifling grooves inside the barrel. It has to spin and hiss through the air with absolutely no wobble, no bias.

  The barrel has to be tight and straight. No good at all if a previous shot has heated and altered the barrel shape. The barrel has to be a mass of perfect metal, heavy enough to remain inert. Heavy enough to kill the tiny vibrations of the bolt and the trigger and the firing pin. That's why the Barrett Reacher was holding cost as much as a cheap sedan. That's why Reacher's left hand was loosely clamped over the top of the gun. He was damping any residual shock with it.

  Optics play a big part. Reacher's right eye was an inch behind a Leupold amp; Stevens scope. A fine instrument. The target was showing small, behind the fine data lines etched into the glass. Reacher stared hard at it. Then he eased the stock down and saw the target disappear and the sky swim into view. He breathed out again and stared at the air.

  Because geophysics are crucial. Light travels in a straight line. But it's the only thing that does. Bullets don't. Bullets are physical things which obey the laws of nature, like any other physical things. They follow the curvature of the earth. Eight hundred and thirty yards is a significant piece of curvature. The bullet comes out of the barrel and rises above the line of sight, then it passes through it, then it falls below it. In a perfect curve, like the earth.

  Except it's not a perfect curve, because the very first millisecond the bullet is gone, gravity is plucking at it like a small insistent hand. The bullet can't ignore it. It's a two-ounce copper-jacketed lead projectile traveling at nearly nineteen hundred miles an hour, but gravity has its way. Not very successfully, at first, but its best ally soon chips in. Friction. From the very first millisecond of its travel, air friction is slowing the bullet down and handing gravity a larger and larger say in its destiny. Friction and gravity work together to haul that bullet down.

  So you aim way high. You aim maybe ten feet directly above the target and eight hundred and thirty yards later the curvature of the earth and the pull of its gravity bring that bullet home to where you want it.

  Except you don't aim directly above the target. Because that would be to ignore meteorology. Bullets travel through air, and air moves. It's a rare day when the air is still. The air moves one way or another. Left or right, up or down, or any combination. Reacher was watching the leaves on the trees, and he could see a slow steady breeze coming out of the north. Dry air, moving slowly right to left across his line of sight. So he was aiming about eight feet to the right and ten feet above where he wanted to put the bullet. He was going to launch that projectile and let nature curve it left and down.

  Human biology was all that stood in the way. Snipers are people. People are quivering, shuddering masses of flesh and muscle. The heart is beating away like a giant pump, and the lungs are squeezing huge volumes of air in and out. Every nerve and every muscle is trembling with microscopic energy. Nobody is ever still. Even the calmest person is vibrating like crazy. Say there's a yard between the rifle's firing pin and the muzzle. If the muzzle moves a tiny fraction, then eight hundred and thirty yards later, the bullet is going to miss by eight hundred and thirty tiny fractions. A multiplying effect. If the shooter's vibration disturbs the muzzle by even a hundredth of an inch, the bullet will be eight-point-three inches off target. About the width of a man's head.

  So Reacher's technique was to wait. Just to gaze through the sight until his breathing was regular and his heartbeat was slow. Then to tighten the trigger finger slowly and wait some more. Then to count the heartbeats. One-and-two-and-three-and-four. Keep on waiting until the rhythm was slow. Then to fire between beats. Right when the vibration was as small as a human being could get it.

  He waited. He breathed out, long and slow. His heart beat once. It beat again. He fired. The stock jumped against his shoulder and his view was obliterated by the blast of dust from the matting under the muzzle. The heavy thump of the shot crashed off the mountainsides and came back to him with a wave of whispering from the crowd. He had missed. The running, crouching screen-print with FBI daubed on its chest was undamaged.

  He let the dust settle and checked the trees. The wind was steady. He breathed out and let his heart rate drop. He fired again. The big rifle kicked and crashed. The dust flew. The crowd stared and whispered. Another miss.

  Two misses. He breathed steadily and fired again. A miss. And again. Another miss. He paused for a long time. Picked up his rhythm again and fired the fifth. He missed the fifth. The crowd was restless. Borken lumbered nearer.

  "All on the last shot," he said, grinning.

  Reacher made no reply. No way could he afford the physical disturbance involved in speaking. The disruption to his breathing, the muscular contraction of his lungs and throat would be fatal. He waited. His heart beat. And again. He fired the sixth. He missed. He dropped the sight and stared at the plywood target. Undamaged.

  Borken was staring at him. Qu
estions in his eyes. Reacher got to his knees and lifted the rifle. Snapped the empty magazine out. Pushed the bolt home. Traced a finger along the neat engraving on the side of the stock. Folded the bipod legs. Laid the warm gun neatly on the matting. He stood up and shrugged. Borken stared at him. Glanced at Fowler. Fowler glanced back, puzzled. They had watched a man shooting for his life, and they had watched him miss every shot.

  "You knew the rules," Borken said quietly.

  Reacher stood still. Ignored him. Gazed up at the blue sky. A pair of vapor trails were crawling across it, like tiny chalk lines far overhead in the stratosphere.

  "Wait, sir," Joseph Ray called loudly.

  He came forward out of the crowd. Bristling with urgency. Self-important. Things to say. He was one of the few men in the Bastion with any actual military service behind him, and he prided himself on seeing things that other people missed. He thought it gave him an edge. Made him useful in special ways.

  He looked hard at the matting and lay himself down exactly where Reacher had lain. Glanced down the range to the targets. Closed one eye and stared through half his field glasses like a telescope. Focused on the screen-print of the running man. Moved his line of sight a fraction and focused just beyond the hunch of the target's shoulder. Stared into the distance and nodded to himself.

  "Come on," he said.

  He got to his feet and started jogging down the range. Fowler went with him. Eight hundred and thirty yards later, Ray passed the target without a second glance. Kept on jogging. Fowler followed. Fifty yards. A hundred. Ray dropped to his knees and stared backward. Aligned himself with the target and the matting, way back in the far distance. Turned and pointed forward, using his whole arm and finger like a rifle barrel. Stood up again and walked fifty more yards to a particular tree.

  It was an orphan silver birch. A straggly wild survivor, forcing its way up alongside the tall pines. Its trunk was contorted as it fought for light and air, one way and then the next. It was narrow, not more than seven or eight inches across. Six feet from the ground, it had six bullet holes in it. Big fresh half-inch holes. Three of them were in a perfect straight vertical line maybe seven inches high. The other three were curled in a loose curve to the right, running from the top hole out and back to the middle hole and out and back again to the bottom hole. Joseph Ray stared hard at them. Then he realized what they were. He grinned. The six holes made a perfect capital B, right there on the white bark. The letter covered an area of maybe seven inches by five. About the dimensions of a fat man's face.

  Fowler shouldered past Ray and turned and leaned on the trunk. Stood and pressed the back of his head against the ragged holes. Raised his field glasses and looked back down the range toward the matting. He figured he was more than a hundred and fifty yards behind the target. The target had been more than eight hundred yards from the matting. He did the math in his head.

  "A thousand yards," he breathed.

  Fowler and Joseph Ray paced it out together on the way back to Borken. Ray kept his stride long, just about exactly a yard. Fowler counted. Nine hundred and ninety strides, nine hundred and ninety yards. Borken knelt on the matting and used Ray's field glasses. He closed one eye and stared across the distance. He could barely even see the white tree. Reacher watched him try to keep the surprise out of his face. Thought to himself: you wanted a big performance, you got one. You like it, fat boy?

  "OK," Borken said. "So let's see how damn smart you're going to act now. "

  TH E FIVE GUARDS that had been six when Jackson was with them formed up in a line. They moved forward and took up position around Reacher and Holly. The crowd started filing away, quietly. Their feet crunched and slid on the stony ground. Then that sound was gone and the rifle range was quiet.

  Fowler stooped and picked up the guns. He hefted one in each hand and walked away through the trees. The five guards unslung their weapons with the loud sound of palms slapping on wood and metal.

  "OK," Borken said again. "Punishment detail. "

  He turned to Holly.

  "You too," he said. "You're not too damn valuable for that. You can help him. He's got a task to perform for me. "

  The guards stepped forward and marched Reacher and Holly behind Borken, slowly down through the trees to the Bastion and on along the beaten earth track to the command hut clearing. They halted there. Two of the guards peeled off and walked to the stores. They were back within five minutes with their weapons shouldered. The first guard was carrying a long-handled shovel in his left hand and a crowbar in his right. The second was carrying two olive fatigue shirts. Borken took them from him and turned to face Reacher and Holly.

  "Take your shirts off," he said. "Put these on. "

  Holly stared at him.

  "Why?" she said.

  Borken smiled.

  "All part of the game," he said. "You're not back by nightfall, we turn the dogs loose. They need your old shirts for the scent. "

  Holly shook her head.

  "I'm not undressing," she said.

  Borken looked at her and nodded.

  "We'll turn our backs," he said. "But you only get one chance. You don't do it, these boys will do it for you, OK?"

  He gave the command and the five guards fanned out in a loose arc, facing the trees. Borken waited for Reacher to turn away and then swiveled on his heels and stared up in the air.

  "OK," he said. "Get on with it. "

  The men heard unbuttoning sounds and the rasp of cotton. They heard the old shirt fall to the ground and the new one slipping on. They heard fingernails clicking against buttons.

  "Done," Holly muttered.

  Reacher took off his jacket and his shirt and shivered in the mountain breeze. He took the new shirt from Borken and shrugged it on. Slung the jacket over his shoulder. Borken nodded and the guard handed Reacher the shovel and the crowbar. Borken pointed into the forest.

  "Walk due west a hundred yards," he said. "Then north another hundred. You'll know what to do when you get there. "

  Holly looked at Reacher. He looked back and nodded. They strolled together into the trees, heading west.

  THIRTY YARDS INTO the woods, as soon as they were out of sight, Holly stopped. She planted her crutch and waited for Reacher to turn and rejoin her.

  "Borken," she said. "I know who he is. I've seen his name in our files. They tagged him for a robbery, northern California somewhere. Twenty million dollars in bearer bonds. Armored car driver was killed. Sacramento office investigated, but they couldn't make it stick. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "He did it," he said. "That's for damn sure. Fowler admitted it. Says they've got twenty million in the Caymans. Captured from the enemy. "

  Holly grimaced.

  "It explains the mole in Chicago," she said. "Borken can afford a pretty handsome bribe with twenty million bucks in the bank, right?"

  Reacher nodded again, slowly.

  "Anybody you know would take a bribe?" he asked.

  She shrugged.

  "They all bitch about the salary," she said.

  He shook his head.

  "No," he said. "Think of somebody who doesn't bitch about it. Whoever's got Borken's bearer bonds behind him isn't worried about money anymore. "

  "Some of them don't grumble," she said. "Some of them just put up with it. Like me, for instance. But I guess I'm different. "

  He looked at her. Walked on.

  "You're different," he repeated. "That's for damn sure. "

  He said it vaguely, thinking about it. They walked on for ten yards. He was walking slower than his normal pace and she was limping at his side. He was lost in thought. He was hearing Borken's high voice claiming: she's more than his daughter. He was hearing her own exasperated voice asking: why the hell does everybody assume everything that ever happens to me is because of who my damn father is? Then he stopped walking again and looked straight at her.

o are you, Holly?" he asked.

  "You know who I am," she said.

  He shook his head again.

  "No, I don't," he said. "At first I thought you were just some woman. Then you were some woman called Holly Johnson. Then you were an FBI agent. Then you were General Johnson's daughter. Then Borken told me you're even more than that. She's more than his daughter, he said. That stunt you pulled, he was shitting himself. You're some kind of a triple-A gold-plated hostage, Holly. So who the hell else are you?"

  She looked at him. Sighed.

  "Long story," she said. "Started twenty-eight years ago. My father was made a White House Fellow. Seconded to Washington. They used to do that, with the fast-track guys. He got friendly with another guy. Political analyst, aiming to be a congressman. My mother was pregnant with me, his wife was pregnant, he asked my parents to be godparents, my father asked them to be godparents. So this other guy stood up at my christening. "

  "And?" Reacher said.

  "The guy got into a career," Holly said. "He's still in Washington. You probably voted for him. He's the President. "

  REACHER WALKED ON in a daze. Kept glancing at Holly, gamely matching him stride for stride. A hundred yards west of the punishment hut, there was an outcrop of rock, bare of trees. Reacher and Holly turned there and walked north, into the breeze.

  "Where are we going?" Holly said. Her voice had an edge of worry.

  Reacher stopped suddenly. He knew where they were going. The answer was on the breeze. He went cold. His skin crawled. He stared down at the implements in his hands like he'd never seen such things before.

  "You stay here," he said.

  She shook her head.

  "No," she said. "I'm coming with you, wherever it is. "

  "Please, Holly," he said. "Stay here, will you?"

  She looked surprised by his voice, but she kept on shaking her head.

  "I'm coming with you," she said again.

  He gave her a bleak look and they walked on north. He forced himself onward, toward it. Fifty yards. Each step required a conscious effort of will. Sixty yards. He wanted to turn and run. Just run and never stop. Hurl himself across the wild river and get the hell out. Seventy yards. He stopped.

  "Stay here, Holly," he said again. "Please. "

  "Why?" she asked.

  "You don't need to see this," he said, miserably.

  She shook her head again and walked on. He caught her up. They smelled it long before they saw it. Faint, sweet, unforgettable. One of the most common and one of the most terrible smells in mankind's long and awful history. The smell of fresh human blood. Twenty paces after they smelled it, they heard it. The buzzing of a million flies.

  Jackson was crucified between two young pines. His hands had been dragged apart and nailed to the trees through the palms and wrists. He had been forced up onto his toes and his feet had been nailed flat against the base of the trunks. He was naked and he had been mutilated. He had taken several minutes to die. Reacher was clear on that.

  He stood immobile, staring at the crawling mass of blue shiny flies. Holly had dropped her crutch and her face was white. Ghastly staring white. She fell to her knees and retched. Spun herself away from the dreadful sight and fell forward on her face. Her hands clawed blindly in the forest dirt. She bucked and screamed into the buzzing forest silence. Screamed and cried.

  Reacher watched the flies. His eyes were expressionless. His face was impassive. Just a tiny muscle jumping at the corner of his jaw gave anything away. He stood still for several minutes. Holly went silent, on the forest floor beside him. He dropped the crowbar. Slung his jacket over a low branch. Stepped over directly in front of the body and started digging.

  He dug with a quiet fury. He smashed the shovel into the earth as hard as he could. He chopped through tree roots with single savage blows. When he hit rocks, he heaved them out and hurled them into a pile. Holly sat up and watched him. She watched the blazing eyes in his impassive face and the bulging muscles in his arms. She followed the relentless rhythm of the shovel. She said nothing.

  The work was making him hot. The flies were checking him out. They left Jackson's body and buzzed around his head. He ignored them. Just strained and gasped his way six feet down into the earth. Then he propped the shovel against a tree. Wiped his face on his sleeve. Didn't speak. Took the crowbar and stepped close to the corpse. Batted away the flies. Levered the nails out of the left hand. Jackson's body flopped sideways. The left arm pointed grotesquely down into the pit. The flies rose in an angry cloud. Reacher walked around to the right hand. Pried the nails out. The body flopped forward into the hole. Reacher extracted the nails from the feet. The body tumbled free into the grave. The air was dark with flies and loud with their sound. Reacher slid down into the hole and straightened the corpse out. Crossed the arms over the chest.

  He climbed back out. Without pausing he picked up the shovel and started filling the hole. He worked relentlessly. The flies disappeared. He worked on. There was too much dirt. It mounded up high when he had finished, like graves always do. He pounded the mound into a neat shape and dropped the shovel. Bent and picked up the rocks he'd cleared. Used them to shore up the sides of the mound. Placed the biggest one on top, like some kind of a headstone.

  Then he stood there, panting like a wild man, streaked with dirt and sweat. Holly watched him. Then she spoke for the first time in an hour.

  "Should we say a prayer?" she asked.

  Reacher shook his head.

  "Way too late for that," he said quietly.

  "You OK?" she asked.

  "Who's the mole?" he asked in turn.

  "I don't know," she said.

  "Well, think about it, will you?" he said, angrily.

  She glared up at him.

  "Don't you think I have been?" she said. "What the hell else do you think I was doing for the last hour?"

  "So who the hell is it?" he asked. Still angry.

  She paused. Went quiet again.

  "Could be anybody," she said. "There are a hundred agents in Chicago. "

  She was sitting on the forest floor, small, miserable, defeated. She had trusted her people. She had told him that. She had been full of naive confidence. I trust my people, she had said. He felt a wave of tenderness for her. It crashed over him. Not pity, not concern, just an agonizing tenderness for a good person whose bright new world was suddenly dirty and falling apart. He stared at her, hoping she would see it. She stared back, eyes full of tears. He held out his hands. She took them. He lifted her to her feet and held her. He lifted her off the ground and crushed her close. Her breasts were against his pounding chest. Her tears were against his neck.

  Then her hands were behind his head, pulling him close. She squirmed her face up and kissed him. She kissed him angrily and hungrily on the mouth. Her arms were locking around his neck. He felt her wild breathing. He knelt and laid her gently on the soft earth. Her hands burrowed at his shirt buttons. His at hers.

  They made love naked on the forest floor, urgently, passionately, greedily, as if they were defying death itself. Then they lay panting and spent in each other's arms, gazing up at the sunlight spearing down through the leaves.

  HE STROKED HER hair and felt her breathing slow down. He held her silently for a long time, watching the dust motes dancing in the sunbeams over her head.

  "Who knew your movements on Monday?" he asked softly.

  She thought about it. Made no reply.

  "And which of them didn't know about Jackson then?" he asked.

  No reply.

  "And which of them isn't short of money?" he asked.

  No reply.

  "And which of them is recent?" he asked. "Which of them could have come close enough to Beau Borken somewhere to get bought off? Sometime in the past? Maybe investigating the robbery thing in California?"

  She shuddered in his arms.

  "Four questions, Ho
lly," he said. "Who fits?"

  She ran through all the possibilities. Like a process of elimination. An algorithm. She boiled the hundred names down. The first question eliminated most of them. The second question eliminated a few more. The third question eliminated a handful. It was the fourth question which proved decisive. She shuddered again.

  "Only two possibilities," she said.

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