Die trying, p.34
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       Die Trying, p.34

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


  REACHER AND HOLLY sat alone in the forest, backs to two adjacent pines, staring at the mound above Jackson 's grave. They sat like that until the afternoon light faded and died. They didn't speak. The forest grew cold. The time for the decision arrived.

  "We're going back," Holly said.

  It was a statement, not a question. A lot of resignation in her voice. He made no reply. He was breathing low, staring into space, lost in thought. Reliving in his mind her taste and smell. Her hair and her eyes. Her lips. The feel of her, strong and lithe and urgent underneath him.

  "Nightfall," she said.

  "Not just yet," he said.

  "We have to," she said. "They'll send the dogs after us. "

  He didn't speak again. Just sat there, eyes locked into the distance.

  "There's nowhere else to go," she said.

  He nodded slowly and stood up. Stretched and caught his breath as his tired muscles cramped. Helped Holly up and took his jacket down off the tree and shrugged it on. Left the crowbar lying in the dirt next to the shovel.

  "We leave tonight," he said. "Shit's going to hit the fan tomorrow. Independence Day. "

  "Sure, but how?" she asked.

  "I don't know yet," he said.

  "Don't take risks on my account," she said.

  "You'd be worth it," he said.

  "Because of who I am?" she asked.

  He nodded.

  "Because of who you are," he said. "Not because of who your father is. Or your damn godfather. And no, I didn't vote for him. "

  She stretched up and kissed him on the mouth.

  "Take care, Reacher," she said.

  "Just be ready," he said. "Maybe midnight. "

  She nodded. They walked the hundred yards south to the rocky outcrop. Turned and walked the hundred yards east to the clearing. Came out of the woods straight into a semicircle of five guards waiting for them. Four rifles. Center man was Joseph Ray. He was in charge of the detail, with a Glock 17 in his hand.

  "She goes back to her room," Ray said. "You go in the punishment hut. "

  The guards formed up. Two of them stepped either side of Holly. Her eyes were blazing and they didn't try to take her elbows. Just walked slowly beside her. She turned and glanced back at Reacher.

  "See you later, Holly," Reacher called.

  "Don't you bet on that, Ms. Johnson," Joseph Ray said, and laughed.

  He escorted Reacher to the door of the punishment hut. Took out a key and unlocked the door. Swung it open. Pushed Reacher through, gun out and ready. Then he pulled the door closed again and relocked it.

  The punishment hut was the same size and shape as Borken's command hut. But it was completely empty. Bare walls, no windows, lights meshed with heavy wire. On the floor near one end was a perfect square of yellow paint, maybe twelve inches by twelve. Apart from that, the hut was featureless.

  "You stand on that square," Ray said.

  Reacher nodded. He was familiar with that procedure. Being forced to stand at attention, hour after hour, never moving, was an effective punishment. He had heard about it, time to time. Once, he'd seen the results. After the first few hours, the pain starts. The back goes, then the agony spreads upward from the shins. By the second or third day, the ankles swell and burst and the thighbones strike upward and the neck collapses.

  "So stand on it," Ray said.

  Reacher stepped to the corner of the hut and bent to the floor. Made a big show of brushing the dust away with his hand. Turned and lowered himself gently so he was sitting comfortably in the angle of the walls. Stretched his legs out and folded his hands behind his head. Crossed his ankles and smiled.

  "You got to stand on the square," Ray said.

  Reacher looked at him. He had said: believe me, I know tanks. So he had been a soldier. A grunt, in a motorized unit. Probably a loader, maybe a driver.

  "Stand up," Ray said.

  Give a grunt a task, and what's the thing he's most afraid of? Getting chewed out by an officer for failing to do it, that's what.

  "Stand up, damn it," Ray said.

  So either he doesn't fail, or if he does, he conceals it. No grunt in the history of the world has ever just gone to his officer and said: I couldn't do it, sir.

  "I'm telling you to stand up, Reacher," Ray said quietly.

  If he fails, he keeps it a big secret. Much better that way.

  "You want me to stand up?" Reacher asked.

  "Yeah, stand up," Ray said.

  Reacher shook his head.

  "You're going to have to make me, Joe," he said.

  Ray was thinking about it. It was a reasonably slow thought process. Its progress was visible in his body language. First, the Glock came up. Then it went back down. Shooting at the prisoner was its own admission of failure. It was the same thing as saying: I couldn't make him do it, sir. Then he glanced at his hands. Glanced across at Reacher. Glanced away. Unarmed combat was rejected. He stood there, in a fog of indecision.

  "Where did you serve?" Reacher asked him.

  Ray shrugged.

  "Here and there," he said.

  "Like where and where?" Reacher asked.

  "I was in Germany twice," Ray said. "And I was in Desert Storm. "

  "Driver?" Reacher asked.

  "Loader," Ray answered.

  Reacher nodded.

  "You boys did a good job," he said. "I was in Desert Storm. I saw what you boys did. "

  Ray nodded. He took the opening, like Reacher knew he would. If you can't let them beat you, you let them join you. Ray moved casually to his left and sat down on the floor, back against the door, Glock resting against his thigh. He nodded again.

  "We whupped them," he said.

  "You sure did," Reacher said. "You whupped them real good. So, Germany and the desert. You liked it there?"

  "Not much," Ray said.

  "You liked their systems?" Reacher asked.

  "What systems?" Ray asked back.

  "Their governments," Reacher said. "Their laws, their liberties, all that stuff. "

  Ray looked mystified.

  "Never noticed," he said. "Never paid any attention. "

  "So how do you know they're better than ours?" Reacher asked.

  "Who says they're better?" Ray said.

  "You do," Reacher said. "Last night you were telling me how bad it is here in America. Got to be better everywhere else, right?"

  Ray shook his head.

  "I never told you that," he said.

  "So is it or isn't it?" Reacher asked.

  "I don't know," Ray said. "Probably. Lot of things wrong with America. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "Lot of things," he said. "I agree with you. But I'll tell you something. It's better in America than everyplace else. I know, because I've been everyplace else. Everyplace else is worse. A lot worse. Lot of things wrong in America, but plenty more things wrong everyplace else. You guys should think about that. "

  Ray looked across through the gloom.

  "You think we're wrong?" he asked.

  Reacher nodded.

  "I know you're wrong," he said. "For certain. All that stuff you were telling me is bullshit. All of it. It's not happening. "

  "It is happening," Ray said. "Beau says so. "

  "Think about it, Joe," Reacher said. "You were in the service. You saw how it all operated. You think those guys could organize all that stuff and keep it a secret? They ever even give you a pair of boots the right size?"

  Ray laughed.

  "Not hardly," he said.

  "Right," Reacher said. "So if they can't organize your damn boots, how can they organize all this other stuff Beau is talking about? What about these transmitters hidden in all the new cars? You think Detroit can do all that stuff? They'd be recalling them all because they didn't work right. You a gambling man, Joe?"
br />   "Why?" he asked.

  "What are the odds?" Reacher said. "Against they could organize a huge massive conspiracy like that and keep it all a secret for years and years?"

  A slow smile spread across Ray's face and Reacher saw that he was losing. Like talking to the wall. Like teaching a chimpanzee to read.

  "But they haven't kept it a secret," Ray said triumphantly. "We found out about it. I told you, Beau's got the proof. He's got the documents. It's not a secret at all. That's why we're here. Beau's right, no doubt about it. He's a smart guy. "

  Reacher closed his eyes and sighed.

  "You better hope so," he said. "He's going to need to be. "

  "He's a smart guy," Ray said again. "And he's got staying power. He's putting us all together. There were a dozen groups up here. Their leaders quit and left. All their people came and joined Beau, because they trust him. He's a smart guy, Reacher, and he's our only hope left. You won't change anybody's mind about him. You can forget about that. Far as we're concerned, we love him, and we trust him to do right. "

  "What about Jackson?" Reacher asked. "You think he did right about that?"

  Ray shrugged.

  "Jackson was a spy," he said. "Shit like that happens. Beau's studied the history. It happened in 1776, right? Redcoats had spies all over. We hanged them then, just the same. Plenty of old ladies back east got old oak trees in their front yards, famous for being where they strung up the redcoat spies. Some of them charge you a buck and a half just to take a look at them. I know, I went there once. "

  "What time is lights-out here?" Reacher asked.

  "Ten o'clock," Ray said. "Why?"

  Reacher paused. Stared at him. Thought back over their conversation. Gazed at his lean, mobile face. Looked into his crazy eyes, burning deep under his brow.

  "I got to be someplace else after lights-out," Reacher said.

  Ray laughed again.

  "And you think I'm going to let you?" he said.

  Reacher nodded.

  "If you want to live," he said.

  Ray lifted the pistol off his thigh and pointed it one-handed at Reacher's head.

  "I'm the one got the gun here," he said.

  "You wouldn't live to pull the trigger," Reacher said.

  "Trigger's right here," Ray said. "You're all the way over there. "

  Reacher waved him a listen-up gesture. Leaned forward and spoke quietly.

  "I'm not really supposed to tell you this," he said. "But we were warned we'd meet a few guys smarter than the average, and we're authorized to explain a couple of things to them, if the operational circumstances make it advisable. "

  "What circumstances?" Ray asked. "What things?"

  "You were right," Reacher said. "Most of the things you've said are correct. A couple of inaccuracies, but we spread a little disinformation here and there. "

  "What are you talking about?" Ray asked.

  Reacher lowered his voice to a whisper.

  "I'm World Army," he said. "Commander of the advance party. I've got five thousand UN troops in the forest. Russians, mostly, a few Chinese. We've been watching you on the satellite surveillance. Right now, we've got an X-ray camera on this hut. There's a laser beam pointed at your head. Part of the SDI technology. "

  "You're kidding," Ray said.

  Reacher shook his head. Deadly serious.

  "You were right about the microchips," he said. "Look at this. "

  He stood up slowly and pulled his shirt up to his chest. Turned slightly so Ray could see the huge scar on his stomach.

  "Bigger than the modern ones," he said. "The latest ones go in with no mess at all. The ones we put in the babies? But these old ones work just the same. The satellites know where I am at all times, like you said. You start to pull that trigger, the laser blows your head off. "

  Ray's eyes were burning. He looked away from Reacher's scar and glanced nervously up at the roof.

  "Suis pas americain," Reacher said. "Suis soldat français, agent du gouvernement mondial depuis plusieurs annees, parti en mission clandestine il y a deux mois. Il faut evaluer l'element de risque que votre bande represente par ici. "

  He spoke as fast as he could and ended up sounding exactly like an educated Parisian woman. Exactly like he recalled his dead mother sounding. Ray nodded slowly.

  "You foreign?" he asked.

  "French," Reacher said. "We operate international brigades. I said I'm here to check out the degree of risk you people represent to us. "

  "I saw you shooting," Reacher said. "I spotted it. A thousand yards. "

  "Guided by satellite," Reacher said. "I told you, SDI technology, through the microchip. We can all shoot two miles, perfect score every time. "

  "Christ," Ray said.

  "I need to be out in the open at ten o'clock," Reacher said. "It's a safety procedure. You got a wife here?"

  Ray nodded.

  "What about kids?" Reacher asked. "Any of these kids yours?"

  Ray nodded again.

  "Sure," he said. "Two boys. "

  "If I'm not out by ten, they all die," Reacher said. "If I get taken prisoner, the whole place gets incinerated. Can't afford for my microchip to get captured. I told them you guys wouldn't understand how it works, but my chief said some of you could be smarter than I thought. Looks like my chief was right. "

  Ray nodded proudly and Reacher checked his watch.

  "It's seven-thirty, right?" he said. "I'm going to sleep two and a half hours. The satellite will wake me at ten exactly. You wait and see. "

  He lay back down on the floor and curled his arm under his head. Set the alarm in his head for two minutes to ten. Said to himself: don't let it fail me tonight.

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