Die trying, p.35
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       Die Trying, p.35

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

  "I REFUSE TO believe it," General Garber said.

  "He's involved," Webster said in reply. "That's for damn sure. We got the pictures, clear as day. "

  Garber shook his head.

  "I was promoted lieutenant forty years ago," he said. "Now I'm a three-star general. I've commanded thousands of men. Tens of thousands. Got to know most of them well. And out of all of them, Jack Reacher is the single least likely man to be involved in a thing like this. "

  Garber was sitting ramrod-straight at the table in the mobile command post. He had shed his khaki raincoat to reveal an old creased uniform jacket. It was a jacket which bore the accumulated prizes of a lifetime of service. It was studded with badges and ribbons. It was the jacket of a man who had served forty years without ever making a single mistake.

  Johnson was watching him carefully. Garber's grizzled old head was still. His eyes were calm. His hands were laid comfortably on the table. His voice was firm, but quiet. Definite, like he was being asked to defend the proposition that the sky was blue and the grass was green.

  "Show the General the pictures, Mack," Webster said.

  McGrath nodded and opened his envelope. Slid the four stills over the table to Garber. Garber held each one up in turn, tilted to catch the green light from the overhead. Johnson was watching his eyes. He was waiting for the flicker of doubt, then the flicker of resignation. He saw neither.

  "These are open to interpretation," Garber said.

  His voice was still calm. Johnson heard an officer loyally defending a favored subordinate. Webster and McGrath heard a policeman of sorts expressing a doubt. They figured forty years' service had bought the guy the right to be heard.

  "Interpretation how?" Webster asked.

  "Four isolated moments out of a sequence," Garber said. "They could be telling us the wrong story. "

  Webster leaned over and pointed at the first still.

  "He's grabbing her stuff," he said. "Plain as day, General. "

  Garber shook his head. There was silence. Just electronic hum throughout the vehicle. Johnson saw a flicker of doubt. But it was in McGrath's eyes, not Garber's. Then Brogan rattled his way up the ladder. Ducked his head into the truck.

  "Surveillance tapes, chief," he said. "We've been reviewing the stuff the planes got earlier. You should come see it. "

  He ducked out again and the four men glanced at each other and got up. Walked the short distance through the cold evening to the satellite truck and up the ladder. Milosevic was in shirtsleeves, bathed in the blue light from a bank of video screens. He shuttled a tape back and pressed play. Four screens lit up with a perfect clear overhead view of a tiny town. The quality of the picture was magnificent. Like a perfect movie picture, except filmed vertically downward, not horizontal.

  "Yorke," Milosevic said. "The old courthouse, bottom right. Now watch. "

  He hit fast wind and watched the counter. Slowed the tape and hit play again.

  "This is a mile and a quarter away," he said. "The camera tracked northwest. There's a parade ground, and this rifle range. "

  The camera had zoomed out for a wide view of the area. There were two clearings with huts to the south, and a flat parade ground to the north. In between was a long narrow scar in the undergrowth, maybe a half-mile long and twenty yards wide. The camera zoomed right out for a moment, to establish the scale, then it tightened in on a crowd at the eastern end of the range. Then it tightened further to a small knot of people standing on some brown matting. There were four men clearly visible. And one woman. General Johnson gasped and stared at his daughter.

  "When was this?" he asked.

  "Few hours ago," Milosevic said. "She's alive and well. "

  He froze the picture and tapped his fingernail four times on the glass.

  "Reacher," he said. "Stevie Stewart. We figure this one is Odell Fowle. And the fat guy is Beau Borken. Matches his file photo from California. "

  Then he hit play again. The camera held steady on the matting, from seven miles up in the sky. Borken pressed his bulk to the floor and lay motionless. Then a silent puff of dust was seen under the muzzle of his rifle.

  "They're shooting a little over eight hundred yards," Milosevic said. "Some kind of a competition, I guess. "

  They watched Borken's five final shots, and then Reacher picked up his rifle.

  "That's a Barrett," Garber said.

  Reacher lay motionless and then fired six silent shots, well spaced. The crowd milled around, and eventually Reacher was lost to sight in the trees to the south.

  "OK," Webster said. "How do you want to interpret that, General Garber?"

  Garber shrugged. A dogged expression on his face.

  "He's one of them, no doubt about it," Webster said. "Did you see his clothes? He was in uniform. Showing off on the range? Would they give him a uniform and a rifle to play with if he wasn't one of their own?"

  Johnson spooled the tape back and froze it. Looked at Holly for a long moment. Then he walked out of the trailer. Called over his shoulder to Webster.

  "Director, we need to go to work," he said. "I want to make a contingency plan well ahead of time. No reason for us not to be ready for this. "

  Webster followed him out. Brogan and Milosevic stayed at the video console. McGrath was watching Garber. Garber was staring at the blank screen.

  "I still don't believe it," he said.

  He turned and saw McGrath looking at him. Nodded him out of the trailer. The two men walked together into the silence of the night.

  "I can't prove it to you," Garber said. "But Reacher is on our side. I'll absolutely guarantee that, personally. "

  "Doesn't look that way," McGrath said. "He's the classic type. Fits our standard profile perfectly. Unemployed ex-military, malcontent, dislocated childhood, probably full of all kinds of grievances. "

  Garber shook his head.

  "He's none of those things," he said. "Except unemployed ex-military. He was a fine officer. Best I ever had. You're making a big mistake. "

  McGrath saw the look on Garber's face.

  "So you'd trust him?" he asked. "Personally?"

  Garber nodded grimly.

  "With my life," he said. "I don't know why he's there, but I promise you he's clean, and he's going to do what needs doing, or he's going to die trying. "

  EXACTLY SIX MILES north, Holly was trusting to the same instinct. They had taken her disassembled bed away, and she was lying on the thin mattress on the floorboards. They had taken the soap and the shampoo and the towel from the bathroom as a punishment. They had left the small pool of blood from the dead woman's head untouched. It was there on the floor, a yard from her makeshift bed. She guessed they thought it would upset her. They were wrong. It made her happy. She was happy to watch it dry and blacken. She was thinking about Jackson and staring at the stain like it was a Rorschach blot telling her: you're coming out of the shadow now, Holly.

  WEBSTER AND JOHNSON came up with a fairly simple contingency plan. It depended on geography. The exact same geography they assumed had tempted Borken to choose Yorke as the location for his bastion. Like all plans based on geography, it was put together using a map. Like all plans put together using a map, it was only as good as the map was accurate. And like most maps, theirs was way out of date.

  They were using a large-scale map of Montana. Most of its information was reliable. The main features were correct. The western obstacle was plain to see.

  "We assume the river is impassable, right?" Webster said.

  "Right," Johnson agreed. "The spring melts are going to be in full flow. Nothing we can do there before Monday. When we get some equipment. "

  The roads were shown in red like a man had placed his right hand palm-down on the paper. The small towns of Kalispell and Whitefish nestled under the palm. Roads fanned out like the four fingers and the thumb. The index finger ran up through a place called Eure
ka to the Canadian border. The thumb ran out northwest through Yorke and stopped at the old mines. That thumb was now amputated at the first knuckle.

  "They assume you'll come up the road," Johnson said. "So you won't. You'll loop east to Eureka and come in through the forest. "

  He ran his pencil down the thumb and across the back of the hand. Back up the index finger and stopped it at Eureka. Fifty miles of forest lay between Eureka and Yorke. The forest was represented on the map by a large green stain. Deep and wide. They knew what that green stain meant. They could see what it meant by looking around them. The area was covered in virgin forest. It ran rampant up and down the mountainsides. Most places, the vegetation was so dense a man could barely squeeze between the tree trunks. But the green stain to the east of Yorke was a national forest. Owned and operated by the Forest Service. The green stain showed a web of threads running through it. Those threads were Forest Service tracks.

  "I can get my people here in four hours," Webster said. "The Hostage Rescue Team. On my own initiative, if it comes to it. "

  Johnson nodded.

  "They can walk right through the woods," he said. "Probably drive right through. "

  Webster nodded.

  "We called the Forest guys," he said. "They're bringing us a detailed plan. "

  "Perfect," Johnson said. "If things turn bad, you call your team in, send them direct to Eureka, we'll all make a little noise on the southern flank, and they muscle in straight through from the east. "

  Webster nodded again. The contingency plan was made. Until the National Forests guy came up the short aluminum ladder into the command post. McGrath brought him inside with Milosevic and Brogan. Webster made the introductions and Johnson asked the questions. Straightaway the Forest guy started shaking his head.

  "Those tracks don't exist," he said. "At least, most of them don't. "

  Johnson pointed to the map.

  "They're right here," he said.

  The Forest guy shrugged. He had a thick book of topographical plans under his arm. He opened it up to the correct page. Laid it over the map. The scale was much larger, but it was obvious the web of threads was a different shape.

  "Mapmakers know there are tracks," the guy said. "So they just show them any old place. "

  "OK," Johnson said. "We'll use your maps. "

  The Forest guy shook his head.

  "These are wrong, too," he said. "They might have been right at some stage, but they're wrong now. We spent years closing off most of these tracks. Had to stop the bear hunters getting in. Environmentalists made us do it. We bulldozed tons of dirt into the openings of most of the through tracks. Ripped up a lot of the others. They'll be totally overgrown by now. "

  "OK, so which tracks are closed?" Webster asked. He had turned the plan and was studying it.

  "We don't know," the guy said. "We didn't keep very accurate records. Just sent the bulldozers out. We caught a lot of guys closing the wrong tracks, because they were nearer, or not closing them at all, because that was easier. The whole thing was a mess. "

  "So is there any way through?" Johnson asked.

  The Forest guy shrugged.

  "Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. No way of knowing, except to try it. Could take a couple of months. If you do get through, keep a record and let us know, OK?"

  Johnson stared at him.

  "Let me get this straight," he said. "You're the damn Forest Service, and you want us to tell you where your own tracks are?"

  The guy nodded.

  "That's about the size of it," he said. "Like I told you, our records are lousy. The way we figured it, who the hell would ever care?"

  The General's aide walked him back to the roadblock. There was silence in the command vehicle. McGrath and Brogan and Milosevic studied the map.

  "We can't get through, they can't get through," McGrath said. "We've got them bottled up. We need to start exploiting that. "

  "How?" Webster said.

  "Control them," McGrath said. "We already control their road. We can control their power and their telephone line, too. The lines more or less follow the road. Separate spurs up out of Kalispell. We should cut the phone line so it terminates right here, in this vehicle. Then they can't communicate with anybody except us. Then we tell them we control their power. Threaten to cut it off if they don't negotiate. "

  "You want a negotiation?" Johnson asked.

  "I want a stalling tactic," McGrath said. "Until the White House loosens up. "

  Webster nodded.

  "OK, do it," he said. "Call the phone company and get the line run in here. "

  "I already did," McGrath said. "They'll do it first thing in the morning. "

  Webster yawned. Checked his watch. Gestured to Milosevic and Brogan.

  "We should get a sleeping rota going," he said. "You two turn in first. We'll sleep two shifts, call it four hours at a time. "

  Milosevic and Brogan nodded. Looked happy enough about it.

  "See you later," McGrath said. "Sleep tight. "

  They left the trailer and closed the door quietly. Johnson was still fiddling with the map. Twisting it and turning it on the table.

  "Can't they do the phone thing faster?" he asked. "Like tonight?"

  Webster thought about it and nodded. He knew fifty percent of any battle is keeping the command structure harmonious.

  "Call them again, Mack," he said. "Tell them we need it now. "

  McGrath called them again. He used the phone at his elbow. Had a short conversation which ended with a chuckle.

  "They're sending the emergency linemen," he said. "Should be done in a couple of hours. But we'll get an invoice for it. I told them to send it to the Hoover Building. The guy asked me where that was. "

  He got up and waited in the doorway. Johnson and Webster stayed at the table. They huddled together over their map. They looked at the southern ravine. It had been formed a million years ago when the earth shattered under the weight of a billion tons of ice. They assumed it was accurately represented on paper.

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