Die trying, p.36
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       Die Trying, p.36

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

 

  REACHER WOKE UP exactly two minutes before ten o'clock. He did it in his normal way, which was to come round quickly, motionless, no change in his breathing. He felt his arm curled under his head and opened his eyes the smallest fraction possible. The other side of the punishment hut, Joseph Ray was still sitting against the door. The Glock was on the floor beside him. He was checking his watch.

  Reacher counted off ninety seconds in his head. Ray was glancing between the roof of the hut and his watch. Then he looked across at Reacher. Reacher snapped upright in one fluid movement. Pressed his palm against his ear like he was listening to a secret communication. Ray's eyes were wide. Reacher nodded and stood up.

  "OK," he said. "Open the door, Joe. "

  Ray took out the key from his pocket. Unlocked the door. It swung open.

  "You want to take the Glock?" Ray asked.

  He held the gun out, butt first. Anxiety in his eyes. Reacher smiled. He had expected nothing less. Ray was dumb, but not that dumb. He had been given two and a half hours to scope it out. This was a final test. If he took the gun, he was bullshitting. He was certain it was unloaded and the clip was in Ray's pocket.

  "Don't need it," Reacher said. "We've got the whole place covered. I got weapons at my disposal more powerful than a nine-millimeter, believe me, Joe. "

  Ray nodded and straightened up.

  "Don't forget the laser beams," Reacher said. "You step out of this hut, you're a dead man. Nothing I can do about that right now. Vous comprenez, mon ami?"

  Ray nodded again. Reacher slipped out into the night. Ray swung the door closed. Reacher backtracked silently and waited around the corner of the hut. Knelt down and found a small rock. Hefted it in his hand and waited for Ray to follow him.

  He didn't come. Reacher waited eight minutes. Long experience had taught him: if they don't come after six minutes, they aren't coming at all. People think in five-minute segments, because of the way clocks are laid out. They say: I'll wait five minutes. Then, because they're cautious, they add another minute. They think it's smart. Reacher waited the first five, then the extra one, then added two more for the sake of safety. But Ray didn't come. He wasn't going to.

  Reacher avoided the clearing. He kept to the trees. He skirted the area in the forest. Ignored the beaten earth paths. He wasn't worried about the dogs. They weren't out. Fowler had talked about mountain lions roaming. Nobody leaves dogs out at night where there are mountain lions on the prowl. That's a sure way of having no dogs left in the morning.

  He made a complete circuit of the Bastion, hidden in the trees. The lights were all out and the whole place was still and silent. He waited in the trees behind the mess hall. The kitchen was a square hut, awkwardly connected to the back of the main structure. There were no lights on, but the door was open, and the woman who had served him breakfast was waiting in the shadows. He watched her from the trees. He waited five minutes. Then six. No other movement anywhere. He tossed his small rock onto the path to her left. She jumped at the sound. He called softly. She came out of the shadows. Alone. She walked over to the trees. He took her elbow and pulled her back into the darkness.

  "How did you get out of there?" she whispered to him.

  It was impossible to tell how old she was. Maybe twenty-five, maybe forty-five. She was a handsome woman, lean, long straight hair, but careworn and worried. A flicker of spirit and resilience underneath. She would have been comfortable a hundred years ago, stumbling down the Oregon Trail.

  "How did you get out?" she whispered again.

  "I walked out the door," Reacher whispered back.

  The woman just looked at him blankly.

  "You've got to help us," she whispered.

  Then she stopped and wrung her hands and twisted her head left and right, peering into the dark, terrified.

  "Help how?" he asked. "Why?"

  "They're all crazy," the woman said. "You've got to help us. "

  "How?" he asked again.

  She just grimaced, arms held wide, like it was obvious, or like she didn't know where to start, or how.

  "From the beginning," he said.

  She nodded, twice, swallowing, collecting herself.

  "People have disappeared," she said.

  "What people?" he asked. "How did they disappear?"

  "They just disappeared," she said. "It's Borken. He's taken over everything. It's a long story. Most of us were up here with other groups, just surviving on our own, with our families, you know? I was with the Northwestern Freemen. Then Borken started coming around, talking about unity? He fought and argued. The other leaders disagreed with his views. Then they just started disappearing. They just left. Borken said they couldn't stand the pace. They just disappeared. So he said we had to join with him. Said we had no choice. Some of us are more or less prisoners here. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "And now things are happening up at the mines," she said.

  "What things?" he asked her.

  "I don't know," she said. "Bad things, I guess. We're not allowed to go up there. They're only a mile up the road, but they're off limits. Something was going on there today. They said they were all working in the south, on the border, but when they came back for lunch, they came from the north. I saw them from the kitchen window. They were smiling and laughing. "

  "Who?" Reacher asked.

  "Borken and the ones he trusts," she said. "He's crazy. He says they'll attack us when we declare independence and we have to fight back. Starting tomorrow. We're all scared. We got families, you know? But there's nothing we can do. You oppose him, and you either get banished, or he raves at you until you agree with him. Nobody can stand up to him. He controls us, totally. "

  Reacher nodded again. The woman sagged against him. Tears were on her cheeks.

  "And we can't win, can we?" she said. "Not if they attack us. There's only a hundred of us, trained up. We can't beat an army with a hundred people, can we? We're all going to die. "

  Her eyes were wide and white and desperate. Reacher shrugged. Shook his head and tried to make his voice sound calm and reassuring.

  "It'll be a siege," he said. "That's all. A standoff. They'll negotiate. It's happened before. And it'll be the FBI, not the Army. The FBI know how to do this kind of a thing. You'll all be OK. They won't kill you. They won't come here looking to kill anybody. That's just Borken's propaganda. "

  "Live free or die," she said. "That's what he keeps saying. "

  "The FBI will handle it," he said again. "Nobody's looking to kill you. "

  The woman clamped her lips and screwed her wet eyes shut and shook her head wildly.

  "No, Borken will kill us," she said. "He'll do it, not them. Live free or die, don't you understand? If they come, he'll kill us all. Or else he'll make us all kill ourselves. Like a mass suicide thing? He'll make us do it, I know he will. "

  Reacher just stared at her.

  "I heard them talking," she said. "Whispering about it all the time, making secret plans. They said women and children would die. They said it was justifiable. They said it was historic and important. They said the circumstances demanded it. "

  "You heard them?" Reacher asked. "When?"

  "All the time," she whispered again. "They're always making plans. Borken and the ones he trusts. Women and children have to die, they said. They're going to make us kill ourselves. Mass suicide. Our families. Our children. At the mines. I think they're going to make us go in the mines and kill ourselves. "

  HE STAYED IN the woods until he was well north of the parade ground. Then he tracked east until he saw the road, running up out of Yorke. It was potholed and rough, gleaming gray in the moonlight. He stayed in the shadow of the trees and followed it north.

  The road wound up a mountainside in tight hairpin bends. A sure sign it led to something worthwhile, otherwise the labor consumed in its construction would have been mean
ingless. After a mile of winding and a thousand feet of elevation, the final curve gave out onto a bowl the size of a deserted stadium. It was part natural, part blasted, hanging there in the belly of the giant peaks. The back walls of the bowl were sheer rock faces. There were semicircular holes blasted into them at intervals. They looked like giant mouse holes. Some of them had been built out with waste rock, to provide sheltered entrances. Two of the entrances had been enlarged into giant stone sheds, roofed with timber.

  The bowl was floored with loose shale. There were piles of earth and spoil everywhere. Ragged weeds and saplings were forcing their way through. Reacher could see the rusted remains of rail tracks, starting nowhere and running a few yards. He squatted against a tree, well back in the woods, and watched.

  There was nothing happening. The whole place was deserted and silent. Quieter than silent. It had that total absence of sound that gets left behind when a busy place is abandoned. The natural sounds were long gone. The swaying trees cleared, the rushing streams diverted, the rustling vegetation burned off, replaced by clattering machines and shouting men. Then when the men and the machines leave, there is nothing left behind to replace their noise. Reacher strained his ears, but heard nothing at all. Silent as the moon.

  He stayed in the woods. To approach from the south meant to approach uphill. He skirted around to the west and gained an extra hundred feet of height. Paused and looked down into the bowl from a new perspective.

  Still nothing. But there had been something. Some recent activity. The moonlight was showing vehicle tracks in the shale. There was a mess of ruts in and out of one of the stone sheds. A couple of years' worth. The motor pool. There were newer ruts into the other stone shed. The bigger shed. Bigger ruts. Somebody had driven some large vehicles into that shed. Recently.

  He scrambled down out of the woods and onto the shale. His shoes on the small flat stones sounded like rifle shots in the silent night. The crunch of his steps came back off the sheer walls like thunder. He felt tiny and exposed, like a man in a bad dream walking naked across a football field. He felt like the surrounding mountains were a huge crowd in the bleachers, staring silently at him. He stopped behind a pile of rock and squatted and listened. The echo of his footsteps crashed and died into silence. He heard nothing. Just a total absence of sound.

  He crept noisily to the doors of the smaller shed. Up close, it was a big structure. Probably built to shelter giant machines and pumping engines. The doors were twelve feet high. They were built out of peeled logs, strapped together with iron. They were like the sides of a log house, hinged into a mountainside.

  There was no lock. It was hard to imagine how there could have been. No lock Reacher had ever seen could have matched the scale of those doors. He put his back against the right-hand door and levered the left-hand one open a foot. The iron hinge moved easily on a thick film of grease. He slid sideways through the gap and stepped inside.

  It was pitch-dark. He could see nothing. He stood and waited for his night vision to build. But it never came. Your eyes can open wider and wider, wide as they can get, but if there's no light at all, you won't see anything. He could smell a strong smell of damp and decay. He could hear the silence vanishing backward into the mountain, like there was a long chamber or tunnel in front of him. He moved inward, hands held out in front of him like a blind man.

  He found a vehicle. His shin hit the front fender before his hands hit the hood. It was high. A truck or a pickup. Civilian. Smooth-gloss automotive spray. Not matte military paint. He trailed his fingers round the edge of the hood. Down the side. A pickup. He felt his way around the back and up the other side. Felt for the driver's door. Unlocked. He opened it. The courtesy light blazed like a million-candlepower searchlight. Bizarre shadows were thrown all around. He was in a giant cavern. It had no back. It opened right into the hillside. The rock roof sloped down and became a narrow excavated seam, running far out of sight.

  He reached into the pickup cab and switched the headlights on. The beams were reflected off the rock. There were a dozen vehicles parked in neat lines. Old sedans and pickups. Surplus jeeps with crude camouflage. And the white Ford Econoline with the holes in the roof. It looked sad and abandoned after its epic journey from Chicago. Worn out and low on its springs. There were workbenches with old tools hanging above them. Cans of paint and drums of oil. Bald tires in piles and rusted tanks of welding gas.

  He searched the nearest vehicles. Keys in all of them. A flashlight in the glove box of the third sedan he checked. He took it. Stepped back to the pickup and killed its headlights. Walked back to the big wooden doors and out into the night.

  He waited and listened. Nothing. He swung the motor pool door closed and set off for the larger shed. A hundred yards across the noisy shale. The larger shed had the same type of log doors. Even bigger. And they were locked. The lock was the crudest thing he had ever seen. It was an old warped log laid across two iron brackets and chained into place. The chains were fastened with two big padlocks. Reacher ignored them. No need to fiddle with the padlocks. He could see that the warp in the old log would let him in.

  He forced the doors apart where they met at the bottom. The curve in the log in the brackets let them gap by about a foot. He put his arms inside, then his head, then his shoulders. He scrabbled with his feet and pushed his way through. Stood up inside and flicked the flashlight on.

  It was another giant cavern. Same darkness. Same strong smell of damp and decay. Same sloping roof running backward to a low seam. The same hush, like all the sound was sucking back deep into the mountain. The same purpose. A vehicle store. But these vehicles were all identical. Five of them. Five current-issue U. S. Army trucks. Marked with the white stencils of the Army Air Artillery. Not new trucks, but well maintained. Neat canvas siding at the rear.

  Reacher walked around to the back of the first truck. Stepped up onto the tow-hitch and looked over the tailgate. Empty. It had slatted wooden benches running forward along each side. A troop carrier. Reacher couldn't begin to count the miles he'd traveled on benches like those, swaying, staring at the steel floor, waiting to get where he was going.

  The steel floor was stained. At odds with the clean exterior. There were black stains on the floor. Some kind of a thick liquid, dried into pools. Reacher stared at them. Couldn't begin to count the number of stains like that he'd seen. He jumped down and ran to the second vehicle. Stepped up and leaned in with the flashlight.

  There were no benches in the rear of the second vehicle. Instead, there were racks bolted to both sides. Precisely constructed racks, welded up out of angle iron and fitted with steel clips and thick rubber pads to hold their delicate cargo. The left-hand rack held five missile launchers. Slim steel tubes, six feet long, dull black metal, with a large box of electronics and an open sight and a pistol grip bolted to the forward end. Five of them, precisely parallel, neatly aligned.

  The right-hand rack held twenty-five Stinger missiles. Inches apart, side by side in their rubber mountings, control surfaces folded back, ready to load. Dull alloy, with batch numbers stenciled on, and a broad band of garish orange paint wrapping the fuel section.

  Reacher ran to the other three trucks. Each was the same. Five launchers, twenty-five missiles. A total of twenty launchers and one hundred missiles. The entire ordnance requirement of a whole Air Artillery mobile unit. A unit which deployed twenty men. He walked back to the first truck and stared in at the blood on the floor. Then he heard the rats. At first he thought it was footsteps outside on the shale. He snapped the flashlight off. Then he realized the sounds were nearer, and behind him. There were rats scuffling at the rear of the cavern. He lit the flashlight up again and jogged into the cave and found the twenty men.

  They were heaped into a large pile of corpses just before the roof got too low for a man to stand. Twenty dead soldiers. A hell of a mess. They had all been shot in the back. Reacher could see that. They had been standing together in a grou
p somewhere, and they had been mown down with heavy machine gun fire from the rear. He bent and grunted and turned a couple of them over. Not the toughest guys he'd ever seen. Docile, reservist types, deployed to a lonely base deep inside friendly territory. Ambushed and murdered for their weapons.

  But how? He knew how. An old ground-to-air unit, nearing obsolescence, stationed in the far north of Montana. A leftover from Cold War paranoia. Certainly due for decommissioning. Probably already in the process of decommissioning. Probably on its way south to Peterson in Colorado. Final orders probably transmitted in clear by radio. He recalled the radio scanner back in the communications hut. The operator beside it, patiently turning the dial. He imagined the recall order being accidentally intercepted, the operator running to Borken, Borken's bloated face lighting up with an opportunistic smile. Then some hasty planning and a brutal ambush somewhere in the hills. Twenty men shot down, thrown into their own truck, piled into this cavern. He stood and gazed at the appalling sight. Then he snapped the flashlight off again.

  Because he had been right about the noise. It was the noise of footsteps on the shale outside. He heard them again. They were getting closer. They were building to a deafening crunching sound in the night. They were heading straight for the shed. On the shale, no way of telling how many people there were.

  He heard them stop outside the massive doors. Heard the jingle of keys. Heard the padlocks rattle. The chains were pulled off and the log lifted aside. The doors sagged open. He dropped to the ground. Lay facedown and pressed himself up against the pile of cold and oozing bodies.

  Four feet. Two voices. Voices he knew well. Fowler and Borken. Talking quietly, walking confidently. Reacher let his body sag against the pile. A rat ran over his hand.

  "Did he say when?" Fowler was asking.

  His voice was suddenly loud against the rock.

  "First thing tomorrow morning," Borken was saying. "Phone company starts its linemen when? About eight o'clock? Maybe seven-thirty?"

  "Let's be cautious," Fowler said. "Let's call it seven-thirty. First thing they do is cut the line. "

  They had flashlights. The beams flicked and swung as they walked.

  "No problem," Borken said. "Seven o'clock here is nine o'clock on the East Coast. Perfect timing. We'll do it at seven. D. C. first, then New York, then Atlanta. Should be all done by ten past. Ten minutes that shook the world, right? Twenty minutes to spare. "

  They stopped at the second truck. Unbolted the tailgate. It came down with a loud metallic clang.

  "Then what?" Fowler asked.

  "Then we wait and see," Borken replied. "Right now, they've only got eight Marines up here. They don't know what to do. They're not sure about the forest. White House is pussyfooting, like we thought. Give them twelve hours for a decision, they can't try anything before dark tomorrow, earliest. And by then this place will be way down their list of priorities. "

  They were leaning into the truck. Their voices were muffled by the thick canvas siding.

  "Does he need the missile as well?" Fowler asked.

  "Just the launcher," Borken answered. "It's in the electronic part. "

  Reacher lay among the scuffling rats and heard the sound of the clips being undone. Then the squeak of the rubber as a launcher came out of its mountings. Then the rattle of the tailgate bolts ramming home. The footsteps receded. The flashlight beams flicked back toward the doors.

  The hinges creaked and the bulky timber doors thumped shut. Reacher heard the launcher being laid gently on the shale and the gasps as the two men lifted the old log back into the brackets. The rattle of the chain and the click of the padlocks. The crunch of the footsteps crossing the shale.

  He rolled away from the corpses and hit out at a rat. Caught it with an angry backhand and sent it squealing off into the dark. He sat up and waited. Walked slowly to the door. Listened hard. Waited six minutes. Put his hands into the gap at the bottom of the doors and pulled them apart.

  They wouldn't move more than an inch. He laid his palms flat on the smooth timbers and bunched up his shoulders and heaved. They were rock-solid. Like trying to push over a tree. He tried for a minute. He was straining like a weight lifter. The doors were jammed. Then he suddenly realized why. They had put the warped old log back in the brackets the other way around. The curve pointing in toward him, not out away from him. Clamping the doors with extra efficiency, instead of allowing the foot of loose movement it had allowed before.

  He pictured the log as he had seen it. More than a foot thick, warped, but dried like iron. Curving away, it was no problem. Curving in, it would be immovable. He glanced at the Army trucks. Gave it up. There was no space to hit the doors with any kind of momentum. The truck would be pressing on them with all the torque of a big diesel engine, but it wouldn't be enough. He couldn't imagine how much force it would take to shatter that old log.

  He thought about using a missile. Gave it up. Too noisy, and it wouldn't work anyway. They didn't arm themselves until they were thirty feet into the air. And they only carried six and a half pounds of explosive. Enough to smash a jet engine in flight, but six and a half pounds of explosive against those old timbers would be like scratching at them with a nail file. He was trapped inside, and Holly was waiting.

  It was not in his nature to panic. Never had been. He was a calm man, and his long training had made him calmer. He had been taught to assess and evaluate, and to use pure force of will to succeed. You're Jack Reacher, he had been told. You can do anything. First his mother had told him, then his father, then the quiet deadly men in the training schools. And he had believed them.

  But at the same time, he hadn't believed them. Part of his mind always said: you've just been lucky. Always lucky. And in the quiet times, he would sit and wait for his luck to run out. He sat on the stony ground with his back against the timbers of the door and asked himself: has it run out now?

  He flicked the flashlight beam around the cavern. The rats were staying away from him. They were interested in the darkness in back. They're deserting me, he thought. Deserting the sinking ship. Then his mind clicked in again. No, they're interested in the tunnels, he thought. Because tunnels lead places. He remembered the giant mouse holes blasted into the rock face, north wall of the bowl. Maybe all interconnected by these narrow seams in back.

  He ran back into the depth of the cavern, past the trucks, past the grotesque heap of corpses. Back to where he could no longer stand. A rat disappeared into the seam to his left. He dropped to his stomach and flicked the flashlight on. Crawled after it.

  He crawled into a skeleton. He scrabbled with his feet and came face-to-face with a grinning skull. And another. There were four or five skeletons jammed into the excavated seam. Jumbled bones in a pile. He gasped in shock and backed off a foot. Looked carefully. Used the flashlight close up.

  All males. He could see that from the five pelvises. The skulls showed gunshot wounds. All in the temples. Neat entry wounds, neat exit holes. Jacketed high-velocity handgun bullets. Fairly recent, certainly within a year. The flesh hadn't decayed. It had been eaten off. He could see the parallel scrape marks on the bones from rodent teeth.

  The bones were all disturbed. The rats had hauled them away to eat. There were scraps of clothing material here and there. Some of the rib cages were still covered. Rats don't disturb clothing much. Not on the torso. Why should they? They eat their way in through the inside. The soft parts first. They come to the ribs from the back.

  The clothing material was khaki and olive green. Some black and gray camouflage. Reacher saw a colored thread. Traced it back to a shoulder flash hidden under a gnawed shoulder blade. It was a curved felt badge embroidered in silk. It said: Northwestern Freemen. He pulled at the skeleton's jacket. The rib cage collapsed. The breast pocket had three chromium stars punched through.

  Reacher made a thorough search, lying on his stomach, up to his armpits in bones. He pieced together five separa
te uniforms. He found two more badges. One said: White Christian Identity. The other said: Montana Constitutional Militia. He lined up the five splintered skulls. Checked the teeth. He was looking at five men, middle-aged, maybe between forty and fifty. Five leaders. The leaders who had disappeared. The leaders who could not stand the pace. The leaders who had abandoned their members to Beau Borken.

  The roof was too low for Reacher to climb over the bones. He had to push them aside and crawl through them. The rats showed no interest. These bones were picked clean. Their new feast lay back inside the cavern. They swarmed back in that direction. He held the flashlight out in front of him and pushed on into the mountain against the squealing tide.

  He lost his sense of direction. He hoped he was going roughly west, but he couldn't tell. The roof came down to a couple of feet. He was crawling through an old geological seam, excavated long ago for its ore. The roof came down even more. Down to a foot and a half. It was cold. The seam narrowed. His arms were out in front of him. The seam became too narrow to pull them back. He was crawling down a slim rock tube, a billion tons of mountain above him, no idea where he was going. And the flashlight was failing. The battery was spent. Its light was fading to a dull orange glow.

  He was breathing hard. And shaking. Not from exertion. From dread. From terror. This was not what he had expected. He had visualized a stroll down a spacious abandoned gallery. Not this narrow crack in the rock. He was pushing himself headfirst into his worst childhood nightmare. He was a guy who had survived most things, and he was a guy who was rarely afraid. But he had known since his early boyhood that he was terrified of being trapped in the dark in a space too small to turn his giant frame. All his damp childhood nightmares had been about being closed into tight spaces. He lay on his stomach and screwed his eyes shut. Lay and panted and gagged. Forced the air in and out through his clamping throat. Then he inched himself slowly onward into the nightmare.

  The glow from the flashlight finally died a hundred yards into the tunnel. The darkness was total. The seam was narrowing. It was pushing his shoulders down. He was forcing himself into a space that was way too small for him. His face was forced sideways. He fought to stay calm. He remembered what he had said to Borken: people were smaller then. Scrappy little guys, migrating west, seeking their fortune in the bowels of the mountain. People half the size of Reacher, squirming along, maybe on their backs, chipping the bright veins out of the rock roof.

  He was using the dead flashlight like a blind man uses a white cane. It smashed on solid rock two feet ahead of his face. He heard the tinkle of glass over the rasping of his breath. He struggled ahead and felt with his hands. A solid wall. The tunnel went no farther. He tried to move backward. He couldn't move at all. To push himself backward with his hands, he had to raise his chest to get leverage. But the roof was too low to let him do that. His shoulders were jammed up hard against it. He could get no leverage. His feet could push him forward, but they couldn't pull him backward. He went rigid with panic. His throat clamped solid. His head hit the roof and his cheek hit the grit floor. He fought a scream by breathing fast.

  He had to go back. He hooked his toes into the grit. Turned his hands inward and planted his thumbs on the floor. Pulled with his toes and pushed with his thumbs. He moved backward a fraction and then the rock clamped hard against his sides. To slide his weight backward, his shoulder muscles were bunching and jamming against the rock. He breathed out and let his arms go limp. Pulled with his toes. They scrabbled uselessly in the grit. He helped them with his thumbs. His shoulders bunched and jammed again. He jerked his hips from side to side. He had a couple of inches to spare. He smashed his hands into the shale and heaved backward. His body jammed solid, like a wedge in a door. He tilted sideways and banged his cheek on the roof. Jerked back down and caught his other cheek on the floor. The rock was crushing in on his ribs. This time, he couldn't fight the scream. He had to let it go. He opened his mouth and wailed in terror. The air in his lungs crushed his chest against the floor and his back against the roof.

  He couldn't tell if his eyes were open or shut. He pushed forward with his feet and regained the inch he'd moved back. He stretched with his arms. Felt up ahead again. His shoulders were jammed so tight he couldn't move his hands through much of an angle. He spread his fingers and scrabbled them left and right, up and down. Solid rock ahead. No way to go forward. No way to move backward.

  He was going to die trapped inside the mountain. He knew it. The rats knew it. They were sniffing up behind him. Coming closer. He felt them at his feet. He kicked out and sent them squealing away. But they came back. He felt their weight on his legs. They were swarming over him. They burrowed up around his shoulders. Slid under his armpits. He felt cold oily fur on his face as they forced their way past. The flick of their tails as they ran ahead.

  To where? He let them run over his arm, to estimate their direction. They were moving ahead of him, into the blind darkness. He felt with his hands. Felt them flowing left. Their passage was stirring the air. The air was cool. He felt it move, a faint breeze, on the sweat on the left side of his face. He jammed himself hard against the right-hand wall and moved his left arm sideways, ahead of him. Felt for the left-hand wall. It wasn't there. He was stuck at a junction in the tunnels. A new seam ran at a right angle away from the end of the seam he was in. A tight, narrow right angle. Ninety degrees. He forced himself backward as far as his thumbs would push him. He scraped his face on the end wall and jammed his side into the rock. Folded himself arms first around the corner and dragged his legs behind him.

  The new seam was no better. It was no wider. The roof was no higher. He hauled himself along, gasping and sweating and shaking. He propelled himself with his toes, an inch at a time. The rats forced their way past him. The rock tore at his sides and his back. But there was still a slight breeze on his face. The tunnel was heading somewhere. He was gasping and panting. He crawled on. Then the new seam widened. Still very low. A flat, low crack in the rock. He crawled on through it, exhausted. Fifty yards. A hundred. Then he felt the roof soar away above him. He pushed on with his toes and suddenly he felt the air change and he was lying halfway into the motor pool cavern. He realized his eyes were wide open and the white Econoline was right there in front of him in the dark.

  He rolled onto his back and lay gasping on the grit. Gasping and shaking. Staggered to his feet and looked back. The seam was invisible. Hidden in the shadow. He made it as far as the white truck and collapsed against its side. The luminous figures on his watch showed he'd been in the tunnels nearly three hours. Most of the time jammed there sweating in panic. A three-hour screaming nightmare come to life. His pants and his jacket were shredded. Every muscle in his body was on fire. His face and hands and elbows and knees were bleeding. But it was the fear that had done it to him. The fear of not getting through. He could still feel the rock pressing down on his back and pressing up on his chest. He could feel it clamping inward on his ribs. He got up again and limped to the doors. Pushed them open and stood in the moonlight, arms out, eyes crazy, mouth open, breathing in lungfuls of the sweet night air.

  HE WAS HALFWAY across the bowl before he started thinking straight. So he ran back and ducked into the motor pool once more. Found what he wanted. He found it on one of the jeep's tow-hook assemblies. Some heavy stiff wire, ready to feed a trailer's electric circuits. He wrenched it out and stripped the insulation with his teeth. Ran back to the moonlight.

  He kept close to the road, all the way back to Yorke. Two miles, twenty minutes at a slow agonizing jog through the trees. He looped around behind the ruined northeastern block and approached the courthouse from the rear. Circled it silently in the shadows. Waited and listened.

  He tried to think like Borken. Complacent. Happy with his perimeter. Constant information from inside the FBI. Reacher locked into the punishment hut, Holly locked into her prison room. Would he post a sentry? Not tonight. Not when he was expecting heavy action tom
orrow and beyond. He would want his people fresh. Reacher nodded to himself and gambled he was right.

  He arrived at the courthouse steps. Deserted. He tried the door. Locked. He smiled. Nobody posts a sentry behind a locked door. He bent the wire into a shallow hook and felt for the mechanism. An old two-lever. Eight seconds. He stepped inside. Waited and listened. Nothing. He went up the stairs.

  The lock on Holly's door was new. But cheap. He worked quietly, which delayed him. Took him more than thirty seconds before the last tumbler clicked back. He pulled the door open slowly and stepped onto the built-up floor. Glanced apprehensively at the walls. She was on a mattress on the floor. Fully dressed and ready. Awake and watching him. Huge eyes bright in the gloom. He gestured her outside. Turned and climbed down and waited in the corridor for her. She picked up her crutch and limped to the door. Climbed carefully down the step and stood next to him.

  "Hello, Reacher," she whispered. "How are you doing?"

  "I've felt better," he whispered back. "Time to time. "

  She turned and glanced back into her room. He followed her gaze and saw the dark stain on the floor.

  "Woman who brought me lunch," she whispered.

  He nodded.

  "What with?" he whispered back.

  "Part of the bed frame," she said.

  He saw the satisfaction on her face and smiled.

  "That should do it," he said, quietly. "Bed frames are good for that. "

  She took a last look at the room and gently closed the door. Followed him through the dark and slowly down the stairs. Across the lobby and through the double doors and out into the bright silent moonlight.

  "Christ," she said, urgently. "What happened to you?"

  He glanced down and checked himself over in the light of the moon. He was gray from head to foot with dust and grit. His clothing was shredded. He was streaked with sweat and blood. Still shaky.

  "Long story," he said. "You got somebody in Chicago you can trust?"

  "McGrath," she said immediately. "He's my Agent-in-Charge. Why?"

  They crossed the wide street arm in arm, looking left and right. Skirted the mound in front of the ruined office building. Found the path running northwest.

  "You need to send him a fax," he said. "They've got missiles. You need to warn him. Tonight, because their line is going to be cut first thing in the morning. "

  "The mole tell them that?" she asked.

  He nodded.

  "How?" she asked. "How is he communicating?"

  "Shortwave radio," Reacher said. "Has to be. Anything else is traceable. "

  He swayed and leaned on a tree. Gave her the spread, everything, beginning to end.

  "Shit," she said. "Ground-to-air missiles? Mass suicide? A nightmare. "

  "Not our nightmare," he said. "We're out of here. "

  "We should stay and help them," she said. "The families. "

  He shook his head.

  "Best help is for us to get out," he said. "Maybe losing you will change their plan. And we can tell them about the layout around here. "

  "I don't know," she said.

  "I do," he said. "First rule is stick to priorities. That's you. We're out of here. "

  She shrugged and nodded.

  "Now?" she asked.

  "Right now," he said.

  "How?" she asked.

  "Jeep through the forest," he said. "I found their motor pool. We get up there, steal a jeep, by then it should be light enough to find our way through. I saw a map in Borken's office. There are plenty of tracks running east through the forest. "

  She nodded and he pushed off the tree. They hustled up the winding path to the Bastion. A mile, in the dark. They stumbled on the stones and saved their breath for walking. The clearing was dark and silent. They worked their way around beyond the mess hall to the back of the communications hut. They came out of the trees and Reacher stepped close and pressed his ear to the plywood siding. There was no sound inside.

  He used the wire again and they were inside within ten seconds. Holly found paper and pen. Wrote her message. Dialed the Chicago fax number and fed the sheet into the machine. It whirred obediently and pulled the paper through. Fed it back out into her waiting hand. She hit the button for the confirmation. Didn't want to leave any trace behind. Another sheet fed out. It showed the destination number correct. Timed the message at ten minutes to five, Friday morning, the fourth of July. She shredded both papers small and buried the pieces in the bottom of a trash-can.

  Reacher rooted around on the long counter and found a paper clip. Followed Holly back out into the moonlight and relocked the door. Dodged around and found the cable leading down from the shortwave whip into the side of the hut. Took the paper clip and worried at it until it broke. Forced the broken end through the cable like a pin. Pushed it through until it was even, a fraction showing at each side. The metal would short-circuit the antenna by connecting the wire inside to the foil screen. The signal would come down out of the ether, down the wire, leak into the foil and run away to ground without ever reaching the shortwave unit itself. The best way to disable a radio. Smash one up, it gets repaired. This way, the fault is un-traceable, until an exhausted technician finally thinks to check.

  "We need weapons. " Holly whispered to him.

  He nodded. They crept together to the armory door. He looked at the lock. Gave it up. It was a huge thing. Unpickable.

  "I'll take the Glock from the guy guarding me," he whispered.

  She nodded. They ducked back into the trees and walked through to the next clearing. Reacher tried to think of a story to explain his appearance to Joseph Ray. Figured he might say something about being beamed over to the UN. Talk about how high-speed beaming can rip you up a little. They crept around behind the punishment hut and listened. All quiet. They skirted the corner and Reacher pulled the door. Walked straight into a nine-millimeter. This time, it wasn't a Glock. It was a Sig-Sauer. Not Joseph Ray's. It was Beau Borken's. He was standing just inside the door with Little Stevie at his side, grinning.

 
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