Die trying, p.37
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       Die Trying, p.37

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

  FOUR-THIRTY IN THE morning, Webster was more than ready for the watch change. Johnson and Garber and the General's aide were dozing in their chairs. McGrath was outside with the telephone linemen. They were just finishing up. The job had taken much longer than they had anticipated. Some kind of interface problem. They had physically cut the phone line coming out of Yorke, and bent the stiff copper down to a temporary terminal box they had placed at the base of a pole. Then they had spooled cable from the terminal box down the road to the mobile command vehicle. Connected it into one of the communications ports.

  But it didn't work. Not right away. The linemen had fussed with multimeters and muttered about impedances and capacitances. They had worked for three solid hours. They were ready to blame the Army truck for the incompatibility when they thought to go back and check their own temporary terminal box. The fault lay there. A failed component. They wired in a spare and the whole circuit worked perfectly. Four thirty-five in the morning, McGrath was shaking their hands and swearing them to silence when Webster came out of the trailer. The two men stood and watched them drive away. The noise of their truck died around the curve. Webster and McGrath stayed standing in the bright moonlight. They stood there for five minutes while McGrath smoked. They didn't speak. Just gazed north into the distance and wondered.

  "Go wake your boys up," Webster said. "We'll stand down for a spell. "

  McGrath nodded and walked down to the accommodation trailers. Roused Milosevic and Brogan. They were fully dressed on their bunks. They got up and yawned. Came down the ladder and found Webster standing there with Johnson and his aide. Garber standing behind them.

  "The telephone line is done," Webster said.

  "Already?" Brogan said. "I thought it was being done in the morning. "

  "We figured sooner was better than later," Webster said. He inclined his head toward General Johnson. It was a gesture which said: he's worried, right?

  "OK," Milosevic said. "We'll look after it. "

  "Wake us at eight," Webster said. "Or earlier if necessary, OK?"

  Brogan nodded and walked north to the command vehicle. Milosevic followed. They paused together for a look at the mountains in the moonlight. As they paused, the fax machine inside the empty command trailer started whirring. It fed its first communication face upward into the message tray. It was ten to five in the morning, Friday the fourth of July.

  BROGAN WOKE GENERAL Johnson an hour and ten minutes later, six o'clock exactly. He knocked loudly on the accommodation trailer door and got no response, so he went in and shook the old guy by the shoulder.

  "Peterson Air Force Base, sir," Brogan said. "They need to talk to you. "

  Johnson staggered up to the command vehicle in his shirt and pants. Milosevic joined Brogan outside in the predawn glow to give him some privacy. Johnson was back out in five minutes.

  "We need a conference," he called.

  He ducked back into the trailer. Milosevic walked down and roused the others. They came forward, Webster and the General's aide yawning and stretching, Garber ramrod-straight. McGrath was dressed and smoking. Maybe hadn't tried to sleep at all. They filed up the ladder and took their places around the table, bleak red eyes, hair fuzzed on the back from the pillows.

  "Peterson called," Johnson told them. "They're sending a helicopter search-and-rescue out, first light, looking for the missile unit. "

  His aide nodded.

  "That would be standard procedure," he said.

  "Based on an assumption," Johnson said. "They think the unit has suffered some kind of mechanical and electrical malfunction. "

  "Which is not uncommon," his aide said. "If their radio fails, their procedure would be to repair it. If a truck also broke down at the same time, their procedure would be to wait as a group for assistance. "

  "Circle the wagons?" McGrath asked.

  The aide nodded again.

  "Exactly so," he said. "They would pull off the road and wait for a chopper. "

  "So do we tell them?" McGrath asked.

  The aide sat forward.

  "That's the question," he said. "Tell them what exactly? We don't even know for sure that these maniacs have got them at all. It's still possible it's just a radio problem and a truck problem together. "

  "Dream on," Johnson said.

  Webster shrugged. He knew how to deal with such issues.

  "What's the upside?" he said.

  "There is no upside," Johnson said. "We tell Peterson the missiles have been captured, the cat's out of the bag, we lose control of the situation, we're seen to have disobeyed Washington by making an issue out of it before Monday. "

  "OK, so what's the downside?" Webster asked.

  "Theoretical," Johnson said. "We have to assume they've been captured, so we also have to assume they've been well hidden. In which case the Air Force will never find them. They'll just fly around for a while and then go home and wait. "

  Webster nodded.

  "OK," he said. "No upside, no downside, no problem. "

  There was a short silence.

  "So we sit tight," Johnson said. "We let the chopper fly. "

  McGrath shook his head. Incredulous.

  "Suppose they use them to shoot the chopper down?" he asked.

  The General's aide smiled an indulgent smile.

  "Can't be done," he said. "The IFF wouldn't allow it. "

  "IFF?" McGrath repeated.

  "Identify Friend or Foe," the aide said. "It's an electronic system. The chopper will be beaming a signal. The missile reads it as friendly, refuses to launch. "

  "Guaranteed?" McGrath asked.

  The aide nodded.

  "Foolproof," he said.

  Garber glowered at him. But he said nothing. Not his field of expertise.

  "OK," Webster said. "Back to bed. Wake us again at eight, Brogan. "

  ON THE TARMAC at Peterson, a Boeing CH-47D Chinook was warming its engines and sipping the first of its eight hundred and fifty-eight gallons of fuel. A Chinook is a giant aircraft, whose twin rotors thump through an oval of air a hundred feet long and sixty wide. It weighs more than ten tons empty, and it can lift another eleven. It's a giant flying box, the engines and the fuel tanks strapped to the top and the sides, the crew perched high at the front. Any helicopter can search, but when heavy equipment is at stake, only a Chinook can rescue.

  Because of the holiday weekend, the Peterson dispatcher assigned a skeleton crew of two. No separate spotter. He figured he didn't need one. How difficult could it be to find five Army trucks on some shoulder in Montana?›

  "YOU SHOULD HAVE stayed here," Borken said. "Right, Joe?"

  Reacher glanced into the gloom inside the punishment hut. Joseph Ray was standing to attention on the yellow square. He was staring straight ahead. He was naked. Bleeding from the mouth and nose.

  "Right, Joe?" Borken said again.

  Ray made no reply. Borken walked over and crashed his fist into his face. Ray stumbled and fell backward. Staggered against the back wall and scrambled to regain his position on the square.

  "I asked you a question," Borken said.

  Ray nodded. The blood poured off his chin.

  "Reacher should have stayed here," he said.

  Borken hit him again. A hard straight right to the face. Ray's head snapped back. Blood spurted. Borken smiled.

  "No talking when you're on the square, Joe," he said. "You know the rules. "

  Borken stepped back and placed the muzzle of the Sig-Sauer in Reacher's ear. Used it to propel him out into the clearing. Gestured Stevie to follow.

  "You stay on the square, Joe," he called over his shoulder.

  Stevie slammed the door shut. Borken reversed his direction and used the Sig-Sauer to shove Reacher toward him.

  "Tell Fowler to get rid of this guy," he told him. "He's outlived his usefulness, such as it ever was. Put the bitch back in
her room. Put a ring of sentries right around the building. We got things to do, right? No time for this shit. Parade ground at six-thirty. Everybody there. I'm going to read them the proclamation, before we fax it. "

  MCGRATH COULDN'T SLEEP. He walked back to the accommodations trailer with the others and got back on his bunk, but he gave it up after ten minutes. Quarter to seven in the morning, he was back in the command vehicle with Brogan and Milosevic.

  "You guys take a break if you want," he said. "I'll look after things here. "

  "We could go organize some breakfast," Brogan said. "Diners in Kalispell should be open by now. "

  McGrath nodded vaguely. Started into his jacket for his wallet.

  "Don't worry about it," Brogan said. "I'll pay. My treat. "

  "OK, thanks," McGrath said. "Get coffee. Lots of it. "

  Brogan and Milosevic stood up and left. McGrath stood in the doorway and watched them drive an Army sedan south. The sound of the car faded and he was left with the silent humming of the equipment behind him. He turned to sit down. The clock ticked around to seven. The fax machine started whirring.

  HOLLY SMOOTHED HER hands over the old mattress like Reacher was there on it. Like it was really his body under her, scarred and battered, hot and hard and muscular, not a worn striped cotton cover stuffed with ancient horsehair. She blinked the tears out of her eyes. Blew a deep sigh and focused on the next decision. No Reacher, no Jackson, no weapon, no tools, six sentries in the street outside. She glanced around the room for the thousandth time and started scoping it out all over again.

  MCGRATH WOKE THE others by thumping on the sides of the accommodations trailer with both fists. Then he ran back to the command post and found a third copy of the message spooling out of the machine. He already had two. Now he had three.

  Webster was the first into the trailer. Then Johnson, a minute behind. Then Garber, and finally the General's aide. They rattled up the ladder one by one and hurried over to the table. McGrath was absorbed in reading.

  "What, Mack?" Webster asked him.

  "They're declaring independence," McGrath said. "Listen to this. "

  He glanced around the four faces. Started reading out loud.

  "'Governments are instituted among men,' " he read. " 'Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. It is the right of the people to alter or abolish them after a long train of abuses and usurpations. ' "

  "They're quoting from the original," Webster said.

  "Paraphrasing," Garber said.

  McGrath nodded.

  "Listen to this," he said again. " 'The history of the present government of the United States is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations all designed to establish an absolute tyranny over the people. ' "

  "What the hell is this?" Webster said. "1776 all over again?"

  "It gets worse," McGrath said. " 'We therefore are the representatives of the Free States of America, located initially in what was formerly Yorke County in what was formerly Montana, and we solemnly publish and declare that this territory is now a free and independent State, which is absolved of allegiance to the United States, with all political connection totally dissolved, and that as a free and independent State has full power to levy war, conclude peace, defend its land borders and its airspace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other things as all independent States may do. ' "

  He looked up. Shuffled the three copies into a neat stack and laid them on the table in silence.

  "Why three copies?" Garber asked.

  "Three destinations," McGrath said. "If we hadn't intercepted them, they'd be all over the place by now. "

  "Where?" Webster asked.

  "First one is a D. C. number," McGrath said. "I'm guessing it's the White House. "

  Johnson's aide scooted his chair to the computer terminal. McGrath read him the number. He tapped it in, and the screen scrolled down. He nodded.

  "The White House," he said. "Next?"

  "New York somewhere," McGrath said. Read out the number from the second sheet.

  "United Nations," the aide said. "They want witnesses. "

  "Third one, I don't know," McGrath said. "Area code is 404. "

  "Atlanta, Georgia," Garber said.

  "What's in Atlanta, Georgia?" Webster asked.

  The aide was busy at the keyboard.

  "CNN," he said. "They want publicity. "

  Johnson nodded.

  "Smart moves," he said. "They want it all on live TV. Christ, can you imagine? The United Nations as umpires and round-the-clock coverage on the cable news? The whole world watching?"

  "So what do we do?" Webster asked.

  There was a long silence.

  "Why did they say airspace?" Garber asked out loud.

  "They were paraphrasing," Webster said. "1776, there wasn't any airspace. "

  "The missiles," Garber said. "Is it possible they've disabled the IFF?"

  There was another long silence. They heard a car pull up. Doors slammed. Brogan and Milosevic rattled up the ladder and stepped into the hush. They carried brown bags and Styrofoam cups with plastic lids.

  THE GIANT SEARCH-AND-RESCUE Chinook made it north from Peterson in Colorado to Malmstrom Air Force Base outside of Great Falls in Montana without incident. It touched down there and fuel bowsers came out to meet it. The crew walked to the mess for coffee. Walked back twenty minutes later. Took off again and swung gently in the morning air before lumbering away northwest.

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