Die trying, p.39
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       Die Trying, p.39

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


  REACHER WAS HIDING out in the woods. Worried about the dogs. They were the only thing he wasn't certain about. People, he could handle. Dogs, he had very little experience.

  He was in the trees, north of the Bastion, south of the rifle range. He had heard the Chinook hit the ground from a mile away. It hit tail first, smashing and tearing into the wooded slope. It looked to have slipped sideways in the air and missed the courthouse by two hundred yards. No explosions. Not from the courthouse or from the chopper itself. No sound of fuel tanks going up. Reacher was reasonably optimistic for the crew. He figured the trees and the collapse of the big boxy body might have cushioned the impact for them. He had known chopper crews survive worse.

  He had an M-16 rifle in his hand and a Glock in his pocket. The Glock was fully loaded. Seventeen shells. The M-16 had the short clip. Twenty shells, less the one that had killed the guy with the missile. The second M-16 had the long clip. A full load of thirty. But it was hidden in the trees. Because Reacher had a rule: choose the weapon you know for certain is in working order.

  He felt instinctively that the focus of attention would be in the southeast direction. That was where Holly was being held, and that was where the Chinook had come down. That was where the opposition forces would be massing. He felt people would be turning to face southeast, apprehensively, staring down into the rest of the United States, waiting. So he turned his back and headed northwest.

  He moved cautiously. The bulk of the enemy was elsewhere, but he knew there were squads out looking for him. He knew they had already discovered Fowler's body. He had seen two separate patrols, searching the woods. Six men in each, heavily armed, crashing through the undergrowth, searching. Not difficult to avoid. But the dogs would be difficult to avoid. That was why he was worried. That was why he was moving cautiously.

  He stayed in the trees and skirted the western end of the rifle range. Tracked back east around the parade ground. Fifty yards north, he turned again and paralleled the road up to the mines. He stayed in the trees and moved at a fast jog. Used the time to start laying out some priorities. And a timescale. He figured he had maybe three hours. Bringing down the Chinook was going to provoke some kind of a violent reaction. No doubt about that. But in all his years in the service, he had never known anything to happen faster than three hours. So he had three hours, and a lot of ground to cover.

  He slowed to a fast walk when the rocky ground started rising under his feet. Followed a wide uphill circle west and cut straight in to the edge of the bowl where the mine entrances were. He heard diesel engines idling. He bent double and crept across to the cover of a rock. Looked out and down.

  He was just above halfway up the slope surrounding the bowl. Looking more or less due east across its diameter. The log doors of the farther shed were standing open. Four of the missile unit's trucks were standing on the shale. The four with the weapon racks in back. The troop carrier was still inside.

  There was a handful of men in the bowl. They were set in an approximate circle around the cluster of trucks. Reacher counted eight guys. Fatigues, rifles, tense limbs. What had the kitchen woman said? The mines were off limits. Except to the people Borken trusted. Reacher watched them. Eight trusted lieutenants, acting out a reasonable imitation of sentry duty.

  He watched them for a couple of minutes. Slid his rifle to his shoulder. He was less than a hundred yards away. He could hear the rattle of the shale as the sentries moved around. He clicked the selector to the single-shot position. He had nineteen shells in the box, and he needed to fire a minimum of eight. He needed to be cautious with ammunition.

  The M-16 is a good rifle. Easy to use, easy to maintain. Easy to aim. The carrying handle has a grooved top which lines up with an identical groove in the front sight. At a hundred yards, you squint down the handle groove and let it merge with the front groove, and what you see is what you hit. Reacher rested his weight on the rock and lined up the first target. Practiced the slight sweep that would take him onto the second. And the third. He rehearsed the full sequence of eight shots. He didn't want his elbow snagging somewhere in the middle.

  He returned to the first target. Waited a beat and fired. The sound of the shot crashed through the mountains. The right front tire of the first truck exploded. He swept the sights onto the left front. Fired again. The truck dropped to its rims like a stunned ox falling to its knees.

  He kept firing steadily. He had fired five shots and hit five tires before anybody reacted. As he fired the sixth he saw in the corner of his eye the sentries diving for cover. Some were just dropping to the ground. Others were running for the shed. He fired the seventh. Paused before the eighth. The farthest tire was the hardest shot. The angle was oblique. The sidewall was unavailable to him. He was going to have to fire at the treads. Possible that the shell might glance off. He fired. He hit. The tire burst. The front of the last truck dropped.

  The nearest sentry was still on his feet. Not heading for the shed. Just standing and staring toward the rock Reacher was behind. Raising his rifle. It was an M-16, same as Reacher's. Long magazine, thirty shells. The guy was standing there, sighting it in on the rock. A brave man, or an idiot. Reacher crouched and waited. The guy fired. His weapon was set on automatic. He loosed off a burst of three. Three shots in a fifth of a second. They smashed into the trees fifteen feet above Reacher's head. Twigs and leaves drifted down and landed near him. The guy ran ten yards closer. Fired again. Three more shells. Way off to Reacher's left. He heard the whine of the bullets and the thunking as they hit the trees before he heard the muzzle blast. Bullets which travel faster than sound do that. You hear it all in reverse order. The bullet gets there before the sound of the shot.

  Reacher had decisions to make. How close was he going to let this guy get? And was he going to fire a warning shot? The next burst of three was nearer. Low, but nearer. Not more than six feet way. Reacher decided: not much damn closer, and no warning shot. The guy was all pumped up. No percentage in trying a warning shot. This guy was not going to get calmed down in any kind of a hurry.

  He lay on his side. Straightened his legs and came out at the base of the rock. Fired once and hit the guy in the chest. He went down in a heap on the shale. The rifle flew off to his right. Reacher stayed where he was. Watched carefully. The guy was still alive. So Reacher fired again. Hit him through the top of the head. Kinder not to leave him with a sucking chest wound for the last ten minutes of his life.

  The echoes of the brief firefight died into the mountain silence and then the air was still. The other seven guys were nowhere. The trucks were all resting nose down on their front rims. Disabled. Maybe they could be driven out of the bowl, but the first of the mountain hairpins was going to strip the blown tires right off. The trucks were neutralized. No doubt about that.

  Reacher crawled backward ten yards and stood up in the trees. Jogged down the slope and headed back toward the Bastion. Seventeen shells in the Glock, nine in the rifle. Progress, at a price.

  THE DOGS FOUND him halfway back. Two big rangy animals. German shepherds. He saw them at the same time as they saw him. They were loping along with that kind of infinite energy big dogs display. Long bounding strides, eager expressions, wet mouths gaping. They stopped short on stiff front legs and switched direction in a single fluid stride. Thirty yards away. Then twenty. Then ten. Acceleration. New energy in their movement. Snarls rising in their throats.

  People, Reacher was certain about. Dogs were different. People had freedom of choice. If a man or a woman ran snarling toward him, they did so because they chose to. They were asking for whatever they got. His response was their problem. But dogs were different. No free will. Easily misled. It raised an ethical problem. Shooting a dog because it had been induced to do something unwise was not the sort of thing Reacher wanted to do.

  He left the Glock in his pocket. The rifle was better. It was about two and a half feet longer than the han
dgun. An extra two and a half feet of separation seemed like a good idea. The dogs stopped short of him. The fur on their shoulders was raised. The fur down their backs was raised, following their spines. They crouched, front feet splayed, heads down, snarling loudly. They had yellow teeth. Lots of them. Their eyes were brown. Reacher could see fine dark eyelashes, like a girl's.

  One of them was forward of the other. The leader of the pack. He knew dogs had to have a pecking order. Two dogs, one of them had to be superior to the other. Like people. He didn't know how dogs worked it out for themselves. Posturing, maybe. Maybe smell. Maybe fighting. He stared at the forward dog. Stared into its eyes. Time to time, he had heard people talking about dogs. They said: never show fear. Stare the dog down. Don't let it know you're afraid. Reacher wasn't afraid. He was standing there with an M- 16 in his hands. The only thing he was worried about was having to use it.

  He stared silently at the dog like he used to stare at some service guy gone bad. A hard, silent stare like a physical force, like a cold, crushing pressure. Bleak, cold eyes, unblinking. It had worked a hundred times with people. Now it was working with the lead dog.

  The dog was only partially trained. Reacher could see that. It could go through the motions. But it couldn't deliver. It hadn't been trained to ignore its victim's input. It was eye to eye with him, backing off fractionally like his glare was a painful weight on its narrow forehead. Reacher turned up the temperature. Narrowed his eyes and bared his own teeth. Sneered like a tough guy in a bad movie. The dog's head dropped. Its eyes swiveled upward to maintain contact. Its tail dropped down between its legs.

  "Sit," Reacher said. He said it calmly but firmly. Plenty of emphasis on the plosive consonant at the end of the word. The dog moved automatically. Shuffled its hind legs inward and sat. The other dog followed suit, like a shadow. They sat side by side and stared up at him.

  "Lie down," Reacher said.

  The dogs didn't move. Just stayed sitting, looking at him, puzzled. Maybe the wrong word. Not the command they were accustomed to.

  "Down," Reacher said.

  They slid their front paws forward and dropped their bellies to the forest floor. Looking up at him.

  "Stay," Reacher said.

  He gave them a look like he meant it and moved off south. Forced himself to walk slow. Five yards into the trees, he turned. The dogs were still on the ground. Their necks were twisted around, watching him walk away.

  "Stay," he called again.

  They stayed. He walked.

  HE COULD HEAR people in the Bastion. The sound of a fair-sized crowd trying to keep quiet. He heard it when he was still north of the parade ground. He skirted the area in the trees and walked around the far end of the rifle range. Came through the trees behind the mess hall. Opposite the kitchen door. He walked a circle deep in the woods behind the buildings until he got an angle. Crept forward to take a look.

  There were maybe thirty people in the Bastion. They were standing in a tight group. Edging forward into a cluster. All men, all in camouflage fatigues, all heavily armed. Rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, pockets bulging with spare magazines. The crowd ebbed and flowed. Shoulders touched and parted. Reacher glimpsed Beau Borken in the center of the mass of people. He was holding a small black radio transmitter. Reacher recognized it. It was Jackson's. Borken had retrieved it from Fowler's pocket. He was holding it up to his ear. Staring into space like he'd just switched it on and was waiting for a reply.

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