Die trying, p.40
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Die Trying, p.40

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
slower 1  faster
Chapter Forty


  MCGRATH SNATCHED THE radio from his pocket. Flipped it open and stared at it. It was crackling loudly in his hand. Webster stepped forward and took it from him. Ducked back to the cover of the rock face and clicked the button.

  "Jackson?" he said. "This is Harland Webster. "

  McGrath and Johnson crowded in on him. The three men crouched against the rock wall. Webster moved the unit an inch from his ear so the other two could listen in. In the cover of the rock, in the silence of the mountains, they could hear it crackling and hissing and the fast breathing of a person on the other end. Then they heard a voice.

  "Harland Webster?" the voice said. "Well, well, the head man himself. "

  "Jackson?" Webster said again.

  "No," the voice said. "This is not Jackson. "

  Webster glanced at McGrath.

  "So who is it?" he asked.

  "Beau Borken," the voice said. "And as of today, I guess that's President Borken. President of the Free States of America. But feel free to speak informally. "

  "Where's Jackson?" Webster asked.

  There was a pause. Nothing to hear except the faint electronic sound of FBI telecommunications technology. Satellites and microwaves.

  "Where's Jackson?" Webster asked again.

  "He died," the voice said.

  Webster glanced at McGrath again.

  "How?" he asked.

  "Just died," Borken said. "Relatively quickly, really. "

  "Was he sick?" Webster asked.

  There was another pause. Then there was the sound of laughter. A high, tinny sound. A loud, shrieking laugh which overloaded Webster's earpiece and spilled into distortion and bounced off the rock wall.

  "No, he wasn't sick, Webster," Borken said. "He was pretty healthy, up until the last ten minutes. "

  "What did you do to him?" Webster asked.

  "Same as I'm going to do to the General's little girl," Borken said. "Listen up, and I'll tell you the exact details. You need to pay attention, because you need to know what you're dealing with here. We're serious here. We mean business, you understand? You listening?"

  Johnson pushed in close. White and sweating.

  "You crazy bastards," he yelled.

  "Who's that?" Borken asked. "That the General himself?"

  "General Johnson," Webster said.

  There was a chuckle on the radio. Just a short, satisfied sound.

  "A full house," Borken said. "The Director of the FBI and the Joint Chairman. We're flattered, believe me. But I guess the birth of a new nation deserves nothing less. "

  "What do you want?" Webster asked.

  "We crucified him," Borken said. "We found a couple of trees a yard apart, and we nailed him up. We're going to do that to your daughter, General, if you step out of line. Then we cut his balls off. He was pleading and screaming for us not to, but we did it anyway. We can't do that to your kid, her being a woman and all, but we'll find some equivalent, you know what I mean? Do you think she'll be screaming and pleading, General? You know her better than me. Personally, I'm betting she will be. She likes to think she's a tough cookie, but when she sees those blades coming close, she's going to change her damn tune pretty quick, I'm just about sure of that. "

  Johnson turned whiter. All his blood just drained away. He fell back and sat heavily against the rock. His mouth was working soundlessly.

  "What the hell do you bastards want?" Webster yelled.

  There was another silence. Then the voice came back, quiet and firm.

  "I want you to stop yelling," it said. "I want you to apologize for yelling at me. I want you to apologize for calling me a rude name. I'm the President of the Free States, and I'm owed some courtesy and deference, wouldn't you say?"

  His voice was quiet, but McGrath heard it clearly enough. He looked across at Webster in panic. They were close to losing, before they had even started. First rule was to negotiate. To keep them talking, and gradually gain the upper hand. Establish dominance. Classic siege theory. But to start out by apologizing for yelling was to kiss goodbye any hope of dominance. That was to lie down and roll over. From that point on, you were their plaything. McGrath shook his head urgently. Webster nodded back. Said nothing. Just held the radio without speaking. He knew how to do this. He had been in this situation before. Several times. He knew the protocol. Now, the first one to speak was the weaker one. And it wasn't going to be him. He and McGrath gazed at the ground and waited.

  "You still there?" Borken asked.

  Webster kept on staring down. Saying nothing.

  "You there?" Borken said again.

  "What's on your mind, Beau?" Webster asked, calmly.

  There was angry breathing over the air.

  "You cut my phone line," Borken said. "I want it restored. "

  "No, we didn't," Webster said. "Doesn't your phone work?"

  "My faxes," Borken said. "I got no response. "

  "What faxes?" Webster said.

  "Don't bullshit me," Borken said. "I know you cut the line. I want it fixed. "

  Webster winked at McGrath.

  "OK," he said. "We can do that. But you've got to do something for us first. "

  "What?" Borken asked.

  "Holly," Webster said. "Bring her down to the bridge and leave her there. "

  There was another silence. Then the laughter started up again. High and loud.

  "No dice," Borken said. "And no deals. "

  Webster nodded to himself. Lowered his voice. Sounded like the most reasonable man on earth.

  "Listen, Mr. Borken," he said. "If we can't deal, how can we help each other?"

  Another silence. McGrath stared at Webster. The next reply was crucial. Win or lose.

  "You listen to me, Webster," the voice said. "No deals. You don't do exactly what I say, Holly dies. In a lot of pain. I hold all the cards, and I'm not doing deals. You understand that?"

  Webster's shoulders slumped. McGrath looked away.

  "Restore the fax line," the voice said. "I need communications. The world must know what we're doing here. This is a big moment in history, Webster. I won't be denied by your stupid games. The world must witness the first blows being struck against your tyranny. "

  Webster stared at the ground.

  "This decision is too big for you alone," Borken said. "You need to consult with the White House. There's an interest there too, wouldn't you say?"

  Even over the tinny handheld radio, the force of Borken's voice was obvious. Webster was flinching like a physical weight was against his ear. Flinching and gasping, as his heart and lungs fought each other for space inside his chest.

  "Make your decision," Borken said. "I'll call back in two minutes. "

  Then the radio went dead. Webster stared at it like he had never seen such a piece of equipment before. McGrath leaned over and clicked the button off.

  "OK," he said. "We stall, right? Tell him we're fixing the line. Tell him it will take an hour, maybe two. Tell him we're in contact with the White House, the UN, CNN, whoever. Tell him whatever the hell he wants to hear. "

  "Why is he doing this?" Webster asked, vaguely. "Escalating everything? He's making it so we have to attack him. So we have to, right? Like he wants us to. He's giving us no choice. He's provoking us. "

  "He's doing it because he's crazy," McGrath said.

  "He must be," Webster said. "He's a maniac. Otherwise I just can't understand why he's trying to attract so much attention. Because like he says, he holds all the cards already. "

  "We'll worry about that later, chief," McGrath said. "Right now, we just need to stall him. "

  Webster nodded. Forced himself back to the problem in hand.

  "But we need longer than two hours," he said. "Hostage Rescue will take at least four to get over here. Maybe five, maybe six. "

  "OK, it's the Fourth of July," McGrath said. "Tell him the line
men are all off duty. Tell him it could take us all day to get them back. "

  They stared at each other. Glanced at Johnson. He was right out of it. Just slumped against the rock face, white and inert, barely breathing. Ninety hours of mortal stress and emotion had finally broken him. Then the radio in Webster's hand crackled again.

  "Well?" Borken asked, when the static cleared.

  "OK, we agree," Webster said. "We'll fix the line. But it's going to take some time. Linemen are off duty for the holidays. "

  There was a pause. Then a chuckle.

  "Independence Day," Borken said. "Maybe I should have chosen another date. "

  Webster made no reply.

  "I want your Marines where I can see them," Borken said.

  "What Marines?" Webster said.

  There was another short laugh. Short and complacent.

  "You got eight Marines," Borken said. "And an armored car. We got lookouts all over the place. We've been watching you. Like you're watching us with those damn planes. You're lucky Stingers don't shoot that high, or you'd have more than a damn helicopter on the ground by now. "

  Webster made no reply. Just scanned the horizon. McGrath was doing the same thing, automatically, looking for the glint of the sun on field glasses.

  "I figure you're close to the bridge right now," Borken said. "Am I right?"

  Webster shrugged. McGrath prompted him with a nod.

  "We're close to the bridge," Webster said.

  "I want the Marines on the bridge," Borken said. "Sitting on the edge in a neat little row. Their vehicle behind them. I want that to happen now, you understand? Or we go to work on Holly. Your choice, Webster. Or maybe it's the General's choice. His daughter, and his Marines, right?"

  Johnson roused himself and glanced up. Five minutes later the Marines were sitting on the fractured edge of the roadway, feet dangling down into the abyss. Their LAV was parked up behind them. Webster was still in the lee of the rock face with McGrath and Johnson. The radio still pressed to his ear. He could hear muffled sounds. Like Borken had pressed his hand over the microphone and was using a walkie-talkie. He could hear his muffled voice alternating with crackly replies. Then he heard the hand come away and the voice come back again, loud and clear in the earpiece.

  "OK, Webster, good work," Borken said to him. "Our scouts can see all eight of them. So can our riflemen. If they move, they die. Who else have you got there with you?"

  Webster paused. McGrath shook his head urgently.

  "Can't you see?" Webster asked. "I thought you were watching us. "

  "Not right now," Borken said. "I pulled my people back a little. Into our defensive positions. "

  "There's nobody else here," Webster said. "Just me and the General. "

  There was another pause.

  "OK, you two can join the Marines," Borken said. "On the bridge. On the end of the line. "

  Webster waited for a long moment. A blank expression on his face. Then he got up and nodded to Johnson. Johnson got up unsteadily and the two of them walked forward together around the curve. Left McGrath on his own, crouched in the lee of the rock.

  MCGRATH WAITED THERE two minutes and crawled back south to the Chevrolet. Garber and Johnson's aide were in front and Milosevic and Brogan were in back. They were all staring at him.

  "What the hell happened?" Brogan asked.

  "We're in deep, deep shit," McGrath said.

  Two minutes of hurried explanation, and the others agreed with him.

  "So what now?" Garber asked.

  "We go get Holly," McGrath said. "Before he realizes we're bullshitting him. "

  "But how?" Brogan asked.

  McGrath glanced at him. Glanced at Milosevic.

  "The three of us," he said. "End of the day, this is a Bureau affair. Call it whatever you want, terrorism, sedition, kidnapping, it's all FBI territory. "

  "We're going to do it?" Milosevic said. "Just the three of us? Right now?"

  "You got a better way?" McGrath said. "You want something done properly, you do it yourself, right?"

  Garber was twisted around, scanning along the three faces on the rear seat.

  "So go do it," he said.

  McGrath nodded and held up his right hand, the thumb and the first two fingers sticking out.

  "I'm the thumb," he said. "I go in east of the road. Brogan, you're the first finger. You walk a mile west of the road and go in from there. Milo, you're the second finger. You walk two miles west and go north from there. We infiltrate separately, spaced out a mile between each of us. We meet up back on the road a half-mile shy of the town. Clear?"

  Brogan made a face. Then he nodded. Milosevic shrugged. Garber glanced at McGrath and the General's aide started the Chevy and rolled it gently south. He stopped it again after four hundred yards, where the road came back out of the rock cover and there was clear access left and right into the countryside. The three FBI men checked their weapons. They each had a government-issue. 38 in a shiny brown leather shoulder holster. Full load of six, plus another six in a speed-loader in their pockets.

  "Try to capture a couple of rifles," McGrath said. "Don't worry about taking prisoners. You see somebody, you shoot the bastard down, OK?"

  Milosevic had the longest walk, so he was first to go. He ducked across the road and struck out due west across the mountain scrub. He made it to a small stand of trees and disappeared. McGrath lit a cigarette and sent Brogan after him. Garber waited until Brogan was in the trees, then he turned back to McGrath.

  "Don't forget what I told you about Reacher," he said. "I'm not wrong about that guy. He's on your side, believe me. "

  McGrath shrugged and said nothing. Smoked in silence. Opened the Chevy's door and slid out. Ground out the cigarette under his shoe and walked away east, across the grassy shoulder and onto the scrub.

  MCGRATH WAS NOT far off fifty, and a heavy smoker, but he was a fit man. He had that type of mongrel constitution that age and smoke could not hurt. He was short at five seven, but sturdy. About one-sixty, made up of that hard slabby muscle which needs no maintenance and never fades into fat. He felt the same as he had as a kid. No better, no worse. His Bureau training had been a long time ago, and fairly rudimentary compared to what people were getting now. But he'd aced it. Physically, he'd been indestructible. Not the fastest guy in his class, but easily the best stamina. The training runs in the early days of Quantico had been crude. Around and around in the Virginia woods, using natural obstacles. McGrath would come in maybe third or fourth every time. But if they were sent around again, he could do the same exact time, just about to the second. The faster guys would be struggling at his side as he pounded relentlessly onward. Then they would fall back. Second time around, McGrath would come in first. Third time around, he would be the only guy to finish.

  So he was jogging comfortably as he approached the southern edge of the ravine. He had worked about three hundred yards east to a point where the slopes were reasonable and not directly overlooked. He went straight down without pausing. Short, stiff strides against the incline. The footing was loose. He skidded on small avalanches of gravel and used the stunted trees to check his speed. He dodged around the litter of rocks in the bottom of the trench and started up the northern slope.

  Going up was harder. He kicked his toes into the gravel for grip and hauled himself upward with handfuls of grass. He zigzagged between the small trees and bushes, looking for leverage. The extra fifty feet on the northern rim was a punishment. He tracked right to where a small landslide had created a straight path at a kinder angle. Slipped and slid upward through the crushed rock to the top.

  He waited in the overhang, where the earth had fallen away beneath the crust of roots. Listened hard. Heard nothing except silence. He lifted himself onto the rim. Stood there with his chest against the earth, head and shoulders exposed, looking north into enemy territory. He saw nothing. Just the gentle initial slopes, the
n the hills, then the giant mountains glowering in the far distance. Blue sky, a million trees, clean air, total silence. He thought: you're a long way from Chicago, Mack.

  Ahead of him was a belt of scrub where the ancient rock was too close to the surface for much to grow. Then a ragged belt of trees, interrupted at first by rocky outcrops, then growing denser into the distance. He could see the curved gap in the treetops where the road must run. Three hundred yards to his left. He rolled up onto the grass and ran for the trees. Worked left toward the road and shadowed it north in the forest.

  He jogged along, dodging trees like a slow-motion parody of a wide receiver heading for the end zone. The map was printed in his mind. He figured he had maybe three miles to go. Three miles at a slow jog, not much better than a fast walk, maybe forty-five, fifty minutes. The ground was rising gently under his feet. Every fourth or fifth stride, his feet hit the floor a fraction sooner than they should have as the gradient lifted him into the hills. He tripped a couple of times on roots. Once, he slammed into a pine trunk. But he pounded on, relentlessly.

  After forty minutes, he stopped. He figured Brogan and Milosevic were having a similar journey, but they were dealing with extra distance because they had tracked west at the outset. So he expected a delay. With luck, they would be about twenty minutes behind him. He walked deeper into the woods and sat down against a trunk. Lit a cigarette. He figured he was maybe a half-mile shy of the rendezvous. The map in his head said the road was about due to arrow up into the town.

  He waited fifteen minutes. Two cigarettes. Then he stood up and walked on. He went cautiously. He was getting close. He made two diversions to his left and found the road. Just crept through the trees until he caught the gleam of sun on the gray cement. Then he dodged back and continued north. He walked until he saw the forest thinning ahead. He saw sunlight on open spaces beyond the last trees. He stopped and stepped left and right to find a view. He saw the road running up to the town. He saw buildings. A gray ruin on a knoll on the left. The courthouse on the right. Better preserved. Gleaming white in the sunshine. He stared through the trees at it for a long moment. Then he turned back. Paced five hundred yards back into the woods. Drifted over toward the road until he could just make out the gray gleam through the trees. Leaned on a trunk and waited for Brogan and Milosevic.

  THIS TIME, HE resisted the attraction of another cigarette. He had learned a long time ago that to smoke while in hiding was not a smart thing to do. The smell drifts, and a keen nose can detect it. So he leaned on the tree and stared down in frustration. Stared at his shoes. They were ruined from the scramble up the north face of the ravine. He had jabbed them hard into the rocky slope and they were scratched to pieces. He stared at the ruined toe caps and instantly knew he had been betrayed. Panic rose in his throat. His chest seized hard. It hit him like a prison door swinging gently shut. It swung soundlessly inward on greased hinges and clanged shut right in his face.

  What had Borken said on the radio? He had said: like you're watching us with those damn planes. But what had the General's aide told him back in the Butte office? You look up and you see a tiny vapor trail and you think it's TWA. You don't think it's the Air Force checking if you've shined your shoes this morning. So how did Borken know there were surveillance planes in the sky? Because he had been told. But by who? Who the hell knew?

  He glanced around wildly and the first thing he saw was a dog coming at him from dead ahead. Then another. They bounded through the trees at him. He heard a sound from behind him. The crunch of feet and the flick of branches. Then the same sound from his right. The snicking and slapping of a weapon from his left. The dogs were at his feet. He spun in a panic-stricken circle. All around him men were coming at him through the trees. Lean, bearded men, in camouflage gear, carrying rifles and machine guns. Grenades slung from their webbing. Maybe fifteen or twenty men. They stepped forward calmly and purposefully. They were in a complete ring, right around him. He turned one way, then the other. He was surrounded. They were raising their weapons. He had fifteen or twenty automatic weapons pointing straight at him like spokes in a wheel.

  They stood silent, weapons ready. McGrath glanced from one to the next, in a complete wide circle. Then one of them stepped forward. Some kind of an officer. His hand went straight in under McGrath's jacket. Jerked the. 38 out of his holster. Then the guy's hand went into McGrath's pocket. Closed over the speedloader and pulled it out. The guy slipped both items into his own pocket and smiled. Swung his fist and hit McGrath in the face. McGrath staggered and was prodded back forward with the muzzle of a rifle. Then he heard tires on the road. The grumble of a motor. He glanced left and caught a flash of olive green in the sun. A jeep. Two men in it. The soldiers pressed in and forced him out of the forest. They jostled him through the trees and onto the shoulder. He blinked in the sun. He could feel his nose was bleeding. The jeep rolled forward and stopped alongside him. The driver stared at him with curiosity. Another lean, bearded man in uniform. In the passenger seat was a huge man wearing black. Beau Borken. McGrath recognized him from his Bureau file photograph. He stared at him. Then Borken leaned over and grinned.

  "Hello, Mr. McGrath," he said. "You made good time. "

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
  • 22 872
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment