Die trying, p.45
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       Die Trying, p.45

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


  THE CLASSIC MISTAKE in firing an automatic weapon is to let the recoil from the first bullet jerk the barrel upward, so that the second bullet goes high, and the third higher still. But Garber did not make that mistake. He had enough hours on the range to be reliable from seventy yards. He had been through enough edgy situations to know how to stay cool and concentrated. He put all three bullets right through the exact center of the pink cloud that had been Borken's head.

  They spent two ten-thousandths of a second traveling through it and flew on uninterrupted. They smashed through the new plywood sheeting in the window frame. The leading bullet was distorted slightly by the impact and jerked left, tearing through the inner pine siding twenty-two inches later. It crossed Holly's room and reentered the wall to the left of the doorway. Smashed right through and buried itself in the far wall of the corridor.

  The second bullet came in through the first bullet's hole and therefore traversed the twenty-two inch gap in a straight line. It came out through the inner siding and was thrown to the right. Crossed the room and smashed on through the bathroom partition and shattered the cheap white ceramic toilet.

  The third shell was rising just a fraction. It hit a nail in the outer wall and turned a right angle. Drilled itself sideways and down through eight of the new two-by-fours like a demented termite before its energy was expended. It ended up looking like a random blob of lead pressed into the back of the new pine boarding.

  REACHER SAW GARBER'S muzzle flash through his scope. Knew he must be firing triples. Knew he must have hit the courthouse wall. He stared down from twelve hundred yards away and gripped the ridge of the roof and shut his eyes. Waited for the explosion.

  GARBER KNEW HIS shots hadn't killed Borken. There hadn't been time. Even dealing with tiny fractions of a second, there's a rhythm. Fire. . . hit. Borken had been hit before his bullets could possibly have gotten there. So somebody else was up and shooting. There was a team in action. Garber smiled. Fired again. Pumped his trigger finger nine more times and stitched Borken's two soldiers all over the courthouse wall with his remaining twenty-seven shells.

  MILOSEVIC CAME OUT of the courthouse lobby and down the steps at a run. He had his Bureau. 38 held high in his right hand and his gold shield in his left.

  "FBI agent!" he screamed. "Everybody freeze!"

  He glanced to his right at Holly and then at Garber on his way up to meet him and at McGrath racing around from behind the office building. McGrath went straight for Holly. He hugged her tight against the dead tree. She was laughing. She couldn't hug back, because her arms were still cuffed behind the post. McGrath let her go and ran down the slope. Smacked a high five with Milosevic.

  "Who's got the keys?" McGrath yelled.

  Garber pointed over toward the two dead soldiers. McGrath ran to them and searched through the oozing pockets. Came out with a key and ran back up to the knoll. Ducked around to the back of the stump and unlocked Holly's wrists. She staggered away and McGrath darted forward and grabbed her arm. Milosevic found her crutch on the road and tossed it over. McGrath caught it and handed it to her. She got steady and came down the rise, arm in arm with McGrath. They made it to level ground and stood there together, gazing around in the sudden deafening quiet.

  "Who do I thank?" Holly asked.

  She was holding McGrath's arm, staring at the remains of Borken, lying sixty feet away. The corpse was flat on its back, high and wide. It had no head.

  "This is General Garber," McGrath said. "Top boy in the military police. "

  Garber shook his head.

  "Wasn't me," he said. "Somebody beat me to it. "

  "Wasn't me," Milosevic said.

  Then Garber nodded behind them.

  "Probably this guy," he said.

  Reacher was on his way down the knoll. Out of breath. A frame six five high and two hundred and twenty pounds in weight is good for a lot of things, but not for sprinting a mile.

  "Reacher," Holly said.

  He ignored her. Ignored everybody. Just ran on south and turned to stare up at the white wall. He saw bullet holes. A lot of bullet holes. Probably thirty holes, most of them scattered over the second floor in the southeastern corner. He stared at them for a second and ran for the jeep parked at the curb. Snatched the shovel from its clips under the spare fuel can. Sprinted for the steps. Crashed through the door and up the stairs to Holly's room. Ran for the front wall.

  He could see at least a dozen exit holes punched through the wood. Ragged splintered holes. He smashed the blade of the shovel into one of them. Split the pine board lengthways and used the shovel to wrench it off. Smashed the shovel behind the next and tore it away from the nails securing it. By the time McGrath was in the room, he had exposed four feet of studding. By the time Holly joined them, they were staring into an empty cavity.

  "No dynamite," she said, quietly.

  Reacher ducked away to the adjacent wall. Tore enough boards off to be sure.

  "There never was any," Holly said. "Shit, I can't believe it. "

  "There was some," McGrath said. "Jackson called it in. Described the whole thing. I saw his report. He unloaded the truck with seven other guys. He carried it up here. He saw it going into the walls, for God's sake. A ton of dynamite. Kind of a hard thing to be confused about. "

  "So they put it in," Reacher said. "And then they took it out. They let people see it going in, then they took it out again secretly. They used it somewhere else. "

  "Took it out again?" Holly repeated.

  "Women and children have to die," Reacher said, slowly.

  "What?" Holly asked. "What are you saying?"

  "But not here," he said. "Not these women and children. "

  "What?" Holly said again.

  "Not mass suicide," Reacher said. "Mass murder. "

  Then he just went blank. He was silent. But in his head, he was hearing something. He was hearing the same terrible blast he had heard thirteen years before. The sound of Beirut. The sound of the Marine compound, out near the airport. He was hearing it all over again, and it was deafening him.

  "Now we know what it is," he muttered through the shattering roar.

  "What is it?" McGrath asked.

  "Low on its springs," Reacher said. "But we don't know where it's gone. "

  "What?" Holly said again.

  "Women and children have to die," Reacher repeated. "Borken said so. He said the historical circumstances justified it. But he didn't mean these women and these children up here. "

  "What the hell are you talking about?" McGrath said.

  Reacher glanced at him, and then at Holly, surprised, like he was seeing them both for the first time.

  "I was in the motor pool," he said. "I saw the truck. Our truck? It was parked up, low on its springs, like it had a heavy weight inside. "

  "What?" Holly said again.

  "They've made themselves a truck bomb," Reacher said. "Stevie's delivering it somewhere, some public place. That's the other attack. They're going to explode it in a crowd. There's a whole ton of dynamite in it. And he's six hours ahead of us. "

  McGrath was first down the stairs.

  "Into the jeep," he yelled.

  Garber ran for the jeep. But Milosevic was much nearer. He vaulted in and fired it up. Then McGrath was helping Holly into the front seat. Reacher was on the sidewalk, staring south, lost in thought. Milosevic was drawing his revolver. He was thumbing the hammer back. Garber stopped. Raised his rifle and aimed. Milosevic leaned across in front of Holly. McGrath jumped away. Milosevic stamped on the gas and roared away one-handed with the muzzle jammed into Holly's side. One-handed over the rough road, the jeep was all over the place. No chance of hitting Milosevic. Garber could see that. He lowered his rifle and watched them go.

  BOTH OF THEM?" Webster said to himself. "Please, God, no. "

  "We could use another chopper right now," the aide
said. "I don't think we have to worry about the missiles anymore. "

  He panned the camera north and west and zoomed in on the mountain bowl in front of the mine entrances. The four missile trucks were sitting inert. The sprawled body of the dead sentry was nearby.

  "OK, call in a chopper," Johnson said.

  "Better coming direct from you, sir," the aide said.

  Johnson turned sideways to use the phone. Then he spun back to watch as the jeep drove into shot. It bounced up out of the last hairpin into the bowl and raced across the shale. Swerved around the dead trucks and slewed to a stop in front of the left-hand shed. Milosevic jumped out and danced around the hood. Revolver steady on Holly as he approached. He pulled her out by the arm and dragged her to the big wooden doors. Levered one open with his foot and pushed her inside. He followed her in and the huge door swung shut. Webster glanced away from the screen.

  "Call the chopper, sir," the aide said.

  "Make it a fast one," Webster added.

  QUICKEST WAY TO the mines was a shortcut through the Bastion. It was deserted and quiet. They ran through it and headed north across the rifle range toward the parade ground. Stopped short in the woods. The whole remaining militia population was standing silently in neat ranks, quiet fearful faces turned to the front, where Borken's upturned box still awaited his arrival.

  Reacher ignored them and led the others around in the trees. Then in a straight line to the road. Straight north along it. Reacher was carrying the big Barrett. He had retrieved it from the mess hall roof, because he liked it. Garber was hurrying at his side. McGrath was pushing ahead as fast as he could, desperate to get to Holly.

  They ducked back into the woods before the last hairpin and Reacher scouted ahead. He holed up behind the rock he'd used before and covered every inch of the bowl with the Barrett's scope. Then he waved the other two up to join him.

  "They're in the motor pool," he said. "Left-hand shed. "

  He pointed with the fat barrel of the sniper rifle and the others saw the abandoned jeep and nodded. He ran over the shale and crouched behind the hood of the first missile truck. Garber sent McGrath next. Then he ran over. They crouched together behind the truck and stared at the log doors.

  "What now?" Garber asked. "Frontal assault?"

  "He's got a gun to her head," McGrath said. "I don't want her hurt, Reacher. She's precious to me, OK?"

  "Any other way in?" Garber asked.

  Reacher stared at the doors and the roaring of the Beirut bomb receded and was replaced by the quiet whimpering of an earlier nightmare. He spent a minute trawling desperately for an alternative. He thought about the rifles and the missiles and the trucks. Then he gave it up.

  "Keep him occupied," he said. "Talk to him, anything. "

  He left the Barrett and took the Glock back from McGrath. Dodged to the next truck, and the next, all the way level with the entrance to the other cavern. The charnel house, full of bodies and skeletons and rats. He heard McGrath calling to Milosevic in a faint faraway voice and he ran to the big log doors. Ducked in through the gap and moved back into the dark.

  He had no flashlight. He felt his way around the troop carrier and eased on into the mountain. He held his hand above his head and felt the roof come down. Felt for the bodies in the pile and skirted them. Crouched and headed left for the skeletons. The rats were hearing him and smelling him and squealing angry warnings all the way back to their nests. He dropped to his knees and then lay down and swam through the pile of damp bones. Felt the roof of the tunnel lower and the sides press in. Took a deep breath and felt the fear come back.

  THE FASTEST HELICOPTER available on that day was a Marine Corps Night Hawk stationed at Malmstrom. It was a long, fat, humped machine, but it was quick. Within minutes of Johnson's call, it was spinning up and receiving orders to head west and north to a gravel turnout on the last road in Montana. Then it was in the air. The Marine pilot found the road and followed it north, fast and low, until he spotted a cluster of Army command vehicles parked tight into a rock cutting. He swung back and put down on the turnout and waited. Saw three men racing south toward him. One was a civilian, and two were Army. One was a Colonel and the other was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The pilot shrugged at his crewman who pointed upward through the Plexiglas canopy. There was a lone vapor trail maybe thirty-six thousand feet up. Some big jet was unwinding a tight spiral and streaking south. The pilot shrugged again and figured whatever was happening, it was happening to the south. So he made a provisional course calculation and was surprised when the brass clambered aboard and ordered him to head north into the mountains.

  REACHER WAS LAUGHING. He was hauling himself along through the tunnel and laughing out loud. Shaking and crying with laughter. He was no longer afraid. The tight clamp of the rock on his body was like a caress. He had done this once, and survived it. It was possible. He was going to get through.

  The fear had disappeared as suddenly as it had come. He had pushed through the pile of bones in the dark and stretched out and felt the rock clamp down against his back. His chest had seized and his throat had gagged tight. He had felt the hot damp flush of panic and pressed himself into the ground. He had felt his strength drain away. Then he had focused. The job in hand. Holly. Milosevic's revolver pushed against the dark billow of her hair, her fabulous eyes dull with despair. He had seen her in his mind at the end of the tunnel. Holly. Then the tunnel seemed to straighten and become a warm smooth tube. An exact fit for his bulky shoulders. Like it was tailored for him, and him alone. A simple horizontal journey. He had learned a long time ago that some things were worth being afraid of. And some things were not. Things that he had done before and survived did not justify fear. To be afraid of a survivable thing was irrational. And whatever else he was, Reacher knew he was a rational man. In that split second the fear disappeared and he felt himself relax. He was a fighter. An avenger. And Holly was waiting for him. He thrust his arms forward like a swimmer diving for the water and swarmed through the mountain toward her.

  He charged along with a tidy rhythm. Like marching out on the open road, but doing it lying down in the dark. Small deft movements of hands and feet. Head lowered. Laughing with relief. He felt the tunnel get smaller and hug him. He slid on through. He felt the blank wall ahead and folded himself neatly around the corner. Breathed easily and stopped laughing. Told himself it was time for quiet. He crawled on as fast as he could. Slowed up when he sensed the roof soaring away above him. Crept forward until the smell of the air told him he was nearly through.

  Then he heard the helicopter. He heard the faint thumping of the rotors in the distance. He heard feet scuffling forty yards in front of him. The inarticulate sound of surprise and panic. He heard Milosevic's voice. High-pitched West Coast accent.

  "Keep that chopper away from here," Milosevic screamed through the door.

  The noise was getting nearer. Growing louder.

  "Keep it away, you hear?" Milosevic screamed. "I'll kill her, McGrath. That's a promise, you hear?"

  It was totally dark. There were vehicles between Reacher and the cracks of light around the door. But not the white truck. That was gone. He rolled up into the space where it had been and pulled the Glock from his pocket. The thumping of the rotor blades was very close. It was battering the doors and filling the cavern.

  "I'll trade her with you," Milosevic screamed through the door. "I get out of here unharmed, you get her back, OK? McGrath? You hear me?"

  If there was a reply, Reacher didn't hear it.

  "I'm not with these guys," Milosevic screamed. "This whole thing is nothing to do with me. Brogan got me into it. He made me do it. "

  The noise was shattering. The heavy doors were shaking.

  "I did it for the money, that's all," Milosevic screamed. "Brogan was giving me money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, McGrath. You'd have done the exact same thing. Brogan was making me rich. He bought me a Ford E
xplorer. The Limited Edition. Thirty-five grand. How the hell else was I ever going to get one?"

  Reacher listened to the screaming voice in the darkness. He didn't want to shoot him. For one crazy moment, he felt absurdly grateful to him, because he had banished his childhood nightmare. He had forced him to confront it and defeat it. He had made him a better man. He wanted to run up to him and shake him by the hand. He could picture himself doing it. But then the picture changed. He needed to run up to him and shake him by the throat and ask him if he knew where Stevie had taken the white truck. That was what he needed to do. That was why he didn't want to shoot him. He crept forward in the deafening noise and skirted around the vehicles.

  He was operating in a one-dimensional world. He could see nothing, because of the darkness. He could hear nothing, because of the helicopter. He sensed movement near the doors. Came out from behind a pickup and saw a shape framed against the cracks of light. A shape that should have been two shapes. Wide at the top, four legs, Milosevic with his arm around Holly's throat, his gun at her head. He waited for his vision to build. Their faces faded in from black to gray. Holly in front of Milosevic. Reacher raised the Glock. Circled left to get an angle. His shin caught a fender. He staggered and backed into a pile of paint cans. They crashed silently to the rock floor, inaudible in the crushing noise from outside. He sprinted closer to the light.

  Milosevic sensed it and turned. Reacher saw his mouth open in a silent shout. Saw him twist and push Holly out in front of him like a shield. Saw him stall with indecision, his revolver up in the air. Reacher dodged right, then danced back left. He saw Milosevic track him both ways. Saw Holly use the sway to tear herself out of his grip. The rotor noise was shattering. He saw Milosevic glancing left and right. Saw him making his decision. Reacher was armed, Holly was not. Milosevic lunged forward. The. 38 flashed silently in the noise. The brief white flame was blinding in the dark. Reacher lost his sense of where Holly was. He cursed and held his fire. He saw Milosevic aim again. Beyond him, he saw Holly's arm come up and stretch around his head from behind. He saw her hand touch his face with gentle precision. He saw him stumble. Then the door heaved open and Holly staggered away from the shattering flood of noise and sunlight and crashed straight into his arms.

  The sunlight fell in a bright bar across Milosevic. He was lying on his back. His. 38 was in his hand. The hammer was back. There was a shard of bathroom tile sticking out of his head where his left eye should have been. It was maybe three inches in and three inches out. A small worm of blood was running away from the point of entry.

  Then the open door was crowded with people. Reacher saw McGrath and Garber standing in a blast of dust. A Night Hawk was landing behind them. Three men were spilling out and running over. A civilian and a Colonel. And General Johnson. Holly twisted and saw them and buried her face back in Reacher's chest.

  Garber was the first to them. He pulled them out into the light and the noise. They stumbled awkwardly, four-legged. The downdraft tore at them. Dust blasted off the shale. McGrath stepped near and Holly pulled herself from Reacher's grip and threw herself at him and hugged him hard. Then General Johnson was moving in on her through the crowd.

  "Holly," he mouthed through the din.

  She straightened in the light. Grinned at him. Hooked her hair back behind her ears. Pulled away from McGrath and hugged her father close.

  "Still stuff for me to do, Dad," she screamed over the engines. "I'll tell you everything later, OK?"

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