Die trying, p.6
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       Die Trying, p.6

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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Chapter Six

  SIX-THIRTY ON REACHER'S watch, the motion inside the truck changed. Six hours and four minutes they'd cruised steadily, maybe fifty-five or sixty miles an hour, while the heat peaked and fell away. He'd sat, hot and rocking and bouncing in the dark with the wheel well between him and Holly Johnson, ticking off the distance against a map inside his head. He figured they'd been taken maybe three hundred and ninety miles. But he didn't know which direction they were headed. If they were going east, they would be right through Indiana and just about out of Ohio by now, maybe just entering Pennsylvania or West Virginia. South, they would be out of Illinois, into Missouri or Kentucky, maybe even into Tennessee if he'd underestimated their speed. West, they'd be hauling their way across Iowa. They might have looped around the bottom of the lake and headed north up through Michigan. Or straight out northwest, in which case they could be up near Minneapolis.

  But they'd gotten somewhere, because the truck was slowing. Then there was a lurch to the right, like a pull off a highway. There was gear noise and thumping over broken pavement. Cornering forces slammed them around. Holly's crutch slid and rattled side to side across the ridged metal floor. The truck whined up grades and down slopes, paused at invisible road junctions, accelerated, braked hard, turned a tight left, and then drove slowly down a straight lumpy surface for a quarter hour.

  "Farming country somewhere," Reacher said.

  "Obviously," Holly said. "But where?"

  Reacher just shrugged at her in the gloom. The truck slowed almost to a stop and turned a tight right. The road surface got worse. The truck bounced forward maybe a hundred and fifty yards and stopped. There was the sound of the passenger door opening up in front. The engine was still running. The passenger door slammed shut. Reacher heard a big door opening and the truck moved slowly forward. The engine noise boomed against metal walls. Reacher heard the door noise again and the engine noise echoed louder. Then it shut down and died away into stillness.

  "We're in some sort of a barn," Reacher said. "With the door closed. "

  Holly nodded impatiently.

  "I know that," she said. "A cow barn. I can smell it. " Reacher could hear muffled conversation outside the truck. Footsteps walking around to the rear doors. A key going into the lock. The handle turning. A blinding flood of light as the door opened. Reacher blinked against the sudden electric brightness and stared out across Holly at three men, two Glocks and a shotgun.

  "Out," the leader said.

  They struggled out, handcuffed together. Not easy. They were stiff and sore and cramped from bracing themselves against the wheel well for six solid hours. Holly's knee had gone altogether. Reacher started back for her crutch.

  "Leave it there, asshole," the leader said.

  The guy sounded tired and irritable. Reacher gave him a steady look and shrugged. Holly stiffened and tried her weight on her leg. Gasped in pain and gave it up. Glanced impersonally at Reacher like he was some kind of a tree and stretched around with her free left hand to hold on tight around his neck. It was the only way she could stay upright.

  "Excuse me, please," she muttered.

  The leader gestured with his Glock over to his left. They were in a large cow barn. No cows, but they hadn't been long absent, judging by the odor. The truck was parked in a wide central aisle. Either side were cow stalls, roomy, made up from galvanized steel piping efficiently welded together. Reacher twisted and held Holly's waist and the two of them hopped and staggered over to the stall the guy with the Glock was pointing at. Holly seized a railing and held on, embarrassed.

  "Excuse me," she muttered again.

  Reacher nodded and waited. The driver with the shotgun covered them and the leader walked away. He heaved the big door open and stepped through. Reacher caught a glimpse of darkening sky. Cloudy. No clue at all to their location.

  The leader was gone five minutes. There was silence in the barn. The other two guys stood still, weapons out and ready. The jumpy guy with the Glock was staring at Reacher's face. The driver with the shotgun was staring at Holly's breasts. Smiling a half-smile. Nobody spoke. Then the leader stepped back in. He was carrying a second pair of handcuffs and two lengths of heavy chain.

  "You're making a big mistake here," Holly said to him. "I'm an FBI agent. "

  "I know that, bitch," the guy said. "Now be quiet. "

  "You're committing a serious crime," Holly said.

  "I know that, bitch," the guy said again. "And I told you to be quiet. Another word out of you, I'll shoot this guy in the head. Then you can spend the night with a corpse chained to your wrist, OK?"

  He waited until she nodded silently. Then the driver with the shotgun took up position behind them and the leader unlocked their cuff and freed their wrists. He looped one of the chains around the stall railing and locked the ends into the spare half of the cuff dangling from Reacher's left arm. Pulled it and rattled it to check it was secure. Then he dragged Holly two stalls away and used the new cuffs and the second length of chain to lock her to the railing, twenty feet from Reacher. Her knee gave way and she fell heavily with a gasp of pain onto the dirty straw. The leader ignored her. Just walked back to where Reacher was chained up. Stood right in front of him.

  "So who the hell are you, asshole?" he said.

  Reacher didn't reply. He knew the keys to both cuffs were in this guy's pocket. He knew it would take him about a second and a half to snap his neck with the loop of chain hanging off his wrist. But the other two guys were out of reach. One Glock, one shotgun, too far away to grab before he'd unlocked himself, too near to get a chance to do that. He was dealing with a reasonably efficient set of opponents. So he just shrugged and looked at the straw at his feet. It was clogged with dung.

  "I asked you a damn question," the guy said.

  Reacher looked at him. In the corner of his eye, he saw the jumpy guy ratchet his Glock upward a degree or two.

  "I asked you a question, asshole," the leader said again, quietly.

  The jumpy guy's Glock was jutting forward. Then it was straight out, shoulder-high. Aimed right at Reacher's head. The muzzle was trembling through a small jerky circle, but probably not trembling enough to make the guy miss. Not from that sort of a close distance. Reacher looked from one guy to the other. The guy with the shotgun tore his attention away from Holly's breasts. He raised the weapon to his hip. Pointed it in Reacher's direction. It was an Ithaca 37. Twelve-bore. The five-shot version with the pistol grip and no shoulder stock. The guy racked a round into the chamber. The crunch-crunch of the mechanism was loud in the barn. It echoed off the metal walls. Died into silence. Reacher saw the trigger move through the first eighth-inch of its short travel.

  "Name?" the leader asked.

  The shotgun trigger tightened another eighth. If it fired on that trajectory, Reacher was going to lose both his legs and most of his stomach.

  "Name?" the leader asked for the second time.

  It was a twelve-bore, wouldn't kill him outright, but he'd bleed to death in the dirty straw. Femoral artery gone, about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. In those circumstances, no real reason to make a big deal out of giving this guy a name.

  "Jack Reacher," he said.

  The leader nodded in satisfaction, like he'd achieved a victory.

  "You know this bitch?" he asked.

  Reacher glanced across at Holly.

  "Better than I know some people," he said. "I just spent six hours handcuffed to her. "

  "You some kind of a wise guy, asshole?" the leader asked.

  Reacher shook his head.

  "Innocent passerby," he said. "I never saw her before. "

  "You with the Bureau?" the guy asked.

  Reacher shook his head again.

  "I'm a doorman," he said. "Club back in Chicago. "

  "You sure, asshole?" the guy said.

  Reacher nodded.

  "I'm sure," he said. "I'm a wise enough guy
that I can recall what I do for a living, one day to the next. "

  There was silence for a long moment. Tension. Then the jumpy guy with the Glock came out of his shooting stance. The driver with the shotgun swung his weapon down toward the straw on the floor. He turned his head and went back to staring at Holly's breasts. The leader nodded at Reacher.

  "OK, asshole," he said. "You behave yourself, you stay alive for now. Same for the bitch. Nothing's going to happen to anybody. Not just yet. "

  The three men regrouped in the center aisle and walked out of the barn. Before they locked the door, Reacher saw the sky again, briefly. Darker. Still cloudy. No stars. No clues. He tested the chain. It was securely fastened to the handcuff at one end and the railing at the other. Maybe seven feet long. He could hear Holly doing the same experiment. Tightening her chain and scoping out the radius it gave her to move through.

  "Would you mind looking away?" she called across.

  "Why?" he called back.

  There was a short silence. Then a sigh. Part embarrassed, part exasperated.

  "Do you really need to ask?" she called. "We were in that truck six hours, and it didn't have a bathroom, did it?"

  "You going in the next stall?" he asked.

  "Obviously," she said.

  "OK," he said. "You go right and I'll go left. I won't look if you won't. "

  THE THREE MEN came back to the barn within an hour with food. Some kind of a beef stew in a metal messtin, one for each of them. Mostly rare steak chunks and a lot of hard carrots. Whoever these guys were, cooking was not their major talent. Reacher was clear on that. They handed out an enamel mug of weak coffee, one for each of them. Then they got in the truck. Started it up and backed it out of the barn. Turned the bright lights off. Reacher caught a glimpse of dim emptiness outside. Then they pulled the big door shut and locked it. Left their prisoners in the dark and the quiet.

  "Gas station," Holly called from twenty feet away. "They're filling up for the rest of the ride. Can't do it with us inside. They figure we'd be banging on the side and shouting out for help. "

  Reacher nodded and finished his coffee. Sucked the fork from the stew clean. Bent one of the prongs right out and put a little kink into the end with pressure from his thumb-nail. It made a little hook. He used it to pick the lock on his handcuff. Took him eighteen seconds, beginning to end. He dropped the cuff and the chain in the straw and walked over to Holly. Bent down and unlocked her wrist. Twelve seconds. Helped her to her feet.

  "Doorman, right?" she said.

  "Right," he said. "Let's take a look around. "

  "I can't walk," she said. "My crutch is in the damn truck. "

  Reacher nodded. She stayed in her stall, clinging to the railing. He scouted around the big empty barn. It was a sturdy metal structure, built throughout with the same flecked galvanized metal as the stall railings. The big door was locked from the outside. Probably a steel bar pad-locked into place. No problem if he could get at the padlock, but he was inside and the padlock was outside.

  The walls met the floor with a right-angle flange bolted firmly into the concrete. The walls themselves were horizontal metal panels maybe thirty feet long, maybe four feet tall. They were joined together with more right-angle flanges bolted together. Each flange gave a lip about six inches deep. Like a giant stepladder, with the treads four feet apart.

  He climbed the wall, hauling himself quickly upward, flange to flange, four feet at a time. The way out of the barn was right there at the top of the wall, seven sections up, twenty-eight feet off the ground. There was a ventilation slot between the top of the wall and the overhanging slope of the metal roof. About eighteen inches high. A person could roll horizontally through the gap like an old-fashioned high jumper, hang down outside and drop twenty feet to the ground below.

  He could do that, but Holly Johnson couldn't. She couldn't even walk over to the wall. She couldn't climb it and she sure as hell couldn't hang down outside and drop twenty feet onto a set of wrecked cruciate ligaments.

  "Get going," she called up to him. "Get out of here, right now. "

  He ignored her and peered out through the slot into the darkness. The overhanging eaves gave him a low horizon. Empty country as far as the eye could see. He climbed down and went up the other three walls in turn. The second side gave out onto country just as empty as the first. The third had a view of a farmhouse. White shingles. Lights in two windows. The fourth side of the barn looked straight up the farm track. About a hundred and fifty yards to a featureless road. Emptiness beyond. In the far distance, a single set of headlight beams. Flicking and bouncing. Widely spaced. Growing larger. Getting nearer. The truck, coming back.

  "Can you see where we are?" Holly called up to him.

  "No idea," Reacher called back. "Farming country somewhere. Could be anywhere. Where do they have cows like this? And fields and stuff?"

  "Is it hilly out there?" Holly called. "Or flat?"

  "Can't tell," Reacher said. "Too dark. Maybe a little hilly. "

  "Could be Pennsylvania," Holly said. "They have hills and cows there. "

  Reacher climbed down the fourth wall and walked back to her stall.

  "Get out of here, for Christ's sake," she said to him. "Raise the alarm. "

  He shook his head. He heard the diesel slowing to turn into the track.

  "That may not be the best option," he said.

  She stared at him.

  "Who the hell gave you an option?" she said. "I'm ordering you. You're a civilian and I'm FBI and I'm ordering you to get yourself to safety right now. "

  Reacher just shrugged and stood there.

  "I'm ordering you, OK?" Holly said again. "You going to obey me?"

  Reacher shook his head again.

  "No," he said.

  She glared at him. Then the truck was back. They heard the roar of the diesel and the groan of the springs on the rough track outside. Reacher locked Holly's cuff and ran back to his stall. They heard the truck door slam and footsteps on the concrete. Reacher chained his wrist to the railing and bent the fork back into shape. When the barn door opened and the light came on, he was sitting quietly on the straw.

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