Die trying, p.8
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       Die Trying, p.8

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

  BY MIDNIGHT IN Chicago, the third-floor conference room was set up as a command center. FBI technicians had swarmed all evening, running phone lines into the room and installing computer terminals in a line down the center of the hardwood table. Now at midnight it was dark and cool and quiet. Shiny blackness outside the wall of glass. No scramble to decide which side of the table was better.

  Nobody had gone home. There were seventeen agents sprawled in the leather chairs. Even the Bureau lawyer was still there. No real reason for that, but the guy was feeling the same triple-layered response they all were. The Bureau looks after its own. That was layer number one. The Chicago Field Office looks after Holly Johnson. That was layer number two. Not just because of her connections. That had nothing to do with it. Holly was Holly. And if layer number three was what McGrath wanted, McGrath got. If McGrath was worried about Holly, then they all were worried, and they all were going to stay worried until she was found, safe and sound. So they were all still there. Quiet, and worried. Until McGrath came loudly and cheerfully into the room, making a big entrance, smoking like his life depended on it.

  "Good news, people, listen up, listen up," he called out.

  He dodged his way through to the head of the table. Murmuring died into sudden silence. Eighteen pairs of eyes followed him.

  "We found her," he called out. "We found her, OK? She's safe and well. Panic's over, folks. We can all relax now. "

  Eighteen voices started talking all at once. All asking the same urgent questions. McGrath held his hands up for quiet, like a nominee at a rally.

  "She's in the hospital," he said. "What happened is her surgeon got a window for this afternoon he wasn't expecting. He called her, she went right over, they took her straight to the OR. She's fine, she's convalescing, and she's embarrassed as all hell for the fuss she's caused. "

  The eighteen voices started up again, and McGrath let them rumble on for a moment. Then he held his hands up again.

  "So, panic over, right?" he called out again, smiling.

  The rumbling got lighter in tone as relief fueled the voices.

  "So, people, home to bed," McGrath said. "Full working day tomorrow, right? But thanks for being here. From me, and from Holly. Means a lot to her. Brogan and Milosevic, you stay awhile, share out her workload for the rest of the week. The rest of you, goodnight, sleep well, and thanks again, gentlemen. "

  Fifteen agents and the lawyer smiled and yawned and stood up. Jostled cheerfully and noisily out of the room. McGrath and Brogan and Milosevic were left scattered in random seats, far from each other. McGrath walked over in the sudden silence to the door. Closed it quietly. Turned back and faced the other two.

  "That was all bullshit," he said. "As I'm sure you both guessed. "

  Brogan and Milosevic just stared at him.

  "Webster called me," McGrath said. "And I'm sure you can both guess why. Major, major D. C. involvement. They're going apeshit down there. VIP kidnap, right? Webster's been given personal responsibility. He wants total secrecy and minimum numbers. He wants everybody up here off this case right now except me plus a team of two. My choice. I picked the two of you, because you know her best. So it's the three of us. We deal direct with Webster, and we don't talk to anybody else at all, OK?"

  Brogan stared at him and nodded. Milosevic nodded in turn. They knew they were the obvious choices for the job. But to be chosen by McGrath for any reason was an honor. They knew it, and they knew McGrath knew they knew it. So they nodded again, more firmly. Then there was silence for a long moment. McGrath's cigarette smoke mingled with the silence up near the ceiling. The clock on the wall ticked around toward half past midnight.

  "OK," Brogan said finally. "So what now?"

  "We work all night, is what," McGrath said. "All day, all night, every day, every night, until we find her. "

  He glanced at the two of them. Reviewed his choices. An adequate team, he thought. A good mixture. Brogan was older, drier, a pessimist. A compact man with a tidy, ordered approach, laced with enough imagination to make him useful. An untidy private life, with a girlfriend and a couple of ex-wives somewhere, all costing him big bucks and worry, but it never interfered with his work. Milosevic was younger, less intuitive, flashier, but solid. A permanent sidekick, which was not necessarily a fault. A weakness for big expensive four-wheel-drives, but everybody needs some kind of a hobby. Both of them were medium-term Bureau veterans, with mileage on their clocks and scalps on their belts. Both of them were focused, and neither of them ever bitched about the work or the hours. Or the salary, which made them just about unique. An adequate team. They were new to Chicago, but this investigation was not going to stay in Chicago. McGrath was just about sure of that.

  " Milo, you figure out her movements," he said. "Every step, every minute from twelve noon. "

  Milosevic nodded vaguely, like he was already lost in doing that.

  "Brogan, background checks," McGrath said. "We need to find some reason here. "

  Brogan nodded dourly, like he knew the reason was going to be the beginning and the end of the whole thing.

  "I start with the old guy?" he asked.

  "Obviously," McGrath said. "That's what I would do. "

  "OK, which one?" Brogan asked.

  "Whichever one," McGrath replied. "Your choice. "

  SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND two miles away, another executive decision had been taken. A decision about the third carpenter. The employer drove back to the white building in the crew chief's pickup. The third carpenter had finished up stacking the tools and he took a step forward when he saw the vehicle approaching. Then he stopped in puzzlement when he saw the huge figure at the wheel. He stood, uncertain, while the employer pulled up at the curb and heaved himself out.

  "OK?" the employer said to him.

  "Where are the guys?" the carpenter asked.

  "Something came up," the employer said.

  "Problem?" the guy asked.

  He went quiet, because he was thinking about his share of the price. A minority share, for sure, because he was the junior guy, but a minority share of that price was still more cash than he'd seen in a long time.

  "You got a saw there?" the employer asked.

  The guy just looked at him.

  "Dumb question, right?" the employer said. "You're a carpenter and I'm asking you if you got a saw? Just show me your best saw. "

  The guy stood still for a moment, then he ducked down and pulled a power saw from the stack of tools. A big thing in dull metal, wicked circular blade, fresh sawdust caked all around it.

  "Crosscut?" the employer asked. "Good for ripping through real tough stuff?"

  The guy nodded.

  "It does the job," he said, cautiously.

  "OK, here's the deal," the employer said. "We need a demonstration. "

  "Of the saw?" the guy asked.

  "Of the room," the employer said.

  "The room?" the guy repeated.

  "Supposed to be nobody can get out of it," the employer said. "That's the idea behind it, right?"

  "You designed it," the guy said.

  "But did you build it right?" the employer said. "That's what I'm asking here. We need a trial run. A demonstration to prove it serves its purpose. "

  "OK, how?" the guy asked.

  "You go in there," the employer said. "See if you can get out by morning. You built it, right? So you know all the weak spots. If anybody can get out, you can, that's for damn sure, right?"

  The guy was quiet for a long moment. Trying to understand.

  "And if I can?" he asked.

  The employer shrugged.

  "Then you don't get paid," he said. "Because you didn't build it right. "

  The guy went quiet again. Wondering if the employer was joking.

  "You spot the flaw in my logic?" the employer asked. "The way you're figuring it right now, it's in your interest just to si
t there on your ass all night, then tomorrow you say to me no sir, I couldn't get out of there, no sir, not at all. "

  The carpenter laughed a short nervous laugh.

  "That's how I was thinking," he said.

  "So what you need is an incentive," the employer said. "Understand? To make sure you try real hard to get out. "

  The carpenter glanced up at the blanked-off second-story corner. When he glanced back down, there was a dull black automatic in the employer's hand.

  "There's a sack in the truck," the employer said. "Go get it, OK?"

  The carpenter just looked around, astonished. The employer pointed the gun at his head.

  "Get the sack," he said quietly.

  There was nothing in the pickup bed. There was a burlap sack on the passenger seat. Wrapped into a package maybe a foot and a half long. It was heavy. Felt like reaching into a freezer at the market and pulling out a side of pig.

  "Open it up," the employer called. "Take a look. "

  The carpenter peeled back the burlap. First thing he saw was a finger. Icy white, because the blood had drained. Yellow workman's calluses standing out, big and obvious.

  "I'm going to put you in the room now," the employer called to him. "You don't get out by morning, I'm going to do that to you, OK? With your own damn saw, because mine went dull doing those. "

 
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