Die trying, p.9
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       Die Trying, p.9

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

  REACHER LAY QUIETLY on the dirty straw in his stall in the cow barn. Not asleep, but his body was shut down to the point where he might as well have been. Every muscle was relaxed and his breathing was slow and even. His eyes were closed because the barn was dark and there was nothing to see. But his mind was wide awake. Not racing, but just powering steadily along with that special nighttime intensity you get in the absence of any other distractions.

  He was doing two things at once. First, he was keeping track of time. It was nearly two hours since he had last looked at his watch, but he knew what time it was to within about twenty seconds. It was an old skill, born of many long wakeful nights on active service. When you're waiting for something to happen, you close your body down like a beach house in winter and you let your mind lock onto the steady pace of the passing seconds. It's like suspended animation. It saves energy and it lifts the responsibility for your heartbeat away from your unconscious brain and passes it on to some kind of a hidden clock. Makes a huge black space for thinking in. But it keeps you just awake enough to be ready for whatever you need to be ready for. And it means you always know what time it is.

  The second simultaneous thing Reacher was doing was playing around with a little mental arithmetic. He was multiplying big numbers in his head. He was thirty-seven years and eight months old, just about to the day. Thirty-seven multiplied by three hundred and sixty-five was thirteen thousand five hundred and five. Plus twelve days for twelve leap years was thirteen thousand five hundred and seventeen. Eight months counting from his birthday in October forward to this date in June was two hundred and forty-three days. Total of thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty days since he was born. Thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty days, thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty nights. He was trying to place this particular night somewhere on that endless scale. In terms of how bad it was.

  Truth was, it wasn't the best night he had ever passed, but it was a long way from being the worst. A very long way. The first four or so years of his life, he couldn't remember anything at all, which left about twelve thousand three hundred nights to account for. Probability was, this particular night was up there in the top third. Without even trying hard, he could have reeled off thousands of nights worse than this one. Tonight, he was warm, comfortable, uninjured, not under any immediate threat, and he'd been fed. Not well, but he felt that came from a lack of skill rather than from active malice. So physically he had no complaints.

  Mentally, it was a different story. He was suspended in a vacuum just as impenetrable as the darkness inside the cow barn. The problem was the total lack of information. He was not a guy who necessarily felt uncomfortable with some lack of information. He was the son of a Marine officer and he had lived the military life literally all the way since birth. Therefore confusion and unpredictability were what he was accustomed to. But tonight, there was just too much missing.

  He didn't know where he was. Whether by accident or by design, the three kidnappers had given him absolutely no clue at all where they were headed. It made him feel adrift. His particular problem was, living the military life from birth, out of those thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty days of his life, he'd spent probably much less than a fifth of them actually inside the United States. He was as American as the President, but he'd lived and served all over the world most of his life. Outside the United States. It had left him knowing his own country about as well as the average seven-year-old knows it. So he couldn't decode the subtle rhythms and feel and smells of America as well as he wanted to. It was possible that somebody else could interpret the unseen contours of the invisible landscape or the feel of the air or the temperature of the night and say yes, I'm in this state now or that state now. It was possible people could do that. But Reacher couldn't. It gave him a problem.

  Added to that he had no idea who the kidnappers were. Or what their business was. Or what their intentions were. He'd studied them closely, every opportunity he'd had. Conclusions were difficult. The evidence was all contradictory. Three of them, youngish, maybe somewhere between thirty and thirty-five, fit, trained to act together with a measure of efficiency. They were almost military, but not quite. They were organized, but not official. Their appearance shrieked: amateurs.

  Because they were so neat. They all had new clothes, plain chain store cottons and poplins, fresh haircuts. Their weapons were fresh out of the box. The Glocks were brand-new. The shotgun was brand-new, packing grease still visible. Those factors meant they weren't any kind of professionals. Because professionals do this stuff every day. Whoever they are, Special Forces, CIA, FBI, detectives, it's their job. They wear working clothes. They use weapons they signed out last year, the year before, tried and trusted weapons, chipped weapons, scratched weapons, working tools. Put three professionals together on any one day, and you'll see last night's pizza on one guy's shirt, another guy won't have shaved, the third guy will be wearing the awful old pants his buddies make jokes about behind his back. It's possible you'll see a new jacket once in a while, or a fresh gun, or new shoes, but the chances of seeing everything new all at once on three working professionals on the same day are so slim as to be absurd.

  And their attitude betrayed them. Competent, but jumpy, uptight, hostile, rude, tense. Trained to some degree, but not practiced. Not experienced. They'd rehearsed the theory, and they were smart enough to avoid any gross errors, but they didn't have the habituation of professionals. Therefore these three were some kind of amateurs. And they had kidnapped a brand-new FBI agent. Why? What the hell could a brand-new FBI agent have done to anybody? Reacher had no idea. And the brand-new FBI agent in question wasn't saying. Just another component he couldn't begin to figure. But not the biggest component. The biggest component he couldn't begin to figure was why the hell he was still there.

  He had no problem with how he had gotten grabbed up in the first place. Just a freak of chance had put him alongside Holly Johnson at the exact time the snatch was going down. He was comfortable with that. He understood freak chances. Life was built out of freak chances, however much people would like to pretend otherwise. And he never wasted time speculating about how things might have been different, if this and if that. Obviously if he'd been strolling on that particular Chicago street a minute earlier or a minute later, he'd have been right past that dry cleaner and never known a damn thing about all this. But he hadn't been strolling a minute earlier or a minute later, and the freak chance had happened, and he wasn't about to waste his time wondering where he would be now if it hadn't.

  But what he did need to pin down was why he was still there, just over fourteen hours later, according to the clock inside his head. He'd had two marginal chances and one cast-iron certainty of getting out. Right away, on the street, he could have made it. Probably. The possibility of collateral damage had stopped him. Then in the abandoned lot, getting into the white truck, he might have made it. Probably. Three against one, both times, but they were three amateurs against Jack Reacher, and he felt comfortable enough about those odds.

  The cast-iron certainty was he could have been out of the cow barn, say an hour after the three guys returned from the gas station with the truck. He could have slipped the cuff again, climbed the wall and dropped down into the barnyard and been away. Just jogged over to the road and walked away and disappeared. Why hadn't he done that?

  He lay there in the huge inky blackness of relaxation and realized it was Holly that was keeping him there. He hadn't bailed out because he couldn't take the risk. The three guys could have panicked and wasted her and run. Reacher didn't want that to happen. Holly was a smart, spirited woman. Sharp, impatient, confident, tough as hell. Attractive, in a shy, unforced sort of a way. Dark, slim, a lot of intelligence and energy. Great eyes. Eyes were Reacher's thing. He was lost in a pair of pretty eyes.

  But it wasn't her eyes that were doing it to him. Not her looks. Or her intelligence or her personality. It was her knee. That'
s what was doing it to him. Her guts and her dignity. The sight of a good-looking spirited woman cheerfully fighting an unaccustomed disability seemed like a brave and noble thing to Reacher. It made her his type of person. She was coping with it. She was doing it well. She wasn't complaining. She wasn't asking for his help. And because she wasn't asking for it, she was going to get it.

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