Die Trying

Chapter Eleven

  HOLLY JOHNSON HAD been mildly disappointed by Reacher's assessment of the cash value of her wardrobe. Reacher had said he figured she had maybe fifteen or twenty outfits, four hundred bucks an outfit, maybe eight grand in total. Truth was she had thirty-four business suits in her closet. She'd worked three years on Wall Street. She had eight grand tied up in the shoes alone. Four hundred bucks was what she had spent on a blouse, and that was when she felt driven by native common sense to be a little economical.

  She liked Armani. She had thirteen of his spring suits. Spring clothes from Milan were just about right for most of the Chicago summer. Maybe in the really fierce heat of August she'd break out her Moschino shifts, but June and July, September too if she was lucky, her Armanis were the thing. Her favorites were the dark peach shades she'd bought in her last year in the brokerage house. Some mysterious Italian blend of silks. Cut and tailored by people whose ancestors had been fingering fine materials for hundreds of years. They look at it and consider it and cut it and it just falls into marvelous soft shapes. Then they market it and a Wall Street broker buys it and loves it and is still wearing it two years into the future when she's a new FBI agent and she gets snatched off a Chicago street. She's still wearing it eighteen hours later after a sleepless night on the filthy straw in a cow barn. By that point, the thing is no longer something that Armani would recognize.

  The three kidnappers had returned with the truck and backed it into the cow barn's central concrete aisle. Then they had locked the barn door and disappeared. Holly guessed they had spent the night in the farmhouse. Reacher had slept quietly in his stall, chained to the railing, while she tossed and turned in the straw, sleepless, thinking urgently about him.

  His safety was her responsibility. He was an innocent passerby, caught up in her business. Whatever else lay ahead for her, she had to take care of him. That was her duty. He was her burden. And he was lying. Holly was absolutely certain he was not a blues club doorman. And she was pretty certain what he was. The Johnson family was a military family. Because of her father, Holly had lived on Army bases her whole life, right up to Yale. She knew the Army. She knew the soldiers. She knew the types and she knew Reacher was one. To her practiced eye, he looked like one. Acted like one. Reacted like one. It was possible a doorman could pick locks and climb walls like an ape, but if a doorman did go ahead and do that, he would do it with an air of unfamiliarity and daring and breathlessness which would be quite distinctive. He wouldn't do it like it came as naturally as blinking. Reacher was a quiet, contained man, relaxed, fit, clearly trained to the point of some kind of superhuman calm. He was probably ten years older than she was, but somewhere less than forty, about six feet five, huge, maybe two-twenty, blue eyes, thinning fair hair. Big enough to be a doorman, and old enough to have been around, that was for sure, but he was a soldier. A soldier, claiming to be a doorman. But why?

  Holly had no idea. She just lay there, uncomfortable, listening to his quiet breathing, twenty feet away. Doorman or soldier, ten years older or not, it was her responsibility to get him to safety. She didn't sleep. Too busy thinking, and her knee was too painful. At eight-thirty on her watch, she heard him wake up. Just a subtle change in the rhythm of his breathing.

  "Good morning, Reacher," she called out.

  "Morning, Holly," he said. "They're coming back. "

  It was silent, but after a long moment she heard footsteps outside. Climbs like an ape, hears like a bat, she thought. Some doorman.

  "You OK?" Reacher called to her.

  She didn't answer. His welfare was her responsibility, not the other way around. She heard a rattle as the barn door was unlocked. It rolled open and daylight flooded in. She caught a glimpse of empty green country. Pennsylvania, maybe, she thought. The three kidnappers walked in and the door was pulled shut.

  "Get up, bitch," the leader said to her.

  She didn't move. She was seized by an overpowering desire not to be put back inside the truck. Too dark, too uncomfortable, too tedious. She didn't know if she could take another day in there, swaying, jolting, above all totally unaware of where the hell she was being taken, or why, or by who. Instinctively, she grabbed the metal railing and held on, arm tensed, like she was going to put up a struggle. The leader stood still and pulled out his Glock. Looked down at her.

  "Two ways of doing this," he said. "The easy way, or the hard way. "

  She didn't reply. Just sat there in the straw and held on tight to the railing. The ugly driver took three steps nearer and started smiling, staring at her breasts again. She felt naked and revolted under his gaze.

  "Your choice, bitch," the leader said.

  She heard Reacher moving in his stall.

  "No, it's your choice," she heard him call to the guy. "We need to be a little mutual here. Cooperative, right? You want us to get back in your truck, you need to make it worth our while. "

  His voice was calm and low. Holly stared across at him. Saw him sitting there, chained up, unarmed, facing a loaded automatic weapon, totally powerless by any reasonable definition of the word, three hostile men staring down at him.

  "We need some breakfast," Reacher said. "Toast, with grape jelly. And coffee, but make it a lot stronger than last night's crap, OK? Good coffee is very important to me. You need to understand that. Then put a couple of mattresses in the truck. One queen-size, one twin. Make us a sofa in there. Then we'll get in. "

  There was total silence. Holly glanced between the two men. Reacher was fixing the leader with a calm, level gaze from the floor. His blue eyes never blinked. The leader was staring down at him. Tension visible in the air. The driver had torn his gaze away from her body and was looking at Reacher. Anger in his eyes. Then the leader snapped around and nodded the other two out of the barn with him. Holly heard the door locking behind them.

  "You eat toast?" Reacher said to her.

  She was too breathless to answer.

  "When they bring it, send it back," he said. "Make them do it over. Say it's too pale or too burnt or something. "

  "What the hell do you think you're doing?" she asked.

  "Psychology," Reacher said. "We need to start getting some dominance here. Situation like this, it's very important. "

  She stared at him.

  "Just do it, OK?" he said, calmly.

  SHE DID IT. The jumpy guy brought the toast. It was just about perfect, but she rejected it. She looked at it with the disdain she'd use on a sloppy balance sheet and said it was too well-done. She was standing with all her weight on one foot, looking like a mess, dung all over her peach Armani, but she managed enough haughty contempt to intimidate the guy. He went back to the farmhouse kitchen and made more.

  It came with a pot of strong coffee and Holly and Reacher ate their separate breakfasts, chains clanking, twenty feet apart, while the other two guys hauled mattresses into the barn. One queen, one twin. They pulled them up into the back of the truck and laid the queen out on the floor and stood the twin at right angles to it, up against the back of the cab bulkhead. Holly watched them do it and felt a whole lot better about the day. Then she suddenly realized exactly where Reacher's psychology had been aimed. Not just at the three kidnappers. At her, too. He didn't want her to get into a fight. Because she'd lose. He'd risked doing what he'd done to defuse a hopeless confrontation. She was amazed. Totally amazed. She thought blankly: for Christ's sake, this guy's got it ass backward. He's trying to take care of me.

  "You want to tell us your names?" Reacher asked, calmly. "We're spending some time together, we can be a little civilized about it, right?"

  Holly saw the leader just looking at him. The guy made no reply.

  "We've seen your faces," Reacher said. "Telling us your names isn't going to do you any harm. And we might as well try to get along. "

  The guy thought about it and nodded.

  "Loder," he said.

  The little jumpy guy shifted feet.
br />   "Stevie," he said.

  Reacher nodded. Then the ugly driver realized all four were looking at him. He ducked his head.

  "I'm not telling you my name," he said. "Hell should I?"

  "And let's be real clear," the guy called Loder said. "Civilized is not the same thing as friendly, right?"

  Holly saw him aim his Glock at Reacher's head and hold it there for a long moment. Nothing in his face. Not the same thing as friendly. Reacher nodded. A small cautious movement. They left their toast plates and their coffee mugs lying on the straw and the guy called Loder unlocked their chains. They met in the central aisle. Two Glocks and a shotgun aimed at them. The ugly driver leering. Reacher looked him in the eye and ducked down and picked Holly up like she weighed nothing at all. Carried her the ten paces to the truck. Put her down gently inside. They crawled forward together to the improvised sofa. Got themselves comfortable.

  The truck's rear doors slammed and locked. Holly heard the big barn door open up. The truck's engine turned over and caught. They drove out of the barn and bounced a hundred and fifty yards over the rough track. Turned an invisible right angle and cruised straight and slow down a road for fifteen minutes.

  "We aren't in Pennsylvania," Holly said. "Roads are too straight. Too flat. "

  Reacher just shrugged at her in the dark.

  "We aren't in handcuffs anymore, either," he said. "Psychology. "