Die Trying

Chapter Thirteen

  "WE NEED TO talk," Holly said.

  "So talk," Reacher replied.

  They were sprawled out on the mattresses in the gloom inside the truck, rocking and bouncing, but not much. It was pretty clear they were heading down a highway. After fifteen minutes of a slow straight road, there had been a deceleration, a momentary stop, and a left turn followed by steady acceleration up a ramp. Then a slight sway as the truck nudged left onto the pavement. Then a steady droning cruise, maybe sixty miles an hour, which had continued ever since and was feeling like it would continue forever.

  The temperature inside the dark space had slowly climbed higher. Now it was pretty warm. Reacher had taken his shirt off. But the truck had started to cool, from the night in the cow barn, and Reacher felt as long as it kept moving through the air, it was going to be tolerable. The problem would come if they stopped for any length of time. Then the truck would heat up like a pizza oven and it would get as bad as it had gotten the day before.

  The twin-sized mattress had been standing upright on its long edge, up against the forward bulkhead, and the queen-size had been flat on the floor, jammed up against it, making a crude sofa. But the ninety-degree angle between the seat and the back had made the whole thing uncomfortable. So Reacher had slid the queen-size backward, with Holly riding on it like a sled, and laid the twin flat next to it. Now they had an eight-foot by six-six flat padded area. They were lying down on their backs, heads together so they could talk, bodies apart in a decorous V shape, rocking gently with the motion of the ride.

  "You should do what I tell you," Holly said. "You should have gotten out. "

  He made no reply.

  "You're a burden to me," she said. "You understand that? I've got enough on my hands here without having to worry about you. "

  He didn't reply. They lay rocking in silence. He could smell yesterday morning's shampoo in her hair.

  "So you've got to do what I tell you from now on," she said. "Are you listening to me? I just can't afford to be worrying about you. "

  He turned his head to look at her, close up. She was worrying about him. It came as a big surprise, out of nowhere. A shock. Like being on a train, stopped next to another train in a busy railroad station. Your train begins to move. It picks up speed. And then all of a sudden it's not your train moving. It's the other train. Your train was stationary all the time. Your frame of reference was wrong. He thought his train was moving. She thought hers was.

  "I don't need your help," she said. "I've already got all the help I need. You know how the Bureau works? You know what the biggest crime in the world is? Not bombing, not terrorism, not racketeering. The biggest crime in the world is messing with Bureau personnel. The Bureau looks after its own. "

  Reacher stayed quiet for a spell. Then he smiled.

  "So then we're both OK," he said. "We just lay back here, and pretty soon a bunch of agents is going to come bursting in to rescue us. "

  "I trust my people," Holly said to him.

  There was silence again. The truck droned on for a couple of minutes. Reacher ticked off the distance in his head. About four hundred fifty miles from Chicago, maybe. East, west, north, or south. Holly gasped and used both hands to shift her leg.

  "Hurting?" Reacher said.

  "When it gets out of line," she said. "When it's straight, it's OK. "

  "Which direction are we headed?" he asked.

  "Are you going to do what I tell you?" she asked.

  "Is it getting hotter or colder?" he said. "Or staying the same?"

  She shrugged.

  "Can't tell," she said. "Why?"

  "North or south, it should be getting hotter or colder," he said. "East or west, it should be staying more or less the same. "

  "Feels the same to me," she said. "But inside here, you can't really tell. "

  "Highway feels fairly empty," Reacher said. "We're not pulling out to pass people. We're not getting slowed down by anybody. We're just cruising. "

  "So?" Holly said.

  "Might mean we're not going east," he said. "There's a kind of barrier, right? Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Baltimore. Like a frontier. Gets much busier. We'd be hitting more traffic. What is it, Tuesday? About eleven o'clock in the morning? Roads feel too empty for the East. "

  Holly nodded.

  "So we're going north or west or south," she said.

  "In a stolen truck," he said. "Vulnerable. "

  "Stolen?" she said. "How do you know that?"

  "Because the car was stolen too," he said.

  "How do you know that?" she repeated.

  "Because they burned it," he said.

  Holly rolled her head and looked straight at him.

  "Think about it," he said. "Think about their plan. They came to Chicago in their own vehicle. Maybe some time ago. Could have taken them a couple of weeks to stake you out. Maybe three. "

  "Three weeks?" she said. "You think they were watching me three weeks?"

  "Probably three," he said. "You went to the cleaners every Monday, right? Once a week? Must have taken them a while to confirm that pattern. But they couldn't grab you in their own vehicle. Too easy to trace, and it probably had windows and all, not suitable for long-distance transport of a kidnap victim. So I figure they stole this truck, in Chicago, probably yesterday morning. Painted over whatever writing was on the side. You notice the patch of white paint? Fresh, didn't match the rest? They disguised it, maybe changed the plates. But it was still a hot truck, right?› And it was their getaway vehicle. So they didn't want to risk it on the street. And people getting into the back of a truck looks weird. A car is better. So they stole the black sedan and used that instead. Switched vehicles in that vacant lot, burned the black car, and they're away. "

  Holly shrugged. Made a face.

  "Doesn't prove they stole anything," she said.

  "Yes it does," Reacher said. "Who buys a new car with leather seats, knowing they're going to burn it? They'd have bought some old clunker instead. "

  She nodded, reluctantly.

  "Who are these people?" she said, more to herself than to Reacher.

  "Amateurs," Reacher said. "They're making one mistake after another. "

  "Like what?" she said.

  "Burning is dumb," he said. "Attracts attention. They think they've been smart, but they haven't. Probability is they burned their original car, as well. I bet they burned it right near where they stole the black sedan. "

  "Sounds smart enough to me," Holly said.

  "Cops notice burning cars," Reacher said. "They'll find the black sedan, they'll find out where it was stolen from, they'll go up there and find their original vehicle, probably still smoldering. They're leaving a trail, Holly. They should have parked both cars in the long-term lot at O'Hare. They would have been there a year before anybody noticed. Or just left them both down on the South Side somewhere, doors open, keys in. Two minutes later, two residents down there got themselves a new motor each. Those cars would never have been seen again. That's how to cover your tracks. Burning feels good, feels like it's real final, but it's dumb as hell. "

  Holly turned her face back and stared up at the hot metal roof. She was asking herself: Just who the hell is this guy?