Die Trying

Chapter Forty-Two

  THE LEFT-HAND GUARD went down easily enough, too. Reacher put a bullet through the side of his head, just above the ear, and he fell heavily, right on top of the spread-eagled Bureau guy. But the right-hand guard reacted. He spun away and hurdled the taut ropes, racing for the trees. Reacher paused a beat and dropped him ten feet away. The guy sprawled and slid noisily through the shale and put up a slick of dust. Twitched once and died.

  Then Reacher waited. The last staccato echo of the three shots came back off the farthest mountains and faded into quiet. Reacher watched the trees, all around the Bastion. Watched for movement. The sunlight was bright. Too bright to be sure. There was a lot of contrast between the brightness of the clearing and the dark of the forest. So he waited.

  Then he came out from behind the radio hut at a desperate run. He sprinted straight across the clearing to the mess in the middle. Hauled the bodies out of the way. The guard was sprawled right on top of the Bureau guy. The unit leader was across his legs. He dumped them out of the way and found the knife. Sawed through the four coarse ropes. Dragged the Bureau guy upright and pushed him off back the way he'd come. Then he grabbed the two nearest rifles and sprinted after him. Caught him up halfway. The guy was just tottering along. So Reacher caught him under the arms and bundled him to safety. Threw him well into the trees behind the huts and stood bent over, panting. Then he took the magazines off the new rifles and put one in his pocket and one on his own gun. They were both the elongated thirty-shot versions. He'd been down to six rounds. Now he had sixty. A tenfold increase. And he had another pair of hands.

  "Are you Brogan?" he asked. "Or McGrath?"

  The guy answered stiffly and neutrally. There was fear and panic and confusion in his face.

  "McGrath," he said. "FBI. "

  Reacher nodded. The guy was shaken up, but he was an ally. He took Fowler's Glock out of his pocket and held it out to him, butt first. McGrath was panting quietly and glancing wildly toward the deep cover of the trees. There was aggression in his stance. His hands were balled into fists.

  "What?" Reacher asked him, concerned.

  McGrath darted forward and snatched the Glock and stepped back. Raised it and went into a shooting stance and pointed it two-handed. At Reacher's head. The cut ends of the ropes trailed down from his wrists. Reacher just stared blankly at him.

  "Hell are you doing?" he asked.

  "You're one of them," McGrath said back. "Drop the rifle, OK?"

  "What?" Reacher said again.

  "Just do it, OK?" McGrath said.

  Reacher stared at him, incredulous. Pointed through the trees at the sprawled bodies in the Bastion.

  "What about that?" he asked. "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

  The Glock did not waver. It was rock-steady, pointed straight at his head, at the apex of a perfect braced position. McGrath looked like a picture in a training manual, except for the ropes hanging like streamers from his wrists and ankles.

  "Doesn't that count for something?" Reacher asked again, pointing.

  "Not necessarily," McGrath growled back. "You killed Peter Bell, too. We know that. Just because you don't allow your troops to rape and torture your hostages doesn't necessarily put you on the side of the angels. "

  Reacher looked at him for a long moment, astonished. Thought hard. Then he nodded cautiously and dropped the rifle exactly halfway between the two of them. Drop it right at his own feet, McGrath would just tell him to kick it over toward him. Drop it too near McGrath's feet, and it wouldn't work. This guy was an experienced agent. From the look of his shooting stance, Reacher was expecting at least a basic level of competence from him.

  McGrath glanced down. Hesitated. He clearly didn't want Reacher near him. He didn't want him stepping nearer to nudge the rifle on toward him. So he slid his own foot forward to drag the weapon back close. He was maybe ten inches shorter than Reacher, all told. Aiming the Glock at Reacher's head from six feet away, he was aiming it upward at a fairly steep angle. As he slid his foot forward, he decreased his effective height by maybe an inch, which automatically increased the upward slope of his arms by a proportionate degree. And as he slid his foot forward, it brought him slightly closer to Reacher, which increased the upward angle yet more. By the time his toe was scrabbling for the weapon, his upper arms were near his face, interfering with his vision. Reacher waited for him to glance down again.

  He glanced down. Reacher let his knees go and fell vertically. Lashed back upward with his forearm and batted the Glock away. Swiped a wide arc with his other arm behind McGrath's knees and dumped him flat on his back in the dirt. Closed his hand over McGrath's wrist and squeezed gently until the Glock shook free. He picked it up by the barrel and held it the wrong way around.

  "Look at this," he said.

  He shook his cuff back and exposed the crusted weal on his left wrist.

  "I'm not one of them," he said. "They had me handcuffed most of the time. "

  Then he held the Glock out, butt first, offering it again. McGrath stared at it, and then stared back into the clearing. He ducked his head left and right to take in the bodies. Glanced back at Reacher, still confused.

  "We had you down as a bad guy," he said.

  Reacher nodded.

  "Evidently," he said. "But why?"

  "Video in the dry cleaner's," McGrath said. "Looked just like you were snatching her up. "

  Reacher shook his head.

  "Innocent passerby," he said.

  McGrath kept on looking hard at him. Quizzically, thinking. Reacher saw him arrive at a decision. He nodded in turn and accepted the Glock and laid it on the forest floor, exactly between them, like its positioning was a symbol, a treaty. He started fumbling at his shirt buttons. Cut ends of rope flailed at his wrists and ankles.

  "OK, can we start over?" he said, embarrassed.

  Reacher nodded and stuck out his hand.

  "Sure," he said. "I'm Reacher, you're McGrath. Holly's Agent-in-Charge. Pleased to meet you. "

  McGrath smiled ruefully and shook hands limply. Then he started fumbling at the knots on his wrist, one-handed.

  "You know a guy called Garber?" McGrath asked.

  Reacher nodded.

  "Used to work for him," he said.

  "Garber told us you were clean," McGrath said. "We didn't believe him. "

  "Naturally," Reacher said. "Garber always tells the truth. So nobody ever believes him. "

  "So I apologize," McGrath said. "I'm sorry, OK? But just try and see it my way. You've been public enemy number one for five days. "

  Reacher waved the apology away and stood up and helped McGrath to his feet. Bent back down to the dirt and picked up the Glock and handed it to him.

  "Your nose OK?" he asked.

  McGrath slipped the gun into his jacket pocket. Touched his nose gently and grimaced.

  "Bastard hit me," he said. "I think it's broken. Just turned and hit me, like they couldn't wait. "

  There was a noise in the woods, off to the left. Reacher caught McGrath's arm and pulled him deeper into the forest. Pushed through the brush and got facing east. He stood silently and listened for movement. McGrath was taking the ropes off his ankles and winding himself up to ask a question.

  "So is Holly OK?" he said.

  Reacher nodded. But grimly.

  "So far," he said. "But it's going to be a hell of a problem getting her out. "

  "I know about the dynamite," McGrath said. "That was the last thing Jackson called in. Monday night. "

  "It's a problem," Reacher said again. "One stray round, and she's had it. And there are a hundred trigger-happy people up here. Whatever we do, we need to do it carefully. Have you got reinforcements coming in? Hostage Rescue?"

  McGrath shook his head.

  "Not yet," he said. "Politics. "

  "Maybe that's good," Reacher said. "They're talking about mass suicide if they look like
getting beat. Live free or die, you know?"

  "Whichever," McGrath said. "Their choice. I don't care what happens to them. I just care about Holly. "

  They fell silent and crept together through the trees. Stopped deep in the woods, about level with the back of the mess hall. Now Reacher was winding himself up to ask a question. But he waited, frozen, a finger to his lips. There was noise to his left. A patrol, sweeping the fringe of the forest. McGrath made to move, but Reacher caught his arm and stopped him. Better to stand stock-still than to risk making noise of their own. The patrol came nearer. Reacher raised his rifle and switched it to rapid fire. Smothered the sound of the click with his palm. McGrath held his breath. The patrol was visible, ten feet away through the trees. Six men, six rifles. They were glancing rhythmically as they walked, left and right, left and right, between the edge of the sunny clearing and the dark green depths of the woods. Reacher breathed out, silently. Amateurs, with poor training and bad tactics. The bright sun in their eyes on every second glance was ruining their chances of seeing into the gloom of the forest. They were blind. They passed by without stopping. Reacher followed the sound of their progress and turned back to McGrath.

  "Where are Brogan and Milosevic?" he whispered.

  McGrath nodded, morosely.

  "I know," he said, quietly. "One of them is bent. I finally figured that out about half a second before they grabbed me up. "

  "Where are they?" Reacher asked again.

  "Up here somewhere," McGrath said. "We came in through the ravine together, a mile apart. "

  "Which one is it?" Reacher asked.

  McGrath shrugged.

  "I don't know," he said. "Can't figure it out. I've been going over and over it. They both did good work. Milosevic found the dry cleaner. He brought the video in. Brogan did a lot of work tracing it all back here to Montana. He traced the truck. He liaised with Quantico. My gut says neither one is bent. "

  "When was I ID'd?" Reacher asked.

  "Thursday morning," McGrath said. "We had your complete history. "

  Reacher nodded.

  "He called it in right away," he said. "These people suddenly knew who I was, Thursday morning. "

  McGrath shrugged again.

  "They were both there at the time," he said. "We were all down at Peterson. "

  "Did you get Holly's fax?" Reacher asked.

  "What fax?" McGrath said. "When?"

  "This morning," Reacher said. "Early, maybe ten to five? She faxed you a warning. "

  "We're intercepting their line," McGrath said. "In a truck, down the road here. But ten to five, I was in bed. "

  "So who was minding the store?" Reacher asked.

  McGrath nodded.

  "Milosevic and Brogan," he said, sourly. "The two of them. Ten to five this morning, they'd just gone on duty. Whichever one of them it is must have gotten the fax and concealed it. But which one, I just don't know. "

  Reacher nodded back.

  "We could figure it out," he said. "Or we could just wait and see. One of them will be walking around best of friends and the other will be in handcuffs, or dead. We'll be able to tell the difference. "

  McGrath nodded, sourly.

  "I can't wait," he said.

  Then Reacher stiffened and pulled him ten yards farther into the woods. He had heard the patrol coming back through the trees.

  INSIDE THE COURTROOM. Borken had heard the three shots. He was sitting in the judge's chair, and he heard them clearly. They went: crack crack. . . crack and repeated a dozen times as each of the distant slopes cannoned the echo back toward him. He sent a runner back to the Bastion. A mile there, a mile back on the winding path through the woods. Twenty minutes wasted, and then the runner got back panting with the news. Three corpses, four cut ropes.

  "Reacher," Borken said. "I should have wasted him at the beginning. "

  Milosevic nodded in agreement.

  "I want him kept away from me," Milosevic said. "I heard the autopsy report on your friend Peter Bell. I just want my money and safe passage out of here, OK?"

  Borken nodded. Then he laughed. A sharp, nervous laugh that was part excitement, part tension. He stood up and walked out from behind the bench. Laughed and grinned and slapped Milosevic on the shoulder.

  HOLLY JOHNSON KNEW no more than most people do about dynamite. She couldn't remember its exact chemical composition. She knew ammonium nitrate and nitrocellulose were in there somewhere. She wondered about nitroglycerin. Was that mixed in too? Or was that some other kind of explosive? Either way, she figured dynamite was some kind of a sticky fluid, soaked into a porous material and molded into sticks. Heavy sticks, quite dense. If her walls were packed with heavy dense sticks, they would absorb a lot of sound. Like a soundproofing layer in a city apartment. Which meant the shots she'd heard had been reasonably close.

  She'd heard: crack crack. . . crack. But she didn't know who was shooting at who, or why. They weren't handgun shots. She knew the flat bark of a handgun from her time at Quantico. These were shots from a long gun. Not the heavy thump of the big Barretts from the rifle range. A lighter weapon than that. Somebody firing a medium-caliber rifle three times. Or three people firing once, in a ragged volley. But whichever it was, something was happening. And she had to be ready.

  GARBER HEARD THE shots, too. Crack crack. . . crack, maybe a thousand yards northwest of him, maybe twelve hundred. Then a dozen spaced echoes coming back from the mountainsides. He was in no doubt about what they represented. An M-16, firing singles, the first pair in a tight group of two which the military called a double tap. The sound of a competent shooter. The idea was to get the second round off before the first shell case hit the ground. Then a third target, or maybe an insurance shot into the second. An unmistakable rhythm. Like a signature. The audible signature of somebody with hundreds of hours of weapons training behind him. Garber nodded to himself and moved forward through the trees.

  "IT MUST BE Brogan," Reacher whispered.

  McGrath looked surprised.

  "Why Brogan?" he asked.

  They were squatted down, backs to adjacent trunks, thirty yards into the woods, invisible. The search patrol had tracked back and missed them again. McGrath had given Reacher the whole story. He had rattled through the important parts of the investigation, one professional to another, in a sort of insider's shorthand. Reacher had asked sharp questions and McGrath had given short answers.

  "Time and distance," Reacher said. "That was crucial. Think about it from their point of view. They put us in the truck, and they raced off straight to Montana. What's that? Maybe seventeen hundred miles? Eighteen hundred?"

  "Probably," McGrath allowed.

  "And Brogan's a smart guy," Reacher said. "And he knows you're a smart guy. He knows you're smart enough to know that he's smart enough. So he can't dead-end the whole thing. But what he can do is keep you all far enough behind the action to stop you being a problem. And that's what he did. He managed the flow of information. The communication had to be two-way, right? So Monday, he knew they'd rented a truck. But right through Wednesday, he was still focusing you on stolen trucks, right? He wasted a lot of time with that Arizona thing. Then he finally makes the big breakthrough with the rental firm and the stuff with the mud, and he looks like the big hero, but in reality what he's done is keep you way behind the chase. He's given them all the time they need to get us here. "

  "But he still got us here, right?" McGrath said. "A ways behind them, OK, but he brought us right here all the same. "

  "No loss to him," Reacher said. "Borken was just itching to tell you where she was, soon as she was safely here, right? The destination was never going to be a secret, was it? That was the whole point. She was a deterrent to stop you attacking. No point in that, without telling you exactly where she was. "

  McGrath grunted. Thinking about it. Unconvinced.

  "They bribed him," Reacher said. "You better believe
it. They've got a big war chest, McGrath. Twenty million dollars, stolen bearer bonds. "

  "The armored car robbery?" McGrath asked. "Northern California somewhere? They did that?"

  "They're boasting about it," Reacher said.

  McGrath ran it through his head. Went pale. Reacher saw it and nodded.

  "Right," he said. "Let me make a guess: Brogan was never short of money, was he? Never groused about the salary, did he?"

  "Shit," McGrath said. "Two alimony checks every month, girlfriend, silk jackets, and I never even thought twice about it. I was just so grateful he wasn't one of the moaners. "

  "He's collecting his next payment right now," Reacher said. "And Milosevic is dead or locked up somewhere. "

  McGrath nodded slowly.

  "And Brogan worked out of California," he said. "Before he came to me. Shit, I never thought twice. A buck gets ten he was the exact agent who went after Borken. He said Sacramento couldn't make it stick. Said the files were unclear as to why not. Why not is because Borken was handing him bucketfuls of dollars to make sure it didn't stick. And the bastard was taking them. "

  Reacher nodded. Said nothing.

  "Shit," McGrath said again. "Shit, shit, shit. My fault. "

  Still Reacher said nothing. More tactful just to keep quiet. He understood McGrath's feelings. Understood his position. He had been in the same position himself, time to time in the past. He had felt the knife slip in, right between the shoulder blades.

  "I'll deal with Brogan later," McGrath said finally. "After we go get Holly. She mention me at all? She realize I'd come get her? She mention that?"

  Reacher nodded.

  "She told me she trusted her people," he said.