Home > Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(7)

Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher #15)(7)
Author: Lee Child

A pretty good idea, but not perfect knowledge. In the state of Montana, east of the Rockies, below the tree line, the land spent a hundred miles flattening from jagged peaks to gentle plains, most of it thickly forested with conifers, the woods interrupted only by sparkling streams and freshwater lakes and occasional sandy needle-strewn paths. One of those paths connected through labyrinthine miles of twists and turns to a dirt fire road, which ran south and in turn connected to a wandering gravel road, which many miles later ended as an inconspicuous left-hand turn off a minor county two-lane far to the north of a small no-account town called Hogg Parish.

A grey panel truck made that left-hand turn. It rolled slowly along the gravel, crunching quietly, getting bounced left and right by the ruts and the bad camber, its springs creaking, its headlights off and its parking lights on. It burrowed ever deeper into the bitter cold and the darkness, endlessly. Then eventually it turned on to the fire road, beaten dirt now under its wheels, bare frozen trunks to the left and right, a narrow slice of night sky visible overhead, plenty of stars, no moon, the GPS satellites thousands of miles up connecting perfectly, guiding it, showing it the limits of safety.

It crawled onward, many miles, and then the fire road petered out and the sandy track began. The truck slowed to a walk and locked into the ruts it had made on its many previous trips. It followed them left and right through arbitrary turns and curves, between scarred trees where the clearance was tight, with stubs of low branches scraping the sides. It drove for more than an hour and then came to a stop in a location chosen long before, exactly two miles south of the border. No one was certain where the motion sensors had been buried, but most assumed that a belt a mile either side of the line was the practical limit. Like a minefield. Another mile had been added as a safety margin, and a small area of underbrush had been hacked out to allow the truck to turn.

The truck backed up and turned and stopped astride the sandy track, facing south, in position, ready. It shut down and settled and its lights went off.

It waited.

Reacher waited in the dark in his tub armchair, forty minutes, an hour, tracing the next day's intended route in his head. South to the Interstate, and then east. The Interstate would be easy. He had hitchhiked most of the network before. There were on-ramps and rest areas and a vast travelling population, some of it commercial, some of it private, a fair proportion of it lonely and ready for company. The problem would come before the Interstate, on the middle-of-nowhere trek down to it. Since climbing out of the car that had dumped him at the crossroads he had heard no traffic at all. Night-time was always worse than daytime, but even so it was rare in America to be close to a road and hear nothing go by. In fact he had heard nothing at all, no wind, no night sounds, and he had been listening hard, for tyres on gravel. It was like he had gone deaf. He raised his hand awkwardly and clicked his fingers near his ear, just to be sure. He wasn't deaf. It was just the middle of the night, in the countryside. That was all. He got up and used the bathroom and sat back down.

Then he heard something.

Not a passing vehicle, not wind, not night sounds.

Not tyres on gravel.

Footsteps on gravel.

EIGHT

FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL. ONE PAIR. A LIGHT, HESITANT TREAD, approaching. Reacher watched the window and saw a shape flit across it. Small, slight, head ducked down into the collar of a coat.

A woman.

There was a knock at the door, soft and tentative and padded. A small nervous hand, wearing a glove. A decoy, possibly. Not beyond the wit of man to send someone on ahead, all innocent and unthreatening, to get the door open and lull the target into a sense of false security. Not unlikely that such a person would be nervous and hesitant about her role.

Reacher crossed the floor silently and headed back to the bathroom. He eased the window up and clipped out the screen and rested it in the bathtub. Then he ducked his head and climbed out, scissoring his legs over the sill, stepping down to the gravel. He walked one of the silver timbers that boxed the path, like a tightrope, silently. He went counterclockwise around the circular cabin and came up on the woman from behind.

She was alone.

No cars on the road, nobody in the lot, nobody flattened either side of his door, nobody crouched under his window. Just the woman, standing there on her own. She looked cold. She was wearing a wool coat and a scarf. No hat. She was maybe forty, small, dark, and worried. She raised her hand and knocked again.

Reacher said, 'I'm here.'

She gasped and spun around and put her hand on her chest. Her mouth stayed open and made a tiny O. He said, 'I'm sorry if I startled you, but I wasn't expecting visitors.'

She said, 'Perhaps you should have been.'

'Well, in fact, perhaps I was. But not you.'

'Can we go inside?'

'Who are you?'

'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm the doctor's wife.'

'I'm pleased to meet you,' Reacher said.

'Can we go inside?'

Reacher found the key in his pocket and unlocked the door from the outside. The doctor's wife stepped in and he followed her and locked the door again behind them. He crossed the room and closed the bathroom door against the night air coming in through the open window. He turned back to find her standing in the middle of the space. He indicated the armchair and said, 'Please.'

She sat down. Didn't unbutton her coat. She was still nervous. If she had been carrying a purse, she would have had it clamped hard on her knees, defensively. She said, 'I walked all the way over here.'

'To pick up the car? You should have let your husband do that, in the morning. That's what I arranged with him.'

'He's too drunk to drive.'

'He'll be OK by morning, surely.'

'Morning's too late. You have to get going. Right now. You're not safe here.'

'You think?'

'My husband said you're heading south to the Interstate. I'll drive you there.'

'Now? It's got to be a hundred miles.'

'A hundred and twenty.'

'It's the middle of the night.'

'You're not safe here. My husband told me what happened. You interfered with the Duncans. You saw. They'll punish him for sure, and we think they'll come after you too.'

'They?'

'The Duncans. There are four of them.'

'Punish him how?'

'Oh, I don't know. Last time they wouldn't let him come here for a month.'

'Here? To the lounge?'

'It's his favourite place.'

'How could they stop him coming here?'

'They told Mr Vincent not to serve him. The owner.'

'Why would the owner of this place do what the Duncans tell him?'

'The Duncans run a trucking business. All of Mr Vincent's supplies come through them. He signed a contract. He kind of had to. That's how the Duncans work. So if Mr Vincent doesn't play ball, a couple of deliveries will be late, a couple lost, a couple damaged. He knows that. He'll go out of business.'

Reacher asked, 'What will they figure to do to me?'

The woman said, 'They hire football players right out of college. Cornhuskers. The ones who were good enough to get scholarships, but not good enough to go to the NFL. Guards and tackles. Big guys.'

Brett, Reacher thought.

The woman said, 'They'll connect the dots and figure out where you are. I mean, where else could you be? They'll pay you a visit. Maybe they're already on their way.'

'From where?'

'The Duncan depot is twenty miles from here. Most of their people live close to it.'

'How many football players have they got?'

'Ten.'

Reacher said nothing.

The woman said, 'My husband heard you say you're headed for Virginia.'

'That's the plan.'

'Is that where you live?'

 

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