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Die Trying, Page 2

Lee Child

Chapter Two


  ONE THOUSAND SEVEN hundred and two miles from Chicago by road, guest quarters were being prepared. They took the form of a single room. The room was following an unconventional design, specified by a thorough man after a great deal of careful thought. The design called for several unusual features.

  The quarters were designed for a specific purpose, and for a specific guest. The nature of the purpose and the identity of the guest had dictated the unusual features. The construction was concentrated on the second floor of an existing building. A corner room had been selected. It had a series of large windows on the two outside walls. They faced south and east. The glass had been smashed out and was replaced by heavy plywood sheeting nailed to the remaining window frames. The plywood was painted white on the outside, to match the building's siding. On the inside, the plywood was left unfinished.

  The corner room's ceiling was torn out. It was an old building, and the ceiling had been made of heavy plaster. It had been pulled down in a shower of choking dust. The room was now open to the rafters. The interior walling was torn off. The walls had been paneled in old pine, worn smooth with age and polish. That was all gone. The framing of the building and the heavy old tar paper behind the exterior siding was exposed. The floorboards were pulled up. The dusty ceiling of the room below was visible under the heavy joists. The room was just a shell.

  The old plaster from the ceiling and the boards from the walls and the floor had been thrown out through the windows before they were covered over with the plywood. The two men who had done the demolition work had shoveled all that debris into a large pile, and they had backed their truck up to the pile ready to cart the trash away. They were very anxious to leave the place looking neat and tidy. This was the first time they had worked for this particular employer, and there had been hints of more work to come. And looking around, they could see that there was plenty more needed doing. All in all, an optimistic situation. New contracts were hard to find, and this particular employer had shown no concern over price. The two men felt that to make a good first impression was very much in their long-term interest. They were hard at work loading their truck with every last plaster fragment when the employer himself stopped by.

  "All done?" he asked.

  The employer was a huge guy, freakishly bloated, with a high voice and two nickel-sized red spots burning on his pale cheeks. He moved lightly and quietly, like a guy a quarter his size. The overall effect was a guy people looked away from and answered quickly.

  "Just clearing up," the first guy said to him. "Where do we dump this stuff?"

  "I'll show you," the employer said. "You'll need to make two trips. Bring those boards separately, right?"

  The second guy nodded. The floorboards were eighteen inches wide, from back when lumbermen had the pick of any tree they wanted. No way would they fit into the flatbed with the rest of the junk. They finished loading the plaster and their employer squeezed into their truck with them. He was such a big guy, it made for a tight fit. He pointed beyond the old building.

  "Drive north," he said. "About a mile. "

  The road led them straight out of town and then wound upward through some steep bends. The employer pointed to a place.

  "In there," he said. "All the way in back, OK?"

  He strolled quietly away and the two guys unloaded their truck. Drove it back south and heaved the old pine boards in. Followed the winding bends again and unloaded. They carried the boards inside and stacked them neatly. All the way in back of the dark space. Then the employer stepped out of the shadows. He had been waiting for them. He had something in his hand.

  "We're all done," the first guy said.

  The employer nodded.

  "You sure are," he said.

  His hand came up. He was holding a gun. A dull black automatic. He shot the first guy in the head. The crash of the bullet was deafening. Blood and bone and brain sprayed everywhere. The second guy froze in terror. Then he ran. He launched himself sideways in a desperate sprint for cover. The employer smiled. He liked it when they ran. He dropped his huge arm to a shallow angle. Fired and put a bullet through the back of the guy's knee. Smiled again. Now it was better. He liked it when they ran, but he liked it better when they were squirming on the floor. He stood and listened to the guy's yelping for a long moment. Then he strolled quietly over and took careful aim. Put a bullet through the other knee. He watched for a while, then he tired of the game. Shrugged and put a final bullet through the guy's head. Then he laid the gun on the ground and rolled the two bodies over and over until they were stacked neatly in line with the old floorboards.