61 hours, p.37
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       61 Hours, p.37
 

         Part #14 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  of his pocket. After sixty he had its muzzle jammed hard in Holland’s ear. Before they hit he had his left hand hooked over Holland’s seat back, his arm rigid, his shoulder locked. The front end of the car punched straight through the wooden siding. The airbags exploded. The windshield shattered. The front wheels kicked up on the hut floor and the whole car went airborne. The front bumper hit a bed frame and smacked it like a cue ball and drove it into the paraffin stove. The stove tore out from under its pipe connection and clanged away like a barrel and the car fell to earth and ploughed on and hit the bed again and smashed it into the next bed across the aisle. The header rail above the windshield hit the unmoored stovepipe and bent it with a shriek and its raw end scraped the length of the car’s roof and then the car was all the way inside the hut, still moving fast, the chains on the back thrashing and grinding across the wooden floor. Reacher kicked Holland in the knee and forced his foot off the gas. The car crushed beds two deep against the far wall and punched out the other side into the moonlight and landed hard and came to rest nose down half in and half out of the hut in a tangle of bent iron frames and tumbling plywood sheets. Both headlights were out and there was all kinds of grinding and rattling coming from under the hood. There was hissing and wheezing and ticking from stressed components. There was dust and splinters all around and frigid air was pouring in through the shattered front glass like liquid.

  The Smith’s muzzle was still hard in Holland’s ear.

  Reacher was still upright in his seat, still braced easily against the back of Holland’s chair. The passenger airbag had inflated against his squared shoulder, and then it had collapsed again.

  He said, ‘I told you, Holland, you can’t compete.’

  Holland didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, ‘You damaged the car. How am I going to get back to town?’

  Holland asked, ‘What are you going to do with me?’

  Reacher said, ‘Let’s take a walk. Keep your hands where I can see them.’

  I’ll have plenty of time to read, Janet Salter had said, after all this fuss is over.

  You reap what you sow.

  They climbed out of the wrecked car into the cold and the wind and stepped away into the narrow lane that separated the first row of huts from the second. Holland walked ahead and Reacher followed ten feet behind with the old .38 six-shooter held low and easy. It was the one Janet Salter had cradled through so many hours.

  Reacher said, ‘Tell me about Plato.’

  Holland stopped and turned around and said, ‘I never met him. It was all on the phone, or through the bikers.’

  ‘Is he as bad as he sounds?’

  ‘Worse.’

  ‘What’s supposed to happen tonight?’

  ‘Like you figured. He’s going to take the jewellery out and steal back some of the meth.’

  ‘And you were supposed to help?’

  ‘I was supposed to be here, yes. I have some equipment for him, and the key to the door.’

  ‘OK,’ Reacher said. Then he raised the .38 and pulled the trigger and shot Holland between the eyes. The gun kicked gently in his hand and the sound was the same as a 158-grain .38 always was outdoors in quiet cold air, a fractured spitting crack that rolled away across the flat land and faded fast, because it had nothing to bounce back from. Holland went down with a loud rustle of heavy nylon and the stiffness of his coat pitched him half sideways and left him lying on one shoulder with his face turned up to the moon. Thirty-eight hundredths of an inch was mathematically a little larger than nine millimetres, so the third eye in his forehead was a little larger than Janet Salter’s had been, but his face was a little larger too, so overall the effect was proportional.

  Chief Thomas Holland, RIP.

  His body settled and his blood leaked out and his cell phone started ringing in his pocket.

  FORTY-TWO

  REACHER GOT TO THE PHONE BY THE THIRD RING. IT WAS IN Holland’s parka, in a chest pocket. It was faintly warm. Reacher hit the green button and raised it to his ear and said, ‘Yes?’

  ‘Holland?’ Practically a yell. A bad connection, very loud background noise, a Spanish accent, nasal and not deep.

  A small man.

  Plato.

  Reacher didn’t answer.

  ‘Holland?’

  Reacher said, ‘Yes.’

  ‘We’re fifteen minutes out. We need the landing lights.’

  Then the phone went dead.

  We? How many? Landing lights? What landing lights? Reacher stood still for a second. He had seen no electricity supply out to the runway. No humped glass lenses along its length. It was just a flat slab of concrete. It was possible the Crown Vic’s headlights were supposed to do the job, in which case Plato was shit out of luck, because the Crown Vic’s headlights were both busted. But then, headlights couldn’t stretch two miles. Not even halogen, not even on bright.

  Fifteen minutes.

  Now fourteen and change.

  Reacher put the phone in his own pocket and then checked through the rest of Holland’s pockets. Found the T-shaped key to the stone building’s door, and a scuffed old Glock 17. The throw-down pistol. There were fourteen rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.

  His round.

  He put the key and the Glock in his pocket and took another Glock out of Holland’s holster. His official piece. It was newer. Fully loaded. He put his gloves back on and bunched Holland’s shirt collar and jacket collar and parka collar all together in his fist and dragged the body to the nearest hut and all the way inside. Left it dumped in the centre of the floor. Then he hustled back to the car.

  Thirteen minutes and change.

  The car was canted down at the front, half in and half out of the hut. He squeezed along its flank and in through the hole in the shattered wall and stood where the stove had been and opened the trunk.

  All kinds of stuff in there. But three basic categories: normal car stuff where the Ford Motor Company had planned it to be, regular cop gear neatly stowed in plastic trays, and then other things thrown in on top of everything else. In the first category: a spare tyre and a scissor jack. In the second category: a fluorescent traffic jacket, four red road flares, three nested traffic cones, a first-aid kit, a green tackle box for small items, two tarps, three rolls of crime scene tape, a bag of white rags, a lockbox for a handgun. In the third category: a long coil of greasy rope, an engine hoist with pulleys and tripod legs, unopened boxes of big heavy-duty garbage bags.

  Nothing even remotely resembling a landing light.

  Twelve minutes and change.

  He pictured the scene from a pilot’s point of view. An airliner, a Boeing 737, descending, on approach, dim blue-grey moonlit tundra ahead and below. Visible to some degree, but uniform, and featureless. The guy would have GPS navigation, but he would need help from the ground. That was clear. But he wouldn’t be expecting any kind of mainstream FAA-approved bullshit. That was clear, too. Nothing was going to be done by the book.

  What would he need?

  Something improvised, obviously.

  Fire, maybe?

  World War Two bomber pilots landing in East Anglian fog were guided in by long parallel trenches pumped full of gasoline and set ablaze. Small planes landing secret agents in occupied Europe looked for fields with three bonfires arranged in an L-shape.

  Was Holland supposed to have set fires?

  Eleven minutes and change.

  No, not fires.

  Reacher slammed the trunk lid and kicked away debris from behind the car. He squeezed around to the front and hauled away tangled bed frames from under the fenders and dragged splintered plywood off the hood. The engine was still running. It smelled hot and oily and the bearings were knocking loudly. He squeezed back and opened the driver’s door and dumped himself in Holland’s seat and put the transmission in Reverse. Hit the gas and the car jerked and sputtered and dragged itself backwards the way it had come. In through the hole in the far wall, across the floor, out
through the hole in the near wall. It thumped down tail first and Reacher spun the wheel and jammed the lever into Drive and headed for the northeastern corner of the runway. The top right corner, from the Boeing’s point of view. He braked to a stop and slid out and opened the trunk again and grabbed the four red road flares from the plastic tray. He tossed three into the passenger seat as he passed and spiked the fourth into the concrete. It ignited automatically and burned fiercely. A bright crimson puffball. Visible from a long way on a road, presumably even further from the air.

  He got back in the car and headed for the opposite corner. The top left. He had no headlights, but the moonlight was enough. Just. A hundred yards. He used the second flare. Then he set off down the length of the two-mile stretch. No fun at all. The windshield glass was gone and the wind was biting. And the car was slow. And getting slower. It felt close to stalling out. It smelled of burning oil. The engine was knocking and vibrating. The temperature gauge in the dash was climbing steadily towards the red.

  Not good.

  Nine minutes and change.

  Two miles should have taken two minutes, but the wounded car took more than four. Reacher used the third flare in the southwestern corner. The bottom left, from the pilot’s point of view. He got back in the car. Backed up, turned the wheel, headed out. The car started juddering uncontrollably. It started losing all its power. The temperature needle jammed hard against its end stop. Steam and black smoke started coming out from under the hood. Thick clouds of it.

  A hundred yards to go. That was all. One more corner.

  The car made fifty yards and died. It just ground to a stop and stayed there, refusing to go on, hissing and inert, right in the middle of the runway’s southern edge. The transmission was gone, or the oil pressure, or the water, or something, or every-thing.

  Reacher got out and ran the rest of the way.

  He spiked the last flare and stood back.

  The crimson glow in the four distant corners was way brighter than anything else around it. And it came back off the shaped berms of ploughed snow twice as bright. Adequate, from the Boeing’s flight deck. Looking forward and down from an oblique angle there would be no doubt about the shape and location of the landing strip. The car was dark and dead right across the middle of the near end, but it was no worse than an airport fence.

  Two minutes and change.

  Job done.

  Except that Reacher was stuck two whole miles from where he needed to be, and it was a cold night for walking. Except that he was pretty sure he wouldn’t need to be walking. He was pretty sure he could get a ride, if he wanted one, before too long. Maybe even before he froze. Which was good. Except that given the state of his current information it was highly likely his ride would get him to the stone building a little after Plato got there. Which was not good. Not good at all. And not even remotely what he had intended.

  Plans go to hell as soon as the first shot is fired.

  He hustled back through the frigid air to the dead car, and he leaned on its flank and watched the night sky in the south.

  And waited.

  A minute later Reacher saw lights above the horizon. Like stars that weren’t stars. Tiny electric pinpricks that hung and twinkled and grew and danced a little, up and down, side to side. Spotlights in an airplane’s landing gear, for sure, approaching head on, maybe ten miles out.

  Then he saw lights below the horizon, too. Yellower, weaker, pooled on the ground, less stable, bouncing, moving much slower. Headlights. A road vehicle. Two of them, in fact, one behind the other on the wandering snowbound two-lane, approaching head on, crawling along, doing maybe thirty, maybe five miles out.

  His ride.

  Close, but not close enough.

  He leaned back in the cold and waited and watched.

  The Boeing got there first. It started out small and silent, and then it got bigger and noisier. It came in low and flat, all broad supportive wings and swirling heat shimmer and deafening jet whine and stabbing beams of light. Its nose was up and its undercarriage was down, the trailing wheels hanging lower than the leading wheels, like talons on a giant bird of prey ready to swoop in and seize the crippled car like an eagle takes a lamb. Reacher ducked and the plane passed right over his head, huge and almost close enough to touch, and the roiled air and shattering noise that trailed behind it threatened to knock him flat. He straightened again and turned and watched over the roof of the car as the plane skimmed and hung and deliberated and floated, a hundred yards, two, three, and then it put down decisively with a loud yelp of rubber and a puff of black smoke and then its nose tipped down and it ran fast and flat and true before the reverse thrusters cut in and slowed it in a bellowing scream.

  Reacher turned back and faced south.

  The road vehicles were still heading his way. They were moving slowly and carefully along the moonlit two-lane, cautious because of the curves and the ice and the bad surface, but relentless, a miniature convoy with a destination in mind. Their headlight beams swung left, swung right, bounced up, dipped down. The first vehicle was a strange open-frame truck, with a big coil of heavy flexible pipe wrapped over a drum immediately behind the cab, and then a pump built into a square steel frame, and then a second coil of pipe on a second drum. The vehicle right behind it was the same general size and type, but behind the cab it had a big white tank, and a cherry-picker bucket, and a long articulated boom arm folded up and tied down for travel.

  The first truck was painted in the colours of the Shell Oil Company.

  It had the word Isuzu across its grille.

  The statewide BOLO bulletin: an Isuzu N-series pump and a de-icing truck stolen by two absconded employees from a commercial airfield east of Rapid City. Stolen on Plato’s orders, presumably, so that his 737 could be refuelled from the underground tank and then flown away safely through bitter night skies.

  Reacher pushed off the flank of the car and waited. The pump truck’s headlights hit him, and it slowed, and then its lights flicked up to bright, and then it stopped dead. For a second Reacher was conscious of his dark pants and khaki hat and tan coat. The coat was old, but it still looked like Highway Patrol issue. And the dead Crown Vic was parked crosswise, as if to block access to the runway. And no one uses plain Crown Vics except law enforcement. But the Rapid City guys must have been told that a bent cop would be waiting there to meet them, because after just a brief pause the pump truck moved on again, with the de-icer close behind. Reacher raised his hand, partly like a greeting, partly like a traffic stop, and a minute later he was sitting in the warmth inside the pump truck’s cab, riding up the runway towards whatever was waiting for him at the other end.

  Twenty-seven minutes past three in the morning.

  Twenty-eight minutes to go.

  FORTY-THREE

  THE BOEING HAD TAXIED AND TURNED AND WAS PARKED AS NEAR as it could get to the first line of huts. Up close, it looked gigantic. A huge plane, high and wide and long, at temporary rest in the middle of nowhere, towering over the silent buildings behind it, hissing and whistling, an active, living presence in a passive, frozen landscape. Its engines were still spooling noisily and its belly light was still flashing red and its forward door was latched wide open. Lights were on inside. An aluminum housepainter’s ladder had been extended down from the cabin to the runway surface below. It looked thin and puny and insubstantial next to the giant plane.

  There were seven men on the ground. Or what looked like six men and a boy. There was no mistaking Plato. Four feet and eleven inches tall, but that abstract measurement did not convey the reality. He had a big man’s heft and thickness and muscularity, and a big man’s stiffness and posture and movement, but a small child’s stature. He was not dwarfish. He was not a freak. His limbs and his torso and his neck and his head were all reasonably well proportioned. He was like an NFL linebacker reduced in size by exactly twenty-five per cent. That was all. He was a miniature tough guy. Like a toy.

  He looked to be somewhere betw
een forty and fifty years old. He was wearing a black goose-down jacket, and a black woollen watch cap, and black gloves. He looked very cold. The six men with him were younger. In their thirties, maybe. They were dressed the same as him. Black down jackets, black hats, black gloves. They were normal-sized Hispanic men, Spanish not Indian, neither short nor tall, and they looked very cold, too.

  The pump truck drove around and parked close to the Boeing’s wing and the de-icer parked behind it. Both drivers got out. They had no visible reaction to the abject temperature. They were Rapid City guys. They knew about cold. They had down jackets of their own. They were both white, medium height, and lean. Hardscrabble people, rural roots, worn down to the bare essentials. Arms, legs, heads, bodies. Maybe thirty years old, but they looked forty. Maybe a couple of generations off the farm.

  Reacher stayed in his seat for a moment, keeping warm, and watching.

  Plato was moving around inside a loose cordon formed by his six guys. No real reason for that. Maybe habit, maybe appearances. And Plato and his six guys were armed. They all had Heckler & Koch MP5Ks slung around their necks on nylon straps. Short stubby weapons, black and wicked. Thirty-round magazines. They rested raised and proud and prominent on the puffy coats. Butts to the right, muzzles to the left. All seven guys were right-handed. All seven guys had backpacks, too. Black nylon. The backpacks looked mostly empty apart from small heavy loads at the bottom. Flashlights, Reacher assumed. For deep underground. And spare magazines, presumably. For the guns. Always good to have. On full auto thirty rounds came out of an MP5 in two short seconds.

  Sub-machine guns. A bullet manufacturer’s very best friends.

  Reacher climbed out of the pump truck’s cab. Into the cold and the wind. The Rapid City guys were still doing OK with it, but all seven Mexicans were shivering hard. They had expressions of total disbelief on their faces. They had left a balmy evening knowing they were heading for somewhere cold, but understanding the word and feeling the feeling were two completely different things. Plato’s gun was bouncing a little on his
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