Make me, p.37
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       Make Me, p.37
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         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  flat, eye to eye. Except it was absolutely curved, because it was part of a spherical planet. Hence the miscalculation.

  Westwood said, “Should we back off?”

  “No,” Reacher said. He counted in his head. He said, “Move up fifty yards. Now. Put the pressure on. They’re coming up to a magazine change.”

  “Fifty yards forward?”

  “Now.”

  Westwood moved it up.

  A ragged lull. Pretty slow. No infantry training. That was for damn sure. Then the pot-shots started again. All of them misses.

  Until a single hit.

  Right in the center of the front bucket. A tiny thrill through the framework. The bullet, collapsing. Then the sound, arriving late, a sonorous clang.

  Reacher said, “I’m impressed.”

  Chang said, “By what?”

  “Finally they hit a target only slightly smaller than a barn door. Thereby revealing the front bucket is indeed bulletproof. So we’re good to go.”

  Westwood said, “Now?”

  “No time like the present.”

  Chang said, “Take care, Reacher.”

  “You too, Chang.”

  They opened their doors and jumped down to the ground, one on the left, and one on the right.

  Chapter 55

  Westwood had quoted from his recent research and said old-style wheat grew about four feet tall, but it was being bred down to a brawnier plant with more seeds, just two feet high. In which case the local farmers were still old-style. The wheat was easily four feet tall. Not that Reacher needed it for cover. Very little cover was required against guys who couldn’t hit a target only slightly smaller than a barn door. But surprise was always a good thing. So he crawled. Some visible disturbance, but gentle, and hard to locate precisely where, from two hundred yards. The nighttime dew had not burned off. His knees and elbows got thick with mud. There were new clothes in his future. That was clear. Even without the mud. The smell of the hogs was pretty bad. The air was thick with it. It was bound to get in the fabric. So, a new outfit tomorrow. A good idea anyway, he thought, with Chang around.

  Then he thought, this ends today.

  Chang won’t be around tomorrow.

  After a hundred lateral yards he curved tight toward the farm, aiming to get closer to it as he moved around its perimeter. As close as possible. Less than a hundred feet would make him happy. He was a big admirer of the MP5K. It was a slightly-swollen handgun that worked like a much-miniaturized rifle. Set to single shot, it stood a chance of hitting at ninety feet. Or eighty. Or seventy-five. Which would be a bonus.

  Five minutes in he risked raising his head to check where he was. Which was in a pretty good spot. He had moved around the dial counterclockwise, from the ten to beyond the eight. And he had gotten much closer. And sure enough, the countervailing defenders, being uncertain of their marksmanship, had grouped at a point physically nearest the main threat, but consistent with their own safety. They perceived the main threat to be the backhoe, and the nearest cover was an outbuilding near the fence, about the size of a single-car garage. Three guys were hiding behind it. Which put them exactly side on to Reacher. Clear as day. A classic flanking maneuver. West Point would have been proud.

  The counterman from the diner was there. And the one-eyed clerk from the motel. And the hog farmer, who had led the deputation up the stairs. Big hands, broad shoulders, clothes all covered with dirt.

  All of them with M16 rifles.

  Reacher waited. His head hurt, both sides.

  Chang crawled the other way, and got closer sooner, because her role was not to outflank. Her role was to wait for the backhoe to move, and then open a second front with a sustained burst of fire. Which would drive them into cover, where Reacher would shoot them in the back.

  That was his plan. She had been dubious. But his plan had worked so far. He had predicted four early prisoners and gotten five. And he predicted at the farm they would shoot but miss, and he was right about that too. But even so she had asked him again if this part would work. No, he had said, it won’t. They’ll fall back to the house. A managed retreat. They must have a position prepared. Something hardened. Like a safe room.

  She had asked, then why are we doing it this way?

  He had said, because we might get lucky.

  She crawled on. She wanted to get closer. She knew the numbers. A thirty-round magazine would be gone in two seconds. She wanted to make both of them count. She wanted to get lucky. If she hit one and he hit one, that was two less for later. Which was good.

  Which were words she had never spoken, before she met him.

  She crawled on, getting closer. The smell of the pigs was bad. In her head she lined herself up with the satellite image. She was at the eleven o’clock position. The hog pen was at the three. It stank. It told her two things. This was no genteel resort. Not possible. Some folks couldn’t come close. Not without gagging.

  And Keever was buried there. She knew. In the hog pen. They couldn’t dig in the fields. Even a low-speed version of how Westwood had driven would be visible from the air. And they would worry about the air. They had Keever’s wallet. They had seen his FBI cards. Defunct, like hers, but they didn’t know that.

  She felt close to him.

  She raised her head. She saw a fence and an outbuilding about the size of a single-car garage. The backhoe sat alone, idling, knee deep in the wheat, far to her right. The outbuilding was their only cover against it. At least one of them would lean out and fire. Right in front of her.

  She put two spare magazines on the ground. Lined up and ready to go.

  She wanted to get lucky.

  She clicked her fire selector to auto.

  She lined up her sights.

  She waited.

  Westwood kicked the engine to life and pulled levers, and pushed others, and he brought the front bucket vertical, and moved it up, until he could see nothing out the windshield but its painted rear surface. Safety over visibility. His part of the plan was fluid from that point onward. Reacher had told him to hold the wheel straight and drive slowly forward. Blind. Keep on going. Through the fence if necessary. Don’t worry. Don’t stop. Unless something else happens first.

  Fluid.

  The future of journalism. The internet had changed everything. Now news was personal. The reporter had to be in the story. A first-hand account. The reporter had to be the story.

  Blogs, features, platforms, book deals.

  He dipped the clutch. He rattled the lever into gear.

  He set off forward.

  Reacher heard the backhoe move. He felt dizzy. He was on his knees, but he was swaying. He raised his head. Two fences. Two outbuildings. Six guys. Double vision. He smacked the heel of his hand against his forehead. He tried again.

  Better.

  Way to his left the backhoe rolled forward. The big slack tires gave and flexed. The three guys stood back-to, pressed up against the rear of the building. Rifles at port arms. Then the counterman rolled around the corner and inched along the end wall. He got to the next corner and took a cautious look. He raised his rifle.

  Reacher aimed. The H&K was essentially a twelve-inch tube with a pistol grip at both ends. Very precise. Iron sights.

  The counterman aimed at the backhoe. And waited. Behind him the one-eyed guy slid toward the opposite corner.

  The backhoe rolled on. The tires squelched. The wheat brushed the bottom of the bucket, and sprang back up.

  Reacher’s head hurt. Both sides. A cerebral contusion, contusio cerebri, in fact two, both coup and contre-coup. Arcing and sparking between them, like electricity.

  Then Chang fired.

  Full auto. Nine hundred rounds a minute. Impossibly fast. A brief blur of sound, like a manic sewing machine. Two seconds. A whole mag. Dirt stitched up in a line and a splinter of wood blew off the building.

  The one-eyed guy ducked back.

  The counterman craned further around his corner, looking for the new source o
f danger. Reacher’s gun tracked his move. Rear sight, front sight, target.

  Reacher fired. Single shot. Range, eighty feet. Nine-millimeter Parabellum, 124 grains, full metal jacket. Muzzle velocity, more than eight hundred miles an hour. Time to target, less than a fifteenth of a second. Virtually instantaneous.

  The round hit the guy high on the back, dead center, at the base of the neck. A spine shot. Lucky. Reacher had been aiming lower, at center mass. The biggest part of the target. Always safest. With an in-built advantage. Center meant center. There was stuff on the edges, side to side, and especially up and down. The legs and the head. Misses had somewhere to go. The guy went down. Just a slow fall forward into the corner of the building, which tipped him around and dumped him on the floor.

  The hog farmer hit the deck. Out of sight. Behind the wheat. Smart guy. But the one-eyed clerk took a step. Raised his gun. Fired. The bullet cracked in the air and smashed through the wheat about thirty feet to Reacher’s right.

  Chang fired again.

  A second magazine. Good for her. Resolve and determination. The same manic purring. Dirt kicked up and splinters flew.

  Then silence.

  The one-eyed guy slid back to the corner and leaned around and aimed at where the sound had been.

  The backhoe rolled closer.

  Some small part of Reacher’s mind didn’t want to shoot at the one-eyed guy. He’s a poor old handicapped man. Didn’t seem fair. Except right then he was a poor old handicapped man pointing a lethal weapon at Chang. So Reacher aimed. About ninety feet. He kept his focus tight on the front sight. A needle post in a hooded ring. He stared at its paint. At its every molecular pit and detail. Razor sharp. The rear sight was a blur. The target was a blur. For maximum accuracy. How he was trained. The front sight was everything. Eventually it would all come together. Blur, post, blur. And it did. Three things merged. Linear. Rock steady.

  He fired.

  Same thing. A rising trajectory. This time ninety feet, not eighty. Twelve percent more time in the air. Twelve percent more rise. The round hit the one-eyed guy in the base of the skull. The medulla oblongata. The first tentative swelling of intelligence. A tiny bud, from a hundred million years ago. The lizard brain. About an inch thick. The round went through it in a thousandth of a second. Full metal jacket. The hydrostatic pressure blew it apart. The guy was dead before the sound of the gunshot even cleared the fence. He went down like a slamming door.

  The backhoe rolled closer.

  The hog farmer ran.

  Reacher clicked up to full auto and stood straight and fired, whipping the muzzle through the guy, like flicking paint. The rest of the mag, twenty-eight rounds, a sewing machine of his own. But he missed with all of them. All low. No steady footing. Off balance. Dizzy. Temporarily. He shook his head and came back fine.

  Chang fired again. A third magazine. Full auto. But way high. Roof shingles blew off the building. The guy ran full speed out of sight.

  The backhoe rolled closer.

  Then Reacher ran, plunging through the wheat, smashing through the stalks, striding, wading, floundering, angling toward the backhoe’s path. Westwood saw him through the side glass and stopped. Chang ran in from the other side and didn’t stop. She looped all the way around and hugged Reacher tight.

  She said, “You OK?”

  He said, “I’m hanging in there.”

  “You got two.”

  “With two to go. There were four in the crew-cab.”

  “How do we do it?”

  “First we find them.”

  “You said a safe room.”

  They got back in the cab, left and right, flanking Westwood, standing sideways. No view out the front. Westwood said, “Where would they build a safe room?”

  “They didn’t build one,” Reacher said. “They already had one. I’m sure every farm in the state has one. Hardened against tremendous impacts.”

  Chang said, “A tornado shelter.”

  “Exactly. Under the house. With a secondary exit somewhere else. In case the house falls down on the trapdoor. Every basement should have one. I’m sure these guys do. They need the versatility. Probably a tunnel to another location entirely. With a hidden escape hatch. That’s what we need to find first. So we can park a truck on it.”

  Westwood kicked the engine to life again and pulled the same levers, but in reverse order, and the front bucket tilted backward, and came down, until he could just about see over the top of it. A narrow slot. No longer completely safe, but a reasonable compromise.

  He waited.

  Reacher said, “No time like the present.”

  The backhoe lurched, and settled to a moderate speed. Bucking on its clumsy tires. A hundred and fifty yards out. A hundred. Heading for the fence. Closer. And closer. And then smashing through it, rails tossed aside, left and right, hickory splinters in the air, and then onward, around the first outbuilding, on its left, past the dead one-eyed guy, into the beaten-earth compound. Where they slowed down, and then stopped. And waited. No longer a predator above a water hole. Now a combatant in an arena.

  No one shot at them.

  No response.

  Reality was pretty much the same as the Google image. Except looking across, not down. Dead ahead was the house, and closer by on the right was the suicide suite. On the left was the generator shed and a small building the size of the place the three guys had hidden behind. Way beyond the house in the east were the hog shelter and the barn. Kind of separate. The driveway let out before them. Where the phone line came in on poles.

  No exhaust pipe.

  No movement.

  Westwood took his gun out of his boot.

  Reacher said, “The next part is strictly voluntary.”

  “I know.”

  “Stick together and start at the house.”

  They climbed down from the cab.

  No one shot at them.

  No response.

  Nothing at all, except the stink of the hog pen.

  They walked across the beaten dirt, toward the house, three in a line, Chang on the left, Westwood in the middle, and Reacher on the right, his head hurting like someone was sticking an ice pick in his ear.

  Chapter 56

  Reacher stood guard on the front porch while Chang and Westwood went inside to search. He kept a close watch. The secondary exit could be anywhere. Sudden surprises could come from any direction. But they didn’t. Nothing happened. Two minutes later Chang came back out and said, “We found the main entrance. Westwood has it covered. It’s a zoo in there.”

  She took his place on the porch and he went inside and found Westwood in a bedroom corridor. He was guarding the inside of what once might have been a linen closet. Now it was full of an angled hatch set at forty-five degrees between the back wall and the floor. Angled at forty-five degrees, because it capped a staircase, presumably. To an underground room, no doubt. It was closed, but like all storm doors it would open outward. So the wind could never blow it in.

  Reacher judged the distance, the width of the corridor plus the depth of the linen closet to the mid-point of the angled hatch, and then he went to find the living room, where he saw what Chang meant about a zoo. It was like Peter McCann’s place in Chicago, but ten times more complicated. There were screens everywhere, at least twenty of them, and dozens of keyboards, and tower units, and tall racks of humming components, and piles of hard drives, and fans and connectors and power strips, and blinking lights, but most of all wires, miles of them, some bundled, some tangled, some coiled.

  None of which Reacher wanted right then.

  He headed onward and found a living area and looked at a sofa. A big old thing. Three-seater, easy. Plus extravagant curlicued arms. Long enough. He half carried it and half dragged it back the way he had come. Into the bedroom corridor. Where he stood it upright and walked it forward and dropped it back down, sideways, jammed between the hatch cover and the opposite wall.

  One hole sealed.

  Then they st
ood together on the front porch and figured out where the second hole would be more or less by dead reckoning, and a lot of pointing and gesturing and visual explanation. The house was rectangular, like most houses, which meant the shelter would be too, running in the
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