Make me, p.39
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       Make Me, p.39

         Part #20 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  “Either way, stay here.”

  Reacher and Chang walked back to the building, and crawled back inside. The spots of sun made a large constellation. Mostly high. Reacher’s taller brother might have had a problem. But Reacher himself would have been untroubled, and Chang unscathed. Another round passed through, a punch, a whang, another spot of sun, high and way to the left, another losing ticket.

  Reacher said, “If it’s truly random, all locations are equally likely. Even locations that have been hit before.”

  He put his eye to a spot of sun and squinted out.

  He said, distorted because his cheek was pressed against the board, “We need to see their muzzle flashes. Then we can chase them off. I want them running.”

  Another round passed through, punch, whang, sun. Perfect height, but ten feet too far to the right.

  “I see one of them,” Reacher said.

  Dust in the air. He scraped a blink against the wood.

  They waited.

  Another round. Punch, whang, sun. High and left.

  Reacher peeled away from the wall. He said, “I got them both. They’re both the same. The back left corner of the movie studio. About a hundred and ten feet. They’re taking turns, rolling around the corner and bringing their guns up. It’s like a movie about the Marines. One of them is the hog farmer and the other one has hair like a weather guy on TV.”

  “Can we get them from here?”

  “We can waste a magazine shutting them up for a minute. Then we can move down to the front corner of the movie studio.”

  “And do what? Sneak around from corner to corner? Front to back? It’s an awful long way. It’s a rectangular building. Most buildings are.”

  “Marines would go through the building. They’d come out the end wall. That’s what anti-tank weapons are for.”

  “What would we do?”

  “We would take a chance. We would wait for a magazine change.”

  Chang said, “Not good enough.”

  “You wouldn’t like the good-enough plan.”

  “Are you asking me apologetically?”

  “You bet your ass.”

  “What is the good-enough plan?”

  His head hurt.

  He said, “It’s a pact with the devil. It guarantees one, but only one. The other guy runs. And apart from that, it’s going to be unpleasant.”

  Reacher fired first, because Chang was the faster runner. He stepped between the open doors and aimed at the back left corner of the studio, about two-thirds up, and he saw some splinters, but not enough for two whole seconds. But it shut them up. Chang took over, a mag of thirty, full auto, two whole seconds, and Reacher ran, for the near front corner of the studio, where he reloaded and fired down the length of the building, corner to corner, another whole mag, while Chang ran and joined him, pressing in behind him, out of breath.

  “Ready?” he said.

  She didn’t answer.

  They slipped in the studio door. The vestibule. The smell. The small kitchen, with the mugs and the bottles of water.

  They waited.

  They heard a noise. A guy rolling around the corner. Like a movie about the Marines.

  They waited.

  They heard the shot. Aimed at the now-empty and now-distant building. Maybe a hit, maybe not. Either way, Reacher leaned out the studio door and fired half a mag back. No expectations. No time for finesse. But enough time for a message.

  Your opponents are now in the building.

  Right in your business.

  Reacher and Chang backed in, backward past the bathroom, backward past the aprons, backward through the door at the end. The lights were still on. The woman in white was still there. She hadn’t moved. They stood facing away, like cameramen who had turned to answer a question.

  They waited.

  The hunters were now the hunted. Their prey was luring them into a bottleneck. They had to show themselves, single file in a narrow hallway, with the lights on. Like walking up a motel staircase two by two. The smart money said don’t go in. Not ever. But they would. They had to. It was their domain. And still their future. All the guys Reacher had ever known, fraud, theft, homicide, and treason, right up to the very end believed there was some chance of getting away with it, and therefore something should be salvaged, if possible. No one wanted to start over with nothing. These guys might save most of their inventory. And their equipment. Reacher assumed high definition cameras were expensive.

  So one of them would step inside. But only one. The surprise ending worked only once.

  They waited.

  Human nature.

  The hog farmer showed up. Big hands, broad shoulders, clothes all covered with dirt. Peering around the corner, very cautious, committed to nothing at all except a brief glance. Pressing hard against the wall. Nothing showing. A shoulder, perhaps. Or a nose. Peering again, around the corner, a little farther, leaning out an inch.

  Reacher shot him in the forehead. The gentlest touch on the trigger, barely there, in and out, a purring stitch of ten. Game over. Which the last guy heard, obviously, and therefore the last guy was now running. He was all alone. Suddenly prey to primeval fears. Suddenly free to act on them. No witnesses.

  In military circles aggressive pursuit was much admired, and any excuse to get out of the room was a good one, so Reacher ran too, with Chang right behind him.

  Chapter 58

  They hurdled the hog farmer and spilled out the studio door and headed half left, aiming around the end of the house to the mouth of the driveway. Because the driveway was the goal. Had to be. Human nature. Escape. The only way out. Everything else was wheat.

  They saw him sixty feet ahead, running, looking back, his M16 in one hand and nothing in the other. He was a stocky guy with a red face and big waves of hair all scooped up around his head. He was wearing blue jeans that looked starched. He got near the driveway mouth and glanced back. They ducked in closer to the house. The guy was all alone in the landscape. The hog pen was behind him, and then nothing but wheat before Missouri. The driveway was on his right. Twenty miles to Mother’s Rest.

  The guy stood still.

  Chang said, “Can you hit him from here?”

  Reacher didn’t answer.

  She said, “You OK?”

  He said, “Ninety percent.”

  Which was how he saw it. There was nothing wrong with him. Nothing specific. No broken bone, no bleeding wound. But nothing was working right. Not exactly. The brain is not the same thing as an arm.

  Chang said, “How do we do this?”

  Reacher counted back in his head. The rounds aimed at the small building. Punch, whang. How many?


  He stepped out a pace.

  The guy with the jeans and the hair raised his rifle.

  An M16 at sixty feet. Theoretically a problem. Any competent rifleman could hit with a long gun at sixty feet. Less than forty barrel lengths, for an M16. Practically touching distance. But the guy wasn’t a competent rifleman. That had been proved. At the small building. And now he had been running. Now he was breathing hard. His chest was heaving. His heart was thumping.

  Reacher stood still.

  The guy fired.

  A miss. A foot high and a foot wide. Reacher heard the buzz of the round in the air, and then a distant thump far behind him as it hit a building. The small place near the broken fence, probably. With the dead guys.

  He stepped back into cover.

  He said, “Sooner or later he’ll run out of ammunition.”

  Chang said, “He’ll reload.”

  “But not fast.”

  “Is that your plan?”

  “I need you with me. Just in case.”

  “Of what?”

  “Two heads are better than one. Especially mine right now.”

  “You OK?”

  “Not really. But then, how good do I need to be?”

  “I’ll go do it.”

  “I can’t let you.”

bsp; “Not woman’s work?”

  Reacher smiled. He thought about the women he had known.

  “Just a personal thing,” he said. “Habit, mostly.”

  “How do we do it?”

  “I’ll draw his fire. He’ll miss every time. I promise. When he clicks on empty I’ll hose him down. Meanwhile you’ll be running closer, so if I miss, you won’t.”

  Chang said, “No, we’ll both draw his fire. We’ll do this together.”

  “Not efficient.”

  “I don’t care. That’s how we’re doing it.”

  They stepped out. The guy was still there. All alone in the vastness. Jeans, hair, M16 rifle. Sixty feet away. Chang aimed her gun, one eye closed. Reacher stood still, arms held wide, looking up at the sky, his gun hanging upside down off his trigger finger. Take your best shot. The guy did. He raised his gun, held still, and aimed, and fired.

  And missed.

  Missed both of them.

  Chang fired back. Single shot. The spent case spat through the air. The bullet missed. But the guy backed off. Five clumsy paces, backward. Then ten.

  Chang fired again. Another case glittered through the air. Another miss. The wheat moved in waves, heavy, and slow, and silent.

  The guy raised his rifle.

  But he didn’t shoot.

  Chang said, “Is he out of bullets?”

  Reacher’s head hurt.

  He said, “He doesn’t know. He lost count. So did I.”

  Then he smiled.

  He said, “Do we feel lucky?”

  He raised his gun. Two grips, held easy, somewhere between firm and gentle. The front sight, and the blur beyond. He blinked. He had focus, but it was not molecular. Plus he had a microscopic thrill in his arms. Through his whole body. Difficulties with coordination, movement, memory, vision, speech, hearing, managing emotion, and thinking.

  He lowered his gun.

  He said, “We should get closer.”

  They made up the distance the guy had retreated. Slow and easy. Heart rate low, breathing normal. The guy added ten more paces. The jeans and the hair, moving backward, toward the hog pen.

  Reacher and Chang got closer.

  The smell was bad.

  But better than the movie studio.

  The guy backed off ten more paces.

  And jammed up hard against the hog pen fence.

  Reacher and Chang stopped.

  The guy raised his rifle.

  And then lowered it again. He stood against the fence, all alone, the rails at his back, small and absurd in the emptiness. The sun was high in the south. Far behind the guy his hogs moved out of their shelter. Fat and smooth, glistening with slime. Each one the size of a Volkswagen.

  Reacher walked forward. Chang kept level.

  The guy dropped his rifle and raised his hands.

  Reacher walked forward. Chang kept level.

  Fifty feet. Forty. Thirty.

  Twenty feet.

  The guy had his hands in the air.

  In the tall tales told by firelight there was always a brief conversation. Because the bad guy had to be told why he had to die.

  Reacher said nothing.

  Tales were tales, and not the real world.

  But the guy spoke first.

  He said, “Their lives were forfeit. Surely you see that. They had given their lives away. Their decision was made. They were already gone. They were mine to use. And they got what they wanted anyway. In the end.”

  Reacher said, “I don’t think they got what they wanted. That wasn’t the holy grail.”

  “It was an hour or two. At the very end. After the end, as far as they were concerned. They had made their decision.”

  “How many hours was the guy you starved to death? Or was it a woman?”

  The guy didn’t answer.

  Reacher said, “One practical question.”

  The guy looked up.

  “Where are the bodies?”

  The guy said nothing. But he glanced back. Reflex. Involuntary.

  He glanced at the hogs.

  Reacher said, “Then why did you bury Keever?”

  The guy said, “The hogs had already eaten that day.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The guy said, “It was a custom order from Japan. An excellent match. All I’m doing is meeting a need. You can’t blame me for other people’s tastes.”

  Reacher said nothing.

  The guy’s hands came down an inch. He wanted his shoulders free to work the normal way, and his neck, and his head, for body language, for gestures, for cajoling, for explaining. For bargaining, and for offering. All the guys Reacher had ever known. Right up to the very end. They believed they would get away with it.

  Chang raised her gun. Reacher watched her. Black hair, hanging loose. Dark lively eyes, one closed, one tight on her front sight. The needle post in the hooded ring.

  She said, “This is for Keever.”

  The bad guy had to be told.

  She said, “It could have been me.”

  She touched the trigger. Twenty feet. Instantaneous. She hit him in the throat. Full metal jacket, through and through. The bullet would fall to earth way out in the wheat, where it would never be found. It would be plowed under, lost and forgotten, and it would return to its constituent elements, lead and copper, part of the planet, the same way it started.

  The guy gurgled, a lone tubercular cough, very loud, and blood foamed and sprayed from his wound. For a second he stayed upright, just a guy leaning on a rail, and then everything gave way all at once, and he went down like liquid, in a sprawled puddle, all arms and legs and jeans and hair.

  Reacher said, “Where were you aiming?”

  Chang said, “Center mass.”

  Reacher smiled.

  “Can’t beat center mass,” he said.

  He walked twenty feet, and found the guy’s collar, and the back of his belt, and he hoisted him up, and he dumped him over the fence.

  The hogs came running.

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