The hard way, p.41
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       The Hard Way, p.41

         Part #10 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  all arrayed in a line along the bed, leaning on the wall. A one-eyed bear with the fur worn down to its backing, sitting up. A doll, one eye open and one eye closed, a lipstick effect inexpertly applied with a red marker pen. The bed had been slept in. The pillow was dented and the sheets had been thrown back.

  No sign of the child herself.

  The next room belonged to the Jacksons. That was clear. There was a vanity table cluttered with British cosmetic brands and tortoiseshell hairbrushes and matching hand mirrors. There were framed photographs of a girl that wasn't Jade. Melody, Reacher guessed. On the back wall there was a bed with a high headboard and freestanding armoires in matching dark veneers, full of clothes, men's and women's. There was a backhoe catalog on one of the night tables. Tony Jackson's bedtime reading.

  No sign of Jackson himself.

  The next room was Kate's and Taylor's. An old queen bed, an oak night table. Austere, undecorated, like a guest room. The photograph was propped on a dresser. Kate and Jade, together. The original print. No frame. The two faces glowed in the Maglite's beam. Love, captured on film. There was an empty tote bag. Kate's luggage. No sign of the money. Just three empty leather duffels piled together in a corner. Reacher had carried one of them himself, down in the Dakota's elevator to the black BMW, with Burke restless at his side.

  He moved on, looking for box rooms or bathrooms. Then he stopped, halfway along the upstairs hallway. Because there was blood on the floor.

  It was a small thin stain, a foot long, curved, like flung paint. Not a puddle. Not neat. It was dynamic, suggestive of rapid movement.

  Reacher stepped back to the head of the stairs. Sniffed the air. There was a faint smell of gunpowder. He sighted down the hallway with the Maglite beam and saw an open bathroom door at the far end. A smashed tile on the back wall, at chest height. A neat burst, contained by a single six-inch by six-inch ceramic square. A running target, a raised gun, a squeezed trigger, three shots, a through-and-through flesh wound, probably to an upper arm. A short shooter, otherwise the downward angle would be more pronounced. The smashed tile would be lower. Perez, probably. Perez, firing maybe the first of at least seven bursts that night. This one, inside the house. Then the two Mini Cooper tires. Then four Land Rover tires, for sure. A four-wheel-drive vehicle would need all four tires taken out for a cautious man to be satisfied. A desperate driver might get somewhere on two.

  Seven submachine gun bursts in the dead of night. Maybe more. Forty or more minutes ago. People

  here have phones, Jackson had said. Some of them even know how to use them. But they hadn't used them. That was for sure. The Norwich cops would have arrived in less than forty minutes. Thirty miles, empty roads, lights and sirens, they could have done it in twenty-five or less. So nobody had called. Because of the MP5's other-worldly rate of fire. Machine guns on TV or in the movies were generally old-fashioned and much slower. In order to be properly convincing. So forty or more minutes ago people wouldn't have known what they were hearing. Just a random series of inexplicable blurred purrs, like sewing machines. Like jamming your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blowing. If they had heard anything at all.

  So, Reacher thought. At least one wounded and the cavalry ain't coming.

  He eased down the stairs and back out into the night.

  He circled the house, clockwise. The barns were distant and dark and quiet. The old Land Rover was collapsed on its rims, as he had been certain it would be. Four blown tires. He walked straight past it and stopped against the south gable wall. Turned the Maglite off and stared down the driveway into the darkness.

  How had it happened?

  He trusted Pauling because he knew her and he trusted Taylor and Jackson even without knowing them. Three professionals. Experience, savvy, plenty of active brain cells. Tired, but functioning. A long perilous approach from the intruders' point of view. No contest. He should have been looking at four riddled bodies and a wrecked rental car. Right about then Jackson should have been firing up the backhoe. Pauling should have been cracking cans of beer and Kate should have been making toast and heating beans.

  So why weren't they?

  Distraction, he figured. As ever, the answer was in Jade's pictures. The animals in the barns. She's not sleeping great, Kate had said. The jet lag has screwed her up. Reacher pictured the child waking,

  maybe around midnight, getting out of bed, running out of the house into the imagined safety of the darkness, four adults scrambling after her, confusion, panic, a search, unseen watchers rising from the

  grassland and moving in. Lane, blasting up the driveway in the rented Toyota SUV. Taylor and Jackson and

  Pauling holding their fire in case they hit each other or Kate or Jade. Lane, headlights on now, jamming to a stop.

  Lane, headlights on now, recognizing his own stepdaughter. His own wife.

  Reacher shivered once, a violent uncontrollable spasm. He closed his eyes, and then opened them again. He clicked the Maglite on and lowered the beam to light his way and walked on down the driveway. Toward the road. Toward he knew not where.

  Perez flipped his night-vision goggles into the up position on his forehead and said, "OK, Reacher's gone. He's out of here."

  Edward Lane nodded. Paused a second and then backhanded Jackson across the face with his flashlight, once, twice, three times, massive blows, until Jackson fell. Gregory hauled him upright again and Addison tore the tape off his mouth.

  Lane said, "Tell me about your diet." Jackson spat blood. "My what?"

  "Your diet. What you eat. What your absent wife feeds you."


  "I want to know if you eat potatoes."

  "Everybody eats potatoes."

  "So I'll find a peeler in the kitchen?"



  REACHER KEPT HIS flashlight beam trained down about ten feet in front of him, a narrow bright oval dancing left and right a little and bouncing as he walked. The light showed him the ruts and the dips and the holes in the beaten earth. It made it easier to hurry. He walked through the first curve in the driveway. Then he fixed his eyes on the darkness ahead and started to run toward the road.

  Lane turned to Perez and said, "Go find the kitchen. Bring me what I need. And find a telephone. Call the

  Bishop's Arms. Tell the others to get here now."

  "We've got the truck," Perez said.

  "Tell them to walk," Lane said.

  Jackson said, "Reacher will come back, you know." He was the only one who could talk. He was the only one without tape on his mouth.

  Lane said, "I know he'll come back. I'm counting on it. Why do you think we didn't chase him? Worst case for us he'll walk six miles east and find nothing and walk back here again. It will take him four hours. You'll be dead by then. He can take your place. He can watch the child die, and then Ms. Pauling, and then I'll kill him. Slowly."

  "You're insane. You need help."

  "I don't think so," Lane said.

  "He'll hitch a lift."

  "In the dead of night? Carrying an assault rifle? I don't think so."

  "You're nuts," Jackson said. "You've lost it completely."

  "I'm angry," Lane said. "And I think I have a right to be." Perez left, to find the kitchen.

  Reacher ran through the second curve in the driveway. Then he slowed a little. Then he stopped dead.

  He killed the flashlight beam and closed his eyes. Stood still in the darkness and breathed hard and concentrated on the after-image of what he had just seen.

  The driveway curved twice for no apparent reason. Not practical, not aesthetic. It went left and then right for some other purpose. To avoid unseen softness in the dirt, he had guessed before. To avoid a couple of badly drained sinkhole patches. And he had seen that he had been correct. All the way through the curves the track was soft and damp. Muddy, even though it hadn't rained for days.

  And the mud showed tire tracks. Three sets.

  First, Tony Jackson's old Land
Rover. The farm truck. Blocky mud-and-snow treads. Chunky, worn, in and out many hundreds of times. The Land Rover's tracks were all over the place. Old, faded, eroded, new, clear, recent. Everywhere. Like background noise.

  Second, the Mini Cooper's tires. A very different look. Narrow, crisp, new, aggressive treads built for good adhesion and fast cornering on pavement. Just one set. Reacher had turned in the day before, slow and wide and deliberate, second gear, a small car at a moderate speed, unthreatening. He had driven through the curves and parked the car outside the house. And he had left it there. It was still there. It hadn't moved. It hadn't driven out again. It probably never would. It would leave on a flatbed truck.

  Hence, one set of tire tracks only.

  The third set was also a single set. One pass, one way. Wider tires. A large heavy vehicle, open treads, new and crisp. The kind of semi-serious off-road tires a prestige SUV would wear.

  The kind of tires a rented Toyota Land Cruiser would wear. One set only.

  One way.

  The Toyota was a very capable off-road vehicle. Reacher knew that. It was one of the best in the world. But it was inconceivable that it had entered the farm overland. Not in a million years. The farm was bounded by ditches ten feet across and six feet deep. Steep sides. Impossible approach and exit angles. A Humvee couldn't do it. A Bradley couldn't do it. An Abrams couldn't do it. The Grange Farm ditches were better than tank traps. So the Toyota hadn't come in overland. It had driven in across the little flat bridge and up the length of the driveway. No other way.

  And it hadn't driven out again. One set of tire tracks.

  One way.

  Lane was still on the property.

  Lane hit Jackson in the head with the flashlight one more time, hard. The lens smashed and Jackson went down again.

  "I need a new flashlight," Lane said. "This one seems to be broken."

  Addison smiled and took a new one out of a box. Lauren Pauling stared at the door. Her mouth was taped and her hands were bound behind her. The door was still closed. But it was going to open any minute. Through it would come either Perez or Reacher. Bad news or good.

  Let it be Reacher, she thought. Please. Bugs on windshields, no scruples. Please let it be Reacher. Lane took the new flashlight from Addison and stepped up close to Kate. Face-to-face, six inches from her. Eye to eye. They were about the same height. He lit up the flashlight beam and held it just under her

  chin, shining it directly upward, turning her exquisite face into a ghastly Halloween mask.

  "Till death us do part," he said. "That's a phrase I take seriously."

  Kate turned her head away. Gasped behind the tape. Lane clamped her chin in his free hand and turned her head back.

  "Forsaking all others," he said. "I took that part seriously, too. I'm so sorry that you didn't." Kate closed her eyes.

  Reacher kept on walking south. To the end of the driveway, over the bridge, east on the road, away from the farm, his flashlight on all the way. In case he was being watched. He figured he needed to let them see him go. Because the human mind loves continuity. To see a small spectral night-vision figure strolling south, and south, and then east, and east, and east sets up an irresistible temptation to believe that it's going to go east forever. It's gone, you say. It's out of here. And then you forget all about it, because you know where it's going, and you don't see it coming back because you're not watching it anymore.

  He walked east for two hundred yards and clicked off the Maglite beam. Then he walked east for another two hundred yards in the dark. Then he stopped. Turned ninety degrees and hiked north across the shoulder and slid down the boundary ditch's nearside slope. Floundered through the thick black mud in the bottom and clawed his way up the far side with his rifle held one-handed high in the air. Then he ran, fast, straight north, stretching his stride long to hit the top of every plowed furrow.

  Two minutes later he was a quarter-mile in, level with the cluster of barns, three hundred yards behind them to the east, and out of breath. He paused in the lee of a stand of trees to recover. Thumbed his fire selector to single shots. Then he put the stock against his shoulder and walked forward. West. Toward the barns.

  Reacher, alone in the dark. Armed and dangerous. Coming back.

  Edward Lane was still face-to-face with Kate. He said, "I'm assuming you've been sleeping with him for years."

  Kate said nothing.

  Lane said, "I hope you've been using condoms. You could catch a disease from a guy like that." Then he smiled. A new thought. A joke, to him.

  "Or you could get pregnant," he said. Something in her terrified eyes.

  He paused.

  "What?" he said. "What are you telling me?" She shook her head.

  "You're pregnant," he said. "You're pregnant, aren't you? You are. I know it. You look different. I can tell."

  He put the flat of his hand on her belly. She pulled away, backward, hard against the pole she was tied to. He shuffled forward half a step. "Oh man, this is unbelievable. You're going to die with another man's child inside you."

  Then he spun away. Stopped, and turned back. Shook his head.

  "Can't allow that," he said. "Wouldn't be right. Well have to abort it first. I should have told Perez to find a coat hanger. But I didn't. So we'll find something else instead. There's got to be something here. This is a farm after all."

  Kate closed her eyes.

  "You're going to die anyway," Lane said, like the most reasonable man in the world.

  Reacher knew they were in a barn. They had to be. That was clear. Where else could they hide their truck? He knew there were five barns in total. He had seen them in the daylight, vaguely, in the distance.

  Three stood around a beaten earth yard, and two stood alone. All of them had vehicle ruts heading for big doors. Storage, he had guessed, for the backhoe, and tractors, and trailers, and balers, and all kinds of other farm machinery. Now in the dark the dirt under his feet felt dry and dusty, hard and stony. It wouldn't show tire marks. No point in risking a flash of the Maglite beam.

  So which barn?

  He started with the nearest, hoping to get lucky. But he didn't get lucky. The nearest barn was one of the two that stood alone. It was a wide wooden structure made of weathered boards. The whole thing had been blown slightly off-kilter by two hundred years of relentless winds. It leaned to the west, beaten down. Reacher put his ear on a crack between two boards and listened hard. Heard nothing inside. He put his eye on the crack and saw nothing. Just darkness. There was a smell of cold air and damp earth and decayed burlap.

  He moved on fifty yards to the second barn, hoping to get lucky. But he didn't get lucky. The second barn was just as dark and quiet as the first. Musty and cold, nothing moving inside. A sharp nitrogen smell.

  Old fertilizer. He moved on through the blackness, slow and stealthy, toward the three barns grouped around the yard. They were a hundred yards away. He got a quarter of the way there.

  Then he stopped dead.

  Because in the corner of his eye he saw light to his left and behind him. Light and movement, in the house. The kitchen window. A flashlight beam, in the room. Fast shadows jumping and leaping across the inside of the glass.

  Lane turned to Gregory and said, "Find some baling wire."

  "Before we do the kid?" Gregory asked.

  "Why not? It can be like a preview for her. She's going to get the same thing anyway as soon as Perez gets back with the potato peeler. I told her mother years ago what would happen if she cheated on me. And I always try to keep my word."

  "A man ought to," Gregory said.

  "We need an operating table," Lane said. "Find something flat. And
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