Without Fail Chapter 18

The air was cold and seventy feet above ground the breeze was a wind. It came in through the louvers and scoured his eyes and made them water. They had been there two hours, and nothing had happened. They had seen nothing and heard nothing except the clock. They had learned its sound. Each thunk was made up of a bundle of separate metallic frequencies, starting low down with the muted bass ring of the bigger gears, ranging upward to the tiny treble click of the escapement lever, and finishing with a faint time-delayed ding resonating off the smallest bell. It was the sound of madness.

’’I got something,’’ Neagley called. ’’SUV, I think, coming in from the south.’’

He took a quick look north and got up off his knees. He was stiff and cold and very uncomfortable. He picked up the bird-watcher's scope.

’’Catch,’’ he called.

He tossed it in an upward loop over the clock shaft. Neagley twisted and caught it one-handed and turned back to the louver panel. Put the scope to her eye.

’’Might be a new model Chevy Tahoe,’’ she called. ’’Light gold metallic. Sun is on the windshield. No ID on the occupants.’’

Reacher looked north again. The road was still empty. He could see ten miles. It would take ten minutes to cover ten miles even at a fast cruise. He stood up straight and stretched. Ducked under the clock shafts and crawled over next to Neagley. She moved to her right and he wiped his eyes and stared out south. There was a tiny gold speck on the road, all alone, maybe five miles away.

’’Not exactly busy,’’ she said. ’’Is it?’’

She passed him the scope. He refocused it and propped its weight on a louver and squinted through it. The telephoto compression held the truck motionless. It looked like it was bouncing and swaying on the road but making absolutely no forward progress at all. It looked dirty and travel-stained. It had a big chrome front fender all smeared with mud and salt. The windshield was streaked. The sun's reflection made it impossible to see who was riding in it.

’’Why is it still sunny?’’ he said. ’’I thought it was going to snow.’’

’’Look to the west,’’ Neagley said.

He put the scope down and turned and put the left side of his face tight against the louvers. Closed his right eye and looked out sideways with his left. The sky was split in two. In the west it was almost black with clouds. In the east it was pale blue and hazy. Giant multiple shafts of sunlight blazed down through mist where the two weather systems met.

’’Unbelievable,’’ he said.

’’Some kind of inversion,’’ Neagley said. ’’I hope it stays where it is or we'll freeze our asses off up here.’’

’’It's about fifty miles away.’’

’’And the wind generally blows in from the west.’’

’’Great.’’

He picked up the scope again and checked on the golden truck. It was maybe a mile closer, bucking and swaying on the dirt. It must have been doing about sixty.

’’What do you think?’’ Neagley said.

’’Nice vehicle,’’ he said. ’’Awful color.’’

He watched it come on another mile and then handed back the scope.

’’I should check north,’’ he said.

He crawled under the clock shaft and made it back to his own louver. There was nothing happening in the north. The road was still empty. He reversed his previous maneuver and put his right cheek against the wood and closed his left eye with his hand and checked west again. The snow clouds were clamped down on the mountains. It was like night and day, with an abrupt transition where the foothills started.

’’It's a Chevy Tahoe for sure,’’ Neagley called. ’’It's slowing down.’’

’’See the plate?’’

’’Not yet. It's about a mile out now, slowing.’’

’’See who's in it?’’

’’I've got sun and tinted glass. No ID. Half a mile out now.’’

Reacher glanced north. No traffic.

’’Nevada plates, I think,’’ Neagley called. ’’Can't read them. They're all covered in mud. It's right on the edge of town. It's going real slow now. Looks like a reconnaissance cruise. It's not stopping. Still no ID on the occupants. It's getting real close now. I'm looking right down at the roof. Dark tint on the rear side glass. I'm going to lose them any second. It's right underneath us now.’’

Reacher stood up tight against the wall and peered down at the best angle he could get. The way the louvers were set in the frame gave him a blind spot maybe forty feet deep.

’’Where is it now?’’ he called.

’’Don't know.’’

He heard the sound of an engine over the moan of the wind. A big V-8, turning slowly. He stared down and a metallic gold hood slid into view. Then a roof. Then a rear window. The truck passed all the way underneath him and rolled through the town and crossed the bridge at maybe twenty miles an hour. It stayed slow for a hundred more yards. Then it accelerated. It picked up speed fast.

’’Scope,’’ he called.

Neagley tossed it back to him and he rested it on a louver and watched the truck drive away to the north. The rear window was tinted black and there was an arc where the wiper had cleared the salt spray. The rear bumper was chrome. He could see raised lettering that read Chevrolet Tahoe. The rear plate was indecipherable. It was caked with road salt. He could see hand marks where the tailgate had been raised and lowered. It looked like a truck that had done some serious mileage in the last day or two.

’’It's heading out,’’ he called.

He watched it in the scope all the way. It bounced and swayed and grew smaller and smaller. It took ten whole minutes to drive all the way out of his field of vision. It rose up over the last hump in the road and then disappeared with a last flash of sun on gold paint.

’’Anything more?’’ he called.

’’Clear to the south,’’ Neagley called back.

’’I'm going down for the map. You can watch both directions while I'm gone. Do some limbo dancing under this damn clock thing.’’

He crawled to the trapdoor and got his feet on the ladder. Went down, stiff and sore and cold. He made it to the ledge and down the winding staircase. Out of the tower and out of the church into the weak midday sun. He limped across the graveyard toward the car. Saw Froelich's father standing right next to it, looking at it like it might answer a question. The old guy saw his approach reflected in the window glass and spun around to face him.

’’Mr. Stuyvesant is on the phone for you,’’ he said. ’’From the Secret Service office in Washington D.C.’’

’’Now?’’

’’He's been holding twenty minutes. I've been trying to find you.’’

’’Where's the phone?’’

’’At the house.’’

The Froelich house was one of the white buildings on the short southeastern leg of the K. The old guy led the way with his long loping stride. Reacher had to hurry to keep up with him. The house had a front garden with a white picket fence. It was full of herbs and cottage plants that had died back from the cold. Inside it was dim and fragrant. There were wide dark boards on the floors. Rag rugs here and there. The old guy led the way into a front parlor. There was an antique table under the window with a telephone and a photograph on it. The telephone was an old model with a heavy receiver and a plaited cord insulated with brown fabric. The photograph was of Froelich herself, aged about eighteen. Her hair was a little longer than she had kept it, and a little lighter. Her face was open and innocent, and her smile was sweet. Her eyes were dark blue, alive with hopes for the future.

There was no chair next to the table. Clearly the Froelichs came from a generation that preferred to stand up while talking on the telephone. Reacher unraveled the cord and held the phone to his ear.

’’Stuyvesant?’’ he said.

’’Reacher? You got any good news for me?’’

’’Not yet.’’

’’What's the situation?’’

’’The service is scheduled for eight o'clock,’’ Reacher said. ’’But I guess you know that already.’’

’’What else do I need to know?’’

’’You coming in by chopper?’’

’’That's the plan. He's still in Oregon right now. We're going to fly him to an air base in South Dakota and then take a short hop in an Air Force helicopter. We'll have eight people altogether, including me.’’

’’He only wanted three.’’

’’He can't object. We're all her friends.’’

’’Can't you have a mechanical problem? Just stay in South Dakota?’’

’’He'd know. And the Air Force wouldn't play anyway. They wouldn't want to go down in history as the reason why he couldn't make it.’’

Reacher stood and looked out the window. ’’OK, so you'll see the church easy enough. You'll land across the street to the east. There's a good place right there. Then he's got about fifty yards to the church door. I can absolutely guarantee the immediate surroundings. We're going to be in the church all night. But you're going to hate what you see farther out. There's about a hundred-fifty-degree field of fire to the south and west. It's completely open. And there's plenty of concealment.’’

Silence in D.C.

’’I can't do it,’’ Stuyvesant said. ’’I can't bring him into that. Or any of my people. I'm not going to lose anybody else.’’

’’So just hope for the best,’’ Reacher said.

’’Not my way. You're going to have to deliver.’’

’’We will if we can.’’

’’How will I know? You don't have radios. Cell phones won't work out there. And it's too cumbersome to keep on using this land line.’’

Reacher paused for a second.

’’We've got a black Yukon,’’ he said. ’’Right now it's parked on the road, right next to the church, to the east. If it's still there when you show up, then pull out and go home. Armstrong will just have to swallow it. But if it's gone, then we're gone, and we won't be gone unless we've delivered, you follow?’’

’’OK, understood,’’ Stuyvesant said. ’’A black Yukon east of the church, we abort. No Yukon, we land. Have you searched the town?’’

’’We can't do a house-to-house. But it's a very small place. Strangers are going to stand out, believe me.’’

’’Nenkon*** came around. He's talking a little. He says the same as Andretti. He was approached by the two of them and took them to be cops.’’

’’They are cops. We're definite about that. Did you get descriptions?’’

’’No. He's still thinking about his wife. Didn't seem right to tell him he probably didn't need to.’’

’’Poor guy.’’

’’I'd like to get some closure for him. At least find her body, maybe.’’

’’I'm not planning an arrest here.’’

Silence in D.C.

’’OK,’’ Stuyvesant said. ’’I guess we won't be seeing you either way. So, good luck.’’

’’You too,’’ Reacher said.

He put the receiver back in the cradle and tidied the cord into a neat curl on the table. Looked out at the view. The window faced north and east across an empty ocean of waist-high grass. Then he turned away from it and saw Mr. Froelich watching him from the parlor doorway.

’’They're coming here, aren't they?’’ the old man said. ’’The people who killed my daughter? Because Armstrong is coming here.’’

’’They might be here already,’’ Reacher said.

Mr. Froelich shook his head. ’’Everybody would be talking about it.’’

’’Did you see that gold truck come through?’’

The old man nodded. ’’It passed me, going real slow.’’

’’Who was in it?’’

’’I didn't see. The windows were dark. I didn't like to stare.’’

’’OK,’’ Reacher said. ’’If you hear about anybody new in town, come and tell me.’’

The old man nodded again. ’’You'll know as soon as I do. And I'll know as soon as anybody new arrives. Word travels fast here.’’

’’We'll be in the church tower,’’ Reacher said.

’’Are you here on behalf of Armstrong?’’

Reacher said nothing.

’’No,’’ Mr. Froelich said. ’’You're here to take an eye for an eye, aren't you?’’

Reacher nodded. ’’And a tooth for a tooth.’’

’’A life for a life.’’

’’Two for five, to be accurate,’’ Reacher said. ’’They get the fat end of the deal.’’

’’Are you comfortable with that?’’

’’Are you?’’

The old guy's watery eyes flicked all around the sunless room and came to rest on his daughter's eighteen-year-old face.

’’Do you have a child?’’ he asked.

’’No,’’ Reacher said. ’’I don't.’’

’’Neither do I,’’ the old man said. ’’Not anymore. So I'm comfortable with it.’’

Reacher walked back to the Yukon and took the hiker's map off the backseat. Then he climbed the church tower and found Neagley shuttling back and forth between the north and south side.

’’All clear,’’ she said, over the tick of the clock.

’’Stuyvesant called,’’ he said. ’’To the Froelichs'house. He's panicking. And Nenkon*** woke up. Same approach as Andretti.’’

He unfolded the map and spread it out flat on the bell chamber floor. Put his finger on Grace. It was in the center of a rough square made by four roads. The square was maybe eighty miles high and eighty wide. The right-hand perimeter was made by Route 59, which ran up from Douglas in the south through a town called Bill to a town called Wright in the north. The top edge of the square was Route 387, which ran west from Wright to Edgerton. Both roads were shown on the map as secondaries. They had driven part of 387 already and knew it to be a pretty decent strip of blacktop. The left-hand edge of the square was I-25, which came down from Montana in the north and ran straight past Edgerton and all the way down to Casper. The bottom of the square was also I-25, where it came out of Casper and doglegged east to Douglas before turning south again and heading for Cheyenne. The whole eighty-mile square was split into two more or less equal vertical rectangles by the dirt road that ran north to south through Grace. That road showed up on the map as a thin dotted gray line. The key in the margin called it an unpaved minor track.

’’What do you think?’’ Neagley asked.

Reacher traced the square with his finger. Widened his radius and traced a hundred miles east, and north, and west, and south. ’’I think that in the whole history of the western United States no person has ever just passed through Grace, Wyoming. It's inconceivable. Why would anybody? Any coherent journey south to north or east to west would miss it altogether. Casper to Wright, say. Bottom left to top right. You'd use I-25 east to Douglas and Route 59 north out of Douglas to Wright. Coming through Grace makes no sense at all. It saves no miles. It just slows you down, because it's a dirt track. And would you even notice the track? Remember what it looked like at the north end? I thought it was going nowhere.’’

’’And we've got a hiker's map,’’ Neagley said. ’’Maybe it's not even on a regular road map.’’

’’So that truck passed through for a reason,’’ Reacher said. ’’Not by accident, not for the fun of it.’’

’’Those were the guys,’’ Neagley said.

Reacher nodded. ’’They were on their reconnaissance run.’’

’’I agree,’’ Neagley said. ’’But did they like what they saw?’’

Reacher closed his eyes. What did they see? They saw a tiny town with no safe hiding places. A helicopter landing site just fifty yards from the church. And a black SUV that looked a little like an official Secret Service vehicle already parked on the road, big and obvious. With Colorado plates, and Denver was probably the nearest Secret Service Field Office.

’’I don't think they were turning cartwheels,’’ he said.

’’So will they abort? Or will they come back?’’

’’Only one way to find out,’’ Reacher said. ’’We wait and see.’’

They waited. The sun fell away into afternoon and the temperature dropped like a stone. The clock ticked 3,600 times every hour. Neagley went out for a walk and came back with a bag from the grocery store. They ate an improvised lunch. Then they developed a new lookout pattern based on the fact that no vehicle could get all the way through either field of view in less than about eight minutes. So they sat comfortably and every five minutes by Neagley's watch they knelt up and shuffled over to their louvers and scanned the length of the road. Each time there was a small thrill of anticipation, and each time it was disappointed. But the regular physical movement helped against the cold. They started stretching in place, to keep loose. They did push-ups, to keep warm. The spare rounds in their pockets jingled loudly. Battle rattle, Neagley called it. From time to time Reacher pressed his face against the louvers and stared out at the snowfall in the west. The clouds were still low and black, held back by an invisible wall about fifty miles away.

’’They won't come back,’’ Neagley said. ’’They'd have to be insane to try anything here.’’

’’I think they are insane,’’ Reacher said.

He watched and waited, and listened to the clock. He had had enough just before four o'clock. He used the blade of his knife to cut through the accumulation of old white paint and lifted one of the louvers out of the frame. It was a simple length of wood, maybe three feet long, maybe four inches wide, maybe an inch thick. He held it out in front of him like a spear and crawled over and pushed it into the clock mechanism. The gear wheels jammed on it and the clock stopped. He pulled the wood out again and crawled away and slotted it back in the frame. The silence was suddenly deafening.

They watched and waited. It got colder, to the point where they both started shivering. But the silence helped. Suddenly, it helped a lot. Reacher crawled over and checked his partial view to the west again and then crawled back and picked up the map. Stared at it hard, lost in thought. He used his finger and thumb like a compass and measured distances. Forty, eighty, a hundred and twenty, a hundred and sixty miles. Slow, faster, fast, slow. Overall average speed maybe forty. That's four hours.

’’Sun sets in the west,’’ he said. ’’Rises in the east.’’

’’On this planet,’’ Neagley said.

Then they heard the staircase creak below them. They heard feet on the ladder. The trapdoor lifted an inch and fell back and then crashed all the way open and the vicar put his head up into the bell chamber and stared at the submachine gun pointing at him from one side and the M16 rifle from the other.

’’I need to talk to you about those things,’’ he said. ’’You can't expect me to be happy about having weapons in my church.’’

He stood there on the ladder, looking like a severed head. Reacher laid the M16 back on the floor. The vicar stepped up another rung.

’’I understand the need for security,’’ he said. ’’And we're honored to host the Vice President-elect, but I really can't permit engines of destruction in a hallowed building. I would have expected somebody to discuss it with me.’’

’’Engines of destruction?’’ Neagley repeated.

’’What time does the sun set?’’ Reacher asked.

The vicar looked a little surprised by the change of subject. But he answered very politely.

’’Soon,’’ he said. ’’It falls behind the mountains quite early here. But you won't see it happen today. There are clouds. There's a snowstorm coming in from the west.’’

’’And when does it rise?’’

’’This time of year? A little before seven o'clock, I suppose.’’

’’You heard a weather report for tomorrow?’’

’’They say much the same as today.’’

’’OK,’’ Reacher said. ’’Thanks.’’

’’Did you stop the clock?’’

’’It was driving me nuts.’’

’’That's why I came up. Do you mind if I set it going again?’’

Reacher shrugged. ’’It's your clock.’’

’’I know the noise must be bothersome.’’

’’Doesn't matter,’’ Reacher said. ’’We'll be out of here as soon as the sun sets. Weapons and all.’’

The vicar hauled himself all the way up into the chamber and leaned over the iron girders and fiddled with the mechanism. There was a setting device linked to a separate miniature clock that Reacher hadn't noticed before. It was buried within the gear wheels. It had an adjustment lever attached to it. The vicar checked his wristwatch and used the lever to force the exterior hands around to the correct time. The miniature clock hands moved with them. Then he simply turned a gear wheel with his hand until the mechanism picked up the momentum for itself and started again on its own. The heavy thunk, thunk, thunk came back. The smallest bell rang in sympathy, one tiny resonance for every second that passed.

’’Thank you,’’ the vicar said.

’’An hour at most,’’ Reacher said. ’’Then we'll be gone.’’

The vicar nodded like his point was made and threaded himself down through the trapdoor. Pulled it closed after him.

’’We can't leave here,’’ Neagley said. ’’Are you crazy? They could come in at night easy as anything. Maybe that's exactly what they're waiting for. They could drive back in without headlights.’’

Reacher glanced at his watch.

’’They're already here,’’ he said. ’’Or almost here.’’

’’Where?’’

’’I'll show you.’’

He pulled the louver out of the frame again and handed it to her. Crawled under the clock shaft to the bottom of the next ladder that led up through the roof to the outside. Climbed up it and eased the roof trapdoor open.

’’Stay low,’’ he called.

He swam out, keeping his stomach flat on the roof. The construction was just about identical to the Bismarck roof. There was soldered lead sheathing built up into a shallow box. Drains in the corners. A substantial anchor for the flagpole and the weather vane and the lightning rod. And a three-foot wall all around the edge. He turned a circle on his stomach and leaned down and took the louver from Neagley. Then he got out of her way and let her crawl up next to him. The wind was strong and the air was bitterly cold.

’’Now we kind of kneel low,’’ he said. ’’Close together, facing west.’’

They knelt together, shoulder to shoulder, hunched down. He was on the left, she was on the right. He could still hear the clock. He could feel it, through the lead and the heavy wooden boards.

’’OK, like this,’’ he said. He held the louver in front of his face, with his left hand holding the left end. She took the right end in her right hand. They shuffled forward on their knees until they were tight against the low wall. He eased his end of the louver level with the top of the wall. She did the same.

’’More,’’ he said. ’’Until we've got a slit to see through.’’

They raised it higher in concert until it was horizontal with an inch of space between its lower edge and the top of the wall. They gazed out through the gap. They would be visible if somebody was watching the tower very carefully, but overall it was a pretty unobtrusive tactic. As good as he could improvise, anyway.

’’Look west,’’ he said. ’’Maybe a little bit south of west.’’

They squinted into the setting sun. They could see forty miles of waving grass. It was like an ocean, bright and golden in the evening backlight. Beyond it was the darkening snowstorm. The area between was misty and sheets of late sunlight speared backward through it right at them. There were shifting curtains of sun and shadow and color and rainbows that started nowhere and ended nowhere.

’’Watch the grassland,’’ he said.

’’What am I looking for?’’

’’You'll see it.’’

They knelt there for minutes. The sun inched lower. The last rays tilted flatter into their eyes. Then they saw it. They saw it together. About a mile out into the sea of grass the dying sun flashed gold once on the roof of the Tahoe. It was crawling east through the grassland, very slowly, coming directly toward them, bouncing gently over the rough terrain, lurching up and down through the dips and the hollows at walking speed.

’’They were smart,’’ Reacher said. ’’They read the map and had the same idea you did, to exit across open country to the west. But then they looked at the town and knew they had to come in that way, too.’’

The sun slid into the low clouds fifty miles west and the resulting shadow raced east across the grassland and the golden light died. Twilight came down like a circuit breaker had popped open and then there was nothing more to be seen. They lowered the louver screen and ducked away flat to the roof. Crawled across the lead and back down into the bell chamber. Neagley threaded her way under the clock shaft and picked up the Heckler amp;Koch.

’’Not yet,’’ Reacher said.

’’So when?’’

’’What will they do now?’’

’’I guess they'll get as close as they dare. Then they'll set up and wait.’’

Reacher nodded. ’’They'll turn the truck around and park it facing west in the best hollow they can find about a hundred, two hundred yards out. They'll check their sightlines to the east and make sure they can see but can't be seen. Then they'll sit tight and wait for Armstrong to show.’’

’’That's fourteen hours.’’

’’Exactly,’’ Reacher said. ’’We're going to leave them out there all night. We'll let them get cold and stiff and tired. Then the sun will rise right in their eyes. We'll be coming at them out of the sun. They won't even see us.’’

They hid the long guns under the pew nearest the church door and left the Yukon parked where it was. Walked up toward the bridge and took two rooms in the boardinghouse. Then they headed for the grocery store to get dinner ingredients. The sun was gone and the temperature was below freezing. There was snow in the air again. Big feathery flakes were drifting around, reluctant to settle. They swirled and hung in the air and rose back up like tiny birds.

The breakfast counter was all closed down, but the woman in the store offered to microwave something from the freezer cabinet. She seemed to assume Reacher and Neagley were a Secret Service advance detail. Everybody seemed to know Armstrong was expected at the service. She heated up some meat pies and some slushy vegetables. They ate them at the darkened counter. They tasted as good as field rations. The woman wouldn't take money for them.

The rooms in the boardinghouse were clean, as advertised. They had walls paneled with pine boards. Rag rugs on the floors. One single bed in each, with flowery counterpanes washed so many times they were nearly transparent. There was a bathroom at the far end of the corridor. Reacher let Neagley take the room nearer to it. Then she joined him in his room for a spell, because she was restless and wanted to talk. They sat side by side on the bed, because there was no other furniture.

’’We'll be going up against a prepared position,’’ she said.

’’The two of us against two bozos,’’ Reacher replied. ’’You worried now?’’

’’It's gotten harder.’’

’’Tell me again,’’ he said. ’’I'm not making you do this, am I?’’

’’You can't do it alone.’’

He shook his head. ’’I could do it alone one-handed with my head in a bag.’’

’’We know nothing about them.’’

’’But we can make some kind of an assessment. The tall guy in Bismarck is the shooter, and the other guy watches his back and drives. Big brother, little brother. There'll be a lot of loyalty. It's a brother thing. This whole deal is a brother thing. Explaining the motivation to somebody who wasn't close would be hard. You can't just walk up to a stranger and say hey, I want to shoot a guy because his dad threatened to put a stick up my ass and I had to beg him not to.’’

Neagley said nothing.

’’I'm not asking you to participate,’’ Reacher said.

Neagley smiled. ’’You're an idiot. I'm worried about you, not me.’’

’’Nothing's going to happen to me,’’ Reacher said. ’’I'm going to die an old man in some lonely motel bed.’’

’’This all is a brother thing for you too, isn't it?’’

He nodded. ’’Has to be. I don't really give a damn about Armstrong. I liked Froelich, but I would never have known her except for Joe.’’

’’Are you lonely?’’

’’Sometimes. Not usually.’’

She moved her hand, very slowly. It started an inch from his hand. She made the inch last like a million miles. Her fingers moved imperceptibly over the washed-out counterpane until they were a fraction from his. Then they lifted and moved more, until they were directly over his and just a fraction above. It was like there was a layer of air between their hands, compressed so hard it was warm and liquid. She floated her hand on the air and kept it motionless. Then she pressed harder and brought it down and her fingers touched the backs of his fingers, very lightly. She turned her elbow so her hand lay precisely aligned. Then she pushed down harder. Her palm felt warm. Her fingers were long and cool. Their tips lay on his knuckles. They moved and traced the lines and scars and tendons. They raked down between his. He turned his hand over. She pressed her palm into his. Laced her fingers through his fingers and squeezed. He squeezed back.

He held her hand for five long minutes. Then she slowly pulled it away. Stood up and stepped to the door. Smiled.

’’See you in the morning,’’ she said.

He slept badly and woke up at five, worried about the endgame. Complications crowded in on him. He threw back the covers and slipped out of bed. Dressed in the dark and walked down the stairs and out into the night. It was bitter cold and the snowflakes were blowing in faster. They looked wet and heavy. The weather was moving east. Which was good, he guessed.

There was no light. All the town's windows were dark, there were no streetlights, there was no moon, there were no stars. The church tower loomed up in the middle distance, faint and gray and ghostly. He walked in the middle of the dirt road and crossed the graveyard. Found the church door and went inside. Crept up the tower stairs by feel. Found the ladder in the dark and climbed up into the bell chamber. The clock ticked loudly. Louder than in the daytime. It sounded like a mad blacksmith beating his iron hammer against his anvil once a second.

He ducked under the clock shaft and found the next ladder. Climbed up out of the darkness onto the roof. Crawled over to the west wall and raised his head. The landscape was infinitely dark and silent. The distant looming mountains were invisible. He could see nothing. He could hear nothing. The air was freezing. He waited.

He waited thirty minutes in the cold. It set his eyes watering and his nose running. He started shivering violently. If I'm cold, they're nearly dead, he thought. And sure enough after thirty long minutes he heard the sound he had been listening for. The Tahoe's engine started. It was far away, but it sounded deafening in the night silence. It was somewhere out there to the west, maybe a couple hundred yards distant. It idled for ten whole minutes, running the heater. He couldn't fix an exact location by sound alone. But then they made a fatal mistake. They flicked the dome light on and off for a second. He saw a brief yellow glow deep down in the grass. The truck was down in a dip. Absolutely concealed, its roof well below the average grade level. A little south of west, but not by much. Maybe a hundred and fifty yards out. It was a fine location. They would probably use the truck itself as the shooting platform. Lie prone on the roof, aim, fire, jump down, jump in, drive away.

He put both arms flat along the wall and faced due west and fixed the memory of the brief yellow flash in his mind against the location of the tower. A hundred and fifty yards out, maybe thirty yards south of perpendicular. He crawled back into the bell tower, past the hammering clock, down to the nave. He retrieved the long guns from under the pew and left them on the cold ground underneath the Yukon. He didn't want to put them inside. Didn't want to answer their flash of light with one of his own.

Then he walked back to the boardinghouse and found Neagley coming out of her room. It was nearly six o'clock. She was showered and dressed. They went into his room to talk.

’’Couldn't sleep?’’ he asked.

’’I never sleep,’’ she said. ’’They still there?’’

He nodded. ’’But there's a problem. We can't take them down where they are. We need to move them first.’’

’’Why?’’

’’Too close to home. We can't start World War Three out there an hour before Armstrong gets here. And we can't leave two corpses lying around a hundred and fifty yards from the town. People here have seen us. There'll be early cops up from Casper. Maybe state troopers. You've got your license to think about. We need to drive them off and take them down somewhere deserted. West, where it's snowing, maybe. This snow will be around until April. That's what I want. I want to do it far away and I want it to be April before anybody knows that anything happened here.’’

’’OK, how?’’

’’They're Edward Fox. They're not John Malkovich. They want to live to fight another day. We can make them run if we do it right.’’

They were back at the Yukon before six-thirty. The snowflakes were still drifting in the air. But the sky was beginning to lighten in the east. There was a band of dark purple on the horizon, and then a band of charcoal, and then the blackness of night. They checked their weapons. Laced their shoes, zipped their coats, swung their shoulders to check freedom of action. Reacher put his hat on, and his left glove. Neagley put her Steyr in her inside pocket and slung the Heckler amp;Koch over her back.

’’See you later,’’ she whispered.

She walked west into the graveyard. He saw her step over the low fence and turn a little south and then she disappeared in the darkness. He walked to the base of the tower and stood flat against the middle of the west wall and recalculated the Tahoe's position. Pointed his arm out straight toward it and walked back, moving his arm to compensate for his changes of position, keeping the target locked in. He laid the M16 on the ground with the muzzle pointing a little south of west. He stepped behind the Yukon and leaned on the tailgate and waited for the dawn.

It came slowly and gradually and magnificently. The purple color grew lighter and reddened at its base and spread upward and outward until half the sky was streaked with light. Then an orange halo appeared two hundred miles away in South Dakota and the earth tumbled toward it and the first slim arc of the sun burst up over the horizon. The sky blazed pink. Long high clouds burned red. Reacher watched the sun and waited until it climbed high enough to hurt his eyes and then he unlocked the Yukon and started the engine. He blipped it loud and turned the radio on full blast. He ran the tuning arrows up and down until he found some rock and roll and left the driver's door open so the music beat against the dawn silence. Then he picked up the M16 and knocked the safety off and put it to his shoulder and fired a single burst of three, aiming a little south of west directly over the hidden Tahoe. He heard Neagley answer immediately with a triple of her own. The MP5 had a faster cyclic rate and a distinctive chattering sound. She was triangulated in the grass a hundred yards due south of the Tahoe, firing directly north over it. He fired again, three more from the east. She fired again, three more from the south. The four bursts of fire crashed and rolled and echoed over the landscape. They said: We...know...you're... there.

He waited thirty seconds, as planned. There was no response from the Tahoe's position. No lights, no movement, no return fire. He raised the rifle again. Aimed high. Squeezed the trigger. We. The Heckler amp;Koch chattered far away to his left. Know. He fired again. You're. She fired again. There.

No response. He wondered for a second whether they'd already slipped away in the last hour. Or gotten really smart and moved through the town to the east. They were dumb to attack into the sun. He spun around and saw nothing behind him except lights snapping on in windows. Heard nothing anywhere except the ringing in his ears and the deafening rock and roll music from the car. He turned back ready to fire again and saw the Tahoe burst up out of the grass a hundred and fifty yards in front of him. The dawn sun flashed gold and chrome against its tailgate. It bucked over a rise with all four wheels off the ground and crashed back to earth and accelerated away from him into the west.

He threw the rifle into the Yukon's backseat and slammed the door and killed the radio and accelerated straight across the graveyard. Smashed through the wooden fence and plunged into the grassland. Hung a fast curve south. The terrain was murderous. The car was crashing and bouncing over ruts and pitching wildly over long swells. He steered one-handed and clipped his belt with the other. Pulled it tight against the locking mechanism to keep him clamped to the seat. He saw Neagley racing toward him through the grass on his left. He jammed on the brakes and she wrenched the nearside rear door open and threw herself inside behind him. He took off again and she slammed the door and fought her way over into the front passenger seat. She belted herself in and jammed the Heckler amp;Koch down between her knees and braced herself with both hands on the dash like she was fighting a roller coaster ride.

’’Perfect,’’ she said. She was panting hard. He raced on. Curved back to the north until he found the swath the Tahoe had blasted through the grass. He got himself centered in it and hit the gas. The ride was worse than any roller coaster. It was a continuous violent battering. The car was leaping and shuddering and going alternately weightless and then crashing back to earth and taking off again. The engine was screaming. The wheel was writhing in his hands and kicking back hard enough to break his thumbs. He kept his fingers sticking straight out and steered with his palms only. He was afraid they were going to shatter an axle.

’’See them yet?’’ he shouted.

’’Not yet,’’ she shouted back. ’’They could be three hundred yards ahead.’’

’’I'm afraid the car will break.’’

He hit the gas harder. He was doing nearly fifty miles an hour. Then sixty. The faster he went, the better it rode. It spent less actual time on the ground.

’’I see them,’’ Neagley called.

They were two hundred yards ahead, intermittently visible as they bucked up and down through the sea of grass like a manic gold dolphin riding the waves. Reacher pressed on and pulled a little closer. He had the advantage. They were clearing a path for him. He crept up to about a hundred yards back and held steady. The engine roared and the suspension bucked and crashed and banged.

’’They can run,’’ he screamed.

’’But they can't hide,’’ Neagley screamed back.

Ten minutes later they were ten miles west of Grace and felt like they had been badly beaten in a fistfight. Reacher's head was hitting the roof over every bump and his arms were aching. His shoulders were wrenched. The engine was still screaming. The only way he could keep his foot on the gas pedal was to mash it all the way down to the carpet. Neagley was bouncing around at his side and flailing back and forth. She had given up bracing herself with her arms in case she broke her elbows.

Over the next ten murderous miles the terrain shaded into something new. They were literally in the middle of nowhere. The town of Grace was twenty miles behind them and the highway was twenty miles ahead. The grade was rising. The land was breaking up into sharper ravines. There was more rock. There was still grass growing, and it was still tall, but it was thinner because the roots were shallower. And there was snow on the ground. The grass stalks were rigid with ice and they came up out of a six-inch white blanket. Both cars slowed, a hundred yards apart. Within another mile the chase had slowed to a ludicrous twenty-mile-an-hour procession. They were inching down forty-five-degree faces, plunging hood-deep through accumulated snow in the bottoms, clawing up the rises with their transmissions locked in four-wheel-drive. The crevasses ran maybe ten or fifteen feet deep. The endless wind from the west had packed the snow into them with the lee faces bare and the windward faces smooth and sheer. There were flakes in the air, whipping horizontally toward them.

’’We're going to get stuck,’’ Neagley said.

’’They got in this way,’’ Reacher said. ’’Got to be able to get out.’’

They lost sight of the Tahoe ahead of them every time it dropped away into a ravine. They glimpsed it only when they labored up a peak and caught sight of it up on a peak of its own three or four dips in front. There was no rhythm. No coordination. Both trucks were diving and then clawing upward randomly. They had slowed to walking pace. Reacher had the transmission locked in low range and the truck was slipping and sliding. Far to the west the snowstorm was wild. The weather was blowing in fast.

’’It's time,’’ Reacher said. ’’Any one of these ravines, the snow will hide them all winter.’’

’’OK, let's go for it,’’ Neagley said.

She buzzed her window down and a flurry of snow blew in on a gale of freezing air. She picked up the Heckler amp;Koch and clicked it to full auto. Reacher accelerated hard and plunged through the next two dips as fast as the truck could take it. Then he jammed on the brakes at the top of the third peak and flicked the wheel left. The truck slewed sideways and slid to a stop with the passenger window facing forward and Neagley leaned all the way out and waited. The gold Tahoe reared up a hundred yards ahead and she loosed a long raking burst of fire aimed low at the rear tires and the fuel tank. The Tahoe paused fractionally and then rocked over the peak of its rise and disappeared again.

Reacher spun the wheel and hit the gas and crawled after it. The stop had cost them maybe another hundred yards. He plowed through three consecutive ravines and stopped again on the fourth peak. They waited. Ten seconds, fifteen. The Tahoe did not reappear. They waited twenty seconds. Thirty.

’’Hell is it?’’ Reacher muttered.

He slid the truck down the windward face, through the snow, up the other side. Straight over the top into the next dip. Up the rise, over the top, down into the snow. No sign of the Tahoe. He powered on. The tires spun and the engine screamed. He made it up the next rise. Stopped dead at the top. The land fell away twenty feet into a broad gulch. It was thick with snow and the icy stalks of grass showed less than a foot above it. The Tahoe's incoming tracks from the day before were visible straight ahead, almost obscured by wind and fresh snowfall. But its outgoing tracks were deep and new. They turned sharply right and ran away to the north, through a tight curve in the ravine, and then out of sight behind a snow-covered outcrop. There was silence all around. Snow was driving straight at them. It was coming upward at them, off the bottom of the dip.

Time and space, Reacher thought. Four dimensions. A classic tactical problem. The Tahoe might have U-turned and might be aiming to arrive back at the crucial place at the crucial time. It could retrace its path and be back near the church just before Armstrong touched down. But to chase it blind would be suicide. Because it might not be doubling back at all. It might be waiting in ambush around the next corner. But to spend too long thinking about it would be suicide, too. Because it might not be doubling back or waiting in ambush. It might be circling right around and aiming to come up behind them. A classic problem. Reacher glanced at his watch. Almost the point of no return. They had been gone nearly thirty minutes. Therefore it would take nearly thirty to get back. And Armstrong had been due in an hour and five.

’’Feel like getting cold?’’ he said.

’’No alternative,’’ Neagley said back. She opened her door and slid out into the snow. Ran clumsily to her right, fighting through the drifts, over the rocks, aiming to connect the legs of the U. He took his foot off the brake and nudged the wheel and eased down the slope. Turned hard right in the ravine bottom and followed the Tahoe's tracks. It was the best solution he could improvise. If the Tahoe was doubling back, he couldn't wait forever. No point in driving cautiously back to the church and arriving there after Armstrong was already dead. And if he was driving straight into an ambush, he was happy enough to do it with Neagley standing behind his opponents with a submachine gun in her hands. He figured that would pretty much guarantee his survival.

But there was no ambush. He came around the rocks and turned back east and saw nothing at all except empty wheel tracks in the snow and Neagley standing fifty yards farther on with the sun on her back and her gun raised over her head. The all clear signal. He hit the gas and raced up toward her. The truck slipped and slid and skidded in the Tahoe's impacted ruts. He bounced over hidden rocks. He touched the brake. The truck lurched and drifted sideways and stopped with the front wheels down in a snow-filled trench. Neagley fought her way through the drifts and pulled the door. Icy air followed her inside.

’’Hit it,’’ she said. She was panting again. ’’They must be at least five minutes ahead of us by now.’’

He touched the gas. All four wheels spun uselessly. The truck stayed motionless and all four tires whined in the snow and the front end dug in deeper.

’’Shit,’’ he said.

He tried again. Same result. The truck shuddered and rocked and didn't go anywhere. He switched the transmission out of locked low range and tried again. Same result. He let the engine idle and put the transmission in reverse, then drive, then reverse, then drive. The truck rocked urgently back and forth, back and forth, six inches, a foot. But it didn't climb out of the trench.

Neagley glanced at her watch. ’’They're out there ahead of us. They could get back there in time.’’

Reacher nodded and touched the gas and kept on banging the transmission lever into reverse, into drive, into reverse. The truck bucked and bounced. But it didn't climb out of the trench. The tire treads howled on the glassy snow. The front end dodged left and right with the engine torque and the rear end squirmed with it.

’’Armstrong's in the air now,’’ Neagley said. ’’And our car isn't parked next to the church anymore. So he's going to go ahead and land.’’

Reacher looked at his own watch. Fought his rising panic.

’’You do it,’’ he said. ’’Keep it rocking back and forward.’’

He twisted around and grabbed his gloves. Unclipped his belt and opened his door and slid out into the snow.

’’And if it goes, don't stop for anything,’’ he said.

He floundered around to the rear of the truck. Stamped and kicked at the snow until he got his feet braced against rock. Neagley slid across into the driver's seat. She built up a rhythm, drive and reverse, drive and reverse, little taps on the gas as the gears slid home. The truck rocked on its springs and began to roll back and forth along a foot and a half of impacted ice. Reacher put his back against the tailgate and hooked his hands under the rear bumper. Moved with the truck as it pushed back at him. Straightened his legs and heaved as it moved away. The tire treads were full of snow. They flung little white hieroglyphs into the air as they spun. The exhaust fumes burbled out near his knees and hung in the air. He stumbled forward and pushed backward, again, and again. Now the truck was moving two feet at a time. He clamped his hands harder. Snow was blowing straight out of the west into his face. He started counting. One, two... three. One, two... three. He started walking the truck backward and heaving it forward. Now it was moving three feet with each change of direction. He stamped a chain of footholds. One, two... three. On the last three he shoved with all his strength. He felt the truck climb up out of the trench. Felt it fall back in again. The tailgate butted him hard in the back. He stumbled forward and floundered for grip. Rebuilt his rhythm. He was sweating in the cold. He was out of breath. One, two... three. He heaved again and the truck disappeared out from behind him and he fell backward into the snow.

He rolled up through the stink of gasoline exhaust. The truck was twenty yards ahead. Neagley was driving it as slow as she dared. He slipped and slid and chased after it. He swerved right to get in its wheel track. The ground rose. Neagley gunned it to maintain her momentum. He was running hard but she was driving away from him. He sprinted. He smashed the toes of his boots into the snow to keep from slipping. She slowed at the top of the rise. The truck went up and over. He saw the whole underside. The fuel tank, the differential. She braked gently and he caught the door handle and flung the door open and floundered downhill alongside the truck until he had built enough speed to fling himself inside. He hauled himself into the seat and slammed the door and she stamped hard on the gas and the violent battering roller coaster ride came back.

’’Time?’’ she screamed.

He fought to keep his wrist still and stared at his watch. He was breathing too hard to speak. He just shook his head. They were at least ten minutes behind. And it was a crucial ten minutes. The Tahoe would arrive back at its starting point about two minutes into it and Armstrong would touch down after another five. Neagley drove on. She hurtled up the rises and took off and plunged hood-deep into the drifts and battered her way through and did it all over again. Without the wheel to hold on to Reacher was thrown all over the place. He fought the alternate weightlessness and physical pounding and caught blurred glimpses of the time on his watch. He stared through the windshield at the sky in the east. The sun was in his eyes. He dropped his gaze to the terrain. Nothing there. No Tahoe. It was long gone. All that remained were its tracks through the snow, deep twinned ruts that narrowed in the far distance ahead. They pointed resolutely toward the town of Grace like arrows. They were full of ice crystals that burned red and yellow against the early dawn light.

Then they changed. They swooped a tight ninety-degree left and disappeared into a north-south ravine.

’’What?’’ Neagley shouted.

’’Follow,’’ Reacher gasped.

The ravine was narrow, like a trench. It ran steeply downhill. The Tahoe's tracks were clearly visible for fifty yards and then they swerved out of sight again, a sharp right behind a rock outcrop the size of a house. Neagley braked hard as the grade fell away. She stopped. She paused a beat and Reacher's mind screamed, An ambush now? a split second after her foot hit the gas again and her hands turned the wheel. The Yukon locked into the Tahoe's ruts and its two-ton weight slid it helplessly down the icy slope. The Tahoe burst out of hiding, backward, directly in front of them. It jammed to a skidding stop right across their path. Neagley was out of her door before the Yukon stopped moving. She rolled in the snow and floundered away to the north. The Yukon slewed violently and stalled in a snowdrift. Reacher's door was jammed shut by the depth of the snow. He used all his strength and forced it half-open and scraped out through the gap. Saw the driver spilling from the Tahoe, slipping and falling in the snow. Reacher rolled away and pulled his Steyr from his pocket. Thrashed around to the back of the Yukon and crawled forward through the snow along its other side. The Tahoe driver was holding a rifle, rowing himself through the snow with its muzzle, slipping and sliding. He was heading for cover in the rock. He was the guy from Bismarck. No doubt about that. Lean face, long body. He even had the same coat on. He was bulling through the snowdrift with the coat flapping open and small snowstorms kicking outward from his knees at every step. Reacher raised the Steyr and steadied it against the Yukon's fender and tracked the guy's head. Tightened his finger on the trigger. Then he heard a voice, loud and urgent, right behind him.

’’Hold your fire,’’ the voice called.

He turned and saw a second guy ten yards north and west. Neagley was stumbling through the snow directly ahead of him. He had her Heckler amp;Koch held low in his left hand. A handgun in his right, jammed in her back. He was the guy from the garage video. No doubt about that, either. Tweed overcoat, short, wide in the shoulders, a little squat. No hat this time. He had the same face as the Bismarck guy, a little fatter. The same graying sandy hair, a little thicker. Brothers.

’’Throw the weapon down, sir,’’ he called.

It was a perfect cop line and he had a perfect cop voice. Neagley mouthed I'm sorry. Reacher reversed the Steyr in his hand. Held it by the barrel.

’’Throw down the weapon, sir,’’ the squat guy called again.

His brother from Bismarck changed direction and plowed forward through the snow and moved in closer. He raised the rifle. It was a Steyr too, a long handsome gun. It was all covered with snow. It was pointing straight at Reacher's head. The low morning sun made the shadow of the barrel ten feet long. Reacher thought: What happened to that lonely motel bed? Snowflakes swirled and the air was bitter cold. He pulled his arm back and tossed his pistol high in the air. It arced lazily thirty feet through the falling snow and landed and buried itself in a drift. The guy from Bismarck fumbled in his pocket with his left hand and pulled out his badge. Held it high in his palm. The badge was gold. It was backed by a worn leather slip. The leather was brown. The rifle wavered. The guy fumbled the badge away again and brought the rifle to his shoulder and held it level and steady.

’’We're police officers,’’ he said.

’’I know you are,’’ Reacher said back. He glanced around. The snow was falling hard. It was whipping and swirling. The crevasse they were in was like a cave with no roof. It was probably the loneliest place on the planet. The guy from the garage video pushed Neagley nearer. She stumbled and he caught up with her and pushed her off to one side and kept his handgun hard in her back.

’’But who are you?’’ the Bismarck guy asked.

Reacher didn't answer. Just checked the geometry. It wasn't attractive. He was triangulated twelve feet from either guy, and the snow underfoot was slick and slow.

The Bismarck guy smiled. ’’You here to make the world safe for democracy?’’

’’I'm here because you're a lousy shot,’’ Reacher said. ’’You got the wrong person on Thursday.’’ Then he moved very cautiously and pulled his cuff and checked his watch. And smiled. ’’And you lose again. It's too late now. You're going to miss him.’’

The Bismarck guy just shook his head. ’’Police scanner. In our truck. We're listening to Casper PD. Armstrong is delayed twenty minutes. There was a weather problem in South Dakota. So we decided to hang out and let you catch up with us.’’

Reacher said nothing.

’’Because we don't like you,’’ the Bismarck guy said. He spoke along the rifle stock. His lips moved against it. ’’You're poking around where you're not welcome. In a purely private matter. In something that doesn't concern you at all. So consider yourselves under arrest. You want to plead guilty?’’

Reacher said nothing.

’’Or you just want to plead?’’

’’Like you did?’’ Reacher said. ’’When that ball bat was getting close?’’

The guy went quiet for a second.

’’Your attitude isn't helping your cause,’’ he said.

He paused again, five long seconds.

’’The jury is back,’’ he said.

’’What jury?’’

’’Me and my brother. That's all the jury you've got. We're your whole world right now.’’

’’Whatever happened, it was thirty years ago.’’

’’A guy does something like that, he should pay.’’

’’The guy died.’’

The Bismarck cop shrugged. The rifle barrel moved. ’’You should read your Bible, my friend. The sins of the fathers, you ever heard of that?’’

’’What sins? You lost a fight, is all.’’

’’We never lose. Sooner or later, we always win. And Armstrong watched. Snot-nosed rich kid, all smiling and grinning. A man doesn't forget a thing like that.’’

Reacher said nothing. The silence was total. Each snowflake felt separately audible as it hissed and whirled through the air. Keep him talking, Reacher thought. Keep him moving. But he looked into the crazed eyes and couldn't think of a thing to say.

’’The woman goes in the truck,’’ the guy said. ’’We'll have a little fun with her, after we deal with Armstrong. But I'm going to shoot you right now.’’

’’Not with that rifle,’’ Reacher said. Keep him talking. Keep him moving. ’’The muzzle is full of slush. It'll blow up in your hands.’’

There was a long silence. The guy calculated the distance between himself and Reacher, just a glance. Then he lowered the rifle. Reversed it in his hands, in and out fast, long enough to check. The muzzle was packed with icy snow. The M16 is on the Yukon's backseat, Reacher thought. But the door is blocked shut by the drift.

’’You want to bet your life on a little slush?’’ the Bismarck guy asked.

’’Do you?’’ Reacher said. ’’The breech will blow, take your ugly face off. Then I'll take the barrel and shove it up your ass. I'll pretend it was a baseball bat.’’

The guy's face darkened. But he didn't pull the trigger.

’’Step away from the car,’’ he said, like the cop he was. Reacher took a long pace away from the Yukon, up and down in the snow, like wading.

’’And another.’’

Reacher moved again. He was six feet from the car. Six feet from his M16. Thirty feet from his nine-millimeter, far away in the snow. He glanced around. The Bismarck brother held the rifle in his left hand and put his right under his coat and came out with a handgun. It was a Glock. Black and square and ugly. Probably police department issue. He released the safety and leveled it one-handed at Reacher's face.

’’Not that one either,’’ Reacher said.

Keep him talking. Keep him moving.

’’Why not?’’

’’That's your work gun. Chances are you've used it before. So there are records. They find my body, the ballistics will come right back at you.’’

The guy stood still for a long moment. Didn't speak. Nothing in his face. But he put the Glock away again. Raised the rifle. Shuffled backward through the snow toward the Tahoe. The rifle traversed and stayed level with Reacher's chest. Reacher thought: Just pull the damn trigger. Let's all have a laugh. The guy fumbled behind him and opened the Tahoe's rear door, driver's side. Dropped the rifle in the snow and came out with a handgun, all in one move. It was an old M9 Beretta, scratched and stained with dried oil. The guy tracked forward again through the drift. Stopped six feet away from Reacher. Raised his arm. Unlatched the safety with his thumb and leveled the weapon straight at the center of Reacher's face.

’’Throw-down gun,’’ he said. ’’No records on this one.’’

Reacher said nothing.

’’Say goodnight now,’’ the guy whispered.

Nobody moved.

’’On the click,’’ Reacher said.

He stared straight ahead at the gun. Saw Neagley's face in the corner of his eye. Saw that she didn't understand what he meant, but saw her nod anyway. It was just a fractional movement of her eyelids. Like half a blink. The Bismarck guy smiled. Tightened his finger. His knuckle shone white. He squeezed the trigger.

There was a dull click.

Reacher came out with his ceramic knife already open and brushed it sideways across the guy's forehead. Then he caught the Beretta's barrel in his left hand and jerked it up and jerked it down full force across his knee and shattered the guy's forearm. Pushed him away and spun around. Neagley had hardly moved. But the guy from the garage video was inert in the snow by her feet. He was bleeding from both ears. She was holding her Heckler amp;Koch in one hand and the guy's handgun in the other.

’’Yes?’’ she said.

He nodded. She stepped a pace away so her clothes wouldn't get splashed and pointed the handgun at the ground and shot the garage guy three times. Bang bang... bang. A double-tap to the head, and then an insurance round in the chest. The sound of the shots clapped and rolled like thunder. They both turned away. The Bismarck guy was stumbling around in the snow, completely blind. His forehead was sliced to the bone and blood was pouring out of the wound in sheets and running down into his eyes. It was in his nose and in his mouth. His panting breath was bubbling out through it. He was cradling his broken arm. Staggering about, left and right, turning circles, raising his left forearm to his face, trying to wipe the blood out of his eyes so he could see.

Reacher watched him for a moment, nothing in his face. Then he took the Heckler amp;Koch from Neagley and set it to fire a single round and waited until the guy had pirouetted around backward and shot him through the throat from the rear. He tried to put the bullet exactly where Froelich had taken hers. The spent brass expelled and hit the Tahoe twenty feet away with a loud clang and the guy pitched forward on his face and lay still and the snow turned bright red all around him. The crash of the shot rolled away and absolute silence rolled back to replace it. Reacher and Neagley stood still and held their breath and listened hard. Heard nothing except the sound of the snow falling.

’’How did you know?’’ Neagley asked, quietly.

’’It was Froelich's gun,’’ he said. ’’They stole it from her kitchen. I recognized the scratches and the oil marks. She'd kept the clips loaded in a drawer for about five years.’’

’’It still might have fired,’’ Neagley said.

’’The whole of life is a gamble,’’ Reacher said. ’’From the very beginning to the very end. Wouldn't you say?’’

The silence closed in tighter. And the cold. They were alone in a thousand square miles of freezing emptiness, breathing hard, shivering, a little sick with adrenaline.

’’How long will the church thing last?’’ he asked.

’’I don't know,’’ Neagley said. ’’Forty minutes? An hour?’’

’’So we don't need to rush.’’

He waded over and retrieved his Steyr from where it had fallen. The snow was already starting to cover the two bodies. He took wallets and badges from the pockets. Wiped his knife clean on the Bismarck guy's twill coat. Opened all four of the Tahoe's doors so the snow would drift inside and bury it quicker. Neagley wiped the garage guy's pistol on her coat and dropped it. Then they floundered back to the Yukon and climbed inside. Took a last look back. The scene was already rimed with new snow, whitening fast. It would be gone within forty-eight hours. The icy wind would freeze the whole tableau inside a long smooth east-west drift until the spring sunshine released it again.

Neagley drove, slowly. Reacher piled the wallets on his knees and started with the badges. The truck was lurching gently and it took effort just to hold them still in front of his eyes long enough to look at them.

’’County cops from Idaho,’’ he said. ’’Some rural place south of Boise, I think.’’

He put both badges into his pocket. Opened the Bismarck guy's wallet. It was a brown leather trifold, dry and cracked and molded around the contents. There was a milky plastic window on the inside with a police ID behind it. The guy's lean face stared out from the photograph.

’’His name was Richard Wilson,’’ he said. ’’Basic grade detective.’’

There were two credit cards and an Idaho driver's license in the wallet. And scraps of paper, and almost three hundred dollars in cash. He spilled the paper on his knees and put the cash in his pocket. Opened the garage guy's wallet. It was phony alligator, black, and it had an ID from the same police department.

’’Peter Wilson,’’ he said. He checked the driver's license. ’’A year younger.’’

Peter had three credit cards and nearly two hundred dollars. Reacher put the cash in his pocket and glanced ahead. The snow clouds were behind them and the sky was clear in the east. The sun was out and in their eyes. There was a small black dot in the air. The church tower was barely visible, almost twenty miles away. The Yukon bounced its way toward it, relentlessly. The black dot grew larger. There was a gray blur of rotors above it. It looked motionless in the air. Reacher steadied himself against the dash and looked up through the windshield. There was a tinted band across the top of the glass. The helicopter eased down through it. He could make out its shape. It was fat and bulbous at the front. Probably a Night Hawk. It picked up a visual on the church and turned toward it. It drifted in like a fat insect. The Yukon bounced gently over washboard depressions. The wallets slid off Reacher's knees and the paper scraps scattered. The helicopter was hovering. Then it was swinging in the air, turning its main door toward the church.

’’Golf clubs,’’ Reacher said. ’’Not tool samples.’’

’’What?’’

He held up a scrap of paper. ’’A UPS receipt. Next-day air. From Minneapolis. Addressed to Richard Wilson, arriving guest, at a D.C. motel. A carton, a foot square, forty-eight inches long. Contents, one bag of golf clubs.’’

Then he went quiet. Stared at another scrap of paper.

’’Something else,’’ he said. ’’For Stuyvesant, maybe.’’

They watched the distant helicopter land and they stopped right there in the middle of the empty grassland. Got out into the freezing cold sunshine and walked aimless circles and stretched and yawned. The Yukon ticked loudly as it cooled. Reacher piled the badges with the police IDs and the drivers'licenses on the passenger seat and then hurled the empty wallets far into the landscape.

’’We need to sanitize,’’ he said. They wiped their prints off all four weapons and threw them into the grass, north and south and east and west. Emptied the spare rounds from their pockets and hurled them away in looping brassy swirls through the sunlight. Followed them with the bird watcher's scope. Reacher kept his hat and gloves. And the ceramic knife. He had grown fond of it.

Then they drove the rest of the way to Grace slow and easy and bumped up out of the grassland and through the wrecked fence and across the graveyard. Parked near the waiting helicopter and got out. They could hear the groan of the organ and the sound of people singing inside the church. No crowds. No media. It was a dignified scene. There was a Casper PD cruiser parked at a discreet distance. There was an Air Force crewman in a flight suit standing next to the helicopter. He was alert and vigilant. Probably not an Air Force crewman at all. Probably one of Stuyvesant's guys in a borrowed outfit. Probably had a rifle hidden just inside the cabin door. Probably a Vaime Mk2.

’’You OK?’’ Neagley asked.

’’I'm always OK,’’ Reacher said. ’’You?’’

’’I'm fine.’’

They stood there for fifteen minutes, not really sure if they were hot or cold. There was a loud mournful piece from the distant organ, and then quiet, and then the muffled sound of feet moving on dusty boards. The big oak door opened and a small crowd filtered out into the sunshine. The vicar stood outside the door with Froelich's parents and spoke to everybody as they left.

Armstrong came out after a couple of minutes with Stuyvesant at his side. They were both in dark overcoats. They were surrounded by seven agents. Armstrong spoke to the vicar and shook hands with the Froelichs and spoke some more. Then his detail brought him away toward the helicopter. He saw Reacher and Neagley and detoured near them, a question in his face.

’’We all live happily ever after,’’ Reacher said.

Armstrong nodded once.

’’Thank you,’’ he said.

’’You're welcome,’’ Reacher said.

Armstrong hesitated a second longer and then turned away without shaking hands and walked on toward the chopper. Stuyvesant came next, on his own.

’’Happily?’’ he repeated.

Reacher gathered the badges and the IDs and the licenses from his pockets. Stuyvesant cupped his hands to take them all.

’’Maybe more happily than we thought,’’ Reacher said. ’’They weren't yours, that's for sure. They were cops, from Idaho, near Boise. You've got the addresses there. I'm sure you'll find what you need. The computer, the paper and the printer, Andretti's thumb in the freezer. Something else, maybe.’’

He took a scrap of paper from his pocket.

’’I found this too,’’ he said. ’’It was in one of the wallets. It's a register receipt. They went to the grocery store late on Friday and bought six TV dinners and six big bottles of water.’’

’’So?’’ Stuyvesant said.

Reacher smiled. ’’My guess is they weren't doing their regular weekly marketing, not in the middle of everything else they were doing. I think maybe they were making sure Mrs. Nenkon*** could eat while they came out here. I think she's still alive.’’

Stuyvesant snatched the receipt and ran for the helicopter.

Reacher and Neagley said their good-byes at the Denver airport late the next morning, Monday. Reacher signed over his fee check to her and she bought him a first-class ticket on United to New York La Guardia. He walked her to the gate for her Chicago flight. People were already boarding. She didn't say anything. Just placed her bag on the floor and stood still directly in front of him. Then she stretched up and hugged him, fast, like she didn't really know how to do it. She let go after a second and picked up her bag and walked down the jetway. Didn't look back.

He made it into La Guardia late in the evening. Took a bus and a subway to Times Square and walked Forty-second Street until he found B. B. King's new club. A four-piece guitar band was just finishing its first set. They were pretty good. He listened until the set ended and then walked back to the ticket taker.

’’Was there an old woman here last week?’’ he asked. ’’Sounded a little like Dawn Penn? With an old guy on keyboards?’’

The ticket taker shook his head.

’’Nobody like that,’’ the guy said. ’’Not here.’’

Reacher nodded once and stepped out into the shiny darkness. It was cold on the street. He headed west for the Port Authority and a bus out of town.


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