Personal, p.10
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  ‘Where?’

  ‘You’ll see.’

  We crossed the Seine on the Pont d’Austerlitz, and hooked a left on the Boulevard de la Bastille, and headed up towards the monument itself, fast and fluent through the traffic, as if the driver was using lights and siren, although he wasn’t. The monument was the hub of a crazy traffic circle, called the Place de la Bastille, just as bad as all the others in Paris, and the fourth of its ten exits was the rue de la Roquette, which led basically east, straight to the cemetery gate.

  ‘Père Lachaise,’ Scarangello said. ‘Chopin is buried here. And Molière.’

  ‘And Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison,’ I said. ‘From the Doors.’

  ‘We don’t have time for tourism.’

  ‘Won’t take long,’ I said.

  The driver parked at the gate and I got out. Scarangello came with me. There was a wooden booth that sold maps to all the famous graves. Like Hollywood, with the stars’ homes. We walked in, on a wide gritty path, and turned left and right past elaborate mausoleums and white marble headstones. I navigated by memory, from a sullen grey winter morning many years previously. I walked slow, pausing occasionally, checking, until I found the right place, which was now a strip of lawn, green with new spring grass, studded with headstones, broad and low. I found the right one. It was pale, and barely weathered at all, with two lines of inscription still crisp and precise: Joséphine Moutier Reacher, 1930–1990. A life, sixty years long. I had arrived exactly halfway through it. I stood there, hands by my side, with another man’s blood and brains on my jacket.

  ‘Family?’ Scarangello asked.

  ‘My mother,’ I said.

  ‘Why is she buried here?’

  ‘Born in Paris, died in Paris.’

  ‘Is that how you know the city so well?’

  I nodded. ‘We came here from time to time. And then she lived here after my father died. On the Avenue Rapp. The other side of Les Invalides. I visited when I could.’

  Scarangello nodded and went quiet for a spell, maybe out of respect. She stood next to me, shoulder to shoulder. She asked, ‘What was she like?’

  I said, ‘Petite, dark-haired but blue-eyed, very feminine, very obstinate. But generally happy. She made the best of things. She would walk into some dumpy Marine quarters somewhere and laugh and smile and say, ’Ome sweet ’ome. She couldn’t say the letter H because of her accent.’

  Scarangello said, ‘Sixty is not very old. I’m sorry.’

  ‘We get what we get,’ I said. ‘She didn’t complain.’

  ‘What was it?’

  ‘Lung cancer. She smoked a lot. She was French.’

  ‘This is Père Lachaise.’

  ‘I know.’

  ‘I mean, not everyone gets buried here.’

  ‘Obviously,’ I said. ‘It would get pretty crowded.’

  ‘I mean, it’s like an honour.’

  ‘War service.’

  Scarangello looked at the headstone again. ‘Which war?’

  ‘World War Two.’

  ‘She was fifteen when it ended.’

  ‘They were desperate times.’

  ‘What did she do?’

  ‘Resistance work. Allied airmen shot down in Holland or Belgium were funnelled south through Paris. There was a network. Her part was to escort them from one railroad station to the next, and send them on their way.’

  ‘When?’

  ‘Most of 1943. Eighty trips, they say.’

  ‘She was thirteen years old.’

  ‘Desperate times,’ I said again. ‘A schoolgirl was good cover. She was trained to say the airmen were her uncles or brothers, visiting from out of town. Generally they were disguised like peasants or clerks.’

  ‘She was risking her life. And her family’s life.’

  ‘Every day. But she took care of business.’

  Scarangello said, ‘This information wasn’t in your file.’

  ‘No one knew. She didn’t talk about it. I’m not even sure my father knew. After she died we found a medal. Then an old guy came to the funeral and told us the story. He was her handler. I assume he’s dead now, too. I haven’t been back since we buried her. This is the first time I’ve seen the stone. I guess my brother organized it.’

  ‘He chose well.’

  I nodded. A modest memorial, for a modest woman. I closed my eyes and remembered the last time I had seen her alive. Breakfast, with her two grown sons, in her apartment on the Avenue Rapp. The Berlin Wall was coming down. She was very sick by that point, but had summoned the will to dress well and act normal. We drank coffee and ate croissants. Or at least my brother and I did, while she hid her lack of appetite behind talking. She chattered about all kinds of things, people we had known, places we had been, things that had happened there. Then she had gone quiet for a spell, and then she had given us a pair of final messages, which were the same messages she had always given us. Like a motherly ritual. She had done it a thousand times. She had struggled up out of her chair and stepped over and put her hands on my brother Joe’s shoulders, from behind, which was all part of the choreography, and she had bent and kissed his cheek from the side, like she always did, and she had asked him, ‘What don’t you need to do, Joe?’

  Joe hadn’t answered, because our silence was part of the ritual. She had said, ‘You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems. Only some of them. There are enough to go around.’

  She had kissed him again, and then she had struggled around behind me, and kissed my cheek in turn, and measured the width of my shoulders with her small hands, and felt the hard muscles, as always, still fascinated by the way her tiny newborn had grown so big, and even though I was close to thirty by then she had said, ‘You’ve got the strength of two normal boys. What are you going to do with it?’

  I hadn’t replied. Our silence was part of the ritual. She answered for me. She said, ‘You’re going to do the right thing.’

  And I had tried, mostly, which had sometimes caused me trouble, and sometimes won me medals of my own. As a small tribute I had buried my Silver Star with her. It was right there under my feet, right then, in the Paris dirt, six feet down. I imagined the ribbon was all rotted away, but I guessed the metal was still bright.

  I opened my eyes, and I stepped back, and I looked at Scarangello, and I said, ‘OK, we can go now.’

  NINETEEN

  THE AIRPLANE CABIN was warm, so out of deference to Scarangello’s injured sensibilities I took off my ruined jacket and folded it inside out and dumped it on an unoccupied chair. We were out of French airspace after forty minutes, and then we crossed Great Britain diagonally, eight miles high, and then we started on the long haul over the far North Atlantic. A Great Circle route. We ate stuff the crew had picked up at Le Bourget, and then we stretched out in reclined chairs, on opposite sides of the aisle, head to toe, close, but not too close.

  I asked her, ‘Who exactly was the guy in the suit?’

  She said, ‘DGSE’s head of counterterrorism.’

  ‘Was the Vietnamese kid his? With the AK-47?’

  ‘His?’

  ‘Was he another patsy? For the newspapers?’

  ‘No, he was for real. Still there, at an attic window.’

  I said nothing.

  She said, ‘What?’

  ‘You don’t want me to tell you anything.’

  ‘Is this something O’Day will figure out?’

  ‘I’m sure he already has.’

  ‘Then you can give me the deep background.’

  ‘What do you remember about the Soviets?’

  ‘Lots of things.’

  I said, ‘Above all they were realistic, especially about human nature, and the quality of their own personnel. They had a very big army, which meant their average grunt was lazy, incompetent, and not blessed with any kind of discernible talent. They understood that, and they knew there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. So instead of trying to train their people upward towards the standard of available mode
rn weaponry, they designed their available modern weaponry downward towards the standard of their people. Which was a truly radical approach.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘Hence the AK-47. For instance, one example, what does a panicky grunt do under fire? He grabs his rifle and hits the fire selector and pulls the trigger. Our guns go from safe to single shot to full auto, which is nice and linear and logical, but they knew that would mean ninety-nine times in a hundred their guys would panic and ram the selector all the way home, and thereby fire off a whole magazine on the first hasty and unaimed shot. Which would leave them with an empty weapon right at the start of a firefight. Which is not helpful. So the AK selector goes safe, then full auto, then single shot. Not linear, not logical, but certainly practical. Single shot is a kind of default setting, and full auto is a deliberate choice.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘And they knew the rifle wouldn’t get any kind of care or maintenance in the field, so they made it reliable under practically any circumstances. When the trigger is pulled, the weapon will fire. We saw AK-47s that had been buried in the ground for years, with the woodwork all eaten away by insects, and they still worked just fine.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘And they knew their average grunt couldn’t hit anything further than a couple hundred feet anyway. Probably couldn’t see further than a couple hundred feet. So why spend money on accuracy? The AK-47 is reliable first, second, and third, and accurate nowhere. It’s a close-quarters weapon. Practically like a handgun. Across the street, or a city block, or one riverbank to the other.’

  ‘You saying it couldn’t have made the shot?’

  ‘Not a hope in hell. You could give Kott or Carson or Datsev the best AK-47 ever made, and they’d be useless beyond about four hundred yards. But the shot that killed Khenkin was about sixteen hundred. Four times as long. They wouldn’t even have hit the right building. Plus, the round is puny. It would have barely gotten there at all. They’d have had to launch it upward about thirty degrees, like dropping a big fat curveball over the plate. Up and down, like a ballistic missile. Which is an impossible shot. And even if they had made it, the bullet would have arrived with so little energy you could have swatted it aside with a ping-pong paddle. It would have bounced off Khenkin’s hair gel. But it didn’t. It blew his head right off his shoulders.’

  ‘So?’

  ‘It wasn’t any twenty-year-old Vietnamese kid with an AK-47.’

  ‘Then why was he there?’

  ‘I’m guessing he was a part of a package deal. Kott or Carson or Datsev or whoever hired some local support. Which in Paris might well be Vietnamese. There’s a big community. I’m sure most of them are on the up and up, driving taxis or whatever, working hard, but equally I’m sure some of them are gangbangers. They put maybe ten or a dozen on the street, as a rolling cordon around the guy, to protect the escape. No doubt the old man who stopped me was one of them. He was running interference. And they put the kid in the attic, as a decoy. They’re blooding him. He’s making his bones. Get arrested, stay quiet, hang in there, and he’s a made man. I bet there was no firing pin in his gun. Just so they can be sure of getting him off on the technicality.’

  Scarangello was quiet for a spell, and then she said, ‘It has to be Datsev, right? What would Kott or Carson have against Khenkin?’

  I said, ‘I’m sure O’Day has all kinds of theories about that.’

  But it turned out the Socratic method had its limitations. O’Day and Shoemaker and Nice had gone through plenty of back and forth, but had elicited no truths implicitly known by all rational beings. They had collected detailed briefings from Paris, and Moscow, and London, and diagrams, and photographs, and video and after-action reports, and they had been through the data many times over, but they had reached no conclusions. They were waiting to see what I had to say.

  We landed at Pope Field in the late afternoon, less than a day after we left it, having gained back the six hours we lost on the way out. Scarangello wanted to shower before we all sat down and got into it, which seemed reasonable, so O’Day gave us thirty minutes, which I spent in the shower too, first rinsing Khenkin off my coat, which was easy enough, because the fabric was waterproof, so the gunk sluiced right off. I kept it going until the remaining beads of water showed up clean, and then I patted it dry with a towel. Then I hosed myself down, and used the shampoo, and used the soap, and then dressed again fast enough to hit the buffet room before the conference started. There wasn’t much on the tables, but at least there was coffee, so I took a cup and headed upstairs.

  O’Day was in his customary spot, and Shoemaker was right there next to him. Casey Nice greeted me with her smile, and I sat down, and Scarangello came in after me, glowing from the hot water, hair still wet, in another black skirt suit.

  O’Day said, ‘First let’s dispose of the Vietnamese.’

  I said, ‘There’s a first time for everything.’

  He didn’t smile. I guessed he had looked only about eighty years old during that ancient conflict, and had been in charge of some of the strategy, possibly, and was therefore still a little sensitive about it. Casey Nice filled the awkward silence. She said, ‘We’re assuming the rifleman or his paymasters hired a local criminal element for local support. Or as a way of getting permission to operate on their turf. Or both.’

  ‘Likely,’ I said. ‘Unless the paymasters are the Vietnamese. Maybe it’s a government thing. Maybe they’re going to invade Russia.’

  ‘Are you serious?’

  ‘Not very,’ I said. ‘I agree with you. It was local support.’

  ‘In which case as a matter of pride and discipline they won’t spill anything meaningful. Which leaves us with absolutely nothing except our own interpretation of a very confusing and incomplete scenario.’

  ‘Nothing incomplete about it. Not from Khenkin’s point of view, anyway.’

  ‘We think he travelled to Paris anxious to convince us and the Brits that Datsev wasn’t involved. Do you agree?’

  I nodded. ‘He said it was beneath Datsev to audition.’

  ‘And the DGSE tells us Khenkin seemed obsessed with showing the shot was going to miss. Which it was, apparently. Left and a little low. Moscow says Datsev never misses. And left and a little low happens to be Kott’s signature from Arkansas. With those paper targets we saw.’

  I said, ‘It wasn’t Kott on that apartment balcony.’

  O’Day looked up. ‘And you know this how?’

  ‘The DGSE lady figured the shooter was seated behind a planter. But Kott trained for a year lying down prone. It’s like sleeping. Everyone has a natural position. And sitting behind a planter isn’t Kott’s.’

  O’Day nodded.

  He said, ‘Good to know.’

  Casey Nice said, ‘But Khenkin couldn’t have known that. All he could have claimed is that Datsev wouldn’t have missed. So he was a happy camper, until he got shot. Which is where it gets confusing. As in, it wasn’t Datsev, and then suddenly it was. Because there was history between Datsev and Khenkin, and presumably no history between either Kott or Carson and Khenkin.’

  I said, ‘Stand up.’

  She said, ‘What?’

  ‘Stand up and take off your shoe.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘Just do it.’

  She did it. She stood up, and she said, ‘Which shoe?’

  ‘Either one,’ I said. I stood up too. She bent and slipped off her left shoe. I crossed the room to the door. Like every other door in the place it was a painted wood rectangle about six feet six inches high and two feet six inches wide. I said, ‘Suppose this was a glass panel. Suppose you knew it was pretty tough. Suppose I gave you one chance to shatter it with the heel of your shoe. A good solid blow. Show me where you would hit it.’

  She paused a beat, and then she limped and padded towards me. She reversed the shoe in her hand and held it like a weapon. She stopped. She said, ‘I don’t know enough about it. This is ceramics technology. This is the scie
nce of strong materials.’

  ‘Datsev and Kott and Carson aren’t scientists either. Do it by instinct.’

  I saw her glance at one spot after another. She raised the shoe, tentatively, and moved it a little, as if involuntarily, as she rehearsed different alternatives in her mind. I said, ‘Talk me through it.’

  She said, ‘Nowhere close to the edge. I think it would just chip, nothing more, like a small bite out of a large cookie.’

  ‘OK.’

  ‘Not dead centre, either. I feel the shock of the impact would kind of spread out uniformly, and equally, and then maybe bounce back internally, off the edges, and kind of cancel itself out. It might just flex, like a drum skin, if I hit it in the centre.’

  ‘So where?’

  ‘Somewhere off-centre but not too far off-centre. So the shock would be kind of asymmetrical. So the internal stresses would help.’

  ‘Show me.’

  She gave it one last look, and raised the shoe, and mimed a big
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