Personal, p.11
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  swing, and ended up with the heel on the paint just inside the upper left quadrant, such that if the size of the door was scaled up to the size of the bulletproof shield in Paris, then the spot she was marking would be a little over five hundred millimetres in from the left, and a little over seven hundred millimetres down from the top.

  I said, ‘The second shot was supposed to kill the guy. Not the first. The first shot was supposed to break the glass. That’s all. Therefore it wasn’t a miss. It was dead on target.’

  Casey Nice hopped around near the door and got her shoe back on, and then we sat down again. I said, ‘I think Khenkin understood all this from the start. What the DGSE had figured out made it more likely it was Datsev, not less. He came to Paris hoping his boy was in the clear, but everything he saw told him he wasn’t.’

  Shoemaker said, ‘Any one of the three could have made that shot.’

  ‘But what about the next shot? I think that’s what was on Khenkin’s mind. Because whoever was shooting had to jump his aiming point about six inches up and to the right to get the guy. Real fast, too. Which is a hell of a thing to do, on the fly, from fourteen hundred yards. It meant the muzzle would have to move about seven-thousandths of an inch. Not more, not less, and fluently, and fluidly, and very precisely, but also calmly. There was no time to settle and check and breathe. If the glass had shattered, the French guy would have been in the wind more or less immediately. At least he would have been hopping around like crazy. As it was he was buried in agents about two seconds later. Think about it. You shoot, you move the muzzle seven-thousandths of an inch, and you shoot again, all way faster than I can even say it. That would have taken supernatural skill. And Datsev was supernatural, according to Khenkin.’

  O’Day said, ‘OK, we’re making progress here. The shooter was Datsev.’

  I said, ‘Khenkin certainly thought so. I was watching him. He was a tough nut, but there was a soft side to him. He was grumpy in the morning, because he had gotten up too early. But he was happy, too. At that point it was just a fun day out in Paris. It was someone else’s problem. Mine, probably. He paid for my breakfast, even. Then the chips started to fall, and then it wasn’t such a fun day after all. Because now it was his problem. He was going to have to go home and break the bad news. He didn’t want to do that. There was a bit of the bureaucrat in him.’

  ‘But then Datsev shot him and saved him the trouble.’

  ‘No,’ I said. ‘Datsev didn’t shoot him.’

  TWENTY

  I SAID, ‘YOU have to think about that second shot. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Get on the phone and call our five best snipers. The Recon Marines, the SEALs, Delta Force, wherever. I’m sure you could do that. I’m sure you’ve got them all on speed dial. I’m sure they all work for you, really, the same way Datsev worked for the KGB.’

  Shoemaker said, ‘The KGB was history a long time ago. Now it’s the SVR.’

  ‘Old wine, new bottles.’

  ‘What’s your point?’

  ‘Ask our best guys about that second shot. Ask them about two trigger pulls, like a fast double tap, with nothing in between except a six-inch deflection at fourteen hundred yards. All with a rifle over five feet long, that weighs more than an iron bar.’

  ‘What would they tell me?’

  ‘They’d tell you hell yes sir, they could make that shot blindfolded.’

  ‘So what’s the problem?’

  ‘Problem is, then you’d say, stop with the rah-rah bullshit, soldier, and tell me the truth, and to a man they’d swear that shot was impossible.’

  ‘Apparently Khenkin didn’t think so.’

  ‘He believed his own hype. Datsev is human, just like you or me. Well, me, anyway. He couldn’t have made that shot. No one on earth could have made that shot.’

  ‘So what are you saying?’

  ‘There were two shooters.’

  The room went quiet at that point, and I used the time to finish my coffee. I said, ‘One of them was either Datsev or Carson, and the other one was John Kott.’

  O’Day raised his head, slowly, like an old grey turtle coming up out of the sand, and he said, ‘You just told us quite emphatically that Kott wasn’t there.’

  ‘I said he wasn’t on the balcony. He was in the dining room, prone on the dining table, the end part of which was about the size of an eight-by-four sheet of plywood. He was aiming over his partner’s head. Think about it. Two snipers. One is cross-legged behind the planter. The other is prone on the table. They’ve been there thirty minutes. They’re in the zone. They’re breathing slow. They’re just floating along. The French doors are open. The one behind the planter is set up on the glass shield. He’s chambered with an armour-piercing round. He’s chosen the exact same aiming point Ms Nice did. Purely by instinct. Above and behind him, the one on the table is chambered with a match-grade bullet. He’s set up on the French guy. On his temple, probably. Maybe the guy’s wearing body armour under his suit. Not much of an impediment, probably, but why risk an unknown factor? The head is better. So it’s right there in the scope. He’s just waiting for the glass to break.’

  ‘But it didn’t.’

  ‘So they beat feet and get the hell out of Dodge. But Kott stays in Paris. He’d prefer to stop the investigation right there. He camps out and watches that balcony, day after day. Or maybe he’s tipped off by the French. You should check. But whichever, finally he gets his chance. Three investigators show up. When he saw me in his scope he must have thought he’d won the lottery. His little heart must have gone pit-a-pat. Then he calmed down and pulled the trigger.’

  ‘And hit Khenkin by mistake?’

  ‘Not by mistake. He got me centre mass, a dead-on bull’s-eye, a no-doubter, an Olympic gold medal right there. I was a dead man from the moment he pulled the trigger. But the bullet was in the air nearly four seconds. And there was a gust of wind. I remember seeing it. I remember the muzzle flash, and then the snap of a flag, and then Khenkin got hit. Because the wind moved the bullet. Only about a foot and a half, over sixteen hundred yards. It nudged it just a little, right to left as it flew, from my chest to his head.’

  ‘You can’t prove that.’

  ‘I can,’ I said. ‘If it was Datsev aiming at Khenkin, then Bennett would have been killed. He was next in line. You can’t argue with the wind. It was right there. The flags went crazy, and then stopped just as fast. It was gusty all morning. Check it out.’

  O’Day was quiet for a spell. Then he said, ‘Two shooters. Jesus.’ Then he said, ‘We have to give this theory to London and Moscow. If we’re all behind it, that is. Rick?’

  Shoemaker paused a beat, and nodded.

  ‘I’m in,’ he said.

  ‘Joan?’

  Scarangello said, ‘Better to think two if it’s really one, than one if it’s really two. We should err on the side of caution.’

  O’Day didn’t ask Casey Nice.

  I said, ‘I’m going to London now.’

  O’Day said, ‘Now?’

  ‘I don’t mind about the picture in his bedroom. I don’t even mind that the little runt just took a shot at me. That’s an occupational hazard, for a cop. But he was careless and he missed. He shouldn’t have tried on a windy day. He killed an innocent man. That’s different. That was a mistake. And like you said, I caught him once. I can catch him again.’

  ‘And then what?’

  ‘I’m going to twist his arm out of his shoulder socket and beat him to death with his own right hand.’

  ‘Negative,’ O’Day said. ‘You’ll go to London when I tell you to. This is a complex business. Preparations must be made.’

  ‘You can’t give me orders. I’m a civilian.’

  ‘Helping his country. Let’s do it right.’

  I said nothing.

  He said, ‘Khenkin wasn’t an innocent man. He was KGB. He did bad things.’

  I said nothing.

  He said, ‘I told you so.’

  ‘Told
me what?’

  ‘It’s not the same with a sniper out there.’

  Scarangello asked, ‘Will they work together in London too?’

  ‘Probably,’ I said. ‘It’s a target-rich environment. It would double their firepower.’

  ‘So who’s in the frame for the second spot? Carson or Datsev?’

  ‘I’m not a gambling man.’

  ‘If you were?’

  ‘Then Carson. Khenkin said Datsev wouldn’t audition. I didn’t read that as hype. It felt authentic to me.’

  ‘Wait until we’re ready,’ O’Day said. ‘Then you can go to London.’

  TWENTY-ONE

  THE CONFERENCE ENDED and I headed downstairs and out the red door, aiming for my corrugated quarters, but Casey Nice caught up to me steps later and said, ‘You want to go get some dinner?’ Which sounded like a fine idea to me. The last hot food I had eaten was the croque madame, in Paris, paid for by Yevgeniy Khenkin himself.

  I said, ‘Where?’

  ‘Off post,’ she said. ‘Barbecue or something.’

  ‘You have a car?’

  ‘More or less.’

  ‘What does that mean?’

  ‘You’ll see.’

  ‘Deal,’ I said.

  ‘I should change,’ she said. She was in a black skirt suit. Dark nylons, good shoes. Perfect for D.C. or Virginia, maybe not so much in a country shack outside of Fayetteville.

  I said, ‘I’m happy to wait.’

  ‘Five minutes,’ she said.

  Which turned out closer to ten. But it was worth the delay. She knocked on my door and I opened up and found her in a ponytail and a version of her Arkansas outfit. The same brown leather jacket, over a white T-shirt, with different jeans. Same colour, but lower cut. And all scraped and sanded and beat up. Distressed, I believed they called it, which to me meant upset, which just didn’t compute. Was there a finer place to be, than where those jeans were?

  She had car keys dangling from her finger, and she held them up to show me, and she said, ‘I apologize in advance.’

  ‘For what?’

  ‘You’ll see.’

  And I did, about two hundred yards later, in a fenced lot near Pope Field’s perimeter road. The lot was full of everything I had expected to see, which was pick-up trucks and domestic muscle cars about twenty years old, and beat-up Mercedes and BMWs brought home from deployments in Germany. I kept my eye out for anomalies, and I saw a tiny Mini Cooper the colour of lavender, and then further on a VW new-style Beetle, yellow, half hidden behind some hideous old farm vehicle. I figured hers was the Beetle, if she was already apologizing. Maybe it was a graduation present. Maybe she had a daisy in the vase on the dash, to match the paint.

  But it wasn’t the Beetle. It was the hideous old farm vehicle next to it. I said, ‘What the hell is this thing?’

  She said, ‘Some of it’s an old Ford Bronco. The rest of it is metal sheets welded on, as and when the original parts fell off. The brown coloration is equal parts rust and mud. I was advised not to wash the mud off. For corrosion protection and added strength.’

  ‘Where did you get it?’

  ‘A guy at Fort Benning sold it to me.’

  ‘For how much?’

  ‘Twenty-two dollars.’

  ‘Outstanding.’

  ‘Climb aboard. It’s open. I never lock it. I mean, why would I?’

  The passenger door hinge was more rust than mud, and I had to put some strength into it. I squealed it open just wide enough to slide in sideways, and I saw Casey Nice was doing the exact same thing on her side, like we were limbo dancing towards each other. There were no seat belts. No seats at all, really. Just a green canvas sling fraying its way off a tubular metal frame.

  But the engine started, eventually, after a bunch of popping and churning, and then it idled, wet and lumpy. The transmission was slower than the postal service. She rattled the selector into reverse, and all the mechanical parts inside called the roll and counted a quorum and set about deciding what to do. Which required a lengthy debate, apparently, because it was whole seconds before the truck lurched backward. She turned the wheel, which looked like hard work, and then she jammed the selector into a forward gear, and first of all the reversing committee wound up its business and approved its minutes and exited the room, and then the forward crew signed on and got comfortable, and a motion was tabled and seconded and discussed. More whole seconds passed, and then the truck slouched forward, slow and stuttering at first, before picking up its pace and rolling implacably towards the exit gate.

  I said, ‘You should have stolen John Kott’s old blue pick-up truck. It would have been a significant upgrade.’

  She said, ‘This thing gets me from A to B.’

  ‘What happens if you’re heading for C or D?’

  ‘It’s a beautiful evening. And walking is good for you.’

  We rolled out through one of Fort Bragg’s many sub-gates, into the real world, or at least a version of it, on a plain North Carolina two-lane road lined on both sides with establishments geared exclusively to the tastes and economic capabilities of military men and women. I saw loan shops and fast-food shacks and used-car dealerships, and no-contract cell phones and dollar stores and video-game exchanges, and bars and lounges of every description. Then a slow mile later such places started thinning out, in favour of vacant lots and piney woods, and a sense of empty vastness ahead.

  The truck kept on going. Not fast, and accompanied by the smell of burnt oil, but forward progress was maintained. We turned right, deeper into the emptiness, clearly heading for somewhere Casey Nice knew, and she said, ‘Does it bother you that Kott has been gloating over your failures?’

  ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘They’re in the public record.’

  ‘It would bother me.’

  ‘Head to head I’m one-zip in front. He should gloat over that.’

  ‘Thanks to a gust of wind.’

  ‘I was born lucky.’

  ‘Plus you stood upwind of the others.’

  ‘That, too.’

  ‘Deliberate?’

  ‘Ingrained. Which is a form of deliberate, I suppose.’ Up ahead I saw lights strung through the trees, and then a clearing in the woods, with a tumbledown shack in the centre, and tables and chairs set out all around it on gravel and dirt. The shack had a chimney, and I could see heat and smoke coming up out of it. I could smell slow-cooked meat.

  Casey Nice said, ‘OK?’

  I said, ‘My kind of place.’

  She began the process of slowing the truck, which involved stamping hard on the brake pedal and then pumping it like crazy. She turned the wheel and bumped into the lot and came to a stop. She switched off and pulled the key. The engine ran on for a whole minute, and then shuddered and died. We squeezed our way out and found a table. The place had no name. And no menu, really. There was a choice of meat, with either Wonder bread or baked beans on the side, and three kinds of canned soda to drink. Polystyrene plates, plastic forks, paper napkins, no credit cards accepted, and a waitress who looked about eleven years old. All good.

  We ordered, ribs and bread for her, pork and beans for me, with two Cokes. The sky was clear and the stars were out. The air was crisp, but not cold. The place was about half full. I dug in my pocket and took out the pill bottle. I put it on the table, with the label facing away. I said, ‘You should have this back. Eating lint from your pocket can’t be doing you any good.’

  She left it where it was for a moment. Then she dug in her own pocket and came out with her pills cupped in her hand. Seven of them. Fewer than before. She blew dust off them, and picked up the bottle, and popped the lid with her thumb, and shovelled the pills back inside.

  I said, ‘Who is Antonio Luna?’

  ‘A friend of mine,’ she said. ‘I call him Tony Moon.’

  ‘A co-worker?’

  ‘Just a guy I know.’

  ‘Who had an empty bottle just when you needed one?’

  She didn’t answer.
>
  ‘Or who fakes some symptoms and then gives you the prescriptions he gets, all because you can’t talk to your company doctor?’

  She said, ‘Is this any of your business?’

  I said, ‘None at all.’

  She put the bottle in her pocket.

  She said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.’

  I said, ‘Good to know.’

 
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