Personal, p.36
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       Personal, p.36
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  just found Kott three miles from the scene.’

  I said, ‘The first bullet was supposed to break the glass. The second bullet was supposed to kill the guy. But there was no second bullet.’

  ‘Because the glass didn’t break.’

  ‘But that didn’t matter. You’re not thinking like the second bullet. The glass breaking or not breaking was a future event. You saw the video from Paris. How long was it between the bullet hitting the screen and the security guys getting to the president?’

  O’Day said, ‘A couple of seconds. They were very good.’

  ‘Now think about the range. Three-quarters of a mile. The bullet is in the air three whole seconds. Which means you can’t wait. Because what happens if you do? You pull the trigger, you wait three whole seconds, and wow, the glass breaks, so you pull the trigger again, and you wait three more seconds, and the new bullet arrives. But by then the president is buried under secret service agents. You missed your chance. The only way to get the guy is to make the second bullet chase the first bullet through the air. It has to follow on, about half a second later. So both bullets are flying together, one after the other. In fact they travel together for more than two whole seconds before the first bullet even arrives at the glass. Whereupon the second bullet passes through the newly airborne debris and hits the president before anyone has time to react, including the president himself, who is after all closest.’

  O’Day said nothing.

  ‘Or alternatively if the glass doesn’t break, then the second bullet hits it too, half a second later, and the scientists get two little chips to look at, not one.’

  O’Day said nothing.

  ‘There never was a second bullet. There was never going to be a second bullet. Someone sent Kott to Paris to fire one single round. At a bulletproof shield. Which was pointless. The glass either breaks or it doesn’t, but if it does, then the bullet that breaks it will always shatter or deflect and be of no further use. You fire either two bullets or zero bullets. The only way you fire one bullet is if you know for sure the shield will work.’

  O’Day said, ‘The manufacturer? Like an advertisement?’

  I said, ‘Like a type of advertisement, I guess. But not for the manufacturer, necessarily. Who else benefited? You need to look back through your notes and check who came up with the audition idea.’

  ‘Does it matter who?’

  ‘Suppose you’re running an agency somewhere. You need a way to raise your profile. You happen to know for sure the new glass works. Right there you’ve got a cost-free method of putting yourself front and centre. Kott fires his single round, the glass holds, you start the audition stampede, and suddenly you’re the alpha dog in the world’s biggest manhunt, with world leaders kissing your ass. How many agency heads would go that far?’

  ‘Seriously? They’d all want to. But not many would trust themselves. A handful, perhaps, around the world.’

  ‘So let’s narrow it down. Who can move slush fund money for unacknowledged assets like Kott, without the NSA or GCHQ seeing it?’

  ‘That doesn’t narrow it down. Everyone can do that.’

  ‘Whose profile was most in need of a raise?’

  ‘By what objective measure? Wouldn’t that be a personal perception?’

  ‘Who knew the glass would work?’

  ‘Anyone who witnessed the tests.’

  I said, ‘We’re not narrowing it down much, are we?’

  He said, ‘Not much.’

  ‘Who knew John Kott?’

  He paused a beat, and said, ‘He might have been on a number of radars.’

  ‘Sixteen years ago.’

  He didn’t answer.

  I asked, ‘How many agency heads are still in place sixteen years later?’

  He didn’t answer.

  I said, ‘Maybe we should add that in, as a dispositive factor. As another box to check. Which agency head still in place sixteen years later had a need to raise his profile and knew the glass would work and had a slush fund and knew John Kott?’

  O’Day said nothing.

  ‘We could discuss it point by point, if you like. Your profile was so low they were sending you to watch glass get tested. The great O’Day, humiliated. It was a hint, obviously. They wanted you to retire. Everyone knew. Even Khenkin, in Moscow. The SVR had you down as an old warhorse, put out to pasture. But you saw a way back. You knew Kott was about to get out. You’d been watching him. Maybe he worked for you, sixteen years ago. Maybe you were just as pissed at me as he was. So you made him an offer. If he goes to Paris and fires a single pointless round, then you’ll promise him that sooner or later you’ll serve me up on a platter, somewhere in the open air, within range.’

  O’Day said nothing.

  I said, ‘I was the only target. Me personally. Not the G8 or the EU or the G20. That was all window dressing.’

  O’Day said, ‘Bullshit.’

  I said, ‘To keep him horny you feed him the bad parts of my file. He gets in quite a state. Good for the local economy. Whoever had the Xerox franchise had a pretty good year. Then finally you fly him out. He does the deed. You ramp up the audition talk. You’re the big dog now. You tell Kott to hang tight. You tell him the ad is in the paper. And you find me fast. Kott is very pleased about that. You send me to Paris. You know for sure I’ll be on that balcony, and you know approximately when. You called ahead. You set up the visit. You agreed the itinerary. So Kott gets his shot, but he misses.’


  ‘So the circus rolls on to London. My phone has GPS in it. You know where I am. You’re going to lead Kott to me. You’re talking to him all the time. He has a phone just like mine. You know we’ll check Wallace Court. But Ms Nice doesn’t tell you beforehand. Suddenly you see my GPS right there, but you can’t move Kott in time. Insufficient warning. But never mind. Tomorrow is another day. And meanwhile you’re king of the world. The politicians are panicking. They’ll do anything for you. You have IOUs everywhere. All kinds of inconveniences are disappearing, all around the world. Even the London cops love you. Now they won’t let you retire. Because you win both ways. If Kott gets me, you instantly sell him out to Bennett, and you’ve saved the world from behind the scenes. If I get Kott, you’ve saved the world by audacious use of unacknowledged assets. Either way you’re a star again. You’re back in the textbooks.’

  O’Day said nothing.

  I said, ‘You gave the money to the neighbour. How else would you know he’s missing a tooth?’

  No response.

  ‘Someone else knows,’ I said. ‘The three most dangerous words in the secrecy business. But there it is. I know, and Ms Nice knows. Which is why we came back with the RAF. Because where would your plane have landed? Guantanamo, maybe. But it didn’t, and we’re back in America, free and clear. And we know. I’m sure you could crush Ms Nice’s career, but you’ll never find me. I’ll always be out there. And you know me, general. You’ve known me a long time. I don’t forgive, and I don’t forget. And I won’t have to do much. Talking might be enough. Suppose the SVR found out it was you who got Khenkin killed? Some of those IOUs might get cancelled. And they might retaliate. Rumours might start, about poor old Tom O’Day, who got so desperate he came up with a cockamamie scheme. Think of all those rookies laughing up their sleeves. All around the world. The whole community. That could be your legacy. It’s a possibility, anyway. You’ll have to live with it, I’m afraid. Or not. But don’t think about ignoring it. It’s you and me now, general. This thing won’t have a happy ending.’

  I got up and put the Browning that Charlie White was going to kill me with on O’Day’s desk, and then I followed Casey Nice out of the room, and down the stairs, and through the red door, and out into the night.

  She drove me in the hideous Bronco, three miles to a crossroads, where I could get a night bus. We didn’t talk. She stopped but couldn’t get out, because she had to keep her foot on the brake, so we repeated the same chaste hug we had in London. I a
sked her to say goodbye for me, to Shoemaker, and I got out and walked to the concrete bench, and watched her wave and drive away, and then I lay down and watched the stars, until I heard the bus come close.

  I went places I don’t remember, but I know a month later I was in Texas, on a bus passing close to Fort Hood, where a man in uniform left an Army Times behind. O’Day’s face was on the front. His obituary was inside. It contained corrections to earlier reports. The discharge had been accidental. He had been examining an unfamiliar weapon captured in Europe. Possibly the late hour explained the mistake. There was no truth in the rumour that a Royal Air Force plane had landed minutes earlier. O’Day was to be awarded three more medals posthumously, and a bridge was to be named after him, on a North Carolina state route, over a narrow stream that most of the year was dry.

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