Personal, p.4
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       Personal, p.4
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  people on the planet. Her natural habitat would be a Langley office about eight times the size of my shipping container, probably with more phones on the desk than I had seen in my entire life. I said, ‘They’re really taking this seriously, aren’t they?’

  ‘They have to, don’t you think?’

  I didn’t answer that, and then Scarangello herself came in. She nodded a greeting and took a muffin and a cup of coffee. Then she left again. I took two muffins and an empty cup and a whole box of coffee. I figured I could prop it on the edge of the conference table with the spigot facing towards me. Refills as and when required. Like an alcoholic behind a bar.

  The morning conference was in a room next to O’Day’s upstairs office. Nothing fancy. Just four plain tables pushed together in a square, and eight chairs for the five of us. Shoemaker and O’Day and Scarangello were already in their places. Casey Nice sat down next to Scarangello and I chose a spot with an empty chair either side. I got the coffee set up and bit the head off a muffin.

  Shoemaker went first. He was in fatigues again, with his star, which was not surprising, but his opening analysis was informed enough to suggest he might have been worth it, which was. He said, ‘The Polish government looks set to announce a snap election, and the Greeks too, probably. Which looks like democracy in action, but if you drill down into the European Union constitution you find a provision that allows heads-ofstate pow-wows to be postponed if two or more member states are at the polls. In other words, they’re running for the hills. The EU meeting ain’t going to happen. Which moves us on to the G8 in three weeks. Those plans are still intact. Which gives us both the time and the target.’

  I took a breath to speak but O’Day shot out a lengthy arm, with his palm towards me, like he was telling a dog to stay, and he said, ‘You’re about to warn us we’re making a massive assumption here, and that the real target could be anything. Which is correct, but please understand we don’t care about any other target. If something else gets hit, we’ll be dancing jigs and reels. Until then, for operational purposes, we’re assuming an assassination attempt against a world leader is already a proven fact.’

  I said, ‘I was going to ask who’s in the G8.’

  Which must have been a dumb question, because they all started fidgeting and no one answered. Eventually Casey Nice said, ‘Ourselves and Canada, the UK and France, Germany and Italy, and Japan and Russia.’

  I said, ‘Those aren’t the eight largest economies.’

  ‘They were once,’ Joan Scarangello said. ‘Some things get set in stone.’

  ‘So if this is personal or nationalist it could be any one of them. But if it’s some big terrorist statement, then with all due respect, it’s probably not Italy. I mean, who would notice? Those guys change every three weeks anyway. Or Canada. You wouldn’t recognize the guy if you saw him in the grocery store. Japan, the same. And France. The UK, too. Some posh boy goes face down, it’s not going to destabilize the world. Germany is possibly a slight problem.’

  Scarangello nodded. ‘Europe’s largest economy, the region’s only fiscal grown-up, and a whole new psyche that absolutely depends on politicians not getting shot. Things could unravel. And rock bottom is a long way down in Germany.’

  ‘So it’s ourselves and Russia and Germany. Which is easy. Just keep those three guys under wraps. No fresh air for them. Let the other five walk about. Or send the vice presidents too, for the photo ops. Which could be spun. We’re so ballsy we’ll send both of them.’

  O’Day nodded. ‘That’s Plan B, and it’s already drafted. Plan A is to find John Kott. And to hope that London and Moscow and Tel Aviv meet with similar success.’

  ‘Do we know anything about their guys?’

  ‘We know all about them. The Brit is an ex-SAS operator named Carson. In uniform he had more than fifty kills around the world, not that anyone will admit it, one of them at two thousand yards, documented and verified. The Russian is a guy called Datsev. His first instructor was at Stalingrad, which was a hard school. The Israeli is called Rozan. Best they ever saw with a fifty-calibre Barrett, which is really saying something, for the IDF.’

  ‘They all sound better than Kott.’

  ‘No, they sound about as good as. Fourteen hundred yards was nothing to Kott. Pure routine. Until you busted him, that is.’

  ‘You sound like you think I shouldn’t have.’

  ‘He was worth more to us than the grunt he killed.’

  I said, ‘Where is the G8 meeting?’

  ‘London,’ O’Day said. ‘Technically just outside. A stately home, or an old castle. Something like that.’

  ‘Does it have a moat?’

  ‘I’m not sure.’

  ‘Maybe they should start digging one.’

  ‘The idea is not to let it get that far.’

  ‘I can’t help you there anyway. My passport is expired.’

  O’Day said, ‘You should speak to the State Department about that.’ Then he looked up, and Casey Nice put her hand under her jacket again, the same way she had when she showed me the embassy report, and she came out with a slim blue booklet, which she slid across to me. It was warm, like before.

  It was a passport, with my name and my face in it, dated yesterday, good for ten years.

  SEVEN

  AFTER THE CONFERENCE ended, I was asked to go to Rick Shoemaker’s office, where he asked me to start detailed tactical planning for a trip to Arkansas. Which was ridiculous. Arkansas didn’t need detailed tactical planning. And it was the wrong direction. I said, ‘He’ll have stayed in Europe, surely. He’s probably already in London. If it’s him at all.’

  Shoemaker said, ‘Joan Scarangello told us you fully understand your role.’

  All I am is bait.

  I said, ‘Are you serious?’

  He said, ‘It’s no big deal. As you point out, if Kott’s the guy, he’s unlikely to be there himself. But if he is the guy, then they might have someone there to monitor our progress. It’s an obvious first stop. It’s one we should make anyway. We need to confirm he took up shooting again. If he didn’t, we’re home and dry. Yoga and meditation get you only so far. You need some trigger time too. They might be expecting us to check. They’ll be low-grade people. No problem for you. But we might get something out of them.’

  ‘If it’s him.’

  ‘And if it isn’t, you’ve got even less to worry about.’

  ‘Why me? There are plenty of federal agents in the world. They would work as bait. Better than me, probably. They could show up with lights and sirens.’

  ‘You know how many Americans have top secret security clearances now?’

  ‘No idea.’

  ‘Nearly a million, and half of them are civilians. Executives and business people and contractors and subcontractors. And best case, out of any million people a couple hundred will be seriously bent.’

  ‘That’s O’Day talking.’

  ‘He’s usually right.’

  ‘And always paranoid.’

  ‘OK, cut it in half. We’ve got a hundred traitors with top secret security clearances. National security is completely out of control. It has been for a decade. Therefore right now this is a closely held project. This information is not being widely distributed. At the moment General O’Day prefers people he knows he can trust.’

  ‘I can’t even rent a car. I don’t have a driver’s licence or a credit card.’

  ‘Casey Nice will go with you,’ Shoemaker said. ‘She’s old enough to drive.’

  ‘Then she’ll be bait too.’

  ‘She knows what she signed up for. And she’s tougher than she looks.’

  In the end the detailed tactical planning came down to grabbing my toothbrush from my bathroom, and copying down Kott’s last known address, which was a rented place miles from anywhere in the bottom left corner of the state, where Arkansas becomes either Oklahoma or Texas or Louisiana. Casey Nice went into her white box wearing her black skirt suit and came out again five minut
es later wearing blue jeans and a brown leather jacket. Which I agreed was better for the bottom left corner of Arkansas.

  They gave us the same plane. Same crew. I let Casey Nice precede me up the steps, which was the only rational thing to do, when one of you is a twenty-something girl in jeans, and one of you isn’t. I sat in the same chair, and she sat opposite. This time the steward knew all about where we were going, which was Texarkana. A civilian field, with car rental. Not a Great Circle route. Just west and south, over Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi. One pot of coffee would do it, probably, unless Casey Nice wanted a cup.

  I said to her, ‘Shoemaker told me you know what you signed up for.’

  She said, ‘I think I do.’

  ‘Which is what?’

  ‘It’s a theory they have. You’ve seen how it is. We’re all working together. The theory is in the future we’ll merge completely. Behind the scenes, that is. So we have to get exposure. Which is fine. I need to be ready. Most of my career is in the future.’

  ‘What kind of exposure have you gotten so far?’

  ‘I’m not worried about this, if that’s what you mean.’

  ‘Good to know,’ I said.

  ‘Should I be?’

  ‘You ever been in a hotel with one of those real big beds? About seven feet long? If we’re ever out in the open, that’s how far you should be from me. Because best case here is Kott has nothing to do with any of this, and he was away on a fishing trip when your drones came over, and now he’s back home again, with a long straight driveway and a loaded gun by his kitchen window. Depending on how excited he gets, the first shot might miss by six feet. But it won’t miss by seven.’

  ‘I don’t think he’s home. I think he’s in London.’

  ‘Why him? The others sound better.’

  ‘Datsev was Red Army as a very young man, and then Russian Army. Until five years ago. He left the state’s employ. Rozan has been out of the IDF even longer. Carson the Brit has been out of the SAS longer still. But Paris was a brand-new profile. Why would Datsev or Rozan or Carson wait so long before going into business? This feels like a guy who just spent a year tuning up ahead of hanging out a shingle. A guy whose retirement only just began.’

  ‘You should still stay seven feet away. Datsev and Rozan and Carson could have been otherwise employed. Private armies or security, or maybe they were running organic bookstores, but times went bad. Or maybe their pensions just ran out. Or maybe they just got out of jail for unconnected offences. Kott could have been on the freelance market longer than any of them, even if it was only a year.’

  ‘Then they’d pick him first, because he’s the most experienced. He’s in London. I’m sure of it. I’m not worried about Arkansas.’

  Neither was I, at first.

  EIGHT

  WE LANDED IN Texarkana and found rental cars at the end of a long line of establishments all connected with the aviation business. Casey Nice came out with a perfectly standard Maryland driver’s licence, and I caught a glimpse of her date of birth, and I worked out she was twenty-eight years old. She accompanied the licence with a Visa card from a Maryland bank. In exchange she got a whole bunch of forms to sign, and then the key to a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, which seemed to be what people wanted at the Texarkana airport.

  The truck was red and had a navigation device connected to the cigarette lighter. She put in the address we had. The thing scrolled like it was summoning up vast reserves of local knowledge, and then it told us the trip was going to be fifty miles. I looked back at the airport as we left. I could see our plane. Ahead were narrow winding roads and new leaves on the trees.

  I said, ‘We should stop for lunch.’

  She said, ‘Shouldn’t we do the job first?’

  ‘Eat when you can. That’s the golden rule.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘First place we see.’

  Which turned out not to be the kind of rural diner I was hoping for. Instead we rolled through a neat little crossroads town and came upon a crisp little commercial development with a Shell station at one end and a family restaurant at the other. In between were budget establishments selling life’s necessities at low prices, including a pharmacy and a clothing store. The restaurant had plain wood tables and mismatched plates, but it had good solid fare on the menu. I caught up on breakfast, with coffee and pancakes and eggs and bacon. Casey Nice ordered a salad, and drank plain water. She paid, on O’Day’s budget, presumably.

  Then I detoured to the clothing store and hunted around at the khaki end of the colour spectrum and the low end of the price list, and I picked out underwear and socks, and pants, and a shirt, and a jacket that might have been intended for golf in the rain. I didn’t find any shoes better than the pair I had on. As always I changed in the cubicle and left my old stuff in the trash. As always Casey Nice was interested in the process. She said, ‘I heard about this at the briefing, but I wasn’t sure whether to believe it.’

  I said, ‘You had a briefing about me?’

  ‘General O’Day calls you Sherlock Homeless.’

  ‘He should think about buying a new sweater himself.’

  We got back in the red truck and moved on, north and west, skirting the corner of Texas, heading for the Oklahoma line. The navigation device showed our destination as a black and white chequered flag, like the end of an auto race, and it seemed to be out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I hoped more roads would show up on the screen when we got closer.

  An hour later more roads had indeed shown up, all thin and grey and twisting. There were lakes and streams and rivers too, oriented in a way that suggested a landscape scarred by ravines. Which a glance ahead at the real world confirmed. Low wooded hills, one behind the other, running left to right, like a washboard. Casey Nice pulled over a mile short of the chequered flag and took out her phone, but she couldn’t get a signal for whatever it was she wanted. A satellite view, maybe. So we were stuck with the navigation device, which had the chequered flag planted half a mile north of the road we were on, all alone in a sea of green.

  ‘A long driveway,’ I said.

  ‘Let’s hope it’s not straight,’ she said.

  We rolled on, slower, until finally we saw the mouth of the driveway up ahead on the right. It was just a stony track through the trees, starting out between token gateposts made of piled rocks, and then winding quickly out of sight behind the new green leaves. There was a mailbox on the shoulder, all rusted, with no name on it. And directly opposite, on the left side of the road, clearly visible, was a house. Kott’s nearest neighbour, presumably.

  I said, ‘Let’s start there.’

  The neighbour’s house was nothing fancy, but it was a halfway decent place. It was long and low and made of brown boards. It had a gravel patch out front, with a pick-up truck parked on it. Out back it looked like there might be a small garden. On one side was a TV dish as big as a family car, and on the other side was a washing machine all streaked with rust, with its hoses hanging down in the dirt, all pale and perished.

  I put a knuckle on the bell button and heard suburban chimes behind the door. There was no response. Then we heard footsteps and a guy came around from the back of the house, on the washing machine side. He was maybe forty, with close-cropped hair and a beard the same length, and a thick neck, and sceptical eyes, and a face that would have been unremarkable except for a missing front tooth, just left of centre in his upper jaw.

  He spoke in a neutral tone and said, ‘Help you?’

  Which in my experience are two words that can precede anything from genuine wholehearted cooperation to a bullet in the face. I said, ‘We’re looking for John Kott.’

  He said, ‘Not me.’

  ‘Do you know where he lives?’

  The guy pointed through his thin hedge, across the road, to the driveway mouth beyond.

  I said, ‘Is he home?’

  ‘Who’s asking?’

  ‘He’s a buddy of mine.’

  ‘From where
?’

  ‘Prison,’ I said.

  ‘Why don’t you drive on up and see for yourself?’

  ‘We’re in a rental. They make you pay now, if you blow a tyre. And that track looks pretty bad.’

  The guy said, ‘I don’t know if he’s home.’

  ‘How long has he lived there?’

  ‘About a year.’

  ‘Is he working?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘Then how does he pay the rent?’

  ‘I have no idea.’

  ‘Do you see him coming and going?’

  ‘If I happen to be watching.’

  ‘When was the last time you saw him?’

  ‘Can’t say for sure.’

  ‘Today? Yesterday?’

 
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