Personal, p.6
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       Personal, p.6
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  So I headed for the sound of her voice, and stepped into a room, and came face to face with myself.

  ELEVEN

  IT WAS A photograph, obviously. Black and white, of my face. But it had been blown up life size. In a commercial photocopier, probably. Almost to the edges of a sheet of letter-size paper. Which had been pinned to the wall with thumbtacks. Six feet five inches from the floor. Below it more sheets of paper had been pinned to the wall, like tiles, overlapping in places, shaping a neck, shoulders, a torso, arms, legs, and on them the rest of me had been sketched in by hand, with a black permanent marker, to match the sooty tone of the Xerox of my face. A life-size human, right there, standing still, head up, thumbs forward, solidly planted in shoes drawn to the last detail, even the laces.

  It was a pretty good impression, overall. Wouldn’t have fooled my mother, but it was close enough.

  It had a knife in the chest. About where my heart would be. A big kitchen item, maybe ten inches long, buried five inches in the wall board.

  Casey Nice said, ‘There’s more.’

  She was standing in an alcove, maybe meant for a bed. I stepped over and found the back wall covered with papers. All about me. At the top was the same photograph, life size. Below it was where it had come from. Which was the bio page from my army personnel file, with my thumbnail headshot glued in the top right corner, crisply Xeroxed. Below the bio page were dozens of other pages, all Xeroxed, all pinned up, packed close together, ordered in some way.

  Chosen in some way.

  They were my failures. They were after-action reports, mostly, admitting missed clues, and missed connections, and risks gone bad. Thirty whole pages were about Dominique Kohl.

  My failures.

  Casey Nice asked, ‘Who was she?’

  I said, ‘She worked for me. I sent her to arrest a guy. She was captured, mutilated, and killed. I should have gone myself.’

  ‘I’m sorry.’

  ‘So am I.’

  She studied the pages for a minute and said, ‘You couldn’t have known.’

  I said, ‘She was exactly your age.’

  She said, ‘There’s more, I’m afraid.’

  She led me to another room, where I saw on a table what I guessed was a homemade rack, good for pinning paper targets on, good for propping on a rocky shelf fourteen hundred yards from the rifle. Admirable initiative, except the paper targets were my photograph. Same deal. Life size. There were two stacks. One used, one not. The unused examples were what I had seen. My face, a sooty Xerox, right to the limits of letter-size paper. The used examples were even less pretty. A lot of them were more or less completely shredded, either by the massive trauma of the .50-calibre round, or by fragments blasted back from the cratered rocks behind, or by both. But some examples had held up better. One was unmarked except for a neat half-inch hole just below my right cheekbone. Another had a hole on the right corner of my mouth.

  From fourteen hundred yards. Left and a little low, but still, good shooting.

  He got better.

  Further down the pile, again, many were completely destroyed, but the good ones were pretty damn good, including three with the hole right between my eyes, one fractionally left, one fractionally right, the last dead centre.

  From fourteen hundred yards.

  More than three-quarters of a mile.

  Casey Nice asked, ‘How old is the photograph?’

  I said, ‘Could be twenty years.’

  ‘So he could have had the file before he went to jail.’

  I shook my head. ‘Some of those bad things happened after he went away. He got the file when he came out.’

  ‘He seems really mad at you.’

  ‘You think?’

  ‘He’s in London.’

  ‘Maybe not,’ I said. ‘Why would he be? If he’s this mad at me, why would he take time out overseas?’

  ‘Lots of reasons. First is money, because this thing is going to be a real big payday, believe me. But second is he can’t find you. You’re a hard man to pin down. He could look for ever. He didn’t think that far ahead.’

  ‘Maybe. But right now he doesn’t need to find me. I showed up at his door. And the odds are three in four he’s here.’

  ‘He could have shot us a dozen times. But he hasn’t. Because he isn’t here.’

  ‘Was he ever? Where’s his stuff?’

  ‘I’m guessing he doesn’t have stuff. Maybe a bedroll and a backpack. A monkish existence, or whatever they call people who meditate. He packed it up and took it with him to Paris. And then to London.’

  Which made some kind of sense. I nodded. Kott had nothing for fifteen years. Maybe he had gotten used to it. I took a good long look at the target with the dead-centre hole, right between my eyes, and then I said, ‘Let’s go.’

  The walk back to the red truck felt better than I thought it might. Because of the trees. It was geometrically impossible to hit a long-range target through a forest. There would always be a tree in the way, to stop the bullet, or deflect it uncontrollably. Safe enough.

  There was no width to turn the truck around, and we didn’t want to back all the way down, so we drove on up to the house again and U-turned on the gravel patch, and came back facing the right way. We saw nothing and no one on the track, and the two-lane road was empty. We told the navigation device to take us back to the airport, and it set about doing so. The same fifty miles, in reverse.

  I said, ‘I apologize.’

  She said, ‘For what?’

  ‘I made a category error. I took you to be a State Department person loaned out to the CIA for exposure and experience. And therefore maybe a little out of your depth. But it’s the other way around, isn’t it? You’re a CIA agent loaned out to the State Department. For exposure and experience. Of passports and visas and all kinds of forms. Therefore not out of your depth at all.’

  ‘What gave me away?’

  ‘A couple of things. The infantry hand signal. You knew that.’

  She nodded. ‘Lots of time at Fort Benning.’

  ‘And you were all business.’

  ‘Didn’t Shoemaker tell you I’m tougher than I look?’

  ‘I thought he was trying to justify a crazy risk.’

  ‘And by the way, the State Department does way more than passports and visas. It does all kinds of things. Including it supervises operations like these.’

  ‘How? This operation is O’Day and two CIA people. You and Scarangello. The State Department isn’t involved.’

  ‘I’m the State Department. Like you said. Temporarily. And theoretically.’

  ‘Are you keeping your temporary and theoretical boss in the loop?’

  ‘Not completely.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘Because this is too important for the State Department. If it’s the Brit or the Russian or the Israeli, then sure, we’ll let State take the victory lap, but until we know that for certain, this remains a closely held project.’

  ‘Is that what you call it now?’

  ‘Top secret was already taken.’

  ‘It’s headline news. How top secret can it be?’

  ‘Tomorrow it will be yesterday’s news. The French are going to make an arrest. That should calm things down.’

  ‘Who are they going to arrest?’

  ‘Some patsy or other. They’ll find some guy willing to play a wild-eyed terrorist for three weeks. In exchange for favours elsewhere. I imagine they’re casting the role right now. Which will give us time and space to work.’

  ‘It’s fourteen hundred yards,’ I said. ‘That’s what matters. Not which one is shooting. They need a perimeter. Call it at least a mile.’

  ‘Or they could hide in holes in the ground. Which they might have to, sooner or later. But until then we prefer a proactive approach. We need John Kott in custody. Certainly we don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t get his guy.’

  ‘How are the others doing?’

  ‘You heard what O’Day said this mo
rning. They have names and photographs and histories.’

  ‘Is that all?’

  ‘They’ve got what we’ve got. It’s a level playing field so far.’

  We drove on, and eventually returned the truck and hiked over to a wire gate in a wire fence, and then a golf cart picked us up and drove us to our plane. Two hours later we were back at Pope, where we found out the playing field wasn’t level any more.

  TWELVE

  THE PLAYING FIELD wasn’t level anymore because the Israelis had found their guy. Mr Rozan had been located. He had been on vacation. The Red Sea. The watchers had missed his departure. But now he was back. His movements had been traced and all kinds of bar staff and restaurant workers had confirmed his story. It was watertight. He had not been in Paris. He was not a possibility. He was off the list.

  ‘Which makes our task slightly more urgent,’ O’Day said. He liked afternoon conferences too. We were all in the same upstairs room again, with the pushed-together tables. O’Day, Shoemaker, and Scarangello, all in position, with me and Casey Nice as late arrivals, jet whine still whistling in our ears. We told them what we had found in Arkansas, and we gave them the dust and the grit, in an evidence bag, not the pill bottle. Shoemaker was disappointed there had been no just-in-case surveillance. He had wanted the bait ploy to work. And then O’Day said he figured Kott’s obsession with me was understandable.

  I said, ‘I’d like to know how he got my file.’

  He said, ‘A friend in the bureaucracy, presumably. It’s a routine file in routine storage in Missouri.’

  ‘He has no friends in the bureaucracy. He didn’t even have friends in his unit. None of them would lie for him.’

  ‘Then he bought the file.’

  ‘With what? He was just out of Leavenworth. And then he went out in his back yard and fired about a thousand fifty-calibre rounds, which can be five bucks a pop. Even in Arkansas. Where did he get that kind of money?’

  ‘We’ll look into it.’

  ‘How? You’re not equipped. Enough with the national security bullshit. This is a police inquiry now. He had a fourteen-hundredyard practice range and a fourteen-hundred-yard money shot. Is that a coincidence? Or was that apartment balcony in Paris selected long ago? Did he train for it specifically? In which case this could be a conspiracy already dating back most of a year. We need data. As in, for a start, who owns that apartment in Paris?’

  ‘Are you volunteering to be our policeman?’

  ‘I thought I was bait.’

  ‘You could be both.’

  ‘I never volunteer for anything. Soldier’s basic rule.’

  ‘Maybe you should. You won’t rest easy. Not after seeing what you saw.’

  ‘There could be a dozen people in the world still real mad at me. Why would I care? None of them is ever going to find me.’

  ‘We found you.’

  ‘That’s different. You think I would answer an ad from Kott?’

  ‘You’d leave him out there?’

  Socratic.

  I said, ‘I’m not his parole officer.’

  He said, ‘You’re in pretty good shape for your age, Reacher. No doubt because your chosen lifestyle gives you plenty of opportunity for exercise. Walking, mostly, I suppose. Which is the best kind of exercise, they tell me. But my guess is it’s not really a chore. It’s part of the appeal, isn’t it? Open roads, sunny days, far horizons. Or the city, with noises and lights, and hustle and bustle, and a freak show everywhere you look. You like walking. You enjoy the freedom.’

  I said, ‘What’s your point?’

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

  Joan Scarangello looked straight at me, daring me to disagree.

  O’Day said, ‘Especially with a sniper so batshit crazy he does yoga for fifteen years and then draws a picture on his bedroom wall.’

  I said nothing.

  He said, ‘What type of police inquiries would you make?’

  ‘He left his truck at home. Therefore he was picked up. Not by a car service, because he has no phone and there’s no cell signal. It was prearranged. As was everything, obviously, which means people have been up and down that driveway for months. Someone must have seen something.’

  ‘The neighbour didn’t.’

  ‘So he says now. He’s been paid off. And coached.’

  ‘You think?’

  I nodded. ‘He had to admit knowing his neighbour. Too weird not to, for Arkansas. But he was told to clam up about the comings and goings. As soon as I asked about foreigners hanging around, he changed the subject. He insulted the Marine Corps and started leering at Ms Nice.’

  O’Day turned to Casey Nice and said, ‘Is that what happened?’

  She said, ‘I dealt with it.’

  ‘What did he say about the Marines?’

  ‘Showboating glory hunters.’

  ‘Was he a navy man?’

  ‘Air force.’

  O’Day nodded sagely and turned back to me. He said, ‘Conclusion?’

  I said, ‘The neighbour’s got a bag of cash in the back of his closet.’

  ‘Untraceable.’

  ‘Maybe, maybe not. But he knows who gave it to him. And more of the same cash is in some ammo dealer’s register. Who will remember selling a thousand fifty-calibre rounds. That’s a big order.’

  ‘Could be he went to many different dealers.’

  ‘Exactly. And it could be many different folks made the buys, to keep it clean. And the more guys, the more flights in and out of Little Rock and Texarkana, and the more car rentals, and the more gas bought at the local stations, and maybe speeding tickets and parking tickets and video in cop car dashboards, and the more breakfasts and lunches and dinners bought in the local restaurants, and the more nights spent in the local motels. All these things should be checked out. As well as what the neighbour knows.’

  O’Day worked his mouth, opening it and closing it like he was rehearsing different answers, but in the end all he said was, ‘OK.’

  I said, ‘I can’t go do it. I have no status. No one would talk to me.’

  ‘The FBI will do it.’

  ‘I thought this thing was top secret. Or closely held.’

  ‘Divide and conquer,’ O’Day said. ‘They can all have a small piece of it. As long as no one has enough to see the whole.’

  ‘Then I recommend they start yesterday.’

  ‘Tomorrow’s the best I can do.’ He made a note on a piece of paper. He said, ‘The Russians are getting nowhere. Comrade Datsev has disappeared completely. The British think their boy Carson is travelling on a passport recently and fraudulently acquired. So they’re looking at people with brand-new passports who travelled to Paris during the relevant time frame. Trains, planes, automobiles and boats. They have nearly a thousand names.’

  ‘Where was Carson last seen?’

  ‘At home, a month ago. A routine drive-by, by Special Branch.’

  ‘What about Datsev?’

  ‘Similar, in Moscow. About a month ago. The difference is neither one has been traced to a fourteen-hundred-yard practice range. I have a bad feeling this one is down to us.’

  ‘Carson or Datsev could have trained overseas. They wouldn’t need as long as Kott. He had catching up to do. Maybe they all got together somewhere. Maybe there was an audition before the audition. Maybe there was a three-way competition, winner gets the job.’

  O’Day said, ‘Maybe a lot of things.’

  I said, ‘Do we have photographs?’

  He opened a red file folder and took out four head shots, all colour. He slipped one out of the pile and discarded it. A curly-haired guy, with
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