Personal, p.8
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       Personal, p.8
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  not really American. Some kind of an all-purpose international sound. But very fluent. I said, ‘I think either you or I or the Brit has a serious problem.’

  ‘Are you CIA?’

  I shook my head. ‘Retired military. I busted our guy once. Are you FSB or SVR?’

  ‘SVR,’ he said, which meant Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, which was their foreign intelligence service. Like the CIA, or the DGSE, or MI6 in Britain. Then he said, ‘But we’re all still KGB really. Old wine, new bottles.’

  ‘Do you know your guy Datsev?’

  ‘You could say that.’

  ‘How well?’

  ‘I was his handler.’

  ‘He was KGB? I was told he was army. Red, and then Russian.’

  ‘I suppose he was, technically. Maybe that’s what it said on his pay cheques. On the rare occasions there were pay cheques. But a guy who shoots that well? Better employed elsewhere.’

  ‘Doing what?’

  ‘Shooting the people we wanted shot.’

  ‘But not any more?’

  Khenkin said, ‘Do you follow soccer?’

  ‘A little,’ I said.

  ‘The best players get big offers. One week they’re dirt poor in some little village, the next week they’re millionaires in Barcelona or Madrid or London or Manchester.’

  ‘And Datsev got an offer like that?’

  ‘He claimed to have a vest pocket full of them. He got mad at me when I wouldn’t match them. And then he disappeared. And now here we are.’

  ‘How good is he?’

  ‘Supernatural.’

  ‘Does he like fifty-calibre rounds?’

  ‘Horses for courses. At that range, sure.’

  I said nothing.

  Khenkin said, ‘But I don’t think it’s him.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘He wouldn’t agree to an audition. He has nothing to prove.’

  ‘So who do you think it is?’

  ‘I think it’s your guy. He has something to prove. He was in prison fifteen years.’

  I heard a cell phone ring, and I waited for Khenkin to dig in his pocket to answer it, but he didn’t, and I realized the ringing was in my own pocket. The phone Scarangello had given me. I hauled it out and checked the screen. Blocked, it said. I pressed the green button and said, ‘Yes?’

  It was Scarangello. She said, ‘Are you alone?’

  I said, ‘No.’

  ‘Are we being overheard?’

  ‘By three separate governments, probably.’

  ‘Not on this phone,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry about that.’

  ‘What can I do for you?’

  ‘I just heard from O’Day. The chromatograph tests are in on the fragments you brought back from Arkansas.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘They’re not the same bullets. Not armour piercing. They were match grade. Cast and machined for improved accuracy.’

  ‘American made?’

  ‘Unfortunately.’

  ‘Those things are six bucks each. Is O’Day following the money?’

  ‘The FBI is on it. But this is good, right? Overall?’

  ‘Could be worse,’ I said, and she clicked off, and I put the phone back in my pocket.

  Khenkin asked me, ‘What’s American made and six bucks each?’

  I said, ‘That sounds like the start of a joke.’

  ‘What’s the punchline?’

  I didn’t answer, and then the same elderly waiter came by and Khenkin ordered coffee and white rolls, with butter and apricot jam. He spoke in French, again fluent but not rooted in any physical part of the world. After the waiter left again Khenkin turned back to me and said, ‘And how is General O’Day?’

  I said, ‘You know him?’

  ‘Of him. We learned all about him. Studied him, in fact. Literally, in the classroom. He was a KGB role model.’

  ‘I’m not surprised. He’s doing OK. He’s the same as he ever was.’

  ‘I’m glad he’s back. I’m sure you are, too.’

  ‘Did he ever leave?’

  Khenkin made a face, not yes, not no. He said, ‘We understood his star was fading. Periods of relative stability are bad for an old warhorse like him. A thing like this reminds people. There’s always a silver lining.’

  Then another black Citroën nosed through the pedestrian chaos and turned into the alley. Driver in the front, passenger in the back. It stopped at the green door, and waited a beat. They’re expecting you, monsieur. The passenger climbed out. He was a solid guy, maybe forty or forty-five, a little sunburned, with cropped fair hair and a blunt, square face. He was wearing blue denim jeans, and a sweater, and a short canvas jacket. He had tan suede boots on his feet. Maybe British Army desert issue. His car drove away, and he glanced at the green door once, and then he turned away from it and scanned ahead, left, right, and he crossed rue Monsigny and came straight towards us.

  He said, ‘Reacher and Khenkin, is it?’

  ‘You’re well informed,’ Khenkin said. ‘To already know our names, I mean.’

  ‘We try our best,’ the guy said. He sounded Welsh to me, way back. A little sing-song. He stuck out his hand and said, ‘Bennett. Pleased to meet you. No point in trying my first name. You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.’

  ‘What is it?’ I asked.

  He answered with a guttural sound, like he was a coal miner with a lung disease. I said, ‘OK, Bennett it is. You MI6?’

  ‘I can be if you want. They paid for my ticket. But it’s all pretty fluid at the moment.’

  ‘You know your guy Carson?’

  ‘We met many times.’

  ‘Where?’

  ‘Here and there. Like I said, it’s all pretty fluid now.’

  ‘You think it’s him?’

  ‘Not really.’

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘Because the Frenchman is still alive. I think it’s your guy.’ Bennett sat down, on my right side, face-on to Khenkin on my left. The waiter showed up with Khenkin’s order, and Bennett asked him for the same thing. I asked for more coffee. The old guy looked happy. The tab was building. I hoped either Khenkin or Bennett had a wad of local currency. I didn’t.

  Khenkin looked across at Bennett and asked, ‘Do you know the G8 venue?’

  Bennett nodded. ‘By conventional standards it’s pretty safe. Maybe not so much, with Kott on the loose.’

  I said, ‘It might not be Kott. You need to keep an open mind. Preconceptions are the enemy here.’

  ‘My mind is open so wide my brains are about to fall out. I still don’t think it’s Carson. Datsev, maybe.’

  Khenkin said, ‘Then it wasn’t an audition, and we’re wasting our time on all this theoretical shit. Datsev wouldn’t audition. He’s too arrogant. If it was Datsev shooting, then it was what it was, which was a hit on the Frenchman, which failed, because of the glass, which also means we’re wasting our time, because the trail went cold days ago.’

  The waiter came back, with Bennett’s coffee and bread, and a third pot of coffee for me, and across the street a minivan painted up in police department colours eased into the alley and stopped at the green door. A lone cop got out, in a blue uniform and a kepi hat, and he knocked on the green door and waited. A minute later a woman in a housedress opened up, and there followed a brief and confused conversation. I’ve come for the three guys, probably. They haven’t checked in yet, presumably. The cop stepped back and looked all around, up and down the alley, across rue Monsigny, and he tipped his hat forward and scratched the back of his head, and then his eyes came back to us in a kind of long-delayed slow-motion double take, and he thanked the woman in the housedress and set off towards us. I saw him make up his mind to pretend not to have been confused at all, to take the chance we were who he thought we were, and he stepped up to our table and said, ‘We have to go to the police station first.’ He said it in French, in a guttersnipe Paris accent the equivalent of a Brooklyn accent in old New York, or a Cockney accent in London, but without th
e charm, just a sulky put-upon whine, like the weight of an unfair world was pressing down on his shoulders.

  Bennett said, ‘He says we have to go to the police station first.’

  ‘I know,’ Khenkin said.

  I said nothing.

  In the end Khenkin paid our tab, from a roll of crisp new euros that might have been genuine, or not. We all stood up and stretched and brushed crumbs from our clothes, and then we followed the cop across the street to the van. The sun was climbing higher in the morning sky, which was as blue as a robin’s egg, and I felt a little warmth, until the gusting wind snapped in again, like a cold hand on my shoulder. Khenkin’s expensive coat flapped around his knees, and then the gust died just as suddenly and the warmth came back, until we stepped into the shadow of the alley.

  We climbed in the van, Bennett first, then Khenkin, then me, light-hearted at that point, the way you load up for transport off-post, to a bar or a club or somewhere you know women are waiting.

  FIFTEEN

  THE POLICE STATION we were taken to was not really a police station at all. Not the kind of place a member of the public would go to report a missing cat or a lost wallet. It was more like an intelligence bunker, entered through an anonymous grey door set among the row of government buildings on the left bank of the river, near the Assemblée Nationale, which is France’s version of the Capitol Building, or the Houses of Parliament. The grey door led to a flight of stairs, which led two storeys underground to a low-ceilinged warren with grey paint on the walls and grey linoleum on the floors. A DGSE facility, I figured, and I hoped the money they were saving on decor was being spent on results.

  We were led to a kind of conference room. All the chairs had been taken out, and the table was loaded with a long line of twelve laptop computers. All of them were open to the exact same angle, and all the screens were showing the exact same things, which were animated Police nationale screensavers, moving slowly but purposefully around the screens, all in lock step, bouncing off tops and bottoms and sides, like an arcade ping pong game from way back when. A woman came in behind us, petite but all grown up, maybe forty-five years old, with soft dark hair and wise dark eyes. Under other circumstances I might have asked her to lunch. As it was she ignored me completely and spoke to no one in particular and said, ‘All our files are digital now. Start on the left and work to the right and you’ll know what we know.’

  So Bennett and Khenkin and I crowded together in front of the first screen, and Khenkin tapped the touchpad with a manicured nail, and the screensaver disappeared, and a video recording took its place, and started rolling. French network television, I guessed, broadcasting the president’s speech. It had been an evening event. The guy was at a podium in front of some wide marble steps, all lit up. There were French flags behind him. The bulletproof glass shields either side of him were barely visible. His microphones were small black buds on the end of black swan-neck stems coming up out of the podium desktop. By the sound of them they were highly directional, aimed at the guy’s chest and throat and mouth, and not picking up a whole lot else. But clearly the TV people had mixed in some ambient sound from microphones elsewhere, because we could hear a quiet hubbub from the crowd, and some street sounds. The guy was giving it a lot of guff about how progress was still possible, and how the twenty-first century could still be France’s, given the right policies, which by chance happened to be his. At one point he stumbled over a word and glanced high to his left, almost pensively, and then he turned back and dug in again. Three seconds later he glanced left again, this time at something much closer, and he stumbled again, and then a couple of seconds after that he was knocked down and buried under a scrum of guys in dark suits and earpieces, who spirited him away along the floor like a giant turtle moving fast.

  Khenkin used his nail again and rewound the coverage, to the president’s first stumble, to the glance high and left. He said, ‘That’s the muzzle flash. Has to be.’ Then three seconds later, at the second glance: ‘And that’s the bullet hitting the glass.’

  We couldn’t make out the sound of the gunshot. Maybe some big-time digital expert could have isolated a spike on the soundtrack, but it wouldn’t have told us anything. Everyone already knew a gun had been fired.

  ‘Seen enough?’ Khenkin asked.

  Bennett nodded and I said nothing, and Khenkin clicked the mouse and a street map of Paris popped up. It had a red arrowhead marked A on the front steps of Les Invalides, and another red arrowhead marked B some distance away, amid a thicket of small streets near the Boulevard St-Germain. The two red arrowheads were joined by a thin red line, which was marked 1273 metres, which was fourteen hundred yards in real money.

  Bennett said, ‘Les Invalides is the old military hospital.’

  ‘I know,’ Khenkin said. ‘A monument now. Quite grand.’

  And a logical place for a big political speech. An emotionally significant location, an open area in front, big enough for a decent crowd, small enough not to be embarrassing if not many people showed up, spacious enough for media trucks and satellite dishes. The Boulevard St-Germain location would be the apartment house. A long, long shot, more or less due west, over low-rise buildings and plenty of open space, nearly parallel with the river, and not more than a thousand yards from where we were right then. Very close to home, for anyone with anything to do with the government.

  Khenkin clicked on a symbol and the next picture we got was an after-action photograph of the president’s podium and its bulletproof glass shields. The podium was a sturdy affair, presumably designed for quick assembly and disassembly and storage in between, and the glass shields were half-invisible panels, each maybe seven feet tall and four feet wide, and possibly five inches thick, standing parallel with each other, boxing in the podium at a discreet distance, like the sides of a spacious phone booth.

  ‘OK?’ Khenkin said.

  Bennett nodded and I said nothing and Khenkin clicked onward, to a close-up photograph of the spot where the bullet had hit the glass. It was nothing more than a tiny white chip, with thin cracks maybe an inch long, running away like spider legs. Khenkin clicked through a series of ever-enlarging close-ups, all the way to a shot through an electron microscope that made the pit look like the Grand Canyon, even though the embedded data said it was less than two millimetres deep. The last picture went back to normal size, the same as the first picture, but it was set up to animate, with the same kind of video technology they use on TV sports shows, where they freeze the action and then spin it around to examine it from a different angle. Accordingly the photograph rotated until we were looking at the glass shield more or less directly from the side, and then the viewpoint elevated slightly until we were looking at it a little from above. The shooter’s-eye view, I figured, through his sniper scope, from the apartment balcony fourteen hundred yards away.

  At normal size the tiny white chip was barely visible, but then a bright red dot appeared, to mark it, and then thin red lines sprouted from it, measuring its distance from the perimeter of the shield. It was a little over five hundred millimetres in from the left, and a little over seven hundred millimetres down from the top.

  Khenkin looked upset about those measurements.

  He leaned in and stared and said, ‘Do you see what I see?’

  Bennett said nothing, and I said, ‘I don’t know what you see.’

  Khenkin turned around and glanced left and right until he saw the dark-haired woman, and he said, ‘Can we go to the apartment now?’

  The woman said, ‘Don’t you want to see the rest of the presentation?’

  ‘What’s in it?’

  ‘Forensics, trace evidence, ballistics, metallurgy, things like that.’

  ‘Do they tell us who the shooter is?’

  ‘Not precisely.’

  ‘Then no,’ Khenkin said. ‘We don’t want to see that shit. We want to see the apartment.’

  SIXTEEN

  WE WENT TO see the apartment in the same police department minivan,
driven by the same whiny cop. The dark-haired woman came with us, with two of her laptops, and a senior Police nationale guy came too, an old grey veteran in a blue battledress uniform. The drive was short and easy, from the 7th arrondissement to the 6th, on the Boulevard St-Germain all the way, and then into the back streets off rue Bonaparte, to a fine old building that stood blank and quiet in a row of similar places. It was a solid Beaux Arts pile, with double-height carriage doors on the street, which would lead past a concierge’s hutch to an interior courtyard, which would have staircases and rickety old iron elevators in each corner. I had been in such buildings before. There would be the smell of dust and cooking and floor wax, maybe the muffled tinkle of a grand piano somewhere, and a child’s sudden laugh, and then grand but faded apartments, with gilt and cherry wood, and threadbare Aubusson carpets, and old Empire furniture lovingly polished.

  The driver roused the concierge, who opened the double doors, and we drove in and parked in the courtyard. We used the stairs in the back left corner and walked up five flights to a door that was closed and locked
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