Personal, p.9
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       Personal, p.9
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         Part #19 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  but otherwise unmarked. No police tape, no prosecutor’s seal, no official crime scene notice.

  I asked, ‘Who owns this place?’

  The old Police nationale guy said, ‘She died two years ago.’

  ‘Someone must own it.’

  ‘Of course. But there were no heirs. So it’s complicated.’

  ‘How did the shooter get in?’

  ‘Presumably there were keys in circulation.’

  ‘The concierge didn’t see anything?’

  The old guy shook his head. ‘Nor the neighbours.’

  ‘Are there cameras on the street?’

  ‘Inconclusive.’

  ‘And no one saw the shooter getting out again?’

  ‘I think everyone was watching the mayhem on television.’ The guy took out a key that looked freshly cut and jiggled it in the lock until the door swung open. We stepped into a tall formal lobby, and onward into a tall formal hallway. The floors out there were black and white marble, worn dull and undulating by the passage of thousands of feet. The air was cold and still. There were double doors here and there, all of them eleven or twelve feet tall, some of them standing half open, with dim rooms beyond. The old guy led us into a salon, and through it into a dining room about forty feet long. There was an immense mahogany table, partly covered with an old white sheet, and twenty chairs, ranged ten to a side, and a tiled fireplace fit for a castle, and spotty old mirrors, and marble busts, and dark landscape paintings in heavy gold frames. The end wall had three floor-to-ceiling French windows, all inward-opening, all facing west. The huge dining table was lined up with the centre window, and the other two windows had marble-topped buffet tables near them. Classic old style, calm, restful, symmetrical, pleasing to the eye.

  Outside the windows was the balcony.

  It ran the whole depth of the room, and was about eight feet front to back, with a flagstone floor and a low stone balustrade. There was a long line of stone planters filled with powdery dirt and the dried-up remains of dead geraniums. There were two iron café tables, each with two iron chairs, set against the outside walls between the windows.

  Beyond the balustrade, in the far, far distance, was a side view of Les Invalides’ front steps. Three-quarters of a mile. Barely visible at all.

  Bennett asked, ‘How did you trace this location?’

  The old guy said, ‘The president saw the muzzle flash, which gave us the general direction. After that it was a simple ballistics calculation, which gave us four potential possibilities, all of them neighbouring properties in this building. Three of them were occupied by innocent families. This one was empty. And there were fresh disturbances in the dust here. We’re completely confident this is the scene.’

  The dark-haired woman said, ‘It’s all explained in the presentation. You should have watched it.’

  Khenkin nodded, half apologetic, half impatient. He asked, ‘Where exactly do you think he fired from?’

  The woman said, ‘We worked backward from the electron microscope. Armour-piercing rounds have a super-hard tip, so we could see the exact angle of impact, right down at the molecular level. We calculated velocity, which gave us the range, and we calculated the drop, which gave us the precise location. We believe he fired from the centre of the balcony, from a seated position, with the rifle’s bipod feet resting in the dirt in the middle planter. There were marks in the dirt, and scuffs on the flagstones.’

  Khenkin nodded again.

  ‘Let’s take a look,’ he said.

  So we all trooped out and took a look. We were five storeys up, and the air was fresh and the view was magnificent. The planter in the centre of the row was a solid affair, heavy, rock steady, not tall but relatively wide, carved like an ancient Greek relic, smooth and mossy with age. It was a very plausible set-up spot. Given the slight downward angle to the target, a seated rifleman of average height would have been perfectly comfortable behind it. He would have been aiming through the balustrade itself, between two of the fat mossy urns that propped up the parapet.

  I asked, ‘How tall is Datsev?’

  Khenkin said, ‘A metre seventy, a metre seventy-five.’

  Which was about five feet eight inches, which was about average.

  I looked at Bennett and asked, ‘And Carson?’

  ‘Five-nine,’ Bennett said.

  Also average. As was Kott himself, at about five-seven, the last time I saw him, sixteen years previously.

  Khenkin sat down cross-legged, behind the planter, oblivious of his fine tailoring, and he closed one eye and squinted. He asked, ‘Do you have photographs taken from here? With the glass and the podium still in place?’

  The dark-haired woman said, ‘Of course we do. They’re in the presentation. You should have watched it.’

  ‘I’m sorry,’ Khenkin said. ‘Did you happen to bring them with you?’

  ‘As a matter of fact I did.’ The woman fired up one of her laptops, and she clicked and scrolled, and then she laid the computer in the planter dirt right in front of Khenkin’s face. She said, ‘That simulates the view through the scope, we think.’

  And it did, more or less. I ducked down to share a look, and saw the podium in the centre of the screen, reasonably close, reasonably large, with the nearside glass shield barely visible but clearly in the way. The podium looked forlorn and abandoned, amid a scene obviously evacuated in a hurry and locked down afterwards.

  Khenkin said, ‘I can’t see the little chip.’

  The woman squeezed between us. I caught the scent of Chanel. She clicked the mouse, and the red dot reappeared on the glass, five hundred millimetres from the left, seven hundred millimetres from the top.

  Khenkin asked, ‘How big is your president exactly?’

  The woman clicked again, and a figure appeared behind the screen, behind the podium, not the president of France, but a stand-in, presumably the same height and weight. A cop, maybe, or a security guy.

  The red dot was six inches left of his throat.

  ‘See?’ Khenkin said. ‘I knew it. He was going to miss. Left and a little low.’

  He struggled to his feet and brushed grit off his Burberry and stepped right up to the balustrade. He stared out over the grey Paris rooftops, towards Les Invalides. Bennett joined him, shoulder to shoulder on his right, and I joined him, shoulder to shoulder on his left. I saw the Boulevard Raspail, and wide streets, and cars and people, and neat lines of pollarded trees, and open green spaces, and quiet honey buildings with black ironwork and slate roofs and limp flags, and ornate street lights, and the vague white bulk of the old hospital, and way beyond it in the far distance the top of the Eiffel Tower.

  Then three things happened, in a neat deadly preordained rhythm as slow as the tick of an old clock, one, and two, and three, first a tiny pinprick of sudden light in the far distance, and then the snap of flags everywhere as a gust of wind blew by, and then Khenkin’s head blew apart, right next to my shoulder.

  SEVENTEEN

  I WAS ON the deck even before Khenkin’s lifeless body made it there. His shattered head hit me on the way down and left a red and grey slick on the shoulder of my jacket. I remember thinking Damn, that was brand new, and then Bennett landed next to me, and then he disappeared, like a magic trick. One second he was right there on the terrace flagstones, and the next second he was gone, like a good covert operative should be. They have a saying in Britain: No names, no pack drill. Better not to be in the record at all.

  The woman with the computers was on her knees, groaning rather than screaming, scrabbling her way back inside to the dining room, head down. The old cop in the blue battledress uniform was standing stock still, exactly where he had been all along, exposed from the waist up. Which I thought was OK, because I was sure the rifleman wasn’t about to stick around for any length of time. Not in the centre of Paris. I knelt up and peered over the parapet and tried to fix where I had seen the muzzle flash. I closed my eyes and saw it again, just left of the old hospital, therefore eve
n further away, in a roof window maybe six flights up.

  I opened my eyes and checked. Either the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg, or a small street behind it, a grey mansard roof, and what would inevitably be an oval Beaux Arts window, intricately framed with stone. Sixteen hundred yards away, maybe. Close to a mile. A seventeen-minute walk, at normal speed. I spun around and got up and hurdled the computer woman, who was still on her knees, and I hustled through the dining room and the salon and the hallway and the lobby, and down all the stairs to the courtyard, and out to the street.

  I didn’t head for Les Invalides. No point. I figured the shooter had already left, and for every minute I spent getting there, he would have the same minute to get further away. I heard sirens in the distance, the staid and plaintive beep boop the French still used, lots of them. So where was the guy heading? Not north, I thought. And not in a car. Because of the sirens. The river bridges were bottlenecks. No way off them, except the water. And the police had boats, too. So he would come on foot, south, or west of south. Not east of south, because the Gare Montparnasse railroad station lay in that direction, and public transportation was the second thing the cops would flood, right after the bridges. For the same reason the guy would avoid the Métro. He was on surface streets, on foot, by now a couple hundred yards into it, alongside the Ecole Militaire, maybe, which would put him on either the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, or the Avenue Lowendal.

  I used the rue de Sèvres, not running, because passing cops would be jumpy, but certainly striding out with pace and determination. Much faster than the other guy would be going, for sure. He would be sauntering, no hurry, no particular place to go, the picture of innocence. But carrying what? No proven .50-calibre sniper rifle broke down into separate components. Not without a saw and a blowtorch. Most were about five feet long and weighed north of thirty pounds. A Persian carpet? A bolt of cloth? Or had he hidden it somewhere?

  I turned on to Boulevard Garibaldi, and figured by that point the guy must be about three hundred yards ahead of me, crossing my path in the far distance, so I pushed on hard, three fast minutes, until I came to the rue de la Croix-Nivert, which was the continuation of the Avenue Lowendal, which meant a long block ahead was the rue du Commerce, which was the continuation of the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet. The guy must have gone down one of them, southwest, into the heart of the 15th arrondissement, where all was safe and comfortable.

  I chose the first turn, because in the end I figured Lowendal would have felt better than the Motte-Picquet, because it put the bulk of the Ecole Militaire between the guy and the loudest sirens, which would have been the fast-response crews coming from the Eiffel Tower. So I turned and accelerated and stared ahead into the grey distance and cannoned into a small guy hurrying in the opposite direction. I caught a glimpse of him before I slammed into him and got the impression he was Asian, maybe Vietnamese, much older than expected from his lively pace, and then on impact he felt wiry and solid and surprisingly heavy.

  I slowed a step to let him bounce off, hoping he would stay on his feet, whereupon I could just beg his pardon and move on with minimum delay. But he didn’t bounce off. He clung on tight, folds of my jacket clenched in his hands, pulling downward, like he was weak in the knees. I staggered forward a step, bent over a little, trying not to tread on his feet, and he pulled me in a counterclockwise part-circle, and then he kind of leaned on me and started pushing me towards the kerb.

  Then he hit me.

  He detached his right hand from my jacket and drew it back and folded his fingers into a classic rabbit-punch shape and aimed it down towards my groin. Which could have been a major problem, except that I flinched fast enough and the blow caught me just inboard of my hip bone, which was a sensitive spot in its own right. It spiked some kind of a nerve jolt down my leg, and my foot went numb for a second, and the guy must have sensed it, because he started shoving me again with all his strength, which was not inconsiderable. Behind me I could hear traffic, real close. A narrow Paris street, average speed about forty, nine drivers out of ten on their cell phones.

  Enough.

  I caught the guy by the throat, one-handed, and I pushed him away, arm’s length, further than he could reach with his fists. He could have kicked me, but then, I could have been squeezing harder, and he seemed to understand that. I started to march him backward.

  Which is when the cops showed up.

  EIGHTEEN

  THERE WERE TWO of them, both young, just regular street cops in a small car, in cheap blue uniforms not very different from the sanitation workers or the street sweepers. But their badges were real, and their guns were real. And the scenario unfolding right in front of them was indisputable. A giant white man was choking a small Asian senior and frog-marching him backwards across the sidewalk. Which was what politicians would call bad optics. So I stopped walking, obviously, and I let the guy go.

  The guy ran away.

  He dodged left, and dodged right, and was lost to sight. The cops didn’t go after him. Which made sense. He was the victim, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator was right there in front of them. They didn’t need the victim’s evidence, because they themselves had been actual eyewitnesses. Done deal, right there. I had a fifth of a second to make up my mind. Should I stay or should I go? In the end I figured the power of O’Day would protect me either way, and just as fast. And by that point the rifleman was long gone for sure. And staying would avoid getting all out of breath. So I stayed.

  They arrested me there and then, on the sidewalk outside a tobacconist’s store, for what seemed to be a variety of offences, including assault, battery, hate crimes, and elder abuse. They crammed me in the back of their car and drove me to a station house on the rue Lecourbe. The desk people searched me and took away Scarangello’s cell phone, and my new passport, and my toothbrush, and my bank card, and all my American cash, and Casey Nice’s empty pill bottle. Then they put me in a holding cell with two other guys. One was drunk and the other was high. I made the drunk guy give up his spot on the bench. Better to establish the pecking order early. It would save him trouble in the long term. I sat down in his place, and I leaned against the wall, and I waited. I figured I would be in the system inside twenty minutes, and I was sure Scarangello would be looking hard by then.

  It took her an hour to find me. She came with the silver-haired guy in the good suit, who seemed to be a known quantity in those parts. All the cops in the place leapt to attention. A minute later I had my stuff back in my pockets, and a minute after that we were out on the sidewalk. I was free and clear. Such was the power of O’Day. Scarangello got in the back of the same black Citroën she had used from Le Bourget, and I climbed in after her, and the guy in the suit stayed on the sidewalk and closed the door on us, and he called out to the driver in French and said, ‘Take them straight to the airport.’ The car took off fast and I craned around and saw the guy watch us go for a second, and then duck back inside the station house.

  Scarangello said, ‘Why did you run?’

  I said, ‘I didn’t run. I don’t like running. I walked.’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘I’m here as your cop. I was looking for the guy. That’s what cops do.’

  ‘You were nowhere near. You were in the wrong neighbourhood entirely.’

  ‘I figured he hadn’t stuck around.’

  ‘You were wrong.’

  ‘So what happened?’

  ‘They got him. And his rifle.’

  ‘They got him?’

  ‘He waited right there.’

  ‘Which one was it?’

  ‘None of them. It was a Vietnamese kid about twenty years of age.’

  ‘And what was the rifle?’

  ‘An AK-47.’

  ‘That’s bullshit.’

  She said, ‘In your opinion.’

  I started to say something, but she held up her hand. She said, ‘Don’t tell me anything. I don’t want the raw data. There could be subpoenas flying around by tomorrow. Safer for me
not to know. I’m going to wait for the official statement.’

  I said, ‘I was going to ask if you mind if we take a little detour.’

  ‘The plane is waiting.’

  ‘It can’t leave without us.’

  ‘Where do you want to go?’

  I leaned forward and said to the driver in French, ‘Head for the Bastille and turn right.’

  The guy thought for a second and said, ‘On Roquette?’

  ‘All the way to the end,’ I said. ‘Then wait at the gate.’

  ‘Yes, sir,’ he said.

  Scarangello turned to quiz me again, but her focus fell short, on the shoulder of my jacket. The red and grey slick, now dark brown and purple, and on closer examination flecked with fine shards of white bone. She said, ‘What’s that?’

  I said, ‘Just a guy I used to know.’

  ‘That’s disgusting.’

  ‘It’s raw data.’

  ‘You need a new jacket.’

  ‘This is a new jacket.’

  ‘You have to get rid of it. We’ll go buy you another one. Right now.’

  ‘The plane is waiting.’

  ‘How long can it take?’

  ‘This is France,’ I said. ‘Nothing in the stores is going to fit me.’

  She said, ‘Where are we going?’

  ‘Something I want to do before we leave.’

  ‘What?’

  ‘I want to take a walk.’

 
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