Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(5)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(5)
Author: Lee Child

It was a weak case, involving a lot of circular theory and a star player and a clandestine operation, but to its credit the army looked at it. And quite correctly said we were going nowhere without a confession.

They let me bring Kott in.

Most of asking questions is listening to the answers, and I listened to Kott for a good long time before I concluded that deep down the guy had an arrogant streak as wide as his head. And as hard. He wasn’t making the distinction. Anyone who challenges you deserves to die is battlefield bullshit, not a way to live.

But I had known people like that all my life. I was the product of people like that. They want to tell you about it. They want you to understand. They want you to approve. OK, so maybe some stupid temporary pettifogging regulation was technically against them at one point, but they were more important than that. Weren’t they? Right?

I let him talk, and then I backed him up and pretty much made him admit that, yes, at one point he was talking to the dead guy. After which it was downhill all the way. Although an uphill metaphor would be better. The process felt like lighting a fire under a kettle, or pumping a bicycle tyre.

Two hours later he was signing a long and detailed account. The dead guy had called him a pussy, basically. That was the bottom line. Trash talk, that had then gotten completely out of hand. Some response was called for. Some things couldn’t be excused. Could they? Right?

Because he was a star player and it was a clandestine operation they gave him a plea deal. Some variant of murder two for fifteen years. I was fine with it. Because there was no court martial I snuck the extra week in Fiji and met an Australian girl I still remember. I wasn’t about to complain.

O’Day said, ‘We shouldn’t make unexamined assumptions. There’s no evidence he ever even looked at a gun again.’

‘But he’s on the list?’

‘He has to be.’

‘What would be the odds?’

‘One in four, obviously.’

‘Would you put your money on?’

‘I’m not saying he’s our boy. I’m saying we have to face the fact there’s a one-in-four possibility he might be.’

‘Who else is on the list?’

‘One Russian, one Israeli, one Brit.’

I said, ‘Kott’s been in prison fifteen years.’

O’Day nodded and said, ‘Let’s start with what that would do to him.’

Which was another very good question. What exactly would fifteen years in prison do to a sniper? Good shooting is about a lot of different things. Muscle control might suffer. Good shooting is about being soft and hard at the same time. Soft enough to keep tiny jitters out, hard enough to control a violent explosion. General athletic condition might suffer, which was important too, because a low heart rate and good breathing were all part of the deal.

But in the end I said, ‘Eyesight.’

O’Day said, ‘Because?’

‘Everything he’s seen for fifteen years has been pretty close. Walls, basically. Even the exercise yard. His eyes haven’t focused long since he was a young man.’ Which all sounded good to me. I liked the mental image. Kott, gone soft, maybe a little trembly now, wearing glasses, stooping even though he was small to start with.

Then O’Day read out the prison discharge report.

Kott’s heritage was rooted in Czechoslovakia or Arkansas or probably both, but he had mapped his fifteen years of jail time like a mystical sage from the East. He had taken up yoga and meditation. He had worked out very lightly, once a day, to maintain core strength and flexibility, and he had been still for many hours, hardly breathing, all the time with a blank, thousand-yard stare he said he needed to practise.

O’Day said, ‘I asked around. The girls who work here, mostly. They say Kott’s type of yoga is all about stillness and relaxed power. You fade, and fade, and fade, and then bang, you go to the next position. The same with the meditation. Empty your mind. Visualize your success.’

‘You saying he got out of prison better than he went in?’

‘He worked hard for fifteen years. In a very single-minded manner. And after all, a gun is just a metal tool. Success is all about the mind and the body.’

‘How would he get to Paris? Does he have a passport?’

‘Think about the factions. Think about their spending power. A passport is the least of their problems.’

‘Last time I saw him, he was signing the paper. Over sixteen years ago, apparently. I don’t see how I can help you now.’

‘We have to cover all the bases.’

‘Which base could I possibly cover?’

‘You caught him once,’ O’Day said. ‘If needs be, you can catch him again.’


SHOEMAKER GOT INVOLVED at that point, as if the overview was completed, and it was time for the details. A lot hinged on the motive for the attack. Certain factions would never hire an Israeli, which would decrease the odds to one in three, except that apparently the Israeli looked kind of Irish and had a neutral code name. Maybe the factions didn’t know. Which would confuse the issue. But in the end the quest for motive had been abandoned. The State Department’s list of people mad at the French was long. Therefore all four suspects were being treated equally. No profiling was allowed.

I turned to Casey Nice and said, ‘This is still bullshit.’

Once again she said, ‘What part?’

‘Same part. This is way too much. You wouldn’t piss on the French if they were on fire. Yet here you are. You’re reacting like this was Pearl Harbor. Why? What is France going to do to you? Stop sending cheese?’

‘We can’t be seen to drag our feet.’

‘You can’t be seen at all. You’re moving from place to place and hiding behind phoney signs. Which is good. No watcher out of any embassy is going to figure out who you are or what you’re doing. Not even the French Embassy. They can’t know if you’re helping or not. So why bother?’

‘It’s a matter of reputation.’

‘There’s a one-in-four chance a convicted American felon is freelancing somewhere in the world. He wouldn’t be the first and he won’t be the last. Our reputation could stand that kind of tiny hit. Especially because the French guy is still alive. No harm, no foul.’

O’Day stirred and said, ‘We don’t make the policy rules.’

‘The last time you listened to the Congress Abraham Lincoln was in short pants.’

‘But who do I listen to?’

I said, ‘The president,’ and stopped.

O’Day said, ‘Everyone’s mad at the French, which is ultimately the same thing as no one’s mad at them. No one had a particular reason to shoot the guy. Not this year. Not more than usual. Therefore right now the smart money says this was an audition. Our boy was making his bones, ahead of a bigger proposition. Which would be who? No one knows, but they’re all betting it’s them. And why wouldn’t they? They’re all the most important person in the world. They’ve got an EU meeting coming up, all the heads of government, and then there’s the G8 and the G20. That’s twenty world leaders right there. Including ours. All posing for a group photograph. Standing still and smiling. On the steps of a public building, probably. They don’t want a guy on the loose who can shoot more than three-quarters of a mile.’

‘So this is politicians covering their ass?’

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