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Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(12)
Author: Lee Child

From the far end of the house Casey Nice called out, ‘Reacher?’

I called back, ‘What?’

‘You really need to see this.’

Something in her voice.

I said, ‘What is it?’

‘You need to see it.’

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


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.’

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