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

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.


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 even 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.

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