Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(17)


by Lee Child

The pill bottle. I cupped it in my palm, and looked at the label, in the dim light, purely out of interest. I guess I was expecting allergy medicine, perhaps carried in anticipation of spring pollens in the woods of Arkansas, or else painkillers, perhaps carried after dental work or a muscle strain. But the label said Zoloft, which I was pretty sure was for neither allergies nor pain. I was pretty sure Zoloft was for stress. Or for anxiety. Or for depression or panic attacks, or PTSD, or OCD. Heavy duty, and prescription only.

But it wasn’t Casey Nice’s prescription. The name on the label wasn’t hers. It was a man’s name: Antonio Luna.

Scarangello said, ‘What did you think of our Ms Nice?’

I put the bottle back in my pocket.

I said, ‘Nice by name, nice by nature.’

‘Too nice?’

‘You worried about that?’

‘Potentially.’

‘She did fine in Arkansas. The neighbour didn’t get to her.’

‘How would she have done if you hadn’t been there?’

‘The same, probably. Different dynamic, similar result.’

‘That’s good to know.’

‘Is she your protégée?’

Scarangello said, ‘I never met her before. And I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen her. But she was who we had at State, so she fit the bill.’

I said, ‘These world leader guys risk getting shot all the time. It’s the cost of doing business. And protection is better than ever now. I don’t understand the big panic.’

‘Our briefing indicated you’re a competent mathematician.’

‘Then your briefing was incorrect. High-school arithmetic was as far as I got.’

‘Area of a circle with a fourteen-hundred-yard radius?’

I smiled in the dark. Pi times the radius squared. I said, ‘Very nearly two square miles.’

‘Average population density in major Western city centres?’

Which was neither math nor arithmetic, but general knowledge. I said, ‘Forty thousand people per square mile?’

‘You’re behind the times. Closer to fifty thousand now, plus or minus. Parts of London and Paris are already seventy thousand. On average they’d have to lock down tens of thousands of rooftops and windows and a hundred thousand people. Can’t be done. A gifted long-range rifleman is their worst nightmare.’

‘Except for the bulletproof glass.’

Scarangello nodded in the dark. I heard her head move on her pillow. She said, ‘It protects the flanks, but not the front or the rear. And politicians don’t like it. It makes them look scared. Which they are. But they don’t want people to know that.’

It’s not the same with a sniper out there.

I asked, ‘Did anyone know for sure the glass would work?’

Scarangello said, ‘The manufacturer claimed it would. Some experts were sceptical.’

My turn to nod in the dark. I would have been sceptical. Fifty-calibre rounds are very powerful. They were developed for the Browning machine gun, which can fell trees. I said, ‘Sleep well.’

Scarangello said, ‘Fat chance.’

We landed in bright spring sunshine at Le Bourget, which the flight attendant told us was the busiest private airfield in Europe. The plane taxied towards two black cars parked on their own. Citroëns, I thought. Not limousines exactly, but certainly long and low and shiny. Five men were standing near them, all a little windblown and huddled and flinching from the noise. Two were obviously drivers, and two were gendarmes in uniform, and the last was a silver-haired gentleman in a fine suit. The plane rolled on and then stopped, and a minute later the engines shut down, and the five guys straightened up and stepped forward in anticipation. The flight attendant got busy with the door, and Scarangello stood up in the aisle and handed me a cell phone.

‘Call me if you need me,’ she said.

‘On what number?’ I said.

‘It’s in there.’

‘Are we going different places?’

‘Of course we are,’ she said. ‘You’re looking at the crime scene and I’m going to the DGSE.’

I nodded. The Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure. The French version of the CIA. No better, no worse, overall. A competent organization. A courtesy call on Scarangello’s part, presumably, and probably a high-level exchange of information as well. Or lack thereof.

‘Plus I’m bait,’ I said.

‘Only incidentally,’ she said.

‘Casey Nice came with me to Arkansas.’

‘Seven feet away.’

I nodded again. ‘Which is harder in apartment doorways.’

‘He’s in London,’ Scarangello said. ‘Whichever one it is.’

The plane door opened and morning air blew in, cool and fresh, lightly scented with jet fuel. The attendant stood back out the way, and Scarangello went first, pausing a second on the top step, every inch the visiting dignitary. Then she continued down, and I followed her. The silver-haired guy in the suit greeted her. They obviously knew each other. Maybe he was her exact equivalent. Maybe they had done business before. They got in the back of the first Citroën together, and one of the drivers got in the front and drove them away. Then the two gendarmes in uniform stepped up in front of me and waited, politely and expectantly. I fished my stiff new passport out of my pocket and handed it over. One guy thumbed it open and they both glanced at the printed name, and the photograph, and my face, and then the guy gave it back, two-handed, like a ceremonial offering. Neither one of them actually bowed or clicked his heels, but a casual observer would have sworn both of them did. Such was the power of O’Day.

The second driver opened the door for me and I slid into the back of the second Citroën. He drove me away, through black mesh gates, past a terminal building, and out to the road.

Le Bourget is closer to downtown, but the giant civilian Charles de Gaulle airport is farther out on the same road, northeast of the city, so traffic was bad. There was a crawling nose-to-tail stream of cars and taxis, all of them heading for town. Most of the taxi drivers looked Vietnamese, many of them women, some of them with lone passengers in the back, some of them with groups fresh from joyful reunions at the arrivals door. Straddling the road were overhead electronic signs warning of congestion, and advising attention aux vents en rafales, which meant beware of some kind of wind, but I couldn’t remember what rafales meant exactly, until from time to time I saw cars suddenly rocking on the road and flags suddenly snapping on the buildings, and I recalled it meant gusts.