Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(7)

by Lee Child

‘And now?’

‘We got the drone back. His house is empty. No sign of life.’

Casey Nice walked me over to the quarters Shoemaker had mentioned, which turned out to be an improvised little village made up of separate prefabricated and transportable living units adapted from fifty-three-foot steel shipping containers. Eight feet high, eight feet wide, with windows and doors cut into them, and AC, and water lines and power lines all hooked up. Mine was painted sand yellow, probably shipped back from Iraq. I had lived in worse places. It was a pleasant night. Spring, in North Carolina. Too early in the year to be hot, too late to be cold. There were stars out in the sky, and ghostly wisps of cloud.

We stopped at my metal door and I said, ‘Are you in one of these things?’

Casey Nice pointed to the next row. ‘The white one,’ she said. If she was on First Street, then I was on Second. I said, ‘Is this what you signed up for?’

‘This is where the rubber meets the road,’ she said. ‘I’m happy enough.’

‘It’s likely not Kott,’ I said again. ‘Statistically when it comes to snipers the Russians produce the most and the best. And the Israelis love fifty-calibre rounds. It’s likely one of those two.’

‘But it’s the yoga that worries us. Clearly Kott had an aim in life. He was planning to get out and take up where he left off.’ Then she nodded to herself, as if her job was done, and she walked away and left me there. I opened my door and went inside.

Inside looked exactly like a fifty-three-foot shipping container, all corrugated metal, painted glossy white all around, with a living area and a kitchen and a bathroom and a bedroom all in a line. Like an old-fashioned railroad apartment. The windows had blast covers that dropped down inside to make work surfaces. There was a plywood floor. I unpacked, which consisted of taking my clip-together toothbrush from my pocket, assembling it, and propping it in a bathroom glass. I thought about taking a shower, but I never got to it, because there was a knock at my door. I hiked back through the narrow cramped rectangle and opened up.

Another woman in a black skirt suit and dark nylons and good shoes. This one was closer to my own age. She had an air of command and seniority. Her hair was silvery black, neatly cut but not styled or coloured. Her face had been pretty once, and was handsome now. She said, ‘Mr Reacher? I’m Joan Scarangello.’

She stuck out her hand. I took it and shook it. It felt slim but strong. Plain nails, cut short and square. Clear polish. No rings. I said, ‘CIA?’

She smiled and said, ‘It’s not supposed to be that obvious.’

‘I already met State and Special Forces. I figured the third wheel would come rolling down the pike pretty soon.’

‘May I come in?’

My living area was eight feet high and eight feet wide and about thirteen feet long. Adequate for two, but only just. The furniture was bolted to the floor, a short sofa and two small chairs, all arranged in a tight little grouping. Like an RV, or maybe a design study for a new Gulfstream cabin. I sat on the sofa and Joan Scarangello sat in a chair, and we adjusted our relative angles until we were looking at each other face to face.

She said, ‘We very much appreciate your help.’

I said, ‘I haven’t done anything yet.’

‘But I’m sure you will, if necessary.’

‘Did the FBI go out of business? Isn’t finding American citizens in America normally their job?’

‘Kott might not be in America. Not currently.’

‘Then he’s your job.’

‘And we’re doing it. Which includes getting the best help we can. Anything else would be negligent. You know the man.’

‘I busted him sixteen years ago. Apart from that I know nothing about him.’

‘The EU, then the G8, and then the G20,’ she said. ‘The European Union, then the world’s eight largest economies, and then the world’s twenty largest economies. Heads of state, all in the same place at the same time. By definition all but one of them on unfamiliar turf. If one of them goes down, it’s a disaster. If more than one goes down, it’s a catastrophe. And as I believe you pointed out, the Paris shooter was ready to fire twice. And why would he stop at two? Imagine if three or four went down. We’d have paralysis. Markets would crash, and we’d be back in recession. People would starve. Wars might start. The whole world could fall apart.’

‘Maybe they should cancel their meetings.’

‘Same result. The world has to be governed. They can’t do it all by phone.’

‘They could for a month or two.’

‘But who’s going to propose that? Who’s going to blink first? Us, in front of the Russians? The Russians, in front of us? The Chinese, in front of anybody?’

‘So this is all a testosterone thing?’

Joan Scarangello said, ‘What isn’t?’

I said, ‘Speaking of governing the world, I don’t even have a phone.’

She said, ‘Would you like one?’

‘My point is, John Kott is a guy I met for one day, sixteen years ago. I have no resources, no communications, no databases, no systems, no nothing.’

‘We have all of that. We’ll give you what leads we have.’

‘And then send me out to get him?’

She didn’t answer.

I said, ‘Here’s the thing, Ms Scarangello. I know I only just got here, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. If Kott’s the guy, you want me out there blundering around because whoever is bankrolling him will want to stop me. Whatever faction, as O’Day likes to say. I’m supposed to bring them out in the open. That’s all. All I am is bait.’

She didn’t answer.

I said, ‘Or maybe you want Kott to come for me himself. He’s plenty mad at me, after all. I put him away for fifteen years. I’m sure that put a crimp in his lifetime plans. He’s probably nursing an appropriate degree of resentment. Maybe all that yoga was for me personally, not general career advancement.’

‘No one is thinking in terms of bait.’

‘Bullshit. Tom O’Day thinks of everything, and chooses the easiest and most effective.’

‘Are you scared?’

‘You know any infantrymen?’

‘This base has plenty.’