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Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(27)
Author: Lee Child

‘Was he wrong?’

‘Walk away if you want,’ he said again. ‘There are hundreds of people working on this. And the Brits are taking it very seriously. I mean, they already were. It’s a G8 meeting. If you’re in the security business, then that’s your Superbowl right there. So they’re on it. So you won’t be missed. You’re one guy. What difference could you make?’

‘Is this another psychological insight?’

‘I want you there, sure. I want everyone there. A human wall, if necessary. Whatever it takes. Because if an American shooter turns the G8 into the G4, we’re in real big trouble as a nation.’

‘Is that a psychological insight? As in, I’m a patriot, right? What is this, Manipulation 101?’

‘Go talk to O’Day,’ he said.

Which I did, immediately afterwards, by walking past the conference room to the office next to it. O’Day was at his desk, in his black blazer and his black sweater. His head was bent, and when he looked up at me he did it with his eyes only, as if his neck hurt to move.

I said, ‘This is right up there with the worst ideas of all time.’

He said, ‘But even so, it’s your best chance to get John Kott. I’ll be feeding Ms Nice everything I know. You’ll have the power of the whole government behind you. And you need to finish this now. You won’t sleep at night until he’s gone.’

‘I’m sleeping just fine.’

‘Then get over yourself. We all read your file, obviously. Those pages on Kott’s bedroom wall? We know what they say. Our Ms Nice is exactly the same age as one Dominique Kohl, who got her breasts cut off with a kitchen knife, because you sent her to arrest a maniac.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘That’s what those pages say.’

‘What are you, superstitious? Everyone is twenty-eight sooner or later. There’s no connection. And you won’t be sending her to arrest anyone. Because no arrests are going to be made. I want you in there, and only you, up close and personal, and I want you to bring me their ears to prove it.’

‘Why me? There are hundreds of people on this.’

‘And if it’s easy, no doubt one of them will do the job. But it won’t be easy. That’s the truth of it. It might slide right past all of them. That’s what I’m afraid of. I need a backstop. I need someone I can trust.’

Which was another psychological insight, presumably.

TWENTY-THREE

I MET WITH Casey Nice the following morning. She had been told. She was all aglow. She explained the procedures. She said, ‘There’s GPS in our cell phones, so they’ll be watching over us every step of the way. I’ll be getting real-time information by voice, text, and e-mail. We have each other’s numbers pre-programmed in, plus Generals O’Day and Shoemaker, for emergencies. All calls will be encrypted and untraceable.’

I said, ‘Did they tell you the rules of engagement?’

‘Yes, they did.’

‘Who told you?’

‘All of them.’

‘Separately or together?’

‘Separately.’

‘Did they all say the same thing?’

‘No, they didn’t.’

‘So which one of them are you listening to?’

She said, ‘General O’Day.’

Shoemaker gave us the practical stuff. Chargers for our cell phones, credit cards, a wad of English cash money, hotel reservations, and airplane tickets from Atlanta to London Heathrow, on Delta. The company Gulfstream would fly us down to Georgia, but after that we were strictly commercial, just like regular citizens.

Then we all met in the conference room, because O’Day had two items of late information for us. First up was a photograph. It was a still taken from the security video system at the Gare du Nord railroad station in Paris. It was time-stamped fifty minutes after the shot that killed Khenkin. The focus was off and there was a little blur, but it was clear enough. It showed a guy, average height, wiry, all muscle and sinew. He was turned half away from the camera, lost in a crowd, but his cheekbones gave him away. It was John Kott. His eyes were cast down and his mouth was a tight line. Hard to say from a literal snapshot, but his body language and his facial expression made me feel he was uneasy in the hustle and bustle. Which would be understandable. Fifteen years in Leavenworth, then another in the Arkansas backwoods. The Gare du Nord was one of the busiest railroad terminals in the world. A big change of pace.

O’Day said, ‘That’s the concourse just ahead of the Euro-star tracks. The London train pulled out ten minutes later. We should assume he was on it.’

Casey Nice said, ‘Why isn’t Carson with him?’

O’Day said, ‘We should assume they travelled separately. Much safer that way. They wouldn’t risk both getting nailed, by the same piece of bad luck.’

Then he opened a file and pulled out a bunch of paper. The gang analysis from MI5 in London. He said, ‘They’re sure it’s the local English guys. They own the streets around the target, and they moved in on Karel Libor’s operations very fast. Too fast for the news of Mr Libor’s demise to have reached them through conventional channels. They knew it was going to happen beforehand. Because they set it up.’

He read out a list of four names, a top boy and three trusted lieutenants, White, Miller, Thompson, and Green, like a law firm, and then he described an inner circle of thirty more, supplemented when and where necessary by contract labour anxious to prove its worth. He said collectively they were known as the Romford Boys, and always had been, because they were based in a place called Romford, which was on the eastern edge of the city, north of the river, just inside the orbital highway. He said they were largely white and largely native born. He described their business activities, which were drugs, girls, and guns, the same as Libor’s activities, with protection rackets and loan sharking as the icing on the cake. He had no lurid tales to tell us, of gruesome murders and horrific punishments and sadistic tortures. He said over the years their many and various victims had simply disappeared into thin air, and were never seen again.

Casey Nice went to pack, and I showered again and dressed again and put my toothbrush in my pocket. We met in the Gulfstream’s cabin. She was wearing her Arkansas outfit. She said, ‘General O’Day told me you’re dubious about all of this.’

I said nothing.

She said, ‘Working with me, I mean.’

I said nothing.

She said, ‘What happened to Dominique Kohl was not your fault.’

‘O’Day showed you the file?’

‘I had already read it, on Kott’s bedroom wall. It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known.’

I said nothing.

She said, ‘I’m not going to arrest anyone. I’m going to hang way back. It’s not going to happen again.’

‘I agree,’ I said. ‘These things are generally the exception, not the rule.’

‘It could be over before we get there. The Brits must be busting a gut.’

‘I’m sure they are.’

‘We’ll have all their data a minute after O’Day gets it. We’ll be OK.’

‘Now you sound dubious.’

‘I’m not quite sure what to expect.’

I said, ‘Neither am I. No one ever is. On either side. Which is a good thing. It means the game goes to the fastest thinker. That’s all you need to be.’

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