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Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(3)
Author: Lee Child

She led me to a small room with a wired glass window. It had three armchairs in it, none of them matching, all of them a little sad and abandoned. She said, ‘Let’s sit down.’

I said, ‘Why am I here?’

She said, ‘First you must understand everything you hear from this point onward is a classified secret. There will be a severe penalty for a breach of security.’

‘Why would you trust me with secrets? You never met me before. You know nothing about me.’

‘Your file has been circulated. You had a security clearance. It was never revoked. You’re still bound by it.’

‘Am I free to leave?’

‘We’d prefer you to stay.’

‘Why?’

‘We want to talk to you.’

‘The State Department?’

‘Did you agree the part about classified secrets?’

I nodded. ‘What does the State Department want with me?’

‘We have certain obligations.’

‘In what respect?’

‘Someone took a shot at the president of France.’

‘In Paris.’

‘The French have appealed for international cooperation. To find the perpetrator.’

‘It wasn’t me. I was in LA.’

‘We know it wasn’t you. You’re not on the list.’

‘There’s a list?’

She didn’t answer that, except to reach high up between her jacket and her blouse and pull out a folded sheet of paper, which she handed to me. It was warm from her body, and slightly curved. But it wasn’t a list. It was a summary report from our embassy in Paris. From the CIA Head of Station, presumably. The nuts and bolts of the thing.

The range had been exceptional. An apartment balcony fourteen hundred yards away had been identified as the rifleman’s hide. Fourteen hundred yards was more than three-quarters of a mile. The French president had been at an open-air podium behind wings of thick bulletproof glass. Some kind of a new improved material. No one had seen the shot except the president himself. He had seen an impossibly distant muzzle flash, small and high and far to his left, and then more than three whole perceptible seconds later a tiny white star had appeared on the glass, like a pale insect alighting. A long, long shot. But the glass had held, and the sound of the bullet’s impact against it had triggered an instant reaction, and the president had been buried under a scrum of security people. Later, enough bullet fragments had been found to guess at a .50-calibre armourpiercing round.

I said, ‘I’m not on the list because I’m not good enough. Fourteen hundred yards is a very long way, against a head-sized target. The bullet is in the air three whole seconds. Like dropping a stone down a very deep well.’

Casey Nice nodded and said, ‘The list is very short. Which is why the French are worried.’

They hadn’t been worried immediately. That was clear. According to the summary report they had spent the first twenty-four hours congratulating themselves on having enforced such a distant perimeter, and on the quality of their bulletproof glass. Then reality had set in, and they had lit up the long-distance phones. Who knew a sniper that good?

‘Bullshit,’ I said.

Casey Nice said, ‘What part?’

‘You don’t care about the French. Not this much. Maybe you would make some appropriate noises and get a couple of interns to write a term paper. But this thing crossed Tom O’Day’s desk. For five seconds, at least. Which makes it important. And then you had a SEAL on my ass inside twenty-eight minutes, and then you flew me across the continent in a private jet. Obviously both the SEAL and the jet were standing by, but equally obviously you had no idea where I was or when I would call, so you must have had a whole bunch of SEALs and a whole bunch of jets standing by, here, there and everywhere, all over the country, day and night. Just in case. And if it’s me, it’s others too. This is a full-court press.’

‘It would complicate things if it was an American shooter.’

‘Why would it be?’

‘We hope it isn’t.’

‘What can I do for you that’s worth a private jet?’

Her phone rang in her pocket. She answered and listened and put it back. She said, ‘General O’Day will explain. He’s ready to see you now.’

THREE

CASEY NICE LED me to a room one floor up. The building was worn and the contents looked temporary. Which I was sure they were. A guy like O’Day moved around. A month here, a month there, in nondescript accommodations behind meaningless signs, like 47th Logistics, Tactical Support Command. In case someone was watching. Or because someone was watching, he would say. Someone was always watching. He had survived a long time.

He was behind a desk, with Shoemaker in a chair off to one side, like a good second in command should be. Shoemaker had aged twenty years, which was to be expected, because it was twenty years since I had last seen him. He had put on weight, and his sandy hair had dulled down to sandy grey. His face was red and pouched. He was in ACU fatigues, with his star proudly displayed.

O’Day had not aged at all. He still looked a hundred. He was wearing the same thing he had always worn, which was a faded black blazer over a V-neck sweater, which was also black, and which had been darned so many times there was more darn than sweater. Which led me to believe Mrs O’Day was still alive and well, because I couldn’t imagine anyone else taking up needle and yarn for him.

His grey lantern jaw flapped up and down and he stared out at me with dead eyes under overhanging brows and he said, ‘It’s good to see you again, Reacher.’

I said, ‘You’re lucky I didn’t have a pressing engagement. Or I’d be complaining.’

He didn’t answer. I sat down, on a metal chair I guessed was navy issue, and Casey Nice sat down on a similar chair beside me.

O’Day asked, ‘Did she tell you all this is secret?’

I said, ‘Yes,’ and beside me Casey Nice nodded emphatically, as if very anxious to confirm she had followed her orders by so doing. O’Day had that effect on people.

He asked me, ‘Did you see the summary report?’

I said, ‘Yes,’ and Casey Nice nodded again.

He said, ‘What do you make of it?’

I said, ‘I think the guy’s a good shooter.’

‘So do I,’ O’Day said. ‘Has to be, to sell a guaranteed one-forone at fourteen hundred yards.’

Which was typical of O’Day. Socratic, they call it in college. All kinds of back and forth, designed to elicit truths implicitly known by all rational beings. I said, ‘It wasn’t a guaranteed one-for-one. It was a guaranteed two-for-two. The first round was supposed to break the glass. The second round was supposed to kill the guy. The first bullet was always going to shatter. Or deflect, best case. He was ready to fire again, if the glass had broken. A split-second yes-or-no decision. Fire again, or walk away. Which is impressive. Was it an armour-piercing round?’

O’Day nodded. ‘They put the fragments in a gas chromatograph.’

‘Do we have that kind of glass for our president?’

‘We will by tomorrow.’

‘Was it fifty-calibre?’

‘They collected enough weight to make it likely.’

‘Which all makes it more than impressive. That’s a big ugly rifle.’

‘Which has been known to hit at a mile out. A mile and a half, once, in Afghanistan. So maybe fourteen hundred yards isn’t such a big deal.’

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