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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(32)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(32)
Author: Lee Child

I ASKED CASEY Nice about the photograph, and she gave me a detailed explanation. She said like everything else to do with politics and diplomacy it was a bigger deal than it appeared to be. It was much more than a ritual formality. It was freighted with subtext. It was about image, and collegiality, and an opportunity for the little guys to stand next to the big guys, on an equal footing, literally. It was about status and worth and the newspapers back home. In other words it was about exposure, both metaphorical and real. An open-air background was considered important. It was about being seen out there in the world with your peers, talking, joking, joshing, rubbing shoulders, doing deals, being just as important as everyone else.

And Nice said they would all be outside for more than just the photograph. They would walk on the lawns from time to time, in twos and threes. If the guy from Italy had a problem about the debt or the euro, he had to be seen strolling with the German, deep in private conversation. Maybe they would only be talking about their kids or soccer, but the image would count in Rome. Likewise our president would be seen with the Russian guy, and the British guy and the French guy would get together, and the Japanese guy would talk to the Canadian. The potential combinations and recombinations were endless. Plus they all got on each other’s nerves on a regular basis, and some were still secret smokers, so breaks were always necessary.

Nice said, ‘Kott and Carson are going to have visible targets, believe me.’

I asked, ‘Is there an option to cancel the meeting?’

She said, ‘No.’

Through the steamy café window I saw a black panel van pull up outside our hotel.

I asked, ‘Can’t the photograph be taken inside?’

She said, ‘Theoretically, but not under these circumstances.’

‘Reasonable prudence is not acceptable?’

‘Not if it looks like cowardice.’

‘That’s crazy.’

‘That’s politics. The world needs to see them taking care of business. And some of them have elections coming up. This kind of coverage is important.’

Across the street the black panel van waited at the kerb. No one got out. No one got in.

I said, ‘What about if it’s raining?’

She said, ‘They’ll wait until it stops.’

‘It might never stop. This is England.’

‘It’s not raining now. Want me to look up the weather report?’

I shook my head. I said, ‘Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Is the outside location for the photograph fixed in advance?’

She said, ‘The back patio. There are shallow steps. The short guys like to use them.’

‘The back of the house faces the highway. Better than facing the city.’

‘Plenty of structures either side.’

‘Are they using bulletproof glass?’

‘No point,’ she said. ‘Those panels work with one guy at a microphone. They don’t work with eight people milling around.’

I nodded. I pictured the eight people in my mind, milling around. Presumably they would come out of some kind of a patio door, all of them faking bewilderment at the way they had so suddenly to pivot between high-minded seriousness and the sordid demands of the press. Gosh, really? We have to do this now? Well, let’s be quick about it and get back to work. So there would be plenty of faux-sheepish grins, and plenty of good-natured jostling for the back of the line. Which would all take place within a very tight little group, I guessed, because of the demands of collegiality and equality and reflected glory. Certainly none of them would want to get separated. A leaked picture with a group of seven on one side of the frame and a lone figure on the other wouldn’t look good. The headlines back home would write themselves. Out of touch, ignored, shunned, aloof, doesn’t play well with others.

So they would stay tight, and then when they figured the news outlets had enough goofy stuff in the can, they would line up on the steps, and they would puff out their chests, and they would stand absolutely still.

With no blindfolds.

Across the street the black panel van was still there.

I said, ‘How are you doing with the pills?’

She said, ‘I still have five.’

‘So you’re feeling OK?’

She nodded. ‘Pretty good.’

‘Because the brief is mastered, and our initial execution has been satisfactory?’

‘Because I can see a way through this now. I feel like the problem is narrowing itself down. Kott and Carson will want to see the back patio, and the back lawn, maybe. Which takes about sixty per cent of the buildings right out of the picture. We know where we’ll find them. Roughly, I mean. Ballpark, at least.’

Across the street the black panel van was still there.

I said, ‘Suppose we hit a roadblock along the way?’

She said, ‘What kind?’

‘Something unexpected. Will you be OK?’

‘I think that would depend.’

‘On what?’

She was quiet for a long moment. She was giving the question her serious attention. She said, ‘I would be OK if it didn’t knock us off our stride.’

‘You mean, if we get a problem, we should deal with it fast and decisively?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘If it’s a roadblock, we have to get through it and keep on going. We can’t afford to get sidetracked. I can see a way through now, and I don’t want it to close up again.’

The black panel van was still there.

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Let’s go back to the hotel.’

TWENTY-SEVEN

THE VAN AT the kerb was facing away from us as we walked towards it. It was about the size of a small SUV, and about the same shape, but it was all sheet metal at the back. A windshield, and a driver’s window, and a passenger’s window, and nothing else. It was painted black, with no writing on it, as far as I could see. And it was very clean. It was waxed and polished, like a mirror. Like the SEAL car in Seattle. Which was a good question, right there. Who uses large black vehicles and keeps them immaculately clean? Only two answers. Limousine companies, and law enforcement. And limousine companies didn’t use panel vans. Small buses, maybe, but passengers like windows.

Except this was London, and what did I know? Maybe a cultural revolution was under way, involving a sudden new enthusiasm for automotive cleanliness. Maybe it would hit America six months later, like Beatlemania. Although every other vehicle I had seen was filthy.

Casey Nice said, ‘Are they cops?’

I said, ‘I’m sure they’ll make it clear, one way or the other.’

We crossed the street and we walked on, towards the van, all the way, and the front doors opened, both together, fast and smooth, unlatched when we were close, and then opened when we were closer still. Two guys climbed out. The one on the sidewalk pivoted slowly, while his partner hustled around the hood. Same sweep, different speeds. Some kind of a synchronized move, no doubt perfected by long practice.

Both guys were in dark suits under black raincoats. Both were white. Or pink, to be accurate. Chapped, like they’d had a long hard winter. Both were shorter than me, but not much lighter. Both had big knuckly hands, and cords of muscle in their necks.

They blocked our way.

‘Help you?’ I said, like the neighbour in Arkansas.

The guy who had taken the shorter pivot said, ‘I’m going to put my hand in my pocket very slowly and show you a government identification document. Do you understand?’

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