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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(16)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(16)
Author: Lee Child

Two tables away a guy was reading the inside of his morning paper, leaving the front page facing me, and I saw from the headline that the assassination panic was indeed over, like Casey Nice had said it would be. Tomorrow it will be yesterday’s news. An arrest had been made, the perp was in custody, the matter was resolved, the world could relax. I was too far away to read on into the fine print, but I was sure the story would be all about a lone fanatic with an unfamiliar North African name, an amateur, a crackpot, no connections, no need to worry. That should calm things down. Which will give us time and space to work.

I ate my food and drank my coffee and watched the mouth of the alley. The vents en rafales kept on coming, periodically, the umbrella above my table flapping furiously for a second, and then subsiding. Plenty of people passed by on foot, on their way to work or from the store, carrying sticks of bread, or walking tiny dogs, or delivering mail or packages. The waiter cleared my plates and brought me more coffee. Then eventually a black Citroën similar to my own nosed into the alley and stopped at the green door. The passenger in the back paused a beat, no doubt being told They’re expecting you, monsieur, and then he climbed out and stood still on the sidewalk. He was a guy of average size, maybe fifty years old, with a fresh shave and short salt-and-pepper hair neatly combed, and he was wearing a plaid muffler and a tan Burberry trench coat, below which were pant legs of fine grey cloth, probably part of a Savile Row suit, below which were English shoes the colour of horse chestnuts, buffed up to a gleaming shine.

Which made him the Russian, I thought. No Brit operative would dress that way, unless he was trying out for a part in a James Bond movie. And the new Moscow had plenty of luxury apparel stores. Apparatchiks had never had it better. His car backed up and drove away. He looked at the green door for a moment, and then just as I had done he turned away from it and headed out towards the café, checking its patrons as he walked, his eyes moving left and right and resting on each person less than a split second before moving on to the next. Quick and dirty assessments, but evidently accurate, because he walked straight up to me and said in English, ‘Are you the American?’

I nodded and said, ‘I figured the Brit would get in before you.’

‘I didn’t,’ the guy said. ‘Because I left in the middle of the damn night.’ Then he stuck out his hand and said, ‘Yevgeniy Khenkin. Pleased to meet you, sir. You can call me Eugene. Which would be the direct translation. Gene, for short, if you like.’

I shook his hand and said, ‘Jack Reacher.’

He sat down on my left side and said, ‘So what do you make of all this shit?’

His diction was good, and his accent was neutral. Not really British, not really American. Some kind of an all-purpose international sound. But very fluent. I said, ‘I think either you or I or the Brit has a serious problem.’

‘Are you CIA?’

I shook my head. ‘Retired military. I busted our guy once. Are you FSB or SVR?’

‘SVR,’ he said, which meant Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, which was their foreign intelligence service. Like the CIA, or the DGSE, or MI6 in Britain. Then he said, ‘But we’re all still KGB really. Old wine, new bottles.’

‘Do you know your guy Datsev?’

‘You could say that.’

‘How well?’

‘I was his handler.’

‘He was KGB? I was told he was army. Red, and then Russian.’

‘I suppose he was, technically. Maybe that’s what it said on his pay cheques. On the rare occasions there were pay cheques. But a guy who shoots that well? Better employed elsewhere.’

‘Doing what?’

‘Shooting the people we wanted shot.’

‘But not any more?’

Khenkin said, ‘Do you follow soccer?’

‘A little,’ I said.

‘The best players get big offers. One week they’re dirt poor in some little village, the next week they’re millionaires in Barcelona or Madrid or London or Manchester.’

‘And Datsev got an offer like that?’

‘He claimed to have a vest pocket full of them. He got mad at me when I wouldn’t match them. And then he disappeared. And now here we are.’

‘How good is he?’

‘Supernatural.’

‘Does he like fifty-calibre rounds?’

‘Horses for courses. At that range, sure.’

I said nothing.

Khenkin said, ‘But I don’t think it’s him.’

‘Why not?’

‘He wouldn’t agree to an audition. He has nothing to prove.’

‘So who do you think it is?’

‘I think it’s your guy. He has something to prove. He was in prison fifteen years.’

I heard a cell phone ring, and I waited for Khenkin to dig in his pocket to answer it, but he didn’t, and I realized the ringing was in my own pocket. The phone Scarangello had given me. I hauled it out and checked the screen. Blocked, it said. I pressed the green button and said, ‘Yes?’

It was Scarangello. She said, ‘Are you alone?’

I said, ‘No.’

‘Are we being overheard?’

‘By three separate governments, probably.’

‘Not on this phone,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry about that.’

‘What can I do for you?’

‘I just heard from O’Day. The chromatograph tests are in on the fragments you brought back from Arkansas.’

‘And?’

‘They’re not the same bullets. Not armour piercing. They were match grade. Cast and machined for improved accuracy.’

‘American made?’

‘Unfortunately.’

‘Those things are six bucks each. Is O’Day following the money?’

‘The FBI is on it. But this is good, right? Overall?’

‘Could be worse,’ I said, and she clicked off, and I put the phone back in my pocket.

Khenkin asked me, ‘What’s American made and six bucks each?’

I said, ‘That sounds like the start of a joke.’

‘What’s the punchline?’

I didn’t answer, and then the same elderly waiter came by and Khenkin ordered coffee and white rolls, with butter and apricot jam. He spoke in French, again fluent but not rooted in any physical part of the world. After the waiter left again Khenkin turned back to me and said, ‘And how is General O’Day?’

I said, ‘You know him?’

‘Of him. We learned all about him. Studied him, in fact. Literally, in the classroom. He was a KGB role model.’

‘I’m not surprised. He’s doing OK. He’s the same as he ever was.’

‘I’m glad he’s back. I’m sure you are, too.’

‘Did he ever leave?’

Khenkin made a face, not yes, not no. He said, ‘We understood his star was fading. Periods of relative stability are bad for an old warhorse like him. A thing like this reminds people. There’s always a silver lining.’

Then another black Citroën nosed through the pedestrian chaos and turned into the alley. Driver in the front, passenger in the back. It stopped at the green door, and waited a beat. They’re expecting you, monsieur. The passenger climbed out. He was a solid guy, maybe forty or forty-five, a little sunburned, with cropped fair hair and a blunt, square face. He was wearing blue denim jeans, and a sweater, and a short canvas jacket. He had tan suede boots on his feet. Maybe British Army desert issue. His car drove away, and he glanced at the green door once, and then he turned away from it and scanned ahead, left, right, and he crossed rue Monsigny and came straight towards us.

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