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Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(21)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(21)
Author: Lee Child

‘Père Lachaise,’ Scarangello said. ‘Chopin is buried here. And Molière.’

‘And Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison,’ I said. ‘From the Doors.’

‘We don’t have time for tourism.’

‘Won’t take long,’ I said.

The driver parked at the gate and I got out. Scarangello came with me. There was a wooden booth that sold maps to all the famous graves. Like Hollywood, with the stars’ homes. We walked in, on a wide gritty path, and turned left and right past elaborate mausoleums and white marble headstones. I navigated by memory, from a sullen grey winter morning many years previously. I walked slow, pausing occasionally, checking, until I found the right place, which was now a strip of lawn, green with new spring grass, studded with headstones, broad and low. I found the right one. It was pale, and barely weathered at all, with two lines of inscription still crisp and precise: Joséphine Moutier Reacher, 1930–1990. A life, sixty years long. I had arrived exactly halfway through it. I stood there, hands by my side, with another man’s blood and brains on my jacket.

‘Family?’ Scarangello asked.

‘My mother,’ I said.

‘Why is she buried here?’

‘Born in Paris, died in Paris.’

‘Is that how you know the city so well?’

I nodded. ‘We came here from time to time. And then she lived here after my father died. On the Avenue Rapp. The other side of Les Invalides. I visited when I could.’

Scarangello nodded and went quiet for a spell, maybe out of respect. She stood next to me, shoulder to shoulder. She asked, ‘What was she like?’

I said, ‘Petite, dark-haired but blue-eyed, very feminine, very obstinate. But generally happy. She made the best of things. She would walk into some dumpy Marine quarters somewhere and laugh and smile and say, ’Ome sweet ’ome. She couldn’t say the letter H because of her accent.’

Scarangello said, ‘Sixty is not very old. I’m sorry.’

‘We get what we get,’ I said. ‘She didn’t complain.’

‘What was it?’

‘Lung cancer. She smoked a lot. She was French.’

‘This is Père Lachaise.’

‘I know.’

‘I mean, not everyone gets buried here.’

‘Obviously,’ I said. ‘It would get pretty crowded.’

‘I mean, it’s like an honour.’

‘War service.’

Scarangello looked at the headstone again. ‘Which war?’

‘World War Two.’

‘She was fifteen when it ended.’

‘They were desperate times.’

‘What did she do?’

‘Resistance work. Allied airmen shot down in Holland or Belgium were funnelled south through Paris. There was a network. Her part was to escort them from one railroad station to the next, and send them on their way.’

‘When?’

‘Most of 1943. Eighty trips, they say.’

‘She was thirteen years old.’

‘Desperate times,’ I said again. ‘A schoolgirl was good cover. She was trained to say the airmen were her uncles or brothers, visiting from out of town. Generally they were disguised like peasants or clerks.’

‘She was risking her life. And her family’s life.’

‘Every day. But she took care of business.’

Scarangello said, ‘This information wasn’t in your file.’

‘No one knew. She didn’t talk about it. I’m not even sure my father knew. After she died we found a medal. Then an old guy came to the funeral and told us the story. He was her handler. I assume he’s dead now, too. I haven’t been back since we buried her. This is the first time I’ve seen the stone. I guess my brother organized it.’

‘He chose well.’

I nodded. A modest memorial, for a modest woman. I closed my eyes and remembered the last time I had seen her alive. Breakfast, with her two grown sons, in her apartment on the Avenue Rapp. The Berlin Wall was coming down. She was very sick by that point, but had summoned the will to dress well and act normal. We drank coffee and ate croissants. Or at least my brother and I did, while she hid her lack of appetite behind talking. She chattered about all kinds of things, people we had known, places we had been, things that had happened there. Then she had gone quiet for a spell, and then she had given us a pair of final messages, which were the same messages she had always given us. Like a motherly ritual. She had done it a thousand times. She had struggled up out of her chair and stepped over and put her hands on my brother Joe’s shoulders, from behind, which was all part of the choreography, and she had bent and kissed his cheek from the side, like she always did, and she had asked him, ‘What don’t you need to do, Joe?’

Joe hadn’t answered, because our silence was part of the ritual. She had said, ‘You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems. Only some of them. There are enough to go around.’

She had kissed him again, and then she had struggled around behind me, and kissed my cheek in turn, and measured the width of my shoulders with her small hands, and felt the hard muscles, as always, still fascinated by the way her tiny newborn had grown so big, and even though I was close to thirty by then she had said, ‘You’ve got the strength of two normal boys. What are you going to do with it?’

I hadn’t replied. Our silence was part of the ritual. She answered for me. She said, ‘You’re going to do the right thing.’

And I had tried, mostly, which had sometimes caused me trouble, and sometimes won me medals of my own. As a small tribute I had buried my Silver Star with her. It was right there under my feet, right then, in the Paris dirt, six feet down. I imagined the ribbon was all rotted away, but I guessed the metal was still bright.

I opened my eyes, and I stepped back, and I looked at Scarangello, and I said, ‘OK, we can go now.’

NINETEEN

THE AIRPLANE CABIN was warm, so out of deference to Scarangello’s injured sensibilities I took off my ruined jacket and folded it inside out and dumped it on an unoccupied chair. We were out of French airspace after forty minutes, and then we crossed Great Britain diagonally, eight miles high, and then we started on the long haul over the far North Atlantic. A Great Circle route. We ate stuff the crew had picked up at Le Bourget, and then we stretched out in reclined chairs, on opposite sides of the aisle, head to toe, close, but not too close.

I asked her, ‘Who exactly was the guy in the suit?’

She said, ‘DGSE’s head of counterterrorism.’

‘Was the Vietnamese kid his? With the AK-47?’

‘His?’

‘Was he another patsy? For the newspapers?’

‘No, he was for real. Still there, at an attic window.’

I said nothing.

She said, ‘What?’

‘You don’t want me to tell you anything.’

‘Is this something O’Day will figure out?’

‘I’m sure he already has.’

‘Then you can give me the deep background.’

‘What do you remember about the Soviets?’

‘Lots of things.’

I said, ‘Above all they were realistic, especially about human nature, and the quality of their own personnel. They had a very big army, which meant their average grunt was lazy, incompetent, and not blessed with any kind of discernible talent. They understood that, and they knew there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. So instead of trying to train their people upward towards the standard of available modern weaponry, they designed their available modern weaponry downward towards the standard of their people. Which was a truly radical approach.’

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