even though he was small to start with.
Then O’Day read out the prison discharge report.
Kott’s heritage was rooted in Czechoslovakia or Arkansas or probably both, but he had mapped his fifteen years of jail time like a mystical sage from the East. He had taken up yoga and meditation. He had worked out very lightly, once a day, to maintain core strength and flexibility, and he had been still for many hours, hardly breathing, all the time with a blank, thousand-yard stare he said he needed to practise.
O’Day said, ‘I asked around. The girls who work here, mostly. They say Kott’s type of yoga is all about stillness and relaxed power. You fade, and fade, and fade, and then bang, you go to the next position. The same with the meditation. Empty your mind. Visualize your success.’
‘You saying he got out of prison better than he went in?’
‘He worked hard for fifteen years. In a very single-minded manner. And after all, a gun is just a metal tool. Success is all about the mind and the body.’
‘How would he get to Paris? Does he have a passport?’
‘Think about the factions. Think about their spending power. A passport is the least of their problems.’
‘Last time I saw him, he was signing the paper. Over sixteen years ago, apparently. I don’t see how I can help you now.’
‘We have to cover all the bases.’
‘Which base could I possibly cover?’
‘You caught him once,’ O’Day said. ‘If needs be, you can catch him again.’
SHOEMAKER GOT INVOLVED at that point, as if the overview was completed, and it was time for the details. A lot hinged on the motive for the attack. Certain factions would never hire an Israeli, which would decrease the odds to one in three, except that apparently the Israeli looked kind of Irish and had a neutral code name. Maybe the factions didn’t know. Which would confuse the issue. But in the end the quest for motive had been abandoned. The State Department’s list of people mad at the French was long. Therefore all four suspects were being treated equally. No profiling was allowed.
I turned to Casey Nice and said, ‘This is still bullshit.’
Once again she said, ‘What part?’
‘Same part. This is way too much. You wouldn’t piss on the French if they were on fire. Yet here you are. You’re reacting like this was Pearl Harbor. Why? What is France going to do to you? Stop sending cheese?’
‘We can’t be seen to drag our feet.’
‘You can’t be seen at all. You’re moving from place to place and hiding behind phoney signs. Which is good. No watcher out of any embassy is going to figure out who you are or what you’re doing. Not even the French Embassy. They can’t know if you’re helping or not. So why bother?’
‘It’s a matter of reputation.’
‘There’s a one-in-four chance a convicted American felon is freelancing somewhere in the world. He wouldn’t be the first and he won’t be the last. Our reputation could stand that kind of tiny hit. Especially because the French guy is still alive. No harm, no foul.’
O’Day stirred and said, ‘We don’t make the policy rules.’
‘The last time you listened to the Congress Abraham Lincoln was in short pants.’
‘But who do I listen to?’
I said, ‘The president,’ and stopped.
O’Day said, ‘Everyone’s mad at the French, which is ultimately the same thing as no one’s mad at them. No one had a particular reason to shoot the guy. Not this year. Not more than usual. Therefore right now the smart money says this was an audition. Our boy was making his bones, ahead of a bigger proposition. Which would be who? No one knows, but they’re all betting it’s them. And why wouldn’t they? They’re all the most important person in the world. They’ve got an EU meeting coming up, all the heads of government, and then there’s the G8 and the G20. That’s twenty world leaders right there. Including ours. All posing for a group photograph. Standing still and smiling. On the steps of a public building, probably. They don’t want a guy on the loose who can shoot more than three-quarters of a mile.’
‘So this is politicians covering their ass?’
‘Literally. All over the world.’
‘Including our guy?’
‘Doesn’t matter what he thinks personally. The Secret Service is freaking out enough for both of them.’
‘Hence a private jet for me.’
‘Money no object.’
‘But not just me, right? Please tell me you’re not relying on one guy here.’
O’Day said, ‘We have all the help we need.’
I said, ‘It’s likely not Kott.’
‘It’s definitely not three of them. You want to roll the dice or do the work?’
I didn’t answer that. Shoemaker told me I would be billeted in quarters nearby, and that I was restricted to that part of the base. If questioned either officially or casually I was to say I was a civilian contractor with an expertise in pallet loading. If pressed I was to say I was working with the 47th Logistics on a problem in Turkey. Which made some kind of sense. As soon as I said Turkey, the questioners would assume missiles, and the good guys would back off, and the bad guys would be misinformed. Which in O’Day’s opinion was an outcome devoutly to be desired.
I said, ‘Who’s looking for the other three?’
O’Day said, ‘Their own people, in their own countries.’
‘Not the French in France?’
‘They assume he’s gone home to lay up.’
‘Maybe he’s an ex-pat. A Russian who lives in France. Or an Israeli, or a guy from Great Britain. In an old farmhouse, or a villa by the sea.’
‘They may not have considered that.’
‘Did Kott go to live in France?’
O’Day shook his head and said, ‘He went back to Arkansas.’
‘We put a surveillance drone over his house a couple of times in the first month. We saw nothing to worry about. Then the drone was needed elsewhere, and he went on the back burner.’
‘We got the drone back. His house is empty. No sign of life.’
Casey Nice walked me over to the quarters Shoemaker had mentioned, which turned out to be an improvised little village made up of separate prefabricated and transportable living units adapted from fifty-three-foot steel shipping containers. Eight feet high, eight feet wide, with windows and doors cut into them, and AC, and water lines and power lines all hooked up. Mine was painted sand yellow, probably shipped back from Iraq. I had lived in worse places. It was a pleasant night. Spring, in North Carolina. Too early in the year to be hot, too late to be cold. There were stars out in the sky, and ghostly wisps of cloud.
We stopped at my metal door and I said, ‘Are you in one of these things?’
Casey Nice pointed to the next row. ‘The white one,’ she said. If she was on First Street, then I was on Second. I said, ‘Is this what you signed up for?’
‘This is where the rubber meets the road,’ she said. ‘I’m happy enough.’
‘It’s likely not Kott,’ I said again. ‘Statistically when it comes to snipers the Russians produce the most and the best. And the Israelis love fifty-calibre rounds. It’s likely one of those two.’
‘But it’s the yoga that worries us. Clearly Kott had an aim in life. He was planning to get out and take up where he left off.’ Then she nodded to herself, as if her job was done, and she walked away and left me there. I opened my door and went inside.
Inside looked exactly like a fifty-three-foot shipping container, all corrugated metal, painted glossy white all around, with a living area and a kitchen and a bathroom and a bedroom all in a line. Like an old-fashioned railroad apartment. The windows had blast covers that dropped down inside to make work surfaces. There was a plywood floor. I unpacked, which consisted of taking my clip-together toothbrush from my pocket, assembling it, and propping it in a bathroom glass. I thought about taking a shower, but I never got to
it, because there was a knock at my door. I hiked back through the narrow cramped rectangle and opened up.
Another woman in a black skirt suit and dark nylons and good shoes. This one was closer to my own age. She had an air of command and seniority. Her hair was silvery black, neatly cut but not styled or coloured. Her face had been pretty once, and was handsome now. She said, ‘Mr Reacher? I’m Joan Scarangello.’
She stuck out her hand. I took it and shook it. It felt slim but strong. Plain nails, cut short and square. Clear polish. No rings. I said, ‘CIA?’
She smiled and said, ‘It’s not supposed to be that obvious.’
‘I already met State and Special Forces. I figured the third wheel would come rolling down the pike pretty soon.’
‘May I come in?’
My living area was eight feet high and eight feet wide and about thirteen feet long. Adequate for two, but only just. The furniture was bolted to the floor, a short sofa and two small chairs, all arranged in a tight little grouping. Like an RV, or maybe a design study for a new Gulfstream cabin. I sat on the sofa and Joan Scarangello sat in a chair, and we adjusted our relative angles until we were looking at each other face to face.
She said, ‘We very much appreciate your help.’
I said, ‘I haven’t done anything yet.’
‘But I’m sure you will, if necessary.’
‘Did the FBI go out of business? Isn’t finding American citizens in America normally their job?’
‘Kott might not be in America. Not currently.’
‘Then he’s your job.’
‘And we’re doing it. Which includes getting the best help we can. Anything else would be negligent. You know the man.’
‘I busted him sixteen years ago. Apart from that I know nothing about him.’
‘The EU, then the G8, and then the G20,’ she said. ‘The European Union, then the world’s eight largest economies, and then the world’s twenty largest economies. Heads of state, all in the same place at the same time. By definition all but one of them on unfamiliar turf. If one of them goes down, it’s a disaster. If more than one goes down, it’s a catastrophe. And as I believe you pointed out, the Paris shooter was ready to fire twice. And why would he stop at two? Imagine if three or four went down. We’d have paralysis. Markets would crash, and we’d be back in recession. People would starve. Wars might start. The whole world could fall apart.’
‘Maybe they should cancel their meetings.’
‘Same result. The world has to be governed. They can’t do it all by phone.’
‘They could for a month or two.’
‘But who’s going to propose that? Who’s going to blink first? Us, in front of the Russians? The Russians, in front of us? The Chinese, in front of anybody?’
‘So this is all a testosterone thing?’
Joan Scarangello said, ‘What isn’t?’
I said, ‘Speaking of governing the world, I don’t even have a phone.’
She said, ‘Would you like one?’
‘My point is, John Kott is a guy I met for one day, sixteen years ago. I have no resources, no communications, no databases, no systems, no nothing.’
‘We have all of that. We’ll give you what leads we have.’
‘And then send me out to get him?’
She didn’t answer.
I said, ‘Here’s the thing, Ms Scarangello. I know I only just got here, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. If Kott’s the guy, you want me out there blundering around because whoever is bankrolling him will want to stop me. Whatever faction, as O’Day likes to say. I’m supposed to bring them out in the open. That’s all. All I am is bait.’
She didn’t answer.
I said, ‘Or maybe you want Kott to come for me himself. He’s plenty mad at me, after all. I put him away for fifteen years. I’m sure that put a crimp in his lifetime plans. He’s probably nursing an appropriate degree of resentment. Maybe all that yoga was for me personally, not general career advancement.’
‘No one is thinking in terms of bait.’
‘Bullshit. Tom O’Day thinks of everything, and chooses the easiest and most effective.’
‘Are you scared?’
‘You know any infantrymen?’
‘This base has plenty.’
‘Talk to them. The infantry puts up with a world of shit. They live in holes in the ground, cold, wet, muddy, hungry, with incoming mortars and artillery and rockets, and bombs and gas, and air assault and missiles, and they have nothing ahead of them except barbed wire and machine-gun nests, but you know what they hate most of all?’
‘Snipers,’ she said.
‘Correct,’ I said. ‘Random death, out of nowhere, any time, any place, no notice, no warning. Every minute of every day. No relief. The stress becomes unbearable. It sends some of them mad, literally. And I can understand why. Right now I’m sitting in a little metal box and I’m already liking it more than I should.’
‘I met your brother once,’ Scarangello said.
She nodded. ‘Joe Reacher. I was a young case officer and he was with military intelligence. We worked together on a thing.’
‘And now you’re going to tell me he spoke well of me and said I was the baddest son of a bitch in the valley. You’re going to leverage a dead man.’
‘I’m sorry he died. But he did speak well of you.’
‘If Joe was here he’d tell me to run away from this thing as far and as fast as I can. There’s a clue in the title. Military, and intelligence. He knew Tom O’Day too.’
‘You don’t like O’Day, do you?’
‘I think someone should give him a medal and a bullet in the head and name a bridge after him.’
‘Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.’
‘I’m surprised he’s still in business.’
‘This kind of thing keeps him in business. Now more than ever. He’s front and centre.’
I said nothing.
Scarangello said, ‘We can’t make you stay.’
‘I owe Rick Shoemaker a favour,’ I said. ‘I’ll stick around.’
SCARANGELLO LEFT AFTER that, leaving a faint perfumed scent in the air, and I took my shower and went to bed. O’Day liked to start every morning with a conference, and I planned to be there, right after breakfast. Which I couldn’t find. The dawn light showed we were stuck in a remote corner of Pope Field, which was vast. I figured I was a mile or more from the nearest mess hall. Maybe five miles. And my movements were restricted. Walking around Fort Bragg unauthorized wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Not under the current circumstances. Not under any circumstances, really.
So I headed back to the red door and found Casey Nice in a room with a table. The table was loaded with muffins and pastries on plates, and big catering boxes of coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts, not army issue. Private catering. Reforms. Anything to save a buck.
Casey Nice said, ‘Comfortable quarters?’
I said, ‘Better than sleeping in a hollow log.’
‘Is that what you normally do?’
‘Figure of speech,’ I said.
‘But you slept well?’
‘Did you meet anyone last night?’
‘I met a woman named Joan Scarangello.’
‘Who is she exactly?’
‘A deputy to the deputy director of operations.’
Which sounded junior, but wasn’t. In CIA-speak a D-DDO was part of a tiny circle at the very top. One of the three or four most plugged-in