Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(22)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(22)
Author: Lee Child


‘Hence the AK-47. For instance, one example, what does a panicky grunt do under fire? He grabs his rifle and hits the fire selector and pulls the trigger. Our guns go from safe to single shot to full auto, which is nice and linear and logical, but they knew that would mean ninety-nine times in a hundred their guys would panic and ram the selector all the way home, and thereby fire off a whole magazine on the first hasty and unaimed shot. Which would leave them with an empty weapon right at the start of a firefight. Which is not helpful. So the AK selector goes safe, then full auto, then single shot. Not linear, not logical, but certainly practical. Single shot is a kind of default setting, and full auto is a deliberate choice.’


‘And they knew the rifle wouldn’t get any kind of care or maintenance in the field, so they made it reliable under practically any circumstances. When the trigger is pulled, the weapon will fire. We saw AK-47s that had been buried in the ground for years, with the woodwork all eaten away by insects, and they still worked just fine.’


‘And they knew their average grunt couldn’t hit anything further than a couple hundred feet anyway. Probably couldn’t see further than a couple hundred feet. So why spend money on accuracy? The AK-47 is reliable first, second, and third, and accurate nowhere. It’s a close-quarters weapon. Practically like a handgun. Across the street, or a city block, or one riverbank to the other.’

‘You saying it couldn’t have made the shot?’

‘Not a hope in hell. You could give Kott or Carson or Datsev the best AK-47 ever made, and they’d be useless beyond about four hundred yards. But the shot that killed Khenkin was about sixteen hundred. Four times as long. They wouldn’t even have hit the right building. Plus, the round is puny. It would have barely gotten there at all. They’d have had to launch it upward about thirty degrees, like dropping a big fat curveball over the plate. Up and down, like a ballistic missile. Which is an impossible shot. And even if they had made it, the bullet would have arrived with so little energy you could have swatted it aside with a ping-pong paddle. It would have bounced off Khenkin’s hair gel. But it didn’t. It blew his head right off his shoulders.’


‘It wasn’t any twenty-year-old Vietnamese kid with an AK-47.’

‘Then why was he there?’

‘I’m guessing he was a part of a package deal. Kott or Carson or Datsev or whoever hired some local support. Which in Paris might well be Vietnamese. There’s a big community. I’m sure most of them are on the up and up, driving taxis or whatever, working hard, but equally I’m sure some of them are gangbangers. They put maybe ten or a dozen on the street, as a rolling cordon around the guy, to protect the escape. No doubt the old man who stopped me was one of them. He was running interference. And they put the kid in the attic, as a decoy. They’re blooding him. He’s making his bones. Get arrested, stay quiet, hang in there, and he’s a made man. I bet there was no firing pin in his gun. Just so they can be sure of getting him off on the technicality.’

Scarangello was quiet for a spell, and then she said, ‘It has to be Datsev, right? What would Kott or Carson have against Khenkin?’

I said, ‘I’m sure O’Day has all kinds of theories about that.’

But it turned out the Socratic method had its limitations. O’Day and Shoemaker and Nice had gone through plenty of back and forth, but had elicited no truths implicitly known by all rational beings. They had collected detailed briefings from Paris, and Moscow, and London, and diagrams, and photographs, and video and after-action reports, and they had been through the data many times over, but they had reached no conclusions. They were waiting to see what I had to say.

We landed at Pope Field in the late afternoon, less than a day after we left it, having gained back the six hours we lost on the way out. Scarangello wanted to shower before we all sat down and got into it, which seemed reasonable, so O’Day gave us thirty minutes, which I spent in the shower too, first rinsing Khenkin off my coat, which was easy enough, because the fabric was waterproof, so the gunk sluiced right off. I kept it going until the remaining beads of water showed up clean, and then I patted it dry with a towel. Then I hosed myself down, and used the shampoo, and used the soap, and then dressed again fast enough to hit the buffet room before the conference started. There wasn’t much on the tables, but at least there was coffee, so I took a cup and headed upstairs.

O’Day was in his customary spot, and Shoemaker was right there next to him. Casey Nice greeted me with her smile, and I sat down, and Scarangello came in after me, glowing from the hot water, hair still wet, in another black skirt suit.

O’Day said, ‘First let’s dispose of the Vietnamese.’

I said, ‘There’s a first time for everything.’

He didn’t smile. I guessed he had looked only about eighty years old during that ancient conflict, and had been in charge of some of the strategy, possibly, and was therefore still a little sensitive about it. Casey Nice filled the awkward silence. She said, ‘We’re assuming the rifleman or his paymasters hired a local criminal element for local support. Or as a way of getting permission to operate on their turf. Or both.’

‘Likely,’ I said. ‘Unless the paymasters are the Vietnamese. Maybe it’s a government thing. Maybe they’re going to invade Russia.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Not very,’ I said. ‘I agree with you. It was local support.’

‘In which case as a matter of pride and discipline they won’t spill anything meaningful. Which leaves us with absolutely nothing except our own interpretation of a very confusing and incomplete scenario.’

‘Nothing incomplete about it. Not from Khenkin’s point of view, anyway.’

‘We think he travelled to Paris anxious to convince us and the Brits that Datsev wasn’t involved. Do you agree?’

I nodded. ‘He said it was beneath Datsev to audition.’

‘And the DGSE tells us Khenkin seemed obsessed with showing the shot was going to miss. Which it was, apparently. Left and a little low. Moscow says Datsev never misses. And left and a little low happens to be Kott’s signature from Arkansas. With those paper targets we saw.’

I said, ‘It wasn’t Kott on that apartment balcony.’

O’Day looked up. ‘And you know this how?’

‘The DGSE lady figured the shooter was seated behind a planter. But Kott trained for a year lying down prone. It’s like sleeping. Everyone has a natural position. And sitting behind a planter isn’t Kott’s.’

O’Day nodded.

He said, ‘Good to know.’

Casey Nice said, ‘But Khenkin couldn’t have known that. All he could have claimed is that Datsev wouldn’t have missed. So he was a happy camper, until he got shot. Which is where it gets confusing. As in, it wasn’t Datsev, and then suddenly it was. Because there was history between Datsev and Khenkin, and presumably no history between either Kott or Carson and Khenkin.’

I said, ‘Stand up.’

She said, ‘What?’

‘Stand up and take off your shoe.’


‘Just do it.’

She did it. She stood up, and she said, ‘Which shoe?’

‘Either one,’ I said. I stood up too. She bent and slipped off her left shoe. I crossed the room to the door. Like every other door in the place it was a painted wood rectangle about six feet six inches high and two feet six inches wide. I said, ‘Suppose this was a glass panel. Suppose you knew it was pretty tough. Suppose I gave you one chance to shatter it with the heel of your shoe. A good solid blow. Show me where you would hit it.’

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