Home > Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(28)

Personal (Jack Reacher #19)(28)
Author: Lee Child

‘We can’t both be the fastest.’

‘I agree,’ I said again. ‘I might slip into second place. In which case someone is going to start shooting at me with a rifle. So you better stay seven feet away.’

‘Suppose I’m in second place and they start shooting at me?’

‘Same thing. Seven feet away. At least I’ll get a sporting chance.’

The Atlanta airport was so big we had to catch a cab from the General Aviation offices to the passenger terminals. Casey Nice checked in at a thing that looked like an ATM, but I went to the desk instead, where a glance at my new passport got me a boarding pass made of old-fashioned pasteboard. We were in premium coach, which struck me as an oxymoron. Nice said it meant extra leg room. She explained a long and complicated algorithm by which the government saved taxpayer money. Everyone started out in regular coach, unless and until there were compelling reasons why not. The only box we checked was that we were expected to start work immediately after disembarkation. Which got us the leg room.

Which turned out to be not very much. We went through security, shoeless and coatless and with empty pockets, and then we wandered through what looked like a shopping mall to the gate area, via a coffee cart for me and a juice bar for her. She had a small suitcase with wheels, and a thing about halfway between a handbag and a shopping bag. She fit in better than I did, as a regular citizen. We sat on thinly padded chairs and waited, and then eventually we got on the plane, after the rows with the regular leg room had all filled up first. Our seats were the usual kind of thing, and the extra space in front of them was clearly going to work for her, but not for me. If I jammed the bony structure in the small of my back hard against the seat, then I could bend my knees a little more than ninety degrees, but that was about as good as it got.

The pilot said the flight time was going to be six hours and forty minutes.

Two hours later we had eaten and drunk, and the cabin staff turned up the heat so we would all fall asleep and leave them alone. Coshing, I had heard them call it, in conversations among themselves. But it was fine with me. I had slept in worse positions. My headrest had little wings that moved, so I clamped my head like I was wearing a medical device, and I closed my eyes.

Casey Nice said, ‘I take the pills because I get anxious.’

I opened my eyes.

I said, ‘Do they work?’

‘Yes, they do.’

‘How many do you have left?’


‘You had seven last night, at dinner.’

‘You counted?’

‘Not really. I noticed, is all. It’s a description. They were yellow, they were small, they were in your pocket, there were seven of them.’

‘I took one last night and one this morning.’

‘Because you were anxious?’


‘What were you anxious about?’

‘Mastering the brief, and executing the mission.’

‘Are you anxious now?’


‘Because of this morning’s pill?’

‘It already wore off. But I feel OK.’

‘That’s good,’ I said. ‘Because this is the easy part.’

‘I know.’

‘Doesn’t Tony Moon’s doctor worry about him never getting better?’

‘People take these things for years. All their lives, some of them.’

‘Is that what you’re going to do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What else makes you anxious?’

She didn’t answer at first. Then she said, ‘The stakes, I guess. Just the stakes. They’re so high. We can’t let it happen again.’

‘Can’t let what happen again?’

‘September eleventh.’

‘How old were you, anyway?’

‘Formative years.’

‘Is that when you decided to join the CIA?’

‘I knew I wanted to do something. The decision was made for me, in the end. I was recruited out of college.’

‘Where did you go?’


I nodded inside my medical brace. Yale was pretty much a CIA kindergarten. Like Cambridge University in England, for MI6. All a terrorist needed to do was work his way through the alumni rolls. Or bomb a reunion dinner. I said, ‘You must be smart, to have gotten into Yale.’

She didn’t answer.

I said, ‘Do you work hard?’

She said, ‘I try my best.’

‘Do you pay attention?’


‘And you paid twenty-two bucks for vehicular transportation.’

‘What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘It means you’re just a little bit unconventional. Which is the fourth of the four things you need to be. All of which you are. Which is all we’ll ever need. Smart people, working hard, paying attention, thinking laterally.’

‘We had those on September tenth.’

‘No, we didn’t,’ I said. ‘We really didn’t. Like we didn’t have much of an army in 1941. It had been a long time since we had needed one. We had out-of-date people doing out-of-date things. But we got better real quick. Just like you did. It’s not going to happen again.’

‘You can’t say that.’

‘I just did.’

‘You can’t know it.’

‘It’s not worth taking a pill for. Just work hard, pay attention, and keep on thinking. That’s all you can do. And it’s not just you, anyway. There are thousands of you, just as good, working just as hard, paying just as much attention.’

‘We could still fail.’

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘At least for a couple of weeks. This thing isn’t September eleventh. I know Scarangello is full of doom and gloom, but suppose she’s wrong? Some politician gets whacked, exactly half his country will be throwing a street party. They’ll be buying beer and flags. Could spark an economic miracle.’

‘I’m sure that possibility was investigated. But I think Deputy Deputy Scarangello’s position represents the majority view.’

‘Is that what you call her?’

‘That’s what she is.’

I asked, ‘Is your gun waiting at the hotel?’

She said, ‘What hotel?’

‘Where we’re staying. Or do you pick it up someplace else?’

‘There is no gun. I’m unacknowledged. The government can’t arm me. You either.’

‘So what are we supposed to do?’

She said, ‘Standard procedure would be to supply ourselves locally, by foraging.’

I forced my head left and right, to push back the wings on my headrest. I said, ‘Which might be easy enough to do, because presumably the Romford Boys are being vigilant, on behalf of Kott and Carson, and sooner or later we’re going to touch their outer cordon, like tweaking the edge of a spider’s web, and presumably the outer cordon is armed, which means we’re about to be, because we’re going to take the guy’s weapon away.’

‘I think that’s one possibility they would want us to consider. Plus General Shoemaker thinks contact with Romford’s outer cordon is a good tactic in its own right. In the form of an invented approach on a business matter, he suggested. If we get past one layer, we can triangulate against the second layer and get a sense of where the centre is. Where Kott and Carson are, in other words.’

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