About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Scott Coleman turned away from the color monitor and glanced right. The panel van seemed almost like a toy by American standards, barely large enough to get him and his surveillance gear in the back. Even tighter was the front seat, where Joe Maslick’s two-hundred-and-twenty-pound frame was wedged behind the wheel. Raindrops were collecting on the windshield, blurring ancient row houses and a street narrow enough that passing required having two wheels on the sidewalk.
After days on the move in a city where good driving etiquette meant clipping fewer than three people a week, they’d resigned themselves to the impossibility of staying with a pedestrian target. Since then, they’d been bouncing from illegal parking space to illegal parking space trying to maximize their surveillance camera’s signal strength. No small feat in a city constructed almost entirely of stone.
“How you doing up there, Joe?”
It was a lie, of course. But it was the expected lie.
In fact, the former Delta soldier had recently been shot in a Kabul ambush that had left twenty-one Afghan cops dead, put Mitch Rapp way too close to an explosion of his own making, and forced an agonizing alliance with Louis Gould, the assassin who had killed Rapp’s family.
Maslick should have been at home rehabbing his shoulder, but he’d insisted on being included on this op. It was a tough call, but Coleman had decided to bring him along. The docs were concerned about permanent nerve damage, but sometimes it was better to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. Before doubt started to creep in.
“Glad to hear you’re having such a good time. Right now our feed looks solid, moving north on a pretty open street. We should be able to stay here for a little while, but be ready to move.”
Maslick’s one-word answers had nothing to do with what must have been the considerable pain in his shoulder. He’d always resisted stringing more than two or three together unless it was absolutely necessary.
Coleman refocused his attention on the screen secured to the side of the van. The image rocked wildly as the purse the camera was hidden in swung from its owner’s hand. Sky. A feral cat lounging on a Dumpster. Thick ankles overflowing a pair of sensible shoes.
The legs and Hush Puppies belonged to Bebe Kincaid, a plump, grey-haired woman who was the most unlikely employee of his company, SEAL Demolition and Salvage. She’d spent much of her life as a surveillance expert at the FBI based on two considerable natural gifts. First, her bland features, formless figure, and slightly bowed shuffle made her as anonymous as a fire hydrant. But more importantly, she had a photographic memory.
It was a label that was often thrown around to describe people who didn’t forget much, but Bebe was the rare real thing. In fact, it was her flawless memory that had gotten her eased into early retirement by the FBI’s psychologists. The older she got, the more she struggled to differentiate between things that had happened yesterday and things that had happened years—even decades—ago. To her, the memories were all equally vivid. Perhaps not Bureau material anymore, but Mitch Rapp had been on the phone to her before she’d even finished cleaning out her desk.
Coleman had to admit that he’d been a little irritated when a woman who reminded him of his mother showed up at his company’s purposely nondescript door to thank him not only for the job but for the generous mental health benefits. As usual, though, Rapp had been right. Bebe was worth her considerable weight in gold.
Coleman glanced at a second screen that displayed a satellite image of Istanbul with a single blue dot representing Bebe’s position. It suddenly took a hard left and started down a set of stairs toward the waterfront. “Okay, Joe. She’s turned east and we’re going to lose her. Can we close in?”
“Old lady gets around,” Maslick said, grudging respect audible beneath his irritation at having to wade back into city traffic.
Coleman smiled as they pulled away from the curb. His men were all former special forces, primarily SEALs, Delta, and Recon marines. With the right set of support hose, though, he wasn’t sure that Bebe couldn’t run them all into the ground.
He wedged a foot against his state-of-the-art electronics to keep them from shifting as the van struggled up a rain slickened hill. On the main monitor Bebe’s camera swept briefly across the man they were following. He wasn’t much to look at. Five foot eight, a slight Asian tilt to his features, and a mediocre suit pulled closed at the front against the rain. In reality, though, Vasily Zhutov was the CIA’s highest-placed mole in Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. Code-named Sitting Bull, he was among the agency’s most critical and hard-won assets.
The problem was that no one was sure if his identity was still a secret. Worse, it wasn’t just his cover that had potentially been blown: it was the cover of virtually every CIA asset recruited in the last quarter century. Teams like Coleman’s had been deployed across the globe—spread way too thin and able to do little more than make educated guesses as to who might be targeted.
And it was all because of one man: the late Joseph “Rick” Rickman.
Rickman had been stationed in Jalalabad for the last eight years and had pretty much run the CIA’s side of the war in Afghanistan. Word was that he had an IQ just north of two hundred, and based on Coleman’s interactions with the man, he had no reason to dispute that figure.
The better part of a billion dollars had flowed through Rickman’s hands over the years, funding weapons purchases and construction projects, bribing local politicians, and God knew what else. Rick had a relationship with virtually every player in the country and had an uncanny ability to track the complex forces tearing the region apart. If asked about the economic effect of the heroin trade on the insurgency, he could lecture like a Harvard PhD. Conversely, asked about some dispute between two mountain villages no one had ever heard of, he’d speak with equal authority about how it had all started with an arranged marriage a hundred and forty years ago. The only person at the Agency who could even hope to keep up with what was going on in that man’s head was Irene Kennedy, and she had too many other things on her plate to try.
Unfortunately, the house of cards Rickman had built all came crashing down last month when the man completely lost his mind. Whether it was the pressure of the job, family problems, or just the chaos and hopelessness of Afghanistan, no one knew. What they did know, though, was that Rickman had hatched a plot with Akhtar Durrani, the deputy general of Pakistan’s ISI, to betray the CIA and the people he’d fought beside for his entire career.
Rickman had killed his bodyguards and faked his own kidnapping, going so far as to release a gut-wrenching video of him being tortured by two men posing as Muslim extremists. It had been like setting off a bomb in the U.S. intelligence community. With his incredible intellect and decades of CIA ops under his belt, there was no way for anyone to know what information he was privy to and how much of it he’d give up when the hot pokers came out. Panic ensued, with countless undercover assets requesting extraction, demanding asylum at U.S. embassies, and generally drawing a lot of unwanted attention to America’s spy network.
During his faked interrogation, Rickman had blurted out a number of names, but one in particular had generated a wave of dread in Langley: Sitting Bull. Russia hadn’t been Rick’s theater of operation, and the identity of the man was one of the CIA’s most closely held secrets. Was it a red herring? Nothing more than a couple meaningless words he’d overheard and socked away in that magnificent brain of his? Or had he actually gotten hold of enough information to compromise the Russian?
It was the question Coleman was in Istanbul to answer.
Zhutov turned left into an alley, and Bebe hung back. Istanbul’s streets were generally packed with people this time of afternoon, but they were moving into a neighborhood made up of dilapidated, unoccupied houses. Based on the shaky camera feed, there were only a couple people on the street.
“Joe,” Coleman said. “Are you watching the map? He’s cutting through the alley in front of Bebe. Can we get ahead of him?”
“Maybe. Lots of traffic,” Maslick muttered, rerouting onto the sidewalk to get around a delivery truck.
“Bebe, we’re coming around,” Coleman said into a microphone clipped to his collar. “Give that alley a miss and take the one to its south. They end up on the same square.”
“One south. Roger that.”
The money was good, but Coleman was starting to wonder how much longer he could stand being stuck on a surveillance detail that was looking more and more like a waste of time. Both Rickman and Durrani were dead, which should have been the end of it. On the other hand, it didn’t pay to underestimate Rickman’s ability to plan fifteen steps ahead. Everyone at the Agency believed that there was more classified information floating around than what the world had seen on the torture video Rickman posted to the Internet. Kennedy had gone one step further, though. She was concerned that Rickman might have figured out a way to keep his vendetta against the Agency moving forward from beyond the grave. It seemed a little paranoid to Coleman, but then, he was just a soldier. Better to leave the strategizing to Kennedy and Rapp. They were good at it.
“Scott,” Bebe said over the radio. “Are you getting this?”
The swinging image that Coleman had gotten so accustomed to stabilized as Bebe aimed the purse-mounted camera toward a man wearing a leather jacket and jeans. He was lighting a cigarette and looked pretty much like the other million or so Turks his age living in the city.
“I’ve seen him before,” Bebe said. “Two days ago. By the trolley up on the shopping street. He came out of a store and followed the subject for six and a half blocks before turning off.”
Coleman cursed under his breath as the man started casually down the alley the Russian had disappeared into. Normally this was when he’d ask if she was certain, but there was no point. As far as anyone could tell, Bebe had never made a mistake with regard to a face.
“What do you think, Bebe? Any chance it could be a coincidence?”
“Million to one.”
“Okay. Continue to the next alley and let’s see if this guy trades off to someone else you recognize.”
“On it,” she said.
Coleman reached for a secure satellite phone feeling a vague sense of foreboding. Rapp was not going to be happy.
Near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, USA
The safe house was beginning to take on the feeling of a prison for Kennedy. She’d sat through too many of these post-operation debriefings to begin to count, but over her thirty-plus-year career at the CIA it was safe to say the number was in the triple digits. The pungent scent of cigarettes, too much coffee, not enough sleep, and too few workouts combined to throw off an all-too-familiar smell. For her part she got to leave. Had to, really. As director of the CIA she couldn’t simply vanish for a week straight.
She spent almost all her days locked behind the soundproof door of her seventh-floor office at Langley trying to sort out the mess that had come to be known as the Rickman Affair. And even that had raised some eyebrows. The damage was bad, as it always was with this type of thing, but the question was how bad.
Kennedy didn’t fault Rapp for killing her Near East Black Ops Chief. Getting him out of Pakistan would have proved problematic, especially after that duplicitous bastard Lieutenant General Durrani, was killed. Even so, had Rapp managed to keep Rickman alive they would have been left with a man whose twisted intellect was capable of sowing so many seeds of disinformation and dissent that the CIA would have been eating itself from the inside out by the time he was done. No, they were all better off with Rickman out of the picture. As Hurley was fond of saying, “Dead men tell no lies.”
They also offered no information, which was what Kennedy had been trying to assess during the days locked behind her door. Rapp had recovered a laptop as well as some hard drives from General Durrani’s house. They were Rickman’s, and her best people were poring over the encrypted CIA files trying to determine what assets, operatives, and agents may have been compromised. One operation, due to its current sensitivity, had her particularly worried, and there were already some signs that things might be going off the tracks, which in this case was a very appropriate metaphor.
“What are we going to do with him?”
Kennedy slowly closed the red file on the kitchen table, removed her brown glasses, and rubbed her tired eyes.
Mike Nash set a fresh cup of tea in front of her and took a seat.
“Thank you.” After a moment she added, “I’m not sure what we’re going to do with him. I’ve left it up to those two for now.”
Nash looked out the sliding glass door, where night was falling on Mitch Rapp and Stan Hurley. Kennedy had forced them to go outside to smoke. Nash couldn’t tell, but they probably were also drinking bourbon or something brown. “I don’t mean Gould. I mean I care about what we do with him, but for the moment, I’m more worried about what we’re going to do with Mitch.”
Kennedy was growing tired of this. She’d talked to their resident shrink about the tension between Nash and Rapp, and for the most part they were on the same page. Rapp was Nash’s senior by a few years, and through some pretty impressive maneuvering Rapp had been able to end Nash’s covert career. The how and why were a bit complicated, but in the end it was plainly a noble gesture. Nash had a wife and four kids, and Rapp didn’t want to see all that thrown away on a dangerous life that someone else could handle. Nash for his part felt betrayed by Rapp. Their closeness was a natural casualty as Rapp began to share fewer and fewer operational details with his friend who now spent his time at Langley and on Capitol Hill.
“I know you’re worried,” Kennedy said, but you have to stop trying to control him. Trust me, I’ve spent twenty years trying, and the best I can do is nudge him in a general direction.”
Nash frowned. “He’s going to end up just like Stan. A bitter, lonely old man who’s dying of lung cancer. Look at him . . . even now he can’t put those damn things down.”
“Don’t judge, Mike,” Kennedy said with a wary tone. “He’s been through a lot. How he chooses to go out is no one’s business other than his own.”
“But Mitch . . . it’s as plain as day. That’s the road he’s heading down.”
Kennedy thought about it for a long moment, taking a sip of tea. “We’re not all made for white picket fences and nine-to-five jobs. He most certainly isn’t.”
“No, but each time he goes out the odds are stacked against him.”
“I used to think so.” Kennedy smiled. “And then I came to a very simple conclusion . . .”
“He’s a survivor.”
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.