Lethal Agent (Mitch Rapp #18)

Lethal Agent (Mitch Rapp #18)

Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Sitting alone in your basement all year can make producing a book seem like a solo effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thankfully, I’ve managed to fall in with a good crowd.

Emily Bestler and Sloan Harris were always there for Vince and they’ve been every bit as supportive of me. Lara Jones keeps me on track. Simon Lipskar and Celia Taylor Mobley keep me from getting tangled in the complex web I’ve created over the last twenty years. David Brown leaves no marketing stone unturned. Ryan Steck props me up with his enthusiasm and unparalleled knowledge of the Rappverse. My mother and wife are my first editorial stop, providing early criticism and ideas. Rod Gregg has become a recurring character—making sure I don’t make any fatal firearms errors.

Without all of you, I’d just be staring at a blank computer screen . . .





AUTHOR’S NOTE


In Transfer of Power, Vince wrote that he intentionally omitted details relating to the White House and Secret Service. I find myself in a similar position with Lethal Agent.

Because of the sensitivity of border security at the time of writing, I’ve kept the details of crossings vague. Further, I either omitted or obscured the details of anthrax production.





PRELUDE


NORTHERN IRAQ

THE cave was more than ten meters square, illuminated with a handful of battery-powered work lights. The glare and heat from them was centered on two rows of men kneeling on colorful cushions. Armed guards lurked near the jagged walls, barely visible in the shadows.

Mullah Sayid Halabi sat cross-legged, gazing down from a natural stone platform. Most of the men lined up in front of him were in their middle years—former junior officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army. Their commanders had been either captured or killed over the years, but these simpler soldiers were in many ways more useful. Their superiors had left the details of war to them while they focused on the much more critical activity of currying favor with Hussein.

The prior leader of ISIS had recruited these men in an effort to turn his motivated but undisciplined forces into an army capable of holding and administering territory. After his death in a drone strike, Halabi had taken over the organization with a much more ambitious goal: building a military capacity that could stand against even the Americans. Unfortunately, it was proving to be an infuriating, slow, and expensive process.

His men, generally prone to bickering and loud displays of fealty, had fallen silent in order to contemplate the rhythm of approaching footsteps. Halabi did the same, turning his attention to an inky black tunnel in the wall facing him. A few moments later, Aali Nassar appeared.

His expensive clothing was torn and covered in the dust that made up this part of Iraq. His physical suffering was admirably absent from his expression but evident in both his posture and the broken section of collarbone pressing against the luxurious cotton of his shirt.

Only hours ago, he had been the highly respected and greatly feared director of Saudi intelligence. A man who had never failed to prove himself—first in the Saudi Special Forces and then during his meteoric rise through the ranks of his country’s intelligence apparatus. He had the ear of the king, a devoted family, and a lifestyle marked by privilege and power.

But now all that was gone. His plot to overthrow the Saudi royalty had been discovered and he’d been forced to flee the country. The great Aali Nassar was now alone, injured, and standing in a cave with nothing more than the clothes on his back and the contents of his pockets. It was the latter that he hoped to exchange for protection and a position in the ISIS hierarchy.

“Welcome, Aali,” Halabi said finally. “I trust your journey wasn’t too uncomfortable.”

“Not at all,” he said, revealing only a hint of the pain that speaking caused him.

“I understand that you have something for me?”

The thumb drive Nassar was carrying had been discovered when he’d been searched for tracking devices in Mecca. He’d been allowed to keep it and now retrieved it from his pocket. When he stepped forward to hand it to Halabi, the men at the edges of the cave stirred.

“Don’t give it to me.” The ISIS leader pointed at a man to Nassar’s right. “Give it to him.”

He did as he was told and the man slipped the drive into a laptop.

“It’s asking for a password.”

“Of course it is,” Halabi said. “But I suspect that Director Nassar will be reluctant to give us that password.”

Prior to his escape from Saudi Arabia, Nassar had downloaded an enormous amount of information on that country’s security operations, government officials, and clandestine financial dealings.

“The intelligence and bank account information on that drive are yours,” Nassar said.

Halabi smiled. “A meaningless response. Perhaps politics was your true calling.”

“Perhaps.”

“Can we break his encryption?” Halabi asked.

His very capable technological advisor shook his head. “Unlikely. Torturing him for it would have a higher probability of success.”

“I wonder,” Halabi said thoughtfully. “It seems likely that there’s a password that would put the information forever out of our reach. Isn’t that so, Aali?”

“It is.”

Halabi rubbed his palms together in front of his face. “The money that drive gives us access to will quickly slip through our fingers and the intelligence will just as quickly become dated. Is it the information it contains that’s valuable or is it the cunning and experience of the man who brought it here?”

The question was clearly rhetorical, but one Halabi’s people answered anyway. “Do those qualities make him valuable or do they make him dangerous? He’s betrayed his king and country. Why? For the cause? For Allah? Or is it for personal gain? Can he be trusted, Mullah Halabi? Is he here to assist you or is he here to replace you?”

“I had power,” Nassar responded. “I had wealth. I had the respect of the king and the Americans. But I jeopardized it all. I—”

“The king is old and weak,” the man interrupted. “You feared the collapse of the kingdom and were playing both sides. The Americans discovered your treachery and now you’ve had to run.”

Nassar fell silent for a moment before speaking again.

“They discovered my allegiance to Mullah Halabi, yes. Regrettable, because while I can be of great assistance to you from here, I would have been much more effective at the king’s side. The effort that went into gaining his confidence isn’t something that I’d expect a simple soldier to understand.”

The man stiffened at the insult, but Nassar continued. “I’ve worked closely with the Americans on their homeland security protocols and preventing terrorist attacks on their soil. It’s given me an intimate knowledge of their borders and immigration policy, their power grid and nuclear plants. Even their water supply. If we strike surgically, we can turn the tide of the war. We can make the Americans lash out against all Muslims and turn your thirty thousand soldiers into a billion.”

Halabi stared down at Nassar, who averted his eyes in an obviously insincere gesture of fealty.

Then his forehead exploded outward.

In the split second of stillness that followed, Halabi saw a bearded face flicker into view at the tunnel entrance. It was the face of the devil that had been burned so indelibly onto his mind and soul. The face of Mitch Rapp.

And then everything was in motion. Members of Halabi’s guard charged toward him while others fired into the tunnel. Three of his men began dragging him toward a small opening at the back of the cavern as the roar of gunfire and acrid stench of gunpowder became overwhelming.

A blinding flash preceded the sensation of shrapnel tearing through his lower leg. The man behind him took the brunt of the blast, slamming into Halabi from behind and driving him to the ground. The lights were immediately extinguished and debris began cascading from the ceiling. The men with him were either dead or unconscious, and Halabi struggled to get out from beneath the weight of the one sprawled across his back.

As he did so, the extent of his injuries became clear. His right arm was useless and completely numb. His left leg felt as though it was on fire and a dagger-like pain in his side made it difficult to breathe. The warm, wet sensation of flowing blood seemed to cover nearly his entire body, but it was impossible to know if it was his or that of his men.

A few muffled shouts became audible but were quickly drowned out by a collapse somewhere not far from him. A rush of air washed over him, filling the cavern with a choking cloud of dust and pulverized rock. He buried his face in his blood-soaked tunic and fought to stay conscious.

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