Lethal Agent (Mitch Rapp #18)

His driver stopped fifty meters from the first building and Halabi watched the operation through the dusty windshield.

Two men went directly for the building that their spotter confirmed was currently occupied by both Gabriel Bertrand and Otto Vogel. The other men penetrated the tiny village to carry out a plan developed by Muhammad Attia.

Each carried a battery-powered nail gun and they moved quickly through the tightly packed stone dwellings, firing nails through the wood doors and frames, sealing the people in their homes. As anticipated, the entire operation took less than four minutes. The muffled shouts of confused inhabitants started as they tried futilely to open their doors. One woman opened shutters that had been closed against the heat and was hit in the forehead by another perfectly aimed bullet. The round wasn’t audible from Halabi’s position, but the shouts of her husband and shrieks of her children penetrated the vehicle easily.

As the Frenchman and German were dragged from the lab, Halabi’s men began prying open shutters and throwing purpose-built incendiary devices into the homes and other buildings, carefully avoiding the structure that had been repurposed as a hospital. The screams of the inhabitants became deafening as they began to burn.

Halabi finally stepped from the vehicle, walking toward the village as a man followed along, filming with an elaborate high-definition camera. He focused on Halabi’s face for a moment, drawing in on the patch covering his useless left eye—a battle scar all the more dramatic for having been inflicted by the infamous Mitch Rapp. Halabi’s awkward use of a cane to help him walk, on the other hand, would be artistically obscured. While that too was a result of Rapp’s attack, it made him appear old and physically weak—things that were unacceptable in this part of the world.

Smoke billowed dramatically over him as he gazed into the flames. A woman managed to shove a crying child through a window but he was shot before he could even get to his feet. The Frenchman was blubbering similarly, lying on the ground in front of his still-intact lab while the woman and the German were pushed down next to him.

Halabi took a position next to them and his videographer crouched to frame the bound Westerners with the mullah towering over them. Halabi looked down at the helpless people at his feet and then back at the camera.

“Now I have your biological weapons experts,” he said in practiced English. “Now I have the power to use your weapons against you.”

The man with the camera seemed a bit dazed by the brutal reality of the operation, but gave a weak thumbs-up. In postproduction he would add music, terrifying stock images, and whatever else was necessary to turn the footage into a propaganda tool far more potent than any IED or suicide bomber.

A few moments later, Muhammad Attia took Halabi by the arm and helped him back to the vehicle. His driver already had the door open, but Halabi resisted being assisted inside.

“The smoke could attract the attention of the Saudis,” Attia warned. “We need to be far from this place before that happens.”

Halabi nodded as the medical people were dragged to another of the vehicles.

“Be that as it may, your men will stay.”

“Stay? Why? I don’t understand.”

“Because he’s coming, Muhammad.”

“Who?”

“Rapp.”

One of his men had survived the recent assault on the cave where Halabi had recovered from his injuries. The description of the attackers could be no one but Rapp and the former American soldiers he worked with.

“He missed you in the cave,” Attia protested. “Why would he still be in Yemen?”

“Because he doesn’t give up, Muhammad. He’s still here. I can feel him. And when he finds out I was in this village, he’ll come.”

“Even if that’s true, we can’t spare—”

“Tell your men not to kill him,” Halabi interjected. “I want him captured.”

“Captured? Why?”

Halabi didn’t answer, instead lowering himself into the Land Cruiser.

Why? It was simple. He wanted to break Rapp. Over months. Perhaps even years. He’d make the CIA man beg. Crawl. Turn him into a pet, naked and helpless in his cage, looking with fear and longing into the eyes of his master.





CHAPTER 7


THE CAPITOL COMPLEX

WASHINGTON, D.C.

SENATOR Christine Barnett continued to hold the phone to her ear but had stopped listening more than a minute ago. Instead she leaned back in her chair and gazed disinterestedly around her office. The heavy, polished wood. The photos of her with powerful people throughout the world. The awards and recognition she’d received over a lifetime of successes.

There was a pause in the dialogue, and she voiced a few practiced platitudes that set the man to talking again. He was an important donor who expected this kind of personal access, but also one of the most tedious pricks alive. He’d grown up in the shadow of World War II and was still a true believer—in America, in God, in objective truth. A doddering old fool trapped in a web of things that no longer mattered.

There was a no-nonsense knock on her door and a moment later someone more interesting entered.

Kevin Gray wore the slightly disheveled suit and overly imaginative tie that everyone in Washington had come to associate with him. He was only in his mid-thirties but still had managed to rack up a series of successes that nearly rivaled her own. A Harvard master’s degree, a brief career with a top marketing firm, and finally a splashy entry into the world of politics.

He struggled sometimes to focus, but was unquestionably a creative genius—a man who could communicate with equal facility to all demographic groups and who always seemed to know what was coming next. Every new platform, every new style of messaging, and every cultural shift seemed to settle into his mind six months before anyone else even had an inkling. That, combined with his ability to act decisively on those abstractions, had made it possible for him to get a number of ostensibly unelectable people comfortable seats in Congress.

Her campaign was completely different, of course. The comfortable seat she was looking for was in the Oval Office and, with the exception of being a woman, she was eminently electable. A number of people in her party thought she’d been insane to hire Gray—dismissing him as a bottom feeder who relied on tricks and barely ethical tactics to salvage failed campaigns.

As usual, they’d been wrong and she’d been right. With a strong candidate to work with, the Gray magic became even more powerful. She was now thirty points ahead in the primary race and had become her party’s de facto candidate for the election that was already consuming the nation.

A few of her primary opponents were staying in the race, but more to position themselves for a place in her administration than any hope they could overtake her in the polls. She would be the nominee. And based on the weakness of her likely opponent in the general election, she would become the first female president of the United States.

At least that was the opinion of the idiot pollsters and television pundits. But if she’d learned anything as a woman in the most cutthroat business in the world, it was to not take anything for granted.

Gray sat in front of her desk and crossed his legs, bouncing his loafer-clad foot in a way that she’d come to recognize as a sign of impatience. The call was winding down, but she asked an open-ended question to the man on the other end of the line to prolong it. This was her office and her campaign. Gray needed to remember that.

After another five minutes, she felt like she’d made her point and wrapped up the call. “I understand exactly what you’re talking about, Henry. It’s why I’m running for president. And it’s why I’m going to win.”

Gray held up a thumb drive before she could even get the handset back in its cradle.

“Have you seen it?”

She had no idea what he was talking about but whatever it was must have been important. Normally the first words out of Gray’s mouth when she hung up with a donor were “How much?”

“I haven’t seen anything other than the inside of this office. And I haven’t talked about anything but taxes, guns, and environmental regulations. What is it?”

“Mullah Sayid Halabi.”

“What do I care about a dead terrorist?”

A smile spread slowly across his face. “You care that he’s not actually dead.”

“What are you talking about?”

He slipped the drive into his tablet and transmitted its contents to a television hanging on the wall.

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