Lethal Agent (Mitch Rapp #18)

No.

Her quest to become president was no longer about her thirst for power or the immortality that would accompany being America’s first female president. It was about survival. She needed the full support of her party, the White House’s ability to manipulate the press, and the authority to remove Irene Kennedy and her loyalists. Once ensconced in the Oval Office she would be untouchable. Until then she was vulnerable.

An increasingly familiar sense of fury and helplessness began to rise in her. She tried to swallow it, knowing that she wouldn’t sleep at all that night if it hit full force. Six hours of staring into the darkness wasn’t something she could afford. Her day started at 5 a.m. and wouldn’t end until after midnight. During that time, she couldn’t put a single foot wrong. One ill-considered word, one awkward pause, one unguarded facial expression . . . That’s all it would take to put the White House forever out of her reach.

She sat down behind her desk and flipped on the lamp, squinting against the glare to take in the opulent room. As her eyes adjusted, they were drawn to something unusual in a rocking chair near the wall.

“Late night,” Mitch Rapp observed.

Her body tensed and she drew in a breath to scream, but it got caught in her chest. His hair was close cropped and his normally full beard was short and neatly trimmed. The dark eyes were sunken and bloodshot, but still carried the intensity she’d grown to hate over the years. For some reason, though, it wasn’t his stare that made the bile rise in her throat. It was the surgical gloves covering his hands.

She swallowed and finally managed to get out a panicked shout. “Help! Come up here now!”

The pounding footsteps of Secret Service agents on the stairs didn’t materialize. All she could hear was her own breathing and the creak of the antique chair Rapp was rocking in.

“I didn’t slip by them,” he said. “They let me in.”

Barnett remained frozen. This couldn’t be happening. Even Mitch Rapp wouldn’t dare. He wouldn’t kill one of the front-runners in the U.S. presidential election.

“What do you want?” she heard herself say. “The directorship of the CIA? Homeland Security?”

He just rocked.

“Secretary of defense? Just tell me.”

“I know you leaked the anthrax story that almost got me killed.”

“That’s not true! Who told you that?”

There was no way Rapp had proof. Even if Gray had talked, it would just be his word against hers. The laptop he’d used was brand-new and was now in pieces at the bottom of a landfill. The open-source operating system it ran had been confirmed secure by her husband’s top people—some of whom he’d hired away from the NSA.

“There’ve been a lot of leaks over the years,” Rapp continued. “And it’s been hard not to notice that quite a few have helped you and hurt your opponents.”

“Those have all been investigated and no one has ever even suggested that I was involved,” Barnett said, starting to overcome her initial shock. She had to think clearly. Her life might depend on it.

Rapp smiled, but in a way that was so devoid of humor that it came off as more of a baring of teeth. Barnett went motionless as though she were faced with wild animal.

“You had us going for a while,” Rapp admitted. “The NSA threw everything at those leaks and no one could trace them.”

“Getting to the bottom of this will be one of my administration’s top priorities,” Barnett said. “There’s nothing more important than the safety of this country and the men and women who ensure that safety.”

This time his smile was even wider, causing Barnett to silently curse herself. She’d been a politician so long that she couldn’t shut it off. The platitudes that were so popular with her millions of followers would be a joke to someone like Rapp.

“Do you want to know where you went wrong, Senator?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Kevin Gray. Brilliant guy, but a creature of habit. He always gets those new laptops at the same place. The Best Buy a few miles from his house. For the last two years, he’s been buying ones custom built by us.”

Barnett’s mind began to spin as she tried to make the calculations she was famous for. How many leaks had she ordered over that time frame? How many had been carried out by Gray? Why hadn’t Kennedy released this information long ago? Was it possible that Rapp was bluffing? Or had Kennedy been squirreling away the evidence to be used if Barnett ever reached the White House?

“I don’t believe it,” she said. “I don’t believe Kevin would do that.”

The only plausible way out was to shift the blame. To assert that Gray had acted alone. He already had the reputation as one of the most ruthless and ambitious campaign strategists in Washington. She could use that to create a portrait of a man who would do anything to win.

“If you provide my committee the evidence you have against him, we’ll give it a full, bipartisan vetting. And if we find out he’s leaked classified information, I’ll be the first one to recommend prosecution.”

Rapp reached into his jacket and Barnett’s bladder almost let go. When his hand reappeared, though, it wasn’t holding the infamous Glock, but instead a mobile phone.

“Like I said, a brilliant guy,” he said, tapping the screen. “Brilliant enough to know you’d throw him under the bus.”

“Ma’am, Rapp’s dead and—” she heard Gray’s recorded voice say over the phone’s speaker.

“He’s not dead! That son of a bitch has more lives than an alley cat. He’s alive and they’re not telling us. That means he’s out there, still working on this operation. Waiting.”

“Waiting? Waiting for what?”

“For me to win the primary. Then, at just the right moment, he’s going to reappear and save the day. Alexander and Kennedy will be heroes and I’ll be standing there looking like a fool.”

“Senator, the idea that Mitch Rapp is involving himself in some kind of complex political game is—”

“He sees me as a threat. Just like Kennedy. They’re going to use this to come after me. We have to find out what’s happening in Mexico. We have to get ahead of it.”

“We have no way of finding out what’s happening. No one’s going to tell us anything, and if we try to twist arms at the intelligence agencies, it’s going to go public and blow up in our faces.”

“Not the American government. We can use our contacts in the Mexican government. They want us to get off their backs regarding immigrants and drugs, right? Well, as president, I can make that happen. And all I ask in return is a little cooperation and information.”

“Now hold on, Senator. If Rapp’s alive, it’s possible that he’s actually still on the trail of ISIS. We—”

“I’m not going to sit on my hands and see that son of a bitch shooting it out with terrorists on television!”

He fast-forwarded the recording.

“Call them, Kevin. Call the Mexicans. Quietly. Find out what’s going on. We can still head this off. If there really is something happening down there, we might be able to get the Mexican authorities to deal with it and keep Rapp and Kennedy from getting the win. If it works out, we might even be able to take some credit. Show the American people that I can stop threats before they make it to the United States.”

By the time Rapp turned off the recording, enough blood had drained from Barnett’s head that she had to steady herself against the desk. She wasn’t just going to lose the primary. She was going to be held up as a traitor. She was going to be marched into court in handcuffs and convicted of treason. The fear she used to keep her enemies and allies in line would disappear. For the first time in her career the blood in the water would be hers.

Rapp stood and reached into his jacket again, this time retrieving a bottle of pills that he threw to her. She caught it and looked down at the label. Painkillers backdated to a minor surgery she’d had two years ago.

“That’s a present from Irene Kennedy. It’s the easy way out. For you and the country.”

He went to the door but paused with his gloved hand on the knob. “Take the gift, Senator. Because if you don’t, we’re going to do it my way.”

And then he was gone.

Barnett stared down at the bottle for a long time. Finally, she opened it and reached for a bottle of water near the desk lamp. She gagged on the first pill, terror causing her throat to constrict. After that, it was easy.