Lethal Agent (Mitch Rapp #18)

The night was starting to get cold when the two men led him to a block of commercial buildings that had been spared from bombing. They disappeared into a small warehouse and Rapp came to a stop, staring blankly at the stone structure. What he wanted to do was walk in there and execute every son of a bitch inside.

It would be so easy. Men like that had no real skill or training and they became accustomed to everyone being too afraid or weak to move against them. While they expected to die one day in a battle or a drone strike, the idea of one man acting against them was unfathomable. If Rapp’s experience was any indicator, they’d just sit there like a bunch of idiots while he emptied his Glock into their skulls.

A beautiful fantasy, but like the empty heroism of saving the girl, an impossible one. This was the real world—a dirty, violent place, where wins came at a high price. Even capturing and interrogating them would be of limited value. Far more useful would be figuring out how many men were in there, getting photos that the CIA might be able to connect with names, and compromising their communications.

Halabi was out there and he was going to hunt that bastard down and stick a knife in his eye socket—even if it meant he had to do the thing he hated most in life.

Wait.





CHAPTER 6


CENTRAL YEMEN

THE late afternoon sun cast virtually no shadows because there was little to create them. The terrain here consisted of nothing but blunt ridges, rocky desert soil, and a single, poorly defined road disappearing over the slope ahead. Mullah Sayid Halabi didn’t see any of it, though. Instead, he focused on the sky. The Americans were up there. As were the Saudis. Watching. Analyzing. Waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Normally he didn’t emerge during the day. His life was lived almost entirely underground now, an existence of darkness broken by dim, artificial light, and the occasional transfer beneath the stars. The risk he was running now was unacceptably high and taken for what seemed to be the most absurd reason imaginable. One of his young disciples had said that this was the time of day that the light was most attractive.

It was indeed a new era.

He was positioned in the center of a small convoy consisting of vehicles taken from the few charitable organizations still working in the country. A bulky SUV led the way and a supply truck trailed them at a distance of twenty meters, struggling with the rutted track.

The Toyota Land Cruiser he was in was the most comfortable of the three, with luxurious leather seats, air-conditioning, and the blood of its former driver painted across the dashboard.

The men crammed into the vehicles represented a significant percentage of the forces under his direct command. It was another disorienting change. He’d once led armies that had rolled across the Middle East in the modern instruments of war. His fanatical warriors had taken control of huge swaths of land, sending thousands of Western trained forces fleeing in terror. He had built the foundation of a new caliphate that had the potential to spread throughout the region.

And then he had lost it.

That defeat and his months convalescing from Mitch Rapp’s attack had left him with a great deal of time to think. About his victories. His defeats. His weaknesses as a leader and failings as a disciple of the one true God. Ironically, the words that had been the seed of his new strategy were said to have come from an agnostic Jew.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

While his current forces were limited in number, they were substantially different than those that came before. All would give their lives for him and the cause, of course. But the region was full of such fighters. What set the men with him apart was their level of education and training. All could read, write, and speak at least functional English. All were former soldiers trained by the Americans or other Westerners. And all had long, distinguished combat records.

His problems had come to parallel the ones that plagued the American military and intelligence community: finding good men and managing them effectively. The well-disciplined soldiers with him today were relatively easy to deal with—all were accustomed to the rigid command structure he’d created. The technical people spread across the globe, though, posed a different challenge. They were temperamental, fearful, and unpredictable. Unfortunately, they were also the most critical part in the machine he was building.

The lead vehicle came to a stop and Halabi rolled down his window, leaning out to read a large sign propped in a pile of rocks. It carried the Doctors Without Borders logo as well as a skull and crossbones and biohazard symbol. In the center was text in various languages explaining the existence of a severe disease in the village ahead and warning off anyone approaching. Punctuating those words was a line of large rocks blocking the road.

Muhammad Attia, his second in command, leapt from the lead vehicle and directed the removal of the improvised barrier.

It was a strangely disturbing scene. They worked with a precision that could only be described as Western. The economy of their movements, combined with their camouflage uniforms, helmets, and goggles, made them indistinguishable from the American soldiers that Halabi despised. The benefits of adopting the methods of his enemy, though, were undeniable. In less than three minutes they were moving again.

The village revealed itself fifteen minutes later, looking exactly as expected from the reconnaissance photos his team had gathered. A few people were visible moving through the spaces between stone buildings, but he was much more interested in the ones running up the road toward him. The blond woman was waving her arms in warning while the local man behind her struggled to keep up.

She stopped directly in front of their motorcade, shouting and motioning them back. When the lead car stopped, she jogged to its open side window. Halabi was surprised by the intensity of his anticipation as he watched her speak with the driver through her translator.

Of course, Halabi knew everything about her. He’d had a devoted follower call Doctors Without Borders and, in return for a sizable donation to her project, the organization’s director had been willing to answer any question he was asked. In addition, Halabi’s computer experts had gained access to her social media and email accounts, as well as a disused blog she’d once maintained.

Victoria Schaefer had spent years with the NGO, largely partnered with a German nurse named Otto Vogel. Though she was a whore who had been through multiple husbands, there was no evidence of a relationship between her and the German that went beyond friendship and mutual respect. She was ostensibly in charge of the management of the operation there, but it was the as-yet-unseen Frenchman who was the driving force behind the research being done.

Her relationship with Dr. Gabriel Bertrand was somewhat more complex. Based on intercepted messages sent to family members, she despised the man but acknowledged his genius and indispensability. Bertrand’s own Internet accounts were even more illuminating, portraying an obsessive, arrogant, and selfish man dedicated largely to the pursuit of his own ambition. He had no family he remained in regular contact with and was blandly noncommittal in his responses to correspondence sent by the various women he had relationships with in Europe.

Schaefer began stalking toward Halabi’s vehicle with her translator in tow, apparently unsatisfied by the response she was getting from the lead car.

“We speak English,” Halabi said, noting the frustration in her expression as she came alongside.

“Then what in God’s name are you doing here? Didn’t you see the sign? Why did you move the rocks we put up?”

Halabi gave a short nod and his driver fired a silenced pistol through the window. The round passed by the woman and struck her translator in the chest. He fell to the ground and she staggered back, stunned. A moment later, her instincts as a physician took over and she dropped to her knees, tearing his shirt open. When she saw the irreparable hole over his heart, she turned back toward them. Surprisingly, there was no fear in her eyes. Just hate.

Only when Halabi’s driver threw his door open did she run. Chasing her down was a trivial matter, and she was bound with the same efficiency that had been deployed to clear the rock barrier. Once she was safely in the SUV’s backseat, Halabi’s men spread out, mounting a well-ordered assault on their target.

The handful of villagers outside realized what was happening and began to run just as the woman had. All were taken out in the same way as the translator—with a single suppressed round. It was an admittedly impressive display. The last victim, a child of around ten, was dead before the first victim had hit the ground. It was unlikely that America’s SEALs or Britain’s SAS could have acted more quickly or silently.

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