Order to Kill
MITCH Rapp eased his rental car onto a quiet rural road and began winding his way through vineyards. The sun had just hit the horizon, turning the craggy mountains orange against a clear sky.
The scene couldn't have been more different from the smoggy, traffic-choked Pakistani cities he'd spent the last two months in. Swapping the stench of diesel and sweat for the idyllic setting of South Africa's wine country should have been a pleasant change. If anything, though, it had tightened the knot in his gut.
When he'd killed the fundamentalist director of Pakistan's intelligence apparatus a few weeks ago, blowback had been inevitable. But now it had grown beyond even his and Irene Kennedy's worst-case scenario.
There was still no question that Ahmed Taj's elimination had been necessary in order to keep Pakistan's nuclear arsenal out of the hands of Islamic hardliners. Unfortunately, his death had left a power vacuum that was pushing the already unstable country to the brink. Umar Shirani, the head of the army, was using the growing chaos to continue Taj's effort to oust the country's relatively moderate president.
One of the keys to his plan was to gain control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, confident that the world would be forced to back anyone with the means and will to incinerate a large swath of the region. Or, if not back, at least not oppose.
To that end, General Shirani had taken the country's nukes from their secure locations and was moving them around Pakistan in order to keep the civilian government from extending its authority over them. Of course, he said that his actions were to keep the weapons safe in the increasingly unstable environment, but no one actually believed him. He was forcing a showdownâmaking Pakistan's politicians and power elite choose sides.
Rapp and his teams had been charged with trying to track the weapons' movements and to make sure that none of Pakistan's terrorist groups got hold of one. It was a virtually impossible task. They were being asked to follow the constantly moving individual components of the world's seventh-largest nuclear arsenal while being actively opposed by its sixth-largest army. It was a little like the old cup and ball magic trick, but with a hundred ballsâeach one of which had the potential to explode and take out a major city.
Rapp rolled down the window and accelerated the vehicle, navigating by his memory of a map he'd glanced at months ago. He'd never actually been to the area, instead relying on a CIA team that specialized in selecting these types of locations.
And that's exactly what Irene Kennedy had tried to get him to continue to do: rely on specialists. Despite everything that was happening in Pakistan, though, he couldn't bring himself to pass this one off. So he'd put Scott Coleman in charge and boarded the CIA's Gulfstream G550 for South Africa.
A mistake? Most likely. Dereliction of duty? Maybe. But better to deal with this situation personally over the next twenty-four hours than to spend the next week trying to micromanage it from Islamabad.
The phone on the passenger seat chimed and he grimaced when he saw it was another text from Monica Estridge. The subject was the same as the last twenty unanswered messages from her. Granite.
He'd given the surprisingly relentless interior designer complete dominion over finishing the construction of the house he'd started before his wife was killed. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to understand the simple concept of âcomplete dominion.â He had no idea how many swatches, paint colors, and wood finishes there were on the planet, but he was pretty sure she wasn't going to rest until he'd looked at every one.
The dirt road began to climb toward a mountain striped with cliff bands and Rapp made sure he kept the vehicle's speed at a level that wouldn't attract attention. When he reached the top of the first rise, he spotted the gray roof of the home he was looking for.
A ten-foot-tall wall topped with colorful shards of broken glass ringed the property and the trees had been cut back almost to a neighboring farmer's vines, leaving an open perimeter with an unobstructed view.
The scene probably wasn't appreciably different than it would have been if he'd been riding in on horseback at the turn of the twentieth century. Just beneath the surface, though, was a state-of-the-art security system that was not only connected to local police and a private security response team but to the CIA's top people in the country.
At his direction, Claudia Gouldânow Dufortâand her daughter had moved in recently. Despite a long, painful history and the death of her husband at the hands of Stan Hurley, Rapp couldn't get her out of his mind. They seemed to be tangled together in a way that no amount of effort could reverse.
It was hard to reflect on his relationships with women without using the words âdisasterâ and âcatastrophe.â On particularly bad days, âcataclysmâ also sprang to mind. His first love had died in the terrorist attack on Pan Am 103 when he was still young. Years later, his wife and unborn child had been murdered by Louis Gould, the late husband of the woman living in the spotless Cape Dutch house he was passing.
Since then, Rapp had tried futilely to find someone he could fit into his life. His wife, Anna, had been an idealist and in some ways that was why he'd loved her so intensely. While he was constantly mired in the dark, she saw the world with unflagging optimism and hope. Being with her helped him regain the humanity that sometimes seemed to be slipping irretrievably away.
In retrospect, though, their relationship hadn't been all sunshine and flowers. Anna had struggled constantly with what he did for a living. Intellectually, she understood that men like him were necessary, but he'd come to believe that on a deeper level she thought he might be part of the problem. Just another violent man who kept the world from becoming the utopia she thought it could be.
So, another Anna Reilly was out.
He'd once tried going in the opposite direction with a talented Italian private contractor, but the relationship had been doomed from the start. On the bright side, she'd been beautiful, exciting, and completely unconcerned with his lifestyle. On the other hand, he'd never been able to shake the feeling that for the right price, she'd start chasing him around the bedroom with an ice pick.
After Anna, his relationships could be categorized as brief encounters that barely rose above the level of one-night stands. A former Secret Service agent. A hedge fund manager his brother had introduced him to. A redheaded air force pilot who occasionally flew support on a few of his ops.
But Claudia felt different for some reason. They'd first met years ago when he'd come to settle a score with her husband. He'd put a gun against her head, and to say the look in her eyes haunted him would be an overstatement. But he sure as hell hadn't forgotten it.
Claudia's background wasn't spotless like Anna's, but neither was it drenched in blood like Donatella's. She had a beautiful daughter and a soul that was just damaged enough for her to consider allowing someone like him into her life.
That sense of possibility was why he'd gotten personally involved with relocating Claudia and providing her with an immaculate new identity. Or at least an identity that he'd been assured was immaculate. Now, a reliable informant had told him, someone was looking to snatch her. Precisely who or why, no one seemed to know.
The likely bet was that one of her late husband's enemies had come crawling out from under a rock for some petty revenge. It was the kind of amateur bullshit that really pissed Rapp off and he was there to set an example that would discourage the next asshole.
It was another reason not to get Irene Kennedy's people involved. As the director of the CIA, there were lines she shouldn't cross. And his plan to identify the people stalking Claudia and then mail them back to their employer in FedEx envelopes was probably one of them.