American Assassin
Author:Vince Flynn

PRELUDE
BEIRUT, LEBANON

MITCH Rapp stared at his reflection in the dusty, cracked mirror and questioned his sanity. There was no shaking, or sweaty palms. He wasn't nervous. It was just a cold, calculated assessment of his abilities and his odds for success. He went over the plan once more from start to finish, and again concluded it was likely that he would be severely beaten, tortured, and possibly killed, but even in the face of such prospects, he couldn't bring himself to walk away, which brought him right smack dab back to that part about his mental health. What kind of man willingly chose to do such a thing? Rapp thought about it for a long moment and then decided someone else would have to answer that question.

While everyone else seemed content to sit on their hands, it was not in Rapp's nature to do so. Two of his colleagues had been grabbed from the streets of Beirut by a nasty little outfit called Islamic Jihad. They were a tentacle of Hezbollah that specialized in kidnapping, torture, and suicide bombings. The jihadis had, without question, already begun the interrogation of their new prisoners. They would expose the men to unthinkable pain, and they would begin to peel back each layer of the onion until they got what they wanted.

That was the savage truth, and if his colleagues could delude themselves into thinking otherwise, it just meant they had consciously or unconsciously gravitated toward convenient conclusions. After a day of watching the very people who said they would handle the situation do nothing, Rapp decided to look for a solution on his own. The bureaucrats and foreign service types back in Washington might be content with letting things take their natural course, but Rapp was not. He'd been through too much to allow his cover to be blown, and beyond that there was that nagging little thing about honor and the warrior's code. He'd been through the wringer with these guys. One he respected, admired, and liked. The other he respected, admired, and hated. The pull for him to do something, anything to save them was strong. The gang back in Washington might be able to simply write off losing the faceless operatives as a cost of war, but to the guys who were in trenches it was a little more personal. Warriors don't like leaving their own to die at the hands of the enemy, because secretly, they all know they might be in the same position one day, and they sure as hell hope their country will do everything in their power to get them back.

Rapp eyed his fractured reflection; his thick, uncombed head of black hair and beard, his bronzed olive skin and his eyes, so dark that they were almost black. He could walk among the enemy without attracting so much as a suspicious glance, but that would all change if he didn't do something. He thought of his training and everything he'd sacrificed. The entire operation would be exposed, and that meant his career in the field would be over. He'd be stuffed behind some desk back in Washington where he'd rot for the next twenty-five years. He'd wake up each morning and go to bed each night with the nagging thought that he should have done something - anything. And ultimately he would emasculate himself by questioning the size of his balls for as long as he lived. Rapp shuddered at the thought. He might be a little crazy, but he'd read enough Greek tragedies to understand that a life filled with that kind of recrimination would eventually lead him to the psych ward. No, he thought, I'd rather go down swinging.

He nodded to himself and took a deep breath before walking over to the window. Rapp gently pulled back the tattered curtain and looked down at the street. The two foot soldiers from Islamic Jihad were still positioned across the street keeping an eye on things. Rapp had dropped a few hints around the neighborhood about what he was up to, and they had shown up barely an hour after he had pressed his seventh hundred-dollar bill into the willing hand of a local merchant. Rapp had considered killing one lackey and interrogating the other, but knew word would spread so fast that his colleagues would be either moved or killed before he could act on whatever intel he could gather. Rapp shook his head. This was it. There was only one avenue open to him, and there was no sense in delaying what had to be done.

He quickly scrawled a note and left it on the small desk in the corner. He gathered his sunglasses, the map, and a large wad of cash and headed for the door. The elevator was broken so he walked the four flights to the lobby. The new man behind the front desk looked nervous as all hell, which Rapp took as a sign that someone had talked to him. He continued out the front door into the blazing daylight and held his map above his head to block the sun while he looked up and down the street. Looking out from behind the sunglasses, he pretended not to notice the duo from Islamic Jihad. With his face buried in the map, he turned to the right and started heading east.

Within half a block, Rapp's nervous system began sending his brain alarms, each more frantic than the previous one. It took every ounce of control to override his training and millions of years of basic survival instincts that were embedded like code into the human brain. Up ahead, the familiar black car was parked across the street. Rapp ignored the man behind the wheel and turned down a narrow side street. Just thirty paces ahead a rough-looking man was stationed in front of a shop. His left leg was straight and firmly planted on the pavement and the other bent up behind him and placed against the side of the building. His big frame was resting against the building while he took a long drag off his cigarette. There was something vaguely familiar about him, right down to the dusty black pants and the white dress shirt with the sweat-stained armpits.

The street was otherwise empty. The survivors of the bloody civil war could smell trouble, and they had wisely decided to stay indoors until the morning's sideshow was concluded. The footfalls from behind were echoing like heavy shoes on the stone floor of an empty cathedral. Rapp could hear the pace of his pursuers quicken. A car engine revved, no doubt the black BMW he'd already spotted. With every step Rapp could feel them closing in from behind. His brain ran through scenarios with increasing rapidly, looking for any way out of the impending disaster.

They were close now. Rapp could feel them. The big fellow up ahead threw his cigarette to the ground and pushed himself away from the building with a little more spring than Rapp would have guessed him capable of. He filed that away. The man smiled at him and produced a leather truncheon from his pocket. Rapp dropped the map in feigned surprise and turned to flee. The two men were exactly where he expected them to be, guns drawn, one pointed at Rapp's head, the other at his chest.

The sedan skidded to a stop just to his right, the trunk and front passenger door swinging open. Rapp knew what was next. He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw as the truncheon cracked him across the back of the head. Rapp stumbled forward and willingly fell into the arms of the two men with pistols. He let his legs go limp, and the men struggled with his weight. He felt the arms of the big man wrap around his chest and yank him upright. His 9mm Beretta was pulled from the back of his waistband and he was dragged the short distance to the car's trunk. Rapp landed headfirst with a thud. The rest of his body was folded in on top of him, and then the trunk was slammed shut.

The engine roared and the rear tires bit through a layer of sand and dirt until they found asphalt. Rapp was thrown back as the vehicle shot away. He slowly cracked open his eyes, and as expected, he found himself enveloped in darkness. His head was throbbing a bit from the blow, but not too badly. There was no fear on his face or doubt in his mind, though. Just a smile on his lips as he thought of his plan. The seeds of disinformation that he had spread over the past day had drawn them in just as he'd hoped. His captors had no idea of the true intent of the man they now had in their possession, and more important, no idea of the violence and mayhem he was about to visit upon them.