The Last Man
Author:Vince Flynn



Chapter 10
THE conference room was located off one of the interior corridors on the sixth floor of the embassy. It was State Department turf, which Nash didn't like, but Kennedy wanted him to make this one effort to play nice and get these people to understand what was at stake. If they didn't get in line after that, he was supposed to turn Rapp loose. The idea that Nash could control Rapp in the first place was ludicrous. He made that exact point to Kennedy, but she remained obstinate on the matter. She wouldn't go into detail about why they had to go through this little dance, but as director of the CIA, Kennedy did not always feel that she had to explain every order she gave. She operated on a level that was way beyond Nash's understanding, influenced by people and organizations that he fortunately didn't have to answer to. Add to that the fact that she was the smartest person he'd ever worked for, and he decided to simply carry out her orders.

That was all back in Washington. Over here in Afghanistan, however, he was once again questioning the wisdom of her strategy. To say that Rapp wasn't suited for this kind of thing wasn't entirely fair. A more accurate description would be to say that these other people weren't suited for the War on Terror. Rapp was more driven than any person he'd ever encountered, and that took a lot of getting used to. His lack of patience was a by-product of that drive and his intimate knowledge of the enemy. While others debated a problem from every conceivable angle, often arguing over degrees, Rapp analyzed the same problem with a rapidity that was astounding and then chose a course of action or decided not to act. His default setting more often than not, however, was to act. Rapp understood that kinetic energy was more apt to bring about a desired result than sitting around waiting for the enemy to move first. If they got through this meeting without Rapp punching Sickles, Nash would consider it a major accomplishment.

Darren Sickles, the station chief, had assured Nash that the room was secure. Nash received the information as if he was satisfied and then followed his own protocols and quietly had a member of his team sweep the room for devices. Sickles found out about it shortly before the meeting was to commence and told Nash that he was offended. With Kennedy's orders paramount, he offered Sickles a halfhearted apology and said something to the effect that you can never be too careful. There was a very good chance Nash would put Sickles's reaction in a report when this saga was over. Kennedy preached vigilance when it came to making sure lines of communication were secure. No one in the community had a right to be offended by someone taking extra care to make sure a room was clean. That Sickles felt the need to let Nash know he was offended was juvenile.

Nash was growing used to it, however. When he was called on to run the CIA's Counterterrorism Center at the relatively young age of thirty-nine, it had pissed off a whole bevy of professionals who had more experience than he did. Nash gave it all as little thought as possible, but there were certain individuals whom he had to act more guarded around, and Sickles had just added his name to that list.

Nash stepped off the elevator and was surprised to see Rapp standing in the hallway by himself. "I just lost a hundred dollars."

"Why?"

"I didn't think you'd show."

Rapp ignored his friend's attempt at humor. "Let's go. The sooner we get this thing over, the sooner I can get back to what's important." Rapp turned and started down the hall.

"Have you seen Darren?" Nash asked.

Rapp shook his head.

"You know he's upset . . . right?"

Rapp stopped, turned abruptly, gave the appearance that he was going to blow his lid, and then restrained himself.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew the lay of the land," Nash said, a bit defensively.

"Trust me, I know the lay of the land and I don't give a shit about Darren Sickles and whether or not he's offended."

"Mitch, this is coming from Irene. I'd prefer it if you skipped this meeting, but she insisted that you be here. Why, I have no idea. So if you don't think you can keep your temper in check, then I think you should take off."

Enough anger flashed across Rapp's face that Nash took a step back. Rapp said, "Let's be clear about something. I know you have a fancy new title and a nice office at Langley, but you are not in my chain of command. You're Irene's message boy, and I personally couldn't give a fuck what you think. If Irene wants me here then I'll act like a good soldier. I'll follow her orders, but I don't need your personal input or Darren Sickles or anyone else's, for that matter."

Nash was used to Rapp's rough edges, but there was something more to this. The two men had been in plenty of heated arguments over the years, but there seemed to be some genuine animosity this time - as if Rapp now thought they were on opposite sides.

Nash took a long breath and said, "You've never been one to follow orders and I sure as hell don't see why you'd start now."

"Very funny, big man. I'm really not in the mood for your shit. I'll play your game, but I'm warning you, that idiot Sickles better watch himself or I'm coming across the table."

"Don't let Darren get to you. He's freaking out because all of this went down on his watch. He's probably scared to death that this will be a career ender."

"Yeah . . . well, I'm freaking out too. Joe Rickman is missing, and if we don't get him back the bodies are going to start piling up from here to Islamabad and Tehran and God only knows where else. Good people who have put their asses on the line for us are going to die, and on top of that I just found out the man who trained me, who I've spent the last twenty-plus years working with, has terminal cancer. So excuse me if I'm not exactly in the mood to deal with these people and their petty turf wars."

"That's fine. I'm not looking forward to it either, but we need to work with these people. You said it yourself . . . Rick's files are gone. These people are our only hope. We need what they have. We need to know who Rick's been meeting with. Somebody got on the inside and helped pull this thing off."

Rapp slowly nodded. "I know we need their shit, but that doesn't mean we have to kiss their asses."

"Yes, it does. At least to start with."

Rapp mumbled something to himself and then walked away. Nash followed a few steps behind, wondering if perhaps Hurley's diagnosis had affected Rapp more harshly than he would have guessed. True, they'd worked closely together for a long time, but both men had an emotional side that was about as soft as granite. Nash followed Rapp into the conference room, closing the door behind him. Standing to his left, in the far corner, were Sickles, Arianna Vinter, and a man who he assumed was the DOD's military attache. Nash had skimmed his jacket on the flight over. He couldn't remember his name offhand, but recalled that he was a West Pointer. The room was standard government decorating. The carpet was a dark mix of gray and black that would serve to hide any stains, and a large brown table with a fake wood grain top dominated the room. In the center of the table was a tray with a coffeepot, cream, sweetener, sugar, some straws, a half dozen mugs and as many bottles of water. There were ten black swivel chairs arranged four on each side and one on each end.

Vinter held up her hand in a gesture to silence Sickles, then smiled at the two men who had just entered the room. "Good morning. I assume you are Mr. Rapp and Mr. Nash."

Rapp didn't speak, so Nash answered for them. "That's right. And I assume you are Arianna Vinter."

"Yes, please have a seat."

Nash noted that she was much prettier than in the photograph on her government-issue ID. He looked at the man to Vinter's left and noted the eagle on the patch in the center of his chest and the name on the right side of his chest. Reaching across the table, Nash extended his hand and said, "Mike Nash, Colonel. Nice to meet you."

Poole took his hand. "Counterterrorism, right?"

"That's correct."

Poole looked at Rapp and stuck out his hand. "Colonel Poole, military attache. Mr. Rapp?"

Nodding, Rapp took the man's hand but didn't say anything. After a firm handshake, Rapp sat down.

"May I offer either of you anything to drink?" Vinter asked.

Rapp kept his mouth shut and offered only a slight shake of his head. Nash said, "Coffee would be great."

Vinter grabbed the carafe and poured a cup. "You strike me as the kind of man who takes it black."

"That's right." Nash smiled. "Thank you." He took the mug and set it in front of him.

Vinter told Poole and Sickles to sit and then she grabbed a seat across from Rapp and Nash. Sickles was on her right and Poole on her left. She directed her gaze at Rapp and in a sweet voice said, "Mr. Rapp, we've never met before. What exactly is it that you do for the CIA?"

"I'm in the Clandestine Service."

"Do you have a title?"

Rapp shook his head. "I report directly to DCI Kennedy."

"I see," Vinter said, placing her hands flat on the table. She examined her fingers for a long moment and then in a casual voice asked, "Do you think I'm stupid, Mr. Rapp?"

Rapp didn't take the bait. He instead turned to Nash and gave him a look that said, This is your show . . . feel free to jump in.

Nash cleared his throat. "Arianna, I'm not sure we understand the question."

Her expression flared briefly as she turned her attention to Nash. "I wasn't addressing you. I was speaking to your colleague Mr. Rapp. Now, Mr. Rapp, I asked you a straightforward question. Do you think I'm stupid?"

"I don't know you."

"You don't know me. That's all you have to say."

"I've never met you before and I haven't heard anything about you until this morning, so I'm not really in a position to answer your question. You could be a genius or an imbecile. As of right now I can't answer that question, but keep talking and I should be able to give you an answer in a few minutes."

Vinter took in a long breath. "Do you think the president is a smart man?"

Rapp thought about that for a moment. The man had his strengths and weaknesses, but, all in all, he was no dummy. "Yes, I think the president is a smart man."

"Well, the president put me in charge of this little hellhole because he thought I was the best person for the job. My team and I have worked extremely hard to implement the president's plan and things were going very smoothly until you showed up this morning and shoved a gun in the face of one of our allies." Vinter's agreeable façade was slowly melting away, revealing her angry side. "I know you think you're some hotshot, but you need to understand something. I'm in charge around here and if I don't like you and what you're up to, you're going to find your ass on the next flight out of here. Do you understand me?"

Instead of answering the question, Rapp again turned to Nash and said, "I think you'd better field this one."

"Arianna, we are in a unique situation. None of us are questioning what you have accomplished, but you need to understand - "

"I don't need to understand a thing," Vinter said, slicing her hand through the air like a karate chop. "I live here. I know what's going on. You two don't." She wagged her finger at Nash and then Rapp. "I'm not going to have you come in here and screw up a year's worth of work because you're upset that one of your black-bag guys got kidnapped. No fucking way that's going to happen. So let's be real clear about this. I don't want you two going to the bathroom without asking me for permission first. You don't talk to anyone who's involved in reintegration unless I clear it. Do you understand me?"

Rapp raised his hand as if he was waiting to be called on by his teacher.

"What?" Vinter asked.

"I have the answer to your question . . . I think you're an imbecile. There could be some underlying psychological issues as well but I'd need to spend more time with you, which isn't going to happen. Beyond that, I'm pretty sure you're stupid."

Vinter's even complexion became blotchy with anger. "Don't fuck with me. I'm not going to warn you again. You two are not in charge. I'm running the show. I make one phone call and your lame ass is on the next military transport out . . . in fact I'll make sure it's one of those big ones with all the props that makes you feel like you've been in a blender."

"A C-130," Rapp said, "the vibration helps me sleep."

"I don't give a shit if the vibration gives you a hard-on. One wrong move and you two are gone."

"Listen," Nash said, "we're all on the same team."

"I'm not on your team," Vinter said with absolute conviction.

Rapp turned his attention to the CIA station chief. The fact that he had decided to sit on the other side of the table spoke volumes about him. "Did you bother to brief her on who we are?"

Sickles cleared his throat. "I gave her some basic background."

"That's it?"

"More or less."

Nash dropped his head into his hands and waited for what was about to happen. There could be no blaming Rapp this time. This woman had clearly picked the fight.

Rapp knew Sickles was holding back. They'd revisit all of this later when they could keep it within the family and Rapp would remind Sickles in a very persuasive way where his loyalties were supposed to lie. But for now Vinter was the problem. He looked across the table with his near black eyes and said, "Do you like your job?"

"Let me guess . . . this is the part where you're going to ask me a bunch of questions and then threaten me. Well, I'll save you the time. You can't threaten me. I'm untouchable. I'm the president's point person in Afghanistan. I'm in charge."

"There's a few generals and an ambassador who might disagree with you, but I don't have the time to argue the point. If you're in charge, all the better. We need you to hand over everything that you were working on with Joe Rickman."

"That's not going to happen. It's highly classified information."

Rapp shook his head in semidisbelief. "You do realize we're the CIA? Our job is classified information."

"Not my classified information."

After nodding a few times, Rapp stood. "So there's not going to be any cooperation?"

"I told you the deal. You two don't move without talking to me first. We'll see how you behave and then we'll revisit the cooperation."

Looking at Sickles, Rapp asked, "Have you briefed her on how serious this is?"

"She understands the situation and she also knows about your reputation. We've worked long and hard on reintegration and none of us are too happy to see you barge in here and begin destroying everything we've accomplished."

Rapp stared at Sickles for a long moment. He could scarcely believe what he was hearing. He pointed at the station chief, snapped his fingers, and then hooked his thumb toward the door. "You're done. Get the hell out of here. I'll come find you in your office when I'm done."

"You have no right to - "

"Darren," Rapp yelled, "shut your mouth. I have every right. I have the DCI's full backing on this and I swear to God, if you're not out of this room in the next five seconds you can kiss your pension good-bye. As it is, your ass is in hot water. Joe Fuckin' Rickman got snatched on your watch. Do you have any idea how bad this is?"

"I . . ."

"Never mind. Just get the hell out of here. We'll talk about this in your office. Go . . . now . . . move it."

Sickles had tried to call Kennedy three times this morning and Kennedy had not taken any of his calls. Maybe Rapp was telling the truth. The station chief got up and left the room without saying another word.

When the door was closed again, Rapp looked at Poole and said, "If you'd prefer to leave as well you won't hear me complain."

"I'll stay."

"Fine." Turning his attention back to Vinter, Rapp said, "You might think you're connected . . . you might even think you're important and in certain circles that might be true, but not this time around."

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah . . . Let me explain how this works. We're the guys they call in when the shit hits the fan. Go ahead and call your boss when we're done. She'll tell you the same thing. In fact I'm pretty sure she'll tell you to do what we ask and then get the hell out of our way."

Vinter shook her head. "The secretary of state has complete confidence in me. After I tell her what you did to Commander Zahir this morning, you're the one who's going to be praying they let you keep your pension."

"You go ahead and make that call, but just remember, I warned you. This reintegration crap is a circle jerk and everyone who's anyone in D.C. knows it. It's a gimmick so we can declare victory and get the hell out of here. Joe Rickman getting snatched is serious shit and they all know it. You see, his head is full of a lot of nasty secrets that will embarrass your boss and a lot of other heavy hitters back in D.C. They don't like being embarrassed, so your little circle jerk is going to take a backseat to my problem for a while. I don't really care if the papers print nasty stuff about your boss or anyone else, but I do care about all the agents that work for us who will more than likely end up dead if we don't find Rick and find him quick."

"You have no idea who you're screwing with, Mr. Rapp."

"Actually, I have a really good idea. You're some spoiled brat who's gotten her way her entire life." He pointed at her wedding ring and added, "Your husband is miserable. Some poor browbeaten son of a bitch. You probably keep his balls in a little box on your desk, and based on your selfish attitude this morning I'd say there's a pretty good chance you've been having an affair with the colonel here. The point is I don't give a shit who you are, but you'd better care who I am and understand that I'm the meanest son of a bitch you will ever meet. That's why the president sent me over here. Because he wants results and he knows I won't put up with people like you. So you go ahead and call your boss and anyone else you need to and after they've all told you what I've just told you, you will hand over every shred of information you have regarding Joe Rickman and the scumbags you had him making deals with. And if you don't, I can guarantee you will be the one on the next flight out of here."
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