The Last Man
Author:Vince Flynn



Chapter 3
A GROUP of men in Afghan Police uniforms were trying to push their way into the house. Rapp looked on with irritation as a man with an oily black beard berated the CIA bodyguards. The man's beard was obviously dyed. So much so that he looked like a silent-movie actor playing a pirate. To his right, he heard Hubbard muttering to himself. The only thing Rapp could make out were the words "This is not good."

"Who is he?" Rapp asked.

"Commander Abdul Siraj Zahir. ALP."

ALP stood for Afghan Local Police. "What's his story?"

"Up until six months ago he was an insurgent. More of a crime boss, really. Extorted and kidnapped in every village between here and the border, and now with the new reintegration program the geniuses in Kabul have seen fit to put him in charge of the local police."

The info clicked and Rapp remembered the name. Zahir and his group were responsible for a good number of the roadside bombs in the area. "Was he on Rick's payroll?"

"They were working on it." Hubbard motioned to the guards at the door and said, "It's all right. Let him in."

With obvious displeasure on his face, Zahir pushed his way past the guards and approached Hubbard, Rapp, and Coleman. He focused his attention on Hubbard and unleashed a torrent of expletives that were meant to punctuate his less-than-stellar view of Hubbard's abilities and his view in general of Americans.

Rapp took a step back, his dark eyes dissecting this strange man who had so rudely forced his way into the safe house. The bombastic behavior and bluster were not entirely unexpected, but something else was. The fact that Hubbard was letting this piece of human refuse walk all over him. Rapp reminded himself that Hubbard didn't have the luxury of flying under the radar as he did. He had to report to his boss in Kabul, Darren Sickles, who was more concerned with appearances than results. Sickles had to work side by side with the alphabet soup of U.S. agencies and departments that had come up with the touchy-feely reintegration program. The consensus with the foot soldiers in the Clandestine Service was that Sickles didn't back them up. Rapp was willing to bet that this unhealthy and unproductive style of cooperation had something to do with Sickles.

When Zahir was done berating Hubbard he turned to Rapp and Coleman and asked, "And who in the hell are these two? Why wasn't I called about these murders?"

Never one to run from a fight, Rapp squared himself so he was within striking distance of the police officer. Even though the man looked over fifty he was probably in his early forties like Rapp. Unlike Rapp, though, he was pudgy and out of shape. He had a little potbelly and that ridiculous shoe-polish-black beard.

Hubbard started to answer but Rapp reached out and grabbed his arm. Turning his eyes on the Afghani, Rapp said, "Who I am is none of your fucking business. As to why we didn't call you, that should be obvious. You're a thug and a piece of shit."

Zahir's face flushed with anger and he began to stutter.

Hubbard put up his hands and said. "Commander . . . what he's trying to say is that it has been a very busy morning and that we were about to call you."

Rapp kept his eyes on Zahir but directed his ire at the Jalalabad base chief. "Hub, shut up. That's not what I was about to say. I was about to tell this little yellow turd that I know exactly who he is, and if he has a half a brain he'll get the hell out of here before I shoot him."

"How dare you speak to me in such a way." Zahir stepped back and began clutching at his big leather holster for his sidearm.

From the right inside fold of his jacket, Rapp produced his Glock 19 in an easy, fluid motion. Zahir was still struggling with the flap on his holster when he looked up to find the square black frame of Rapp's gun in his face.

"I want you to listen to me," Rapp said in an easy tone, "and I don't want you to say a fucking word until I'm done."

Coleman had already drawn his gun, a big H&K .45 caliber, and maneuvered to cover the other two police officers who were just one step inside the doorway. The safety was already off and he spoke to the officers in Pashto, telling them to keep their hands where he could see them.

Rapp pressed the gun into Zahir's face just under his nose. "Here's what you need to know. I'm not some State Department weenie, or some two-star corporate general who thinks the best way to advance my career is to kiss your terrorist ass and get the hell out of this place so someone else can come deal with all you assholes again in twenty years. I'm the guy they call when the shit hits the fan. I'm the one they bring in to get results because they know I don't play by the rules. I know who you are. I know you've killed plenty of GIs and you've tormented and kidnapped your fellow citizens for your own profit. You're a bully and a piece of shit and you're the kind of guy who I actually enjoy killing. Normally I don't put a lot of thought into the people I shoot, but you fall into a special category. I figure I'd be doing the human race a favor by ending your worthless life. Add to that the fact that I'm in a really bad mood. In fact I'm in such a shitty mood that putting a bullet in your head might be the only thing that could make me feel better."

Rapp studied the man for a moment and then tilted his head toward his right shoulder as if he thought there might be some other way to deal with him. "In the interest of fairness, though, I suppose I should give you a chance to convince me otherwise."

Zahir's chest was heaving as he struggled to get his lungs working. His eyes nervously darted between Hubbard and this crazed man sticking a gun in his face. He'd been around plenty of killers and felt he could tell the difference between the pretenders and the men who meant what they said. This man had the look of someone who clearly meant what he said. The only lifeline that came to mind was the person who had negotiated Zahir into leaving behind his lawless ways.

"Mr. Sickles is a good friend of mine," Zahir sputtered. "He is a very good friend. He is a very important man. He will be very upset when he finds out about this."

Rapp's instincts were right. The Kabul station chief had put this goon in a position of power. "Darren Sickles," Rapp said, with contempt dripping from each word, "is important in his own mind, but that's about as far as it goes."

"He is the CIA's man here in my country!"

"He's an idiot, and the fact that he put you in a police uniform pretty much proves the point, so you're going to have to come up with something better than Darren Sickles."

Zahir licked his dry lips and struggled to find something that would make this American reconsider his vile threat. After an uncomfortably long silence, nothing had come to mind, so Zahir forced a smile on his face and retreated a step. "I think it would be best if I left."

Rapp grabbed the man's uniform shirt. "That's not an option. You either come up with a way to show me you might be useful, or I'm going to blow your brains all over the floor."

Zahir's eyes showed hope and he said, "Useful?"

"That's right."

"I can be extremely valuable."

"I'm listening."

"I know many people . . . I know many things. I can get you anything you want." Zahir's nature allowed him to go only so far, and he quickly added, "For the right price, of course."

"The right price," Rapp said, amused by the comment. "I'm going to tell you how this is going to work and that's only if you can prove to me that I should let you live. You're not going to get paid a dime. The only thing you'll get from me is your life, which I would assume is fairly important to you."

"It is very important to me, but I am not a wealthy man."

"Stop talking about money. You're boring me and if you bore me enough this negotiation will be over and you'll be dead."

"Tell me what it is you want me to do. I will do anything."

Rapp thought about Rickman. The truth was, very few people knew what the man was up to. In a general sense Kennedy and a few others knew his operational orders, but in terms of specifics, Rickman had left them in the dark. Zahir might be able to pull back the curtains on some of those details. "The man who lives here, you know him?"

"Mr. Rickman . . . very much. Yes. We were good friends."

"Let's not get carried away. Why did you decide to come here this morning?"

"I was driving by and I saw Mr. Hubbard's mercenaries. It looked like there was something wrong, so I stopped to investigate."

"Do I look stupid, Abdul?"

"No," he answered quickly. "I did not say that."

"Then tell me the real reason why you stopped." Rapp watched the man fidget. He was clearly trying to figure out a way to shade the truth. Rapp's patience was nearly gone, so he took his pistol and tapped Zahir on the top of his head. "I know lying is like breathing to you." Rapp shook his head as if he were admonishing a child. "You need to fight that. It's going to get you killed."

Zahir rubbed his head with his right hand. "I heard a rumor."

"What kind of rumor?"

"That something had happened to Mr. Rickman."

"Keep going."

"That something very bad happened. That he was missing."

"And you learned this how?"

Sharing information without getting something back was very foreign to Zahir, so he lied. "One of my men saw Mr. Hubbard leave the base in a panic. I started to make calls and soon found out that something was wrong at Mr. Rickman's house."

"So you were concerned for Mr. Rickman."

"Yes."

"And that's why you showed up here acting like a jackass and threatening people."

"No, I was concerned."

Rapp glanced at his watch. It was eight minutes past ten in the morning and he had a growing list of priorities that needed his immediate attention. Zahir, as disreputable as he was, might indeed have some use. Rapp made a quick decision. "Here's what we're going to do. You will work for me. You will find out who grabbed Mr. Rickman and you've got forty-eight hours to come up with the answers I need. If you fail me you're a dead man."

Zahir once again tried to retreat. He needed room to think and he couldn't do that with a gun in his face, but it did no good. The American simply followed him. Zahir's eyes pleaded for Hubbard to give him a reprieve. He didn't receive any help so he reverted to what he knew best. "How much will you pay me?"

Rapp laughed, but there was no levity in it. "I'm not going to pay you shit. In fact I'm going to do the exact opposite. If I find out you're fucking me, I'm going to text your photo to every jerkoff with a gun in this town and on the other side of the border as well, and I'm going to put a five-hundred-thousand-dollar bounty on your head. And if you think about heading for the hills I'll have a Predator on you twenty-four seven. If you make a call, if you step into the clear for a second I'll shove a Hellfire missile up your ass and blow you to hell."

To Zahir, the threat was all too real. He had used the CIA to decimate his own enemies by giving up their locations and phone numbers. The drone strikes were very effective. After a little consideration Zahir realized that at least for the moment he had no choice but to go along with this man. He slowly nodded his head and said, "I will see what I can do."

"If you want to live, you'll do more than that." Rapp lowered his gun and said, "Give me your phone."

Zahir scrambled to retrieve the phone from the breast pocket of his blue-gray uniform shirt. He surrendered it to Rapp, who handed it to Hubbard. "Go upstairs and give this to Sid. Tell her I want the usual and have our friends stateside move it into heavy rotation. Tell her I need a clone as well." Hubbard left and Rapp turned his focus back to Zahir. "We're going to be listening to everything you say, and if at any time I'm not satisfied with your efforts, our deal is off."

"Off?"

"Off means you broke the deal and you're dead."

"And what if I don't like this deal?"

Rapp raised his pistol and pointed it at the man's face. "It's pretty simple. I blow your brains all over the floor right now and you end up like those four guys over there." Rapp motioned toward the four bodyguards.

"You're not giving me much of a choice."

"And when you kidnap villagers and hold them for ransom, do you give them a choice?"

Zahir stubbornly refused to respond.

"I know you don't like this, Abdul, and the reason's pretty simple. You're a bully. You're used to pushing people around. Threatening them and their families with violence to get what you want. Now you're the one being bullied and you don't like it and I don't give a shit. The only thing that's important is that you understand and accept our deal. Do you?"

With the barrel of a gun in his face, Zahir knew he had only one option - to acquiesce. Later, when he was away from this madman, he could figure out a way to go back on the deal. "You have left me with no other choice."

"Good. I'd shake your hand but I know it wouldn't mean anything since you plan on fucking me over the first chance you get, so here's what we're going to do." Rapp grabbed his phone with his right hand, tapped a few icons, and then held it out to take a photo of Zahir. "Smile. This is for the poster I'm going to send out with a fifty-thousand-dollar bounty on your head."

"But you said . . ."

"Relax, I know what I said. If you come through with what I need, you'll be fine. I might even give you the fifty grand, but if I get even the slightest whiff that you're screwing with me, you're done. You have enough enemies as it is, if I put a bounty on your head, they'll be lining up to collect. Hell, it's probably cheaper than wasting a missile on your ass."

Hubbard came back with Zahir's phone and gave it to him. He handed a plain black flip phone to Rapp. Rapp held it up and said, "This is how we're going to talk to each other. I'll be able to track you with both phones, but this is the one we'll use to communicate." Rapp gave him the phone. "I'm going to call you in two hours and if you don't answer you're dead. If you answer the phone and tell me you haven't discovered anything you're dead. Do you understand how this is going to work?"

Zahir reluctantly stuffed the phone in his pocket and nodded. "What do I call you?"

"Harry," Rapp said, giving him one of his aliases. "Now get out of here and find out what happened to Joe Rickman."