The Last Man
Author:Vince Flynn

Chapter 52

DURRANI took no joy in watching Ashan fall. He was a good man and a good friend, but he was horribly misguided. For the ISI to forge a strong future for Pakistan, they could not afford to have someone so weak running the Foreign Wing. Durrani already had his replacement ready to go, a man who shared his zeal for the future of Pakistan. Ashan would survive. After a few months this would blow over and Durrani would do his best to make sure he and his family were treated with respect. He might even be able to arrange for him to keep some of the money in the Swiss bank account.

Durrani shook off the feelings of sorrow over what he'd done to his friend and turned his attention to Rickman. He was troubled by the man's discontent. He had worked hard to make everything fall into place. Only a fool would think that every aspect of the operation should work to perfection. Now should be a time to celebrate, not point fingers and blame each other for what had gone wrong. He recognized now that he might have been a bit aggressive in telling General Qayem that he wanted the assassin killed as soon as Rapp was eliminated, but his heart had been in the right place. The Frenchman's life meant nothing to any of them, and besides, his complicated history with Rapp would serve to further confuse the CIA.

Durrani was prepared to make amends to Rickman. It would be a gesture that would make his co-conspirator very happy. And then Durrani would make sure that Rickman understood that he still had to fulfill his part of the bargain.

The dog was an absolute monster. Durrani had directed the head of his security detail to buy three new guard dogs to help patrol the property. He specifically asked for Rottweilers. The head of his detail did not like dogs, nor did the rest of his men, so Durrani had to pay for a professional trainer to be flown in from Europe to teach them how to handle the dogs. The cost had been exorbitant, twenty-seven thousand dollars and counting, and one of his men had quit after he'd been bitten. Durrani complained openly about the dogs, but he had secretly grown to like them, due to both the fear they brought out in people and the way they jockeyed for his affection. They seemed to understand that of all the people who worked at the compound, Durrani was the one who was in charge.

One of the dogs, a fourth one, was not so cooperative. He was much bigger than the others, older and far smarter. He ran the show, and unlike the other three, this one made him nervous. Durrani had him on a choke chain with a long leash, but he did not use the choke chain for fear that the dog would turn on him and bite him in the groin as he had one of the guards. For this one it was all treats, no punishment.

The beast practically dragged him up the stairs of the guesthouse, and when they reached the main floor, the pudgy nurse took one look at the dog and recoiled in fear. Durrani ignored her as the dog sniffed his way down the hall toward the bedroom. Durrani didn't bother knocking on the door. He pushed through into the room and set the dog free. The beast leaped onto the bed and began licking Rickman's bruised face.

"Jax," Rickman said in a happy voice. He scratched the dog's neck and said, "Did you miss me? I sure did miss you."

Durrani could not stop himself from smiling. He hoped he could have the same special relationship with his dogs someday. "I'm sorry I didn't bring him by sooner, but caution is still imperative. That and I wasn't sure you could handle him."

"Handle him? He's as gentle as a baby around me."

"Yes." Durrani approached the bed. "He is much more cooperative with you than with my staff." The big dog lay down, his head resting on Rickman's lap. Durrani grabbed a chair, pulled it over to the bedside, and sat. "He makes you happy, doesn't he?"

"Very much. Thank you for arranging his disappearance and transportation. When they were beating me I wondered if I'd ever see him again."

"I am more than happy to reunite you." Durrani watched the dog and master for another moment. This was the first time Ajax had looked content in over a month. The timing, he decided, was right. He clapped his hands together and said, "Now, you have many stories to tell me."

Keeping his focus on Ajax, Rickman said, "Not yet."

Durrani's anger flashed, and then he got a grip on it. "You made a promise. I have arranged everything. You are safe in my country. I have even gone so far as to arrange a new identity for you. You must follow through on your side of the bargain. I want the names of the American spies."

Rickman stroked the large head of his Rottweiler. "When Vazir gets back from Zurich, we will see how things are, and then I will decide when and how I will begin sharing that information."

"That was not our deal!" Durrani shouted.

The Rottweiler's eyes narrowed, and he bared his teeth. Rickman calmed him and said, "The deal has changed. You did that when you decided to interfere with my assassin. Now we will have to wait and see."

Durrani was furious. "I could have you killed," he hissed. "Or better yet, I will nurse you back to health and have you beaten to a pulp again. How would you like that, you stupid American? You think you are so smart . . . well, you are not so smart. I hold all of the cards here. I am the one who decides if you will live or die."

The laughter hurt, but even so Rickman couldn't stop. When he finally caught his breath he said, "You think you have me by the balls, General?"

Durrani did not like Rickman's tone, but he was not about to back down. "I could have you killed right now."

"Yes, you could, and then in a month or so you would die as well."

"What are you talking about?"

"You are so naive, General. Do you think I'm foolish enough to put my life in your hands and not have an insurance policy?"

"You are bluffing."

"No, that's not my style. I plan, I don't bluff. I have taken certain precautions. I've hired multiple lawyers and given them very specific instructions that if they don't hear from me at prearranged intervals they are to mail an encrypted file to Director Kennedy and a few other select people."

Durrani wanted to think it was a lie, but Rickman was devious and untrustworthy. "What kind of information?"

"Very detailed information that implicates you in all of this."

"What could you possibly be thinking? That is reckless . . . what if these lawyers take a look at the information?"

Rickman knew this would drive Durrani nuts. The specter of an unknown number of people possessing information that could expose him, ruin everything he'd worked for and probably get him killed, was too much to absorb for a control freak. It would likely keep him up at nights for years to come. If he lived that long. The important thing for now was to keep him as levelheaded as possible while making him understand that he did not hold all the cards. "It's encrypted, and don't worry, they are people I trust. They have no desire to look at the files. They know they contain information that could get them killed." Rickman scratched his dog's neck and said, "You have nothing to worry about as long as you honor our agreement."

"You are the one who needs to honor our agreement. The senator says he needs the information so he can move against Rapp and Kennedy."

That might have been true, but until Rickman was confident that Rapp wasn't coming after him, Senator Ferris would have to wait. "Let's see how things go in Zurich."

"You are a fool."

"Really," Rickman answered in an amused tone. "I think it is actually very pragmatic of me."

"I'm talking about giving such valuable information to people I cannot trust. It's foolish."

"It's actually very smart, although probably not all that smart considering your history."

Durrani shook his head and scowled. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"It's pretty obvious that you have a habit of killing the people you work with."

"That is an exaggeration."

"Not really, so the fact that I took a few precautions is just common sense. It's not particularly smart."

If Durrani had thought it would solve his problems he would have killed Rickman and his crazy dog, but he needed the American to complete his plan. It was time to change gears and find common ground. "Joe, you must understand . . . you are different. We have discussed this. You understand the stupidity of your country's folly in Afghanistan. You knew it almost from the beginning, but you did your job. You saw the people you despised become rich beyond their wildest dreams, all with American cash provided by you." Durrani pointed at him. "You fought valiantly and then you saw the light. America should not be in Afghanistan, and they most certainly shouldn't be giving money and weapons to the very people who are already turning against them. You saw the injustice and you took the money, but you needed an ally to help you disappear. I am that ally. Your dream could not have come true if it wasn't for me."

"General, I am not disagreeing with you," Rickman said, wondering why Durrani had to take everything so personally. "I am simply saying the timing isn't right. I'm happy to hear that we have a special relationship. And the best way to keep it that way is to make sure neither of us tries to bully the other into doing something that we do not want to do. Surely you must see that."

Durrani was not used to sharing power. He didn't like the lack of control, but until he could find a way to dismantle Rickman's network of lawyers, he would have to play this game. "I see your point," he said, even though he didn't. "But surely you can see where I am coming from. I have put a great deal into this, yet so far I have seen no return for my effort, and if we are to carry out the next phase of our plan and embroil the CIA in scandal, we need to begin passing your information on to Senator Ferris."

This was the one part of the plan that Rickman had never fully embraced. Senator Ferris was a windbag, and although Rickman felt strongly that America should not be involved in Afghanistan, the idea of Senator Ferris getting credit for America changing its policy turned his stomach. Now was not the time to discuss the senator, though. "General, I don't believe for a second that you have seen no return on your investment. I've heard the enthusiasm in your voice. You are very proud, and you should be. You have conducted one of the greatest intelligence operations of the modern era, and I have no doubt that when the proper amount of time has passed you will let the world know, and you will bask in the accolades of your countrymen. But until then, you may enjoy the knowledge, the extreme satisfaction, that you have outsmarted perhaps the greatest intelligence agency in the world."