The Last Man
Author:Vince Flynn

Chapter 9
THE assassin's attention was focused on the fifteen-inch screen of his laptop. A Do Not Disturb sign was hung on his hotel room door to make sure housekeeping didn't accidentally wander in and catch him doing something nefarious. Even so, if they did, there wouldn't be much for them to see. Gone were the days of all the bulky surveillance equipment: tripods for big cameras with even bigger lenses, video recorders and big dish parabolic microphones and the big suitcase packed with monitors for video and audio. All of that now fit into a wireless device no bigger than a tissue box. He had helped design it in his ample spare time for just such a reason. The Americans would love to get their hands on something so portable and effective.

The act of surveillance was far more complicated than one would think. Static targets, like embassies, often conducted countersurveillance. Standing in the window of a hotel room across the street from a major embassy with a pair of binoculars to your eyes and a set of cameras on each side was a near sure ticket to getting your door kicked in and a bag put over your head. What would follow after that was sure to be very unpleasant. The assassin had been on the receiving end just once, and he had spent years trying to erase his unpleasant week as a guest of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. He had no desire to be the subject of such barbarity again, and while the Americans were not quite as ruthless as the Russians, they had shown that they could be brutally efficient in the face of an enemy who refused to put on a uniform.

The new surveillance equipment consisted of two cameras and a directional microphone. Both cameras were capable of extreme magnification, but for the assassin's purpose he kept one on the wide-angle setting so he didn't lose sight of the big picture. The two cameras and microphone were combined in the tissue-sized gray box. It was mounted on a small, lightweight tripod with a motor that allowed him to remotely turn and focus the device. The functions were controlled with a joystick and the laptop's mouse. Instead of standing in the window and risking exposure, he sat on the bed with the lightweight computer on his lap.

It felt good to be back in the game. The assassin had never fully retired, but he had significantly cut back on the number and type of contracts he would take. He still traveled a great deal - most of it to handle his far-flung finances, but he had also created a job that gave him the perfect cover to travel. He was now a security consultant. Having spent so many years trying to figure out how to kill someone, it was an easy transition. He basically stalked his client and then instead of killing him, he would debrief him by pointing out his vulnerabilities and the precautions he should take. The pay was okay and the work was somewhat fulfilling, although ultimately disappointing. Hunting a fellow human being without killing him was a little bit like getting half a blow job - thrilling yet ultimately disappointing.

This contract, however, had been a little unusual from the start. He had been contacted through his legitimate consulting firm for a job in Abu Dhabi. He did a lot of business in the United Arab Emirates so he thought nothing of it. A week later the assassin checked into his room at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. An hour later a package was delivered to his suite containing a smartphone, a very vague explanation of the job that was being offered to him, and how he would be paid. His client was exceptionally cautious, which the assassin liked. He also liked that the client was offering a large sum of money. His finances were still in decent shape, but $3 million would go a long way. The only thing that he didn't like was that the target was described only in vague terms. But even though he didn't like it, it wasn't that unusual. The most serious clients usually made you jump through a few hoops to gauge if they could trust you, and then they would reveal the full identity of the target.

The size of the contract, combined with the challenge of assassinating an American official in Afghanistan, was too much to resist. So, as per the instructions, he turned on the smartphone, tapped the texting icon, and punched his answer into the dialogue box. That had been two weeks ago. Since then, the assassin had flown more than twenty thousand miles and received $1 million in three separate wire transfers. As per his orders, he had checked into the Kabul Grand Hotel the previous day and patiently awaited further instructions.

Five minutes earlier a text had informed him that the target was headed his way in a military convoy consisting of three vehicles. The first tan MRAP came into view and the assassin's anticipation grew that he would finally learn the identity of the target. He'd spent much of the last two weeks wondering who it could be. He liked a challenge, so part of him was hoping it would be the ambassador or a four-star general, and based on the fee his wishes were likely to come true. He'd done some checking, however, and the ambassador was already at the embassy, so he could rule him out.

The trucks came to a stop outside the main gate of the embassy, as was to be expected. A few seconds later, he watched as the back hatch of the last vehicle opened. A head popped out into the bright sunlight and the assassin squinted as he watched a man hurry down the steps. His fingers quickly adjusted the camera and brought the picture in tight on the man. The hair on the back of the assassin's neck bristled with a combination of excitement and fear. His job had just gone from complicated to dangerous.

Most of his targets over the years had been businessmen or government officials who were either too corrupt or too pious. Usually men in their fifties or sixties who were out of shape, their senses almost completely dulled by women, drugs, booze, and a life of luxury. They were often surrounded by bodyguards who were well past their prime. The man he was now staring at on his screen was far from past his prime, and even if had lost a step he was perhaps one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. It had been a few years since the assassin had last seen the CIA operative, but the details of that near-death experience were forever seared into his psyche. He still moved with that rare mix of athleticism, grace, and menace. He stopped next to a soldier and spoke a few words. The assassin watched as Rapp's head turned from side to side, surveying the landscape for any threats.

His first encounter with Rapp had been eerily similar. Even back then there was a part of his deeply embedded survival instinct that told him this wasn't someone to be messed with. The challenge, however, proved too great to resist, and the assassin was lucky to be alive. Reason would dictate that Rapp was here to protect the prospective target. The assassin ran through a quick list of possibilities. A mid-level CIA official would not garner a $3 million payday, and it was unlikely that Rapp would be wasting his time riding shotgun for such a person. It was possible that it could be an Afghan official, but again the price was too high. The image of the woman popped into his mind almost without effort. Irene Kennedy was the director of the CIA, and she and Rapp were very close. That would make perfect sense.

It had to be Irene Kennedy, the director of the CIA. The assassin suddenly got the feeling that he had made a huge mistake. As a general rule the CIA was not an organization you wanted to cross swords with, precisely because they had men like Rapp who would hunt you to the end of the world to settle the score. The price also seemed a little low for someone like Kennedy.

For a long moment the assassin considered his options. If the target was Kennedy, the smartest course would be to pack up his gear and catch the next flight out of Kabul. It wouldn't matter where, just so long as it was as far away from here as possible. If it came to it he would return all of the money and eat his expenses. He needed the money but it wasn't worth it. The odds for success with Rapp involved decreased by at least half, and there were other issues that complicated the matter. It would take no longer than five minutes to pack his gear. He picked up the HTC One phone that his employer had left him. With one simple text he would find the identity of the target. The agreement had been such that once the identity was revealed the assassin could not back out. He was tempted to run but he was more curious to find out the identity of the target. The assassin tapped out his message: The convoy has arrived. I am in position.

He hit Send and then sat back and watched Rapp enter the embassy grounds through a gate. So far the client had been good about getting back to him. It had been a strange dance up to this point, but one that had a certain logic to it. The contract had rolled out in a graduated manner. The basic terms were agreed on, but the target was not to be revealed until he was in-country and in a position to act.

Five minutes passed, and then ten, and the assassin was growing uncharacteristically anxious. He went to the bathroom and heard the phone beep as he was washing his hands. When he came back into the bedroom he opened the text and stared at the icon for an encrypted file and then tapped it. A split second later a photo of Mitch Rapp engulfed his screen. The assassin dropped the phone on the bed and almost opened the shades, before he caught himself.

"How in the hell . . ." he blurted out as he began to sweat. He told himself to calm down and think this through very carefully. There had to be a way out of this. $3 million was not enough money to take on someone like Rapp. $10 million wasn't enough, and even if it was, there were other factors to consider. The assassin ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and walked into the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror and asked himself how he had gotten into such a ludicrous situation. It was the money, of course, and the thrill of the hunt. Domestic life had become extremely boring, but it was better than being dead.

"What are the odds?" he asked aloud. The question steered his mind in a mystical direction and he now focused on a powerful word that was thousands of years old. It was karma, of course. It was the only thing that could explain the odds. What he had done years ago had almost certainly led him to this place. He owed a debt and it was time to repay it in full. With absolute conviction, the assassin knew what he must do. He went back into the bedroom and forwarded the encrypted file to his laptop, where he began to review Rapp's dossier. It was incredibly detailed. So detailed, it caused the assassin to worry about who had hired him. There were very few organizations that could put something like this together.

He flipped back to the surveillance screen and found Rapp talking to another man inside the embassy compound. The odds were staggering, but the payoff would be far better than just the $3 million. A smile of anticipation spread across the assassin's face. This would be perhaps the most fulfilling contract of his career. The trick, of course, would be to get close enough to Rapp without alerting him first. If Rapp detected him, he would be dead before he had a chance to collect on his debt.