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Memorial day, p.28
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       Memorial Day, p.28

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  That had been nearly twelve hours ago. Now as the sun came up they were nearing their next destination. It was Friday morning, and they had a little less than a day and half to get into position. They stopped for breakfast in Bracey, Virginia, and waited until 7:00 a.m. to make the call. Al-Yamani found a payphone and dialed the number from memory. A man whose voice he had not heard in years answered.

  Al-Yamani asked, "Is Frank there?"

  There was a moment of hesitation on the other end and then the voice said, "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number."

  Al-Yamani hung up the phone and walked out to the waiting truck. Zubair and Khaled were in the backseat and Hasan was in the driver's seat. Al-Yamani climbed in and picked up a map. He pointed to a spot and said, "That is where we are to meet him. At noon. The Richmond National Battlefield Park."

  Hasan nodded and put the truck in drive. "We'll have no problem getting there early."

  "Good."

  Al-Yamani stared out the bug-spattered windshield, desperately wanting to get this last step over with. The man he had called was to have asked him what number he had dialed if he felt he was being watched. Fortunately, he had not uttered those words, for if he had, al-Yamani did not know what he would have done. If they could not link up with this man, all hope really would be lost. So much had been sacrificed, surely Allah would never let that happen.

  * * *

  Sixty-Two

  WASHINGTON,D.C.

  Rapp sat in the conference room at the Joint Counterterrorism Center and listened halfheartedly to the briefing. Walking away from it all was starting to seem like a good idea. There was just too much bullshit, too many rules, and too many people who weren't willing to do what it took to get the job done. Yes, he understood that this was America, and there were laws to be followed, but if there was ever a time to at least bend them-this was it.

  It wasn't going to happen though, because that six-foot-tall blond ballbuster from the Justice Department had showed up with an army of lawyers to make sure everything was done by the book. In their minds, they were going to trial, and they sure as hell weren't going to let some spook from the CIA, or a bunch of thick-necked special agents from the Bureau, screw things up. The entire thing had turned into a farce. It pained him to no end to listen to these people yammer on about obtaining search warrants and running down leads, when they should be kicking in doors and rounding up suspects by the vanload. Even his own boss had deserted him.

  Kennedy had passed down the order that they were to give the FBI everything they had regarding Rapp's recent cross-border raid in Southwest Asia, and that included Ahmed Khalili, the young computer expert from Karachi. His cooperation had provided them with some good leads on the internet accounts and chat rooms that al-Qaeda had used to contact the U.S.-based cells.

  Waheed Ahmed Abdullah, whom Rapp had shot in the knee and tortured, was still in the CIA's custody, but he was providing mostly dated intelligence of no great significance. Rapp and Dr. Khan had both come to the conclusion that Abdullah's IQ was located somewhere near the lower end of the chart. It seemed his main function for al-Qaeda had been to raise funds from other wealthy Saudi families.

  They now had an artist's sketch of al-Yamani based on the description provided by the British captain who had been fished out of the water by the Coast Guard. That sketch, and Imtaz Zubair's passport photo, had been sent to nearly every law enforcement officer in the country. Right now Atlanta was the focus of much of the investigation. Zubair had been tracked there after his arrival in Los Angeles and a hotel employee at the Ritz in Buckhead had identified him. An army of agents had descended on the trucking company owned by one of the men picked up in Charleston, and they were going over every square inch of the place and contacting everyone they'd done business with.

  They'd also connected the dots on the man they'd found in the parking garage in Charleston. He was a Kuwaiti who was attending the University of Central Florida on a student visa. Interestingly, his e-mail address at school turned up on Khalili's laptop, and the type of knife wound the Kuwaiti had died from was very similar to the one which the British captain had sustained.

  On another front, the Cubans had turned out to be predictably un-helpful. Both Kennedy and the secretary of state had put in calls to their Russian counterparts who were now leaning on the Cubans to hand over everything they had on al-Yamani. They expected to hear something within the hour, and they were sure it would involve Fidel asking for compensation of some sort-most probably American dollars.

  It was nearing noon, and Rapp was thinking about getting out of town early. He was to catch a 4:00 p.m. flight to Milwaukee and then rent a car for the drive up to his in-laws' cabin for the Memorial Day weekend. Kennedy had asked him to stick around and help monitor what was going on, at least until his flight left. She was taking off early with her son and mother for a weekend getaway at the beach, her first vacation in more than a year.

  Rapp was not looking for medals or public accolades. He wanted to be listened to and taken seriously. In this regard, the president's apology at least kept him in the game, but for how long he wasn't sure. He was of no use in this current manhunt. Rapp did not operate well within the confines of large government bureaucracies. They moved too slowly, and again, there were too many rules. He was best left to apply his skills autonomously through a combination of stealth and brutal, efficient force, if needed.

  Maybe it really was time to get out and save himself the headache. He'd have to give it some serious consideration, but for now he should at least check into taking an earlier flight. He missed his wife dearly, and saw no point in wasting a minute more of his time on an investigation that he considered a monumental waste of time and resources.

  The big blonde from Justice announced that they'd take a quick thirty-minute break for lunch, and everyone got up to return phone calls, check e-mails, and stuff their faces with whatever they could find down in the lunch room. Rapp had been so well behaved and so resigned that this thing had grown beyond his control that he'd failed to notice Stealey's desire to avoid any further tussles with him.

  After Valerie Jones had left dinner last night, Stealey had pressed Holmes to explain what he'd meant about Rapp. She made it clear that she knew very little about the man. Indeed, everything she had heard or read about his wild exploits she had chalked up to journalistic exaggeration. Holmes had responded that he didn't know what she had heard or read, but he doubted that any of it was exaggerated. Yes, the media got many of the facts wrong, but in Rapp's case they didn't know the half of it. "In fact," said Holmes, "if anything, they barely scratched the surface."

  Holmes would give her no details. He told her only that there were a lot of very powerful people in Washington who supported what Rapp did. People whom presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, went to for advice. Holmes warned her that one of the quickest ways to ruin her career, and possibly her boss's, would be to pursue this foolish course against Rapp. In addition, he told her to watch her step around Rapp's boss, Dr. Kennedy. Despite her genteel ways, the director of the CIA wielded significant influence in circles where even he did not walk.

  Offering proof of Kennedy's influence, Holmes told Stealey that someone very high up in the Hayes administration would not be around much longer, and the president himself didn't even know it yet. Stealey tried to speculate, but Holmes wouldn't entertain any guesses. "Trust me," he told her. "Someone big, and I'm not talking about the vice president, will be gone by next fall and it will have been Kennedy's doing."

  Stealey, a skeptical person by nature and trade, decided to heed the chairman of the DNC's warning, but only to an extent. There was something about Mitch Rapp that was infinitely appealing. A certain recklessness. He was like an animal who refused to be tamed. The audacity that he had shown in front of the president and his senior cabinet members was breathtaking.

  But she had brought men like Rapp to their knees before. They all had a singular weakness. So filled were they with te
stosterone that the slightest hint of a breast or the accidental stroke of a hand in the right place could send them down a path that had only one destination. Stokes had been like that at one point, but his mother and that little wife of his had culled it from him. They'd neutered what had once been an extremely attractive and aggressive man. Now he was nothing more than a full-grown eunuch in a suit.

  Even at his peak though, Stokes didn't hold a candle to Rapp. The CIA man's rugged, handsome features combined with the knowledge that he'd killed other men made him an intoxicating, dangerous object of sexual desire. Stealey stood by the door and watched him, as people filed out of the conference room. He moved with a distinct athletic grace.

  At that moment, he caught her looking at him, but Stealey didn't care. She kept her gaze fixed on him, her expression open and warm. She watched as he looked away and then came back to her a moment later. She'd noticed he did that often-kept his eyes moving. He was perpetually alert.

  As he drew near, Stealey reached out and gently took hold of his wrist, careful to place her forefinger on the palm of his hand-skin on skin. His reaction was instant, and if she hadn't been studying him so intently, she might not have caught it. His head came around quickly, but not so quickly that he seemed alarmed. It was very smooth, as was the way he withdrew his hand and stepped to the side. His dark eyes turned on her and sized her up. She had never before seen eyes like this, and they caused her to momentarily forget what she was going to say.

  Rapp did not like being touched by pretty much anyone other than his wife. Proximity and physical contact was an occupational hazard and not something he associated with casual social or business encounters. He stared at the DOJ official guardedly, wondering what this woman could possibly have to say to him after what had transpired yesterday. He had come here today and kept his mouth shut. He had detached himself from the hunt and realized it was out of his hands. If she wanted another confrontation, though, he would not shy away.

  "I'd like to start over." Stealey stepped back so Rapp could get out of the way of the other people who were still trying to leave. "It was unfortunate that things had to get so heated yesterday." She held out her hand.

  Rapp shook it and nodded once while he continued to study her. She was the same height as him. Maybe even a bit taller with her heels on. He chose to say nothing.

  "It's been a crazy few days," she added.

  "Yeah."

  "Well," she smiled at the last person who was leaving and looked back to Rapp. "I know you're only trying to do what you think is best. I just hope you understand where I'm coming from."

  Just where in the hell are you coming from?Rapp thought to himself. He wasn't going to provoke a fight. He'd come to the conclusion that he'd simply have to work doubly hard to keep information from these hard-core law-and-order types. The bureaucracy was too big to take on. He'd have to go around it.

  In a conciliatory tone, giving her what she wanted, he said, "I understand exactly where you're coming from. In the future I'll try to be more well mannered."

  Stealey smiled warmly, showing a perfect set of white teeth. "I appreciate that, and I just want you to know that I have a lot of respect for your passion and commitment. You're a hard-working man who's given a lot to this fight."

  Rapp smiled slightly. It was more of a reflex than a sign of appreciation. This woman wanted something else from him. What, he wasn't sure, but he'd play along for a while. "How are your two prisoners?"

  "Defendants." She corrected him with a grin.

  "Defendants."

  "Yes well, they're not saying much. At least not to us."

  "Who are they talking to?"

  "Their lawyer."

  "I forgot about him. Are you taping their conversations?"

  Stealey folded her arms across her chest. The movement was intentional, in that it caused her breasts to swell and peek out of the open neckline of her blouse. She sighed and said, "Oh, you're a troublemaker."

  "Yeah, but I get results."

  "I bet you do." Stealey gave him a coy smile. "I bet you do."

  Rapp started to get the idea that this blond-haired, blue-eyed legal eagle was flirting with him. He glanced at his watch, flashing her a clear view of his wedding ring. "Well I've got to get going, but thanks for making the effort."

  "My pleasure." Stealey held out her hand again. "If they tell us anything of interest, I'll let you know."

  Rapp sincerely doubted that they would get anything useful from the two men, but didn't say so. He shook her hand and said, "I'll see you later."

  Stealey watched him walk away, and thought to herself,Yes, you will.

  * * *

  Sixty-Three

  Rapp didn't make it far. Skip McMahon caught his attention from across the sea of desks and waved him over to his office. Rapp walked around the perimeter and joined the FBI man. McMahon didn't say anything, he just turned around and went back into his office with Rapp following. Paul Reimer was sitting in one of the two chairs in front of McMahon's desk. McMahon closed the door and walked around behind his desk.

  "What's up?" asked Rapp. "You guys comparing notes on the cushy jobs you've been offered?"

  "Yeah, we're talking about taking a celebratory cruise together," snarled McMahon.

  "Hey don't get defensive. I think it's great. In fact I might join you guys in the private sector."

  "What's that supposed to mean?" asked Reimer.

  "Let's just say, I'm getting a little burnt-out."

  "You're too young to quit," McMahon said, dropping down in his chair.

  "Age has nothing to do with it. It's all the bullshit."

  The former Navy SEAL and the FBI special agent shared a worried look. Reimer said, "You're not really serious, are you?"

  "Yep."

  "You can't. Someone's got to hang around and tell them how it is."

  Rapp tilted his head and asked, "Weren't you at the White House yesterday?"

  "I'll never forget it."

  "Well, I don't know if you noticed, but they don't seem to be listening to me."

  "Don't let this turn you sour, Mitch," McMahon said. "You're better than that. You did some great work this week. Without you, I'd hate to think what could have happened."

  "I'll be honest. Things were a hell of a lot easier when I worked in the shadows."

  McMahon, never one to listen to anyone complain for more than a second or two said, "Yeah, well you're not anymore, so suck it up. You're too damn young to go quitting on us, and besides, what in the hell would you do?"

  "Have babies, play golf I don't know. I'll find something."

  "You'd be bored out of your mind in two months," said Reimer. "The only reason I'm leaving is because I'm tapped out after putting three kids through college. I need to make some serious money before my wife and I sail off into the sunset."

  Rapp eyed Reimer disbelievingly. "You're not sick of all the B.S. with Homeland Security?"

  "Of course I am, but I'm fifty-six. You're only in your mid-thirties. You've got a long way to go before you can say you're burnt-out."

  McMahon looked at his watch impatiently. "All right now that we've got all the career counseling out of the way, and we've decided you're staying, can we get down to business?"

  "Sure." Rapp smiled.

  "Paul's got some interesting information. Stuff he doesn't want disseminated through official channels, and after you hear it, I don't think you're going to be quitting."

  McMahon had his attention. Rapp turned to Reimer. "What's up?"

  "The Russians have been quietly helpful. The truth is they are every bit as concerned by these Islamic radical fundamentalists as we are. In some ways they're more concerned."

  "They should be. Most of them are in their own backyard."

  "Yeah, well anyway I've had some interesting conversations with one of my counterparts over in the motherland. All off the record all unofficial. I sent him the particulars on the nuclear material, and he agrees that it's one of theirs."
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  "Interesting. Does he have any idea how al-Qaeda got their hands on it?"

  "He's looking into it, but he has a theory that sounds plausible to me."

  "Let's hear it."

  "First of all, he confirmed as best he could without actually seeing the nuclear material, and conducting the tests himself, that the material is in fact one of their prototype atomic demolition munitions that they tested at the Kazakh range in the late sixties. Without looking up the numbers he seemed to remember that approximately twenty of these weapons were tested during that time. Now here's where things get interesting. The Soviets don't advertise this little fact and neither do we." Reimer took on a more serious tone. "Not all of the tests that we conducted worked."

  "That doesn't shock me," said Rapp. "Isn't that why they're called tests?"

  "Yes, but it's the next part that will shock you. When I say they didn't work, that means that some of them reached critical mass, but didn't obtain their maximum yield, and that there were also others that simply didn't work properly in another way."

  "You mean they didn't blow up?"

  "Not exactly. The duds, as we so scientifically refer to them, often did blow up. They just never reached critical mass."

  "In English, please."

  "The physics involved in these weapons is very precise. If," Reimer made a ball with his hands, "the explosive charge that is placed around the nuclear material fails to detonate perfectly, critical mass cannot be obtained. Does that make sense?"

  McMahon and Rapp nodded.

  "Well, on occasion, the conventional explosive would misfire. We wouldn't reach critical mass, and we'd move on to the next test. If it wasn't too much work, we'd try and retrieve the nuclear material from the hole, but more often than not we simply left it buried down there. Now, knowing how the Soviets operate, my guess is they never even thought of retrieving the material from their failed tests."

  "Why not?" asked a surprised McMahon.

  "In the fifties and sixties we were churning out so much of this stuff that it was a lot easier to start with a fresh batch than go down into a collapsed, radioactive hot hole to salvage a hunk of junk that was extremely dangerous and that might or might not have been cost effective to reprocess."

 
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