Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
WEST OF MANASSAS
THE rain just kept coming. In sheets earlier. Then in waves. Now it seemed to go in circles, overwhelming the windshield wipers on Rapp’s rental car and swirling in his headlights. Behind, Irene Kennedy was piloting her own SUV, tracking him at a distance of only a few feet. The vague glow of his house started to be discernable through his fogged windshield, but it didn’t bring much comfort.
He’d just told Maggie Nash that her husband was dead. The carefully crafted bullshit about his heroics hadn’t done much to obscure the fact that she was now a widow with four fatherless kids. Nor had it softened the look in her eyes. The one that said “What the hell was my executive husband with a bad back doing in Uganda? Why is he—like so many others—dead while you just keep on breathing?”
A fair question that he didn’t have an answer for.
The modern, vaguely museum-like concept of the house looming ahead had originally been dreamed up by his late wife. Architecturally cutting-edge from the outside while allowing for no-compromises security to be integrated from the foundation up. When first completed, it had felt a little like a bunker. Not that he’d had a problem with that. There was nothing like being surrounded by thousands of tons of concrete to make him sleep at night. With the addition of Claudia, though, it had actually started to feel like a home. The smell of cement and fresh paint had been replaced with that of baking bread, flowers, and coconut shampoo. The hum of the state-of-the-art HVAC had been replaced with Anna’s breathless storytelling and the banging of pans.
Now, as he closed in, it transformed back into a bunker. Eight million dollars’ worth of dead and empty.
The massive gate opened when he hit a button on his key fob and he kept it depressed to allow Kennedy to tailgate him inside. Additional security lights came on as they pulled up to the front door and jumped out into the rain. A custom-made key got him inside, where he disabled the security system and started a diagnostic. He’d already completed one over his mobile phone but didn’t trust it. Anything connected to the Internet could be hacked. The physical system, though, was built into the walls and subverting it would take more than some clever hackers—it’d take jackhammers.
It showed all-clear just as Kennedy entered the vestibule. She held her umbrella outside to shake it before closing the door again. It blocked out most of the sound of the storm, leaving him with the drone of the HVAC again.
“Claudia gave me a list of things she wants me to bring back to Africa,” Rapp said. “Why don’t you grab a bottle of wine and then meet me upstairs?”
Kennedy nodded silently and started toward the cellar.
“Might as well get a good one,” he called as he jogged up the stairs. “I doubt I have much time and I’m not sure I’ll ever be back.”
In fact, he shouldn’t have been there at all. But leaving Kennedy to talk to Maggie alone seemed like the coward’s way out. He bore a lot of responsibility for her husband’s death and the least he could do was look her in the eye when she got the news.
Rapp entered the master bedroom and used his phone to turn on a white-noise generator that played over hidden Bluetooth speakers. It would obscure any conversation from hidden microphones that were almost certainly not there. Better safe than sorry.
He pulled up the list Claudia had given him and waded into the walk-in closet that he rarely set foot in. The tangle of dresses, shoes, scarfs, and God-knew-what-else at first looked random but upon further examination hinted at some overarching master plan.
He’d still managed to locate precisely none of the things on the list when Kennedy appeared with an open bottle of Bordeaux.
“What’s the difference between a heel and a wedge?” Rapp asked.
She poured a couple of glasses and then motioned him out of the closet, taking his phone as he passed. A quick glance at the list on-screen was all she needed to start retrieving things.
“What happened, Mitch?”
“Mike was your mole.”
She nodded silently. “Can I assume he was working at the direction of the White House?”
President Anthony Cook was very different from his predecessors. He was autocratic, ruthless, and had no love for the country he ran or the people who inhabited it. In fact, the opposite seemed to be true. He saw every flaw, every weakness, and had an incredible gift for exploiting them. In his mind, the further he could pit the American people against each other, the more he could control them. His only goals appeared to be basking in the adulation of his followers and the accumulation of power.
In many ways his wife was even worse. She was nowhere near as charismatic, but smarter and more calculating. Combined, they were a force to be reckoned with. If nothing else, Mike Nash had been right on that point.
When Kennedy spoke again, it became clear that she’d been thinking about something that hit a little closer to home.
“Did you kill him?”
“He killed himself.”
“Are you speaking figuratively?”
“You mean am I saying that he crossed me and that’s as good as suicide? No. He put a gun under his chin and pulled the trigger before I could stop him.”
She sagged a bit as some of the tension she was carrying released. He watched for a few seconds as she coiled a belt on top of a chest of drawers.
“What now, Irene?”
She didn’t answer immediately but when she did, it was with a phrase he rarely heard from her. “I don’t know.”
“That’s it? You got me into this, remember?”
“Do you mean the mole hunt? Or this life?”
“I guess I did. Maybe an apology is in order.”
“Nah. We had a pretty good run.”
“Have we?” she said, turning toward him. “Because it led here. To this place. To this moment. I recognize now that I’ve been turning away from the truth, Mitch. For a long time. Maybe for as long as we’ve known each other.”
“That American democracy is much more delicate than I was willing to admit. I always knew there was a power-hungry ruling class, but I didn’t allow myself to see how many people would be willing to kneel in front of it. Maybe freedom just demands too much of the average citizen. Too much personal responsibility. Too many opportunities for failure.”
“Right before he died, Mike said we should make peace with the Cooks. That we can’t beat them. Or change what’s coming.”
“It’s probably good advice.”
“He said that, too.”
She carried a neatly folded stack of clothing from the closet and laid it on the bed before returning to her wineglass. Rapp couldn’t tell if it was his imagination or if her hand shook a little as she brought it to her lips.
“The role of the CIA is going to change under the Cooks, Mitch. It’s going to turn inward. They aren’t concerned with outside powers, because they aren’t a threat to them. They’re much more concerned with internal enemies—political opponents, critics, and eventually the American people. Homeland Security is going to become an organization dedicated entirely to maintaining their power.”
“That’s a big change that involves a lot of people. Are they going to be able to pull it off?”
“I’ve given that question a lot of thought and the answer is yes.”
“But you’re still standing. Sounds like the plan was to put Mike in your chair, but that didn’t work out.”
“No, it didn’t,” she said, staring into her wineglass.
“But either way you figure you’re done,” Rapp prompted.
“No question. I have a lot of public support and some powerful friends inside the Beltway, so the Cooks are moving cautiously. But with the lack of pushback they’ve gotten on their purge so far, there’s no reason for them to hold back.”
“And you think it’ll be effective,” Rapp said.
“Incredibly so. Consider how effective the Stasi was at controlling the citizens in East Germany using only handwritten notes, hardwired listening stations, and black-and-white film. Compare that to high-definition video, social media, and artificial intelligence. The technology to surveil every citizen in America exists today. And not just what they do and say. What they think and feel. It’s just a matter of scaling up and putting it in place.”
Rapp nodded and folded his arms across his chest. “This isn’t what I signed on for, Irene. I was happy to defend my country from outside enemies, but it’s not my job to defend it against itself. The fact that the American people vote for these pieces of shit isn’t my problem. But the fact that Cook sent one of my best friends to kill me is.”
“You’re not having any wine?” Kennedy said, obviously anxious to avoid the issue for just a little longer.
“It probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
She smiled bitterly and tipped a little more into her glass. “No. I suppose not.”