The Last Man: A Novel


Chapter 1


THE four dead men were lined up on the living room floor of the safe house. Mitch Rapp started with the one on the left. The bearded face, the dark, lifeless eyes, and the dime-sized bullet hole that marked the center of the man's forehead were all expected. One bullet, nice and neat - the way Rapp would have done it. The next two bodyguards looked the same, including red pucker marks in the center of their brows. The fourth Afghani was a different story. He'd been shot through the back of the head. A quarter of his face was now a jagged crater of flesh, blood, and bone. The exit wound told him the man had been shot by something a lot bigger than a 9mm - probably a .45 caliber with ammunition that pancaked and tumbled for maximum damage. There was nothing about this mess to give Rapp any assurance that things would be fine, but this last little twist cracked open the door on something he did not want to consider.

Rapp set the troubling thought aside for a second, tried to imagine how it had gone down. The early signs pointed toward a well-coordinated assault. The perimeter security had been breached; phone line, cameras, motion sensors, heat sensors, and even the pressure pads had all been taken off-line. The backup connection through the satellite dish on the roof had also been disabled. Whoever had attacked the safe house had the knowledge and skill to hit the place without setting off a single alarm and alerting the quick-reaction force less than a mile away at the air base. According to the experts at Langley this was never supposed to happen. Four years earlier they had claimed the safe house was impregnable against any threat that the Taliban or any other local group could come up with. Rapp had told those same experts that they were full of shit. He'd never seen an impregnable safe house for the simple reason that people had to come and go.

As with most CIA safe houses, this one was intentionally bland. There was no American flag flown out front and there were no snappy Marines standing post at the main gate. This was a black site where the more unpleasant aspects of the war had been coordinated. Langley didn't want any official records of the comings and goings of the drug dealers, warlords, arms dealers, local politicians, police, and Afghan Army officers who were on the take.

The house looked like your run-of-the-mill two-story blockhouse in Jalalabad. There were quite a few upgrades that made it unique, but from the outside it looked dingy and run-down just like all the other houses in the neighborhood. The cinderblock wall that surrounded the property was coated with a special resin designed to prevent it from exploding into a million pieces and shredding the house in the event of a car bomb. The simple-looking front door contained a one-inch steel plate and a reinforced steel frame. All of the windows were bulletproof Plexiglas and the high-tech security cameras and sensors were concealed so as to not attract the attention of the neighbors. Langley had even taken the unusual precaution of buying the houses on each side and moving in the bodyguards and their families. All to protect one man.

Joe Rickman was the most cunning and brilliant operative Rapp had ever worked with. They'd known each other for sixteen years. At first Rapp didn't know what to think of him. Rickman was pure vanilla. There wasn't a single physical characteristic about him that was memorable. At five-feet-ten he was neither tall nor short. His mousy brown hair matched his dull brown eyes, and his weak chin completed the bland lines of his roundish face. On the rare occasion that you heard him speak, he was never animated and his voice was pure monotone - the kind of thing that could put the most restless baby to sleep.

Rickman's forgettable face allowed him to blend in and those who met him were almost underwhelmed by his presence. For Rickman that was just fine. Much of his success was built on fools underestimating him. He'd worked for the CIA for twenty-three years and it was rumored that he had never set foot inside headquarters. Only a few months earlier Rapp had asked him if the rumor was true. Rickman responded with a soft smile and said that he'd never been invited.

At the time, Rapp took the comment as a