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Red War

Vince Flynn

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  It takes a village to get a book from vague idea to finished product, and I’m lucky to be surrounded by people whose knowledge, enthusiasm, and work ethic take some of the sting out of the process.

  I wouldn’t be where I am today without my agent, Simon Lipskar. Emily Bestler and Sloan Harris are always there for me when I need them. David Brown and his amazing team get the word out like no one else in the industry. Ryan Steck is a double threat—a tireless champion of the series and an encyclopedia of all things Rapp. My mother and wife slogged through my rough draft and gave me critical first impressions. Rod Gregg returned to clear up any questions I had about firearms. And, finally, Steven Stoll lent me some much needed lacrosse knowledge.

  Finally, I can never thank Vince’s fans enough for the warm welcome. I’m still amazed at how many people take the time to reach out and offer their encouragement. Without your energy, I would have never made it through the first book.





  THE streets were overrun.

  Despite his idiot advisors’ assurances, the president of Russia found himself watching protesters enter Red Square. Current estimates were that more than two hundred thousand people had joined together to shut down Moscow’s commercial districts and now a reckless few were marching on its seat of power.

  The gray column of humanity was probably ten meters across and of indeterminate length, snaking out of sight in the steady rain. At its head was Roman Pasternak, clad in the red jacket and baseball cap he wore like a target, daring Russia’s security forces to move against him. Maxim Krupin squinted down at the scene but couldn’t make out anything but the vague shape of the man. There had been a time not long ago that his eyes would have been capable of taking in every detail, but no longer. The episodes of blurred vision were coming with increasing frequency, lasting hours now instead of minutes.

  At his age, perhaps it was time to reconsider his opinion that glasses were a sign of frailty. Or perhaps not. He’d learned to exploit weakness and illness in others, but had suffered from neither since he was a child. He only availed himself of the medical system for injuries sustained during sports or hunting, the scars from which he wore proudly.

  Men like Pasternak would never understand that control over Russia didn’t flow from economic growth or freedom or security. No, it flowed from the perception of power. Krupin’s own was unshakable of course, but it had become that way by providing his people with the illusion that they were the source. That he was nothing more than an instrument to carry out their will. A weapon to be wielded against a long list of carefully fabricated threats. The Americans. The Europeans. Gays. But most of all, the democratic forces seething just beneath the surface of their society.

  In contrast to the willowy man organizing his followers below, Krupin was a bear of a man. Two hundred pounds of bulk hung on a six-foot frame. Still solid, but becoming less so every day. His black hair was thick on not only his head but across his broad chest and back. He was the soot-covered coal miner that had provided the heat and electricity so critical to Soviet domination. The factory worker who had built its machines and weapons. The farmer who had fed its hungry people. And, finally, the soldier who had made the world tremble.

  He watched the people milling below and the security forces scrambling to maintain control. Predictably, most of the protesters were young—pampered university students or people involved in what had come to be called the new economy. Work that economists believed would be the future of the country but that produced nothing tangible. No military equipment, grand buildings, or massive public works. Just lines of computer code and an endless array of services to provide comfort to this new generation.

  The pampered children marching solemnly through Red Square existed not for love of country but for love of themselves. They never spoke of the glory of Mother Russia, instead droning incessantly about their individual rights and the Western luxuries denied to them. But now the nature of the conversation was changing. In increasingly bold terms, they were defining themselves as the future of Russia. And relegating him to its past.

  Krupin noted a series of dull flashes in his peripheral vision and braced himself for the wave of nausea that always immediately followed. Other than that, he didn’t react. There was still time before the disorientation and searing pain descended. That time would be shorter than it had been during the last episode, though. It always was.

  In an act of defiance that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, the protesters spread out beneath the tower where he was ensconced. And in response, he did nothing but stare through the dripping window at them.

  His underlings were increasingly hesitant to move against the country’s fragmented, but growing, political opposition. Instead of crushing it, they relied on the state media’s ability to either ridicule it or to simply deny its existence. Anything more overt, they warned, could lead to a backlash that might careen out of control. The tide that for so long had risen and fallen only by the force of his gravity, could overwhelm him as it had Hussein, Gaddafi, and others.

  The subtle loss of balance came even more quickly than Krupin expected, forcing him to turn away from the disturbing images filtering through the wet glass. The blinding headache would be next, starting as a nearly imperceptible pulse and growing to a level that was at the edge of his ability to tolerate. Then, finally, the confusion. That was the worst of it. For a man in his position, even a momentary lapse could be deadly.

  He carefully lowered himself into a utilitarian chair behind an even more utilitarian desk. The tiny office was located in an uninhabited corner of the Kremlin that hadn’t been upgraded since the Soviet era. The clock on the wall had stopped functioning years ago, but the numbers reading out on his cell phone were unwavering. 11:59.

  He pulled a folder from a stack at the desk’s edge and removed the band holding the cover closed. Its contents were meaningless, but they helped him hide the cracks in the façade that he’d worked so long to build.

  The knock on the door came less than a minute later. Punctuality in others had always been one of the benefits of his near omnipotence within the borders of Russia.


  The man who entered walked with a slight hunch that made him seem older than his sixty years. Soft eyes and white hair worn a bit too long normally would have suggested weakness to Krupin, but now hinted at a hidden wisdom that put him uncharacteristically ill at ease.

  He looked up from the folder and examined his personal physician, being careful not to squint in an effort to focus. His visits were typically for the purpose of routine checkups or minor complaints. They were never reported to the media unless they involved an injury that could enhance his image, but neither were they kept secret.

  Today was different.

  Eduard Fedkin had never been called to that forgotten corner of the Kremlin and would be startled to find Russia’s leader there. Perhaps it was this surprise that had left him shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Or perhaps it was more.

  “What news do you bring, Doctor?”

  “Our tests, sir . . .” The man hesitated, but was unable to remain silent under the weight o
f Krupin’s stare. “They’ve uncovered an abnormality in your brain.”

  A surge of adrenaline flooded Krupin, magnifying the growing pain in his head. His face, though, betrayed nothing.

  “What kind of abnormality?”

  “A tumor.”


  “It’s likely that it’s the cause of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.”

  Krupin concentrated on keeping his voice even. “Is it cancer?”

  “Our tests were only preliminary. They weren’t designed to determine that.”

  At Krupin’s insistence, the exam had been done at his home with only equipment that could be transported in and out with complete secrecy.

  “You must have formed some opinion.”

  “Given that you’re only experiencing blurred vision and moderate headaches, my hope is that it’s benign and slow growing,” Fedkin said, choosing his words carefully.

  Krupin hadn’t been entirely forthright about the intensity of his headaches, nor had he mentioned the mental confusion that always followed. Fedkin was one of the finest physicians in the country, but hardly a loyalist. As near as Russia’s intelligence services could discern, the man was largely non-political—one of the many Russian intellectuals who considered themselves above such pettiness. Still, information had to be carefully controlled.

  “Obviously, we’ll need to perform a more thorough examination, sir. This needs to be done immediately.”

  “I don’t think there’s any reason for hysterics,” Krupin said with calm he didn’t feel. “I’ll have my assistant find a convenient time in my schedule.”

  Fedkin didn’t immediately move, instead staring down at Krupin as though he was trying to decide whether to try to argue his position. Instead, he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.

  When the latch clicked, Krupin sagged over the desk, supporting his head in his hands and fighting back the nausea gripping him. Cheers erupted outside, loud enough to vibrate the walls, reminding him of the protesters clogging Moscow’s streets. Enemies to be sure but not his most dangerous. That distinction was held by the men closest to him. The men who knew his age and were quietly positioning themselves for what was to come next.

  He fought to focus his mind, assessing the strength, vulnerabilities, and ambition of men who would be the most likely to move against him. This was his true gift. Not economics or geopolitics. Not even military strategy. No, he ruled the largest country in the world because he was as good as anyone in history at keeping enemies—both external and internal—off balance. He meted out information and disinformation, flattery and threats, rewards and punishments, all designed to create a web that trapped everyone who came in contact with it. Effective, but also extraordinarily difficult to maintain. Without constant tending, it would collapse almost overnight.

  More cheers from outside, this time followed by the amplified voice of Roman Pasternak.

  “Why are we here?”

  Krupin lost his train of thought. Pasternak had not only marched his ragtag followers onto Red Square, but now he was going to make a speech? The very idea would have been laughable five years ago. Time, though, could be controlled by no man and neither could the changes it brought.

  He started to stand, but then fell back in his seat. No. Pasternak was a threat, but not an immediate one. He would be dealt with in due course.

  “Russia teeters in and out of recession year after year, dependent entirely on the value of things we can dig from the ground. Our teachers and other workers don’t get paid. Our infrastructure is collapsing . . .”

  Krupin used a pencil to begin a list that only a few months ago he would have had no use for. The first name he added was that of Boris Utkin, his prime minister.

  He was relatively young and technologically savvy, capable of connecting with the generation that held Krupin at arm’s length. A skilled politician, he feigned loyalty but always positioned himself in the middle ground—a bridge between the iron-fisted control of Krupin’s administration and the anarchy offered by the man outside shouting into his bullhorn.

  “We have a motivated, educated populace, but what do we make? What do we invent? Innovation is the future and all we can do is strip our land of its wealth and sell it to more prosperous countries for table scraps.”

  Grisha Azarov. The killer who had once worked so effectively for him. He had walked away from the power and wealth that Krupin had given him and was now living an anonymous life in Central America. Not a threat on his own, but unimaginably dangerous if recruited by others.

  “Maxim Krupin is the wealthiest man in the world, doling out patronage to his inner circle while the rest of us starve.”

  Tarben Chkalov. The most powerful of the oligarchs, a man too old and too well diversified internationally to fear Krupin anymore. He sought only stability and would back anyone who could provide it.

  “Five percent of our economy is devoted to the military. For what? Expansion? Our adventures in Crimea and Ukraine have cost billions of rubles and left us bowed beneath the weight of international sanctions. Protection from invasion?” Pasternak’s amplified laugh was partially obscured by electronic feedback. “Who would want this country?”

  Krupin let his pencil drop from numb fingers. The sensation of rage rising in him was familiar, but there was more. Something lurking behind it. Something alien.


  “The president keeps our old people blinded with nationalism and memories of Soviet glory, but those days are over forever. And I say good riddance.”

  It occurred to Krupin that he had forgotten to write the name of his most potent adversary: time. What did this abnormality in his brain mean for him? A slow decline into dementia and insanity? Invasive medical treatments that would leave only a husk of the man he was now? Would he rot while the weaklings around him maneuvered to be the first to thrust a knife into his back?

  He thought of the meaningless people in the square, of the youth and vitality they wore so effortlessly. Of the millions of people who would continue their obscure lives while his own faded. Of a world that would cease to fear him and would be emboldened by that newfound confidence.

  “Russia has a proud history but we can’t stand at odds with the rest of the world any longer . . .”

  The pain in his head continued to grow, pushing beyond anything he’d experienced before.

  “We need to take our place in the world order, not to lose ourselves in an old man’s fantasy of dominating it.”

  “Shut up!” Krupin screamed, terrified by how his voice was swallowed by the tiny office around him. He leapt to his feet, shouting again as he grabbed for the phone on the desk. “Shut up!”




  MITCH Rapp slowed, letting Scott Coleman’s lead extend to ten feet.

  They were running on a poorly defined dirt track that switchbacked up a mountain to the west of the one he’d built his house on. By design, it was late afternoon and they were in full sun. Temperatures were in the high eighties with humidity around the same level, covering Rapp in a film of perspiration that was beginning to soak through his shirt.

  Coleman, on the other hand, looked like he’d just climbed out of a swimming pool. He was pouring so much sweat that the trail of mud he left behind him would be visible from space. His breathing was coming in random, wheezing gasps that made him sound like the soon-to-be victim in a slasher flick. On the brighter side, his pace was steady and he wasn’t tripping over the roots and loose rocks beneath his feet.

  So, three quarters of the way to the summit, he was moving about as well as anybody could expect under the circumstances. Rapp wasn’t anybody, though. It was time to see what the former navy SEAL could do.

  He crashed through some low branches to Coleman’s left, pulling back onto the trail a few feet ahead. After about a minute of matching his old friend’s pace, he started to slowly accelerate. Behind him, the rhythm
of footfalls rose in defiance. Like they always did.

  Coleman had just spent more than a year focused entirely on recovering from a run-in with Grisha Azarov, the nearly superhuman enforcer who worked for Russia’s president. Azarov had finally walked away from his country and employer, but unfortunately not in time to save Coleman a wrecked shoulder, a knife blade broken off in his ribs, and multiple gunshot wounds. The blood loss alone would have killed a man half his age, but the former SEAL managed to beat the odds and stay above ground.

  That had turned out to be the easy part. When he’d finally been hoisted out of bed, it had taken him almost a month just to relearn how to walk. And then there was the mental side. Going from being stronger, tougher, and faster than almost everyone around him to someone who needed a motorized cart to navigate the grocery store had been a tough blow. Even worse was coming to terms with the fact that Azarov had torn through him like he wasn’t there. Coleman was still struggling to regain the confidence he’d always possessed in well-deserved abundance.

  So it had been a surprise—of the rare good kind—when he’d showed up on Rapp’s doorstep and invited him on a trail run. It was good to see a hint of the old swagger. He’d been Rapp’s backup for a long time and the truth was that the year without him could have gone better. In this business, you were only as good as the people you surrounded yourself with.

  Rapp glanced at the heart rate monitor strapped to his wrist. One sixty-five—a hard but comfortable pace that he could hold for around three hours before blowing up. Behind him, Coleman’s breathing was becoming desperate and his footfalls were losing their steady tempo. Stumbles, followed by awkward saves, were increasingly frequent as his thigh muscles began to give up. But no falls. Not yet.

  They broke out of the trees and Rapp pushed the pace a little harder as the summit came into sight. Coleman tripped and went down on one hand, but managed to get back to his feet without losing momentum. He was running purely on determination and pride now, but that was okay. He had serious reserves of both.