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Act of Treason, Page 2

Vince Flynn

  As with pretty much any job, Gazich had his reservations, but with this one there were more than usual, in part because he was operating in America, a country that was on high alert for terrorist attacks. Their border controls and linked computer systems made traveling under false identities very difficult. In Africa he rarely had to worry about being picked up by a surveillance camera. Here in Washington, though, they were everywhere.

  This was a rush job, which was never good on the nerves. He had been given one hour to accept or decline the job without even knowing what it was. All he was told was that he would have to travel to America, the hit would take place this coming Saturday and he would be paid two million dollars. This was double the most lucrative contract he’d ever landed. His initial thought was that it was a trap, but after he analyzed it for a moment he dismissed that possibility. He had done nothing to offend the Americans. There would be no reason for them to go to this effort to capture a man who’d made a living in the killing fields of Africa.

  Pretty much without exception Gazich dispatched his targets in one of two ways. He either shot them in the head from a safe distance or blew them up with high-powered explosives. Simplicity was at all times his primary objective. Having grown up on a farm outside Sarajevo, Gazich and his older brothers had been raised to hunt. They were all expert marksmen by the age of ten. When he was sixteen, his father sent him and his three older brothers off to fight with the Bosnian Serb forces who had laid siege to Sarajevo. That was when Gazich turned his crosshairs from wild game to man for the first time. In certain ways, he found hunting man less of a challenge. In other ways he found it far more exhilarating.

  Today would be one of the most thrilling kills of his career. His only regret was that he hadn’t been given more time to plan the hit. Killing a man with a single shot from up to a mile away was the biggest rush he had ever felt. Killing the target by remote detonating a bomb was a distant second, but a thrill nonetheless. That’s what it would be today. There simply wasn’t enough time to prepare for a head shot.

  On Monday he was given the target and the motorcade’s route. That same day he gave them the list of what he would need. He never spoke with his employers directly. He in fact had no idea who they were, although he had a good idea. They were Muslims to be sure. Terrorists who had promised to upset the American election. Gazich did not care for Muslims, but the money and the thought of screwing with the Americans was exhilarating. They had meddled in the affairs of his country. It would be poetic justice to return the favor.

  These terrorists were getting smart. Sneaking their own devoted followers into America had become extremely difficult. Hiring a freelancer was much easier, and even with the two million-dollar fee, it was probably cheaper than training, equipping, and transporting a team to handle the operation. The most difficult part for them had to be getting the explosives and detonators he’d asked for. It had all been waiting for him in a storage garage in Rockville. Sneaking five hundred pounds of high explosives into America was not easily done. And this was good stuff. High-grade Russian military plastic explosives. Not the decaying unstable crap he was forced to use from time to time when he operated in Africa. The blasting caps, the prime chord, and the remote detonator were also the best the Russians had to offer.

  Gazich tried not to think too much about the fallout that would take place after the van exploded. In Africa he rarely had to think about such things. They all wanted to kill each other. One more body on the pile meant nothing. This was different, though. Washington was the grand stage of espionage and diplomacy, not some backwater, mosquito infested Third World hellhole. This was elephant hunting, and Gazich had tracked the real beast. To kill the giant with a rifle shot from a safe distance was not difficult. The real sport of it was getting close, belly crawling for hundreds of meters, and sneaking in among the herd. That took skill, fortitude, and a bit of insanity. Still, the shot itself was relatively easy. The real danger lay in getting trampled by one of the massive gray beasts after the herd was spooked.

  Gazich left the Starbucks with his espresso in one hand and a newspaper under his arm. So far the most difficult part had been finding a parking spot. Two million dollars for finding a parking spot. Gazich laughed to himself and started up the street. Screwing with the American political system was sure to bring about a backlash. He told himself he would worry about that later. Now it was time to sneak up on the herd and hope he didn’t get trampled.

  SPECIAL AGENT RIVERA stood near the door and looked into the large conference room. At thirty-five she’d managed to keep her figure by beating up her fellow agents on a weekly basis. Karate burned a lot of calories and Rivera worked on her moves as if it was a religion. The campaign had cut into her classes, and the other agents on the detail had grown wise to the fact that she was a second-degree black belt. They were done sparing with her and she was getting bored. Although she’d avoided weighing herself, she could feel the extra pounds. Two more weeks, she kept telling herself. Then she would decompress back in Arizona. She’d sleep, eat, and work out. Kick some ass at the gym. Pay her old dojo a visit and show him who was the boss now. Maybe she’d even bump into a real man. Someone unattached, and not looking for anything serious. Boy, would that be nice, she thought to herself. She didn’t even want to try and figure out how long it had been.

  Her boys were seated at the head of the U-shaped table. The cameras had been allowed in for the first fifteen minutes of the meeting and then they were asked to leave. Alexander’s campaign manager had decided they would look more legitimate that way. At some point, if you were going to get serious about national security, you had to exclude the press and at least look like you were talking about important secrets of state.

  Rivera was as tough as they came, but even she was exhausted. It had been a hellish campaign. Each day brought a new city, and with each city came an entirely forgettable hotel room, bland hotel food, and a cramped hotel fitness center. Every morning she received a wake-up call from one of her fellow agents that, in addition to telling her what time it was, also reminded her where she was and where she was headed. Sometimes there were as many as four states in a day. The events were one after another from sunup to midnight, and she and her people had to be sharp every step of the way.

  These presidential elections were a logistical nightmare. As hard as they were on the politicians and their staffers, though, they were worse on the sentinels who were tasked with protecting them. Rivera was the special agent in charge, or SAC, of presidential candidate Josh Alexander’s Secret Service detail. She’d been with the Secret Service for thirteen years. During that time she’d worked in the Los Angeles, Miami, and New York field offices. She’d also done two presidential details and had risen through the ranks quicker than any other agent in her class. Along the way she’d had one brief marriage, and a thankfully quick divorce to go along with it. That was almost ten years ago. It had been a pretty easy decision for Rivera. Her husband was a federal prosecutor working out of the Manhattan District. They’d met on an organized crime task force, and he’d swept her off her feet. Looking back on it now, she should have known marrying an attorney was a mistake. Four months into the marriage she stopped by her husband’s office one day to surprise him and busted him instead. Right there in the middle of the afternoon he was screwing a female NYPD detective on his couch. Rivera knocked him out cold and filed for divorce that very afternoon.

  Maria Rivera was second-generation American, but she spoke Spanish fluently thanks to her grandmother, who still prayed every day for her marriage to be resurrected. Grandma Rivera had been crushed when she parted ways with the Harvard hotshot attorney. He was a good Catholic boy and quite the charmer. Rivera didn’t have the heart to tell grandma that the Ivy League attorney was a whore.

  Free of her matrimonial bonds, Rivera took every tough assignment the Service threw at her. She’d worked major counterfeit and credit card fraud cases for years and in-between managed to do stints on presidential det
ails. A year ago she’d been promoted to assistant special agent in charge of President Hayes’s detail, or ASAC. When Alexander took the lead after New Hampshire, her bosses called her into headquarters and told her to pack her bags. They put her in charge of Alexander’s detail and told her not to screw up. That she was on the short list to run the next presidential detail.

  To run a presidential detail was every agent’s dream. It was also a position within the Service where the glass ceiling was still intact. If Rivera could keep it together she had a legitimate shot at being the first female agent to run a presidential detail. She had thought of little else for the last nine months. The pace of the campaign had been tolerable for most of that time. Early on Alexander didn’t have to work too hard. He was ahead in the polls. He was a fresh face and the new political darling of the moment. He had ridden that wave all the way to the Democratic Party’s convention in August where he walked away with a landslide of the delegates and a new running mate.

  Then everything went to hell. Rivera had been expecting the pace to pick up as they hit the home stretch for the November election, but the demands of the campaign had surprised even her. Alexander’s opponents launched a blistering ad campaign that made hay out of the young governor’s penchant for embellishing stories and sometimes simply making things up. His youth and relative inexperience were brought into doubt, as well as his integrity. By the time Labor Day rolled around, a five-point lead in the polls had evaporated.

  The answer from the Alexander camp was to fire their campaign manager and redouble their efforts. The first two weeks of September were spent on trains and the second two on buses. They crisscrossed the country, hitting every state that was deemed winnable. Events were scheduled, canceled, and then rescheduled. Advance teams were left stranded in cities as the campaign changed directions on an almost hourly basis. It was an absolute logistical disaster, but through it all Rivera had stayed at the helm and rolled with the schizophrenic scheduling of the campaign. Now, with just two weeks to go, she could finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

  “Rivera,” a voice whispered urgently.

  Maria Rivera backed out of the doorway and came face to face with Stuart Garret. Like most people in law enforcement, Rivera was a quick study when it came to people. When she was assigned to protect someone she was careful to not let her personal feelings or opinions affect her work. Josh Alexander, for instance, was a pretty nice guy. Well-mannered, sometimes aloof, but for the most part appreciative and respectful of the job she and her people performed. Mark Ross, on the other hand, was arrogant and condescending. Rivera didn’t like the man, but she kept it to herself. Garret, however, pushed her professional demeanor to the limits. He was quite possibly the biggest asshole she had ever met.

  She was now face to face with the abrasive Californian who was running the show.

  “Yes, Stu.”

  “We’re fifteen minutes behind schedule.”

  Rivera nodded. The campaign was behind schedule, not the Secret Service. Rivera and her people were not conductors on a train. They were not in charge of keeping people on time. They were in charge of keeping the candidates and their families alive.

  “As soon as they’re done in there,” Garret continued, “I want everybody in the cars. I’m going to need some one-on-one time with Josh and Mark, so put Jillian in the second limo. She’s going to the vice president’s only for the receiving line, and then she wants to go back to her hotel for some fucking spa treatment or something.”

  “Fine,” Rivera answered, ignoring Garret’s foul mouth.

  Rivera had spent the last nine months of her life with the presidential candidate and his wife, and she still hadn’t had more than a two-sentence conversation with Jillian. She was very reserved, very attractive, and very aloof. It had been Garret’s idea to bring her along today. “Eye candy,” was what he called her. Her likability number was higher than her husband’s and his running mate’s combined. Jillian was currently in the second floor salon meeting with a group of Muslim women and discussing their role in combating Islamic extremism.

  “She wants that big agent of yours to go with her,” Garret snarled.

  “Special Agent Cash?”

  “I don’t know his fucking name. He’s the big guy.”

  A lot of Rivera’s agents were big guys. She thought she knew which one he was referring to, though, so she said, “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Good. Be ready to roll in five minutes.” Garret turned and rushed off down the long hallway.

  Rivera watched him leave. On more than one occasion she’d visualized delivering a roundhouse kick to the man’s head. The scuttlebutt among the campaign staffers was that, win or lose, Garret wasn’t sticking around. He’d been chief of staff for a brief period under a previous administration and openly complained that it was the worst six months of his life. He was a hired gun who had accepted a rumored seven-figure fee to come in and bail out the campaign. Rivera had heard him say on more than one occasion that anyone willing to work for a government salary was a chump. This, of course, further endeared him to the agents who were assigned to protect his candidates.

  Rivera started for the front door. She was dressed in a dark blue pantsuit with a light blue blouse. She never wore skirts or dresses, at least not when she was on duty. They simply weren’t practical. Every agent on the detail carried the new FN 5.7 pistol and two extra clips of ammunition. The FN 5.7 was the finest pistol she’d ever fired. It carried twenty armor-piercing rounds in the grip plus one in the chamber and had half the recoil of the old Sig. In addition to her weapon she carried her secure Motorola digital radio, a mobile phone, and a BlackBerry. All of that gear had to be stowed someplace and a dress just wasn’t going to cut it.

  Rivera opened the large, front door and stepped out onto the stone terrace of the Dumbarton Mansion. She was a walking contradiction—understated yet beautiful, graceful yet athletic. Her shiny black hair was almost always pulled back in a simple ponytail. Thanks to her ancestors she was blessed with a wrinkle-free complexion. She wore very little makeup while on duty and made every effort to downplay her looks. The Secret Service was still very much a men’s club. A men’s club with an extremely difficult job. Part of that job was to be seen. To let people know they were there at all times monitoring the situation. At no point, though, were they to outshine the people they were protecting.

  Donning a pair of sunglasses, she surveyed the scene from the elevated terrace and checked her watch. It was almost a quarter past noon. She couldn’t wait to get Alexander and Ross safely tucked away at the Naval Observatory. Then the vice president’s detail could take over, and she and her team could get a few hours of much needed down time before they had to fly to St. Louis.

  Rivera spotted the man she wanted to talk to at the far end of the veranda. She started in his direction. It was drilled into agents to look presentable at all times. Clothes were to be cleaned and pressed. No ties with ketchup stains or dirty shirt collars. Footwear was stressed to the point where one would think they were training for the Olympics. Agents had to stand post for long hours. They needed to be comfortable. It was function over form. Rivera remembered an instructor she’d had at the training center in Beltsville, Maryland, who used to tell female agents if they couldn’t sprint two blocks in their shoes, then they shouldn’t be wearing them. This was the same instructor who used to admonish female agents for wearing skirts. He’d tell them, “Do you want to be remembered as the agent who saved the president’s life by wrestling a gunman to the ground, or do you want to be remembered as the agent who showed the world her panties while tackling an assassin?”

  Rivera took all these lessons seriously. That was why she was wearing a pair of black, lace-up loafers with two-inch heels and rubber soles. They were made of patent leather because she hated shining shoes. The rubber sole made them comfortable and quiet. Rivera was reminded of this second attribute as she neared the agent at the far end of the veranda. He had no idea
someone was coming up from behind him. This was a bad sign, rubber soles or not. Her people were running on fumes.

  A few feet away she decided to have some fun. She stuck out her finger and jabbed it into the small of the large man’s back. Matt Cash, a nine-year veteran of the Secret Service, jumped as if he’d just been startled from a nap.

  “One wrong move and you’re dead,” Rivera laughed.

  Cash wheeled around and it was obvious from the expression on his face that he was not amused. “What in the hell is wrong with you?”

  Rivera grinned, showing her perfect white teeth.

  “The press is right there on the other side of the fence,” Cash whispered.

  She looked at the TV vans parked on the street and the photographers perched on ladders so they could shoot over the brick wall. She stepped in front of the agent and looked down at his groin. “You didn’t piss yourself, did you?”

  “Yeah,” he said angrily. “Hurry up and give me one of those super jumbo maxi-pads you carry around. Maybe I can soak it up before it seeps through my boxers.”

  “Wow…aren’t we in a good mood today?”

  “Don’t start with me.” Cash grabbed the lapels of his suit coat and gave them a yank. “I’m sick of this shit.”

  Such an open admission caught Rivera off guard. As the special agent in charge of the detail she wasn’t just their boss. She was also their den mother.

  “By shit…are you referring to me, your job, or both?”

  “Not you,” he snarled. “The job. I’ve been on the road for three straight months. My kids miss me, my wife hates me, and here I am back in DC for the day and I can’t even stop by my own house and say hello.”