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Will Robie is a master of killing.
A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst–enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims.
No one else can match Robie’s talents as a hitman…no one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she’s gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency.
To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him.
But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat, a threat that could send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.
Table of Contents
More David Baldacci
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From David Baldacci—#1 New York Times bestselling author and one of the world's most popular, widely read storytellers—comes the most thrilling novel of the year.
Will Robie is a master of killing.
A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst—enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims.
No one else can match Robie's talents as a hitman… no one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she's gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency.
To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him.
But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat—a danger that will send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.
FEELING ENERGIZED BY THE DEATH that was about to happen, Doug Jacobs adjusted his headset and brightened his computer screen. The picture was now crystal clear, almost as if he were there.
But he thanked God he wasn't.
There was thousands of miles away, but one couldn't tell that by looking at the screen. They couldn't pay him enough to be there. Besides, many people were far better suited for that job. He would be communicating shortly with one of them.
Jacobs briefly glanced around the four walls and the one window of his office in the sunny Washington, D.C., neighborhood. It was an ordinary-looking low-rise brick building set in a mixed-use neighborhood that also contained historical homes in various states of either decay or restoration. But some parts of Jacobs's building were not ordinary at all. These elements included a heavy-gauge steel gate out front with a high fence around the perimeter of the property. Armed sentries patrolled the interior halls and surveillance cameras monitored the exterior. But there was nothing on the outside to clue anyone in to what was happening on the inside.
And a lot was happening on the inside.
Jacobs picked up his mug of fresh coffee, into which he had just poured three sugar packets. Watching the screen required intense concentration. Sugar and caffeine helped him do that. It would match the emotional buzz he would have in just a few minutes.
He spoke into the headset. "Alpha One, confirm location," he said crisply. It occurred to him that he sounded like an air traffic controller trying to keep the skies safe.
Well, in a way that's exactly what I am. Only our goal is death on every trip.
The response was nearly immediate. "Alpha One location seven hundred meters west of target. Sixth floor of the apartment building's east face, fourth window over from the left. You should just be able to make out the end of my rifle muzzle on a zoom-in."
Jacobs leaned forward and moved his mouse, zooming in on the real-time satellite feed from this distant city that was home to many enemies of the United States. Hovering over the edge of the windowsill, he saw just the tip of a long suppressor can screwed onto a rifle's muzzle. The rifle was a customized piece of weaponry that could kill at long distances—well, so long as a skilled hand and eye were operating it.
And right now that was the case.
"Roger that, Alpha One. Cocked and locked?"
"Affirmative. All factors dialed in on scope. Crosshairs on terminal spot. Tuned frequency-shifting suppressor. Setting sun behind me and in their faces. No optics reflect. Good to go."
"Copy that, Alpha One."
Jacobs checked his watch. "Local time there seventeen hundred?"
"On the dot. Intel update?"
Jacobs brought this information up on a subscreen. "All on schedule. Target will be arriving in five minutes. He'll exit the limo on the curbside. He's scheduled to take a minute of questions on the curb and then it's a ten-second walk into the building."
"Ten-second walk into the building confirmed?"
"Confirmed," said Jacobs. "But the minute of interview may go longer. You play it as it goes."
Jacobs refocused on the screen for a few minutes until he saw it. "Okay, motorcade is approaching."
"I see it. I've got my sight line on the straight and narrow. No obstructions."
"I've been watching the patterns of the people for the last hour. Security has roped them off. They've outlined the path he'll take for me, like a lighted runway."
"Right. I can see that now."
Jacobs loved being ringside for these things, without actually being in the danger zone. He was compensated more generously than the person on the other end of the line. At a certain level this made no sense at all.
The shooter's ass was out there, and if the shot wasn't successful or the exit cues made swiftly, the gunner was dead. Back here, there would be no acknowledgment of affiliation, only a blanket denial. The shooter had no documents, no creds, no ID that would prove otherwise. The shooter would be left to hang. And in the country where this particular hit was taking place, hanging would be the shooter's fate. Or perhaps beheading.
All the while, Jacobs sat here safe and drew bigger money.
But he thought, Lots of folks can shoot straight and get away. I'm the one doing the geopolitical wrangling on these suckers. It's all in the prep. And I'm worth every dollar.
Jacobs again spoke into his headset. "Approach is right on target. Limo is about to stop."
"Give me a sixty-second buffer before you're about to fire. We'll go silent."
Jacobs tightened the grip on his mouse, as though it were a trigger. During drone attacks he had actually clicked his mouse and watched a target disappear in a flame ball. The computer hardware manufacturer had probably never envisioned its devices being used for that.
His breathing accelerated even as he knew the shooter's respiration was heading the other way, achieving cold zero, which was what one needed to make a long-range shot like this. There was no margin of error at all. The shot had to hit and kill the target. It was that simple.
The limo stopped. The security team opened the door. Bulky, sweaty men with guns and earwigs looked everywhere for danger. They were pretty good. But pretty good did not cut it when you were up against outstanding.
And every asset Jacobs sent out was outstanding.
The man stepped onto the sidewalk and squinted against the sun's dying glare. He was a megalomaniac named Ferat Ahmadi who desired to lead a troubled, violent nation down an even darker road. That could not be allowed to happen.
Thus it was time to nip this little problem in the bud. There were others in his country ready to take over. They were less evil than he was, and capable of being manipulated by more civilized nations. In today's overly complex world, where allies and foes seemed to change on a weekly basis, that was as good as it got.
But that was not Jacobs's concern. He was here simply to execute an assignment, with emphasis on the "execute" part.
Then over his headset came two words: "Sixty seconds."
"Copy that, Alpha One," said Jacobs. He didn't say anything as stupid as "good luck." Luck had nothing to do with it.
He engaged a countdown clock on his computer screen.
He eyed the target and then the clock.
Jacobs watched Ahmadi talk to the reporters. He took a sip of coffee, set it down, and continued to watch as Ahmadi finished with his prearranged questions. The man took a step away from the reporters. The security team held them back.
The chosen path was revealed. For the photo op it would present, Ahmadi was going to walk it alone. It was designed to show his leadership and his courage.
It was also a security breach that looked trivial at ground level. But with a trained sniper at an elevated position it was like a fifty-yard gash in the side of a ship with a billion-candlepower beacon lighting it.
Twenty seconds became ten.
Jacobs started counting the last moments in his head, his eyes glued to the screen.
Dead man arriving, he thought.
Almost there. Mission nearly complete, and then it was on to the next target.
That is, after a steak dinner and a favorite cocktail and trumpeting this latest victory to his coworkers.
Three seconds became one.
Jacobs saw nothing except the screen. He was totally focused, as though he were going to deliver the kill shot himself.
The window shattered.
The round entered Jacobs's back after slicing through his ergonomic chair. It cleared his body and thundered out of his chest. It ended up cracking the computer screen as Ferat Ahmadi walked into the building unharmed.
Doug Jacobs, on the other hand, slumped to the floor.
No steak dinner. No favorite cocktail. No bragging rights ever again.
Dead man arrived.
HE JOGGED ALONG THE PARK trail with a backpack over his shoulders. It was nearly seven at night. The air was crisp and the sun was almost down. The taxis were honking. The pedestrians were marching home from a long day's work.
Horse-drawn carriages were lined up across from the Ritz-Carlton. Irishmen in shabby top hats were awaiting their next fares as the light grew fainter. Their horses pawed the pavement and their big heads dipped into feed buckets.
It was midtown Manhattan in all its glory, the contemporary and the past mingling like coy strangers at a party.
Will Robie looked neither right nor left. He had been to New York many times. He had been to Central Park many times.
He was not here as a tourist.
He never went anywhere as a tourist.
The hoodie was drawn up and tied tight in front so his face was not visible. Central Park had lots of surveillance cameras. He didn't want to end up on any of them.
The bridge was up ahead. He reached it, stopped, and jogged in place, cooling down.
The door was built into the rock. It was locked.
He had a pick gun and then the door was no longer locked.
He slipped inside and secured the door behind him. This was a combination storage and electrical power room used by city workers who kept Central Park clean and lighted. They had gone home for the day and would not be back until eight the next morning.
That would be more than enough time to do what needed doing.
Robie slipped off the knapsack and opened it. Inside were all the things he required to do his work.
Robie had recently turned forty. He was about six-one, a buck eighty, with far more muscle than fat. It was wiry muscle. Big muscles were of no help whatsoever. They only slowed him down when speed was almost as essential as accuracy.
There were a number of pieces of equipment in the knapsack. Over the course of two minutes he turned three of those pieces into one with a highly specialized purpose.
A sniper rifle.
The fourth piece of equipment was just as valuable to him.
He attached it to the Picatinny rail riding on the top of his rifle.
He went through every detail of the plan in his head twenty times, both the shot he had to make and his safe exit that would hopefully follow. He had already memorized everything, but he wanted to arrive at the point where he no longer had to think, just act. That would save precious seconds.
This all took about ninety minutes.
Then he ate dinner. A bottle of G2 and a protein bar.
This was Will Robie's version of a Friday night date with himself.
He lay down on the cement floor of the storage room, folded his knapsack under his head, and went to sleep.
In ten hours and eleven minutes it would be time to go to work.
While other people his age were either going home to spouses and kids or going out with coworkers or maybe on a date, Robie was sitting alone in a glorified closet in Central Park waiting for someone to appear so Robie could kill him.
He could dwell on the current state of his life and arrive at nothing satisfactory in the way of an answer, or he could simply ignore it. He chose to ignore it. But perhaps not as easily as he once had.
Still, he had no trouble falling asleep.
And he would have no trouble waking up.
And he did, nine hours later.
It was morning. Barely past six a.m.
Now came the next important step. Robie's sight line. In fact, it was the most critical of all.
Inside the storage room, he was staring at a blank stone wall with wide mortar seams. But if one looked more closely, there were two holes in the seams, which had been placed at precise locations to allow one to see outside. However, the holes had been filled back in with a pliable material tinted to look like mortar. This had all been done a week ago by a team posing as a repair crew in the park.
Robie used a pincers to grip one end of the substance and pull it out. He did this one more time and the two holes were now revealed.
Robie slid his rifle muzzle through the lower hole, stopping it before it reached the end of the hole. This configuration would severely restrict his angle of aim, but he could do nothing about that. It was what it was. He never operated in perfect conditions.
His scope lined up precisely with the top hole, its leading edge resting firmly on the mortar seam. Now he could see what he was shooting at.
Robie sighted through it, dialing in all factors both environmental and otherwise that would affect his task.
His suppressor jacket was customized to fit the muzzle and the ordnance he was chambering. The jacket would reduce the muzzle blast and sonic signature, and it would physically reflect back toward the gun's stock to minimize the suppressor's length.
He checked his watch. Ten minutes to go.
He put in his earwig and clipped the power pack to his belt. His comm set was now up and running.
He sighted through the scope again. His crosshairs were suspended over one particular spot in the park.
Because he couldn't move his rifle barrel, Robie would have a millisecond's glimpse of his target and then his finger would pull the trigger.
If he was late by a millisecond, the target would survive.
If he was early by a millisecond, the target would survive.
Robie took this margin of error in stride. He had had easier assignments, to be sure. And also tougher ones.
He took a breath, and relaxed his muscles. Normally he would have someone acting as a long-distance spotter. However, Robie's recent experiences with partners in the field had been disastrous, and he had demanded to go solo on this one. If the target didn't show, or changed course, Robie would get a stand-down signal over his comm pack.
He looked around the small space. It would be his home for a few minutes more and then he would never see it again. Or if he screwed up, this might be the last place he ever saw.
He checked his watch again. Two minutes to go. He didn't return to his rifle just yet. Taking up his weapon too early could make his muscles rigid and his reflexes too brittle, when flexibility and fluidity were needed.
At forty-five seconds to target, he knelt and pressed his eye to the scope and his finger to the trigger guard. His earwig had remained silent. That meant his target was on the way. The mission was a go.
He wouldn't look at his watch again. His internal clock was now as accurate as any Swiss timepiece. He focused on his optics.
Scopes were great, but they were also finicky. A target could be lost in a heartbeat and precious seconds could pass before it was reacquired, which guaranteed failure. He had his own way of dealing with that possibility. At thirty seconds to target he started exhaling longer breaths, walking his respiration and heart rate down notch by notch, breath by elongated breath. Cold zero was what he was looking for, that sweet spot for trigger pulls that almost always ensured the kill would happen. No finger tremble, no jerk of the hand, no wavering of the eye.
Robie couldn't hear his target. He couldn't yet see him.
But in ten seconds he would both hear and see him.
And then he would have a bare moment to acquire the target and fire.
The last second popped up on his internal counter.
His finger dropped to the trigger.
In Will Robie's world once that happened there was no going back.
THE MAN JOGGING ALONG did not worry about his security. He paid others to worry for him. Perhaps a wiser man would have realized that no one valued a specific life more than its owner. But he was not the wisest of men. He was a man who had run afoul of powerful political enemies, and the price for that was just about to come due.
He jogged along, his lean frame moving up and down with each thrust of hip and leg. Around him were four men, two slightly in front and two slightly behind him. They were fit and active, and all four had to slow down their normal pace a bit to match his.
The five men were of similar height and build and wearing matching black running suits. This was by design because it resulted in five potential targets instead of one. Arms and legs swinging in unison, feet pounding the trail, heads and torsos moving at steady but still slightly different angles. It all added up to a nightmare for someone looking to take a long-distance shot.
In addition, the man in the center of the group wore lightweight body armor that would stop most rifle rounds. Only a head shot would be guaranteed lethal, and a head shot here over any distance beyond the unaided eye was problematic. There were too many physical obstacles. And they had spies in the park; anyone looking suspicious or carrying anything that might be out of the ordinary would be tagged and sat on until the man had passed. There had been two of those so far and no more.
And yet the four men were professional, and they anticipated that despite their best efforts, someone might still be out there. They kept their gazes swiveling, their reflexes primed to move into accelerated action if necessary.
The curve coming up was good in a way. It broke off potential sniper sight lines, and fresh ones would not pick up for another ten yards. Though they were trained not to do so, each man relaxed just a fraction.
The suppressed round was still loud enough to catapult a flock of pigeons from the ground to about a foot in the air, their wings flapping and their beaked mouths cooing in protest at this early morning disturbance.
The man in the center of the joggers pitched forward. Where his face had once been was a gaping hole.
The long-distance flight of a 7.62 round built up astonishing kinetic energy. In fact, the farther it traveled the more energy it built up. When it finally ran into a solid object like a human head the result was devastating.
The four men watched in disbelief as their protectee lay on the ground, his black running suit now mottled with blood, brain, and human tissue. They pulled their guns and looked wildly around for someone to shoot. The security chief spoke into his phone, dialing up reinforcements. They were no longer a protection detail. They were a revenge detail.
Only there was no one on whom to exact that revenge.
It had been a scope kill, and all four men wondered how that was possible, on the curve of all places.
The only people visible were other joggers or walkers. None could have a rifle concealed on them. They all had stopped and were staring in horror at the man on the ground. If they had known who he was, their horror might have turned to relief.
Will Robie did not take even a second to relish the exceptionally fine shot he had just made. The constraints on his rifle barrel and thus his shot had been enormous. It was like playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. You never knew where or when the target would pop out of the hole. Your reflexes had to be superb, your aim true.
But Robie had done it over a considerable distance with a sniper rifle and not a child's hammer. And his target wasn't a puppet. It could shoot back.
He hefted the tubes of pliable material that had been used to replace the mortar. From his knapsack he took a hardening solution from a bottle and mixed it with some powder he had in another container. He rubbed the mixture on one end and the sides of the two tubes and eased them through the open holes, lining the edges up precisely. Then he rubbed the mixture on the other end of the tubes. Within two minutes the mixture would harden and blend perfectly with the mortar, and one would be unable to slide the tubes out anymore. His sight line had, in essence, vanished, like a magician's assistant in a box.
Knapsack on his back, he was disassembling his weapon as he walked. In the center of the room was a manhole cover. Underneath Central Park were numerous tunnels, some from old subway line construction, some carrying sewage and water, and some just built for now unknown reasons and forgotten about.
Robie was about to use a complicated combination thereof to get the hell out of there.
He slid the manhole cover into place after he lowered himself into the hole. Using a flashlight, he navigated down a metal ladder and his feet hit solid earth thirty feet later. The route he had to follow was in his head. Nothing about a mission was ever written down. Things written down could be discovered if Robie ended up dead instead of his target.
Even for Robie, whose short-term memory was excellent, it had been an arduous process.
He moved methodically, neither fast nor slowly. He had plugged the barrel of his rifle with the quick-hardening solution and pitched it down one tunnel; a constant flow of fast water would carry it out to the East River, where it would sink into oblivion. And even if it were found somehow the plugged barrel would be ruined for any ballistics tests.
The stock of the weapon was dropped down another tunnel under a pile of fallen bricks that looked like they had lain there for a hundred years and probably had. Even if the stock was discovered it could not be traced back to the bullet that had just killed his target. Not without the firing pin, which Robie had already pocketed.
The smells down here were not pleasant. There were over six thousand miles of tunnels under Manhattan, remarkable for an island without a single working mine of any kind. The tunnels carried pipes that transported millions of gallons of drinking water a day to satisfy the inhabitants of America's most populous city. Other tunnels carried away the sewage made by these very same inhabitants to enormous treatment plants that would transform it into a variety of things, often turning waste into something useful.
Robie walked at the same pace for an hour. At the end of that hour he looked up and saw it. The ladder with the markings DNE EHT.
"The End" spelled backward. He did not smile at someone's idea of a lame joke. Killing people was as serious as it got. He had no reason to be particularly happy.
He put on the blue jumpsuit and hard hat that were hanging on a peg on the tunnel wall. Carrying his knapsack on his back, he climbed the ladder and emerged from the opening.
Robie had walked from midtown to uptown entirely underground. He actually would have preferred the subway.
He entered a work zone with barricades erected around an opening to the street. Men in blue jumpsuits just like his worked away at some project. Traffic moved around them, cabs honking. People walked up and down the sidewalks.
Life went on.
Except for the guy back at the park.
Robie didn't look at any of the workers, and not a single one of them looked at him. He walked to a white van parked next to the work zone and climbed in the passenger side. As soon as his door thunked closed, the driver put the van in gear and drove off. He knew the city well and took alternate routes to avoid most of the traffic as he worked his way out of Manhattan and onto the road to LaGuardia Airport.
Robie climbed into the back to change. When the van pulled up to the terminal's passenger drop-off, he stepped out dressed in a suit with briefcase in hand and walked into the airport terminal.
LaGuardia, unlike its equally famous cousin, JFK, was king of the short-haul flights, handling more of them than just about any other airport outside of Chicago and Atlanta. Robie's flight was very short, about forty minutes in the air to D.C.—barely enough time to stow your carry-on, get comfortable, and listen to your belly rumble because you weren't going to get anything to eat on a flight that brief.
His jet touched down thirty-eight minutes later at Reagan National.
The car was waiting for him.
He got in, picked up the Washington Post lying on the backseat, and scanned the headlines. It wasn't there yet, of course, although there would be news online already. He didn't care to read about it. He already knew all he needed to know.
But tomorrow the headline on every newspaper in the country would be about the man in Central Park who had gone out to jog for his health and ended up dead as dead could be.
A few would mourn the dead man, Robie knew. They would be his associates, whose opportunity to inflict pain and suffering on others would be gone, hopefully forever. The rest of the world would applaud the man's demise.
Robie had killed evil before. People were happy, thrilled that another monster had met his end. But the world went on, as screwed up as ever, and another monster—maybe even worse—would replace the fallen one.
On that clear, crisp morning in the normally serene Central Park his trigger pull would be remembered for a while. Investigations would be made. Diplomatic broadsides exchanged. More people would die in retaliation. And then life would go on.
And serving his country, Will Robie would get on a plane or train or bus or, like today, use his own two feet, and pull another trigger, or throw another knife, or strangle the life out of someone using simply his bare hands. And then another tomorrow would come and it would be as though someone had hit a giant reset button and the world would look exactly the same.
- "With a lightning pace, captivating characters, and astonishing twists throughout, THE HIT is guaranteed to keep your attention from the first page to the last."—The Times-News (NC)
- "Page-turning, pulse-racing action, with surprises and thrills galore. Or as a one-word review: Mesmerizing."—Deseret News
- On Sale
- Feb 18, 2014
- Page Count
- 528 pages
- Grand Central Publishing