The First Order

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By Jeff Abbott

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Sam Capra returns as he embarks on a one-man mission to find his brother from the New York Times bestselling author, Jeff Abbott, in this "fast-paced, high-octane" read (Publishers Weekly).

Two brothers. One dead, executed by extremists on a grainy video. The other forged into a top undercover agent. But now, Sam Capra has reason to believe that his brother, Danny, may be alive. And if Danny has been living a secret life these past years, where has he been–and what has he become?
Sam's desperate search for his brother leads him into a modern heart of darkness: the Russian elite inner circle, a group of ruthless ex-KGB billionaires who owe fealty to Russia's corrupt president, Morozov. One of these men wants Morozov dead. And Danny will be the one to kill him–on American soil.
To save his brother–and to save the world from certain war–Sam, along with his mysterious partner, Mila, must stop Danny from killing Morozov. The mission will take Sam from the slums of Pakistan to the hipster galleries of Brooklyn to the Caribbean playgrounds of the superrich. And as Sam untangles the secret past locked in his brother's heart, he may be forced to make a choice between his brother–and the greater good . . .

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PART ONE

IF I AM DEAD




1

Manhattan

IT WILL BE the most dangerous assassination in history. You are to kill the Russian president, Dmitri Morozov, when he comes to meet with the American president in two weeks. The client will pay you twenty million dollars." Mrs. Claybourne said it all in a rush, holding the gaze of the man she knew as Philip Judge.

Slowly he shook his head.

"I am completely serious," Mrs. Claybourne said. The two of them were alone in the room, a table between them. The entire office had been fitted to counter any attempt at audio surveillance. Her smartphone lay between them, an app on it constantly scanning the room for bugs. She had pasted special privacy film on the windows as a barrier. It would protect against any snoopers using laser microphone technology to read the vibrations of the glass from their voices and decipher their words. Sound-masking equipment had been installed on the doors, walls, and ductwork, playing a low-level hum to baffle any eavesdroppers. The empty office had been leased through a shell company for the next year, although it would remain empty after this meeting.

In the midst of humanity-packed Manhattan, they were utterly isolated and unwatched.

And she was not joking.

The smile vanished from Philip Judge's face. It was a handsome face, she thought, despite the sharp edges of mouth and cheekbone and chin. He wore a well-cut black suit, Italian, with a silver tie. Only the slight scar on the left side of his throat, a hard line, marred his good looks.

"This is the one you've waited for, Judge, the one you've trained for. The one you've made all your sacrifices for. You will need never work again."

Judge shook his head. "You want me to kill Dmitri Morozov. No, thanks. Can you recommend a good bar around here? I could use a drink, since you've wasted my time."

"Did you not hear me?"

"I did. I just did not believe you." He stood, straightening the suit jacket. "I could have stayed another day in Copenhagen, enjoying that lovely city."

"Please. Sit." She gestured at the chair. "I assure you I am serious."

"The first order of business in my work," he said, "is don't get caught. Morozov is an impossible kill. At least impossible for me to survive," Judge said. "I don't believe in martyrdom. Good day."

"Please, sit," Mrs. Claybourne said.

Judge, after a moment, sat.

Mrs. Claybourne's poker face wasn't as effective as she believed it to be. She was in her late forties, in an impeccable dark suit with a soft blue scarf, her brown hair stylish and short, with a streak of gray through it. Her voice was calm and measured. But for all her meticulous reserve, Judge thought, she's scared.

He cracked another smile, to ease his refusal. "I appreciate the compliment. But no."

"You said impossible. Let's just explore it for a minute."

"There's no point. The Russians would never give up hunting me. Ever. I could never work again. I could never have a moment's peace. And frankly, I'm ready for some peace."

The teakettle whistled. "Let's have tea and talk it through." Mrs. Claybourne stood, walked to the office's small kitchen, prepared two mugs of oolong, set the cups on the table, and sat back down at the table. She glanced at him. He had not moved a muscle in her absence and was lost in thought. That beautiful brain of his, she thought, can't resist chewing on the challenge.

"Thank you for not leaving while I was gone."

"That would have been rude."

She sipped her own tea. "I know you don't often read the papers or news sites. So: The Russian president has been invited by the American president to have an economic and peace summit at the vice president's ranch near Houston. President Morozov will first visit Washington, and then go on to Texas, close to two weeks from today. He's also been specifically invited to bring his inner circle—the men who help him run Russia."

"Those men are all billionaire oligarchs," Judge said. "They've been targeted again and again by the West with economic sanctions over the past couple of years. They won't come to America."

"Actually, they will. A source inside the State Department has confirmed this for me. This will be a singular moment in history," Mrs. Claybourne said. "And the sanctions are being lifted. Relations between Russia and America have been abysmal for too long, and now there is an impetus to improve them. The Americans hope to make the Russians less of an authoritative government, and to open up new markets there. The Russians need Western markets and they need the West to not be undercutting Morozov's legitimacy."

"Then that ranch will be more secure than Fort Knox," Judge said. "I'd never get close. The Russians in that inner circle are all ex-KGB. They are not soft American executives; they are robber barons. They have their own private security force, mostly ex–Special Forces people. Add to that the American Secret Service. Drones in the sky. A security perimeter greater than any bullet's range." He stared at her. "Not to mention the elephant in the room. A Russian president killed on American soil? It would likely mean war." He paused and took a deep breath. "I don't have any desire to cause a war," he said.

"Ah, yes, your rule book." She smiled but he didn't smile back.

"Tattered and worn and it's only on one shelf." Here he tapped his temple. "It dictates that I care about the aftereffects of a kill. Every death causes a ripple."

"And the ripple here is that Morozov dead might open Russia to a more moderate leader. One who will not micromanage and manipulate Russian democracy for his own gain and greed, and put the world at greater risk of conflict." She spoke with confidence. "If such a result fits into your sacred rule book, eases your decision, and helps you sleep better."

"Who's hiring me?" he asked her.

"You know better." She sipped at her tea.

Judge got up and paced the room.

Dmitri Morozov had been president of Russia for two years, the immediate and controversial successor to his older brother. Viktor Morozov had ruled Russia for nearly twenty years, robbed the nation blind, slashed freedoms, built up (at least in his mind) a Russia that was a counterbalance to the decadent West, and made himself a billionaire off the country's resources. He called, without irony, his Russia a "careful democracy"—one careful not to criticize him or his inner circle. One careful to check rights, to control all media, to return Russia to its former glories. And one careful to shape and name enemies of the people—journalists, Muslims, gays, atheists, musicians, intellectuals, business leaders who argued for openness and fell out of favor, the individual-obsessed West—all supposedly dangerous forces that the Morozovs, to save Russia, would defeat. Viktor, however, could not beat the Reaper. He'd died from cancer, from chain-smoking. His younger brother Dmitri, who was nicknamed the Little Czar and who served as premier, stepped into office as his successor. The Morozovs weren't czars, but they were close. The Russians kept electing them, again and again, for the sake of stability, and Morozov and his blood circle of billionaires ran the country like their own private company. "Russia, Inc.," as Judge had heard critical Western journalists refer to it.

He stopped his pacing. "Why only two weeks' warning? It wouldn't be enough time to plan."

"That is the time frame."

Twenty million, he thought. Freedom. The rest of his life to live in quiet perfection.

Mrs. Claybourne leaned forward. "Approach the challenge as you see best. You get five million up front, so hire the help you need. If you need to recruit and pay a team, you can. If you choose to act alone, that's your concern."

"It can't be done," he said. "Not on American soil."

"He has to die on American soil."

Die on American soil. He felt a little tickle in the back of his brain. An idea, looking to breathe, struggling for life. A bit of room to move.

Mrs. Claybourne watched him. "You were not my first recommendation to the client. I felt a team approach was best and you work alone. We approached another professional assassin. She and her team thoroughly studied the situation, but she could not see a way to it being done."

Judge raised an eyebrow.

"That said, once I described you to the client, you were the only candidate of interest. You speak fluent Russian. You can pass for an American. And you don't exist. The man with no past." He blinked at this. "And you are a superb mix in your thinking: methodical, yet intuitive, and still able to cope when disaster strikes. You are right: To approach this as a conventional assassination will be to fail. You will not be conventional."

"I would need to know how he moves. Where he will be. Where he is going. Without that…"

"I can offer you one more advantage, one I did not share with the first candidate for the job."

"I'm flattered."

"I trust you in a way I did not trust the other. Our long history…," she began, but then she stopped for a few moments. "We have someone inside President Morozov's inner circle. Someone who could apprise you of his movements, his habits, his security detail, even the last-minute changes. You would have regular contact with this person, if needed."

"Who? One of the billionaires?"

"I cannot say. The contact has only a code name. Firebird."

"That's a nice, generic Russian symbol," Judge said. He thought: I'll bet the contact is the client. But he said nothing.

"I can serve as a conduit, or you can talk to Firebird directly via text. No face-to-face, obviously, and we'd use encryption and masking technology to protect you both."

"I need to know who Firebird is." Everyone inside Morozov's inner circle could afford a twenty-million-dollar kill fee. They were all billionaires several times over who controlled the most important aspects of the Russian economy and were in turn controlled by Morozov.

And one of them apparently wanted Morozov dead.

"I don't even know," she said.

Judge knew his life would be in the informant's hands. It was an unsettling thought. But Firebird, if exposed, was dead as well. "An informant inside is not such an advantage."

"It's up to you to make the most of your advantages. After all, you don't exist, do you? Not like a normal man does."

His skin felt cold. He would have to say yes or no.

"Just so you know…if you take the job and kill Morozov, but are killed in turn, the remaining fifteen million would be placed in escrow for your named heir."

"An heir, for a man who doesn't exist." He finished his tea. "I think we both know you'd just keep the money."

"You wound me, Mr. Judge," Mrs. Claybourne said. "Everyone has someone they love. Perhaps even a man who doesn't exist. A wife? A child? A parent?" She paused. "A sister? A brother?"

He didn't look at her for a long moment; then he set down the mug and met her gaze. "Not having someone to love is how I can do what I do," he said evenly. "No one can be a target for revenge. What if I undertake the job and decide, after further deliberation, it cannot be done?"

She frowned. "You will present me with an itemized list of your expenses, and you will be paid a reasonable fee for your time. You would refund the remainder of the initial five million payment. But…I beg you not to decline. You're my best hope, Mr. Judge. I do not want to disappoint Firebird by refusing this most generous offer."

It was a threat and he ignored it. He would not be bullied. He had killed fearsome, powerful men and women before, but Morozov was an entirely different level of target.

"Call me when you've decided," she said. "Since you're in town for another job, I would suggest you complete that one quickly, and then give your full attention to making your decision. Time is already short."

He'd thought she'd cancel the job she'd brought him here to do in light of this much greater offer, but no. Fine. He stood.

"Thank you for the tea." They didn't shake hands. He turned and left the soundproofed office. He headed to the elevator and a minute later he was on the streets of Manhattan. He walked, thinking, watching for watchers. He got on and off the subway five times, took a cab to Bryant Park. No one was following him. He got out of the cab and headed down the street and saw the name of a bar he recognized.

The Last Minute. Well, that seemed an apt name, given the decision he faced. He almost couldn't go inside. What if…Why did you come here?

He ignored the impulse to turn away and he walked inside. The bar was handsome with an old-school feel, rich mahogany and a patterned tile floor. Well-dressed office workers and a few tourists drank martinis and craft beers. He sat at an empty table. A handsome older gentleman in a bespoke suit—the manager, Judge assumed—saw that he hadn't been served, stopped, and glanced for a moment at Judge's face. Judge thought, I'm no one. I don't look like anyone you know. And…don't let him be here.

If he could take this risk, he could take any. Including the Morozov job. Walking into this bar was the most terrifying step he had taken in years. He felt his thundering heart grow steady in his chest.

"What may I get you, sir?" The manager spoke with a slight Haitian accent. He wore a small, elegant name pin that said BERTRAND.

"I'd like a martini. I don't even know how to order one properly. Whatever is the most classic way, please. And with your best gin and whatever else is in it."

"Vermouth, sir."

"Yes, that. And olives, or lemon twist, or whatever. You pick for me."

"Very good, sir." Bertrand went to the bar.

Judge surveyed the room. In the back of the bar there was a staircase, roped off from the public. He had been trained to spot surveillance and he could see cameras, tiny, hidden, watching the bar. He moved his chair around the table to the optimum position to keep his face off tape. He wondered how long the tapes were kept before being erased with a new day's recording. If he walks in…

It was madness to come inside this bar. Yet so was the Morozov job. Sometimes you embraced the madness. He had, and it had made all the difference in his world.

He sat very still, watching the stairs for feet coming down them, but they remained empty.

He's not here. You've gotten this out of your system. Drink your drink, and never do this again. Ever.

Bertrand returned shortly, carrying a chilled martini with two olives speared. Judge tasted it. Icy steel. "That is excellent," he said.

"Thank you, sir. Would you like to run a tab?"

"No, thanks. I'll pay my tab now."

Bertrand nodded and, a few moments later, brought Judge his bill and left it with a polite smile.

Judge turned his thoughts back to the proposal. He thought of various political assassinations through history. The Kennedys, Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Benazir Bhutto, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. Nearly all the assassins ended up dead or in prison. Even Gavrilo Princip, the archduke's killer, a teenager too young for the death penalty, rotted away in jail from sickness and malnutrition; he'd lost an arm to skeletal tuberculosis. Judge wondered if it was Princip's shooting arm that died before he did, because then there was some karma. And Princip had known, from his prison cell, that he'd caused the unprecedented suffering of World War I. Princip's cheap little bullet had claimed far more victims than the archduke and his wife. Judge might ignite a war, too, but he didn't think he'd get to ponder how he'd changed the fate of the world from a prison cell. He'd most likely be dead.

But he hated to think that he couldn't find a way.

To strike from a distance on American soil, via a rifle or a fired weapon, would be incredibly difficult. To strike close, with knife or gun, would be suicide. You'd have to penetrate that inner circle; then you'd have to vanish during the moment of greatest suspicion. His escape route would have to be laid carefully: not only a way to get physically away from the scene, but also a way to disappear. Multiple identities would need to be created—fallback upon fallback upon fallback—even more than he had now.

Twenty million dollars. But Mrs. Claybourne's client Firebird could eliminate him as well. He would be the world's greatest loose end. Judge would have to protect himself on every front.

His mind danced.

He drank the martini with slow appreciation. He would think about the problem purely as an intellectual exercise. But he could not let it distract him from tomorrow's job. He finished the drink and stared at the glass on the small granite-topped table, lost in thought. If he had left even two minutes earlier, perhaps he would not have gotten the inspiration. But then the loud foursome at the table next to him were talking about attending an off-Broadway revival of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar starring three famous film actors as Caesar, Brutus, and Mark Antony.

Judge had little interest in theater; he would rather read a play than sit in a darkened room with strangers. Crowds made him nervous when he didn't need them for cover. And people mentioning, even for a moment, a play in which a leader is murdered in the simplest of manners when Judge was puzzling out an impossible assassination—it struck him as a troubling omen. He left a handsome tip for Bertrand and headed out into the evening. Life roared all around him, and he was pondering death. Three minutes later, as he was walking through Bryant Park, the idle conversation of the theatergoers shook a thought loose in his head.

He saw, with the sudden certainty of the songwriter who hears in her head the first strains of a beautiful new melody, the beginnings of how it could be done.




2

Islamabad, Pakistan

WHERE WAS HE held captive? Answer me!" Sam Capra gripped the man's neck and held the combat knife to the man's throat.

The answer was a gasp. "The village doesn't even have a name anymore."

"Then the GPS coordinates. I want an exact location."

The man tried to jerk away from Sam's knife, reaching toward his own gun on the table. Sam lowered the knife—a 57⁄8-inch Böker Applegate-Fairbairn, double-edged—to the man's groin and he froze.

"I don't want to hurt you," Sam said, "but I will. I have very little to lose right now. You tell me the coordinates for this village."

The man whispered the coordinates.

"Thank you," Sam said. He heard a noise, feet outside the door. One was not often alone in the katchi abadis—the slums of Islamabad where thousands were crammed and piled atop one another in dried-mud-and-stone hovels and makeshift shacks, criminals and refugees and outcasts packed together unwillingly. This was the Afghan Basti, a shantytown of thousands of escaped Afghans and poor Pakistanis. "The Brothers of the Mountain. Are they still using the village?"

"It's…it's a place to sleep, only, on a smuggling route. No one lives there. It's cursed."

"Why did you talk about the Brothers of the Mountain on your phone?"

"How did you know…?"

"The American NSA has very big ears."

The man blinked as if he didn't understand. "The Brothers…They're not extremists. They're businessmen. Heroin."

Sam steadied the knife. The room was cramped, just a table and a chair and a small filthy stove. Two cots in the other room, buckets to carry water, and to Sam's surprise, a modest amount of heroin stored in the next building. These guys didn't live here; this was a working space to move cash and drugs. But there were lots of people nearby, and if the man yelled for help…Sam would have a very hard time getting out of the katchi abadis if this man's friends came to his aid. Most of the people in the Afghan Basti were honest laborers just trying to survive and avoid deportation to Afghanistan. But many criminals, and worse, hid among them. A few weeks ago a Pakistani narcotics agent had been captured while undercover here, and tortured for days, left headless at the gates of the fences the government was building to keep the katchi abadis isolated from the rest of the city.

"Six years ago, were you there? The Brothers of the Mountain took two Americans. They killed them…"

Then a second man came through the doorway, his gun raised. Sam moved more quickly than the second man, who was pivoting, trying to get a bead on Sam in the dim candlelight. Sam whirled, the first man now his shield, the combat dagger back at the throat.

"Shoot him, Adnan," the first man urged. "Shoot him dead."

"Cooperate," Sam said, "and you both live. Don't, and you die. This is a simple choice."

"Let's all stay calm," Adnan said, teeth gritted. He kept trying to lock his aim on Sam's head, but Sam kept the first man positioned so he wasn't willing to take the chance. "Let him go."

Then Sam noticed the hat the man was wearing. It was a beret, with the blue Islamabad Territory Police badge stitched at the front—but riddled with bullet holes, ragged, and stained. An obscene and brutal fashion statement. I killed a policeman, it said.

"I will cut his throat," Sam said. "Put down your gun, raise your hands. I'll let you both live if you cooperate."

"Put down the knife," Adnan said. "Or I'll blow your brains out."

Sam let the blade bite into the man's throat, just enough to draw blood. "Put the gun down. I got what I came for, and now I'll go."

"You will die here," Adnan said. "It's just choosing how you die. Slow or fast."

"He'll die fast," Sam said. "Put down the gun."

Sam could see the decision play across Adnan's face: the certainty that even if he put the gun down, there was no way for Sam to get out of the Afghan Basti without being caught by Adnan's friends. So Adnan nodded, very slightly, toward the hostage and set the gun down on the table next to the doorway.

"Raise your hands, away from the gun," Sam ordered.

Adnan hesitated but finally did, his right hand against the wooden support frame that climbed to the ceiling, his left up in the air.

"He asked about two Americans, six years ago, in the Hindu Kush. Aid workers," the man Sam held said. "He wants to go to the dead village."

"The aid workers," Adnan said. "The two men. Yes."

Sam froze.

Adnan decided to press, to unnerve. "Ah. I wasn't there. Sorry. I only heard the stories. About how they cried, wept, begged for their lives…I don't think you'll easily make it there. I think you better let him go; otherwise, you will die. You have nowhere to go, much less that place." He tapped at the police beret, as if it evoked a memory.

Sam yanked the man off balance and threw the combat knife, straight like a spear, none of that showy spinning. It thunked hard into the wall, piercing Adnan's right hand to the wood, and he screamed. Sam set his feet, wrenched the man backward, and broke his neck. The man dropped soundlessly, eyes open and staring. Adnan kept screaming in agony and shock and didn't have the presence of mind to pull the knife out of his hand. Sam picked up Adnan's gun off the table and shot Adnan through the head.

It was over in ten seconds.

Voices raised in the neighboring shacks, men yelling. Sam slipped through the window. The skyline of the Afghan Basti was a jumble: stone huts of varying size, roofs mostly of dried straw, some of tin, haphazard wires strung along improvised, jigsaw streets. The air reeked of waste and garbage. Sam ran, jumping from roof to roof, aiming for the broad wooden planks that held the straw in place. If he missed…The night was falling, lights coming on in the more fortunate shacks.

A bullet zipped close to his ear.

He jumped, landing on a straw roof that parted under his weight. He fell onto a stone floor, an old man in the corner hollering in rapid Pashto. Sam scrambled out the door, desperate to get back onto the roofline and away from the crowds. In the street, people lined up with buckets at a single water faucet, some staring at him, others yelling and pointing, calling to his pursuers.

He ran through the street, past vendors, past old women, and vaulted up back onto the roof. The edge of the slum lay close, and he could see the cleared land where the authorities were laying out the frame of a massive fence, a wall to keep the poor refugees and the criminal and extremist elements away from the cleanly planned city of Islamabad. As if you could seal away darkness and despair as a cure.

On the roofline, on the higher, taller shacks ahead of him, lights gleamed as the sun faded below the horizon. Behind him, men roving on the rooftops, hunting him.

And he was silhouetted against the glow.

They opened fire, careless of the danger to others, intent on the kill. Bullets parted the air around his head. One light shattered just ahead of him. Sam hunkered low and ran, seeing a mass of cables ahead. They were tied to cars parked in a flat lot to his left. Much of the electricity here was run off automotive batteries. He grabbed the cables, yanking hard; a flash sparked, and the lights illuminating him went dark. He heard angry calls. He swung down the bunched cables, using them as a rope, stepped onto the roof of an idling car, and jumped to the ground.

An angry man tried to grab him, yelling in furious Pashto. Sam punched him hard and bolted for the open area where the fence was being slowly erected.

A soldier stopped him. Sam slipped him a paper with the stamp of the Pakistani interior secretary. The soldier let him pass, and Sam ran into the night.

A kilometer away on the road, a Mercedes pulled up to him and he got in.

"They're sending the police into the Afghan Basti," August Holdwine told him. "Well done, you."

"Don't," Sam said.

"Please tell me you got what you needed."

"I did. Thank you."

"Did you kill anybody?"

"Only the people who tried to kill me." Sam leaned back. His normally dirty-blond hair was dyed black, and he wore contacts to turn his eyes the rich dark hazel seen in many Afghan faces. "No one will know I was there."

Genre:

On Sale
Jan 5, 2016
Page Count
480 pages
ISBN-13
9781455558407

Jeff Abbott

About the Author

Jeff Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels. He is the winner of an International Thriller Writers Award (for the Sam Capra thriller The Last Minute) and is a three-time nominee for the Edgar award. He lives in Austin with his family. You can visit his website at http://www.JeffAbbott.com.

 

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