Home > Order to Kill (Mitch Rapp #15)

Order to Kill (Mitch Rapp #15)
Author: Vince Flynn



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I again owe a great debt to the people who helped me get Order to Kill from blank page to finished novel. Simon Lipskar, Sloan Harris, and Emily Bestler, of course. My mother, who has the keen eye of a true fan of the genre. Rod Gregg for keeping me from making any embarrassing firearms errors and for tolerating my political musings. Ryan Steck for lending me his encyclopedic knowledge of the Rappverse. And finally, my wife, Kim, who has to live with my occasional spasms of doubt as well as the general moping that inevitably follows.

 

 

PRELUDE


CENTRAL SIBERIA

GRISHA Azarov steered clear of the main street, taking a random path as he walked through what had once been one of Russia’s many oil boomtowns. The satellite photos provided to him had been out of date, depicting prosperity and activity that had disappeared so completely it was hard to believe either ever existed.

Wood buildings constructed in better times were jumbled together on both sides of him. Peeling and soot stained, most were now abandoned. Curtains, wet from the recent rain, fluttered through broken windows, slapping audibly against the frames.

The population of this particular company town had dropped by more than eighty percent as the collapse in oil prices made extraction unprofitable. The most capable workers had moved on to more viable fields. Many others had returned home or gone in search of opportunities outside the energy sector. The men who had stayed—those he occasionally passed on the narrow street—were the ones with nowhere to go. Trapped in this forsaken corner of Siberia, they were now beset by deepening poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction. When the winter cold descended, some would finally move on. Others would die.

Despite the worsening decay, the Russian oligarch he was there to meet—a billionaire many times over—remained. He had grown up in towns like this and his father had died in a Soviet-era mining accident only a few hundred kilometers away.

Dmitry Utkin worked hard to maintain the legend of his meager beginnings. He wore the frayed work clothes still admired by the Russian masses and made no effort to hide the literal and figurative scars left by a childhood of hard labor. Into this working-class persona, he skillfully weaved a beautiful wife, Italian sports cars, and watches worth more than some of his countrymen would make over their lifetimes.

And they loved him for it. He provided the illusion that Russia’s path to greatness was still accepting travelers. That they too could rise from squalor to become one of the country’s great men.

Azarov turned down a muddy alleyway and slowed his pace as he approached the edge of town. Overhead photographs had depicted a disorienting change from gray and black to green and white. He’d expected the reality on the ground to be less stark but if anything it was even more so.

The opulent mansion had been completed almost ten years ago and now jutted up behind massive trees flown in beneath cargo helicopters borrowed from the military. Rumors were that the structure consisted of nearly a hundred rooms. According to the architectural plans Azarov had been provided, the actual number was higher. One hundred and six.

Photos of the façade were surprisingly hard to come by, so Azarov stopped to examine it through the swaying leaves of imported landscaping. It was a typically grand and tasteless attempt to resurrect the past. To emulate the long-dead royalty with whom men like Utkin felt such kinship.

Security men began to appear as he closed in. Not surprisingly, they seemed confused. While he was precisely on time, they would have been told to watch for a man in an expensive European suit driving an even more expensive European car. Instead, Azarov was on foot, wearing old jeans, work boots, and the thick wool coat favored by people in this region.

“What do you want?” a man in a crisp uniform said, clutching the AK-103 strapped across his chest. “You know this area is off-limits to workers.”

Apparently, there was a limit to how closely Utkin wanted to mix with the people whose history he professed to share.

“I have an appointment.”

The man’s expression turned from irritation to caution. He gripped his weapon a little tighter. “You’re Grisha?”

Azarov nodded and was immediately surrounded by a five guards culled from Russia’s special forces. One ran a metal detector over him and, when satisfied that no weapons were present, motioned for Azarov to follow. They moved away from the mansion, back toward the town with two armed men falling in behind.

It wasn’t particularly surprising that the meeting wouldn’t be held in Utkin’s home. The billionaire would suspect that Azarov had familiarized himself with the venue and would want to keep his visitor off-balance. An intelligent precaution taken by an intelligent man. In the end, though, his machinations would be of little importance.

They walked back along one of the muddy streets as derelict men scurried into alleys and unoccupied buildings in an effort to stay out of their way. The journey ended at a rusted door etched with the name of what had once been a prominent Russian oil company.

They stepped inside and Azarov was pointed to a chair—the only thing that remained in the entry hall. The walls had been stripped bare and the luxurious carpet was now stained and matted. One of the guards went through a door at the back, while the other two kept their eyes locked on Azarov. Of course, the man he was there to meet would make him wait. A reminder to Azarov of his subordinate position. It was always so.

Based on the information he’d been provided, Dmitry Utkin had little formal education. He had been nothing more than a petty criminal at the end of the Soviet era, though one with exceptional cunning and foresight. He’d moved quickly to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the fall of the Berlin Wall and had been one of Boris Yeltsin’s early supporters. When Yeltsin rose to power, and he began parceling out Russia’s riches to men who had been loyal to him, Dmitry Utkin was one of the first in line.

The assets, tax breaks, and government contracts he’d received were worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars and Utkin had transformed that initial fortune into an energy-based empire that spanned the globe. His growing power and influence inside Russia was what had brought Azarov there.

A thin man with graying hair and tinted glasses appeared in the doorway and hurried toward him. Mikhail Zhestakov was the CEO of Utkin’s primary holding company—a man in his early forties with no ties to Soviet corruption or organized crime. By all reports, he was a highly competent and reasonably honest businessman. At least when viewed through the lens of Russian commerce.

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