End Game – David Baldacci

As Will Robie stared out the plane window, he knew the next twenty-four hours could possibly be his last ones on earth. Yet that was simply another day on the job for him. The undercarriage of multiple reinforced wheels touched down and grabbed the tarmac, and the thrust reversers engaged. The world’s largest commercial airliner taxied to a stop at the gate. The doors, both forward and aft, on the upper and lower cabins opened. The passengers trooped down the Jetways and into Terminal Five at Heathrow Airport. The English skies were slicked with fat, darkened clouds and the rain was falling. It was weather familiar to any Brit. Robie, wearing a navy blue two-piece tailored suit and fitted white collared shirt, was among hundreds of passengers deplaning the British Airways jumbo A380 just landed from Washington, DC. The flight had become a little bumpy midway over the Atlantic. However, Robie hadn’t noticed. With his flat business-class seat, he’d slept pretty much the whole ride. He cleared Customs, informing the border officer that he was there solely on business of an academic nature. He had carried on his single small bag and thus had no reason afterward to go to Baggage Claim. Everything he would need was already in London.

And none of it was anything he could reasonably have carried on a plane. It was seven thirty a.m. local time when he finally exited the airport. Robie rode in a multicolored taxi into the city, which, with traffic and the rainy weather, took well over an hour. He was dropped off at an address near Marylebone Road. It wasn’t a hotel, but rather a nondescript private row house near the juncture of Marylebone and Baker Street. Robie punched in a code on the electronic box set next to the front door, and the fortified portal unlocked. He walked in, secured the door behind him, and headed upstairs. He exchanged his two-piece suit and dress shirt for more casual wear.

He popped open a wall safe in the closet and took out the flash drive. His Agency used cloud computing, but the leadership didn’t fully trust that it couldn’t be hacked, since clearly anything could be hacked. He pulled out his laptop and inserted the drive in the USB port. He tapped some keys and up on the screen appeared the only reason he had come to London. It was a read-only document, and it was not remotely business of an academic nature. He absorbed the information on the screen. It ended with a note from Robie’s superior, Blue Man. His real name was Roger Walton. The term Blue Man came from his exalted position at their Agency. The note, written more than a week earlier, was brief and to the point, just like Blue Man always was.

You can do this for one simple reason: You’re Will Robie. I’ll see you when we both get back. Onward. Robie understood that in those few words was a volume’s worth of meaning. I am Will Robie and I’ve been through hell and back. And I will survive this. Onward. He next performed an NSA-level wipe of the flash drive, tantamount to smashing it flat with a brick then setting it afire. The ones and zeroes were permanently gone, now existing only in his memory. He stretched out on the bed and stared up at the ceiling.

Mississippi seemed a long time ago. His father seemed a long time ago. Everything seemed a long time ago. He was back in harness and glad for it, because all other elements of his life sucked. Stop the bullshit. This is your life. Like the NSA cleanse on the flash drive, he shed these thoughts and closed his eyes. Despite his rest on the plane, he needed sleep. He would not be getting any later tonight. He rose in the early evening and checked the sky.

Still cloudy, but no more rain. Since this was London, that could change at any moment. He ate at a nearby pub and walked the pavements. His swift gait carried him past many buildings and hundreds of people walking along in what he knew was a blissful ignorance of another possible attack on London. Then again, full knowledge might have started a panic. And they couldn’t have that, could they? Londoners had endured several recent terrorist attacks. Evil driving in cars had smashed into innocent pedestrians on both Westminster and London Bridges. Yet with enviable courage and calm, the town’s citizenry were carrying on with their lives. But something else was up now and it had to be dealt with. So they had sent Will Robie.

He returned to his row house, made some calls on a secure line that bounced off one particular bird in the sky, and was told that everything was a go for the moment. As with the weather, he knew that could always change. It was like a false start in the hundred-meter dash. Cocked and locked and fired and then called off. It could be unsettling. It was a wonder he wasn’t messed up from it. Well, maybe he was. Robie sat by the window for two hours, like a sentry on watch, missing nothing. This place was heavily—though discreetly—fortified and monitored 24/7 by eyes on another continent. Still, his stone-cold rule was to rely on himself and no one else.

He was the one who would die if everything went to shit. The eyes on the other continent might simply get a memo on how to fix the mess in the future. A little too late to do him any good. Darkness had come as the globe spun on its axis, and another part of the world got to see the light. He checked his phone. The solitary bird in the sky told him that his mission was still a go. Later, Big Ben chimed midnight. It was a soothing, familiar melody to most Brits. To Robie, it was like the sound of a time card being punched. He donned a customized, lightweight, black one-piece waterproof motorcycle suit and left by the back door.

He opened the locked door of a garage in the mews and climbed astride the black Ducati XDiavel parked there and key-started it. The big engine bled noise and power through its stacked twin oval exit pipes. He slipped on his helmet, popped the kickstand, gunned the throttle, and blew out of the garage riding a power plant that displaced more than twelve hundred ccs cranking at a max rpm of 9,500. Its Bosch fuel injection system was a full ride-by-wire package. For most, this was an expensive toy that, fully racked out, would set you back about twenty grand. Tonight, it was simply Robie’s ride to work. He headed northwest. The bike’s tires gripped the asphalt firmly and threw up rainwater as he flashed through nearly empty streets. A bit later his destination was up ahead. Well, it was the first of his destinations tonight.

He thundered into an alley and quickly slowed. He cut the power to the bike, hopped off, and used a tool hidden behind a dustbin to lift the manhole cover located there. This was Destination #1. He used the metal rungs to clamber down about a hundred feet. He kept his helmet on for one reason only. He hit a switch at the back of the headpiece, and his helmet became the latest-generation panoramic night-vision optics, the same platform used by American combat pilots. It enhanced the visuals in the darkened utility tunnel to such a degree that it was almost like he was on the surface of the sun, minus the heat. Researchers were now working on contact lenses utilizing a thin layer of graphene between slender layers of glass that could take the place of the current bulky devices. The percentage of light pickup was not yet where it needed to be to make the innovation viable, so for now, Robie wore a bulky helmet to see in the dark. High-tech to kill.

But it wasn’t like the other side came to the battle with six-shooters and WWII-era optics. He looked at his watch. He was one minute ahead of schedule. He slowed his pace. Early in his line of work was never a good thing. He was forty-one years old, six one, a buck-eighty, and physically ripped because his job required it. His endurance levels and pain tolerances were off the chart—again, because they had to be. He had been selected for this line of work with the basic requirements already in place: He had a body, he had a mind, and he feared basically nothing. Then over the years they had ground into him a whole other being, still possessing the basics plus a spectrum of skills that most people could never imagine, much less achieve. Some days it was hard for Robie to see where the machine ended and the human began.

If the human was in fact still there. In Mississippi it had shown itself. Now? It had receded. Maybe forever. His face was lean and weathered, and his eyes deep-set and alert. His hair was always cut short because he had no time to bother with it. He had old wounds and scars over his torso and limbs; each told a story of near-fatal results he would rather forget. As he walked along he moved his right arm in a slow circular motion. All surgically repaired, scar tissue removed, tendons and ligaments all tidied up, as the Brits would say. It was 99 percent of what it used to be, the docs had assured him.

That was really good. But really good rarely cut it in Robie’s world. They rebuilt me. But am I as good as I was? Or am I a slightly lesser version? He would find out tonight if the missing one percent made the key difference between his walking away from this or remaining behind as a corpse. Destination #2 was just up ahead. If the Ducati had gotten him to Destination #1, what was coming up would get him back. Alive. He used a key to unlock a door set in the wall of the tunnel he was in. Inside the small storage room revealed behind the door, he gunned up and put on his protective gear, which included the newest generation of personal armor. His main arsenal consisted of an H&K UMP chambered in .

45 ACP with a thirty-round box mag. He checked all working parts of the weapon and slung it over his shoulder. He slipped two extra mags into long pockets on his one-piece designed for just this purpose. He figured if he couldn’t do the job with ninety rounds he didn’t deserve to come back. But just in case, there were twin M11s, each chambered in ten-millimeter with a laser sight built under the barrel. Where the dot hit so did the round. He slipped the gun belt around his waist. Both pistols rode on the left side so he could pull with his dominant right hand, though if it came to it, he could kill ambidextrously with great efficiency. A German-made KM2000 combat knife in its holder was attached to his belt. Two M84 stun grenades were cradled in pockets on the rear of his belt.

Robie closed the door behind him and walked on. Destination #3 was a quarter mile away. In a fairly short time, Will Robie would know if he would get to see another sunrise or not. CHAPTER 2 Oxford Circus. It was one of the busiest stations on the London Underground, vying with both Waterloo and King’s Cross in a back-and-forth annual battle for the statistical title. It was in an upscale part of London with pricey and fashionable shops and buildings resting above it. The Underground carried nearly a billion and a half passengers per year and nearly a hundred million of them came through the Oxford Circus station annually. The Underground had suffered a terrorist attack on July 7, 2005, when terrorists had blown themselves up on three separate train cars. A fourth device had been detonated on a London bus. In all, fifty-two victims were killed.

The explosive devices used that infamous day were powerful, but not nearly so powerful as what was currently being planned. A cobalt bomb was at the center of this. One had never been detonated before. Also known as a salted bomb, it was a thermonuclear device designed to maximize the radiation fallout, leaving a large area contaminated for a hundred or more years. Fortunately, it was a very difficult thing to accomplish. Unfortunately, it was not impossible. Even more unfortunately, one was now in London. The speaker in Robie’s helmet relayed information to him as he walked along. His final destination was just up ahead. As he walked along he spun a suppressor onto the barrel of the UMP, then did the same for the twin M11s.

Stealth was called for tonight. Until it wasn’t. He reholstered the military-grade pistols and touched his chest. What was underneath there might end up saving his life tonight. He had the same protection on both thighs. Right below these shields were his femoral arteries, twin pipelines of massive blood flow. If those got pierced, he was a dead man. The bleed-out from a punctured femoral was almost never survivable. Four people had given their lives in order for the intel leading up to the mission tonight to make its way to the Americans. The intelligence agencies had then shared it with the British, who remained one of the United States’ closest allies, regardless of who was in charge of the government at any given time.

That had been the case ever since the English redcoats had burned down the American White House, which showed that strong friendship could indeed bloom from previously infertile ground. According to the information, the planned London op was merely a dress rehearsal for what would come later, in the United States. Just like a manufacturer did in trying to commercialize a new product, terrorists needed to work the kinks out, too. The kink was why Robie was now ascending a hundred feet to the surface. His final destination was not another alley. It was a basement. Of the four people to die in this operation so far, the third person had sacrificed her life to maneuver the target to stay in this building. Situated on the outskirts of London on a lonely street of a few modest residences, the structure had been used during World War II as a safe house and an operations center for senior government personnel. An escape tunnel and a bomb shelter had been paramount, and so they had been added. Over the last seven decades a floor had been put over the basement concrete and the trapdoor covered.

And forgotten. It was no longer covered. And it was no longer forgotten. London was an ancient city, and no one truly knew or understood all the passages and tunnels and labyrinths that lay underneath it, or how they all connected. A series of tunnels beneath that basement eventually intersected with a concrete pipeline that, with some minimal wall piercing, would allow one eventually to reach an equipment storage room under Oxford Circus Station. In that room the cobalt bomb was to be planted and detonated at the busiest hour of the day for the tube stop, when over a hundred thousand passengers would be in the station, with at least another hundred thousand pedestrians and vehicles immediately above. In all, over two million persons would be affected by the detonation as well as over a thousand buildings. The place would be uninhabitable, for a century or two, at least. Some dress rehearsal, thought Robie. He didn’t want to see a far larger encore on American soil.

The terror cell he was targeting tonight planned to use the tunnel to their advantage. Robie planned to use it to their supreme disadvantage. The reasons that an army of police and special forces was not descending on this terrorist plot instead of one man were complicated but, distilled to bare essentials, easily understood. Panic. When an army moved, it could not be kept a secret. But when one man moved, a secret could be maintained. And to avoid revealing what had been planned to the world and causing just such a panic that the terrorists no doubt would have rejoiced over, they had sent Robie in to have a shot at taking the terrorists down. Alone. The Brits had special-ops people who could have performed this mission. But the higher-ups had concluded that if things went sideways, having a non-Brit involved gave the home team the best grounds for plausible deniability.

However, nothing was being left to chance. There was a hidden army surrounding the home. If Robie failed, the army wouldn’t, panic be damned. There were two homes on either side of the target. The residents in them had been prevented from returning home that night, so Robie had a bit of a buffer in which to operate and try to keep the mission out of the morning news broadcasts. Hence the trio of suppressors on his gun barrels. He finished climbing the rungs to the trapdoor. Though the people inside had no idea their mission had been compromised, they had taken standard protection procedures. The trapdoor was securely locked and also alarmed. But using three different tools provided to him, Robie ensured that it no longer was locked or alarmed.

He received one more communication in his headset. “Vee-one.” It was the same call-out used by the aviation industry. Vee-one meant the aircraft had reached sufficient takeoff speed and there was no going back. Robie acknowledged that command and turned his comm pack off. From now until either he or his opponents were dead, there would be nothing more said. His helmet was fitted with a wireless camera so that his handlers could see everything that he could. They would either watch Robie win, or else see the bullets coming that would kill him. An M11 in his right hand, he opened the trapdoor and looked around. Nothing.

He climbed up and quietly set the trapdoor back into place. The basement was what one would expect in an old, crappy house in a tattered neighborhood—it was dirty and smelled of mold. But there was one element of interest. In a far corner was a metal box about six feet in length. He slipped over to it, squatted down, pulled an instrument from his belt, and ran it over the box. He looked at the readout meter. Cobalt bomb confirmed. It wasn’t armed yet. They wouldn’t do so until they moved it to Oxford Circus. And Robie also knew that he would keep himself between them and the bomb at all times.

He holstered his M11 and readied his UMP. He rose and moved to the wooden stairs. From his intelligence briefing on the house he knew that the fourth riser up squeaked, so he went from the third to the fifth. In addition to him, there were currently seventeen people inside this place. Robie’s goal was to kill sixteen of them. The fire selector on his UMP was set to two shots. One shot was enough to kill any man if placed properly, but Robie had left no room for chance. The basement door was partially open. He peered through it into the kitchen. Two men sat at a table drinking what looked to be cups of coffee.

They apparently needed a stimulant at this late hour. He looked at his watch through his panoramic goggles. The second hand was just sweeping to twelve. Four . three . two . On cue, the lights in the house went out as the power was cut. Through his helmet Robie saw the two men clear as day jerk forward and then stand. Then he watched them fall from suppressed UMP bursts delivered to their chests. Two down, fourteen to go.

Robie was through the kitchen in three seconds and then hit the hallway. His finger nudged the shot selector to full auto. He did so because darkness tended to make people congregate closer. Sure enough, coming down the narrow hall were three men, all with guns. They opened fire. With pistols. Robie pulled the UMP’s trigger, and two seconds and twenty-six rounds of concentrated fire later there were three more dead men on the floor of this humble abode. The UMP’s ejector sent the spent casings tumbling to the floor, where they sounded like metal pearls cascading from a broken necklace. Five down, eleven to go. He ejected the mag, slapped in a fresh one, and turned and rolled to his right as more gunfire came at him.

He counted two heads through his goggles. He emptied half his UMP mag at them. Seven down, nine to go. Two more men appeared at the head of the stairs and fired down at Robie. He could see that they had on NVGs as well, so his tactical advantage had lessened. He pulled a stun grenade, released the pin, and threw it up the stairs at the same time he looked away. The stunning flash of light did not blind him, nor did the concussive sound paralyze him, since his helmet cushioned him from this effect. The two men at the top of the stairs could not claim the same. One tumbled down and landed at the bottom of the stairs. One slash across the neck from the KM2000 severed two critical arteries, and Robie added another to his tally.

He reholstered the bloody blade. Eight down, an equal number to go. The other man slowly rose at the top of the stairs, but was obviously concussed. He then fell back down and lay unconscious. That was the only thing that saved his life. That and two men attacking Robie from his right and left flanks. The M11s came out, one in each hand. Robie aimed an M11 in each direction simultaneously and then trigger-pulled ten shots from each gun, sweeping up and down from chest to thigh, the arc of fire evenly spaced over a ten-foot radius. A kill zone field of fire delivered with max efficiency. Jacketed rounds tore through flesh.

These sounds were followed by two thumps, as corpses hit carpet. Ten down, six to go. Since the cat was definitely out of the bag, he sprayed the stairwell using the rest of his second mag on the UMP. He then raced up the steps, after reloading his M11s. A bullet, fired from above, struck him in the abdomen. The liquid armor vest he had on hardened within a millisecond, catching the round and wringing out virtually all of its kinetic energy by forcing it to be displaced along the breadth of the vest. The armor then lost its rigidity and became flexible once more. Robie had no idea who had invented this stuff, but if he survived tonight, he would buy the person a drink. His second stun grenade flushed out the shooter. Robie shot him once in the knee with an M11 to incapacitate, then performed the kill shot to the head on the upper stairwell.

Eleven down, five to go. He reached the upper hall, reholstered the M11, and reloaded the UMP with his final mag just as someone blindsided him. They tumbled back down the stairs. His attacker had a gutting knife and he managed to strike Robie in the thigh. His liquid armor once more seized up, and the knife didn’t even penetrate to the skin. Robie’s right hand clamped down on the wrist with the knife. He torqued himself around so that he was on top when they slammed into the floor at the bottom of the stairs. The man beneath him was stunned by the impact but for only a second. That was still a moment too long for survival. Robie had used the man’s own knife to slit his throat.

Arterial spray danced across his visor. He hoped the handlers back in their safe space were enjoying the show. It wasn’t nearly as much fun on his end. Twelve down, four to go. He rose, turned, and rolled out of the way as a volley of machine-gun fire blew down the stairs, ripping off part of the handrail, shredding the wall, and exploding a slew of the risers. With his night vision, Robie could see where it was coming from. Instead of trying to attack back up the stairs, he moved to his left, where the upper part of the stairway was partially covered by the wall rising from the lower floor. He pointed the UMP at a forty-five-degree angle up and five clicks to the left. He pressed the trigger and fired half his mag. The ACP rounds blasted through the cheap drywall.

Robie counted to three and watched as the shooter’s body rolled down the stairs and landed at the bottom and on top of the gent who’d had his throat slit by Robie. Robie made sure the shooter was dead with an M11 round dotting the man’s forehead. Thirteen down, three to go. And those three were upstairs. Now it became purely a tactical game. A chess match played with guns and battlefield strategy instead of molded pieces on a square board. The enemy had the high ground and Robie the low. For him to attack, he would have to move through a funnel where they could concentrate their fire, and he couldn’t count on the liquid armor to see him through. What Robie wanted was the high ground, and as he looked to his left, he saw a way to take it. He popped open the window, climbed out, and found handholds in the uneven brick surface.

On past missions he’d scaled what appeared to be sheer rock walls, so this was not a stretch for him. The window was just above. The floor plan of the house told him exactly where this opening would take him. He spent three seconds calculating, which was his allotted time to think at any interval during a mission such as this. Holding on to the windowsill with one hand, he jimmied the window with his knife. He did a controlled tumble through the opening and rolled up to a defensive position. Having seized the tactical advantage, Robie charged into the upstairs hall and saw one man peering cautiously down the stairs, unaware that his rear flank was fully exposed. His life ended with a pair of M11 rounds in his back. Fourteen down, two to go. The next man came out of another bedroom holding the exact same type of weapon that Robie held.

It was UMP versus UMP. But not really. It wasn’t just about the hardware. A gun was a gun. The same models worked pretty much the same. What really mattered was the software. And the shooter was always the software. Robie threw himself through a doorway as the muzzle of the opposing UMP took aim at him. He transferred his UMP fully to his right hand, making sure by touch that his selector was still on full auto. The only part of him exposed was his gun and his hand.

He used the lower part of the doorjamb as his fulcrum because the recoil kick on an UMP was not always kind if the collapsible stock was not firmly against one’s shoulder. That might foul the shot and Robie didn’t have the time for that. The UMPs fired at the same time. The man’s UMP managed to take a chunk of polymer off Robie’s weapon. Robie’s UMP managed to blow the head off the man. Robie dropped the UMP, his ammo exhausted. Fifteen down, one to go. But what a one it would turn out to be. The young woman stepped out of a room and into the upstairs hall. In her hand was not a weapon, at least not a conventional one.

Clenched in her fingers was a dead man’s—or in this case a dead woman’s—trigger wired to the vest around her torso. Strapped there were six packs of connected Semtex. More than enough to collapse the house and kill her and Robie, and maybe crack the belly of the cobalt bomb in the basement and radiate the neighborhood until the twenty-second century. He understood at once. She was the designated fail-safe. She smiled at him. He didn’t return it. The bloodstained KM2000 flashed through the air. It severed the wire from the trigger to the suicide vest before lodging in the wall. The woman looked down at the useless trigger, then back up at Robie.

She screamed at him even as her hand went to the vest. Robie did not wait for her to blow them up another way. He shot her in the head and she fell to the floor wrapped in her unexploded bombs. Sixteen down. None to go. Time clock punched. Sunrise coming. Ninety-nine percent was apparently good enough.

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