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“So you mean he wants me to put the screws to them before the FBI reads them their rights and they hire a lawyer?”

Dickerson shrugged. He didn’t dare open his mouth, for fear that his words might be recorded.

“Boy,” Rapp said in near disgust, “you guys are a real profile in courage.”

“You know darn well the president can’t endorse something like this.”

“It sounds like he wanted to, but you got in front of him and convinced him it was a bad idea. You somehow persuaded him that you could barter a trade with us. A couple hundred billable hours of PR from your firm in exchange for me putting my nuts on the chopping block.”

Dickerson had a pained look on his face. “I know it doesn’t seem like a fair trade, but I think you’re minimizing the potential upside. This PR offensive could get a lot of these politicians to back down. Some of them might even turn into supporters of yours.”

Rapp placed his face in his hands and shook his head. After a long moment, he looked up at Dickerson and said, “Somewhere in this building there’s a safe filled with a bunch of medals and commendations for guys just like me who’ve put their asses on the line over the years. We don’t do this job for public recognition. We don’t want public recognition, and we can’t effectively do our job if people know who we are. So I will not be participating in your PR offensive, and if my name somehow ends up leaked to the press, I will find out who did it and I will hurt them.”

Dickerson looked at Kennedy to see if she would overrule Rapp.

Rapp didn’t give her the chance. “I call my own shots on something like this. Going over my head won’t work. So . . . sorry to disappoint, but I won’t be going on Oprah to talk about my top five favorite movies.”

“So, I should tell the president your answer is no.”

Rapp thought about it for a second and with a deep frown said, “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done. You can tell the president that I’m going to find these three guys. I don’t know if it’s going to take a week or a year, but I’m going to find them and when I do, I don’t give a shit what the ACLU or the Justice Department or anybody else thinks about how they should be treated. I’m going to find out everything there is to know about their organization . . . who supported them . . . where they got their money . . . where they got the explosives . . . how they got into this country, and if they got out who helped them. And then I’m going to track all of these people down, and I’m going to kill them.”

Dickerson was more than a little surprised by the frank admission. “The president will be very, ah . . . happy to hear that you will be taking an active role in the case.”

Rapp stood. He’d already wasted enough time. “Yeah . . . well, tell him if the shit hits the fan, I’ll scream from the rooftops that we had this little powwow and you asked me on his behalf to disregard the law and do whatever it takes to bring these men to justice.”

Dickerson looked as if he might vomit. In a deliberate, cautious tone he said, “I would . . . advise . . . against . . .”

“Don’t worry,” Rapp said casually. Pointing at Kennedy, he added, “I think she and I are the only two people left in this town who know how to keep their mouths shut.”


WHILE Kennedy said good-bye to Dickerson, Rapp grabbed his BlackBerry, walked to the far end of the office, and began listening to the nine messages that had been left during the meeting. Rapp saw no sense in thanking Dickerson for a meeting at which, at least from his perspective, nothing had been gained. As usual, Rapp and his people were going to shoulder the risk, while the political elites inoculated themselves against any fallout. Rapp took a bit of joy in the fact that Dickerson left looking none too pleased. Rapp figured he made the man nervous.

Dickerson was a professional handicapper and Rapp was a wild card—the aberration that his formula couldn’t account for. Dickerson was used to assessing his chances for success in a game where people played by a certain set of unwritten rules. The players all moved along a path where their incentives were money, power, and notoriety. Rapp had more than enough money, and as far as power was concerned, it could be easily argued that he represented the very essence of physical supremacy, at least in the individual sense. Put him up against pretty much any guy in town, and you’d be a fool not to put your money on Rapp.

The thing that had really thrown Dickerson, though, was Rapp’s outright refusal to become a national hero. Dickerson’s substantial fees were generated by ambitious men and women who couldn’t compute turning down such an offer. Many of them wouldn’t bat an eye at manufacturing tales of bravado, if they knew they could get away with it, and more than a few had done just that over the years. Passing on an opportunity to bask in the lights, cameras, and microphones of the national media was unthinkable. It would be like a sex addict saying no to a weekend in bed with a Playboy centerfold.

There was another reason, Rapp knew, that Dickerson didn’t look too happy. He had recognized Rapp for what he was—a Molotov cocktail that could ignite a conflagration that would bring down a presidency and put a party on a course for a few decades of permanent minority status. It was why Dickerson had argued against the president’s attending the meeting in the first place. Even so, Dickerson was acutely aware of both the risks and rewards that were circling the president. An attack had gone down on his watch, and he hadn’t raised a finger in protest of the very people Dickerson represented. Apparently being nice to the terrorists wasn’t working out so well.

“And you wonder why I don’t like coming in here,” Rapp said as Kennedy closed the office door on her guest.

Kennedy began walking across the office toward her desk. “Should I be offended?”

“Has nothing to do with you, boss. You know that. It’s just that I’ve got a few things that need my attention, and I just wasted the better part of the morning sitting here listening to I’m not sure what.”

“Gabe is a good person to have on your side.”

Rapp shrugged. “Maybe if you want to get booked on Oprah, but from where I’m standing, he doesn’t appear to offer a lot.”

“You could have been a little more subtle. Maybe a simple thanks but no thanks.”

“A guy like that would see that as a yellow light. He’d hit the gas. The only way to stop him is to make your intentions crystal clear. Maybe even make him think you might come unhinged.”

“Well, you accomplished that.” Kennedy looked at the blinking message light on her phone and decided it could wait. She needed to go over a few things with Rapp first and she could tell by his fidgeting that he didn’t plan on staying long. Lifting her gaze she focused on Rapp’s face and asked, “Where were you last night?”

Rapp didn’t waver. He look

ed her straight in the eye and said, “I was down at Stan’s place. We had a few things to go over.”

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