Feelings kill faster than bullets.
Former Russian army colonel Dmitri Rutskoi had drummed that saying into his troops’ heads in Chechnya.
It was true.
Stay the finger on the trigger at the sight of that cute dark-haired little boy. Why, he can’t be more than eight years old. And the next thing you know, that cute little boy has pulled out an AK–47 and turned you into human hamburger.
That nice old grandmother in the burqa? She has seven pounds of explosives strapped to her thick waist, just waiting for the moment to go to Allah and take you with her.
And what to say about Africa? Whole armies of cute little twelve-year-olds, carting AK–47s bigger than themselves, wearing amulets they are certain make them bulletproof, willing to cut you down because you looked their way.
The entire world is your enemy.
So Rutskoi taught his men ruthlessness, taught them to switch their feelings right off, because feelings are deadly. Feelings make you vulnerable, make you hesitate when action is called for, make you soft instead of strong.
The deadliest feeling of all is love for a woman. A woman is like a sword aimed straight at the heart.
Rutskoi had never hoped to be able to use that in bringing Drake down. Viktor Drakovich didn’t have human weaknesses, certainly not women. He trusted nobody, he was nobody’s friend, he loved nobody.
No one had ever seen Drake with a woman on his arm.
Of course not.
Drake was smart. He knew a woman would be a chink in his armor, a liability. He’d survived five attempts on his life over the past ten years by presenting no weak spots at all.
Rutskoi was sorry that he would be the one to bring Drake down. It didn’t have to be that way. He’d moved to America to partner up with Drake, not kill him.
He’d been fascinated by Viktor Drakovich since he’d met him, as a young Russian army lieutenant in Chechnya fifteen years ago. He’d heard various versions of Drake’s story. He was Russian, he was Ukrainian, he was Moldovan, he was Uzbekistani, he was Tajikistani. No one really knew. He just rose up out of nowhere in the nineties, an immensely smart and immensely strong young man who built a powerful empire that spanned the globe.
Drake had been supplying arms and ammo both to the Obshina, the Chechen mafia, and the Russian army fighting them. When weapons supplies from Moscow ran out, Rutskoi turned to Drake and found him to be utterly reliable. Drake delivered what he said he’d deliver, exactly on time, exactly where he said he would, all in perfect working order. And he had his own fleet of planes and helos and ships to do it with.
Drake was a legend. A man who dealt straight but who made a vicious, deadly enemy if you double-crossed him.
Rutskoi had had no intention of double-crossing him. In fact, he went out of his way to help Drake. When he left the Russian army, Rutskoi headed straight for the United States, where Drake had taken up residence.
Drake was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, now living in the richest, most powerful nation in the world. Rutskoi wanted a piece of that, badly.
And why not? Drake ran a multibillion-dollar enterprise, single-handedly. Like any good general, he needed a lieutenant. And who better than Rutskoi, who knew the business from the ground up and who had deep, long-standing contacts of his own in Africa and the large land mass of splinter countries that used to be known as the Soviet Union?
It was a new world, and in this new world, a man had to dream big and take risks. He was ready.
Rutskoi had brokered a major arms deal and had socked away over a million dollars. He took half out of his Swiss bank account and had landed in New York a month ago. He spent the entire month in a suite in the Waldorf Astoria, familiarizing himself with Drake’s new turf.
America—ah, America. So sweetly, deliciously decadent, yet cleanly and efficiently so. There was no pleasure you couldn’t buy—all wrapped up, clean and sanitized and payable by credit card. Rutskoi wallowed in it. Well, he deserved it, after all. The long, hard years in an impoverished army, the subhuman conditions of the war in Chechnya, the constant danger—all forgotten.
Who could remember hard times on a soft bed with an even softer woman under you? At the end of the month, refreshed and ready to go, Rutskoi contacted Drake. Drake was nothing if not swift and businesslike. The appointment was for the next day.
Wonderful. Rutskoi could feel the power moving through him. The second half of his life was about to begin. He’d survived the worst that life could throw at him and had come out stronger. Soon, he would be rich and powerful and feared, the second-in-command of an immensely rich, powerful and feared man.
He was going to team up with a master of the universe and live forever. He knew where to buy new hearts and livers and kidneys.
He could still remember the feverish excitement he’d felt as the limo dropped him off in front of Drake’s building. He knew how to school his face to impassivity—God knows he’d had enough experience dealing with drunken, incompetent generals—but inside he was bouncing with elation.
It took Rutskoi half an hour to work his way through Drake’s security, which at the time had pleased him. The man was invincible, impregnable. Each layer of security, executed with perfect, polite professionalism by Drake’s bodyguards, reassured him. This was truly the big time. He imagined that the only other man so well-protected could be the president of the United States, who arguably was less powerful in his world than Drake was in his. Drake’s world was no democracy.
Finally, Rutskoi was led into a room with a door that closed like a steel vault behind him.
Ah. The smell of leather, fine whiskey and excellent cigars. The scent of the big room came to him before his eyes had a chance to adapt to the semidarkness. There were only a few lamps on, but the impression was of a huge room with an immensely tall ceiling. And comfort. Everything was built for the comfort of a man. Big leather armchairs; thick, plush carpets. An array of expensive-looking spirits in cut-crystal decanters. A brass-and-wood humidor.
“Come in,” came a deep voice from within. And there he was. Drake.
Rutskoi wasn’t easily impressed and he wasn’t easily scared, but Drake impressed him and frightened him, at the same time. Of average height, he was immensely strong. His huge hands and feet were stippled with yellow calluses. Rutskoi had seen him punch a man so hard it was as if he had been hit with a bullet. He’d also seen Drake massacre a man with one kick.