Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure

Near Dark: A Thriller (19 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller

ilip Landsbergis arrived alone in a black 1980s Alfa Romeo Spider. When he rolled into his driveway, the soft canvas top was down, his suit jacket was off, and his briefcase was on the seat next to him.

Producing a remote from the center console, he opened the garage door. But instead of driving in, he parked several meters away, turned off the engine, and stepped out of his vehicle.
Harvath, who was watching everything unfold via the drone, didn’t like it.

First, only a fool—or someone extremely careless—drove with the top down and something valuable, like a briefcase, on the open seat next to them. In most places, it was an invitation to get robbed.

The other thing he didn’t like, was that Landsbergis had opened the garage door, but hadn’t proceeded in. The fact that he
had his jacket off also gnawed at the edges of his mind. He looked for the Glock that the man was supposed to be carrying, or any weapon for that matter, but didn’t see one. He looked way too relaxed, too casual.
Was it intentional? Did he know Harvath was there and was trying to put him at ease?

Maybe his jacket was off because he was enjoying the warm weather on the drive home. Maybe crime
between his office and his house didn’t concern him. And maybe he had left the car in the driveway because he was going to wash it this evening. All of the behavior, while it felt odd to Harvath, was explainable.

When Landsbergis examined the edge of his driveway and began to pull some scattered weeds, Harvath’s concern again ticked up. Was he
stalling, waiting for men to get into position—men
Harvath couldn’t see? Or was Harvath just jumpy like he had been about the old woman outside Lukša’s?

“As far as I can tell,” said Sølvi, looking at the feed from the drone, “unless he’s got someone stashed in his trunk, he’s alone.”

“He doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to come inside.”

“It’s beautiful outside. Why would he?”

“I don’t like it,” he replied.

“Then what do you want to do?”

Harvath signaled for her to follow as he headed into the dining room. “We exit via the side door. I go around the front, meet him head-on in the driveway. You cut across the back and provide cover. Keep your eyes on his vehicle. If things go bad, flank him.”

Sølvi nodded and hooked to her right the moment she stepped outside. Harvath hooked to his left and as he moved, called Nicholas.

is back,” he said, when the little man picked up. “I need you to be my eyes. We’ve gone out to confront him. I’m going around front and Carl’s protégé is going around back. I’ve got an earbud in and am going to leave this call active. If you see something, say something.”

“Good copy,” Nicholas replied. “Roger that.”

With his P226 tucked into his waistband and his encrypted cell phone returned
to his back pocket, Harvath stepped out from behind the corner of the house and walked slowly across the front lawn.

His eyes scanned for threats, but didn’t see any. When Landsbergis caught sight of him, Harvath locked eyes on the man and held his gaze as he closed the distance between them.

The VSD man was in his early forties, tall, with blond hair. “You,” he said, surprised to see Harvath.
“What are you doing here?”

“I’d prefer to talk inside,” said Harvath.

“Is everything okay? What’s going on?”

“Inside,” Harvath repeated.

“No problem,” Landsbergis responded, pointing toward the garage and indicating that his visitor should go first.

Harvath demurred and gestured for the Lithuanian to take the lead. There was no way he was going to turn his back on him.

When they entered
the garage and were out of sight of any prying eyes, Harvath ordered him, “Stop and put your hands against the wall.”

Landsbergis began to object, but as soon as he looked over his shoulder and saw the Sig Sauer in Harvath’s hand, he did as he was told. “What the
is going on?”

Harvath remained silent as he patted him down. Once confident that he was clean, he nudged him toward the door
that led into the house. Sølvi was already waiting for them in the kitchen.

“The trunk was clean,” she said. “I found this in his briefcase. Want to guess the make and model?”

Harvath didn’t need to guess. He recognized the pistol from where he was standing. “Glock 19.”

The Norwegian smiled.

“Who is she?” Landsbergis demanded. “And what are you two doing here?”

Harvath sat him down at the
kitchen table and took the chair opposite. As he had with Proctor and Jasinski, he got right to the point. “Carl Pedersen is dead.”

“He is? Oh my God. When?”

“We don’t know. His body was discovered three days ago, but he had already been dead for a while.”

“What happened?”

“He was murdered,” said Sølvi. “
. And then murdered.”

“And you think I had something to do with it?” the VSD
man asked. “Is that why you’re here?”

“What did Lukša tell you?”

“Lukša? What does he have to do with any of this?”

“When was the last time you spoke with him?”

Landsbergis’s eyes shifted to Sølvi and then back.

“She’s okay,” said Harvath. “You can speak freely in front of her. She worked for Carl.”

“I saw Antanas after he got back from the operation. I paid him the rest of his money, and
that was it.”

“You haven’t seen or spoken to him since?”


“But of course you heard about the

“What accident? What happened?”

Harvath studied him for several moments before responding. “He’s fine. Or at least he’s going to be fine.” Looking at Sølvi, he then said, “He doesn’t know anything.”

“Obviously,” the VSD man replied. “Would someone please explain to me what’s going

“Who else did you tell about the operation?” Harvath asked.

“No one.”

“You told me, very specifically, that because the VSD has had a history of being penetrated by the Russians, you were keeping the entire operation to yourself.”

“And I did. I swear.”

Suddenly, there it was—just like the truck driver—a tiny facial tic that gave him away. Landsbergis wasn’t telling the truth.

lying to me, Filip,” said Harvath, pulling himself in closer. “Believe me, you do not want to do that. Now, who did you tell?”

“No one.
I swear

Without taking his eyes off Landsbergis he said to Sølvi, “This looks like it’s going to get messy. Will you grab two pairs of restraints out of my bag? And I saw a roll of plastic sheeting in the garage. We’ll need that too.”

“What the hell?” the
VSD man argued. “Are you insane?”

“At this point, I really couldn’t tell you. I will say this, though. My guess is that no one is going to miss you until tomorrow morning, at the earliest. That means I have all night with you. I can take my time. Do you know how much time Carl’s killer took in torturing him? At least two days. Two
days. So, look on the bright side. It could be worse. I
guess, in a way, you should consider yourself lucky.”

“You can’t do this.”

Harvath smiled. “You just don’t know me well enough. I appreciate the opportunity to earn your confidence.”


“It looks like we’re about to find out.”

Sølvi dropped a couple of pairs of plastic restraints on the table next to
Harvath and then went off toward the garage, presumably in search of the plastic
sheeting he had asked for.

Landsbergis was visibly shaken by the sight of the restraints. The fact that Harvath had exhibited this level of forethought worried him that the American wasn’t bluffing and would carry out his threat. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Apparently, I do,” replied Harvath. “If you won’t tell me the truth, this is the way it’s going to have to be.”

“There’s something I
don’t understand,” Landsbergis interjected, trying to forestall what now appeared inevitable. “What made you go see Lukša? How did you know he’d had an accident?”

Normally, Harvath didn’t allow his interrogation subjects to ask their own questions, but the VSD man’s query seemed legit. “Over the two days that Carl was tortured, his killer was accessing his devices to compile information on me.
The only recent, large-scale operation he and I had done together was the Kaliningrad op with you. As we looked at all the loose ends, Lukša popped up.

“According to reports, he’d had an accident. His injuries, though, were more consistent with having been beaten or tortured. I wanted to see for myself, so I flew all the way here to see him. And do you know what he confessed to me?”

took a breath before answering. “That he had been tortured?”

Harvath nodded. “He claims it was a team of Russians. And not only had he been tortured, but he had been forced to admit his role in the operation, and give up the name of the person he had been working for.

Landsbergis didn’t believe him. “Now
lying. Antanas Lukša is like family. There is no way he’d ever reveal my name—to

“We’ll see how good you are under a similar scenario. Something tells me you won’t find it so hard to believe once we get started.”

“Is this what you wanted?” Sølvi asked, as she walked in with the roll of plastic sheeting.

Harvath nodded.

“Where should I set it up?”

“Let’s do it in the dining room.”

“Wait,” offered Landsbergis. “If he really did reveal my name, why didn’t anyone
ever show up and pay me a visit?”

Harvath was watching him, intensely, as he spoke. There was no tell this time, no microexpression that gave away a lie. He appeared, at least on this, to be telling the truth.

“No one came to you? No one at all?”

Landsbergis shook his head. “No one.”

“But you still told someone,” said Harvath. “Who was it?”

The VSD man averted his eyes, just as the truck
driver had before admitting what he had done.

A couple of seconds later, he asked, “When did Antanas get his visit?”

Harvath continued to indulge him. “A couple of weeks ago. Why?”

It was then that Landsbergis dropped a bombshell that Harvath had never imagined was coming. “I know who gave up Carl.”


s if on cue, Harvath’s phone started beeping. The drone was almost out of power. He programmed it to land in the backyard and returned his attention to Landsbergis.

The VSD man laid out everything that had happened, answered every question Harvath had, and didn’t hold back on any of the details. He was convinced the Lithuanian was telling him the truth. It was too big a story, too
big an indictment not to have been.

Via Harvath’s earbud and their encrypted call, Nicholas had heard the whole thing. To call it a bombshell was to put it mildly.

Leaving Sølvi to keep an eye on Landsbergis, Harvath stepped out of the kitchen to lay out what he wanted to do. Nicholas and Lawlor were going to have to get a buy-in from McGee and the President on his plan.

Once he had finished
the call, he went outside and retrieved the drone. The charger for it was in its hard-sided case back in his Land Cruiser, along with another, smaller battery. It wasn’t the optimal situation, but he’d have to deal with what he had been given.

Like Harvath, Sølvi had parked in the woods and hiked in. They decided to put Landsbergis’s car in the garage and take him with them. It was as if they
were reading each other’s mind. Neither of them felt fully comfortable leaving the VSD man alone.

They arrived at Harvath’s vehicle first. After swapping out the dead drone battery and putting it on its charger, he gave Sølvi a ride to her vehicle, which turned out to be a sleek Audi Q5.

“Not bad,” said Harvath. “NIS must give you a hell of a per diem.”

“Actually,” she replied, hopping out
of his Land Cruiser, “the moment they found out I’m Norwegian, they wanted to give me an upgrade.”

“Right. I’m sure that’s
what it was.” Badass and smartass—he really did find that combination attractive.

Landsbergis had given them the address of his boss, which Harvath plugged into his GPS. Once Sølvi had pulled out onto the road behind him, he headed toward their destination.

It was
located in the center of Vilnius, not far from the Old Town, at the top of Algirdo Street. The former embassy of a failed state, the building had three floors, a walled courtyard, underground parking, and multiple CCTV cameras.

For the rest of their ride, Harvath peppered Landsbergis with questions as he tried to come up with a plan. He also asked him about Carl—how they had met, what they had
worked on together, and how much the Lithuanian government—in particular its State Security Department—knew about him.

Some of the discussion was uncomfortable, even painful—for both of them. It was clear that Landsbergis had not only appreciated Carl, but had also genuinely enjoyed working with him. Like Harvath, the VSD man felt guilty over having a role in the Norwegian intelligence operative’s
death. Carl brought out the best in everyone he worked with and inspired deep loyalty. His loss, especially in the midst of the ongoing battle against a revanchist Russia, was going to be felt by everyone who had ever worked and fought alongside him.

The longer they drove and the further they talked, the greater Harvath’s confidence in Landsbergis grew. The man was not only intelligent, but humble.
As information came in, he was able to quickly weigh, catalogue, and analyze it. When the time came to make an assessment, he did so dispassionately, without influence from his ego. He was guided by something much truer and much more valuable—his moral compass.

Bottom-line—Landsbergis was a guy who did the right thing. Which was why, when they arrived at the rendezvous point, two blocks from
the target, Harvath handed him his Glock back.

“What’s this?” the Lithuanian asked.

“What’s it look like? Take it. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

Landsbergis nodded in agreement and accepted the pistol. But then his face became solemn. “I have to ask you something.”

Harvath had a feeling he knew where this was going, but he opened the barn door anyway.
“Go ahead.”

“Back at my house, were you really prepared to torture me?”

Harvath didn’t flinch. “One hundred percent. And if the situation were reversed, Carl would have been too. As someone put it to me recently, the Russians are animals. Not the people, per se, but the people in power. And those who serve the people in power. You are on the front lines here. I’m sure you know that. And I’m
sure that Carl told you that.”

“Repeatedly,” said the VSD man.

“You need to act like it. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. They’re coming for your country. They will get to pick the time and the place. The only thing you get to pick is how well prepared you’ll be. It sucks, and so is what we’re about to do, but it is what it is. Sometimes, the fight chooses us.”

Idling in the parking spot,
he waited until Sølvi had pulled up, parked behind him, and joined them in the Land Cruiser.

The first thing she noticed was that Harvath had given Landsbergis his Glock back. “You two seem to be getting along well,” she commented.

“We’re all good here,” Harvath replied. “Now, let’s take a few minutes and discuss how this is going to go down.”

For the next ten minutes, he went over his plan,
as well as the contingencies they’d need to execute if anything went wrong. As seasoned intelligence operatives, all three of them understood the risks.

When they were done with their discussion, Harvath put the Land Cruiser in gear and eased out into traffic. He wanted to do another drive-by of their objective.

The sun was setting and lights were already coming on inside. Pedestrians moved
up and down the sidewalk. What they could see of the inner courtyard through the wrought iron gates was empty. If there were any vehicles present, they must have been down in the underground parking structure.

For all intents and purposes, it was quiet—which was exactly how Harvath had hoped to find it.

Turning right at the next intersection, he followed the street until he could make another
right, and then found a parking space halfway up the block. Before they did anything else, he wanted to deploy the drone.

Getting out of the Land Cruiser he walked back to the rear of the SUV and popped the hatch. Checking the main battery sitting in the charger, he was disappointed. He had hoped it would charge faster. In the time since they had left the woods near Landsbergis’s house, only
12 percent of the power had been replenished. He was going to have to rely on the smaller battery.

Powering up the drone, he brought up its app on his phone and waited for the diagnostics to display. As soon as they did, he grew angry.

The smaller, backup battery only had 4 percent power. Whoever had used the drone last hadn’t fully recharged it before turning it back in.

Ultimately, it was
his fault. As a SEAL, he had been trained to check all of his equipment before taking it into the field. Just because the CIA Director had personally handed everything to him didn’t mean Harvath was absolved of making sure each item was topped off and in perfect working order.

He was not going to be able to leave the drone on station overhead the way he had at Landsbergis’s. There just wasn’t
enough power in either battery. He had just lost an incredibly valuable tool.

The best he was going to be able to do was to conduct an overflight now and hope to get a feel for the inner courtyard, as well as a look at the rooftop—along with the adjacent buildings—and maybe a peek in a few of the windows.

It would all be good reconnaissance material, more than he was normally used to having.
But being blind while they were inside, just because the damn battery hadn’t been charged, galled him. That was the kind of simple mistake that could end up getting people killed.

Launching the drone, he got back into the Land Cruiser so that they could all watch the feed together.

Nicholas was also watching from his perch back in the U.S. It was more out of loyalty to Harvath than anything
else. He knew the drone
didn’t have enough juice to be part of the next phase, but on the off chance that he might notice something during the reconnaissance, he wanted to be there for his friend. Anything, no matter how small, that might lend Harvath an advantage was valuable.

The cameras around the building were way out of date—more for show than anything else. None of them had infrared capabilities.
The only areas they’d be able to pick up were those that were strategically lit by security lamps bolted to the structure’s façade. As long as the drone stayed out of the light, it would likely go undetected.

The small embassy compound, with its crumbling rooftop antenna array and rusted, oversized satellite dishes, looked like it had been frozen in time at the very height of the Cold War. If,
at that moment, a couple of Soviet apparatchiks had stumbled into the courtyard for a smoke and a hit from a bottle of vodka hidden in the bushes, it would have looked absolutely normal.

Instead, all they saw were cobblestones, chipped plaster, and peeling paint. If real estate was all about location, location, location—that was definitely all that this place was about.

Harvath had the drone
increase its altitude so they could get a better look at the roof. Beyond the aforementioned radio antennas and satellite dishes, there wasn’t much to see.

The adjacent rooftops were steep and clad with smooth red-clay tiles. If things went wrong and that was their only means of escape, they were going to be in a lot of trouble.

Carefully directing the drone, he had it begin peeking in the windows.
All of them, though, were covered—either by aluminum blinds in the office areas or shades or draperies in the residential portions. There was nothing left to see and so he recalled it.

The drone set down in the middle of the street, just next to the Land Cruiser. Harvath hopped out, repacked it in its case, and secured it in the cargo area.

Closing the hatch, he looked up at the sky that only
minutes ago had been a deep purple. Much like his mood, it was transitioning rapidly from dark blue to black. This wasn’t going to be an easy night. There was a lot they were about to do that he didn’t like.

For starters, both the CIA Director and the President had told him—in no uncertain terms—that he was absolutely forbidden from doing it. Lawlor, whose call he had ignored because he was too
busy talking with Landsbergis on the drive in, had also sent him a series of angry texts telling him to stand down. Only Nicholas had been on board.

Getting back into the driver’s seat, Harvath looked at Sølvi, then Landsbergis, and said, “Let’s go over the plan one last time.”

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