Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (20 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller

arvath didn’t need to speak Lithuanian to understand that Andriejus Simulik was pissed off.
pissed off.

As Director of the VSD, he expected all of his people—even one as high-ranking as Landsbergis—to strictly follow agency protocols and, at the very least, to practice
tradecraft. Bringing an American intelligence operative, unannounced and uninvited, to his home violated
every rule in the book.

Bring him to the office, bring him to a restaurant, use a safe house—hell, set up the meeting at a fucking park bench, he didn’t care. Revealing where he lived, though, and not giving him time to prepare was unforgivable.

Nevertheless, he buzzed them in and, as the gates swung open, ordered them to leave the vehicle in the underground parking area.

Harvath wasn’t crazy
about the idea. He had planned for Sølvi to remain with the Land Cruiser in the courtyard. Without the drone, they needed an extra set of eyes outside. He was also worried that if Simulik was guilty, having a member of the Norwegian Intelligence Service suddenly turn up was only going to spook him. There was no telling what he might do.

Harvath’s presence wasn’t that much better, but at least
he was a known commodity to the VSD Director. And that had figured heavily into his plan.

He hadn’t wanted to wait until tomorrow to set up a meeting
someplace else. All that would have done was give Simulik a chance to plot against him. He needed to take him by surprise and catch him off balance. To do that he needed a pretext for why it had to be tonight and had to be at the Director’s house.
He needed to dangle something so valuable that the man would take the bait, agree to a meeting, and buzz them in. He decided to play one of the best and most authentic cards he had.

It told him a lot that after beating the information about Kaliningrad out of Lukša, the Russians hadn’t gone to Landsbergis. They had gone to his boss. In Harvath’s mind, that could only mean one thing—the VSD Director
was already compromised.

The Russians didn’t need to waste any time leaning on Landsbergis. They told Simulik to get them the information they wanted and he had done it.

According to Landsbergis, on what he now understood to be the day after Lukša had been beaten, his boss had called him into his office at the State Security Department for a chat.

There were rumors that Lithuania had assisted
in a foreign operation that had taken place in Kaliningrad. The President wanted a full briefing on it. If Landsbergis knew anything about it, said Simulik, now was the time to come clean. If he didn’t tell him everything he knew, the VSD Director wasn’t going to be able to protect him.

At the time, Landsbergis explained to Harvath, it had seemed odd that Simulik had focused in on him. Only with
knowledge that the Russians had tortured Lukša did things make sense.

Simulik had a pretty good understanding of what had taken place, which obviously had been provided to him by the Russians, and Landsbergis had come clean—giving him the rest. After that, his boss never mentioned it again.

What Landsbergis didn’t know was who the target of Harvath’s snatch-and-grab operation in Kaliningrad
had been. That was the bait that had been dangled to get the VSD Director to open up his gates.

The Russians were desperate for any information about Oleg Tretyakov, their head of covert activities for Eastern Europe. Moscow wanted to know if he was still alive, where the Americans had been keeping him, and how much he had revealed.

When Landsbergis explained that not only was Harvath in the
car, but that he also had information gleaned from the recent operation vital to Lithuanian national security, there was no way Simulik could resist the meeting.

Harvath had put his plan together on the fly, but it had worked. They were inside the compound. The rest, he hoped, would be even easier now.

According to Landsbergis, Simulik lived in the home alone—his wife having left him several
years ago. There were no security guards and the VSD Director did not have an overnight personal protection detail.

Pulling into the garage, Harvath took note of the cameras. “If he has no on-site staff, who watches all of these?” he asked.

“The interior cameras are either broken or disconnected,” said Landsbergis. “The few outside that function feed into a screen in his study.”

There were
two cars parked in the garage—a Mercedes sedan and a BMW convertible, as well as a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, all of which, per Landsbergis, belonged to Simulik.

Harvath parked near the stairwell door that led up into the building. Sølvi, who had been lying down, out of sight, on the backseat, sat up.

“I think we need to rethink your plan,” she said. “I’m not going to sit down here and watch
a garage while you’re upstairs with the guy who got Carl killed.”

“The pin has already been pulled from the grenade.”

“Then put it back in. I’m going with you.”

“Listen,” Harvath replied, “I promise you that if he’s guilty, I’ll give you a chance to confront him. We both want the same thing. I know what I’m doing. Let me go do it.”

Sølvi wanted to be there. She wanted to watch the entire thing
unfold. She understood, though, why Harvath wanted to handle it the way he did. “As soon as you have something, I want to know.”

“Understood,” he said. “And if you see anything at all that doesn’t look right, I want to know. Okay?”

The Norwegian nodded and Harvath signaled for Landsbergis that it was time to go.

Climbing out of the Land Cruiser, Harvath let the Lithuanian lead the
way. They
had been over this part of the plan several times. Everything had to go perfectly. If any part went wrong, Harvath was screwed.

By just making contact with the VSD Director, he was in direct contradiction of a presidential order. Not only was he told not to make contact, he was also told that under no circumstances was he to lay a hand on Simulik.

In for a penny, in for a pound
, he figured.
And, as he had told Sølvi, the pin had already been pulled. Full steam ahead.

Once the door into the stairwell was buzzed open, they went up to the second floor. The place was an absolute dump. The VSD Director must have been putting every paycheck, along with any payoffs he was getting from the Russians, into his mortgage, car, and motorcycle payments. He certainly wasn’t spending any money
on housekeepers or interior decorators.

Apparently, it was a fixer-upper and Simulik was doing all the fixing himself. Here and there, Harvath could see places where the man had replaced a window or a run of crown molding, the new pieces waiting to be primed and painted.

It wasn’t living in squalor—Harvath had seen worse—but if this was Simulik’s weekend gig, the job was going to take him two
lifetimes. He had definitely bitten off more than he could chew.

All things being equal, though, his remodeling problems were the least of his worries. He was about to come face-to-face with the one person even the Grim Reaper didn’t want to see at the other end of a dark alley.

At the end of the dimly lit, stained, carpeted hallway, light spilled from an open doorway. That’s where they were

Harvath had never met Andriejus Simulik, but he had heard about him. Carl didn’t think the guy was worth two bits. Lithuania, in Pedersen’s estimation, deserved much better. That was why he had chosen to work with Landsbergis. Someday, he had hoped that the younger Lithuanian would ascend to the directorship of the VSD. Anyone would be better than Simulik. Landsbergis in his estimation
would be exceptional. Just based on the little bit of him Harvath had seen, he agreed.

As they approached Simulik’s study, Landsbergis didn’t break stride.
There was an air of resolute determination to him as he led the way. So much so, that Harvath couldn’t help but wonder if Landsbergis had been harboring suspicions about his boss long before this night.

Just before the doorway, the VSD man
slowed, composed himself, and then stepped inside. Harvath, right on his six, stepped into the room behind him.


ndriejus Simulik was a thick man who sat behind an even thicker desk. He was still dressed in his suit from his day at the office. His flabby jowls hung over his buttoned collar as well as the sloppy knot of his red silk tie.

His gray hair was longer than it should have been for a civil servant, not to mention a man of his age. Flakes of dandruff peppered the shoulders of his jacket.

Atop the credenza behind him, a martini station was on display. Judging by the half-empty pitcher, cocktail hour was already in full swing.

“Right there,” the VSD Director ordered, pointing his guests as they entered to the two worn, antique velvet chairs in front of his desk.

Once they were seated, he said, “After everything that has happened, you’ve got a lot of nerve coming back to our country.
We should have sent a démarche to your ambassador.”

A démarche was the diplomatic community’s equivalent of a harshly worded letter, usually protesting or objecting to something another government had done.

In this case, though, there hadn’t been a démarche. Simulik—likely at the request of the Russians—hadn’t said or written a damn thing. In fact, Harvath was fairly certain that Landsbergis
and his director were the only two people at the VSD who knew anything about the operation in Kaliningrad and Lithuania’s involvement. Simulik was all talk.

He was also twitchy, or possibly paranoid, as hell. He couldn’t keep his eyes from flicking to the large computer monitor on his desk. Though Harvath couldn’t see what he was looking at, he assumed it was the feeds from his CCTV cameras.

Carl was right about this guy. Harvath had been in the room less than a minute and he already despised him.

He would need to keep reminding himself, though, that if it came to it, he had promised not to kill him before Sølvi had been allowed a crack at him. A promise, after all, was a promise.

“So why am I talking with you, Mr. Harvath? Why are you here?”

“Recently, I paid the Russians a visit
in Kaliningrad. When I left, I took something that belongs to them.”

Simulik raised an eyebrow. “Took something or took

Harvath smiled. “You’re familiar with the operation, then.”

“Nothing happens in my corner of the world without me knowing about it.”

This guy was so full of shit, it was unbelievable. Not only was he full of it, he was also proud of it. Harvath was willing to bet
he didn’t know a quarter of what was going on in his “corner of the world.”

“Two weeks ago, a team of Russians—one with a fancy Vandyke—paid a visit to a Lithuanian citizen named—”

Harvath stopped speaking mid-sentence. A distinct change had come over both men. Simulik’s eyes had stopped shifting to his computer monitor, while off to his right, Landsbergis had stiffened.

“Black hair and a Vandyke?”
the younger VSD man asked.

Harvath nodded. “Sounds like you know him.”

“Sergei Guryev. Russian Military Intelligence. Works out of their embassy here in Vilnius.”

“How about one of his colleagues—large man, shaved head, big red beard?”

“Alexander Kovalyov. Also GRU from the embassy.”

“I’m going to assume that the other two leg-breakers who were with them are similarly employed.”

probably a safe bet.”

“What does any of this have to do with information critical to
Lithuanian national security?” Simulik interrupted, growing annoyed. “After all, that’s why you’re here,

“It definitely is,” said Harvath. “You see, right after this GRU team beat and tortured a Lithuanian truck driver named Antanas Lukša for information, that should have led them to Filip. Instead,
they came to you. And the reason they came to you was because they already
you. You were already compromised.

“Why should they waste any time in breaking Filip, when you could get them the intelligence they wanted? And that’s what you did. Filip told you about Carl Pedersen, you told the Russians, and the Russians had Carl killed.”

“Pedersen is dead?” the VSD Director asked, his face pale,
his arrogance gone.

Harvath glared at him. “What did you think the Russians were going to do with the information? Send him flowers?”

Like the coward he was, Simulik’s shock quickly began giving way to something else: self-preservation. “I couldn’t have known what they would do with the information.”

“Norway is an ally, and a fellow member of NATO.”

“So is the United States,” he snapped. “Yet
you used our air base to launch a hostile, unsanctioned action against a foreign nation. Your operation could have dragged all of us into war.”

The VSD Director had no idea what he was talking about. Harvath’s operation had saved them from war. The Russians had already set the wheels in motion for an invasion—and not just of Lithuania, but of Estonia, Latvia, and a portion of Sweden as well.

As much as he hated the Russians, their plan had been brilliant. By overrunning the tiny garrison on the Swedish island of Gotland, they would have been able to install their mobile missile batteries and close off the entire Baltic Sea. From Kaliningrad, their air defense systems, along with legions of their fighter jets, would control the skies. The only way for NATO to resupply their tiny partners
and pump soldiers and equipment into the area would be via trains out of Poland.

There was just one problem—the gauge of the railroad tracks changed
at the Polish-Lithuanian border and everything had to be transferred onto new trains. These transfer points were predesignated for sabotage.

No matter how many times the Pentagon had run the simulation, no matter how many times they had brought
in new and even more brilliant strategists, the Russians always won the conflict—and a new world war broke out as a result.

Harvath’s Kaliningrad operation—the risking of a handful of American lives in order to remove one Russian from the game and therefore avoiding World War III—had been considered worth it.

What hadn’t been considered was how many others would die as a result of Harvath’s
actions. If he had known his wife would be slaughtered, along with Lydia Ryan, the Old Man, and Carl Pedersen, would he have still gone through with it? It was a question he didn’t have the courage or emotional strength to ask himself. Not at this point. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

Simulik, growing in confidence over the cover story he was constructing, kept on talking. “You Americans think you
can go anywhere and do anything you want. Well, you know what? You can’t.

“If Lithuania chooses to share intelligence with Russia, we are within our rights. And there’s nothing America can do about it. We decide how our nation survives. Not you.”

It was a real stemwinder he was getting himself into. As the self-righteous indignation built, little flecks of spittle—as white as his dandruff—formed
at the corners of his mouth. The color had returned to his face and the anger radiating from him was almost palpable.

Harvath was starting to get the impression that Simulik didn’t care for the United States and had probably felt this way for a long time. There were plenty of older people in the former Soviet satellites, as well as Russia itself, who still pined for the “good old days” of communism.
Harvath was always tempted to ask them what they missed the most—the breadlines or the gulags.

Simulik could call what he was doing, assuring the “survival of Lithuania,” but the truth was that the only survival he was interested in was his own. Harvath figured that over a single lunch hour he could
probably uncover enough banking irregularities to show that the VSD Director was dirty. He made
a mental note to encourage Landsbergis to do just that. He might even rope in Nicholas. This guy needed to be ousted.

He was about to lay into him, when the man turned to vent his rage on his deputy in Lithuanian.

“You lied to me. You knew he was coming here to accuse me of this. You are actively conspiring with the Americans against your own country. This will not be allowed to stand. You are
finished. Do you hear me?

For Harvath’s benefit, Landsbergis addressed his boss in English. “You’re the one who is finished, Andriejus. You sided with the Russians and sold out an ally. That will not play well. Not with our government and not with our people.”

“And you contributed material support,
support, to a rogue operation against the Russians, which they could use
as a justification for war against us.”

“I say we take our arguments to the Parliament and let the chips fall where they may.”

“Thankfully, that is not going to be necessary,” said a new voice in the room.

Harvath and Landsbergis spun to see a man with jet-black hair and a perfectly pruned Vandyke standing in the doorway.

Sergei Guryev had joined the conversation.

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