Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (22 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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“Gun,” said Kost, over the radio. “The pair of tangos coming up your side of the street. Looks like pistols.”

“You’re sure?” asked Preisler.

“Positive.”

“Splash them,” Johnson interjected. “I have my eye on the third tango coming up the other side of the street. Do it now.”

“I can’t see the third tango,” said Kost. “He’s under my window.”

“Don’t worry about him,” said Preisler. “Get the two you’ve got in your sights. You’re cleared hot.”

“Roger that.”

Moments later, there were two muffled cracks from outside on the street followed by a SITREP.
“Tangos down,” said Kost. “I repeat, tangos down.”

“Blue Sonata inbound hot,” Johnson warned from his vantage point out on the street. The driver had already looped around and was trying to get to their location. “Fifty meters out.”

“Good copy,” said Kost, as he leaned out the window and looked for Shanty Irish, as well as the vehicle. “Blue Sonata. I see it.”

There was suddenly the sound of
gunfire from down on the street.

“Tango down,” said Johnson, who had killed the third man on foot.

When the blue Sonata was in range of his Honey Badger, Kost fired multiple rounds into the windshield. The vehicle swerved wildly, bashing into parked cars on both sides of the narrow street.

Johnson drilled a racing stripe down the side as it passed. The heavy 45 ACP rounds from his Kriss Vector
tore through both the door and the driver.

The Sonata, its driver dead, began to slow, but didn’t stop. Rolling through the red light at the intersection, it was T-boned by a Chevy Suburban, ironically plastered with Boston Celtics and “Luck of the Irish” stickers.

After helping Lara’s parents to their feet, Preisler once again scooped Marco into his arms. “Time to go,” he said.

CHAPTER 37

L
OMBARDY
R
EGION

N
ORTHERN
I
TALY

T
he transport plane, per Admiral Proctor’s promise, had been fueled and waiting for them when they arrived at Šiauliai.

After swinging by Sølvi’s vehicle to grab her gear, they had hit the road in Harvath’s Land Cruiser. With all of the texts and emails that he had to deal with, she had graciously offered to drive. There was no classic rock and Rolling
Stones for him on this return leg.

Nicholas had been quick to get to two pieces of bad news. The first was a rundown of what had happened in Boston.

They didn’t know who was responsible, although they had plenty of photos of the perpetrators. One of the men was apparently off-the-boat Irish, and two others had extensive police records tied to Irish organized crime in Boston. The fourth perpetrator,
the team’s driver, had an Irish surname and a rap sheet filled with petty crimes. The working theory was that he was either a low-level initiate or had been hired just for this job.

The fact that the attack had been foiled, and all of the offenders were dead, was a testament to the skill of the team that Harvath had sent in. They had done exactly what he had assigned them to do. Marco and Lara’s
parents were safe. And now that they had been confirmed as active targets, he was having them moved to a new location.

While there were four fewer bad guys in the world, the flip side of all of the offenders being dead was that there was nobody to interrogate. It was a price he was willing to pay.

After filling in a couple more details, Nicholas then moved on to his second piece of bad news.

The deepfake software was turning out to be impossible to work with. Unless you had a subject sitting still and speaking directly to the camera, the superimposing of another face just wasn’t convincing. You couldn’t yet take a random person walking through an airport, bus, or train station and make it look like somebody else. They had thought they could do it, but it just didn’t work.

The little
man did have an alternative suggestion. Despite their age difference, Chase was a close enough match to Harvath that they could send him through the ports of entry and then reverse hack the customs and immigrations systems, replacing his passport with the fake identities Harvath had wanted to spread along his route. If Chase was careful not to look directly into one of the CCTV cameras and if he
kept his head down—the way a smart fugitive would—it
might
be believable.

This meant, of course, that they would have to pull Chase off the protective detail for Harvath’s mom. Nicholas didn’t think it unreasonable, especially considering the highly secure bubble she’d been placed in. Harvath didn’t agree.

Boston proved that they needed to be on their toes. His remaining loved ones were all
potential targets. The teams stayed as they were, where they were. Politics, as well as one-hundred-million-dollar bounties, could make for strange bedfellows. There was no knowing who was hiring whom to do what.

At least they had a lead—Tatiana Montecalvo, or as Nicholas had called her, the “Contessa.”

She wasn’t a Contessa at all, but that had never stopped her from calling herself one. Born
in Sicily to a Russian mother and an Italian father, her family moved to Rome, where she barely finished high school. Possessed of a voluptuous body, she worked as an artist’s model at several of the city’s art schools. Tired of taking her clothes off for such meager wages, she soon found other ways to do it for lots more money.

But as the youth that had made her so alluring began to disappear,
so too did the men willing to pay to be with her. There was only one truly marketable skill she had left—her languages.

The Russian embassy had lost three members of its secretarial pool in the space of a week. One had left to have a baby, one had fallen off a table drunk while dancing in a bar and had broken both wrists, and another had fallen in love with a local and refused to come back. The
embassy was in desperate straits.

She found a friend who quickly taught her basic skills such as typing, taking dictation, and running a desktop computer. A relative helped her phony up a résumé with a couple of sources back in Sicily who would vouch for her if the embassy ever called. After a cursory background check, she was invited in for an interview and hired on the spot.

It was obvious
from the beginning that Montecalvo had zero experience and Mila, an older but very attractive member of the secretarial pool, took her under her wing. The two quickly became close friends—taking meals together, going out on the weekends, even setting each other up on dates.

What eventually became clear was that there were all sorts of people who took their clothes off for money. Mila was sleeping
with various embassy employees, picking up bits and pieces of sensitive information—either through pillow talk or going through their pockets and briefcases after they fell asleep. She would then sell the information via a tidy little network she had built.

Most of it went to Western intelligence agencies based out of other embassies. Sometimes, it went to the Cosa Nostra. It had all sounded
dangerous and very appealing, not to mention lucrative. Soon enough, Montecalvo was working for Mila. And when Mila returned to Russia, Montecalvo took over—and then some.

She upped her collection of information, using bolder and more sophisticated techniques. But soon, things got too hot to handle. Moscow was concerned that they had a mole in their midst in Rome.

Luckily for Montecalvo, she
picked up this piece of intelligence just as the hunt was about to get started, and was able to quietly wind down her operation.

In the end, it turned out that there actually was a mole. A Russian military attaché had been recruited by British intelligence. Moscow had laid a trap and he had walked right into it. He was recalled to Russia and never seen nor heard from again.

It was enough to
sour Montecalvo on being based inside the embassy. It was too dangerous. With her expertise, she figured she could be just as successful, if not more, by going private.

So after a reasonable amount of time had passed, she tendered her resignation and began her new career.

She plumbed the shadows of the sex work trade and hired a selection of attractive young girls, and boys, which she set loose
on the diplomatic, political, and private industry sectors of Italy. She was both madame and spymaster. And, in addition to collecting sensitive intelligence, she also began collecting compromising intelligence.

Many of the trysts she helped orchestrate had ended up being quite valuable. Even in a country known for being the home of amore, it was amazing what powerful figures would agree to do,
trade, or pay to keep their indiscretions hidden.

One thing was clear, Montecalvo was absolutely ruthless. She had been a competitor of Nicholas’s back in the day. He had done business with her a handful of times. He did not care for her at all. In fact, he had suggested the “o” in
Contessa
should be replaced by another vowel, which would render a much more appropriate title.

Nicholas promised
to put together a file on her and have it ready by morning. They debriefed for a few more minutes and then ended their call.

When Harvath got off the phone, even in the dimly lit Land Cruiser, Sølvi could see that he was wiped out.

“If you want to get some sleep, go ahead. I’ve got this,” she said. “Norwegian women are usually very good drivers.”

Harvath smiled. He knew she had heard the entire
call with Nicholas, and yet she had chosen to make a joke—right out of the gate.

Her twisted sense of humor was a sign of high intellect. That was a good thing. Harvath had always been attracted to smart women.

Lara had been smart, brilliant even. She could give as good as she got and they used to constantly make jokes back and forth with each other.

That was one of the things he missed the
most about her. He missed the joy she brought him.

To have that much laughter ripped from your life was like having a limb shorn off. It was probably a heavily contributing factor as to why he had fallen into such deep despair. Lara had “gotten” him.

She had understood him—not only who he was as a man and as a professional, but also what made him smile. Inside and out, she understood him better
than anyone he had ever been with. It had been a phenomenon he’d never thought possible. And once he had lost it, believed it could never be possible again.

“Thanks,” he replied. “But I need to stay awake and make sure you do everything right. How’s our speed?”

Sølvi smiled. He was an incredible smartass. She liked that. “I keep trying to set the cruise control, but every time I do, liquid splashes
the windscreen.”

“Tell me about your tattoo,” said Harvath. “The Rousseau quote.”


Sartre
.”

“Right. Sartre. What does it say?”

“None of your business,” she answered.

“Interesting. Does it say that in the original French, or did you have it translated into Norwegian?”

“As if either would make a difference for you.”

“What are you saying? That I can’t appreciate nuances between French and
Norwegian?”

“We have a joke in my country,” she began, stifling another smile.

“I can’t wait for this. Go ahead.”

“What do you call someone who speaks three languages?”

“Trilingual,” Harvath replied.

“Very good. How about someone who speaks two languages?”

“Bilingual.”

“And someone who only speaks one language.”

“I give up.”

As the smile broke out and spread across her face she said,
“American.”

It was a good joke. Not completely accurate, but a good joke nonetheless.


Du er søt
,” he responded, in his limited Norwegian, “
men du skal ikke skue hunden på hårene.” You’re cute, but you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

“Well, look who speaks Norwegian. What else can you say?”

He knew only a handful of words and phrases. Some of them were absolutely useless.


Å stå med
skjegget I postkassa
,” he replied. The rough translation was
standing with your beard in the postbox
. It usually referred to ending up in a dumb situation that you had cheated or snuck your way into.


Å stå med skjegget I postkassa
?” she repeated, with a laugh. “Not bad. I’m glad to see at least one SAS flight attendant taught you something.”

Harvath looked at her.

She glanced back at him with
a glint in her eye before returning her attention to the road. “Carl may have told Reed about my tattoo,” she responded, “but you should know that Reed told Carl some personal things about you too. Remind me, where does the call sign Norseman come from?”

Touché
, thought Harvath. She knew exactly where it had come from. “Why do you think they never introduced us?”

It was a good question, but
one for which she really didn’t have an answer. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Carl was protective. He had a thing about compartmentalization.”

Maybe
, thought Harvath. But he had a growing feeling that it might have been something else.

Maybe
their mentors knew their protégés all too well. Maybe they knew that once they had been introduced, they wouldn’t be able to pry them apart.

They chatted
the rest of the way to Šiauliai, asking lots of questions, but being careful not to go too deep or too personal. Each wanted to know more about the other, but instinctively they knew there was pain on the other side and they moved cautiously.

At the air base, they unloaded their gear, grabbed something to eat, and stepped aboard their plane. This time, there weren’t any earplugs. The ride was
loud and cold. Even Harvath, who was a pro at falling asleep anywhere, failed to get much shut-eye.

When the C-130 touched down at the NATO air base at Aviano in northern Italy, both Harvath and Sølvi were exhausted. A vehicle was waiting for them, and though they had been offered showers and a hot meal, Harvath wanted to get moving. Sølvi had agreed.

Hopping into their boxy brown Jeep Renegade,
they had gotten on the road. It was a three-plus-hour drive to Lake Garda and Montecalvo the “information broker” Kovalyov had confessed to working with. Returning the favor from earlier, Harvath had taken the wheel.

There was no small talk, no witty back-and-forth during this drive. No sooner had they loaded the Jeep and discreetly rolled off the base than Sølvi was asleep in the passenger seat.

She had turned onto her right side, facing the window. He kept stealing glances at her, though knowing he needed to pay attention to his driving.

As his eyelids got heavier, he cracked his window and turned on the radio—not too loud, just loud enough that he could hear the music in order to help himself stay awake.

Nicholas had made a reservation for them at a hotel in Sirmione overlooking the
lake. Judging by all of the cars, he hadn’t been kidding when he had said he had found them the last room in town. Tourist season was in full swing.

Lake Garda was the largest lake in Italy and Sirmione was a narrow promontory that jutted two miles out into the crystal-blue water from the lake’s southern shore. It was known for the thirteenth-century castle and winding cobblestone streets of
its Old Town. It had been a refuge of tranquility for opera singer Maria Callas decades ago, before it had become such a mega destination.

As he eased to a stop in front of the hotel, Sølvi slowly opened her eyes and asked, “Are we here?”

“We’re here,” said Harvath.

She wanted to help him with his gear, but he told her not to worry. Checking in, he accompanied her to the room to make sure everything
was okay, then came back downstairs, found a luggage cart, and, after parking, unloaded all his stuff, and headed back up to the room.

He had been gone only ten minutes, but she was already in bed, sound asleep. Grabbing the spare pillow and blanket from the closet, he made himself comfortable on the couch.

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