Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (23 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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He texted Nicholas to give him a SITREP, then plugged his phone into its charger. Lying
back on the pillow, he closed his eyes. Moments later, he was asleep as well.

CHAPTER 38

T
UESDAY

H
arvath awoke to the sound of the doorbell ringing. Sitting up, he looked at the time. It was after nine a.m.

Wearing a white bathrobe, her hair still wet from a shower, Sølvi had stepped out of the bathroom and had already answered the door.

A room service waiter in a white jacket and black tie was standing in the hall next to a cart adorned with silver cloches, baskets
of bread and pastries, a carafe of ice water and one of juice, a large pot of coffee, glasses, cups, linens, and other assorted breakfast accoutrements.

The waiter thanked Sølvi for opening the door, and with a polite bow offered for her to go first, and stated that he would follow her into the living room.

Once inside, he asked where she wanted breakfast set up. “How about on the balcony?”


Perfetto
,” the waiter replied.
Perfect
.

While they prepped everything outside, Harvath slipped into the bathroom, splashed some water on his face, and brushed his teeth.

By the time he rejoined Sølvi, the waiter had already gone.

“Coffee?” she asked as he stepped onto the balcony and pulled out his chair.

“Yes, please.”

Sitting down, he put his napkin in his lap and lifted up his cloche.

“I tried to get you the most American breakfast they had,” she said.
“Scrambled eggs, bacon, roasted potatoes. No Texas toast, though. Sorry.”

Harvath smiled and accepted the cup of coffee she had poured for him. “Thank you. And not just for the coffee. Thank you for everything back in Vilnius—with Simulik and the Russians. I should have said something last night.”

“It’s okay. You’re welcome.”

“When did you order all of this?”

“After I got back from my run.”

“You’ve already been on a run?”

She smiled. “You looked so
søt
while you were sleeping. I didn’t have the heart to wake you. I figured you needed the rest.”

“You’re like a Norwegian ninja. I didn’t hear anything.”

“That’s a Norwegian woman for you. Silent
and
deadly. Make sure you take care.”

Harvath smiled back and after
a sip of coffee began his to eat his breakfast. “How was your run?”

“Educational. You’ll never imagine whose villa I ran past.”

“So many possibilities. Let me guess. The Contessa’s?”

“Exactly. She has a very nice home, by the way.”

“How’s the security?”

“Better than we’ve seen with either Landsbergis or Simulik.”

“Meaning?” he asked.

“She lives in Old Town, close to the castle. There are
a lot of architectural restrictions. The cameras she has placed are subtle. You almost don’t even notice them if you’re not sure what to look for.

“In addition to the cameras, there are passive measures like walls, landscaping deterrents, and lighting. She’s actually done a good job. Her villa is low-profile,
for a villa
, but highly secure.”

“Guards? Dogs?”

“None that I saw or heard.”

“I’d
like to get the drone up to do a little more reconnaissance,” said Harvath. “Does that seem doable?”

“There were a couple of guys flying drones out over the water. I asked them what the rules were and if they’d had any pushback from locals.
They said per Italian regulations, it’s supposed to be line of sight and no higher than seventy meters.

“They admitted, though, that they’ve been flying
up and down the peninsula—out of sight and up over one hundred meters—and nobody has complained. People just seem to have gotten used to drones being in all the tourist spots. And, with everyone on their phones, it’s practically impossible to tell who’s flying versus just scrolling.”

Harvath liked that. They’d be able to hide their drone right in plain sight. That brought him back to the Contessa’s
security system.

“What else would you need to see in order to make a final assessment of the security system?”

Sølvi thought about it for a moment. “Ideally, I’d like to know what all the measures are, where the sensors are placed, if the property is being monitored remotely, if so by whom, are there human eyeballs—if any at all—on those cameras or is it AI, how does the feed go to the alarm
company—hardwired, cellular, or both, if an alarm is triggered is it silent, and finally, who responds—private security or police, and what’s the response time? And that’s just for starters.”

“Did you have all that intel when you broke into Landsbergis’s house?”

“No, but his system was much less sophisticated.”

“Okay,” said Harvath as he excused himself from the table, went inside to grab his
phone, and came back onto the balcony.

Thumbing out a text to Nicholas, he listed everything Sølvi had just asked for. Then, looking up at her, he asked, “What if we don’t take her in the house?”

The Norwegian shook her head. “You can’t take her in town. There’s too many tourists. Even on my run, first thing in the morning, I had to weave in and out of people. Maybe if we came back in February.”

“We’re not coming back in February. This is happening now.”

“I know. I was being sarcastic.”

Harvath smiled and took another bite of food. “Let’s pull the lens back a bit. What are our specific goals?”

“Simple,” said Sølvi. “We know Kovalyov sold the Contessa information about Carl and his involvement with you in the Kaliningrad
operation. The question is what she did with that information.
Did she reveal it or sell it to anyone? If so, who?”

That was it in a nutshell. And, if the Contessa was anything like Nicholas, he knew she was going to be obsessed with not only her personal security, but also the security of her data. People in their line of work made some serious enemies. They also took some serious measures to protect themselves. Harvath didn’t want to stumble into an Indiana
Jones–style situation where if he stepped on the wrong floor tile in the entry hall, he got a poisoned dart in the neck.

He doubted the Contessa had poisoned darts and a huge rolling boulder that would come chasing after him, but he also didn’t want to find out what her version of those things might be.

Had they more time, he would have set up extensive surveillance, developed a list of possible
characters, and then would have tried to turn someone like a housekeeper or a cook.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have the luxury of time. It just wasn’t in the cards for them. They needed to get to Montecalvo ASAP.

“What if there was a way to get her outside the villa and away from the Old Town?” he asked.

The Norwegian thought about it for a few seconds. “And then what?”

“Then we grab her,
put a bag over her head, and interrogate her.”

“Where would we do that? A public park? An alley somewhere? Maybe a parking garage?”

Harvath looked out over the vast expanse of water and replied, “No. On a boat.”

Sølvi followed his gaze. It was a bit half-baked, but not terrible. Once they had her out on the lake, they could keep moving. And with the roar of a motor, no one was ever going to
hear her—even if she screamed her head off.

“Okay,” the Norwegian said. “Tell me more.”

“We work backward from heading out into the center of the lake. Where, onshore, do we load her onto a boat? Once we have that nailed down, we go backward even further and figure out where we intercept her.”

“So we need someplace quiet, without a lot of witnesses.”

“Exactly,” replied Harvath, opening up
a map of the area on his phone and turning it around so they both could study it. “Our best plan would be to do it in the evening.”

“As in tonight?”

He checked his watch. “If we can get everything pulled together in time, yes.”

“How do we know we’ll even be able to get her out of the villa?”

“We’re going to have someone she trusts make her an offer she can’t refuse.”

CHAPTER 39

A
fter breakfast, Harvath showered and changed clothes. Then he went to scout locations with the drone while Sølvi handled renting the boat.

In the middle of the peninsula, there was a public park with access to a dock. If they waited until late enough in the evening, it would be empty. There was also a road that went almost to the water’s edge. Once they were ready to move the Contessa
from the boat back onto dry land, that was how they’d do it.

Harvath surveilled the entire property, looking for places someone might launch an ambush from. There were a few groves of olive trees, but not much else.

He next familiarized himself with the rest of the neighborhood, especially the various routes to the Contessa’s villa. As a final checklist item, he did an overflight near her home,
making sure not to appear that his drone was interested in anything at all to do with her.

With his surveillance complete, he texted Sølvi on the encrypted app they were using and asked her about the status of the boat.

His timing was perfect. She had just completed the paperwork. He told her where he was and that he’d wait for her on the end of the dock. It would be good for her to get in a
practice run—especially as she was going to be the captain tonight.

It took her about twenty minutes to get there, but Harvath had filled
the time with different texts and emails, as well as a call to Nicholas, who had been feeding
most
of the updates to Lawlor.

Harvath’s visit to VSD Director Simulik’s house hadn’t been shared yet. He was saving that for when he got back to the States. He didn’t
need any grief from Lawlor right now. He needed to be left alone so that he could do his job. Nicholas understood and had promised to not say anything.

When he saw Sølvi approach, he couldn’t believe the boat she had rented. The impressive Rivamare had to have cost a fortune.

The sleek, twin-engine craft was a work of art in gleaming black paint with teak decks the color of honey and railings
that shone like polished silver. He put her length overall at about eleven meters.

“Let me guess,” he said, as she brought it flawlessly up to the dock, threw the throttles into reverse, and spun the wheel like a pro. “You got an upgrade.”

She smiled. “Everyone loves Norwegian girls, but the Italians
really
love us.”

He put his foot out to help fend the boat off from the dock. “Do you want
to tie up here and we can make a loop of the park? Just so you get the lay of the land?”

“Sure,” she replied, killing the engines and getting out lines and bumpers.

There was a breeze, so in order to take advantage of it, they swung the craft around to the side of the dock. This way, the light wind would blow the boat away from the pier and prevent it from bumping against it.

Harvath gave her
the quick, down-and-dirty tour. There wasn’t much to see. He laid out what he thought their best course of action was and offered to show her the rest of the drone footage back at the hotel.

“How about lunch?” he had then asked. There was a nice trattoria with outdoor seating he had seen a couple of blocks up.

“What’s wrong with you?” Sølvi replied, gesturing toward the water. “I could sit in
a café anywhere in the world. How often do you get a chance to go out on a lake like Garda?”

He couldn’t argue with her thinking. “You’re right. We can eat later.”

“Actually, we can do both. I picked up supplies while they were finishing the paperwork.”

Like their room service waiter that morning, Harvath executed a bow and gestured for her to lead the way back to the boat.

As she fired up
the engines, he untied the lines, shoved the Riva away from the dock, and hopped on board.

Ever the SEAL, he took care of the gear first—coiling and stowing the lines, along with the bumpers, followed by finding a secure spot for the drone, before joining her up front.

It was a beautiful day to be out on the water and the Riva’s sharp hull sliced through it like a knife.

The air, moistened
with occasional bursts of spray, smelled fresher out here. Commingled with the scent of olives were hints of cypress and lemon. Harvath had been to the more famous Lake Como multiple times, but he couldn’t believe he had never been to Garda. It was incredible.

They did two tours of the peninsula, checking out the shoreline on both sides, before going off the clock for lunch. Heading out the approximate
distance she thought they’d need to go with the Contessa, Sølvi then turned off the engines and allowed the Riva to just bob in the water.

“Where’d you learn to handle a boat like that?” he asked, as she pulled out the bag of food she had purchased.

“There’s a lot of shoreline in Norway. Almost everyone, by definition, grows up near the sea. In my case, we had a house right on the coast. And
a boat. That was my happy place. I love boats and being near the water.

“In fact, remember when we were talking about my getting a tip from Holidae Hayes?”

Harvath nodded as he helped her unwrap the food.

“We were at one of my favorite places in Oslo at the time,” she continued, handing him napkins and plastic utensils. “It’s a hotel called The Thief. Moored outside is an incredible Riva. Bigger
than this one. Up on the roof of the hotel is a gorgeous restaurant which overlooks the water. You can see for kilometers. And if the weather is nice, there are so many boats. It’s heaven.”

Then, correcting herself, she said, “Actually, being on one of those boats is heaven. Eating on the rooftop of The Thief is the next best thing.”

“Is that why you found us a Riva?”

“That, and I knew my rich
Uncle Sam was going to reimburse the NIS. Right?”

Harvath popped the lid off a plastic container filled with olives and smiled. “I’ll put in the good word.”

Sølvi used one of the forks to spear an olive and smiled bigger than he had ever seen her do so to this point. It was dazzling.

“I love this,” she said, beaming. “I could do this all the time. There is something about being out on the water
that’s just so wonderful.”

Harvath smiled back at her. “Maybe you should have been a sailor instead of joining the Norwegian Army.”

“Is there anything Carl didn’t tell you about me?”

“He was proud of you. There was absolutely no doubt about it.”

“Thank you,” she said, uncomfortable with the conversation, her smile gone. “We should eat.”

“I hope I didn’t offend you.”

“No. You didn’t. It’s
just hard to have him gone.”

“I can understand. We’ve both been through a lot.”

“Hopefully, though,” she replied as she ate her olive and unwrapped a block of cheese, “we’re close to getting some answers.”

“Whatever Contessa Montecalvo has, we’ll get it from her. Trust me.”

“I do,” she replied.

Harvath looked at her and she looked back. They held each other’s gaze for a fraction of a second,
possibly for even a beat too long, and then broke it off—both at the same time.

They were in tune and it spoke to a deepening, potentially dangerous attraction. You couldn’t work with someone, particularly not in an environment as deadly as theirs, when emotions were likely to cloud judgment. It was a recipe for disaster.

Harvath tried to compose himself. There was a lot to like, maybe even
love, about the Norwegian ninja, but Lara’s memory was still so fresh, so painful. Besides, they had a job to do. He needed to reassert his professionalism.

“The only thing this picnic is missing,” said Sølvi, interrupting his thoughts, “is a great bottle of wine.”

“Probably for the best,” he responded. “I haven’t exactly been the picture of responsible alcohol consumption lately.”

She looked
at him again, her face softer. Kinder. Empathetic. “Because of losing your wife?”

It was a topic she had wanted to raise while they were driving, but hadn’t out of fear of ripping open what she knew was a very raw wound.

Harvath looked at what she had purchased for them to drink. “Mineral water?”

She nodded and joked, “After paying for the boat, it’s all I could afford.”

He smiled. “Let’s
open it.”

She did, and after retrieving two glasses from the Riva’s galley, poured.

“Cheers,” said Sølvi, raising her glass. “To those we’ve lost.”

“To those we’ve lost,” Harvath replied, clinking glasses.

As he took a sip, he wondered if he would have said no to some wine. Here he was at Lake Garda, on a boat that had to have cost at least half a million dollars, and in the presence of a
woman who, on a scale of one to ten, was a fourteen. Not many drinkers who stepped off the wagon did so under such unique circumstances.

“I remember you getting out the whiskey at Landsbergis’s. How bad is your drinking?” she asked, gently. “Is it a problem?”

“Is it a problem? No,” he admitted, appreciating her perceptiveness. “Is it too heavy, too often, and too much? Probably.”

“So what are
you going to do about it?”

Jesus, she was direct. Maybe that was the Scandinavian in her, but it was uncomfortable to have it put to him so bluntly like that. Nevertheless, he appreciated her honesty and attempted a smile. “I’m going to enjoy this nice, full-bodied mineral water and then focus on business.”

“Good,” she responded, taking a sip of hers. “Just know that I’ve been on the other side.
Not alcohol, but similar things. If you ever want to talk, I’m here.”

He wouldn’t have guessed by looking at her that she’d had a substance
abuse problem—or any kind of problem for that matter. Because of her looks, he wanted to graft a perfect story, a fairy tale onto her. He knew that was wrong. He knew that everyone you met was grappling with something—maybe not as rough as a drug problem,
but
something
.

We all have our crosses to bear. What’s more, we wouldn’t trade ours for someone else’s. If you and ten other people walked into a room and all laid their crosses on the table, everyone would be walking out with the same cross they walked in with.

He supposed that was because we got used to ours, but it was more than that. Our cross, we realize, helps define who we are. How we
wrestled with our problems, how we battled the demons that often accompanied them, was what built character. And as much as her straightforwardness had unsettled him, it was good to have that reminder.

She was a good person. The world was full of people who would tell you what you wanted to hear. The valuable ones—the people worth holding on to—were those who told you what you
needed
to hear.

There was a lot to this Norwegian ninja. Still fjords, apparently, ran quite deep. On the list of things he found attractive, he had never really considered wisdom. Not, at least, until now.

She appeared to have taken a lot from her experiences. It added something to her, made her even more interesting. He wanted to know where she had been, what she had seen, and the lessons she had learned. But
now wasn’t the time.

Now, they needed to focus on the Contessa. Because if they didn’t get this right, nothing else was going to matter.

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