Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online
Authors: Brad Thor
Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure
atiana Montecalvo—the Contessa—had indeed been glad to hear from Alexander Kovalyov again—especially when she learned that he had additional intelligence on Scot Harvath. Specifically, he claimed to have signals intelligence pinpointing Harvath’s exact current location. “If what you have is authentic,” she had told him, “I am very interested.”
They had haggled over the price first.
She had warned him that pigs got fed and hogs got slaughtered. He suggested that maybe one of her competitors would be willing to pay his asking price. Someone, perhaps, like the Troll.
Even mention of the little man’s name made her skin crawl. She despised him. He was a glutton filled with despicable appetites, adrift on a fiendish sea of never-ending pleasure-seeking, and to this day, she was
still angry at herself for having played a part in filling his greedy, tiny little belly.
Knowing his predilections for exotic sex acts and women of a certain look, she had thought she could play him. Before the ubiquitous cloud, in the days of mainframe computing, her goal had been to send her smartest, best-trained girl to him in order to plant a virus. Anything that already existed on his
hard drives, as well as anything that ever crossed his computer screen from that point forward, would belong to her.
Instead he had double-crossed her, sending the girl back with a
Trojan horse virus of his own. Once it had been uploaded to her system, he had cleaned her out and had set her operation back years.
It was a painful lesson in the art of war; one which she had never forgotten. When
she took her shots these days, she took them with much more precision. And one of the easiest shots was outbidding a competitor before they even knew there was a contest.
This wasn’t information she would have to shop. She had a buyer already interested in Harvath. He would pay three times what Kovalyov was asking. It would be very nice to get such an easy payday, and to do it while shutting
out the Troll would make it even nicer.
So, she had agreed to the man’s price—
the information could be authenticated. That’s when the second round of haggling had started.
He wouldn’t transmit any of what he had electronically. Once she had the treasure map, why should he expect her to pay for it? No, this was going to have to be done in person. The Contessa, not seeing she had a choice,
Then came the next point. Kovalyov was concerned that his absence from the embassy in Vilnius would be noticed. He would send a courier instead—someone he trusted. A woman. Once the Contessa had authenticated the intelligence, there would be an immediate transfer of funds into his account, and he would okay the courier to hand everything over to her.
While she didn’t like working with
a middleman or, in this case, a middle
, she didn’t want to be so difficult that she nuked their deal. Once again, she agreed to his demands. All that was left were the details of the meeting.
After he had laid out how he wanted it to go down, she had to give him credit—he had done his homework. He was a clever, resourceful man. She was glad to have him in her pocket. There was no telling
what other valuable intelligence he might bring her in the future. If he kept going in this direction, they stood to make lots of money together.
What she didn’t know was that Alexander Kovalyov would never contact her again. He was sitting in a former U.S. black site in Lithuania and had made a deal with the new acting Director of the VSD, Filip Landsbergis.
In agreeing to communicate with
the Contessa, based on a script Harvath and Nicholas had put together, Kovalyov had been able to secure certain assurances from the Lithuanian government. If he continued to cooperate, his boss would continue to receive medical care, and their entire four-man team would eventually be allowed to leave and return to Russia.
If he didn’t cooperate, Harvath and the Norwegian woman would be back,
the Lithuanians would step aside, and the Russians would be at their mercy. There was only one smart path out of this and Kovalyov had taken it. So far, it appeared to be working.
With the meeting set, the biggest question was how far Harvath was willing to push things with the Contessa.
“Have you ever tortured a woman?” Sølvi had asked.
“Interrogated, yes. Tortured, no.”
“It’s different with
women. What frightens them. What they respond to. The pressure points are not always the same as with men.”
“You can be the captain, not just of the boat, but of the entire interrogation,” he had said with a smile. “I look forward to watching you work.
“Speaking of which,” he added. “Just going on what I saw in Vilnius, bullet holes in the Contessa could very quickly end up being bullet holes
in the boat. Just going to throw that out there. I’m not a very good swimmer.”
“I have always heard that about America’s Navy SEALs. Good with flight attendants. Bad with swimming.”
She was fun to spar with, but they had still had a lot of work to do. In addition to going over the drone footage and charging its batteries, he had come up with a different approach to the Contessa’s interrogation—one
that, if they were lucky, wouldn’t have to involve getting rough with her.
“I’m all ears,” Sølvi had said. “What are you suggesting?”
“It has already worked once. How about we make her another offer that she can’t refuse?”
The NIS operative listened as Harvath had laid out his thinking, and she agreed that it was worth a try. They could always revert to harsh interrogation methods, and if needed,
The ball was going to be in the Contessa’s court. How things unfolded would be completely up to her.
If she was intelligent, which by all accounts she was, hopefully she would do the right thing. Under pressure, though, sometimes people made very bad, very dangerous decisions. They would have to wait and see where the Contessa took them.
The one thing Harvath knew was that if she
took them down the danger road, if she imperiled him or Sølvi,
put a bullet in her without thinking twice.
t the appointed time, everything appeared to be in place. The boat was bobbing in the water, Sølvi was behind the wheel, the drone was floating in the air, and Harvath was in his hide site. All they needed now was the Contessa.
When she did show up, Harvath and Sølvi would see her before she saw them. There was no question.
Out on the lake, the Riva drifted with its engines and
running lights off. Harvath watched the park and the dock via the drone’s night vision camera. Sølvi surveilled the shoreline through the night vision goggles he had given her.
She picked up on the headlights before Harvath did. “Vehicle approaching,” she said. “Southwest corner of the park.”
“Roger that,” said Harvath. “I see it. Our guest of honor has just pulled in, or a drug deal is getting
ready to go down.”
Moments later, another car pulled up, parked alongside, and it did actually look, via the drone, like a drug deal.
When the cars departed a minute later, they were back to waiting for the Contessa.
Then, Harvath noticed something. “Inbound. Lone figure. Northwest gate.”
This time, things looked a bit more promising. While the Contessa could have driven to the park, it was
within walking distance of her villa. That wasn’t enough to determine if it was her, but it was a start.
The figure strode down the park path, not too fast, not too slow, and headed toward the dock.
“This is her,” Harvath said, convinced.
“Roger that,” Sølvi replied. “Any tail-gunners?” she asked, using a term sometimes applied to criminal accomplices who lagged behind, out of sight, waiting
to strike if a job went south.
“Negative,” said Harvath. “I don’t see anyone. It appears she’s on her own.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Wait until she’s at the end of the dock and gives you the signal. Then you can come in.”
“Roger that,” Sølvi said. “Standing by.”
The figure walked down to the end of the dock, pulled out her cell phone, and turned the flashlight feature on and off three
Harvath didn’t need to say anything. This was the part where Sølvi took over. Starting up the engines, she put the Riva in gear and headed in toward the shore.
As she piloted the craft, she did everything via the night vision goggles, never activating the running lights, thereby denying an advantage to any ambush that might lie in wait.
Pulling into the shore, there was enough ambient
light that her night vision goggles were no longer necessary. She peeled them off and tucked them into the compartment next to her as she blinked her eyes, adjusting to the new situation.
It took only a moment to see the lone figure at the end of the dock. Sølvi agreed with Harvath that this was most likely her, but until she had full confirmation, she wasn’t going to relax.
They were operating
off an old Italian Intelligence photo of Tatiana Montecalvo, from when she had worked at the Russian embassy in Rome. It had to have been twenty years old—if not older. There was no telling how much she had changed in the meantime, nor how much plastic surgery she may have had done.
As Sølvi got closer to the pier, she could see that the woman had had a little work done, but nothing so dramatic
that she was unrecognizable.
She was older, a bit softer, and appeared more tired, but she was still Tatiana Montecalvo. This was their target.
Sølvi swung the boat in and sidled it up against the pier the same way she had with Harvath earlier in the day. That was when the Contessa pulled her gun.
“Shut the engines down,” she ordered, pointing a Beretta pistol at Sølvi.
The NIS operative did
as she had been commanded. Turning off the engines, she raised her hands.
“Open the door to the cabin and turn on the lights down there,” the Contessa ordered, waving her Beretta.
Once more, Sølvi did as she was instructed. Then, with the lights on and the door open, she stepped to the side so Montecalvo could take a look for herself.
“It’s just me,” said the Norwegian. “Nobody else.”
a powerful pocket flashlight, the Contessa flashed a burst of its high-intensity light into Sølvi’s face, ruining her sight and temporarily causing her to see spots.
Tightening her grip on the weapon, Montecalvo demanded, “On your stomach. Now.”
The Norwegian didn’t like taking orders from this woman, but she did as she had been told.
As she lay facedown, the Contessa climbed aboard. She wanted
to make sure the boat was safe before she got down to business. That meant making sure no one was hiding in back, or up front in the cabin.
She took a moment to pat Sølvi down and check the seat pockets, cushions, and various cubbies. Confident as she could be that the woman wasn’t carrying a weapon, nor had one too close at hand, she backed away toward the cabin.
There were three steps leading
down into the luxurious below-deck space. The Contessa took them slowly, shifting her eyes back and forth from the cabin to the woman who was facedown outside.
She checked the galley, the bathroom, and the sleeping area—none of which revealed any stowaways.
Satisfied, she started up the stairs and told Sølvi to get up. As she stepped through the hatchway, about to explain that they could get
under way, or discuss their business right there, she noticed water on the deck.
Someone had gotten on the boat
But before she could raise her pistol, Harvath pressed his Sig Sauer against the side of her head and told her to drop it. She complied.
“The flashlight too,” he ordered.
Again, she did as he told her.
Sølvi picked up the Beretta, released the magazine, ejected the round from the
chamber and tossed all of it into the lake.
Then retrieving her own weapon, she kept the Contessa covered while Harvath—who had been floating under the dock and had crept up onto the boat via its swim platform—went back for his gear.
Everything was in a drybag stashed under the dock. He had been watching the drone footage through a waterproof phone pouch he had purchased, along with the drybag
and a swimsuit, in town.
Climbing back aboard the boat, he used his last set of restraints to zip-tie the Contessa’s hands behind her back. After a quick trip to the cabin to towel off and get dressed, he nodded to Sølvi that he was ready to go.
Firing up the engines, she pushed the throttles forward and plotted a course for the center of the lake. All the while, Harvath kept an eye on the Contessa.
Once they were far enough out, Sølvi put the engines in neutral and let the boat drift. Overhead, the drone was keeping watch. There were several other craft out and about, but nothing particularly close. As a result, they decided to keep their running lights off.
Harvath looked at the Contessa. “Do you know who I am?”
The woman nodded.
“Then you know why I’m here.”
“I know that someone
wants you dead, but I’m guessing that you don’t know who it is. That’s why you’re here. You’re hoping to extract information that can help you, which means you’ll be playing bad cop.” Then, looking at Sølvi, she said, “And that makes you the—”
“Worse cop,” the Norwegian intelligence operative responded,
cutting her off. “Let me explain how this is going to go. I’m not a fan of waterboarding or
pulling out fingernails. I prefer a much more direct route.
“I am going to ask you a series of questions. If you lie to me, I will shoot you in very painful, very specific parts of your body. If I even think you are lying, I will shoot you. If you hesitate, I will conclude that you’re about to lie, and I will shoot you. Have I made myself clear?”
The Contessa had no idea how serious the threat
was, but nodded, erring on the side of caution. “Is that what happened to Kovalyov?” she asked. “Did you shoot him? Is he dead?”
Sølvi shook her head. “I shot his boss, repeatedly. Kovalyov was next. He decided to cooperate. We made a deal. And we’d like to make a deal with you. If you agree to—”
“Not interested,” the Contessa broke in.
“Either way, we are going to get the information we want
out of you. You are choosing to make this much harder than it has to be.”
“Go to hell,” the woman sneered.
“You don’t even want to hear the offer?”
“Not from you I don’t.”
“Well, how about from him?” Harvath asked as he activated a video call on his app and held out his phone so she could see it.
When the call connected, on the other side was Nicholas.
The Contessa was already testy and
angry, but once she recognized who it was, she became downright aggressive.
She let loose with a string of expletives in Russian, only a handful of which Harvath knew. The woman was so pissed off and spat words so fast at his phone that he couldn’t keep up.
Nicholas, calm at the outset, also lost his cool—something Harvath had rarely ever seen. There was a lot of bad blood between these two.
Buckets of it.
The arguing, threats, and name-calling continued at a furious pace. Back and forth they went, their faces flushed, the veins in their necks bulging.
It took quite some time, but eventually the Contessa’s outbursts began to slow, and she dialed back her tone. Nicholas also applied some
self-restraint and became more measured. It wasn’t détente, but the temperature was definitely
being turned down. They were now entering the critical phase of Harvath’s plan.
Nicholas had been resistant at first. The Contessa had started this. She had been first to try to stick a knife in his back. He had simply dodged the blade and had inserted his own between her figurative shoulders. Theirs was a cutthroat business. The purchase and sale of black-market intelligence was incredibly dangerous.
If you tried to take out a competitor and failed, you needed to be prepared for the consequences.
Nicholas, though, had largely left that world behind. He did still dabble, keeping his skills sharp and preying upon the most unscrupulous in their industry. But basically, he had retired. And while he despised Tatiana Montecalvo, Harvath was family and had asked him for a favor. A
continued to speak in Russian, taking long pauses as each pondered what the other had said. There were a couple of flare-ups, but nothing close to what had transpired at the outset of the call.
After a little while longer, the Contessa looked at Harvath and said, “We’re done. He wants to talk to you.”
Turning the phone around, he inserted an earbud and walked to the swim platform, leaving Sølvi
to keep an eye on their prisoner.
“My God,” said Nicholas. “I hate that woman. Completely and totally. She is unintelligent, uncivilized, vindictive, and avaricious.”
Harvath didn’t need to hear what Nicholas was going to say next. He already knew. It had worked.