Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (26 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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Harvath walked over to the coffeemaker and fired it up. He liked where all of this was going. “The attackers in Boston allegedly had ties to the local Irish mob. Three were Americans, but the fourth was believed to have actually been from
Ireland. Did you run his name through?”

“We did,” said Nicholas. “Desmond Oliver Cullen’s Republic of Ireland passport was issued just a little bit after Aubertin’s—early 2000. It turns out, Cullen is a ghost as well.”

“Why was Ireland churning out ghosts in late 1999, early 2000?”

“It could be that with the Troubles winding down, someone was running an underground railroad for the IRA.”

“But weren’t there amnesties?” Harvath asked, putting coffee in the machine. “Wasn’t that part of the peace process?”

“Lots of convicted criminals were given early release, but if you were an un-convicted criminal, meaning you hadn’t yet been prosecuted, there was no amnesty. You were out of luck. Even worse, the British government was as determined as ever to go after the most violent in the
IRA.”

“So we think these guys may be ex–guerrilla fighters?”

“At best.”

“And at worst?” Harvath asked.

“Ex–IRA hitters. Hard-core assassins with mountains of experience taking out political, military, civilian, and law enforcement targets. Not too far-fetched if you think about it.

“A truce has been signed, the walls were closing in, and there’s nothing left for them in Northern Ireland.
Someone in Dublin, a sympathizer, can get them clean passports, which will allow them to start over somewhere else. Cullen jumps at the chance and goes to Boston, where he puts his skills to work for the Irish mob. Aubertin goes to France and ends up with the Foreign Legion. Like I said, not too far-fetched.”

It wasn’t too far-fetched at all
, thought Harvath. “Do we know where Paul Aubertin lives?”

“That, I’m still working on. He is, though, registered as a
Licensed Guide of France and promoted by the Federation of Guides of Normandy.”

“Wait. Our assassin is a
fucking
tour guide?”

“Unless he uses it as cover for something else, it would appear that way. His ratings are pretty solid. Four stars or above. Consistently.”

“How do we find him?” Harvath asked, knocking on the shared door between
their rooms to wake Sølvi up.

“NormandyGuides.com has a profile on him. Unfortunately, he’s one of a handful of guides who never uploaded a personal photo.”

Harvath wasn’t surprised.

“There is, though, a contact feature. It looks like you can fill out a request and they’ll forward it to him.”

“Let’s do that. Make it look like it’s coming from anyplace other than the United States or Norway.
Present it as a couple looking for a guide in the next day or two. Pick the tourism site he gets the best reviews for.”

“His specialty appears to be the D-Day beaches of Normandy, particularly Omaha and Utah, or the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.”

“Go with the D-Day beaches,” said Harvath, partial to America’s World War II connection to France. “Hopefully, he’ll take the bait, we can hire him as
a guide, and set up a time and a place to meet.”

“And if he doesn’t take the bait?” Nicholas asked.

“We’ll need another way to find him, preferably a home address or a cell phone number. Get inside the NormandyGuides.com system and see what you can find.”

“Consider it done. In the meantime, what are you going to do?”

Harvath looked at the time and decided he had a wake-up call of his own to
deliver. “We’ve got a flight to catch.”

CHAPTER 44

C
HÂTEAU DE
C
HANTORE

B
ACILLY
, F
RANCE

W
EDNESDAY

P
aul Aubertin sipped his café au lait and tried to control his anger. The story had now been picked up by the French newspapers.

As he scanned the article in
Le Figaro
, it was apparent there wasn’t any new information.

The “Boston Massacre,” as Monday’s gunfight was being called, was being blamed on warring organized crime factions.
It had taken place in broad daylight and four men were dead, including the driver of the “getaway car,” which had collided with another, unrelated vehicle. Police were continuing their investigation. No further details had been released.

It was the same reporting he had seen all over the internet yesterday.
The Boston Globe
, local neighborhood “crime watch” sites, Boston police scanner blogs…
no matter where he tried to dig up more background on what had happened, he couldn’t find a damn thing.

The fact that the name
Desmond Oliver Cullen
hadn’t yet appeared in the press was no consolation. Didier Defraigne’s name hadn’t appeared either. In the Belgian’s case, he had simply vanished.

How the hell had Harvath done it? How was he one step ahead every single time?

It was becoming exceedingly
apparent why such an enormous bounty had been placed on him. He was nearly impossible to take down, directly or indirectly.

That said, the man was still mortal, which meant two things: he needed to sleep, and he was capable of making mistakes.

My God
, thought Aubertin.
Is that what this had come to? Counting on Harvath to make a mistake? Was that the only way he was going to be able to get to
him?

Aubertin refused to believe that a man of his experience, of his skill, would have to pin his hopes of success on a target screwing up. If that’s what things had come down to, then he needed to get out of the business.

Except, he wasn’t ready to get out of the business. Not by a long shot. At least not without a massive payday—and half of one hundred million dollars was as massive as anyone
had ever seen. If it took waiting for Harvath to screw up, or even killing him in his sleep, then that was just the way it was going to have to be.

To take advantage of Harvath letting his guard down, he needed to be able to pinpoint him. That’s why Key West had been so perfect. He had served up the job to Didier on a silver platter. But somehow Harvath had managed to escape—unless he and the
Belgian had fallen into a mangrove swamp and had been eaten by alligators.

Aubertin doubted it. Harvath was still definitely alive. The foiled kidnapping of his stepson in Boston was enough proof. He was still out there, somewhere. And Aubertin was right back to where he was before. He either needed to reacquire Harvath’s location, or find a new way to flush him out into the open.

How to accomplish
either of those was the question. He had been wracking his brain, but still had yet to come up with an answer.

One would come, it always did, but if he pushed too hard his mind would keep it at bay.

As was often the case, some of his best answers came when he stopped thinking about the question—which was why he was sitting in the salon of the Château de Chantore, having a morning coffee, and
waiting for a New Zealander family from Wellington to come downstairs.

They were return clients, who had not only been delightful to work with last year, but had also tipped very well.

Until the contract on Harvath was closed out—and provided Trang didn’t come up with some sort of plan to screw him—he still had bills to pay. The time to make hay was while the sun shined.

And if focusing on
the history of Normandy helped him unlock what
to do about Harvath, then all the better. His day with the Kiwis would be even sweeter.

He was about to take another sip of his café au lait when his phone chimed. Looking down, he saw a request from NormandyGuides.com.

High season was kicking into gear.

CHAPTER 45

S
AINT
-M
ALO
, F
RANCE

T
he jet that touched down at Aviano to fly them to France was a variant of a Gulfstream IV, known in U.S. Air Force parlance as a C-20H. It was part of the 86th Airlift Wing, but for all intents and purposes—from crew uniforms to the aircraft’s registration—it appeared to be a private civilian aircraft.

Harvath and Sølvi had had just enough time to grab a shower
and scrounge something to eat before it was time to leave. Over microwaved breakfast burritos and coffee in Styrofoam to-go cups, he explained everything he had learned about their assassin. He also explained his decision not to involve French authorities.

He had multiple connections to get any help he needed. The American and French presidents had an excellent relationship. CIA Director McGee
worked very well with the head of French Intelligence. Even Gary Lawlor had extremely solid connections throughout French law enforcement. In the end, though, Harvath had thought it best to operate under the radar.

There was no telling what kind of tripwires Aubertin had in place, nor whom he might have paid off and in what area of the government. One word that the Americans were looking for
him and he would vanish. For the first time, Harvath felt like he had the advantage. He didn’t intend to waste it.

When they landed at Dinard-Pleurtuit-Saint-Malo Airport, Nicholas
had bad news again. NormandyGuides.com did have a phone number for Aubertin, but it was no longer in service. Strike one.

Though it was first thing in the morning, Aubertin had already responded through the website
to their request for a guide. Unfortunately, he explained, he was booked up and could not help them. Strike two.

He did, however, suggest a colleague whom he felt would take exceptional care of them and provide a terrific tour of the D-Day beaches or any other sites in the Normandy area they might want to see. He included her name, cell phone number, and a link to her bio on NormandyGuides.com.

It wasn’t a home run, yet they hadn’t struck out entirely. They were still in the game, but now with a degree of separation between themselves and their target. Until they developed a better lead, this new guide—Dominique Loiseau—was the best shot they had.

While Sølvi deplaned and went into the private aviation building to pick up their rental car, Harvath remained on board and wrapped up the
list of things he needed from Nicholas. Once it was complete, he disconnected the call and deplaned as well.

It was an absolutely perfect morning—sunny and warm. They were less than ten kilometers away from the coast; close enough that he could smell the salt of the ocean carried on the breeze. Along with it came the scent of grasslands and apple orchards. There was a reason why Winston Churchill,
Picasso, and even T. E. Lawrence had so romanticized this part of France.

As the crew off-loaded the gear, Harvath stood on the tarmac and turned his face up toward the sun. It felt good to be outside. It also felt good to breathe.

He enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the smell of the ocean for as long as he could. He didn’t know when he’d get another chance to close his eyes and simply be.

The moment didn’t last long. A few seconds later, he heard a vehicle approaching. Opening his eyes, he saw Sølvi drive up in a black Land Rover Discovery.

“Don’t even say the words
Norwegian girl
or
upgrade
to me,” he stated as she put the vehicle in Park and hopped out.

She winked at him and then gave him her thousand-megawatt smile of perfectly straight white teeth, before popping the rear
hatch and showing the aircrew where to place everything. Harvath just shook his head.

After loading the gear, he climbed into the passenger seat and they left the airport.

“Where to?” Sølvi asked.

Harvath checked his watch. “Let’s head toward Omaha Beach,” he said, pulling up the vehicle’s navigation system and selecting their destination. “I’ll call the guide and see when she can meet us.”

As soon as the GPS system had mapped out the two-hour-and-eleven-minute drive, Sølvi sped up and merged into traffic.

Looking at his messages, Harvath opened the recent email from Nicholas and downloaded the attachment.

He then opened WhatsApp, checked his new profile, and confirmed that it showed both the assumed name and alias phone number he had asked for.

On NormandyGuides.com, Dominique
Loiseau had listed her cell phone number, email address, and had also advertised that she was available via WhatsApp. Entering her number in the app, Harvath gave her a call. She answered on the second ring.

“Madame Loiseau,” he said. “My name is David Owen. Sorry to call you so early, but we wanted to catch you before the day got going. Monsieur Aubertin thought you might be able to be our guide
for a tour of Utah and Omaha beaches?”

“Yes, he texted me that I might be hearing from you,” she replied. “You and your wife are from Canada, correct?”

“We are. Ontario, to be exact. We were hoping that we could meet you at Omaha Beach in a couple of hours and start there. How does that sound?”

“Unfortunately,” the woman replied, “I am already committed to a tour this afternoon at Mont-Saint-Michel.
I couldn’t do the beaches with you and still be back in time.”

Damn it
, thought Harvath.

“If, though,” she added, “you would like to see Mont-Saint-Michel
instead, I could take you on a private tour this morning and if I’m able to move some things around, we could do Omaha and Utah beaches tomorrow. Would that work for you?”

In the driver’s seat, Sølvi was nodding.

Harvath smiled and said
into his phone, “Is Mont-Saint-Michel worth a visit?”

He could almost see the guide rolling her eyes as she replied, “Trust me, it’s worth it. If you don’t agree, it’s free. I won’t charge you. How about that?”

“Can you hold a moment, please? I need to ask my wife.”

Muting the phone, he looked at Sølvi and smiled again.

“You’re terrible,” she said.

“I don’t want to seem too eager.”

“You
seem
like an idiot. Thank her, accept her offer, and ask where she’d like to meet.”

Harvath stifled a laugh and did as he was told.

After setting up their rendezvous with Dominique Loiseau, he hung up and plugged the new destination into the GPS system. Mont-Saint-Michel was less than an hour away.

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