Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (27 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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CHAPTER 46

T
he tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel was connected to the mainland via a man-made causeway. The causeway, though, was closed to all but official traffic.

Visitors were required to leave their vehicles in one of the official parking areas and then were allowed to cross the causeway on foot, via a cart drawn by draft horses, or on a free shuttle bus known as a “Passeur.”

Harvath didn’t
like being cut off from their SUV, but he didn’t have a choice. Finding a spot for the Land Rover, they locked it and headed over to the nearby Tourist Information Center, hoping to gather some intelligence.

One of his biggest questions was what security would be like once they got out to the site. It didn’t take long to get an answer.

According to a sign they passed, only purses and small backpacks
were allowed on Mont-Saint-Michel. Before you could enter through the fortifications, there was an inspection station. All bags were subject to search.

There was no mention of wanding or any other body-scanning technology, though knives were listed as a prohibited item. Drones were also prohibited and a red circle on a map showed the large exclusion zone around the island where nothing was allowed
to be flown.

The only things they’d be able to take along were those they could conceal beneath their clothing.

Harvath tried to console himself with the fact that this was a reconnaissance operation and not a tactical engagement. Even so, he had always believed that you could never be too prepared.

Back at the Land Rover, he and Sølvi took turns keeping watch while the other covertly geared
up. When they were done, they once again locked the vehicle, and headed toward the shuttle bus.

Once the Passeur arrived, the ride out to the island only took a few minutes. The views were amazing. Of all of the places around the world he had been, and all of the things he had seen, Mont-Saint-Michel was one of the most beautiful and most dramatic. He could understand why it had been referred
to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. If a company of knights had come thundering out of the gates, and had galloped past them across the marsh, it wouldn’t have seemed odd at all.

When the bus came to a stop and they got off, Sølvi hustled Harvath to the side, before the other tourists got the same idea, and had him pose for a photo with her. Though not usually a selfie kind of guy, he indulged
her. After all, they were supposed to be a married couple on vacation. The unobstructed view of the fortified medieval stone town with its soaring abbey atop the hill was breathtaking. She had a great eye.

As warned back on the mainland, there was indeed a bag check. There were so many people in line that it took longer to get through than the shuttle ride out.

Thankfully, there was no wanding
or body scan of any kind. Had that been the case, he and Sølvi had agreed that she would feign having left something important in the Land Rover that they had to go back for.

Waiting just past the bag check, as promised, was Dominique Loiseau. She was a stylish, petite Frenchwoman in her sixties, with platinum hair and a red and gold scarf. The scarf, she had explained over the phone, was to
help her clients identify her. Though Harvath would have recognized her anyway, it was probably a good idea. The profile photo she had posted on the website was at least twenty years out of date.

“Is that her?” Sølvi asked.

“That’s her,” said Harvath.

As soon as Sølvi waved, Loiseau smiled, waved back, and walked over to them. She couldn’t have been a more delightful woman.

“Monsieur and Madame
Owen,” she said, extending her hand. “How lovely to meet you.
Bienvenue à Mont-Saint-Michel
.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” replied Sølvi, shaking hands.

“Madame Loiseau,” said Harvath, taking her hand next. “Thank you for accommodating us on such short notice.”

Her English was excellent. “It is my honor,” she stated. “And please, Madame Loiseau was my grandmother. Call me Dominique.”

She
was a charmer, which was why Harvath instantly liked her. Charmers were some of the easiest people to build rapport with.

“Okay,” she energetically continued. “Have either of you ever been to Mont-Saint-Michel before?”

Harvath and Sølvi shook their heads.

“How about Normandy?”

Again, they shook their heads.

“France?”

This time, both nodded.

“Okay,” said Dominique, as she motioned for her
clients to follow. “Why don’t we start walking, I’ll tell you a little bit about the region, and then we can begin to learn how Mont-Saint-Michel came to be.”

Dominique Loiseau was an absolute pro. Having confirmed that her clients were indeed hungry, their tour ended two and a half hours later, on the dot, at Mont-Saint-Michel’s La Mère Poulard hotel and restaurant.

As they entered the dining
room, the manager was already standing at the door and whisked them off to one of the best tables in the house. It was so well choreographed that Harvath had to subtly tip his hat. He couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a kickback she received for bringing in high-end patrons.

There was a pleasant back-and-forth between Dominique and the manager in French, before he handed Harvath the wine
list and said, “Something to drink?”

“I’m driving, but what about you, darling?” he said to Sølvi.

Sølvi looked at Dominique. “You won’t make me drink alone, will you?”

The Frenchwoman smiled. “My next tour starts here, so luckily, I’m not driving. Yes, I’ll join you.”

“Red or white?” asked Sølvi, as Harvath handed her the wine list.


C’est à vous.
It’s your decision.”

“Champagne then,”
she said, showing the manager which vintage she wanted before surrendering the wine list and watching him scurry off to fetch the bottle.

“It’s good to be on holiday,” said Dominique. “I like your style.”

Sølvi smiled. “I’m a lucky woman. Thanks to my husband, we have a very rich uncle.”

Harvath couldn’t wait to get the bill for this operation from the Norwegians. It was going to be off the
charts. And Lawlor was going to wring his neck.

But by using Sølvi’s alias and her credit cards, she was helping to further insulate him from the one-hundred-million-dollar bounty on his head.

When the manager returned, he walked right up to Sølvi, bowed deeply, and presented a bottle with his apologies. “We are out of the 2011, but I would like to offer you a bottle of the 2009 for the same
price. It is an exceptional vintage.”

She looked at Harvath, mouthed the word
upgrade
, then turned back to the manager and replied, “That is so kind of you. Thank you. We’ll take it.”

“Our uncle will be so happy that you’re happy,” said Harvath.

Sølvi winked at him and then turned her attention to Dominique.

Despite how loquacious the guide had been, she hadn’t wanted to talk about Aubertin
at all. No matter how subtly Harvath and Sølvi had tried to bring him up, she had changed the subject. She wasn’t just a charmer, she was also a hell of a saleswoman—and she wanted to keep these clients all to herself.

The consummate intelligence officer, Sølvi plied her with the expensive champagne, making sure her glass remained full. She also asked a bunch of personal questions, including
requests to see pictures of the woman’s grandchildren, her dog, and her last vacation.

Each time she did, she caught Harvath’s attention and signaled with her eyes for him to pay attention as the woman entered the passcode into her iPhone.

At first, he didn’t understand what Sølvi was asking him to do, but finally—feeling like an idiot—he got it. But what good was a passcode without the phone?

He was about to find out.

After having downed a couple of glasses of champagne, Sølvi suggested that she and Dominique visit the ladies’ room. The lovely Frenchwoman agreed.

As they got up and slung their purses over their shoulders, Sølvi feigned having trouble with her balance, but Dominique saved her from an embarrassing tumble.

Thanking her, Sølvi remarked, “Apparently, the 2009 goes right
to your legs.”

“If only the 2009 could give me legs like yours,” said the Frenchwoman, “I’d buy it by the vineyard.”

Sølvi smiled. “My husband is going to give you a great tip. You know that, right?”

Dominique smiled back.

“Speaking of which,” Sølvi added, as she came around the table and planted a kiss on Harvath. “Don’t go falling in love with anyone else while I’m gone.”

“Never,” he said,
a bit shocked. “Not unless the Norwegian women’s volleyball team walks in.”

“Norwegian girls,” she replied, putting her arm around the Frenchwoman and walking toward the ladies’ room. “He’s obsessed. Sometimes, it seems that’s all he ever talks about.”

As they walked away, he looked down at what Sølvi had pressed into his hand while giving him that kiss. The Norwegian ninja had struck again.
It was the cell phone she had lifted from Dominique’s purse.

CHAPTER 47

B
y the time the ladies had returned to the table, a little man halfway around the world had been set loose on one of the most important missions of his life.

Ever the gentleman, Harvath stood up to pull out each of the women’s chairs. As he helped the Frenchwoman to be seated, he asked, “Dominique, is that yours?”

Following his eyes, she saw her phone lying on the floor, under the
table. Before she could pick it up, he had already bent down and retrieved it.

“My goodness,” she said, as he handed it to her. “Thank you. I didn’t even know I had dropped it. Perhaps, I’ve had too much champagne.”

“You can never have too much champagne,” Sølvi confided.

“You can if it’s a workday,” Dominique replied pleasantly, waving the manager over. “Shall we order some lunch?”

La Mère
Poulard was known for making the most famous omelet in the world. The eggs were whipped in large, copper mixing bowls—the kitchen staff beating out a hypnotic rhythm with their whisks. They were then cooked over a wood fire. The recipe and method of cooking hadn’t changed in more than 130 years.

The history of the establishment over that time was amazing. Guests included Teddy Roosevelt, Édith
Piaf, Claude Monet, Picasso, Hemingway, Patton, Margaret Thatcher, Marlene Dietrich, emperors, kings, queens, princes, and princesses. The list went on and on. Each had been
asked to leave something special, a memento, behind. The walls were covered with framed autographs, photographs, drawings, and sketches. It was like being in a museum dedicated to over a century of power and celebrity.

They
made small talk as they ate, with Sølvi deftly handling an innocent, yet potentially troublesome question that popped up at one point. Dominique was interested in why neither of them were wearing wedding rings.

Harvath’s mind raced for an answer, but before he could come up with one, Sølvi stepped up. Without missing a beat, she explained that after France, they were flying to Thailand and had
decided not to bring any jewelry on this trip. It was a terrific response and he was in awe of how quickly she had arrived at it and how effortlessly it had been delivered—even after a couple of glasses of champagne. She really was talented.

At the end of the meal, the manager came over to see how their lunch had been. They complimented him on the food and then he leaned in and said something
to Dominique in French.

Smiling, she then relayed the offer to her clients. “Where are you staying tonight?”

Sølvi looked at Harvath and then back at their guide. “We actually hadn’t gotten that far. We were just going to drive around Normandy until we found something.”

Dominique’s smile broadened. “Well, now you don’t have to worry. They just had a cancellation here, upstairs. It’s only for
one night, but it’s yours if you want it.”

Harvath hadn’t planned that far ahead yet. Once Nicholas had pinpointed Aubertin, he wanted to be ready to roll. With that said, there was no telling how long it could take. In fact, Nicholas had warned him not to expect a quick fix. It could be hours, or it could be days.

The idea of getting back in the Land Rover just to go to another hotel didn’t
make much sense—not when they were already here.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” the guide continued. “Unbelievably romantic. More than half the tourists will be gone by five o’clock. I can meet you for another drink, we’ll go listen to vespers in the abbey at six-thirty, then you two can have dinner and walk the
ramparts together. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast,
we’ll meet at Utah Beach. How does that sound?”

“It does sound appealing,” Harvath admitted. “I’m still a little jet-lagged.”

He was also holding out hope that spending more time with the woman might result in getting a little more information out of her.

At the moment, and until they had something solid from Nicholas, they had nothing to lose.

“I guess we’ll do it,” he announced, sealing
their decision.

“Wonderful. You can check in and take a power nap, while Mrs. Owen does a little shopping?”

“Or,” said Sølvi, “I can take the Passeur back to our car to grab our overnight bags.”

“And when you get back,
then
you’ll do some shopping.”

Sølvi smiled, raised her champagne, and the two women clinked glasses.

Calling the manager back over, Dominique told him that they would take
the room. She then looked at her watch and apologized, explaining that she was going to have to get going if she was to meet her next clients on time.

Harvath settled up with her, added a nice tip—as Sølvi had promised—and they made a rendezvous for drinks that evening.

After she had gone and they had paid for lunch, the manager accompanied them to the front desk, where he handed them off to
a young desk clerk, before disappearing back into the restaurant.

Though they had been introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Owen, the clerk didn’t bat an eye when they filled out the registration card with the names on their fake passports. Had the clerk questioned the discrepancy, a hint that they were both married to other people would have been all that was necessary. This was France after all. It wouldn’t
have been the first time paramours had tried to keep their identities secret while checking into a hotel.

Accepting two key cards, they went upstairs and checked out the room.

Dominique hadn’t been kidding. It was romantic. Incredibly so.

The room maintained the overall La Mère Poulard color palette evident on the façade of the building, as well as throughout the restaurant. The draperies were
gold, the chairs and carpet red, and the soft bed linens a crisp white.

None of it compared to the views over the water through the large, open French windows. For a moment, Harvath was almost able to forget that this was an assignment.

“Is this going to be okay?” Sølvi asked.

“It’s great,” he replied, still looking out.

“Hey,” she chastised him, “I’m not talking about the view. I’m talking
about this.”

Harvath turned to see her pointing at the queen-sized bed. Unlike their room in Sirmione, here there was no couch.

“Setting aside for the moment that a
true
Norwegian girl would have gotten us upgraded to a suite, I guess I’ll just have to trust you to respect me.”

“Me?” she replied. “To respect
you
?”

“Yes. My modesty
and
my virtue.”

She shook her head. “We’re going to need to
light a lot of candles at the abbey tonight.”

“That’s okay, I saw an ATM outside.”

“Very funny. How did it go with her phone?”

“Perfect,” said Harvath. “Remind me to start putting my wallet in my front pocket when you’re around.”

Sølvi smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“It is, and you should.”

“How long until your people have something?”

Harvath checked his phone to see if he had
any messages from Nicholas. So far, there was nothing. “Tech is always unpredictable,” he said. “Sometimes the hardest jobs are the easiest, and the jobs you think will be the easiest are the hardest.”

“Well, you get your beauty sleep. I’m going to go get our bags.”

“I’m happy to come along and help.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “You want me to grab your black one, right?”

“They’re all
black.”

“I know. It was a joke.”

Harvath smiled. “Just bring the one with the toothbrush,
not
the rifle.”

“I’m going to try
really
hard to remember that, but,” she said, pointing at her head, “you know,
blond
.”

Harvath smiled again. “Something tells me that even if you bring the wrong bag back, you’ll still find a way to get it past security.”

Batting her eyelashes, she flashed him another
smile and left the room.

As soon as she did, Harvath—who had been holding himself up tall and straight—allowed himself to slump. Pulling out the drawer of the nightstand near the window, he began dumping all the gear he was carrying.

Then, sitting on the edge of the bed, he untied his boots and kicked them off. It wasn’t bad enough that he was operating on practically no sleep, but he had been
on a two-and-a-half-hour walking tour, followed by a long, French lunch. He couldn’t wait to put his head back and close his eyes.

Giving his phone one last check, he then set it on the nightstand and lay down on the bed.

When sleep came, it came like a speeding train, drawn to a passenger who had just stepped off the platform. It hit him. And he was out.

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