Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (29 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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CHAPTER 51

A
Good Samaritan leapt into action. Balling up someone’s windbreaker, he applied a makeshift pressure bandage to the man who had been shot.

Harvath couldn’t have done better himself. What’s more, rule number one in a gunfight was to eliminate the threat. That was
his
job.

Charging out of the church, he gave chase.

“Talk to me,” he said over his earbud. “Where is he?”

“He’s on L’Abbaye
Street,” Nicholas replied, studying the map on his screen. “Moving away from the abbey.”

Harvath was in a throng of tourists, all doing the same thing—getting away from where the gunfire had been.

“I think he’s headed for the main gate,” the little man added.

“He’s trying to blend in. That’s how he’s going to escape, hiding in the crowd.”

It was a smart move on Aubertin’s part—sow total chaos
and then use it to your advantage.

“The Logis Sainte-Catherine is up ahead on the left,” said Nicholas. “There’s a shortcut through there that pops out at La Mère Poulard. If he knows Mont-Saint-Michel, he’ll know that’s his fastest route to the exit.”

“Tell me if he takes it,” Harvath replied, pushing his way through the crush of people, trying to gain ground on the assassin.

Up ahead, he
could see the building known as the Logis Sainte-Catherine. Maneuvering to his left, he prepared to charge the stairs
leading to its flat, grass-covered common area. It was going to be his best chance to close the distance with Aubertin. Then came the news from Nicholas.

“He blew right past it,” the little man reported. “He’s still on L’Abbaye. Headed west.”

What the hell was he up to?

Moments
later, Nicholas believed he had it figured out. “I think he’s going out the other gate. The one on Les Fanils.”

Mont-Saint-Michel had two entrances, about fifty meters apart—the main gate and a secondary entrance near an administrative building.

“Ping Sølvi,” said Harvath. “Let her know that we think he may be coming out the other gate. Have her move to the causeway and watch for him there.”

“Roger that,” Nicholas responded, keying out a quick text.

But no sooner had he sent it than Aubertin changed his route. “Heads up,” he said to Harvath. “He just turned right.”

“What do you mean,
he turned right
?”

“On Les Fanils. He should have turned left to get to the gate. He didn’t. He turned right.”

At a stand of trees, Harvath escaped the sea of frenzied people to check the map Dominique
had given him earlier in the day. One glance told him all he needed to know. “He’s headed to the beach.”

“Is he crazy?” Nicholas asked. “The tide’s coming in. He’ll never make it to the mainland.”

“I don’t think he’s headed for the mainland,” Harvath replied, wishing that he had the drone overhead. “I think he’s worried about the exits and is looking for someplace to hide, here on the island.”

“If you’re right, there are only two places I can see that he might be headed to. A pair of structures—the Chapelle Saint-Aubert, or just past it, something smaller called the Fontaine Saint-Aubert.”

“It should be pretty easy for you to figure out which one. As soon as he stops you can relay the—”

“Hold on,” Nicholas said, interrupting him. “We just lost the signal.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t
know. It was there and then it wasn’t. It’s completely gone.”

Harvath could see the tide coming in. “He ditched the phone.”

“How do you know?”

“Because that’s what I would have done.”

“I’ll pull Sølvi then and have her back you up.”

“Negative,” Harvath replied. “I want her to remain at the causeway. This could be a ruse.”

“Okay,” said Nicholas. “Good copy. Be careful.”

The tide at Mont-Saint-Michel
swept in so quickly, it was said to arrive as fast as a galloping horse.

Already, it was lapping up the deserted beach and splashing against the rocky promontory upon which the tiny stone Chapel of Saint-Aubert had been built.

Harvath moved rapidly, hugging the boulder-strewn hillside, hoping that if a gunfight did break out, there was enough cover to protect him.

Up ahead, a narrow set of
steps had been carved out of the natural granite of the promontory and led up to the chapel. With high walls on both sides, it was a death chute. Anyone standing above could fire down and he wouldn’t have a chance. Stepping into the rising water, he approached the structure from behind.

The sheer face of the promontory was slick with moisture, making it hard to get any purchase. But once he found
a fissure he could wedge the toe of his boot into, he made quick work of it.

Halfway up, there was an old metal ladder bolted to the stone. Carefully, he tested his weight on it. Confident that it would hold, he used it to speed the rest of his climb.

The rear of the chapel, where the building faced the sea, had no windows whatsoever. On its east and west sides, beneath the slate-covered roof,
the windows were too high to peer into and the stones too smooth to scale. Even if he could make it up that high, he didn’t know how good his view through the leaded glass would be. Perhaps he could have detected a human form of some sort inside, but if Aubertin was sitting
completely motionless it would have been tough. His only choice was going to be the lone entrance.

Creeping around the chapel,
he climbed over its low wall, and arrived at a weathered gray door and an arrow-slit-style window. Drawing his pistol, he made sure not to cast a shadow.

He stood for several moments, watching for movement, and didn’t see any. Approaching the old wooden door with its rusted iron rivets, he strained for any sound coming from inside. All he could hear was the wind and the rush of the tide. Making
ready, he reached for the door handle.

CHAPTER 52

T
he door was locked. Whether it had been locked from the outside because Mont-Saint-Michel didn’t want anyone in there at night, or whether the assassin had done it from within, he only had one way of knowing. Standing back, he raised his boot and slammed it home.

The wood splintered and the door flew open as Harvath spun and pressed himself up against the stone exterior outside.
Standing in the doorway, he would have made an easy target.

As it was, no shots were fired. He risked a quick look inside. The chapel was empty. That left only one place Aubertin could be.

The beach was now gone, consumed by the rising tide. The shoreline that remained was nothing but jagged, sharply edged boulders, stretching from the chapel to the Fontaine Saint-Aubert. Soon, they’d be under
water too.

Trying to climb across them was out of the question. He’d have to scramble through the trees and underbrush along the steep hillside instead. At least he’d be concealed.

It was about a hundred meters, but it was tough terrain. Not only did the vegetation snag his boots, but the angle was such that if you didn’t place each step with precision, you could end up slipping and crashing
headfirst down into the water and onto the rocks.

He also had to take care to be quiet. The wind and the tide could only
mask so much. A snapped branch could give away his approach and bring a hail of gunfire down on top of him.

The assassin, if he was there, was cornered. He had his back to the sea. There was no escape. He’d be ruthless—and every option would be on the table. Not so for Harvath.

He needed him alive. He had come too far to have it all abruptly end with the assassin’s death.

Aubertin had information that was critical. And until Harvath was in possession of that information, he was going to have to do everything he could to keep him breathing. Which, as black-and-white as that sounded, did leave a little bit of gray.

Arriving within sight of the ruins, he stopped and crouched
down. The view, unfortunately, wasn’t good.

The Fontaine Saint-Aubert dated from the eighth century. Supposedly, on that site, fresh water had sprung from a stone and supplied the monastery for the next seven hundred years.

With weeds and grasses growing from its pointed roof, it looked like a decrepit mausoleum. Carved from local stone, there were no windows—only a small opening, several feet
off the ground. Iron stanchions and a rusted chain encircled the structure’s base, meant to keep out the curious.

Even more than the drone, Harvath wished he still had a flashbang left. Dropping one through the opening would have rendered Aubertin an absolute wreck. Reaching in and snatching him would have been a piece of cake. But, as he didn’t have a flashbang, he was going to have to come
up with another plan. Something, hopefully, that would smoke the assassin out.

The moment the phrase popped into his head, as odd as it was, he knew that was exactly what he had to do.

Part of him found it hard to believe that he worked for a multimillion-dollar global business, and that he was now reduced to rubbing sticks together. But those were the kinds of skills he had been hired to deliver.
Failure wasn’t an option.

After gathering the materials he needed, he found a wide, thick piece of bark the size of a snow shovel head to help him deliver his surprise,
and kept moving across the hillside. Just past the structure, he began his descent.

He worked fast, creating a makeshift basket filled with dried grasses, pine needles, and other highly flammable items, including powder he extracted
from one of his pistol rounds. It was all about things that would burn hot, fast, and produce a lot of smoke.

Wading into the water, he positioned himself behind the building and pulled the cartridge out of his Taser. Depressing the trigger, he activated the electric arc between its poles and used it to ignite his homemade smoke grenade.

Once it was lit, he moved around toward the front of the
structure and prepared to toss it into the opening.

To not tip his hand, he had to come from the downwind side. As he did, some of the smoke began to blow back on him, partially obscuring his vision.

Hurrying his pace, he tossed the burning mass through the opening and retreated, blinking his watering eyes repeatedly, trying to clear them. With his pistol raised, he took cover behind a slab
of rock and waited for the assassin to show himself. It didn’t take long.

The smoke quickly filled the small enclosed space, leaving no breathable air. Aubertin remained inside for as long as he could and then, hacking and coughing, climbed out.

“Drop your weapon!” Harvath yelled. “Do it now!”

The assassin tossed his gun, which clattered off a rock and splashed into the water.

“Come out slowly!”
Harvath ordered.

Aubertin did as he commanded, rubbing his eyes and continuing to cough as he climbed down.

Harvath was feeling a range of emotions. He was thrilled to have caught the guy, but enraged that this was the man who had killed Carl and, very likely, had sent men after Marco. He was angry over all the trouble the assassin had caused, and remorseful for the role he himself had been
forced to play.

While he was alert and on edge, having not yet restrained Aubertin, he was also feeling a sense of relief. This part of the hunt, at least, was over.

Even so, this was an impossible location in which to take someone into custody. Every rock, slick with moisture—as well as a thin cover of algae—was a potential hazard. He couldn’t have the assassin lie facedown because there was
no flat ground to put him on. He would have to get creative. That started with making sure Aubertin wasn’t carrying any additional weapons.

“Lift up your shirt!” he ordered.

“Fuck you!” the man replied.

“Don’t test me, Aubertin. You won’t like how it ends.”

“If you’re going to shoot me, get it over with! Otherwise, fuck you!”

“Last chance,” he warned.

When the Irishman gave him the middle
finger, Harvath made good on his promise and gave
him
what he had asked for.

Applying pressure to the trigger, he fired his Sig and sent a round into the assassin’s left leg.

Unlike in the movies, getting drilled with a nine-millimeter didn’t send you flying dramatically backward. But, if you were precariously balanced on a pile of slippery rocks, knee-deep in water, when it happened, the chances
were pretty good that you were going down. And that’s what happened to Aubertin. The man lost his footing and went down hard.

There was a splash as he hit the water. Harvath waited for him to get up, but he didn’t move.

Fuck
, thought Harvath. If the assassin slammed his head against one of the rocks when he fell, they might be in real trouble. Getting this guy anything resembling medical attention
wasn’t part of his plan.

The other problem was the old mountain man rule about never firing your weapon twice in Indian country—at least not if you wanted to stay hidden.

Already, the gendarmes were swarming all over the abbey and throughout the village looking for a shooter. And now, thanks to him, a new shot had just rung out. It would be hard to pinpoint where it had come from—unless he was
forced to fire again. At that point, the French police would be drawn to the beach and any hope he had of interrogating the assassin would be gone.

In reality, the clock was already ticking. It was only a matter of time
before officers, just as a matter of course, came to check the structures along the beach. Holstering his weapon, he waded into the water after Aubertin.

As he got closer, he
could see ribbons of blood staining the water near his thigh. Confirming his worst fear, there was also blood coming from a gash to the man’s head. He had hit something on the way down.
Fuck
.

Kicking him with the toe of his boot, Harvath tested him for a reaction. He wasn’t moving. He didn’t look to be breathing either as the tide continued to come in and water washed over his face. He was going
to have to try to resuscitate this guy.
Damn it
.

Not giving a rat’s ass if the assassin had a cervical injury, Harvath reached down, grabbed him by the shirt, and dragged him out of the water, over the rocks to the base of the hill.

He was about to set him down when the man’s eyes snapped open and Harvath felt a white-hot searing pain across his chest.

Looking down, he saw a small karambit—an
Indonesian-style knife shaped like a claw, clutched in Aubertin’s hand.

Though he had taken him by surprise, Harvath had no intention of giving the man the upper hand. He immediately dropped him, but instead of recoiling and clutching his wound, he brought his boot down hard to stomp Aubertin’s face.

The Irishman must have known it was coming because the moment Harvath released him, he rolled
to his left.

As he did, he lashed out once more with the blade, tearing through the right leg of Harvath’s jeans, missing his skin by less than a millimeter.

With shades of the bar fight in Key West, Harvath knew he needed to end this now.

Backing away, he made sure he wasn’t standing in any water as he pulled out his Taser, slammed the cartridge back in, and let the assassin ride the lightning.

Despite the injury to his thigh, the man’s body went rigid from the shock and he arched his back off the rocks.

Once the effect had passed and his body had relaxed, just for good measure, Harvath hit him with another jolt.

And then, just because, he gave him one more.

When he finally stopped tasing him, Aubertin’s eyes had rolled up into his head and his chin was covered with saliva.

Snatching
up the karambit, Harvath tossed it into the water and waited for the man to come back around.

Finally, Aubertin’s eyes began to focus. And when they did, the first thing they saw was Harvath’s fist as it came down like a hammer onto the bridge of his nose. There was a spray of blood and the crack of cartilage as it shattered.

The man’s instincts were to protect his face, but he couldn’t raise
his arms. Harvath had him pinned, and he beat him mercilessly.

He beat him for Carl, he beat him for Marco, and most importantly, he beat him for himself. He let the beast off the chain and let out all of his rage.

He broke the man’s jaw, half of his ribs, and even one of his orbital sockets. But that was only the appetizer.

Standing up, his chest—and now his hands—bleeding, he dragged the
Irishman back down into the brackish tidal water and pushed his head all the way under.

He felt the man thrashing beneath his grasp, struggling to surface so that he could breathe. Harvath kept him there, looking out over the water toward the sky. It was turning that deep shade of blue, which preceded the black of night.

Closing his eyes, he held the assassin there for as long as he dared and
then yanked him back up. He wasn’t done with him. Not just yet. He still needed him alive.

Aubertin simultaneously vomited and attempted to suck in huge hungry breaths of air.

“The contract,” said Harvath. “Who hired you?”

“If you’re going to kill me,” he panted, “Just do it.”

“I’ll make you a deal. If you tell me what I want to know, I won’t kill you.”

Still gasping for air, he vomited once
more and then said, “I don’t believe you.”

Grabbing the back of his neck, Harvath went to put the assassin’s head back underwater again, when Aubertin yelled, “Stop! I’ll tell you.”

Harvath kept the man’s neck painfully bent, his head hovering just above the surface of the water, as the waves splashed his face. “You’ve got three seconds,” he said. “Make them count.”

“His name is Lieu Van Trang,”
said Aubertin.

“Where is he?”

“In Paris.”

“How do I find him?”

Harvath held the man there in the water until he had answered every one of his questions.

He was about to drag him back up onto the rocks, when he heard the unmistakable sound of a pistol hammer being cocked behind him.

“Did he tell you what you needed to know?” Sølvi asked.

Harvath nodded.

She gestured with her pistol for
him to step away.

Harvath complied.

Straightening up, Aubertin turned to see who Harvath was talking to. He didn’t know who she was, but he sensed something bad was about to happen. He watched as Harvath waded in toward shore and the woman pointed her suppressed weapon at him.

“We have a deal,” the Irishman insisted. “I tell you what you want to know and I walk free.”

Sølvi smiled. “That was
your deal with him. Not me.”

Pressing her trigger, she delivered a single shot—straight through his heart.

“That’s for Carl Pedersen,” she said as he fell into the water, dead.

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