Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (7 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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CHAPTER 10

S
ATURDAY

N
ot wanting to miss breakfast, Harvath had set the alarm on the nightstand and had left a wake-up call request with the stewards as a backup. There were only a few hours until then, but a few hours were better than none. Even so, his body didn’t want to comply. He wondered if maybe he should have accepted the bottle of bourbon from Nicholas after all.

He was used to going
to bed with a lot more alcohol in his system and it took forever to fall asleep. But once he did, he couldn’t stay asleep—at least not for long.

He tossed and turned until the sun began to rise and then gave up. Dressing in the workout gear from his wardrobe, he decided to go for a run.

Unlike Key West, the morning air was cool and crisp. He wanted to clear the cobwebs and burn off any residual
booze in his system.

He pushed himself hard—harder than most mornings. By the time he was done with his run and back at the cabin, he was drenched with sweat. He had been out longer than he had planned and so took a quick shower, shaved, and found something to wear.

At seven a.m., sharp, he opened the door to Hickory Lodge and strode into the restaurant. He was completely unprepared for who
he saw sitting with Nicholas.

Judging by the plates of half-eaten food and half-empty coffee mugs, the duo had been there for a while. He could only imagine what they had been talking about, though in all honesty, he had a pretty good idea.

The man sitting across from Nicholas was an accomplished warrior and intelligence operative. He had been based in Berlin during the Cold War, tasked with
recruiting foreign intelligence assets. He not only spoke Russian, he had also killed a lot of them.

After the Wall had fallen, he had left U.S. Army Intelligence and gone to work for the FBI, rising to Deputy Director. Later in life, the President had tapped him to run a covert program parked at the Department of Homeland Security called the Office of International Investigative Assistance or
OIIA for short. It was as head of OIIA that he had been Harvath’s boss.

Their relationship, though, went back much further. Gary Lawlor had been best friends with Harvath’s dad, Michael. He had stepped in when Michael had been killed and had become a de facto father to him, making sure he and his mother never wanted for anything. He had also pushed Harvath to become the absolute best in whatever
he did. They hadn’t seen each other since the funerals for Lara, Lydia, and Reed.

Walking over to him, Scot extended his hand. “It’s good to see you.”

Lawlor stood up, put his arms around him, and pulled him in for a bear hug. He was very fit for a man of his age. “You doing okay?” he asked, quietly enough so no one could hear.

Harvath swallowed hard and nodded. It was the only response he
was capable of giving. He didn’t know what would happen if he tried to verbalize what he was really feeling. He was proud and didn’t want to come apart in the middle of such a public place.

Lawlor held him there for an extra moment. He could practically feel the weight of all the sorrow hanging from Harvath’s body, like heavy, iron chains, crushing him. It was a feeling he knew all too well.
His wife, though long ago, had been taken from him in a similar fashion.

“It gets better,” he promised.

They were the same words he had given him, months ago. Harvath was still waiting for things to “get better.” Once again, all he could muster in response was a nod.

Patting him on the back, Lawlor broke off the hug and pushed him out to arm’s length. “You’re looking a little on the slim side,”
he said, studying him. “How about some breakfast?”

“Sure,” Harvath replied, helping himself to a chair. As he sat down, he looked at Nicholas and asked, “You couldn’t have told me?”

“I didn’t want to spoil the surprise,” the little man responded.

“You and I are going to have a talk later about surprises.”

Nicholas shrugged as Lawlor waved over the server. “Coffee?”

Harvath nodded.

“Anything
else?”

“Sure. Eggs, scrambled, crispy bacon, wheat toast, and ice water—lots of it, please.”

The server took the order and once he had left for the kitchen, Lawlor continued catching up, “How’s your mom?”

“She’s good,” he replied. “Nice apartment, great view of the ocean.”

“How often do you get out to see her?”

“Probably not as often as I should.”

When Reed Carlton was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,
Harvath had started paying more attention to his mother’s lapses in memory. He eventually grew concerned enough to have her tested. The news wasn’t good. She had dementia.

He knew how fiercely independent she was and had offered to hire someone to come in and check on her. To his surprise, she was interested in a local senior living development on Coronado Island. Several of her friends were
there and loved it. She could still be independent, but as she needed more care, it could be added on.

While Scot was sorry to see her sell the home he had grown up in, he knew it was time. The best part of the move, though, was how much happier she was in her new place. “All’s well that ends well,” Lara had said. And she had been right. He just wished that they could have gotten to know each
other better before Lara had been taken from him.

“I’m sure she understands,” said Gary.

Harvath was going to respond, but stopped as the server returned with a pot of hot coffee and filled all of their mugs.

By the time the man had left the table, Nicholas had changed the subject.

“I’ve got some good news,” he stated. “Gary has done a little digging into what happened down in Key West and—”

“Hold on,” Harvath interrupted. “Gary’s been read into what happened down in Key West?”

“Yes he has. And before you push back, know this. You made your position crystal clear. You didn’t want to run this business. That was fine while Lydia was here, because she was willing to do it. But when she was killed, we had to make new plans. You were MIA, so we did it without you. Gary’s the best person
for the job and you know it.”

He did know it, and he couldn’t argue.

“Scot, this has all been moving fast,” said Lawlor. “Nicholas and I have been huddled with Bob McGee since the funerals. Everyone wanted to give you space—including me. But you have to understand, that’s over. The fight’s here and the fight’s now. I said yes to this job because I know that I’m needed and, frankly, because I
wanted to work with you again. But all that matters at this point is if you want to work with me. And, of course, if you’re
still
in the fight.”

Part of Harvath wanted to stand up, walk out, and go back to drinking in Key West, but he couldn’t do that. Lawlor had called him out and no Tier One operator, no American war fighter was
ever
out of the fight. As long as the country needed them, they
would keep going no matter what toll it took.

Even so, Harvath was careful not to knee-jerk himself into a commitment. As much as he loved the Old Man, Carlton had been a master manipulator and had taught him a lot about his gut and people who tried to appeal to him through it.

Instead of answering right away, he circled back to the information Gary uncovered. “What did you find regarding Key
West?”

Lawlor removed a folder and slid it across the table. Harvath opened it and, sipping his coffee, scanned the pages as Lawlor narrated.

“The chief in Key West is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute, and we happen to know each other. His officers showed up moments after you left. The two heavies you laid out both had outstanding warrants, so after they got some much needed
medical attention, they were taken into custody. After our initial conversation, the chief made a call to the Florida Attorney General. In exchange for dropping some low-level beefs, they were able to get the suspects to cooperate.

“The bottom line is that someone they don’t know paid them five hundred bucks to get you outside and beat the crap out of you.”

“After which, I was supposed to get
a bullet in the head,” said Harvath.

“They claim to have no knowledge of anything else.”

“But they knew enough to remove their jewelry and buy new long-sleeve shirts and boots in order to help avoid identification.”

Lawlor nodded. “From what the Key West chief says, it wasn’t their first rodeo.”

“How far did the chief get read in?”

“Not far at all. The two goons were still unconscious when
the cops got there, so they didn’t see anything. No one but us knows about the would-be shooter.”

It was good intel. Lawlor had come through for them and he had done it quickly.

Harvath turned to Nicholas. “Have we identified the corpse?”

“Not yet,” the little man answered, “but his weapon was pretty interesting. Glock 43. Single stack magazine. Nine-millimeter. It was modified with a switch
that stops the slide from cycling. Not only does it make it quieter, but it prevents the brass from being ejected. The suppressor appears to have been 3D-printed. Perfect for a professional, one-and-done assignment.”

“What’d you do with the body?”

“It’s someplace safe, on ice for the time being.”

“What’s next?”


Next
,” said Lawlor, as he saw the server approaching, “is you eat breakfast. Then,
assuming you’re in, we’re going to go over everything you know about Pedersen and develop a plan.”

There was no question in Harvath’s mind. Based on their intel, he was being hunted. He wasn’t wired to sit and wait this sort of thing out; to play defense instead of offense. “I’m in,” he stated. “
All
in.”

It sounded nice to think that he was doing it for his teammates, or for The Carlton Group,
or the Old Man’s legacy, or even for the country. But deep down, down near that flickering flame of his humanity, he knew his reasons weren’t nearly so noble. It was because the rage was still there.

And as the realization swept over him, he was reminded of a quote about the dangers of hunting monsters. If you weren’t careful, Nietzsche had warned, you became what you hunted. “When you gaze long
into the abyss,” he had said, “the abyss gazes also into you.”

But no sooner had that quote entered his mind than it was expelled by another, one sent from deep down near his anger: “Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘
You cannot withstand the storm
.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘
I am the storm
.’ ”

As the server set down his meal, Harvath forced himself to concentrate and begin forging a mental path
toward the person who had betrayed Carl Pedersen.

CHAPTER 11

G
RANVILLE

N
ORMANDY
R
EGION
, F
RANCE

L
ong before Paul Aubertin had killed his first police officer, he had been a lover of all things French.

Born Michael Collins McElhone to a Catholic family in West Belfast, he was a teenager during the ongoing, partisan “Troubles” of Northern Ireland in the 1990s. France, with its “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” couldn’t have seemed farther away.

With a passion for its history, its language, its culture, its politics, and its gastronomy, the young Francophile had hoped to study in Montpellier, Lyon, or maybe even Paris one day.

It was a lofty goal for a working-class boy whose parents were constantly late on their rent and struggled to put food on the table.

Nevertheless, he had clung tightly to his dream. Until, one day, his entire
life had been shattered.

His father, a deliveryman who supported a unified and independent Ireland, had been beaten to death by members of a paramilitary group that preyed on civilians called the Loyalist Volunteer Force, or LVF for short.

Despite their absolutely heinous actions, they had been able to evade anything resembling accountability or prosecution. So emboldened were they by their
apparent untouchable status, that they even developed their own Hitler Youth–style offshoot called the Young Loyalist Volunteers.

He was sixteen and had thought about joining, working his way up the organization from inside, and killing all those responsible. He had seen similar things done in the movies and for a moment felt it was a solid plan.

But then, he had applied a little more brainpower.
The LVF was based only a half hour away in Portadown. They would have access to any number of people in Belfast who could check his background. There was no way he could pretend to be a motivated Protestant, looking to join the fight. And the minute they realized he was the son of a man the LVF had murdered, it would be all over for him. He couldn’t do that to his mother. He would have to be
more covert.

With his father gone, so too was his family’s income. He had no choice but to drop out of school and work full-time to make up for the shortfall and help take care of his family.

But while he had no choice but to work, he did have a choice
where
to work. His maternal uncle was whispered to be a member of the Irish Republican Army and worked in the construction industry, which hired
lots of workers off the books in order to skirt taxes, trade unions, and National Insurance contributions. That’s who he went to see. And that’s where he found employment.

Most of the men on the job sites were “doing the double”—collecting welfare checks while getting paid under the table for construction work. The money wasn’t very good, but it was better than nothing. His sickly mother, as
much as she hated his missing school, was grateful.

“I’ll find a better job soon, Michael,” she had told him. “Then you can go back to school and everything will be fine. You’ll see.”

But a better job never materialized. His income was critical to their family, and so he worked twice as hard as any of the adults around him in an effort to make himself indispensable.

The labor was strenuous,
but it served to build his muscles. At night, he made sure to read in order to build his mind. The books were always about France and he devoured them.

When he wasn’t working, or reading, he would accompany his uncle and some of the men from work to the pub. He was too young to drink, but the Irish had practically invented the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”—especially when it came to underage
drinking in working-class pubs.

As long as the boy didn’t make an ass of himself, no one cared. And the boy made sure not to make an ass of himself. He was there to listen, learn about the IRA and, more importantly, about its enemies—especially the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

His uncle, though, wasn’t stupid. The few times he had tried to broach the subject, his uncle had shut it down—immediately.
The boy was far too young to be thinking about revenge. “The day will come,” he said. “Trust me, it’ll come.”

But just like his mother’s “better” job, it didn’t come—and he eventually grew sick of waiting for it. Then, one day, while going up to the bar for another round, God placed someone in his path.

“Your uncle tells me you have a lot of questions about the LVF,” the man said.

He was a
regular in the pub, but Paul had never seen his uncle nor any of the other men they drank with speak to him. As such, he was wary of talking to him.

“I am sorry for your father’s death, as well as what it has done to your family. A boy your age should be in school.”

“Well, I’m not. Am I?”

The anger, while misplaced, was genuine. The boy had idolized his father. With each day since his murder,
the pain of losing him had only become more acute and more ingrained in his soul.

That said, he had been raised better than to be disrespectful to his elders—even ones who were complete strangers. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Thank you for your condolences.”

“There’s nothing you need to be sorry for,” the man replied. “Your father was a good man.”

“Did you know him?”

“No, but I have asked around.
He took care of his family. He attended church. And he was on the right side of this fight. So, out of respect for your father, I am here to answer your questions.”

The boy was confused. “I don’t even know who you are.”

“Your uncle knows who I am. That’s all that matters. Now, what can I tell you?”

“Who killed my father?”

“The Loyalist Volunteer Force,” the man said.

“I want their names.”

“With all due respect, you’re a sixteen-year-old boy. What would you even do with those names if I gave them to you?”

“I’d take my revenge.”

The man made a face and took a sip of his beer. “What if there was a better way to hurt them? To really make them feel pain? Would you be interested in being a part of that?”

The boy didn’t even need to ponder his answer. “Absolutely,” he replied.

“Don’t
you even want to know what would be asked of you?”

“I don’t care. I’ll do it. Whatever it is.”

“Good boy,” the man said, as he finished his beer and stood up from his stool. “I’ll be in touch.”

The way to hurt the LVF turned out to be by appearing at a day of youth soccer it had organized near Portadown. It was a propaganda event for the Young Loyalist Volunteers, disguised to look like a violence
mitigation effort. There was zero vetting at this stage. The boy had been signed up under the name Terrance Macaulay.

He had told his mother he had to work and would be leaving early that Saturday morning. Three blocks from his house, the man from the pub picked him up in his car and began the short drive to Portadown.

As they drove, he explained to the boy who his target was and why he was
being given this assignment. The LVF had been able to escape culpability for their actions because they had a very powerful patron—a high-ranking police inspector who had repeatedly made evidence and witnesses disappear.

“If he is allowed to live,” the man said, “there will never be justice for your father. Do you understand what you need to do?”

The boy nodded.

“Good,” the man replied. Nodding
toward the glove box, he said, “Open it.”

The boy did. Inside was a small, hammerless revolver, its grip wrapped with tape.

“Have you ever fired a gun before?”

The boy shook his head.

“It’s just like you have seen on TV. You point it where you want the bullet to go and you squeeze the trigger. You’ll be fine.”

And he had been fine. He had gotten to the pitch early, before any of the other
children had arrived. The police inspector was not hard to find. He was a large man with a shock of white hair and a big, bulbous red nose. He looked exactly as he had been described.

Even so, the man from the bar had insisted that the boy have the inspector identify himself. The LVF might embrace random violence, but that was not how the IRA acted, at least not this wing of it. Part of the terror
their division struck into the hearts of their enemies was based on their unfailing precision. They were legendary, known for being able to hunt anyone, anywhere. The boy had no idea what he had been drawn into, but he would soon find out.

The key to their success was the amount of research they put into their kills. They were patient, almost glacial in their movements. Revenge was indeed, in
their book, a dish best served cold. Ice cold.

The police inspector was an incredibly guarded, quietly whispered about pedophile. The boy had heard about pedophiles, but to the best of his knowledge had never met one. That was about to change.

After introducing himself, the man asked where his parents were. The boy explained that they had to work and had dropped him off early. The inspector
was almost salivating.

He enlisted the boy’s help in setting up the nets, bringing out all the balls, and placing cones for various drills they would begin with. Then, he asked the boy to follow him into the field house.

It was cold and damp inside. The only light came from the windows set into the eaves high above. The man didn’t bother turning on any lights. He preferred what he did to be
kept in the darkness. Reaching out, he touched the clothing over the boy’s genitals.

As instructed, the boy had kept the pistol hidden for the first shot and had fired it from inside his jacket pocket. The round struck the police inspector straight in the gut and tore its way in.

When the man grabbed his belly in shock and unbelievable pain, the
boy withdrew the pistol and fired two more times—hitting
him once in his chest and once in his face.

He then wiped the pistol off, dropped it next to the body, and walked out of the field house—just like he had been told to do. Ditching the jacket, he found the man from the pub waiting, his engine running, a block away.

“How did it go?” he asked as the boy got into the car.

“He’s dead.”

“You did a good thing. Your father would be proud of you. I’m
proud of you.”

The boy didn’t know what to feel. He had taken a life. Based on everything the church had taught him, he should have felt remorseful. Yet, he didn’t. He felt nothing, really.

They didn’t return to Belfast. At least not right away. The man from the pub drove for quite some time. During the trip, they didn’t speak. That was fine with the boy. He didn’t feel like talking.

In a small
village in the middle of nowhere, they parked behind a nondescript building and knocked on a thick, secure door. A pair of eyes looked out through a slot. Words were exchanged. Then the door was opened.

It was a social club of sorts. One he would get to know well over the next couple of years. The men inside would become his comrades in arms. He would drink there, laugh there, plan there, and
even mourn the loss of some of those very same men there.

On this first visit, his new IRA handler had only one mission—to get him a bit drunk and to celebrate his first kill. It was a rite of passage.

Big men, important men he would later learn, came by the table to shake his hand and congratulate him. They were also “proud” of him, they said.

He drank three bottles of cider before his handler
looked at his watch and said that it was time for them to be getting back to Belfast.

The boy was still not interested in chatting, so like the ride from Portadown, they made this last leg of their journey in silence.

When they rolled to a stop several blocks from his home, his
handler gave him a final talking-to. It went without saying that he shouldn’t tell anyone what had happened—not his
mother, not his uncle, not his priest—no one. Not even his mates. If he did, there’d be hell to pay and his handler made it quite clear that he’d be the one delivering the bill.

After giving him an alibi and explaining what he should say and do in the unlikely event the police came around asking questions, he handed him an envelope.

“What’s this?” the boy asked.

“Open it.”

He did. Inside was
several hundred pounds sterling.

“You’re one of us now,” his handler said. “We take care of our own. You’ve earned that.”

It was his first, rudimentary taste of the dark arts. Like losing one’s virginity, it had been quick, anxiety-inducing, and somewhat clumsy. But it had been successful. He had gotten the job done—which was all that mattered.

The boy didn’t know it at that moment, but he
had just been introduced to a profession he would show an incredible aptitude for and grow quite comfortable in.

His handler had run the best assassins the IRA had ever fielded. The boy, in time, would surpass them all.

The British would both hunt and fear him. They would publicly declare him a savage, but privately marvel at his abilities. His kills would be the subject of lengthy newspaper
and magazine articles. Then, one day, he would simply vanish.

It was Christmas 1999. The Good Friday Agreement had been signed, voted on by the citizens, and put into effect. The Troubles, for the most part, were finished. The demand, locally, for men of his vocation had practically collapsed overnight.

There was also a rumor that he remained at the top of a very secret “most wanted” list. With
the ground shifting under Northern Ireland, new political parties and new allegiances were being forged. There was a dirty, ignoble scramble for power that would have made the ancient Romans blush. The knives were out. It was only a matter of time before someone turned on him.

With his mother already two years in the grave from a heart attack and his siblings old enough to take care of themselves,
there was no reason for him to remain. He could go wherever he wanted. And where he wanted to go, was France.

Through an IRA contact in Dublin, he was able to change his identity and get a Republic of Ireland passport. Michael McElhone became Paul Aubertin and he never looked back.

After traveling through France, seeing all the sights he had always dreamed of, he applied to join and was accepted
into the French Foreign Legion.

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