Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online
Authors: Brad Thor
Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure
The Old Man’s admonishment to think of Lara and Marco had pissed Harvath off. It was emotional blackmail and a professional low blow. It angered him most, though, because he knew Carlton was correct. He needed to make a tough decision. But like any junkie, he would first try to negotiate his way out of it.
Despite what the Old Man thought,
Harvath honestly believed that he had several more years left of kicking in doors and shooting bad guys in the head. The sports medicine group he had found that rehabbed top professional athletes and Tier One operators had been a godsend. If not for them, he might have been reluctantly inclined to agree with Carlton that it was time to move from playing to scouting and coaching.
The docs and
exercise physiologists he worked with, though, had upped his game to levels he hadn’t even thought possible. Through their program, he was stronger, faster, and had better reaction time than he’d had in his thirties. The advances they had developed were incredible. So, with all due respect to his mentor, he had proposed a compromise.
Instead of abandoning operations altogether, he had spent half
his time in the field and half his time at The Carlton Group incubating new talent.
This was not the outcome the Old Man had been gunning for. He needed somebody steering the ship on a full-time basis. He also knew Harvath—maybe better than anyone else. He knew that if he gave him an ultimatum, Harvath would jump ship and freelance for whoever would pay his quote—and with his skillset, there
were plenty of opportunities. He might have been able to get him blacklisted at the CIA, but the Brits or the Israelis would have scooped him up in a heartbeat.
Whether Harvath would have agreed to work for a foreign service was an unknown. In the end, like a son, the Old Man wanted to keep him close. He wanted to know that the ops that Harvath undertook were as well planned and professional
as possible. If he kept him in-house, he could guarantee that they would be—something he couldn’t say if he let him put himself on the open market.
This left Carlton with the problem of who would actually run the organization. After discussions with the President and the Director of the
CIA, he was given permission to approach the Agency’s Deputy Director, Lydia Ryan. She had been an exceptional
intelligence officer and understood the game from top to bottom. Lydia was an excellent hire.
The Old Man, despite having Alzheimer’s, was a walking history of the espionage business. He knew where all the top secret “bodies” were buried. Lydia and Harvath had taken turns sitting with him, recording every piece of valuable information he had stored in his brain before it all slipped away.
his capacities began to fail and he started revealing some of his sensitive exploits to his housekeeper and friends who would call up or drop by to check on him, Harvath decided it was time to silo him.
Carlton’s fondest memories had been of spending summers at his grandparents’ cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. It was off-season and easy for Harvath to find an available home for
rent. As the oldest memories were usually the last to disappear, he thought it would be a comfortable and familiar place for Carlton.
With the President’s approval, a team of Navy corpsmen—all with top secret clearance—was detailed to the Old Man. On rotating shifts, there was always one in the house. Harvath flew up to see him as often as possible.
He had just returned from a particularly harrowing
assignment overseas, during which he had made up his mind about what he wanted. While he couldn’t promise that he would retire from fieldwork anytime soon, he knew that he loved Lara and her son and would for the rest of his life.
Following a romantic meal, he had walked her down to the dock and had proposed. She had lovingly and excitedly accepted.
Knowing that the Old Man was slipping away,
Harvath had asked her to elope with him. He wanted to get married at the cottage, quietly, by his bedside. Ryan would be their witness.
Lara knew how much Reed Carlton meant to her fiancé. She had come to love him like a father as well. Including such a special man in such a special moment was the right thing to do. And so, she had agreed.
To keep it under wraps—until they could do a big church
with Lara’s family, his mom, and all their friends present—they hired a local judge to conduct the ceremony in private.
Everything had been perfect. The Old Man had even been more engaged and energetic than they had seen him in long time.
Harvath couldn’t have asked for anything more. The walks around the lake with Lara, the laughter, the lovemaking; those couple of days—from the secret
wedding until the attack—had been the happiest he had ever known. Then it had all come crashing down.
After the murders, the torture, his escape, and fighting his way across a frozen foreign landscape to freedom, much of who he had been was stripped away.
Since the funerals, his colleagues had backed off, showing their respect by giving him space and letting him grieve.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t
shake the feeling that someone had been keeping tabs on him. He figured it had to have been somebody from the office. They were more than just coworkers, they were family. And spies, after all, never stop spying—especially on each other.
They all knew where he had been staying. In fact, a colleague had done him a favor by shipping a suitcase full of his clothes down to Little Palm Island in advance
of his arrival.
But now that he had decamped for Key West, he’d be harder to find. Harder, but not impossible.
He still had his phone, which never left the room and which he only turned on to scroll through photos, old texts, and voice messages from Lara. Lest anyone catch him while the phone was on, he had it set to “Do Not Disturb,” disabling the chime and sending any new calls straight to
Once his unpacking was complete, he had spent the next several days making the rounds of local watering holes until he finally settled on one. Not that his standards were particularly high. They weren’t. All that mattered was that the air-conditioning was cold, the bar quiet, and the clientele a particular class: hard-core, professional drinkers who just wanted to be left alone.
The place he ultimately selected was a quintessential dive bar. Dimly
lit, with blacked-out windows, its air was redolent of urinal cakes, spilled beer, and wasted lives.
Nobody paid him any attention. In fact, no one had given him so much as a second look. It was the perfect hole in the wall to continue his slow-motion suicide.
And though he could have continued to drink top-shelf as he had
at Little Palm Island, he instead went for the worst stuff they had. He wanted it to burn all the way down. He wanted to torture himself. Glancing around, it was pretty obvious that he hadn’t cornered the market in self-loathing.
Imagining the backstories of the people he was drinking “with” didn’t take too much creativity. All of them had been drawn to the southernmost point in the U.S. by something.
There were probably more than a few failed marriages, failed businesses, and outstanding warrants in the room. Anything was possible. They didn’t call Key West a “sunny place for shady people” for nothing.
The bartender was an attractive woman in her forties. Twenty, even ten years ago, the top bars on the island would have been cutting each other’s throats to hire her. She was not only sexy,
but she was also adept at slinging drinks. More importantly, she knew when, and when not, to make conversation.
When it came to Harvath, she could tell that he was not looking to talk. He was polite, and tipped well, but he kept to himself.
He came in every day with a newspaper he barely read, sat in the same scarred booth where he ordered the same drink over and over, as he stared toward the
front door. It was as if he was waiting for someone. But whoever that someone was, they never came.
She felt sorry for him. He was handsome, close to her age, and a man who obviously needed to be put back together. She had always been drawn to guys who were screwed up. “Broken Bird Syndrome” a friend had once called it.
He wasn’t like the other customers. He seemed like a “somebody.” Somebody,
who at one point in his life, had prospects; potential. She had a lot of questions.
Where had he come from? What was he doing here? How long was he going to stay?
Most of all, she wondered what he was like in bed.
When it came to her advances, though, the man was immune. Whoever had wounded him had done a bang-up job.
Still, she liked having him around. There was something comforting about his
presence. The strong, silent type—he struck her as a guy who could handle himself.
Maybe he was an ex-cop, or possibly ex-military. It didn’t matter. All she knew was that having him in the bar made her feel safe.
Not that a lot of bad things went down in Key West. But, like every other resort town fueled by alcohol and an “anything goes” attitude, sometimes things got out of control.
at that moment that the door opened. And as it did, no one inside had any idea how out of control things were about to get.
arvath was a detail person and had developed a good feel for the bar’s rhythm as well as for its customer base. So, when the front door opened and two out-of-place men walked in, his Spidey sense immediately began tingling.
The two gorillas looked like a pair of bikers who had picked up the wrong bags at the airport. They wore stiff, new boots without a scuff on them. Their shirts
were also new; the sun-blocking, SPF kind that sport fishermen wore and which could be found all over the island.
Despite the heat outside, they had their sleeves rolled down to their wrists and buttoned tight—as if they were trying to hide something.
, he thought.
Neither wore any jewelry, but as they passed his booth, he noticed they each had pierced ears. And from the white
stripes on one of the men’s fingers, Harvath could tell that he spent a lot of time outside and normally wore several thick rings.
Beneath the other man’s shirt, he caught a flash of silver chain attached to a wallet. Somewhere, better hidden, they were each probably carrying a knife, and maybe even a firearm.
It wasn’t that he begrudged anyone their right to self-defense. He had spent a career
carrying and using weapons. But these weren’t your garden-variety Florida rednecks down in Key West for a good time. The bearing of these men suggested something different—something dangerous.
Yet unless they were dumb enough to walk over and put a gun in his
face, he didn’t care who they were or why they were here. In street parlance, he was all out of fucks to give.
That voice in the back
of his head, though, kept asking questions.
Why had the men removed their jewelry? Why were they keeping their arms covered? Why the new boots? What the hell were they up to?
Trying to ignore his gut, he took another sip of cheap bourbon, opened the newspaper, and attempted to mind his own business.
His instincts, though, weren’t done raising the alarm.
Throughout the animal kingdom, when Alphas
crossed paths, there was always eye contact. Both of these guys were definitely Alphas and both had observed him, but neither had made eye contact. The omission was like a white-hot, phosphorous flare sailing across the animal portion of his brain.
They hadn’t made eye contact because they knew that doing so would trigger a response. It was the only possible explanation.
He had always been adept
at reading people. It was like a sixth sense. The worse someone’s intent, the better he was at picking up on it. He could sum up a situation and get off the “X,” as it was known in his line of work, faster than just about anyone else.
Whatever the men were planning, it wasn’t good. He could feel it in every fiber of his being.
Seating themselves at the bar, the men each ordered a shot and a
beer. Tossing back their whiskeys, they then clinked mugs, knocked back the beers, and ordered another round.
It didn’t take long for them to get loud. And as they did, they began to grate on Harvath’s nerves.
All he wanted was to drink in peace, but they were making it difficult. For some reason, when their second round arrived, they decided to start giving the bartender a hard time. He couldn’t
believe this was happening all over again.
Adjusting his position in the booth, Harvath angled himself so he could keep a better eye on the situation.
As she set the drinks down, they tried to touch her. One of the men even attempted to push money into her jeans. From the other side of the bar, she swatted the guy’s hand away and gave him a warning.
Harvath wondered why the hell she didn’t
just throw them out. This wasn’t a strip club. But it also—he reminded himself—wasn’t his bar and, therefore, wasn’t his problem. At least it wasn’t his problem until he got to the end of his drink and needed a refill.
Holding up his empty glass, he signaled that he was ready for another. To her credit, she noticed.
Grabbing the bottle of bourbon, she stepped out from behind the bar. But despite
giving the two problem customers a wide berth, she couldn’t avoid a clash.
As she walked by, one of them leapt up, grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him.
He had his thick arm around her so tightly that even if she had wanted to smash the bottle against his head, she wouldn’t have been able to.
“Get the fuck off of me,” she ordered, but it only seemed to delight the man and encourage
him further. Burying his bearded face against her, he kissed her neck as his buddy howled his approval.
Harvath watched, still hesitant to get involved. But just like at Little Palm Island, he knew he was going to have to. It was the way he was wired. He couldn’t let crap like that go.
Taking the section of newspaper he was reading, he set it on the table, rolled his empty rocks glass in it,
twisted the ends together, and took it in his fist. These guys had obviously come looking for trouble. Now, they had found it.
He slipped from his booth, a bit unsteady from all the alcohol he had consumed, but not so bad—he hoped—as to put him at a disadvantage.
Holding his makeshift weapon behind him, he headed toward the bar. He doubted either of these two were going to listen to reason and
he had no intention of fighting fair. He was inebriated, it was two against one, and both men were much larger than he was. The element of surprise needed to be heavily in his favor if he hoped to come out on the winning end of this one.
It took about a microsecond to realize that any chance he’d had of surprising them was lost. They both not only saw him approaching, but also figured out he
was holding something behind his back.
“Hold up, motherfucker,” the buddy said. “What do you think you’re doing? And what’s that you’re hiding?”
As was his fashion, Harvath ignored questions he had no intention of answering. You didn’t answer questions when you were taking charge of a situation, you gave orders. “Let go of her,” he demanded.
The man holding the bartender sneered at him. “Fuck
you,” he replied. “Mind your own fucking business.”
Harvath nodded at the bottle she was holding and said, “That
The men looked at each other for a moment, almost unsure of how to respond, and then burst into laughter. He wasn’t trying to save the bartender, he was trying to rescue the booze.
“Sit your ass down,” the buddy ordered. “And whatever you’ve got behind your back,
this is the last time I’m going to tell you to drop it.”
“Let her go,” Harvath repeated. “Then we can all get back to drinking and nobody gets hurt.”
don’t get hurt.”
Harvath smiled. “It’s up to you. Let her go, I’ll get my drink, and like I said, nobody’ll get hurt.”
“And if we don’t? What are you going to do about it? There’s two of us, dumbass.”
“I see that,” said Harvath.
“Listen, why don’t—”
“Why don’t we what?” the man interrupted. “Let you buy us a drink? Is that what you were going to say, pussy?”
The rage that Harvath had been harboring; the rage that he had been trying to cap, with glass after glass of bourbon, began to bubble up again and was about to boil over.
If he was honest with himself, he had been spoiling for a real, knock-down, drag-out fight
since Little Palm Island. He wanted to vent all of his anger in one great purge and it looked like he was about to get his chance.
Smiling, he replied, “I wouldn’t piss on you losers if you were on fire, so there’s no way I’m going to offer to buy you drinks. I will, though, offer for us to take this outside. Let her go and we’ll see if two against one makes a difference. Or not.”
Harvath set the glass he had wrapped in newspaper on the bar and smiled at the men.
They looked at him and smiled back. The larger man took one more sip of his beer as the other let go of the bartender.
Stepping a safe distance away, she announced, “I’m calling the cops.”
“Better call an ambulance first,” the buddy said as he gestured toward the door.
“Good idea,” Harvath agreed, as he headed
toward the exit. “In fact, call two.”