Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online
Authors: Brad Thor
Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure
ith Guryev was the aforementioned red-bearded thug Kovalyov, as well as the other two goons who had presumably held Lukša down while he was being tortured. All of them had weapons, and all of their weapons were pointed at Harvath and Landsbergis.
“Hands,” said the Russian, in perfect English. “Let me see those hands. Nice and high.”
Harvath and Landsbergis did as he commanded while
his men streamed into the room and disarmed them.
“You took your time getting here,” Simulik complained.
“Quiet, Andriejus,” Guryev shot back. “Don’t forget, you work for me—not the other way around.”
Harvath was glad to have the confirmation, but it came with a downside. Admitting that the VSD Director worked for them meant that Guryev and his crew weren’t about to let him go.
they were going to take him back to Russia and finish the job that had been started before he had escaped. Unless, of course, he was worth more to them dead than alive. If that was the case, he could be seconds away from being executed.
“I cannot tell you what a strange and unexpected pleasure this is,” Guryev said, turning his attention to Harvath. “You killed several friends of mine back in
Russia. I am looking forward to returning the favor.”
“I killed a
of Russians while I was there,” he replied. “So you’ll forgive me if I don’t remember them.”
“Americans—always making jokes.”
“I wasn’t joking.”
Harvath knew he was in trouble and shouldn’t have been kicking the hornet’s nest.
His opponents were not typical Russian muscle—the sides of beef normally seen rolling with Moscow
gangsters. He could tell by their eyes that these men were not only intelligent, but also switched on. They were probably ex-military, possibly even ex–Special Forces operatives, Spetsnaz.
He needed to come up with a way out of this. Quickly.
, he exhorted himself.
Scanning the room, he looked for any advantage. He and Landsbergis had been positioned up against the wall—there was no cover
or concealment. There were, though, multiple items he could turn into weapons.
From the highly polished pair of scissors or the brass inkwell on the desk, to the martini pitcher and nickel-plated cocktail picks behind it, his choices were broad. The challenge was getting to just one of them without being riddled with bullets. What he needed was a distraction.
But when Guryev next spoke, he realized
that wasn’t going to happen. “My President wants you dead or alive. He prefers alive, of course, because you killed his son and he’d like the pleasure of killing you himself.
“Escaping from Russia, as I said, you killed several of my friends. These men were highly skilled, which tells me I need to be very careful with you. So, while I’d like to deliver you to my President alive, I think dead
is a much safer option.”
Harvath smiled. “Then you’re even more arrogant than Director Simulik.”
The Russian smiled back. “That’s a very high bar. You’ll forgive me if I disagree.”
“If your President had wanted me dead, he could have killed me when he murdered my wife and my colleagues. Instead, he brought me all the way to Russia. Why do you think that was?”
“I cannot possibly know the President’s
“Exactly. Which is why you’d be a fool to assume you can now.”
Guryev’s smile broadened. “Does banter like this normally work for you, Mr. Harvath?”
“Only with less intelligent people,” he replied.
For a moment, the Russian was unsure of whether he had been complimented or insulted.
“I have a lot of information that your President wants. Believe me, your reward is going to be a lot
bigger if you bring me in alive.”
“You sound to me,” the Russian responded, “like a man who is trying to buy time. I’m sorry, though, Mr. Harvath. There is no more time. I’m not taking you in alive.”
“In that case,” said Harvath, “let me show you my shocked face.”
As he opened his mouth, plugged his fingers in his ears, and closed his eyes, a pair of flashbang grenades were tossed into the
When they detonated, they did so with ear-splitting, 180-decibel bangs accompanied by blinding flashes of over one million candela.
Their purpose was to throw an enemy into confusion and disorientation while interrupting their balance and coordination.
Distracted and temporarily incapacitated, it was impossible for them to adequately respond.
Having prepared himself for the explosion,
Harvath was able to spring into action.
The two Russian operatives nearest him received the brunt of his response. These were the men who had pinned Lukša down and held him while he was being tortured.
Snatching the heavy brass inkwell off the desk, he swung it like a mace, striking each of the men in the head and knocking them unconscious.
Grabbing one of their guns, he spun to face the others,
but the task had already been completed. Sølvi had used the two Tasers from his bag in the Land Cruiser—the same bag in which she had found the flashbangs—to drop Guryev and Kovalyov to the floor.
The effect wouldn’t last long, though. They didn’t call it the “ride for five” for nothing. The jolt of electricity bought you only a handful of seconds.
“Did you bring any restraints?” Harvath asked.
“I brought the whole bag,” she replied. “It’s out in the hallway.”
As Harvath hurried to grab it, Sølvi noticed Guryev and Kovalyov coming around. Pressing the triggers of the Tasers, she let them ride the lightning again.
Fishing out a handful of flex cuffs, Harvath came back into the room and restrained all of the Russians. He also cuffed Simulik.
Once everyone had been patted down and their
weapons taken away, it was time to get some answers. Harvath started with Guryev. Sølvi and Landsbergis, pistols in hand, kept everyone covered.
“What do you know about Carl Pedersen?”
“Fuck you,” the Russian replied.
Harvath was about to give him a warning when Sølvi lowered her suppressed pistol, pointed it at the man’s right knee, and pulled the trigger.
Guryev howled in pain.
the question,” the Norwegian demanded. “Or your right knee will be next.”
“Fuck you,” he repeated, this time at her.
Sølvi adjusted her aim and fired at his other knee.
The Russian screamed even louder.
Harvath looked at her. There was no emotion on her face. She was all business. As cold as ice.
“You’ve run out of knees,” said Harvath, turning his attention back to Guryev. “You’d better
answer my question, before she finds a new body part to target.”
The man barely managed to mumble “Fuck.
,” from behind his gritted teeth, when Sølvi shot him again, this time in his left shoulder.
It was followed by another wave of screaming.
“What do you know about Carl Pedersen?” Harvath asked again.
“Norwegian Intelligence,” came the reply, but not from Guryev. It had come from Kovalyov.
Harvath shot him a glance.
His boss told to him to shut up in Russian and they began arguing, before Sølvi put a round past each one of their heads and they instantly fell silent.
“What do you know about him?” Harvath repeated. “Besides the fact that he was Norwegian Intelligence.”
“He introduced you to Landsbergis and Landsbergis helped facilitate your operation into Kaliningrad.”
The bearded man looked at Harvath confused. “
“All Carl did was make the introduction. Landsbergis was responsible for much more. If you were willing to torture and murder Carl over an introduction, I can only imagine what Moscow was planning for Landsbergis.”
Kovalyov was even more confused. “Torture? Murder?” he said, before addressing his boss again in Russian.
another round, intentionally missing his knee, but not by much. It was enough to get his attention. “English only,” she ordered, as she ejected her magazine and inserted a fresh one. “No more Russian.”
“We didn’t know Pedersen was dead.”
“Bullshit,” Harvath replied.
Sølvi adjusted her aim and prepared to not miss his knee this time, but the bearded man begged her not to fire.
“If he was killed,
it wasn’t by us.”
killed and it
by you,” she spat back. “Maybe the assassin wasn’t GRU. Maybe the killer was FSB. The orders, though, came from Moscow.”
“Think about it,” Guryev managed with a grimace as pain radiated throughout his body. “If someone on our side was angry enough to kill Pedersen for his involvement, then Landsbergis would have been killed too. And I would have been
tasked with carrying it out.”
“And you never received any such tasking?” Landsbergis demanded.
“No,” the Russian replied. “We didn’t even know Pedersen was dead. Our job was to unravel how the operation took place and report back anything we learned. When the truck driver was identified, we were sent to interrogate him. And, if we discovered he was involved, we had orders to hurt him so that
he couldn’t work. But we were never told to kill him.”
Harvath didn’t want to say it, but the man’s argument made sense. If Carl’s involvement had merited killing, then certainly Landsbergis’s did, and so too did Lukša’s. It would have settled the score and sent a strong
Cross Moscow at your peril. If you do, you’ll pay the ultimate price.
But that was looking less and less like what
was going on here.
While Harvath appeared to be the reason Carl had been killed, perhaps it was possible that Moscow wasn’t behind it. If it wasn’t Moscow, though, who was it?
“I don’t buy any of this,” said Harvath. “Shoot him again.”
“No!” Kovalyov shouted, sticking up for his boss. “There may be another reason.”
Harvath waited for him to elaborate. When he didn’t, he nodded at Sølvi. As
she pointed her pistol at the bearded man’s crotch, the Russian exclaimed, “Montecalvo!”
“What is ‘Montecalvo’? she demanded, applying pressure to her trigger.
“She’s a person,” Kovalyov clarified. “A broker of information.”
“What does she have to do with Carl’s murder?”
“I gave her Pedersen’s name.”
“You did what?” Guryev grunted.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“What did you do?” the Russian
GRU boss demanded.
“I sold a small piece of information.”
“About one of our operations?”
the report had been filed,” the bearded man said in an attempt to justify his actions. “Why should our superiors be the only ones getting rich off of our work?”
“Alexander, you have betrayed us.”
“I have only done what is done every single day in Moscow. They use the information from our intelligence
operations to steal intellectual property and to take advantage of the stock market. Why should we not do the same? Especially when we are the ones out in the field taking all of the risks?”
Guryev was in too much pain to even shake his head. All he could do to show his disappointment was to close his eyes for a moment.
When he opened them, he said, “Tell them how to find Montecalvo. If you
don’t, they’re going to kill us.”
rom the moment he was wheels down at Logan International, the Ghost did what he did best—he began to build a human network.
His cab driver, as most cab drivers tended to be, was a font of information. He not only knew a lot about the neighborhood the Ghost would be staying in, but he also had a friend whose sister-in-law owned a local business.
it turned out, was a small grocery store, two blocks away from the three-flat owned by Harvath’s deceased wife. Across the street was a playground.
The store was the nerve-center of the neighborhood and the collection point for every piece of gossip, rumor, and innuendo for ten blocks in any direction.
The Ghost had the cab driver stop and introduce him. He did some quick shopping, endearing
himself to the owner, and then headed to his Airbnb nearby.
Over the course of the next two days, he popped in and out of the little store. He billed himself as a New York City photographer and videographer who was compiling a living history of the neighborhoods of Boston. The goal of his “project” was to capture the soul of each neighborhood—the day-to-day things that made them tick, as well
as their eccentric and unusual characters.
The shopkeeper thought it was a wonderful idea. The store had been
in her family for three generations. She had grown up in the neighborhood and knew everyone. And so, his human network had begun to grow.
Meanwhile, Johnson and Preisler had begun to build out the tactical side of the operation. Based on their experience, and the limited amount of time
they had spent with Lara’s parents, the most likely place for an attack was either at the house or somewhere between the house and the playground. Thankfully, Marco wasn’t in school at the moment, so that took some of the logistical headaches out of the equation. Nevertheless, they still were going to have their hands full. Harvath had been right to send them to Boston.
And if it hadn’t been
for Harvath, Lara’s parents never would have cooperated with such a plan. Left to their own devices, they would have retreated to the familiar.
They would have gathered up Marco and hopped a plane to Brazil. There, in Providência—the notorious Rio de Janeiro favela where they themselves grew up—they would have hoped to hide and ride out the storm.
But with a possible one-hundred-million-dollar
bounty on Harvath’s head and Marco as an irresistible piece of bait, there would have been no place they’d ever be truly safe. This was the best way to handle it. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and keep Marco’s life as “normal” as possible.
Unlike many of their friends, they didn’t blame Scot for Lara’s death. Both their homicide detective daughter and their intelligence operative
son-in-law had difficult, dangerous jobs. More importantly, they knew that Scot had loved Lara. They also knew that he still loved Marco. He would never intentionally do anything to compromise them.
Which was why, when Nicholas had reached out, they had agreed to go along with Scot’s request. Even with their daughter gone, Scot was still part of their family. They not only loved him, they trusted
They had put their lives in his hands and Harvath had treated that responsibility with the utmost seriousness. He knew Preisler, Johnson, and Kost would fight to the death to keep them safe. That was why he had asked Nicholas to send them. Marco was an obvious choice.
The men were also smart as hell. If something was afoot, not only would they pick it up quickly, but they’d put a knife
in it so fast, lightning would be envious.
And that had been Harvath’s concern at Camp David—that an assassin might use a family member to flush him out. He had worried that whoever had killed Carl would either try to get to Marco, as well as Lara’s parents, or maybe even his own mother out in California.
Already, a team had moved her out of her senior community and over to Naval Base Coronado.
With such an alleged bounty in play, even a U.S. Navy base might not be perfectly safe, but Sloane Ashby and Chase Palmer, the two operatives Harvath had asked to watch over his mom, liked their odds. So too did the horde of U.S. Navy SEALs who had taken up residence around Mrs. Harvath. She was part of their family and there was no way they were going to let anything happen to her.
core of Harvath’s team—Haney and Staelin, along with former Force Recon Marine Matt Morrison, ex–Green Beret Jack Gage, and ex-SEAL Tim Barton—stood ready as a Quick Reaction Force, prepared to deploy from Joint Base Andrews to anywhere in the world he might need them.
In the meantime, back in Boston, the Ghost continued to study Lara’s neighborhood, developing a feel for its residents and rhythms.
In the apartment, Preisler and Johnson tried to stay in the background, out of the family’s hair—something easier said than done.
Not only was it uncomfortable having two intense, flinty, well-armed men constantly nearby, but then there were the logistics. Lara’s apartment was on the second floor and her parents lived above. The apartment on the ground floor was for rent, but currently vacant.
The running up and down stairs, especially by Lara’s mother, was an ongoing problem. Every time she went to fetch something, one of the men needed to be with her. Finally, it was Preisler who made a command decision. He was tired of all the back-and-forth.
Grabbing three empty laundry baskets, he accompanied Lara’s mother upstairs, and told her to pack. Spices, books, clothes—he didn’t care.
She could fill the baskets with whatever she wanted. They just couldn’t keep
running up and down stairs. It was too dangerous. The only way Preisler and Johnson could really protect them was if they all stayed together.
Once Lara’s mother had complied, Preisler took a break while Johnson accompanied Lara’s father to gather three baskets’ worth of stuff. In typical “guy” fashion, the man did it
all in one basket. He only wanted his books, his “Brazilian rum” aka Cachaça, and a few changes of clothes.
With the crazy upstairs-downstairs portion of their program complete, they could refocus on simply being a heavily guarded family and trying to create some semblance of everyday, little-boy-life for Marco.
That meant that Marco needed to be allowed outside to run around and do all the
crazy things a precocious four-year-old did. And the best place for a precocious four-year-old to
a precocious four-year-old was the playground down the street.
Protecting a little boy—especially when he was the primary—was a weird gig for Preisler and Johnson. Their previous protection details had been for diplomats in war zones, or in highly dangerous, cartel-controlled areas like Mexico,
Central or South America. Guarding the life of a preschooler in Boston was a bit surreal.
Nevertheless, they were professionals and took it every bit as seriously as they did any of their previous assignments. There was no way they were going to let anything happen to Marco. The hardest part about the assignment, though, was that they weren’t allowed to hunt. Only the Ghost, roaming free somewhere
out there in the neighborhood, was authorized.
As sheepdogs, Preisler and Johnson instinctively knew their job—to protect Marco, and Lara’s parents, at all costs. Per their training, they operated under the assumption that somewhere, unseen, a wolf was stalking their protectees. That wolf could be around the next corner or even standing right next to them. No matter where he was, he was always
watching. They could take nothing for granted.
Because the wolf would decide when and where to attack, the wolf had the advantage. All the men could do was be ready to react. And when they did react, they reserved the right to visit overwhelming violence on the wolf.
Harvath had agreed and had insisted that they be kitted out with the
best weapons and equipment available. If anyone came after
Lara’s parents or her son, he wanted the response to be “biblical.”
Nicholas had arranged everything. The men were packing serious firepower, but moving in a civilian environment, especially a city like Boston, it had to be kept concealed.
They were all carrying short-barrel rifles. Preisler and Johnson had Kriss Vectors in custom messenger bags, while Kost sported a suppressed Honey Badger
in a modified camera equipment bag.
For pistols, Preisler and Johnson had 1911s and Kost carried a Sig. They were all exceptionally proficient shooters with thousands of hours under their belts. It was not only their commitment to training, but in the cases of Preisler and Johnson, their years of active military experience that made them the best. Preisler had been with 7th Special Forces Group,
and Johnson with 10th Group. Kost had entered the CIA immediately after college and had trained with multiple top tier military units—as well as with the DEA, who were some of the best gunfighters on the planet.
Harvath had handpicked the team for this mission. The only question was whether a wolf would show. Then, suddenly, one did.
Via his new relationship with the grocery store owner, the
Ghost had learned of an overly ambitious apartment renovation that had run out of money. All work had stopped, the bank was moving to foreclose, and the owners had walked away. The situation couldn’t have been better for the team, nor could the view.
It was on the building’s top floor and provided not only an excellent overwatch of the playground, but also the surrounding streets. Getting in
had been a piece of cake. Setting up his cameras was even easier.
He was using a telephoto lens, which allowed him to capture excellent details. That was how he had spotted the wolf. It was the same man he had bumped into the day before at the grocery store.
Kost had been on his way in as the man had been exiting. He was a Caucasian male in his early fifties and had been dressed similarly to
how he was now—jeans, tee-shirt, gold chain, and white basketball shoes. The shopkeeper hadn’t liked him.
“Shanty Irish,” she had said. “That’s what my grandmother used to call them.”
Shanty, versus “lace curtain” Irish, was meant to catalogue an Irish person as being of low class.
When pressed, she explained that he had spoken with an Irish accent and had been gruff and rude. He had complained
about her prices, before finally giving in and paying for the large energy drink he had pulled from the cooler. Asking if he wanted a receipt, he had ignored her and walked out.
He had brushed past Kost, who had held the door open for him, without saying anything. In addition to the man’s poor manners, Kost got a really bad vibe off the guy.
The shopkeeper said he was definitely not from the
neighborhood. She mused that he probably worked in construction and explained that there were lots of Irish who came to places like Boston and New York, overstayed their tourist visas, and illegally worked for cash.
While that might have been true, the man hadn’t looked like a laborer to him—at least not one on his way to or from a job site. His jeans were clean; pressed even. He was wearing
an expensive chain and his shoes were also pricey. The guy looked more like a middle-aged drug dealer than a construction worker.
Seeing him again had set off Kost’s alarm bells. After taking a few more photos of him, he scanned the area. It appeared that Shanty might not be alone.
A block away, two similarly dressed men had just gotten out of a blue Hyundai Sonata. The driver had remained with
the vehicle, and was slowly following them. It was time to officially raise the alarm.
“Heads up,” he said over their comms link. “Possible hostile. Inbound on foot from the north. One block out. Fifties. Light hair. Jeans. Tee-shirt. Two more, same costumes, on foot, from the south. Two blocks out. Being trailed by a late-model blue Sonata. All headed toward you. Stay frosty.”
Preisler and Johnson both replied.
With two entrances to the fenced playground, they had taken up opposite positions at each. They had unobstructed lines of sight, could react quickly if they needed to, and it allowed the family some breathing room.
Lara’s father, who was a solid guy, always kept his eyes peeled while
his wife played with Marco. When Preisler signaled to him that it was time
to go, he immediately went over to his wife and calmly told her in Portuguese. She then informed their grandson that they were leaving. Preisler appreciated how seriously they took this. It made his role easier.
In the end, he had been sent to Boston with only two jobs. Number one, protect Marco and his grandparents at all costs. Number two, make sure Johnson didn’t kill a metric shit ton of
people. At this moment, though, all that mattered was job number one.
Adjusting his messenger bag, he moved to the family, making sure to smile as he did so as to not unnecessarily upset the boy. This could, after all, turn out to be nothing.
Johnson joined them as they approached the east gate of the playground. In studying the neighborhood, he and Preisler had developed multiple exfil plans.
One of the things they had agreed upon from the start, was that if there was an assault involving a vehicle, they’d use one of Boston’s biggest pains-in-the-ass to their advantage—its one-way streets.
Exiting the playground, they turned to the right and walked toward the building Kost was in.
At the corner, they turned right again heading west. The traffic on the street was going in the opposite
direction, which meant the Sonata couldn’t follow them. The men on foot, though, could and did.
There was an alley coming up. That was their destination. Marco’s grandfather encouraged him to move a little faster. He didn’t know what was going on, but he could sense the tension in the adults. Coupled with the abrupt departure from the playground, he was starting to get frightened.
the boy up and hurried their party forward while Johnson kept an eye on their six.
Once they ducked into the alley, Preisler found them cover and stayed with them while Johnson took up a concealed position out on the street from which to engage.