Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (4 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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CHAPTER 6

N
ORWEGIAN
I
NTELLIGENCE
S
ERVICE

O
SLO
, N
ORWAY

S
ølvi Kolstad was tall, very good-looking, and had made a lot of bad choices. She was lucky to have been allowed back.

Standing up, she stretched her long legs. It felt good to get the blood flowing. She was exhausted and her mind worked better with movement.

Outside, beyond the thick forest of pine and the clear, cold lake, she could
feel the thrum of the city. It was always worse late at night. The pull of the different neighborhoods. Places like Grünerløkka, where she used to go for MDMA, or Brugata for cocaine, as well as Hausmanns gate for heroin, and Grønland for meth.

She could feel them all calling out to her as sure as she could feel her lungs inflating as she breathed, and the beating of her heart in her chest. It
was a struggle. Day by day. Hour by hour.

The treatment counselors had told her that if she didn’t give in—if she remained strong—that over time the powerful longing would fade. Fade, but never completely disappear.

The closest thing she had found to the euphoria of illicit drugs was intense, lung-searing, muscle-burning exercise. The flood of endorphins released into her system transported
her, albeit all too temporarily, to another plane of existence. The only thing better was a mind-blowing orgasm. But for those, she needed a partner—and ever since her divorce, which had sent her spiraling, she couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort.
Intimacy wasn’t very high on her checklist anymore. Walking over to the window, she studied her reflection in the glass.

When her blond hair
was pulled up in a high ponytail you could see the beginning of a tattoo. It was a line from Sartre in delicate, thin blue script that ran from the base of her neck down to the midpoint of her spine.
Il est impossible d’apprécier la lumière sans connaître les ténèbres. It is impossible to appreciate the light without knowing the darkness.

Above her right hip was a scar from a bullet that had
gone straight through. A couple of millimeters lower and it would have shattered her hip, sabotaging the mission she had been on at the time. While she had bled profusely, she had managed to accomplish her assignment. The scar in front and in back were reminders—both of the dangers she faced in her job and that she should never take anything for granted.

Her striking appearance was rounded out
by large blue eyes, full lips, and impossibly high cheekbones. For all of the damage she had done to herself, she hadn’t lost her looks. In fact, some were saying that she looked better now than before her leave of absence from NIS.

It was amazing, she supposed, what being high as fuck and losing your appetite could do for your appearance. There was only one obvious place the drugs had taken
their toll—her teeth. Carl Pedersen, though, had fixed them. Or more appropriately, he had paid to get them fixed. A private dentist in Bergen—someplace far away from anyone she may have known or bumped into from Oslo. That was also where he had gotten her into a private drug treatment program. Quite simply, he had rescued her.

When everyone else had given up on her, when she was at her absolute
lowest, rock-bottom moment, and most needed saving, that’s when he had appeared.

Gathering her up, he had taken her away to some safe house—halfway between Oslo and Bergen—a place she doubted even the NIS knew about.

It was a gorgeous ski lodge in the town of Geilo and obviously belonged to someone with a lot of money. Who, though, he never said.

That was just like him. Carl Pedersen knew people
everywhere. Not just in Norway, but around the world. He was either the best friend or
the worst enemy a person could ever have. She couldn’t believe he was gone.

The pain caused by his death felt like someone had shoved a glowing fireplace poker through her chest. He had not only saved her, but he had also helped her sober up and had gotten her reinstated. If not for him, she didn’t know where
she’d be right now.

Scratch that. She knew where she’d be—if she would have still been alive—and it wouldn’t have been pretty. She owed him everything, including her life. He had been her second chance.

And unlike other men she had known, he had never asked for or had expected anything in return—only that she do her absolute best. That was why he had brought her into NIS in the first place.
He had seen the potential in her. And she had delivered on that potential. Big-time.

Sølvi worked harder than anyone at NIS. She understood the threats Norway was facing. The
real
threats.

While governments and their pet political initiatives came and went, she saw the bigger picture. Because Norway was so wealthy, it could afford to be both high-minded and kind. Those were noble attributes,
but only if the nation was prepared to be narrow-minded and tough when it had to be.

For instance, calling out China for their human rights violations and awarding the Nobel Prize to a dissident critical of Beijing was all well and good, as long as you were ready to punch back twice as hard once Chinese hacking of Norwegian banks, businesses, hospitals, and critical infrastructure went into overdrive.

That was one of the most important things Carl Pedersen had taught her. As the Soviet Union had begun to dissolve, Norwegian politicians had cheered. While it was indeed worth cheering, Pedersen urged the powers-that-be in Oslo to consider what was coming next.

Stripped of its global superpower status, Russia was going to become even more dangerous. Its belligerence would increase and Norway,
as a member of NATO, and as an immediate neighbor, would be a target.

Everything Pedersen had predicted had come true. Cross-border incursions, increased espionage, political and cultural influence operations, interference with Norwegian military exercises, indiscriminate and
nonattributable sabotage operations—all of it. His warning had been chillingly prophetic.

But, where Norway hadn’t taken
Pedersen as seriously as it probably should have, Sølvi had. Having grown up in a military family, she had long been exposed to dinner table conversations about Norway not taking its freedom for granted. As a young girl, talk about Norwegians remaining “ever vigilant” was all around her. Nevertheless, the moment the chance to spread her wings and leave Norway had arrived, she had taken it.

What
started as a semester abroad in Paris, led to a summer job as an au pair, which led to being scouted by the owner of a modeling agency who lived in the building. She didn’t go back to school, or to Norway, for the next two years.

The money had been fantastic. The travel and the places she saw were even better. But it was during this time that her penchant for choosing bad men and making other,
even worse decisions began to show itself.

At first, the attention was intoxicating. Handsome photographers, ad execs, and fellow models. She got invited to the hottest clubs and was introduced to even more men, as well as even more opportunities to get herself into trouble. Her mistake of choice—cocaine.

All of the models were doing it. It gave you lots of energy, helped you stay super thin,
and was always available. She was having too much fun to notice how tightly the addiction was taking hold.

In the end, her father had flown to Paris and rescued her. Bringing her home, he had gotten her cleaned up and had given her an ultimatum—go back to school or join the military.

School had seemed like the easiest choice, but she chose the military instead. No one could believe it.
Sølvi
the fashion model in the Norwegian Army?
It had shocked everyone—especially the friends who had jokingly egged her on in that direction.

She had felt guilty about how she had let her family down and, most importantly, her father. She had been embarrassed that he had to come and bring her back home. He had been disappointed in her. She had seen it every time he had looked at her. The shame had
been impossible to bear. She wanted him to be proud of her. She still did. The military
would make him proud. It would also provide her a means to be proud of herself.

In all honesty, it had been one of the best things to ever happen to her. She had needed the military’s structure and its discipline. Had she returned to university in Oslo, she was convinced that she would have only been dragged
back into the suffocating world of drugs.

Instead, she had gone through basic training and then set her sights on a new unit she had heard the army was toying with codenamed
Tundra
. It was rumored to be an all-female Special Forces pilot program. Very little was known about it and because it was so highly classified, very little was being said.

She had applied and had been rejected three times.
Each time they had given her a different excuse.
Too tall Too skinny Too weak
.

While there was nothing she could do about her height, she could improve her body and overall physical fitness, which was exactly what she did.

She lengthened her runs, added in sprints and cross-training, began lifting heavier weights, and completely changed her diet.

When she applied a fourth time and they tried
to reject her, she was pissed. And she gave it to the panel with both barrels—telling them to start thinking up new excuses now because she was going to apply again and again. She wasn’t a quitter. It was precisely what they wanted to hear. She was given a slot to try out for what would be known as Jeger Troop—the Norwegian word for huntress.

The ten-month program was grueling, but she relished
it. The more they threw at her, the better she did. No matter how hard they tried to break her, they couldn’t.

From the eighty-eight female soldiers initially invited, only twenty were able to complete the training, and from there just thirteen went on to form the first unit.

Sølvi was proud of herself. And just as important, so was her father. She had been made for Jeger Troop. Or so it had
seemed.

Despite being deployed multiple times, she had never fired her weapon. None of their operations had gone kinetic. It seemed that Jeger
Troop spent the majority of its time either conducting surveillance or interacting with Muslim women in Afghanistan—hoping to develop actionable intelligence.

Shit assignments came with the territory—even for Special Operations forces. Sølvi, though,
had been led to believe that they’d be undertaking the kinds of missions similar to the male commandos’. The fact that Jeger had been regulated to “safer,” second-tier operations didn’t sit well with her. That wasn’t what she had signed up for. And so, she had started looking around for other opportunities.

It didn’t take long for her to come to Carl Pedersen’s attention. The moment he met her
he knew she’d be perfect for NIS. There was something about her—a street smarts, a savvy that couldn’t be taught. She was intelligent and quick-witted; perfect for the espionage business. She was also a very striking woman, which would discount her as a threat. Lots of men were going to drop their guard the moment they saw her. In Pedersen’s opinion, she was being wasted in the military.

Nevertheless,
poaching her from Jeger was going to ruffle a lot of feathers. They had spent a boatload of time and money training her. It took some serious string-pulling to get her transferred, but string-pulling was something Pedersen was quite skilled at.

She was an exceptional student. Privately, he liked to joke that she had the “Three Bs.” Beauty, brains, and huge brass balls.

From the moment she had
shown up at NIS, she had been eager to prove herself. She was a risk-taker, but not a foolish risk-taker. Pedersen was confident that as long as he could help her channel her passion, she’d be one of the best intelligence operatives Norway had ever seen—maybe even better than him. And, he had been right.

No matter what kinds of assignments he sent her on—no matter how complicated, or how dangerous—she
always found a way to succeed. Yes, she got knocked on her ass. She also got battered, bloodied, and bruised. On a handful of occasions, she had even come close to losing her life. But that was what the job required and she had thrown herself into it with everything she had until a devastating, personal loss had sent her tumbling back into the realm of drugs.

Of the many mistakes she had made
while living abroad, the biggest
involved a night of heavy partying where she ended up in a rough part of Milan with a horrible man who had slipped something into her drink. By the time she realized what was going on, it was too late. Though she tried to push him off of her, she was unable.

Although that night would fade into the background of her life, it would never disappear—not completely.
Years later, it would come roaring back.

Happy and challenged with her job at NIS, there was only one area where she felt unfulfilled, empty. Most men, if not intimidated by her looks, were intimidated by the demands of her career—of which she could discuss very little.

That had all changed, though, when friends had introduced her to Gunnar, a good-looking Norwegian tech exec. Everything about
him had been perfect, especially how she had felt when they were together. He had laughed at her jokes, had never been jealous or insecure about her frequent trips abroad, and had always complimented her. They had made a remarkable couple and it had only made sense that they would get married. Both of them had been certain that they were ready.

They’d had a beautiful ceremony at Oslo Cathedral,
followed by an extravagant reception on the roof of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and then had honeymooned in Portugal.

After a year, Gunnar had begun talking about having children. Sølvi had known that it would impact her career. But he had wanted children more than anything and she had wanted to make him happy. So, she had given in.

But no matter how hard they tried, she couldn’t
get pregnant. Eventually, they had gone to see a specialist.

The news hadn’t been good. Because of a prior medical procedure, Sølvi was incapable of conceiving. They had both been devastated, but for Gunnar, it had been the absolute end of the world.

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