Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

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

Near Dark: A Thriller (15 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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CHAPTER 24

W
illiams walked Harvath into the Base Commander’s office, showed him where the secure conference room was, and asked him if he needed anything. Harvath thanked him and said that he was fine.

In addition to pens and pads of paper placed neatly upon leather blotters in front of each chair around the table, there were bottles of water, a large carafe of coffee, cream, sugar, mugs, and
a tray of fresh fruit, cheese, and pastries. Colonel Mitchell was a thorough professional.

He was also a smart operator. It wasn’t every day the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe showed up and needed to borrow your conference room for a private meeting put together by the Secretary of Defense. This was his opportunity to shine—and that was exactly what he was trying to do.

“All good?” Mitchell
asked, sticking his head in.

Harvath flashed him the thumbs-up. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

“I have my AV and IT people standing by if you need any help. The Wi-Fi password for the day is on the whiteboard.”

“This is going to be pretty low-tech. In fact, it’s going to be
no
tech.”

The Base Commander shook his head. “A military meeting without a PowerPoint? I think that’s a sign of the Apocalypse.”

Harvath smiled. “PowerPoints are nothing more than silent screams for promotion.”

“You’re not interested in being promoted?”

“I’m unpromotable. Unless there’s an opening on a pirate ship somewhere, I’m going to have this job for as long I can hold on to it.”

Mitchell smiled back. “Bottle of rum. A dead man’s chest. If there’s anything you need, just let me or Williams know. We’ll get you squared
away.”

“Good copy,” Harvath replied.

As the colonel disappeared into the hallway, Harvath checked his watch. Proctor and Jasinski would be arriving at any moment. Reaching for the coffee, he filled a mug and then selected a chair near the middle of the conference table and sat down.

His brain was doing that thing again. The mug felt warm in his hands. The coffee smelled delicious. He closed
his eyes and breathed it in.

As he did, he wondered if he would ever conduct another operation after this. He had been content down in Key West. If you could call it that. Perhaps numb was a better word for it. He had surrendered himself to his fate. Whether it was the alcohol, or an assassin that took him out, it didn’t seem to make much difference. But that was before Carl Pedersen had been
murdered—
tortured
and murdered, because of him. It was still so hard to come to grips with.

Whether or not he returned to some bar at the southernmost point of the United States to drown himself was yet to be seen. What mattered at the moment was making sure that Proctor and Jasinski were exactly the people he believed them to be. Until he had that question answered, nothing could move forward.

A chorus of clocks ticked away upon the wall, marking the passage of time from different zones around the world. Harvath kept his eyes closed and listened, as he continued to drink his coffee. No matter what he did or didn’t do, the world still kept turning.

There was a commotion from somewhere down the hall, a flurry of activity. “They’re here,” he said to himself, opening his eyes.

Standing
up, he prepared to meet his guests. It was going to be an uncomfortable reunion.

David Proctor was the epitome of the Navy maxim “High speed, low
drag.” He had left his protective detail outside. They didn’t even come in and do a sweep. He had no aides, no entourage. He came exactly as the President had asked, alone—except for Monika Jasinski. Colonel Mitchell showed them to the conference room.

They had not been told with whom they would be meeting. All they had been informed of was that it was in regard to their disruption of recent terror attacks against NATO diplomats.

The flashes of recognition on their faces were immediate. Harvath held out his hand and introduced himself before anyone could blow his cover. “Admiral Proctor, I’m Donovan Brenner. Thank you for agreeing to meet with
me.”

Harvath shook his hand and then turned to Jasinski and repeated the introduction.

The Base Commander pointed out where everything was, and made sure his guests knew to pick up the conference room phone and to personally contact him if they needed anything. Once he had exited and had shut the door behind him, the questions started. Jasinski spoke first.


Donovan Brenner
? You’re not using
that Stephen Hall, NATO alias anymore?”

“Not on this assignment. It all came together very fast. Everything had to be brand-new.”


Assignment
?” said Proctor, drawing out the word. “What’s with all the subterfuge? What’s going on, Scot?”

So far, the read he was getting on each of them was good. Proctor and Jasinski had been surprised to see him. The surprise had melted into happiness, but had
quickly turned to concern. He had already made up his mind to pull no punches and to drop the news as soon as he was comfortable that he had registered their baselines.

“Carl Pedersen was murdered.”

“What?” responded Jasinski, shocked. “When?”

“A week ago. Maybe more. They found him at his weekend place outside Oslo.”

“Who killed him?” Proctor asked, better at keeping his composure, but still
obviously taken aback.

“Why don’t you get some coffee and we’ll all sit down.”

Silence filled the room as they filled their mugs. Harvath hadn’t been wrong. This was an uncomfortable reunion.

Someone needed to tear the bandage off. Admiral Proctor decided to be that someone.

“Scot,” he said, “what you’ve been through is unspeakable. We just want you know that we are very sorry for your losses.”

Jasinski nodded. “If there’s anything we can do for you. All you have to do is say it.”

“Thank you,” Harvath responded.

He could feel the breath leaving his body, like water being sucked away from a beach before a tsunami. The anguish was building up inside him. He needed to shut it down.

“The best thing for me right now,” he added, “is not to talk about it—
any
of it.”

The Admiral was a compassionate
man. “Understood,” he said. And that was that. It wasn’t spoken of again.

They gathered together at the head of the table, a sign of their friendliness for each other and solid relationship.

Once they were settled in and ready to restart the conversation, Harvath picked back up where he had left off.

“He was found by a neighbor. He had already been dead for several days. About four to be specific.
But leading up to his murder, he had been tortured. When the killer finally finished him, it was with one round through his heart.”

“Jesus,” said Proctor, the word coming in a whisper.

Jasinski’s hand covered her mouth.

“No physical evidence has been recovered,” Harvath continued. “The Norwegians have been turning over every stone. They have no leads whatsoever. Except for one.”

“What is it?”
Jasinski asked.

Raising his right index finger, Harvath pointed at himself. “Me.”

“You?” said Proctor. “I don’t get it.”

“During the time they believe Carl was being tortured, files were accessed not only on his phone and laptop, but also within the NIS database.
All of them had to do with me. They believe the killer was compiling a dossier.”

“How many people even knew about your relationship
with Pedersen?”

“Outside this room? Not many.”

“Wait a second,” Jasinski interjected. “You’re not here because you think we had something to do with this, are you?”

“Does the President think we were involved?” Proctor added.

Harvath shook his head. “I made it crystal clear back home that neither of you would have ever been involved in something like this.”

“Good.”

“With that said, I need
to know if either of you may have mentioned Carl to anyone. Did his name appear in any of your reporting? Anything like that?”


Reporting
?” said Jasinski. “What reporting? We didn’t even take notes. And in case you don’t remember, I had no idea what kind of operation I had been sent on when I linked up with you. I went because the Admiral told me to. I reported to him and him only. I didn’t even
tell my own government about it.”

Harvath believed her. One hundred percent.

“Scot,” Proctor assured him, “if someone linked you to Carl, it wasn’t through us. We kept the entire operation locked down, airtight. If you’ve got a leak, it’s someplace else.”

Harvath believed the Admiral as well. Neither one of them had directly betrayed Carl, nor did it appear as if there was an ancillary contact
he needed to track down and question.

Ever the perceptive intelligence officer, Jasinski sensed that Harvath was holding out on them. It was just a feeling, but it was pretty strong. There was something he wasn’t telling them.

“Why would someone target Carl in order to build a dossier on you?” she asked.

“I’m not completely certain.”

“Rarely is anyone in our line of work
completely
certain.
But let’s put that aside for a second. You’re holding out on us. I’m more than sure. I’m positive. What’s the rest of the story?”

She was really good—which was why he had enjoyed working with her. She had a solid moral compass, but wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty if she had to. Sometimes, in their line of work, the ends did justify the means. They were paid to save lives and protect their
nations from foreign aggression. Occasionally, it was necessary for the bad guys to be shown what lengths they were prepared to go to in order to meet those goals.

“Three nights ago someone tried to kill me,” stated Harvath.

Proctor’s eyes widened. “The same person who killed Carl?”

“We’re not sure. We don’t even have a positive ID on the body.”

“At least you got him before he could get you.”

Harvath shook his head. “I shouldn’t even be here. He had me. Dead to rights. The only thing that saved me was a warning from the Norwegians and my team finding me before he could pull the trigger.”

Jasinski looked at him. “So if you didn’t recognize him, someone must have sent him, right? And I can guess who.”

“Who?”

She laughed, thinking that he was joking. “Well, it certainly wasn’t the
Tibetans. After all the damage you have done to the Russians? And I’m just talking about everything that happened before they kidnapped you. Then there was that cascade of mayhem that happened after and—”

“Cascade of mayhem?” Harvath interrupted.

“Come on, Scot. I read reports and connect dots. That’s part of the job. A few weeks after you were rescued, key figures around the Russian President
Peshkov began dropping dead—including his son.”

“From what I read in the papers, his son overdosed.”

“That’s part of the job, right?” she countered. “To make it
look
like an accident. Except a bunch of connected ‘accidents’ quickly begin to look like an orchestrated campaign. It wasn’t random. It wasn’t dumb luck. And it wasn’t a coincidence. It was
you
. I knew it then and I’m even more certain
of it now. In fact, I’ll go on record and say that I’m
completely
certain.”

Resting her case, Jasinski leaned back in her chair, raised her mug, and took a sip of coffee.

Admiral Proctor didn’t waste the moment. Looking at Harvath, he said, “You asked for our best person. Now you know why I sent Monika.”

Harvath never doubted that she was their best person. He had known it from the beginning.
He also knew that she was trustworthy. So was Proctor.

“Supposedly, there’s a contract out on me. A big one,” he confessed. “One hundred million dollars. To make it even more interesting, it wasn’t just given to one assassin. It was offered to a pool. Whoever gets to me first, gets the prize money.”

“And I thought
my
week was off to a bad start.”

Jasinski not only had the natural talent for
their line of work, but she also had the requisite sense of humor.

“So let me get this straight,” said the Admiral. “You don’t know who killed Carl. You don’t know who tried to kill you. And behind all of this, there’s allegedly a one-hundred-million-dollar contract. Does that about sum it up?”

“That about sums it up,” said Harvath, nodding.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in a bunker
somewhere? They can’t kill you if they can’t find you. Isn’t there anyone else who can get to the bottom of this?”

It was the argument Gary Lawlor had made. That he was only making it easier on the people out there who were competing to kill him. And this was a key point upon which he had disagreed. The hardest target to hit was a
moving
target. It was the guy who sat still, the
stationary
target,
who would be easier to pick off.

“I was the architect of everything that led up to Carl’s murder,” Harvath admitted. “That makes me responsible for what happened to him.”

Proctor shook his head. “The person who killed him is responsible. Not you.”

“With all due respect, Admiral, he was tortured by someone trying to get to me. The way I see it, if it hadn’t been for me, he’d still be alive.
That’s why I’m here. I know every detail of what we did together. There isn’t someone else we could have put in the field who would have been able to process and sort the information the way I can.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable argument. In fact, based on everything the Admiral knew about him, Harvath probably
was
the best person for the job. That didn’t mean, though, that he wasn’t concerned for
him. If there really was a one-hundred-million-dollar bounty on his head people would be selling out their own family members to get to him.

“So,” Proctor relented, “how can we help?”

“For right now, you’ve already done it. By clearing me to land here, arranging my flight to Lithuania, and having a car waiting—that’s all the help I need.”

“I did that, though, because I had orders from the SecDef.
I didn’t know ‘Brenner’ was actually you.”

“And as long as we keep that a secret amongst us, everything else will be fine.”

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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