Torsten Dahl book 1 - Stand Your Ground (4 page)

Yes, it was time that Dario learned the ways of men.

Live or die, boy, though you do not know it yet.

“What?” the lad had other things on his mind. “I mean – sorry?”

“What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing. I was listening to the radio.”

Vega kept it playing constantly and very quietly in a corner of the pristine room, but he knew full well Dario hadn’t been listening to the music. Not only that, he knew exactly what the boy had been reflecting upon. His network of digital eyes saw everything.

“I may have a job for you.”

Surprise registered on the boy’s face like a slap. “Me? What? Why?”

“Do you not think it’s time?”

Dario studied every surface in the office but did not meet his father’s eyes. “A job?”

“Yes. It is what all the men do around here.”

“I know that.” A small jet of teen ire.

Vega didn’t talk about earning respect or becoming a man. Instead, he sat before Dario, reclining in the plush blue-leather seat, and pursed his lips. “Imagine that with one job you could ascend to the place you must be. In my eyes. In the men’s eyes. With just one job.”

“It sounds . . . dangerous.”

“Do you want to be my son?”

The question was simple, but loaded with more ammunition than a machine pistol.

“I thought I
was
your son.”

Vega considered himself a calm man; he fought the urge to rage at his son. He hadn’t attained the position he had today through unending compassion, but he did try to restrain the savagery at all times. He knew things that, if revealed, would shatter the boy, but all he wanted now was a reaction.

None was forthcoming.

Vega turned away from Dario, suddenly wishing for an empty computer screen and a list of names to cross off. Or maybe a triple Sony set-up and a roster of lives to destroy. Not that such wonderful creature comforts would be allowed today, not after the recent call from the Facilitator. Vega had not felt so invigorated in a long time. His brother’s murder had never been properly avenged, but now Vega saw a way to honor his brother’s memory the right and true way. The only way.

By destroying Torsten Dahl’s family, and then the man himself.

Blood for blood, a debt dating back to a decade ago and events that remained as fresh in Vega’s mind as this morning’s breakfast platter.

His brother Javier had been at the heart of it all, directing operations, as always. Vega had been watching from above, so to speak, viewing proceedings as if through a lens or a computer screen. He’d often allowed Javier to take the lead on in-person operations, preferring to remain the silent — and senior — partner. Between them, they’d run the cartel adeptly; it worked. For every enemy Javier eliminated face-to-face, Vega used his computer skills to neutralize two more.

This occasion had brought both brothers to the Amazon rainforest on a day brighter than a brazier in Hell. The humidity and constant showers had kept them drenched and both parties edgy. Vega once thought that if a monkey screeched at the wrong time during those negotiations, the entire clearing would have been obliterated in a storm of gunfire. Luckily, it never happened. Instead, it was much worse. Torsten Dahl and his clown-show fell out of the skies and stormed the clearing, ordering Vega, his brother and their men to get down on the forest floor. Vega never even knew why, or how, the Swede had found him and tracked the meeting to the clearing. The American
federales
were always on the lookout and had no doubt gotten lucky. Perhaps one of his well-treated and cherished staffers had ratted them out. In the end, it mattered little. In the end, it was far from relevant. Vega watched as Javier took one of the clowns out and scrambled away, laying down futile cover fire. To Vega’s left and right, his men took Javier’s foolish bravery as a signal to fight back against the impossible odds. They had caused much chaos and noise but gained little ground, doing their best to protect him, but steadily dropping around him. They had never been the brightest, the best. Put them in a room with no doors and a single locked window and they’d still take three days to find a way out. But they were still his men, dressed impeccably and family from sunrise until dawn.

Vega managed to find his brother in the dirt and vegetation as the enemy closed in, hard, grim-faced and unsmiling. One of them, the blonde he later found out was called Dahl, fought with a fury he’d rarely seen. Vega regretted not having the man on his own team even as he lined up the sights of his pistol on that blond head of hair.

Adios
to one more American Fed asshole.

A bullet struck his gun from his hand, sending fire through his thumb joint. Vega dropped, screaming, into a pile of mulch, amazed he still lived. It was clear now that this deal and this day were falling through the cracks, headed for Hell. Vega crawled desperately, scrabbling over a still-twitching corpse, seeking the getaway vehicles they had stationed in the underbrush. Suddenly, Javier was at his side, hauling him to his feet, and they ran, brother with brother, urging each other on as they plunged through the jungle, fleeing a paramilitary force that sought to incarcerate or kill them both. Sounds of pursuit dogged them, but the Vega brothers were fast; faster than a million bullets, to Vega’s then-younger mind, and invincible. Javier and he had a business to run, networks to build and electronically inhabit, viruses to plant. They would rule together forever – a deserved destiny. It came as all the more of a shock, then, when Javier screamed and fell forward, blood exploding in a cloud from his right shoulder. Vega stared first in disbelief and then in horror, finally glaring back to look at the man who dared to shoot his brother.

Not only
brother
. Friend. Fellow soldier. Shield. He knew me best in all the world.

The blond soldier, Dahl, shouted something incomprehensible. Vega wasn’t listening anyway. He raised his handgun again, but Javier shot first, discharging three bullets in quick succession. They all missed the Swede, who had the audacity to remain upright and fire right back, only his three bullets making much more of an impact than Vega’s brother’s. The first took Javier in the chest; the second in the stomach; the third blew the top of his head off. Vega tried to cry out. Couldn’t. Stunned into immobility. Every plan for the future that they’d made suddenly disintegrated. They were
gods
, were they not? More than men, surely.

As Vega watched his brother collapse, he saw the meager reality of it all, the blood and brains, the fateful moment when one man left this world and the survivor realized that the same world would carry on turning without him.

He’d looked up from his dying brother to Dahl and found himself staring down the barrel of a smoking automatic rifle.

All the time,
he thought, absurdly.
I watch. Just watch. Now . . . this . . . ?

Vega pissed himself.

Right then, right there, deep in the rainforest, the drug lord experienced loss and terror such as he had never known before. And he’d soiled himself in the process.

The Swede shook his head, stoic. Vega fell to his knees to hide the stain and threw his hands up in the air. Unmanned, petrified, he had never known such feelings existed. Only when Dahl came under attack by two of Vega’s men did Gabrio see his choice: He could sit or kneel here and attend his brother’s body, or he could flee. Turn coward. Run like a puppy chased by a lion.

Vega fled, and never saw any of that day’s enemies, including Dahl, again. But he had to ask himself now:

Why did you never try to track Dahl down? And why are you uneasy about it now?

Vega knew why. But nobody else in the world did, or ever would. Feeling a sudden and unexpected rush of shame mixed with anger, he offered Dario a shot glass and the bottle of tequila.

“Tip one back. And remember Javier.”

Dario glanced at the clock on his mobile phone. “It’s early.”


Javier
.” The single word came out in a growl, like a sword grinding over bone, and it showed Dario exactly what was expected.

The boy drank.

Vega poured another.

“Your initiation, then. Seventeen is the perfect age, no?”

Dario’s eyes widened perceptibly. “An . . . initiation?”

Vega felt the shrinking feeling inside he imagined every father must feel to see his son display reluctance to take up the family business. “A great and worthy induction. Kill the man who killed your uncle. Wipe out his entire family. Remove his bloodline from the face of the planet.”

Dario stared hard, unblinking, with the empty shot glass still in hand. Vega knew he was trying to exhibit no emotion, to remain as stone-faced as the rest of his father’s men, but he had no chance of achieving it.

“This is your chance, my son. Step up now. Prove you are worthy. This opportunity is fate, rising at the perfect time. Imagine the acclaim you will receive. Any boy would die for a chance like this.”

Dario, whip-thin and as fetching as a young boy could be, threw out the cheap smile he’d no doubt purchased at Walmart with all the other losers. Vega didn’t like it. He grabbed the boy by the neck of his jacket, bunching the material between hard fists. “You will kill this man I choose,” he said. “You will succeed and save face for us all. And you will return as a valued member of
my
family. Do you understand what I am saying?”

Dario nodded.

“The free ride is over. It’s time to do . . . or die.”

“Um . . . when?”

“Right now.”

Vega let the boy leave, returned to the office window for a moment and then buzzed in the man who now took care of the more physical side of the cartel’s business. A walking insurance policy, clad in an Armani suit and trained to kill by the toughest and maddest hard-asses all around the world.

Vega exhaled with deep concern. “That boy is a mystery to me.”

The man, whom everyone called Vin, remained mute, wisely choosing not to comment on his boss’s son.

“I want you to go with him. As an advisor in name, of course. But supervise, alongside Grant. Grant’s forte is facilitation, so let him lead and supervise until you have the Dahls. I leave it to you, but make sure both he and Dario succeed. At the worst, you must succeed alone and then report to me. And, Vin?”

“Yes?”

“Report truthfully. No sugar-coating. No half a story. I want to hear the worst of it.”

“And if the boy can’t come through?”

Vega shrugged. “Then he’s not of my blood. You can kill him, for all I care.”

Vin hesitated. “Is that your final word?”

“Sometimes the blood does not run right, Vin. It skips a generation. Javier and I, we were the same. Dario? I find myself wondering.”

“And the boy’s secret?”

“Tell the men to keep eyes on her. Both you and I will be in Barbados, attending to business. That doesn’t mean she won’t be of help to us.”

“You sure you want to go?”

Vega smiled at Vin’s awkward attempt to phrase the indelicate question. It didn’t fit the man’s personality and made Vega’s loyalty for him deepen all the more. “Sometimes, my friend, the daddy is forced to keep up appearances. This is one of those times.”

“It’s that big?”

Vega nodded. “It is . . . nothing short of our entire future. Now, I’ll be following along in an hour. Prepare everything for me.”

“Done.” Vin gave a half-amused smile. “It will certainly make the next few hours more interesting.”

Vega followed his man from the office’s cool interior into blazing sunshine, opening his face up to the skies and basking in the increasing heat, his mind awash with the images of what might and what would happen shortly.

“This is shaping up to be a most interesting day.”

 

SEVEN

 

Grant’s plane landed an hour or so after Dahl’s, giving the Facilitator’s men already placed in Barbados a brief head start for their inquiries. Barbados was a small island. If you had associations with the right men in the right places and swiped their greasy palms with a fat wad, all types of forbidden fruit could be served up on a platter. The Facilitator had done it before, many times, and would do so again until retirement or death ended his run.

A fusillade of missed calls assaulted his phone the moment the jet landed. Grant stopped outside the terminal, seated on a bench with a bottle of water, to contact his men. Dahl and family were booked into the Barbados Palm, a large, luxury resort. Grant studied the middle-distance, suppressing a shallow memory of the rainforest battle where he’d first seen the Swede – it had all been such a blur of violence and death and, even now, he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d made it out. Blind luck had helped, but Gabrio Vega certainly hadn’t, utterly crushed, to the point of disability, following the death of his brother.

Today, Gabrio Vega considered himself untouchable, but Grant knew otherwise. Not a single person alive was truly untouchable

It had taken little effort to locate the Swede. Now came the difficult part. Grant didn’t like that this side operation of Vega’s could place their main mission in jeopardy. He’d had different ideas from Vega’s . . . ways to profit from the destruction of Torsten Dahl and his family. He should have known that Vega would view it simply as an opportunity for revenge.

And if the whole job went south . . . who would be to blame? Not Gabrio goddamn Vega, that was for sure.

As for the existing mission . . .

Grant sighed and upended the bottle. Their primary mission already floated on eggshells; one misstep would result in disaster for all concerned. And the list of those concerned went high up, to people who could influence world conflicts. And others who could initiate destruction with a simple phone call. One thing Grant had learned was to furnish his undertakings with a seamless escape route, and this one was no different. But even if he survived a disastrous outcome, failure damaged one’s reputation. And his reputation was all he had.

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