Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online
Authors: Brad Thor
Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure
o,” said Hayes, once their oysters had arrived, “you want me to tell you what I can about Scot Harvath.”
Sølvi smiled and, after setting an empty shell down on the platter, replied, “Actually, I want you to tell me what you
“It’s the same thing in English, isn’t it?”
Hayes nodded. “Usually. But why are you asking me? I told Ivar everything we know.”
“Ivar Stang. The NIS Director?”
Hayes nodded. “When Harvath’s name was discovered in the searches on Carl’s devices, he asked me to come in and meet with him.”
“And I spoke to Langley. Out of a spirit of cooperation, they prepped a presentation, which I gave in Ivar’s office.”
“Who else was there?” asked Sølvi.
“Ivar’s number two, Norvik.”
“Yes,” said Hayes. “And then
someone I had not previously met before. A woman named Holst.”
“She didn’t give a first name.”
“Heavyset woman?” Sølvi asked. “Late fifties? Short brown hair?
Greenish eyes that bulge out just enough to make you wonder if she has a thyroid condition?”
Hayes tapped her index finger against the tip of her nose and then pointed it at her friend. “Maybe we can help each other. Tell
me about Holst and I’ll share a couple of things about Harvath that weren’t in my presentation. Deal?”
Sølvi nodded. “Hella heads a new division at NIS. In English, it roughly translates to
“What’s it responsible for?”
“As you know, when it comes to population, Norway is a relatively small country. We have less than five and a half million citizens. But despite our size,
bureaucracy is a growing problem—as it is for most advanced Western nations.
“Like a person with heart disease, the arteries of our agencies are calcifying, making it impossible for blood to efficiently flow. In the case of the NIS, our blood flow is information. Cut it off, or even reduce it partially, and not only does our agency risk atrophy and even death, but our greater body, the country
of Norway, is susceptible as well. Does this make sense?”
“Of course,” said Hayes.
“Good, because now it gets tricky. Strategy Section,” Sølvi continued, “was designed, in part, as a heart bypass, if you will. If NIS was ever severely compromised, or shut down—say in the case of an invasion or a massive terrorist attack—Strategy Section’s job is to make sure that critical information is still
pumped to all the vital organs of state.”
“So it’s a continuity-of-government program. In essence, a backup. A fail-safe.”
The Norwegian nodded. “The ultimate fail-safe. In case of national emergency, it would be largely immune from oversight by Parliament. The thought was, if a patient has had a heart attack and needs to be rushed to the hospital for surgery, should politicians be slowing things
down arguing about speed limits, or should those most intimately involved with the patient, the actual people in the ambulance, be making the calls?”
“Interesting. But that doesn’t explain why Holst was in the briefing. What involvement, if any, would she have regarding the death of Carl Pedersen?”
“Strategy Section was Carl’s idea.”
“Do you think it might be connected to his murder?” Hayes
“Ivar is a careful man. It was likely just out of an abundance of caution that Holst was there. Strategy Section is a bit like your Red Cell teams. Part of their job is to think outside the box—to look for connections no one else is seeing.”
“Are you a member of it?”
“No,” said Sølvi. “At least not officially. Carl told me that my name’s on a list of intelligence officers who might be
tapped in an emergency. My day-to-day portfolio, though, is outside of what they do.”
“How big a program is it? Approximately. How many people work there full-time?”
Sølvi smiled, pulled the champagne out of the bucket, and topped off both of their glasses. “I’ve probably already said too much. Besides, I believe you were about to tell me about Scot Harvath.”
Hayes smiled back. While they had
been good friends, they still worked for allied yet
intelligence organizations. As such, there had always been a good-natured push/pull between them. If, in the course of their friendship, one of them picked up something of benefit for her country, then so be it. That was icing on the cake. It wasn’t the primary reason they had become friends. They had become friends because they had
liked and respected each other.
“Okay,” said the American, taking a sip of her champagne. “I’ll tell you what I told your colleagues at the briefing. Then, if you want to ask me questions, feel free.”
Sølvi got comfortable in her chair, took a sip of champagne, and nodded for her friend to begin.
“You’ve never met Harvath, have you?”
The Norwegian shook her head.
“I only met him once,” Hayes
recounted. “Years ago. In Turkey. He was part of a SEAL team that conducted a hostage rescue operation. He was handsome.
handsome. But cocky as hell. He single-handedly
killed the hostage-takers and got the hostage out alive. I can’t go into operational specifics, but let’s just say that the equipment he was using was meant for very limited target engagement.
“His teammates were floored
when they made entry and all the tangos were down. In my opinion, he got lucky. But as they say, it’s often better to be lucky than good.
“Fast-forward a couple of years, and he distinguishes himself while helping secure a maritime location for a U.S. presidential visit. To this day, I still don’t have the requisite ‘need to know’ as to what the threat was that Harvath uncovered, or how he diffused
“Suffice it to say that he impressed a lot of people, including the United States Secret Service—who brought him on board to help bolster their counterterrorism expertise at the White House. You heard about our previous President, Jack Rutledge, and his ill-fated ski trip to Park City, Utah?”
“Where all those agents were killed and he was kidnapped?” said Sølvi. “Of course.”
not only saved the President’s daughter, but he figured out who had taken the President, tracked him down, and took him back. One would think that would be the kind of guy you’d want to keep on your protective detail, but that wasn’t how President Rutledge saw it. Instead, Harvath was put back in the field, tasked with various nondisclosed covert activities from that point forward.”
Hayes shrugged. “Could be, but again, I’m not in that loop. What I do know is that he eventually ended up at CIA doing contract assignments, before going to work for a good friend of Carl’s, who had established the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center, named—”
“Reed Carlton,” the Norwegian said, finishing her friend’s sentence for her.
“Carl liked to talk about them—a lot. He was fond
of both Reed and Harvath.”
“Then you know,” Hayes continued, “how far back Reed and Carl went. All the way back to the Cold War.”
“Yes, they not only conducted multiple ops together, they were also good friends.”
“Do you know how they met?”
The Norwegian nodded. “While training the CIA-initiated ‘stay behind’ teams meant to conduct guerrilla warfare if the Soviets ever invaded Norway. According
to Carl, part of his inspiration for Strategy Section came from his conversations with Reed.”
“I’m not surprised,” Hayes replied. “Having known them both, I can say those two were cut from the same cloth. They had similar views of where the world had been and where it was headed. And while many in Oslo and D.C. were looking in their rearview mirrors, expecting the next war to look like the last,
these two were trying to wake people up and get them prepared. They were real visionaries.”
“Agreed. So what else did they have in common? What would have gotten both of them killed? And why does Harvath seem to be next on someone’s list?”
“We’re not sure they’re connected,” the CIA operative replied.
“Come on, Holidae. I know Carl was up to something with Harvath. He told me.”
did he tell you?”
“A couple of months ago, when an anti-NATO terrorist group was carrying out attacks in Europe, Harvath had tracked a cell to Norway. Along with a Norwegian Police Security Service assault team, backed up by Norwegian Special Forces, he had gone in to take them down, but there had been an ambush. Several officers and soldiers were killed, and many more were gravely injured.
“Following a firefight, Harvath had chased down the surviving cell member. There had been another gunfight, Harvath had killed the guy, and had recovered valuable intelligence from the backpack he had been carrying. That intelligence had then been used to unravel a larger plot sponsored by the Russians.”
Hayes’s brow furrowed slightly, but only for a fraction of a second. “Was this in Carl’s reports?”
she asked. “Or did he tell you privately?”
“He told me privately,” said Sølvi, who had noticed the change in her companion’s expression. “There’s not much in his reports—and I’ve
of them. That means that whatever they were doing, he had been keeping most, if not all of it off-book. Normally when he did that, it was so that if anything went sideways, Russia couldn’t draw a straight line
back to Norway.”
“A sound policy.”
“Carl was always three steps ahead.”
An awkward silence fell over the table. Hayes knew she owed her friend more and remained quiet as she debated what she had been authorized to reveal.
Per her training, Sølvi knew to wait and not to fill such pauses with talk.
Finally, Hayes broke the stalemate. “Suppose,” the CIA operative offered, “I do know what Carl
had been up to with Harvath. If I gave you that information, what would you do with it?”
“What do you
I’d do with it? I’d use it to get to the bottom of who murdered him.”
“And once you got to the bottom? Then what?”
“I’d do my job.”
“What does that mean?”
,” replied Sølvi, playing to Hayes’s rule-following nature, “that I’d turn it over to my superiors.”
The CIA operative
leaned back in her chair, raised her champagne glass, and said, “Then I can’t help you,” as she took a long sip.
“Wait. What?” The Norwegian was confused.
“Sølvi, I know you. You want to avenge your mentor. My government wants to protect a valuable intelligence officer. Our goals are aligned.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Once Carl’s killer has been identified, the United States wants that
intelligence first. If you hand it over to NIS, they’re going to sit on it. I know it and
know it. We have a mandate from the White House to put the pedal to the metal right now.”
“Why now? Why all of a sudden?”
“It’s complicated,” said Hayes.
“Is it ever
complicated in our business? Try me.”
“We no longer have the confidence that if a hostile nation moved on
Norway, our citizens,
much less our politicians, would support honoring our commitments under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Americans are tired of war.”
Sølvi was stunned. “You’re saying that if we were invaded, the United States might stand back and do nothing? No ‘an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members’?”
“Believe me, I find it distasteful, but it’s possible.”
“It’s also pretty damn hypocritical,”
she said, growing angry. “Since NATO’s founding in 1949, the Article 5 mutual defense pact has only been triggered once. One
“I know,” Hayes replied.
“By whom?” Sølvi demanded. “Who cried out, ‘We’ve been attacked and now NATO must come to our aid’?”
Hayes looked her in the eyes and answered, “America. Right after 9/11.”
“Exactly,” the Norwegian stated. “Three thousand people
died. It was a horrible attack. The civilized world was sickened. And you know what? Norway was proud to fight alongside its American ally.
“Yet you’re telling me now—despite the Norwegian lives lost and blood spilled post-9/11—that if our country was invaded; if we had foreign soldiers in our streets, taking over our homes, burning our businesses, and usurping our government, that America ‘might
not’ come to Norway’s aid?”
“Yes,” Hayes responded. “As terrible as that sounds, that’s what I’m saying. We’re in uncharted political waters. All of us. You know that. So we can either ignore reality, or deal with the facts as they are. The United States has chosen to deal with the facts as they are.
“America is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure none of us get dragged into war.”
“What precisely does that mean?”
“It means that we don’t let boils fester. When we find one, we go in and we lance it. We’re of the mind that an ounce of prevention costs a lot less than a pound of cure. This is what the new Cold War looks like.”
Sølvi took it all in. The world was changing, rapidly. Hayes had that right. Some of it was organic—a reaction to rapid advancements in
globalization. But some of it, because Norway had seen it firsthand, was the product of bad actors, skilled in propaganda and information warfare. They exploited divisions within countries, turning citizens against each other, against their government, and against their institutions. They were hell-bent on sowing chaos, distrust, and discord wherever they could.
One of the worst actors was Russia.
And the only thing Russia hated as much as the United States was NATO. It saw each as a threat to its very existence and worked to undermine them both every day.
“And it’s only going to get more brutal,” the CIA operative added. “If Norway is going to survive, it needs a lot more Carl Pedersens—operatives willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. But those operatives will need to find ways
to give Oslo plausible deniability because there are many things Norway would
to do, but strategically it just can’t. That goes double for punching back at Russia,
that’s who’s behind this.”