Authors: David Leadbeater
Table of Contents
Stand Your Ground (A Torsten Dahl Thriller)
Copyright 2016 by David Leadbeater
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All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Crime, thriller, mystery, action, adventure, military, war, suspense, men's adventure, assassinations.
For my wife and children,
Erica, Keira, Megan
‘One day confound, the next astound.’
Of all the absurd ways to spot one of the world’s most dangerous men, Nick Grant never imagined it would be over the top of a fat and juicy Five Guys burger.
Is that . . . ? Was it . . . ?
No, it couldn’t be.
Could it? After so many years?
Grant hated to give up the burger, but his prey made for a far more palatable prospect.
Dulles International in Washington, DC, hummed with humanity, its gleaming floors trodden by tens of thousands, from the world-weary to the desperately excited, its open-plan shops and restaurants gleaming from wall to wall. There were Bentleys waiting to be won, tired shop assistants helpfully pointing customers to the most expensive products, coffees and pastries and specialty chocolates being served. Announcements chimed out, one merging with the next, pointing travelers to their gates. Grant found the airport hustle comforting, anonymous, and felt a moment of happiness remembering that the number of living people who knew his face and could connect it to what he did numbered less than a dozen.
Unfortunately, one of them had just crossed his path.
Grant didn’t think Torsten Dahl had seen him, but he had to be sure. Dahl was an ex- Swedish Special Forces soldier – an elite warrior. To underestimate such a man would be equivalent to stabbing oneself in the back, and Grant hadn’t survived twenty years of criminal activity living in a cloud of complacency. Nor had he survived two previous run-ins with Dahl by taking the veteran lightly.
Laying the burger on the tray, he slid off of his high stool and melted into the multitudes heading for Duty Free. His quarry was a tall man, broad and sporting a head of blond hair, making him relatively easy to keep track of. The real problem was maintaining his own anonymity. Grant didn’t know much about Dahl’s activities these days – their paths had been divided for over a decade – but he had heard that the Swede was working for the American government, part of some task force. The way the man shopped leisurely in the sundries store now, picking out tubes of toothpaste, deodorant and packets of mints, told Grant that he wasn’t exactly mid-mission. It occurred to Grant then that the Swede, isolated and relaxed, might never be more vulnerable.
Except for the location, of course. It would be madness to move on a target inside a major, international airport.
As Dahl paid for his items, two children ran up to him, clutching at his coat. Girls, both of them, perhaps eight or nine years old. Their excitement was infectious, Dahl bent to hug them both as a woman approached the trio, also blond.
Grant’s suspicion was confirmed: Dahl was departing on some kind of vacation with his family.
Moments ago, he’d postulated that the Swede might never be more vulnerable than while traveling for pleasure. But as he watched him now, as he saw the interaction between Dahl and the two kids and the woman, Grant realized he could be more vulnerable. He
Grant followed the foursome at a distance, taking infinite care to remain unseen. The Swede might be good, but Grant was no freshman. People had been trying to kill him for years, or at least lock him up, which to Grant amounted to pretty much the same thing. He still tasted gun smoke when he thought about his long-ago encounter with Dahl . . . heard the grunts and moans of his dying men . . . and then tasted bitter, personal hate when reminded of his most recent one.
As the family walked ahead of him, Grant took a quick glance at his own boarding pass, seeing that his gate also lay ahead. Wouldn’t that be interesting . . . ? He entertained a vision of unknowingly sharing the same flight with Dahl, seats apart, and never, ever knowing. How many times had that happened to people? Ex-lovers? Even estranged sons and fathers. The people who sat around you on a plane always had full lives of their own, but imagine if you’d actually known them, or shared an anonymous smile across the aisle. It might stay in your memory forever.
Grant’s eyebrows rose as Dahl steered his family into a gate area marked for Barbados. He didn’t have to double-check his boarding pass to know they had booked the same flight.
As Grant walked past the gate area, averting his face, his mind turned to how he might profit from the situation. Profit always came before revenge, though on occasion the two could make powerful bedfellows.
Possibilities pummeled his brain like prize-fighters, each vying for his attention. In the end, only one could win, and it tied in perfectly with his current undertaking. To do it, he needed to make a call and change flights. Grant stopped at a sparsely populated gate and stood before an empty row of leather seats overlooking a stretch of asphalt and two lonesome-looking planes. He entered a speed-dial number in his phone.
“Give the phone to him.”
“Who is this?”
One of Vega’s men, trying to be funny. “Give him the phone, or I will facilitate the removal of your funny bone and see how long you laugh.”
A pause and muffled speech.
“This is Gabrio.”
Gabrio Vega was the head of one of the world’s largest and most violent drug cartels. Not a normal criminal – or human being – by any stretch of the imagination, Vega treated his men like family, conducted the majority of his business dealings through the Web, and employed an online security and search presence the FBI would have been proud of.
Hence Grant’s open sanction to contact the man directly.
“I’m at Dulles right now and have come across something that may be of interest to both of us.”
Vega took a moment to absorb that. “Does it have any bearing on our Barbados operation?”
“No, sir, I don’t think it does.”
“Then leave it alone. Barbados is shaky right now, and we have too much invested in there to let it all go sideways.”
Grant made a quick mental calculation, then decided to press the issue. “If you’ll give me one minute to explain, I think you might . . . enjoy this.”
Another silence. “Enjoy?”
Grant imagined him sat behind a big Lenovo, fingers flying, the drug lord planting his specific poisons all around the Internet.
Before Grant could respond, Vega said, “You got forty seconds. And only because it’s you. Go.”
“Do you remember a man named Torsten Dahl?”
The words had the required effect.
Grant had expected the change in Vega’s tone. The man’s last encounter with Torsten Dahl had left his brother dead and his Amazon operation in tatters. Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, lost. Though it had been a decade ago, it no doubt felt like yesterday to the cartel chief.
“I’m looking at him right now. He’s sitting with everything he holds dear in this world and about to board a plane to Barbados.”
Another drawn-out silence.
“I thought you said it didn’t involve our operation.” Vega said quickly.
“I don’t believe it does. The man’s embarking on what looks to be a family vacation.”
“So you what? Followed him?”
“Only inside the airport. I had no idea he was here. Pure chance we ended up on the same flight.”