Torsten Dahl book 1 - Stand Your Ground (5 page)

More information came from his men as the rest of the day and night progressed. Then Vega got in touch via his lieutenant and his bodyguard. An even dicier element had been added to the mix – Vega was bringing Dario in.

Against Torsten Dahl?
Fucking insane.

“Is this wise?” Grant pressed Vega’s bodyguard in a way he would never have spoken to Vega himself. “The timescale is already amazingly tight. If one thing goes wrong, we could be looking at total disaster.”

“Agreed,” said Vin. “But it is our place and our jobs to make sure everything goes right. Despite Dario. You understand?”

Grant did. “I will help capture the Dahls for your boss. It would be a shame to kill them all, though. The girls – perhaps they could be merely wounded?”

“Why?”

“I could get good money for them. I’d split the take with you.”

Vin grunted. “Tempting . . . We’ll see how it all unfolds. Vega isn’t the world’s worst boss, and he’s coming too.”

Exactly what Grant had feared. “We can work with that, I guess.”

“You’ll have to.”

“The man truly has no idea how difficult it is to organize something like this.”

“Email the complaints department.”

“If only, eh?” Grant tossed away another empty water bottle.
God, this place was hot
. “So just to confirm . . . the men are organized and about to cause a terrorist incident. Would you like one more crack at your boss, try to turn this around? I could just as easily engineer a quiet extraction.”

“Vega wants it in their faces, big, messy and loud. It will help with the . . . other matter.”

Grant didn’t push. The die was already cast. To question any aspect of Vega’s plan now would lead to a cold, ragged hole in the ground. It always fascinated Grant how a powerful man could suggest a job, happily accept the finalized structure and then change the parameters at will, all the while expecting everything to coast along smoothly. The same thing happened the world over, and in every type of job imaginable.

The boss is a dick,
Grant thought.
No matter where you work.

“Right. Well, we’re ready to go here.”

“Then go. We’re already on our way.”

Grant ended the call and remained still for a while longer. Parameters changing was one thing, but this was outright madness. The way Vega insisted on proceeding was dangerous. Volcano-diving dangerous. Everyone involved was likely to get burned.

Grant called the leader of his local men. “Go get them and make it loud. Motörhead loud.”

The merc looked blank. “What’s that? Something about a motorhead?”

Grant shook his head at the intrusion of youth versus age. “Never mind. Just don’t forget this is about Dahl and his family. No one else.”

“What if people get in the way?” a hard-edged voice asked.

“If they get in the way, blow their bloody heads off. This is war. I’ve paid off enough of the local rozzers to fill a tour bus, so you’ll have help.”

“Detectives too?” the mercenary asked.

“Every level. Every category. Now go get ‘em, my son.”

“Out.”

Grant clicked off with a sigh, thinking about the next step, and the ones after that.

Tomorrow was going to be a long and challenging day.

 

EIGHT

 

Torsten Dahl soaked it all up – the sun’s high, revitalizing diffusion, the easy chatter and laughter, the neighboring kids whooping it up in the pool. Johanna remained aloof, but not in a mean way. Dahl could tell she was hopeful, anticipative even, but she wasn’t about to make the next move. The ball was entirely on his side of the net, clasped in hand, ready to be served. An opening ace would be good.

He shifted, slightly uncomfortable in nothing but swim shorts. Real life usually found him wearing an entire plethora of outerware: under-vests, jackets and bullet-proof vests, ammo belts and utility straps, thick trousers and boots, helmets and night-vision goggles. In the pool, he felt more than a little underdressed. And his war-wound scars attracted attention, not all of it good.

Johanna asked if he wanted a drink and then swam to the poolside bar to order two South Seas cocktails. Made up of crushed ice and a splash of flavoring, they contained very little alcohol, which suited Dahl fine. His wife made her way back and he watched her closely, enjoying the sight of her body clad in a turquoise two-piece, and then feeling angry when she smiled at a hovering waiter, the man-boy’s eyes roving a bit too greedily over the light-skinned blonde.

Johanna handed him a drink. “Jealous?” Her smile beamed like a second sun.

“Insanely.” He sipped, wishing he could kiss her on the lips. Attraction had never been a problem for them. Relating to one another was a different thing.

“See the kids?”

Dahl nodded. Isabella swam slowly, practicing her frog-kicks, while Julia dipped her head below the water and tried to keep her eyes open. Everyday moments like this were rare for Dahl and he knew he wanted more of them.

He stepped out of the pool with Johanna, moving to their shaded sun-loungers to finish their drinks.

“Would you like to talk more now?”

“Is there anything more to talk about?” Johanna studied the far reaches of the grounds, toward the trees that lined the beach. There, tourists lounged and played and read Kindles under parasols that glowed in a riot of color.

“Surely we have enough here to try and make it work. Do you really want to start all over again?”

For the first time Dahl saw a tiredness steal into his wife’s eyes. “God, no.”

It was a puny foundation to build on, but it was more substance than he had a minute ago.

Isabella came up then and demanded that Mommy – an Americanism she’d picked up during her time in DC – join her back in the pool. Johanna glanced at Dahl for his acceptance; he nodded, pointed at his cocktail, and said he’d be along in a minute. What he actually needed was a coffee with cream, and he’d just spied a nice place where he might be able to find one. Standing up, he eased out a few kinks and then set off. A rooftop café sat atop one of the hotel’s lower roofs and looked like a good vantage point. Dahl waved at his family and then set out, flip-flops slapping against the concrete. He moved aside for a fast-moving waiter holding a silver tray bristling with multi-colored drinks above his head on an upturned palm, watched a holiday rep breeze by and held a door for an older woman toting a thick cane. Inside, the hotel was hushed, its surfaces shiny or see-through, its corridors traipsed by tourists ranging from the downright bored to the ecstatically eager.

He took the elevator up to the rooftop and emerged into the light.

The café was small, a timber-roofed hut constructed over a round bar, but its extremities offered fine views around the entire resort. Dahl noticed that they offered light bites, and thought it would be a good place to bring the kids. He got a coffee at the bar and headed over to the nearest rail. The pool lay below, Jo and the kids splashing each other, and beyond them and the pool a patch of verdant grass, a row of palm trees and a wide sandy beach. Tranquil blue waters rolled further out, the waves seeming to crest in slow-motion. Dahl prowled the café’s perimeter, examining the property’s left and right boundaries, which were protected by high wire and overgrown trees through which the next hotel could be seen. To the east, the balcony looked across the entrance, the wide, sweeping driveway and outer lobby always a bustle of activity. Dahl found a seat and took the weight off, settling back until the plastic chair complained. He smelled the good, strong coffee and took a sip, relishing the flavor. His eyelids slipped closed beneath the dark sunglasses as a sense of relaxation tiptoed all around him. When he opened his eyes, he was still looking at the hotel entrance, but something had changed. Four police cars had turned up.

Dahl put the cup down and leaned forward.
Four?
That was a significant number. A sense of fatherly fear twisted down and around his spine. He rose to his feet without taking his eyes off of the emerging policeman. One of them looked to the rooftop café, catching the eyes of the people who watched from up there, and then looked away. The cop’s face seemed strangely expressionless. Grim, even. Dahl quickly scanned the rest of the hotel compound and found nothing obviously amiss. Reception lay beneath a concrete dome below him, but an outer door led to the pool and beach areas. He studied that now, moving casually to the steps that led down. A youth walked out, bright red headphones on, seemingly unconcerned. A mother struggled out with an oversized stroller, then walked away, harassed but happy enough.

Perhaps . . .

Perhaps what? The cops’ arrival could be anything from a security check to a nasty domestic to a chance drowning. It could be—

The rear lobby door opened again. This time Dahl saw a long line of tough-looking, stern-faced men walk out, their waist-length coats and jeans harshly out of place here, each individual’s body language speaking of purpose rather than repose. Three other men near the lobby door turned dubious looks upon each other.

Dahl saw the tell-tale bulges under the coats, the glint of metal impossible to hide under the midday sun. Were the cops looking for them, or were they cops themselves? Dahl didn’t wait to find out. He ran down the short flight of steps, three at a time, kicking the flip-flops off and hitting the ground barefoot. Running hard, he skirted the sun-loungers and parasols, shouting at people to get the hell out of there. The risk was too great not to warn everyone he could.

Poolside was a mess: men, women, boys and girls wading through the shallows as they tried to decide what all the commotion was about. Dahl didn’t stand on ceremony, plunging through them and shouting at the top of his voice, warning of men with guns. He’d seen at least eight.

He looked for his family and failed to find them.

“Jo!” he cried. “Iz! Where—”

The crowd parted in front of Dahl, and his family appeared dead ahead, regarding him with frightened eyes and probably wondering if he’d finally gone mad.

“Men with guns!” he shouted. “Here. Now.”

The chaos around him multiplied as the crowd took heed of his warning. Legs and arms pumped and water sprayed in all directions. Dahl scooped up Isabella and Julia and yelled for Johanna to follow. He waded hard through the deeper water and then faster into the opposite shallows, leaping off the small ledge that bounded the pool onto wet concrete. Screams battered the air, a shrill expression of absolute fear. Keeping himself between the men and his children, Dahl chanced a fast glance back.

Mayhem. Figures raced and collided and fell and leapt to every side of the pool, dripping water and seeking safety. Many followed Dahl, seeking the shelter of the extensive grounds, beach and sea that lay ahead.

For long, fearful, endless moments, high notes of terror competed with the pounding of dashing feet and barging bodies.

Then it all changed. Deep, heavy gunfire rang out, and the real terror began.

 

NINE

 

It was one thing to run for your life when you thought someone might be about to commit a reprehensible act; it was quite another to flee the sounds of approaching gunfire. Dahl’s first act was to bring Johanna ahead of him and scoop up his daughters in his arms so they could move faster. What more could he do? Here they were in bikinis and swim-shorts, no communication devices and no money. No identification. Naggings of utter fear picked at his brain – those memories of Grant – but he quashed them, instead pounding along a gently curving walkway amid waist-height hedges, keeping low and moving as quickly he could while carrying the children. As they ran around the pool area, a man barged into his left-hand side and bounced off, falling to his knees. A woman sprinted past to the other side, almost lost her footing but then leapt clear an instant before she would have gone sprawling. Behind, chaos clattered with panicked cries and the chatter of more gunfire.

“We’ll be okay,” he whispered to the girls. “Don’t worry.”

Beyond the pool, he could feel the children trembling against his arms. This, more than anything, sent bolts of guilt and agony running from his brain to his heart. His girls were eight and nine. They should remain innocent of what could and might happen, of debilitating, terrorizing fear, for at least a few more years. He clung to them tightly though his arm muscles already burned. But his arms would have to fall off before he let go of his children.

A smattering of chaise lounges and accompanying parasols around the pool afforded the running crowd a false barrier. Bullets sped among them, blasting chips from wooden slats and destroying umbrella stands. Dahl swerved aside, now taking a longer route as he anticipated that the gunmen were closing. A plan formed. Open, half-drunk bottles shattered atop tables as bullets struck them. Rucksacks fell to the floor, adding to the obstacles. Towels flapped incongruously under fire. So far, nobody had veered with Dahl, and he found himself running alongside Jo in a strange solitary world for a few moments, hidden by greenery but protected by nothing. The hotel’s walls loomed over the top of the hedge, bright under the midday sun, but even those were pockmarked, marred by the attackers’ bullets. Out into the open again, and the beach vista now spread out before him, a serene invitation contradicting what came from behind.

“What do we do?” Johanna’s words reached his ears, her voice ragged but desperately trying to stay calm for the kids.

“That way. Just a little farther and we’ll have some space.”

Dahl steered them in the direction of a broad freestanding cocktail bar, remembering how extensive the hotel grounds were. The bar’s brick-tiered walls would help shield their getaway. The two adults ducked within as more gunfire rang out. Other people ran among them. A wall of branded bottles and polished glasses began to pound in time to a hail of bullets. Glass exploded into the air, showering the area with fragments. Luckily, Dahl and Johanna were beyond its range and kept sprinting, though the fury of the assault slowed Johanna, and thus Dahl too.

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