Torsten Dahl book 1 - Stand Your Ground (7 page)

“Nowhere to run, Dahl!” A voice rang out. “Might as well stop there.”

Dahl ignored it, still pushing.

“We’ll get you sooner or later. The city is ours.”

Dahl ignored Grant’s call, concentrating on his family. Johanna perched over the wheel as if searching for a portal to another world. At a word from Dahl, she turned the key, bringing the small engine to life.

“Now get us going.”

Johanna’s shoulders slumped, the sobs echoing like admissions of defeat.

Dahl raised his voice. “Jo! Get us going!”

“I can’t,” she whispered, shuddering. “I just can’t.”

He cursed silently, understanding that his wife was suffering the mid stages of shock, the trauma of panic and fear immobilizing her. He pulled himself over the stern, leaped over the seats and nudged her gently aside. One twist and the engine roared to life. A tweak of the throttle and the craft surged ahead, surfing the rolling waves. For the first time, Dahl had at least a partial way out. The next decision would be pivotal.

“Can you pilot the boat?” Dahl asked Jo.

One look at her red, tear-streaked face told him the truth much more clearly than the mumble that escaped her lips. Here they were, alone in their swimsuits, pursued by assassins on an unfamiliar island, not knowing whom they could trust. The outlook was bleak. Understandable that his civilian wife could not function.

He kept the boat close to shore, taking a quick glance back to shore at the crew chasing them. Grant was clearly visible, the leader of the pack. Dressed impeccably as always, he stood out now, uncharacteristically, as the odd man. The rest wore camo pants and t-shirts covered by black military-style jackets. Dahl had seen them a thousand times, but didn’t think these were lined with the bulletproof plates that were available. Some mercs would rather be comfortable than remain breathing, it seemed, but that was nothing new. Dahl’s eyes roved over the weapons: an assortment of AK’s, HK’s and even less accurate hardware. Everything he saw told him that Grant – the best of the best – had been forced to assemble a team from whatever was available. He’d been hasty. He’d had to make do. An improvisational hunt, started at Dulles, no doubt. That worked in Dahl’s favor. And made him suspect that Grant wasn’t alone in this after all. Added to the many questions now haunting him was,
Who
had helped Grant amass this team. The men’s professionalism did not, frankly, rise to Grant’s usual standards. If Grant had organized this hunt alone, he would have come prepared, backed to the max by men who knew their job.

Grant and another, equally or more powerful individual. Both after Dahl and his family. Their hunt spurred quickly by a chance sighting at Dulles. Still . . . to have this many men at the ready, on Barbados, of all places? The puzzle would make little sense, Dahl knew, until he had all the pieces.

Dahl looked ahead, telling Johanna and the children to stay low. The beach narrowed past another property and then swept further inland. His mental map of the island was incomplete but did contain parts of the local landscape. The ocean around them was by no means empty; small sailboats with masts drifted to and fro with no signs of life aboard. Red- and blue-topped umbrellas lined the beach to the right and Dahl saw an exit off the beach, a makeshift path that led into a busy area of town, somewhere near the Harbour Lights Night Club. This was Bayshore or Pebbles Beach, then, a tourist hotspot and a great place to get well and truly lost.

Dahl considered the choices. Yes, they could power out to sea, become a speck on the horizon, but Grant would already be anticipating that. Heading further out would only make them more vulnerable if Grant commanded any significant resources whatsoever.

Dahl opened the throttle and aimed the nose of the craft at the beach. They stood a far better chance ashore, and Grant’s men now lay far behind.

“Get ready,” he said. “We’re heading inland.”

Johanna turned those red eyes upon him. “Can’t we talk to someone? Where are the authorities, for God’s sake?”

Dahl understood that complaining helped decent people make more sense of their situation. “We’ll find somebody who can help. But first we have to reach town.”

The speedboat sped among the shallows now, then struck the beach hard, bouncing slightly as it skimmed the sand. Isabella and Julia jerked forward but Dahl was already there, protecting their heads. As the boat shuddered to a stop, he pulled them out. “This time,” he said, “you run
with
me.”

Johanna climbed out, lost her footing and then rose again. The fight was not inside her, not today. She was so far out of her element that she might have lost all sense of self; she was running past empty.

“That way.”

He moved between the umbrellas, slogging up the sandy beach. Sunshine beat down upon his shoulders. Emptiness surrounded them for the most part, but there were a few other stragglers and shapes moving within a stand of palm trees and greenery to the right. Dahl couldn’t physically help the bystanders, and some soldiers — many of them – would remain mute to conceal their own location, but Dahl couldn’t bring himself to do it. He shouted that they should get the hell away from the area. Return to their hotels, even.

No answers were forthcoming. The danger hadn’t reached them, yet.

As the sand evened out and they approached the path, Dahl’s thoughts turned to the authorities Johanna had mentioned. Grant might well have paid a certain number of them off. He had the money—that was sure. The question was whether he’d had sufficient time – or whether Grant or a partner already had a foothold in Barbados. Dahl couldn’t think of a reason why they would, but, regardless, he couldn’t fully trust anyone – even an innocent cop might lead them inadvertently to a conspirator.

They ran down a tree-lined avenue, coming out alongside a brick wall topped by black railings. The small car park was full, but not with vehicles. People stood outside, some apparently oblivious of what had transpired not too far away, others clearly aware and looking around nervously. The approach of sirens had triggered their awareness. Perhaps gunfire as well. The worried crowd’s presence only added to Dahl’s uncertainty.

“There,” Johanna panted. “A cop.”

Dahl grimaced, realizing that it was dangerous for them to be traveling as a family. They’d stand out like thorns on a rosebush. But separating would be madness. Try as he might, he couldn’t think of a single fact that lay in their favor.

“Cops could be paid off,” he said. “We need to lie low and find a way out.”

Johanna regarded him in shock. “What do you mean –
paid off?
Are you—”

Dahl cut in. “In real life, people can be corrupted. Police forces are no different.”

Her face still registered disbelief, but they didn’t have the time. Dahl would have loved to explain it all, lay out every possibility and potential misstep, but Grant was coming and the only cop he could see had just set eyes on them.

Shit.

Dahl ushered his family along before the police officer picked them out amid the crowd. The gathering now consisted of many who had escaped the hotel and somehow saw this solid vestige of normality as a refuge. True, more cops were arriving, but Dahl saw little reason to linger here. It was now well past midday, approaching mid-afternoon; Harbour Lights was a nightclub and unlikely to be open yet. Dahl kept Isabella and Julia close and pulled Johanna along behind. His wife was silent, unhelpful, but Dahl put any anger he might feel aside – she wasn’t trained as he was, couldn’t react like he could, and he understood that.

Nearing the club, he saw that he’d been wrong. Its doors were ajar, people slipping in and out. Maybe they’d opened in response to police pressure . . . or actually never shut. Dahl didn’t know, but at that moment he saw a figure that ignited a spark of hope.

She could help
.

Still conscious of all the roving eyes, Dahl pushed a little harder, parting the throng and making a bee-line for the figure. Their eyes met and the woman smiled. She was a brunette with every single strand of hair scraped back into a huge bob that gave her the appearance of having a garden ornament affixed to her head. With her well-pressed, red jacket, gold badge and thick clipboard, she certainly looked the part.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Dahl approached the holiday rep with immense misgivings, but at the same time understood they weren’t in a position to keep on running. It was time to bury the soldier’s instinct, think of his family and ask for help. “I believe we’re being targeted,” he said. “By the gunmen at the Barbados Palm. You’ve heard, yes?”

The woman’s expression indicated that she had.

Dahl indicated his wife and daughters. “Can you help?”

He hadn’t chosen the woman at random. A good holiday rep would have intimate knowledge of the island, good contacts with police and authorities, and most importantly, a first-rate rapport with the locals. Dahl needed his family to disappear until he could call DC for backup. Of course, the call wouldn’t take long, but the backup would.

The holiday rep took an unconscious step back. “You think they’re targeting
you
? Please don’t worry, sir. The authorities have this in hand. The police are here and—”

“You don’t understand.” Dahl dipped his head, drawing her face down with him. Unconsciously he reached for his own ID before remembering he’d left it back at the hotel. “Look, I realize this sounds insane but you have to help me. My family,” he indicated the children and Johanna, “are being hunted.”

The woman’s face withdrew once more, glancing to either side. Dahl knew exactly what she was thinking. He’d seen it a thousand times. The distraught tourist. The panic-stricken dad. Suddenly, everything was about them and the safety of their kids; they only imagined the worst happening and all they wanted was to get away from this place, to get home and hold their family close.

“Wait,” he said softly. “I don’t have my ID, obviously, but I’m a special agent from Washington, DC.” He was finessing the truth a little but staying within the boundaries of fact. “We’re here on vacation, but these men . . . these gunmen, they’ve come after me personally.”

The woman stood stock-still, but her eyes locked with his. Dahl had been trained to decipher body language, and he could tell that she wanted to believe. He hugged Isabella and Julia to his side to speed things up. The tears on their cheeks brought compassion to the woman’s face.

“Follow me.”

Dahl did as she asked, unused to following. The holiday rep led them into the club’s dim interior, awash with shadows and nicely air-conditioned, and then stopped near the center of the large room. Dahl saw only a few people milling around, a barman polishing glasses and one or two drunks nursing their amber nectar.

“You shied away from that policeman,” the woman said quite bluntly. “Why?”

Dahl knew the only reason she’d entertained his story was because of the otherwise inexplicable presence of his family. “The person we’re dealing with . . . he has money and connections, even with the authorities. I can’t risk . . .” He fell silent, emotion choking off the next few words.

“You’re saying the police are looking for you too?” Now the rep looked a little scared, positioning her clipboard across her chest.

“Not all,” Dahl said simply. “Only the ones who take bribes.”

Johanna spoke up for the first time. “Can we go to a booth or something? This is crazy, standing out in the open.”

Dahl tended to agree, but also knew the holiday rep wasn’t about to join them in a shadowy corner. “Believe us or not,” he said bluntly, “but we need your help, and we have to move. The gunmen won’t be far behind.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing that will put you in any danger. But we need a phone, and a place to hide.”

“A phone is no problem. I can—”

And then her eyes widened and Dahl saw the approach of utter devastation.

 

TWELVE

 

Dahl spun on a dime. The man entering the club’s front doors was the cop Dahl seen earlier, his gun now raised.

“Wait—”

The shots rang out clear and terrifyingly loud in the enclosed space, echoing like claps of thunder. The holiday rep jerked backwards, blood fountaining from her chest. Johanna screamed, tugging the kids away. Dahl ran hard at the shooter, not caring for the moment whether the assailants required him alive. The cop wheeled the pistol toward him, but too late. Dahl took hold of the gun arm and shoved it up into the air. Another bullet discharged, into the ceiling. Momentarily deafened, Dahl yanked hard on the gun hand while chopping at the man’s elbow, dislocating it. The cop’s mouth opened in a silent cry. Dahl struck the cop in the temple with his own gun barrel. Then again. The first two strikes didn’t put him out, only made him scream aloud. Dahl could have choked him into unconsciousness, but that would take too long. A third clout with the pistol butt sent the crooked cop down in a heap.

Johanna looked from Dahl to the fallen holiday rep, then back again. Fear glazed her eyes like ice on a window. “She . . .”

“I know,” Dahl said, relieved that his hearing was returning. “The truth is, our fate’ll be worse if we’re caught.”

His words, pitched low, might or might not have reached the kids’ ears, but they were out of time. The cop was trying to rise from the floor; maybe had another weapon. Dahl noticed Jo’s nervous glance at the gun in his hand. He caught hold of her hand and pulled them along, dashing across the nightclub floor in the direction of a pair of swing-doors at the rear. Confusion and lack of information was still on their side.

The doors led to a small kitchen and store room.

“Slow down, Torsten. We all need a rest.”

Dahl choked down a curse. “Normally I’m ruled by logic and training.” He pulled them toward a far door, then paused. Transferring the gun to his left hand, he bent down and picked up Julia. “But today it is all emotion.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Emotion.” Dahl took a moment to breathe, then passed the gun across to his other hand while picking up Isabella. “It means of the half dozen or so people I trust in the world, only one of them is here, today, in this room.”

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