Torsten Dahl book 1 - Stand Your Ground (8 page)

“We keep running?”

“You got it.”

The far door led to a narrow corridor piled high with torn open boxes, club, bar and food supplies. The team Dahl normally worked with would pluck a bottle of fine Barbadian rum and take it with them for later celebrations; he missed their presence, but to dwell on their absence would only hurt his family’s chances. Emotion clouded the mind, to be sure, but it also focused it to pinpoint accuracy when those you loved stood in danger’s nightmarish embrace.

A push-bar was affixed to what Dahl imagined was the outer door. Options clamored through his brain, each flawed but competing with the others. A dozen different scenarios could await them out there.

With no option, Dahl pushed gently on the pitted metal bar, cracking open the rear exit door. No alarm sounded, which was a bonus. Sunlight flooded through the gap he created, blinding for a moment. Outside, the rear of the property was bounded by a high fence and a row of leaning trees. A small area, littered with cigarette butts, food wrappers and even condoms. Bits of food rotted among the hedges. He ventured out, silent, bringing Johanna and the kids with him. They didn’t stop there, but continued on, attempting the narrow walkway that passed down the side of the property. Dahl hoped it would offer an alternative way out and, in that, he was lucky. The problem was, the way out wasn’t exactly civilian friendly.

A gap in the fence offered a crawlspace through rotting underbrush and piled-up litter. Dahl took a moment to review options. The only other way, ahead, lead back around to the front of the nightclub and whatever enemies had assembled there. Sooner than later, they’d be upon them.

“This is it, guys,” he said equably. “Our way out of here.”

Johanna eyed the gap. “Are you kidding me? You couldn’t fit a dog through there.”

“You could,” Dahl said. “If he hunched up a bit.”

To prove his point, he dropped to his knees, ignored the gravel-scrapes, and showed the kids what to do. Ideally, Johanna would go first, but his wife continued to struggle to absorb their situation.

“That poor woman,” she said, unable to stop thinking about the holiday rep who’d died trying to help them. “We should go back, Torsten. The other police must be trustworthy. They can’t
all
be taking bribes.”

Dahl sought a way to explain how he knew what they must do. He would take any confrontation if there were the slightest chance of winning. But he’d gained a lifetime’s experience through stints with Special Forces, both in Sweden and the U.S., and as with any job, a person got a feel for a situation; he knew what might work and what would definitely not work.

“I know you’re a capable man,” Johanna said. “I trust you. But this . . . this whole day . . .” Suddenly, she was sobbing. “It . . . it’s inhuman.”

Dahl compartmentalized the statement from the emotion. The statement, after all he’d gone through and terrorist plots he’d helped stop, was mildly amusing to him; the emotion needed stemming at the source. It couldn’t continue if they were to survive.

“I agree,” he said, putting his hands gently on her shoulders and moving closer. “It is. But there’s something much more important than that at the moment. And more important than your feelings.” He pointed down to where Isabella and Julia were gamely trying to fit through the small gap in the fence. “Those two.”

Johanna started all at once, as if only now realizing the kids were no longer by her side. Then, without, changing expressions, she looked away from Dahl and dropped to the dirt. He had temporarily put their marital discord out of mind, but in truth such a friction could never stay far from the surface. The chances of them reconciling if they survived this madness were bordering on nil. Dahl knew danger, death and mortal struggle showed the true character inside a person. Johanna wouldn’t like that he’d seen hers.

Urging his family on, he squeezed through the fence behind them, wincing as the ragged wire dug into his hips and ran down the length of his back. The ground was hard, packed dirt, and strewn with miscellaneous rubbish. The father in Dahl cringed at what his children’s hands might be touching; the soldier wanted them to move along faster. It wasn’t long before a gap appeared in the foliage ahead and Isabella disappeared from view. Julia followed and then Johanna. Dahl climbed out after them and looked around in surprise.

They stood on the sidewalk of a quiet street. Two-story buildings lined up opposite them, once white but now a mixture of rotted brown and other dirty colors, doors and windows standing as ragged as broken teeth. A green and yellow hut stood on a street corner to the left. A woman holding a pink umbrella strolled by, shaded from the afternoon sun. A white mini-van crawled by, and now Dahl saw another danger. People were looking at them, staring. This was the edge of Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, and not all of its neighborhoods could be considered equal.

To put it nicely, Dahl thought.

There were tourist areas and local areas in every city around the world, and the twain rarely met. Emerging into a rough neighborhood might be a positive development, insofar as Grant would not think to look for Dahl here. Still, this was the kind of area where crime thrived, which meant that every person they encountered was a potential spotter for Grant. And whoever Grant was working for.

Dahl led his family into the closest street, figuring it would be good to put a few twists and turns between them and the nightclub, now focusing again on what might be the purpose of such an elaborate, capture-not-kill assault. Grant and he had crossed paths in the Amazon years earlier, but they’d also clashed on another, far deadlier occasion more recently. The Facilitator was so much more than what he sounded, than the image he cultivated. Truth be told, he was one of the worst human beings living in the world today.

Johanna interrupted his thoughts. “Stop!” she cried as they threaded another narrow street, the buildings becoming shabbier the farther north they went. “Just stop. I need to know what the hell’s going on!”

Dahl completely understood but picked his words for the benefit of young ears. “Nick Grant. Old adversary. Clearly, he’s somehow found me.”

“But what did you
do
to him?”

“Um . . . crashed one of his parties in the Amazon. He . . . lost a few men that day, as did some of his friends. That was the easy one, if I’m being honest. We met again—”

“You crashed a party?” Johanna repeated, then lowered her voice. “Drugs?”

“Nick Grant made a name for himself proving he could procure absolutely anything for a client.”

“And you pissed this guy off?”

Dahl nodded, watching the street around them, getting Johanna and the girls moving again. “Twice, yeah.”

“And then he shows up on our family holiday?” Julia raised her hand like a student. “Maybe he lives here?”

Dahl nodded again. “Maybe.” Telling Jo that he thought he’d ID’d the guy back in Dulles airport wasn’t going to help right now. “Now, watch where you’re going, Julia. Turn around.”

“Okay, okay.” The petulant reply was part of the nine-year-old’s make-up right now.

“I don’t like him,” Isabella spoke up. “He’s a criminal.” She drew the last word out as long as possible, making a big deal of it.

“How are you guys doing?” Dahl stopped with them for a moment in the shadow of a metal-roofed, windowless hut. Some kind of food stall, he guessed, currently unmanned. He held both girls at arm’s length, checking their arms and legs and then recalled yet another major problem.

“Shit, we need to get clothing.”

Isabella stared wide eyes as Julia clucked. “Did you just swear, Dad? Did you?”

Their spirits certainly weren’t crushed, he saw. The only good news of the moment, it both elated and chilled him. They weren’t close to being out of this yet. One chance encounter and their world would come crashing down. Again.

What to do
? Dahl used his training, seeing it as the only thing that could keep them going, the one thing that could ultimately save them.
Trust your training. It will see them through.

Johanna didn’t want to let go of her earlier line of questioning. “You still haven’t told us who this man is and, really, why he’s after you alive. I mean, he easily could have . . .” She looked at the girls and stopped herself.

Dahl could explain, but to do so would only corrupt young ears. He tried to think of the short, edited version. “Grant lays down the poison that later spreads and destroys. He’s not good. You don’t notice him, that’s how he works. A ghost without feeling. He believes I am to blame for certain things that happened to him.” He shrugged. “He may have a valid reason to hate me, yes, but only in the eyes of a madman.”

“You did something to him? How bad was it?”

Dahl took three deep breaths but didn’t answer. “Up ahead,” he said. “One more intersection and then we’ll come up with a new plan.”

Johanna appeared somewhat mollified by that idea and took both girls by their hands. Dahl had to tear his mind away from how fragile his family looked, how exposed, and remain alert. He’d already seen men eyeing Johanna and her bikini; it was only a matter of time before they came across individuals who might try to take it further.

What could they do? He saw no shops for clothing, and he had no money. No proper houses in sight. No real businesses. Everything around consisted of what amounted to small, unidentifiable commercial buildings, interspersed with the occasional warehouse. No shortage of poverty. They hadn’t visited the local areas the last time they came as a couple on Honeymoon. Back then it had all been vans driven to a Reggae beat, sparkling waters and vibrant nightlife. He wondered for the first time now if Johanna had been hoping to rekindle something with this particular destination. She had booked the vacation, made all the arrangements.

An unspoken statement: ‘If Barbados can’t save us, nothing can’.

They had to press on.

He crossed the road ahead as the sun began to wane in the sky. After three in the afternoon, he estimated. His mind sifted quickly through the day’s events, dwelled on the deaths of the cops and the holiday rep.

His family paused at the next road, all eyes on him. They’d reached the intersection. Time to decide, time to choose one mortal danger from another: where to go, and what to do?

 

THIRTEEN

 

An enormous money-fueled merry-go-round was turning the cogs that ran Barbados, and Dahl wondered again if this thing went beyond the Facilitator, to another far worse entity.

Deal with what you
could
influence. Deal with the
now.

“We need a phone.” Dahl reasoned as they paused for a breather. “And somewhere safe to hide. A hotel, maybe, but even that could be risky. And a map of the area. What we have to understand is, we’re on our own for some time yet, even after I make a call to people who can help us. Certainly for the rest of the day, maybe all night too. But the key thing is to get hidden and somehow make that contact.”

The girls nodded, wide-eyed, likely not comprehending most of it. Johanna looked around and hugged herself close, perhaps for the first time feeling her exposure and seeing a different side to their plight. Dahl was quite grateful for her realization. Anything to give her a better perspective of what they faced.

“We can do this,” he said, using his own self-confidence to bolster hers. “Believe it.”

“Easy to say,” she murmured.

“I know because I’ve done it,” he said. “Many times, and much worse. Trust the soldier in me.”

“I do,” Johanna said, and it was clear she meant it. It was every other part of him that she had a problem with. His military work only made his other side harder to deal with.

The sound of a helicopter blasted overhead, quickly followed by its predatory shadow. Rotor wash churned down towards the streets and Dahl saw it: a black bird with silver markings, circling overhead.

“Maybe that’s the news channel?” Johanna shielded her eyes, peering up. “Wouldn’t they be useful?”

“Maybe,” Dahl said. “But let’s stay out of sight.”

They flattened their bodies against the nearest wall, a flimsy sheet of corrugated steel, watching as the chopper drifted away. Dahl figured north to northeast would lead them to the center of Bridgetown, but he refused to kid himself into believing he knew anything beyond that. Instinct would find them a haven; know-how told him so.

This street was sparsely populated, as Dahl had hoped. When being hunted, it was hard to know which was better – busy or quiet zones, but Dahl tended to lean toward the latter. He led his family deeper into what had become a virtual shanty town. The condition of the scattered houses persuaded him not to chance asking for a phone, mostly because instead of giving the impression of family abodes, they reminded him of drug dens. As they traipsed through the area, Dahl beginning to notice how pink the kids’ skin was starting to look, a throaty bellow ricocheted from wall to wall behind them.

“Here!”

Dahl cursed aloud and pulled his family into a headlong run. To the rear, a band of youths had filled the width of the street, bright t-shirts and tight jeans their uniform of choice. He saw no weapons, but most brandished cell phones.

Did Grant’s connections reach so far and wide? If he and his family had been wearing anything other than bikinis and swim-shorts, he’d have started hunting for a tracking device, but this was an area where youths roamed free and any chance sighting might lead immediately to the wrong set of ears. Some communities were tight-knit, others stand-offish, but most passed information along at warp speed. Dahl wasted no more time wondering. They’d already traversed a fair warren and he imagined an even more convoluted array lay up ahead. At the next road, he darted right with his family. They plunged across a new road and up a sharply angled street, now in a more densely inhabited area. And higher-rent. Gates and curtained windows and peeling balconies now passed to both sides. Dahl heard the boys’ pursuit grow closer. He switched quickly down a side-street, hoping to encounter the cover of a natural crowd. White walls flashed by. Another juncture and another street, heading northeast again. Johanna was breathing hard at his side, feet slapping on the sidewalk. Scattered locals were a blur as his family passed. Faces turned toward them, some closed and some wide open, many offering up confusion and surprise and perhaps even the hope of a little assistance.

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