A Romantic Thriller
“A world of palpable danger and political intrigue. Right from the very start the intensity seeps off the pages.” — Night Owl Romance
EXCERPT FROM DEAD DOUBLE
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2012
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Tensta, Stockholm, Sweden.
There were already too many people hovering, hoping to siphon off some vicarious excitement, so Bergström barely paid attention when he was told another observer would be joining them, even though he would live to regret the decision in less than twenty minutes.
He curled his lip and pulled his gaze away from the bank of monitors to glance at the Säpo officer who had bought the news. “Again, the name?”
“Logan Wilde, with the Seurat.” The Säpo officer, Lund, waved his hand as if Bergström should know the name.
Bergström sighed. “See those?” He pointed at the monitors with their grainy images of emergency, military and police vehicles, all with their lights revolving, along with more than a dozen unmarked sedans. Scattered among them, nearly forty people focused upon one particular apartment nested in the hundreds of faded concrete blocks that made up Tensta.
Despite the sub-zero temperatures and a miserable freezing rain that wouldn’t stop, the tension in each observer reached through the monitors and grabbed one’s throat and twisted.
“I see it,” Lund said, his tone sober.
But Bergström rammed the point home anyway. “Inside that apartment, a nasty little Syrian fundamentalist is holding nine people hostage with thirty pounds of explosive. That’s enough to take out this whole block. I don’t give a damn who wants to come and observe. I have higher priorities. Is that clear, Lund?”
“And who is the nasty little Syrian?” came a third voice, from the door of the van.
Bergström jerked his head up as Lund whirled. Standing on the top step just beneath the sill of the door was a tall man in a full-length leather jacket that shed rain in fat droplets. His dark hair cast a shadow over his eyes from the sodium arc streetlight the van was parked beneath. “It has been nearly ten years since I had to use Swedish but I think I understood most of it,” the man continued, in a strong American accent. “And I have to correct a misunderstanding.”
Bergström took a breath. “You’re the observer.”
“That’s the misunderstanding.” The man shook off the water from his coat and stepped up into the van. “I’m not here to observe.”
“You are an American. You cannot be here for anything else.”
The man took another step into the van. Now the light from the monitors reached his face, revealing eyes so blue they were startling. Beneath the right eye, a pale white scar ran out toward his cheekbone. Bergström catalogued it instantly. It was an old knife wound.
“I’m here to advise,” the man said.
Bergström felt his heart creak. He looked at Lund. “What was that name?”
“Logan Wilde,” the man said, thrusting out his hand, while Lund licked his lips, looking nervous.
Bergström frowned, reaching for facts that fit the name. A chill swept through him as his memory kicked in. “When my grandmother does the polka!”
“He’s with the Seurat,” Lund said. “You know, that antiterrorist group that shows up all over Europe.”
“I know the Seurat,” Bergström growled. “And I know you, Wilde.”
“He’s brilliant,” Lund pressed. “He could get us out of this. He never loses his cool.”
Even though they were still speaking in Swedish, Wilde didn’t seem to be having problems following their conversation, but Bergström saw his gaze flicker over the monitors. He’d positioned himself so that a fifteen degree turn of his head would let him see out of the door of the van too.
“Brilliant, my eye,” Bergström shot back. He didn’t care that they were talking about Wilde in the third person right in front of the man. “Cool? Emotionless is what they really mean. He doesn’t give a damn about people. I don’t want him anywhere near these hostages. I don’t suppose they mentioned to you he got his wife killed a couple of years ago?”
“Who’s the nasty little terrorist?” Wilde interrupted, leaning toward the monitors.
“Didn’t they brief you?” Bergström snapped. “Or do I have to do that too?”
“Basit Nejeem,” Lund offered.
“Nejeem, huh? He’s not nasty,” Wilde said in English, “He’s gutless.” He straightened up. “I wasn’t briefed because six hours ago, I was in Paris. I was pulled out of a UN Security Council session and dumped on a military Lockheed and it wasn’t until I saw the waters of Stockholm that I knew where I was.” He looked at Bergström. “That doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m dealing with.”
“And that would be?”
“A failed terrorist backed into a corner. Nejeem has been hiding out in Sweden for the last four years because no one wanted him back. Now he’s desperate and alone. A desperate man….” This time, Wilde looked at Lund. “Tell me about his demands. What form did the communication take?”
“A-a mobile phone. A combination of voice and text messages and two transmitted pictures.” Lund tapped the shoulder of the operative next to him. “Foton, behaga.”
The grainy photo appeared on one of the screens. Wilde leaned in to study it.
“He has seven other hostages beside those two,” Bergström pointed out. “Annan en,” he told the technician and waited until the second photo was displayed. “He’s barricaded himself inside a room with two backpacks filled with some sort of RDX, probably C4, rigged with a laser beam across the only entrance into the room. Break the laser and you set off the ninety second timer. With that much C4, he’ll bring down the apartment block. After all, this is Tensta.”
Wilde just stared at him.
Lund cleared his throat. “Tensta was part of the Million Program in the Sixties. They threw together a million apartments across Sweden, almost overnight.”
“Most of the buildings in this area haven’t been maintained since they were constructed,” Bergström told Wilde. “Who knows, with that much explosive, he could bring down the whole damn neighbourhood. That makes him a bit more than ‘gutless’.”
Wilde bent his head to one side, studying the photo with the clear red beam cutting across the shadowed doorway. A heavy fringe of hair dropped across his forehead and he pushed it back, straightening up. “From your perspective, it might look that way.” He shrugged off his leather coat. Beneath, he wore a silk business suit of superior cut. The dull sheen bespoke quality even in the low light in the van.
“Do you have a gun I can use?” Wilde said, as he stripped off the jacket and tossed it into the far corner of the van. His shirt was crumpled from long wear.
Bergström took a moment to process what Wilde said. “Why do you need a gun?”
Wilde slid his arms back into the leather coat. “The last I heard, your national service pistol was the nine millimetre Parabellum. With all the officials here, there’s got to be at least one Luger within spitting distance.”
Lund reached under his jacket and pulled out his pistol. “Here. It’s serviced and loaded.”
Bergström hissed between his teeth. “Again, I must ask what you intend to do with that gun.”
“Standard load?” Wilde asked Lund, taking the gun.
“Hollow point.” Lund glanced at Bergström, blushed and looked away.
Wilde weighed it in his hand, checked the load, snapped the cartridge back, checked the safety and looked Lund in the eye. “Tack.”
Bergström felt a hot dread pooling in his stomach. “Wilde, I insist—”
The man looked at him and the remarkable eyes seemed to sear straight through him. “You’re out of time, Bergström. He’s been in there how long? Fifteen hours? Twenty?”
“He’s a cornered weasel who is used to running away. He might not have a name that crops up on the global most wanted lists but Nejeem was trained by the best. He knows the longer he waits to act, the more strategy and power we’ll have built up out here. You’re at a cusp, right now and he knows that too.”
Bergström tried to control the little shudder that ran through him. Wilde was so convincing. “You must understand my concern,” he responded. “You get hostages killed.”
Wilde pocketed the gun. “I’m just going to talk to him.” He ducked around Lund, heading for the door of the van.
Bergström stepped after him. “Nejeem was very clear that he would speak to no one. It’s a standard terrorist tactic—dictate the terms of the negotiation. Gud, I thought you were an expert!?”
Wilde glanced up at him from the bottom step, his eyes in shadows again. The thick shock of hair sent jagged shadows across his face. “He’ll talk to me.” He strode away.
Bergström thumped the heel of his hand against the doorway and whirled back to the monitors. “Get a camera tracking him,” he snapped.
Lund looked out the door. “Where is he going?” He sounded dazed.
“Where do you think?” Bergström hissed. “What a cock-up. Whose brilliant idea was it to send Wilde?”
“Got him,” the technician murmured, tapping one of the monitors.
The black-and-white image of Wilde’s long leather coat, slick with rain, showed as he weaved between cars, passed security personnel from a dozen different local, national and international agencies. All of them watched Wilde stride by with expressions that ranged from mild surprise to stunned amazement. Wilde stopped to speak to no one. His gaze stayed on the building doorway, dead ahead.
“Tell me they’ve got the snake camera in place in there,” Bergström begged to everyone in the van.
Lund cleared his throat. “In place but no images yet. He’s not going in, is he?”
“He’s going in. With your gun.”
“But the bomb guarding the door!”
Bergström felt his lips peel back from his teeth in a smile that was more of grimace. “You said he was brilliant. Let’s hope you’re right.”
“He’s in the apartment block,” the technician murmured, tapping another monitor. The view showed Wilde striding down a long passage, his back still to the camera. He had the Luger out, now, his forefinger resting against the barrel.
Lund cleared his throat again. “Third door on the left,” he murmured. “He’s-he’s not slowing down.”
Wilde reached the door, rested both hands flat against the opposite wall, the three smaller right hand fingers still curled over the grip of the gun. Braced, he lifted his knee and rammed his boot against the old-fashioned keyhole.
The ancient lock snapped, the door shuddered and slowly opened, still vibrating with the impact.
“Look,” Lund whispered, pointing to another monitor that was flickering with new images from inside the apartment.
Bergström looked, in time to see Wilde pace into the apartment, the Luger up, the butt cradled in his left palm.
“Oh lord, the C4! He’s set off the timer!” Lund moaned. “We have to get out of here!”
“In ninety seconds?” Bergström didn’t shift his gaze from the monitor. “We’re all dead, if we run or not.” He gripped the technician’s shoulder. “Please tell me there’s sound to go with that snake camera.”
The technician flicked some switches and an overhead speaker blasted into life, flooding the van with the sound of a woman screaming hysterically.
There were other muffled screams but the woman was the only hostage without tape over her mouth. Nejeem had a pistol to her temple as Wilde came toward him. Nejeem’s black eyes were wide and hard. “She dies if you come any closer!” His Swedish was good, with only a hint of accent.
“Why not?” Wilde agreed magnanimously. He swivelled his aim, lined up on the woman’s forehead and fired a single shot.
Abruptly, the screaming stopped. The wound flowered black on the pale skin, then red. The woman slumped to the floor.
“Mother of God.” The tightness in Bergström’s stomach turned to a hot, watery nausea.
“Seventy-five seconds,” Lund whispered.
“Allah curse you!” Nejeem screamed in Arabic and brought his pistol up to point at Wilde. But Wilde’s muzzle was already centered on his face.
“Give me the gun, Nejeem.” Wilde spoke flawless Arabic.
Nejeem licked his lips. “You shot her! Why?”
“What are they saying?” Lund muttered. “Is that Arabic?”
“Sixty seconds,” Lund added.
“Why did you shoot her?” Nejeem demanded. “She was a hostage!”
Wilde gave a tiny shrug. “I like my women blonde and tall. And silent.”
Nejeem glanced at the door. “You set off the bomb, you kill the hostage. Who do you think you are?” He seemed offended by this aberration of common practice.
“Forty-five seconds!” Lund inserted.
“I know who I am,” Wilde said. “I know who are you too, Nejeem. You’re the son of a whore who organized the suicide bomb in that Bali explosion two years ago.”
Nejeem licked his lips again. Sweat began to ooze from his temples. “You think if I think you are a crazy desperado it would make me put down my gun for you, American?”
“I don’t give a damn what you think, Nejeem. I’m here for your carcass, not your soul. Put down the gun. You have sixty seconds.”
Nejeem jerked his head toward the two backpacks sitting on either side of the doorway where dust still floated from Wilde’s whirlwind entrance. “And you and every other Yankee-sucker out there have about thirty seconds. And I will be at the Day of Judgment, while you rot in the ground, American.”
“Twenty-five seconds.” Lund’s voice was hoarse.
“My name is Logan Wilde.”
Nejeem visibly started. “Wilde?”
“Fifteen seconds,” Lund whispered.
“Give me the gun,” Wilde insisted. “You have nowhere to go, Nejeem, not even your Day of Judgment. Not tonight.”
“Wilde,” Nejeem whispered. The point of his gun wavered.
“Don’t do it!” Wilde said, suddenly alarmed.
“Allah be merciful,” Nejeem whispered, reaching for his chest.
Wilde pumped two rounds into the man, one in the forehead, the other directly into the heart, the shot grazing the man’s forearm. The soft-nosed bullets spread upon impact, killing Nejeem instantly and sending him staggering backward before his brain registered its own death and shut down.
“Christ save us.” Bergström watched in horror as the terrorist’s body crumpled to the ground at Wilde’s feet.
“Three…two…one!” Lund finished.
Bergström held his breath.
Silence, broken only by the steady hiss of rain.
No explosion. No noise.
Bergström and Lund looked at each other, then at the monitor that showed the interior of the apartment. Wilde hadn’t moved.
As one, they both left the van and joined the mass of uniforms and officials trying to surge into the building. The narrow entrance limited access. With much pummelling and shoving, Bergström pushed ahead. While everyone else was merely curious, he had fury driving him.
By the time he reached the apartment itself, the narrow passage had thinned access to a few people at a time. Someone had shown enough foresight to push the emergency medical crews in ahead of them and they were attending to the remaining hostages.
Bergström looked at the woman sprawled on the floor, the red mark of death on her forehead. Her hands were trapped beneath her, indicating that her wrists were tied or cuffed. His fury spilled over and he rounded on Wilde. “An innocent woman! A hostage!”
Wilde barely glanced at him. Instead, he lifted up the Luger and held it out grip first toward Lund, who had managed to push his way through behind Bergström. Lund’s hand remained by his side. His face was touched with disgust.
The medical crew moved between them, to attend to the woman now that the living hostages had been released and removed to a first aid post outside. They rolled her over on her side to get at the handcuffs.
And a black, ugly grenade rolled out from beneath her, freed from her senseless fingers.
Everyone in the room had experience with the weapons of war and almost everyone cringed backward. Except Wilde.
“It’s not primed yet.” He was speaking to the whole room.
Lund straightened up, staring at the grenade. “It’s a fragmentation grenade.” He looked at Wilde. “You knew.”
“Yes.” Wilde again offered the gun.
This time Lund took it, his gaze barely shifting from Wilde’s face.
“There’s two professional hiker’s packs at the door. They’re the big ones with the four foot frames but Nejeem looked like the only terrorist in the room. How did he bring both of them into the room? You said he was caught by surprise, so someone else must have been carrying one of them when the alarm first went up.”
“He had a partner,” Bergström concluded, looking down at the dead woman.
“She was the only one not gagged and Nejeem was keeping her near him.”
“She was screaming,” Lund said.
“Because hysterical screaming scrapes on your nerves, makes you jumpy and inclined to make quick, ill-considered decisions.” Wilde smiled grimly. “They were cornered but they weren’t stupid.”
“And the bomb wired to the door?” Bergström asked heavily.
Wilde held his hands out, as if the answer were obvious. “If you’d read your Interpol releases, you’d know that Nejeem doesn’t make bombs. He couldn’t jury-rig an egg timer. I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that the beam is still cutting across the doorway?”
Bergström and Lund both turned to see the thin red beam slicing through the air between the back-packs.
“You’ll find it’s a jammed laser-pointer propped inside the top flap of one of the packs. You’ll also find there isn’t a matchbox worth of C4 in either of them.”
Bergström swallowed, the fluttering nausea back in his stomach. “But you still shot Nejeem,” he ground out.
“He was going for another grenade, one in his jacket. He was going to take everyone out, including himself. And especially me.” Wilde shrugged. “Check his jacket if you don’t believe me.” He didn’t seem to be particularly interested if Bergström did or not.
Emotionless. Bergström cleared his throat, trying to deal as dispassionately with this as Wilde. But he was still shaking.
Wilde was already turning away. He was staring at the far corner of the room, where a knocked-about laptop sat open upon an old tin desk. At the foot of the desk, three paramedics were working the only victim into an evidence bag.
Wilde lunged across the room and grabbed the hand of the medic who was zipping the bag up. “Wait,” he snapped. He looked at Lund. “Whose apartment is this?”
Lund opened his mouth to speak, his shoulders already lifting in a shrug. Then he really looked at Wilde’s expression. He lifted the clipboard in his hand and flipped through a dozen pages, scanning. “Marta Egstrom. Finnish, originally, although there’s very little detail here.”
“There wouldn’t be,” Wilde said, looking down at the body at his knees. “This is her? Marta?”
Lund glanced at the medics, who looked blank. Then one said, “I helped one of the survivors out. He said that they shot the owner of the apartment as a demonstration of their seriousness.”
Wilde reached out his hand, hesitated, then rested it on her forehead. He sighed. “I’m sorry, Parisa. So sorry.”
Bergström moved forward. “Who is Parisa?”
“I’m happy to listen,” Bergström said as sweetly as he could manage.
Wilde looked up at him and for the first time Bergström saw something other than indifference in the man’s face. There was a great weariness there, the kind that came from carrying burdens for far too long. “This is Parisa,” he said, his hand touching the dead woman’s forehead gently. “She was relocated. She worked for me once. She was from Iran originally, but we pulled her out of Afghanistan after she helped us with…something.”
Bergström held up his hand. “I’ll live happier without the details, I’m sure.”
Wilde sighed. “Nejeem didn’t pick this apartment by default. Parisa was targeted.”
“Who wanted her dead? Nejeem?”
“Nejeem was just a tool.”
“No one you need worry about. Not anymore. He won’t be back.”
“He could have killed dozens of my fellow Swedes. I won’t get picky about the Seurat not having the decency to inform the right people there was a high risk refugee hiding in Stockholm but I do take exception to the other people the wretch could have taken with him. I want a name.”
Wilde considered for a moment. “A man called Zaram. Give me your card and I’ll have our files on him sent to you.”
Bergström fished out a card and handed it over.
“You have to understand, Bergström. We thought she was safe. Completely hidden. We thought, after eight years, Zaram would have forgotten about her.”
Bergström stared at him, not giving an inch.
“We were wrong,” Logan finished.
“Is that an apology?”
Wilde looked down at the body again and at the medics patiently waiting. “I’d rather apologize to her but….” He stood and the medics zipped up the bag. “I have to make a call.”
“…a thrilling read!! I love when an author can keep you turning the pages furiouslyand trying to read ahead. If you love suspenseful, fast paced thrillers with a little romantic twist, then this is the perfect book!” — Bitten by Paranormal Romance Reviews