The Athens Solution
written by Brad Thor and narrated by Armand Schultz

 

It wasn’t Papandreou at all. It was another man whose photo Harvath had seen while being briefed back in the States. Constantine Nomikos owned the technology company the Pentagon had partnered with.

What the hell was he doing here? Harvath wondered. Changing freqs, he updated the Situation Room.

With no other vehicles inbound, Harvath was told to forget everything and try to locate the device.

Easy for them to say, he thought. With the Metaxas brothers floating offshore on the Amalia, Harvath had no one to cover his back. Somewhere close by was a killer who had been sent with likely the very same orders.

Suddenly, the landscape lighting in the courtyard went out. Someone had just cut the power. Harvath needed to move.

He found the front door unlocked and slipped inside. Papandreou’s study was down a long hallway to the left. He moved soundlessly over the white marble floor toward it.

When he arrived at the study, he stopped at the door and listened for any sound coming from the other side. Nothing. Slowly, he pushed the door open with the toe of his boot.

In less than two minutes, he found Papandreou’s safe secreted behind a false panel. It was an American-made Safari-brand, extremely difficult and time-consuming to crack. He would have to blow it. The only question was how much C-4 to use.

Because of the thickness of the steel, he was going to have to use everything he had. If the device was inside and that meant potentially damaging it, then so be it. He knew Washington would be glad just to know it was out of commission.

After removing the charges from his pack and setting them, he took cover behind Papandreou’s desk. He then triggered the detonator and blew the door off its hinges in an enormous explosion.

He didn’t wait for the smoke to clear. Rushing forward, he prepared to grab the device and haul ass, but the safe was empty.

Damn it, he cursed under his breath. The CIA had all but assured him that the device was being kept at the villa—most likely in Papandreou’s safe. Now what was he going to do?

Knowing that blowing the safe had drawn the attention of the shooter, Harvath quickly exited the study and began making his way back down the hallway, his SR25 up and at the ready.

He passed several rooms, and was about to pass the kitchen, when something caught his eye. In the middle of the kitchen floor, a rug had been pulled back and a trapdoor of some sort stood wide open.

He swept in and cleared the kitchen, but then hesitated near the opening. A series of stone steps corkscrewed down into the darkness. Was it a trap? Or would it lead to the device? Both were possible. Double-checking the tactical light mounted on his rifle, he decided to find out.

The steps led to a low-ceilinged, rough-hewn corridor carved from the bedrock. It was illuminated by a long string of bare bulbs. Harvath hated tunnels. They usually provided insufficient cover and had an undesirable propensity for funneling enemy fire right at you.

Hugging the wall, he followed the corridor for several hundred meters. He was well beyond the grounds of the villa above when he began to smell salt water.

Soon thereafter, the tunnel and its string of bulbs ended at narrow fissure in the rock. Harvath couched down and looked inside. As best he could tell, it went back several feet and then made a jagged turn to the right.

He used his tactical light sparingly as he picked his way along this much smaller passageway winding its way through the rock like a snake trying to escape a grass fire.

Thirty-five meters later, the tunnel opened onto a brightly lit grotto with a strip of sand. Upon it were beached two heavily armed Farallon DPVs, or Diver Propulsion Vehicles. Any doubts Harvath may have harbored about the quality of the CIA’s intelligence were quickly melting away.

From just beyond the sand, a sudden flash of sparks and a high-pitched, grinding whine caught Harvath’s attention. A metal canister was propped between two large rocks, and someone dressed in black was attempting to cut into it using a circular saw.

Harvath’s instinct was to call in what he was seeing to Washington, but he had lost all radio contact the minute he descended the stairs beneath the kitchen.

Finding a narrow footpath, he carefully picked his way down, sweeping his eyes back and forth across the grotto for threats. When his feet hit the sand, he moved forward as silently as a shadow.

With sparks flying and the screech of metal grinding upon metal, the black-clad figure was oblivious to Harvath’s approach. It wasn’t until he gave two bright bursts from his tactical light that the wet-suited man even knew he was there.

Slowly the man set the saw down and turned to face him. As he did, Harvath was nearly speechless. “Ambassador Avery?” he asked. “I don’t understand. I thought you were dead.”

The silver-haired ambassador quickly masked his surprise at being discovered. “Obviously I’m not,” he replied. “Who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Harvath. I was tasked by the Pentagon to find your killers.”

“The Pentagon? They couldn’t find their ass with both hands. I suppose you’ve also been tasked with retrieving the device.”

There was something about looking into the eyes of a dead man that caused Harvath to mentally pull back and play it dumb until he could get a handle on what was going on. “The device, sir? What device?”

“Don’t bullshit me,” barked Avery. “That’s what this is all about. Put your weapon down and give me a hand. We haven’t got much time.”

“Where’s Papandreou, sir?”

When Avery didn’t respond, Harvath repeated, “Where is Papandreou?”

“He went for a swim,” said the ambassador, motioning over his shoulder toward the water. “I don’t think he’s coming back.”

Harvath looked to where the beach dropped off into the deep water of the grotto. Several feet below the surface he could make out the shape of a man wrapped multiple times in what looked like heavy anchor chain. Had he driven the other DPV into the grotto, only to be double-crossed by Avery?

The hair on the back of Harvath’s neck was standing up. He didn’t like this. Steadying his SR25 on the center of the ambassador’s chest, he ordered, “Get your hands up where I can see them.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Taking you into custody.”

“No, you’re not. I’ve got an assignment to complete. If you get in my way and fuck this up, I’ll make sure you burn for it.”

“Just the way you did in Athens?” Harvath replied, recalling the crime scene photos he’d seen of the ambassador’s burned out vehicle. Everyone believed the killers had firebombed the BMW to impede the eventual investigation. Little did they know how right they had been.

“I ought to put a bullet in you right here,” continued Harvath. “Good men on your detail died. And for what? Money?”

“Lots of money,” a voice suddenly said from behind. “Twenty-five million and counting. Now drop your weapon.”

Harvath did as he was told.

Turning, he saw the one of the two DS agents from the ambassador’s security detail, the one known as Point Guard. He was a large man, much bigger than Harvath. He was wearing an Infrared reduction suit and carried a fully automatic French FA-MAS rifle with a high-powered scope.

“So much for the difference between porcupines and BMWs,” said Harvath.

Point Guard stared at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Usually with a BMW, the pricks are on the inside. But in the case of you and the ambassador, the pricks actually were on the outside.”

Stepping up to Harvath, the agent raised his MAS and butt-stroked him across the jaw.

Harvath saw stars and fell to one knee.

“We’ve all gotta do what we’ve all gotta do,” said the ambassador as he stripped Harvath of his weapons and equipment and tossed them into the water.

“And in your case,” replied Point Guard as he kept him covered, “you’re going to join Mr. Papandreou for a swim.”

Harvath spat a gob of blood from his mouth. “Probably not a good idea. I just ate before I got here.”

“Very funny, wiseass.”

“How long have you been working for 21 August?”

The ambassador smiled. “We don’t work for them. They work for us. Mr. Papandreou screwed up very badly a while back. I just happened to be there and offered not to turn him in if he would be my eyes and ears inside the organization.”

“Did the State Department or CIA know about this?”

“Of course not; Papandreou was too valuable an asset to be shared.”

“And Nomikos?” Harvath asked. “What was his role in all of this?”

“Papandreou was an investor in his company. When the device went missing, Nomikos started putting things together. He wanted to talk, so Papandreou invited him out here tonight. He was a loose end that needed to be dealt with.”

Harvath had to hand it to them. “You skate with the money and the device, ready to start a new life anywhere you choose. And everything gets blamed on 21 August.”

“Precisely,” replied Point Guard.

“And the device’s rumored Jordanian buyer?”

“Will be meeting us in a hotel on Sicily in three days,” said Avery, “so I’m sure you can appreciate that we need to get on with our business.”

Handing his weapon to the ambassador, Point Guard grabbed a length of anchor chain and approached Harvath.

Harvath made a move to take his legs out from under him and get control of his sidearm, but he wasn’t fast enough. The DS agent dodged left and brought an elbow crashing down into Harvath’s temple. He saw stars once again and fell to the ground.

Point Guard worked quickly, wrapping the anchor chain around Harvath’s wrists and ankles and then began half-dragging, half-carrying him into the water. All Harvath could think about was staying alive, but no matter how hard he struggled he couldn’t get free.

As Harvath felt the bottom sloping beneath the bigger man’s feet, he knew that any moment now he was going to be let go.

Drowning seemed like an ignoble death for a SEAL, and yet that was exactly what was rushing headlong to meet him.

He counted to three and then as fast and as hard as he could rolled his shoulders forward, his hands grasping for any item of his killer’s clothing.

As he did, there was a snap, followed by a searing pain in his upper arm. Somewhere in the back of his mind something told him it was serious, but he didn’t care. All that mattered was staying alive.

Trying again, struggling with all of his might to break free, he heard another snap and a second later blood began dripping into his eyes. But upon looking up, he realized the blood wasn’t his.

It was only a quick look—something lodged in Point Guard’s throat, and blood was spurting out all around it. And then the powerful hands that had been dragging him into the water released their grasp.

In an instant, the heavy chain pulled him under. It happened so quickly he’d had no time to fill his lungs with air.

He scrambled desperately to locate the upward slope and inchworm his way back to the beach, but it was no use. The sand was too soft, and each time he moved he only sank deeper.

His chest felt like it was pinned beneath a thousand pounds of concrete. Every fiber of his body screamed for air. His vision was dimming at the edges, and he knew it was only going to be a few seconds before his mouth reflexively opened in one final, desperate attempt at life and his lungs sucked in and hopelessly filled with water.

Harvath had no intention of dying and redoubled his fight. But as he did, he felt something strange bump his back. It felt, maybe, like the nose of a shark, which was all too possible, as the grotto was connected to the sea.

The bump came again, followed by another. Soon he was being pulled away. He strained to see what it was, but his vision was almost completely black, and the water was filled with blood. Harvath told himself it would all be over soon.

Finally, there was quiet. Deep, cold, the-end-is-finally-here quiet.

No sooner had the quiet settled over him than he had the eerie sensation of breaking the surface. Immediately, his eyes shot open and he began sucking in searing, greedy gasps of air.

Thrashing in the shallow water, he swung left and right, trying to find the shark.

“Easy,” said a voice as a pair of weathered hands began unwinding the chain from around his wrists and ankles.

Harvath looked up and saw the face of Ben Metaxas. “Ben, what—”

“Careful, my friend, don’t move,” he said.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Yannis is a much better shot than I am, I’m afraid.”

Harvath didn’t understand. “What are you talking about?”

“Your arm,” said Ben.

Looking down at his arm, Harvath saw a long metal shaft and realized what had pierced the throat of his killer: a speargun. Harvath’s own wound was almost as serious. The spear had gone straight through his left biceps and almost punctured his rib cage.

“How did you get here?”

Ben held up his mask and swim fins, “There was another boat offshore. We saw lights under water come this way. When we couldn’t reach you on the radio, we came to find you.”

Harvath remembered the ambassador. “The other man. What happened to the other man?”

“The man on the beach?”

“Yes.”

“He’s dead,” said Yannis as he made his way back toward them. “I shot him with this.” Yannis held up Point Guard’s weapon.

“What about the canister?” asked Harvath, fighting back the shock beginning to take over his body.

“He dropped it in the tunnel. Don’t worry.”

But Harvath was worried. They had to secure the canister and get the hell out of there. “We need that canister. Go get it.”

Harvath collapsed onto the sand and waited for Yannis to come back with the device. While he lay there, Ben found a pair of shears and clipped off as much of the spear’s shaft as he could and then dressed the wound. It was an incredibly painful procedure.

The longer Yannis was gone, the more Harvath began to worry. When he did finally return, it wasn’t with good news. “I can’t find it.”

“What do you mean?” said Harvath as Ben helped him to his feet.

“The canister is gone.”

“That’s impossible. We’re the only ones here.”

“It’s gone,” he repeated.

Suddenly the bottom dropped out of Harvath’s stomach. The second DS agent from Athens. “We’ve got to get upstairs.”

He led the way as quickly as he could through the low tunnel, down the corridor, up the stone steps into the house, and out into the courtyard—right up to the spot where Constantine Nomikos’s blue Land Rover had been sitting less than half an hour before. But now, it was gone.

Harvath reached for his radio, only to realize that Ambassador Avery had pitched it into the water, along with the rest of his gear.

Defeated, Harvath leaned back against the outer wall of the courtyard. He tried to tell himself that it would be impossible for the DS agent to hide forever, but he had been around long enough to know that with enough money, anything in life was possible.

He had also been around long enough to know that the good guys didn’t always win.

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