Chapter 17: No Way Out
Liana sat on the edge of her bed, utterly exhausted. She placed her clutch on her nightstand and then reached down and slipped off her black heels. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It had been a very long and tiring evening. On nights like tonight, it was easy for doubt to try and take over her mind. The past five years had been long and exhausting but in a few more days it would all be worth it. At least that’s what she told herself. She sat up from the bed and reached the closet. After sliding the closet door open, she started untying the bow in the back of her dress. She stopped as she eyed her bracelet, thinking back to a time nearly two decades before. Her eyes then landed on the jewelry box tucked in the corner of the closet shelf. Memories flooded her mind as she combed through its contents. Finally, she found it. Her mother’s charm bracelet.
She let out a shaky breath as she held the piece of jewelry in her hand. She remembered her sister’s gentle smile. The tender look in her eyes when she gave her the bracelet. To Neptune and Back. Forever. That’s what they had promised each other. How easily promises could be broken. It had nearly killed her inside, seeing Milena these past few weeks yet not being able to talk to her face to face. Right now they were on opposing sides of the spectrum. For both their sakes it was best to stay out of each other’s lives. The only thing they’d probably agree on would be their hatred for Dalmar. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything to bind them together.
A tear escaped Liana’s eye. She had hoped her and Milena’s love for one another would be enough but in the end, tragedy had torn them apart.
Tasha lay back in bed; she had to admit, it was rather nice to feel a soft mattress beneath her after all the hours she’d spent on her feet, never mind her argument with Jason.
Only one more day. Thank goodness. She turned over, sinking her head into the pillow.
She found himself thinking about home, not her place in D.C., but the home she shared with her mom and dad, who had died a couple of years ago. It had been the best of times growing up. Being an only child one could say her parents spoiled her. Dolls, dresses, coloring books. Every gift imaginable they had given their little girl. Yet they had instilled in her a sense of responsibility and hard work. Told her to never quit on a job or task but to see it through to the end. She supposed that was why she was always determined to make sure all her assignments were a success. If only her parents could see her now. Her life as an NSA agent. She severely doubted this was the life they had had in mind for their daughter, considering how protective they had been over her. Every fall or tumble they’d be there by her side. As a girl, she’d sometimes be a little annoyed by their constant babying of her. Being such a free independent spirit all she wanted was to spread her wings and fly. Now what she wouldn’t give for them to fuss over her again. To talk to them just one more time.
Tasha turned on her side and wiped a tear streaming down her cheek. She wasn’t one to dwell on or show her feelings. She’d push them to the side and keep on going, it was easier that way. To those on the outside, it seemed like she was unaffected or even cold and distant. Like nothing affected her. As if she didn’t feel anything. But the truth was she did feel deeply. Love. Loss. Joy. Pain. Every emotion tugged at her heart. For her, especially in this line of work, it seemed better to try to forget them. It was easier not to open up. To stay closed off. Not many people could get past her walls. She’d supposed it’d stay that way.
Perhaps that’s what makes me a good agent. My ability to not let my emotions impact my decisions…unlike other people. Tasha shut her eyes and shook her head. Just forget it. Soon enough he’ll be someone else’s headache. She chuckled and glanced at the clock on her nightstand. 4:30. I really need to get some sleep. Tasha closed her eyes and tried to block out the city noises in the distance.
Suddenly she felt a sharp, almost stabbing, pain in her arm and a hand cover her mouth. Her eyes shot open. She told herself to stay calm. The worst thing she could do was panic. A strong hand grabbed her right arm and dragged her out of the warm bed. As her feet touched the cold floor, Tasha stepped her right foot back behind her and twisted to the right. She found herself standing in front of an older muscular man. Tasha quickly brought her arms down and wrapped them around his legs. She leaned forward and tackled the man to the ground. She flipped over him and brought a swift hard punch to his face, sending him collapsing to the floor.
Glancing up she saw a younger brawny gentleman lunging toward her. Tasha sprang in his direction and jumped on his left leg thigh. She placed her hands on his shoulders and swung around him. She placed her right leg around his neck and then hooked it under the man’s right arm. She put her left leg under the man’s right arm, grappling it. She leaned back behind the man’s back and twisted her body to the left around the man’s arm. The movement sent him flying to the floor as she landed upright on her feet. Seeing no one else in the room Tasha quickly darted for the door. In the darkness, she couldn’t tell if they were some of Dalmar’s men or not. Right now she didn’t care.
Jason brought his fist to the man’s jaw which caused him to stagger backward. The previous man he’d fought had been a lot easier to subdue. He had hoped he and Tasha would have been able to make it back D.C. without any “incidents.” I should have known this was too easy. The man brought his hand to his bloodied face and wiped away some of the blood from his mouth. His eyes were filled with rage. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. The two men faced each other silently for a moment. The man rushed toward Jason. Jason grabbed the man’s arm with his left hand and pulled it as far as he could to the left side of his body. Jason then raised the man’s arm above his head as he brought his right fist to his chest several times. The man dropped the knife and doubled over in pain. Jason grabbed the pen on his nightstand and ran as fast as he could to his room’s door. His heart was pounding and all his senses were on high alert. Capture was not an option. As he stepped outside the door he ran into someone. Instinctively he brought his fist up to the person’s face but realized it was Tasha. He could tell by the look on her face that she was just as relieved to see him as he was to see her.
“Thank God. It’s you.” Jason sighed. “I have the pen” he held it in front of her.
“We have to get out of here!” Tasha started down the hall.
“Right behind you!”
Whatever other guests were on this level Tasha and Jason were quite sure they were awake by all the noise. The thing they couldn’t afford was innocent civilians getting caught up in whatever situation they were in. The shouts of “Be quiet.” and “We’re trying to sleep.” confirmed their suspicions. Jason and Tasha had nearly reached the stairs when they saw two men holding tasers by the door leading to the stairwell.
“There’s another staircase at the other end of the hall!” Tasha yelled. They ran toward the other end of the corridor. However, they found themselves cornered as they spotted the same men they’d taken down in their suites coming towards them.
“Where to now?” Jason asked.
“Um…um” Tasha frantically looked around. Behind them, the men they’d seen by the staircase were coming closer. Things were quickly spiraling out of control, anyone could see that. Tasha spotted a passageway branching off of the main hall just beyond them. “Down that side hall.”
The two of them ran to the hall’s end. To the side, there was a large air vent. Jason quickly ripped the cover off and peered through the opening. “Looks like there’s a vertical shaft up ahead about ten yards.”
“Terrific. Vertical shafts are my favorite.” Tasha scrambled into the shaft and started making her way up. Jason clambered in after her on his elbows and knees. The shaft was dark and dank. Sharp edges of sheet metal scraped and cut against their exposed skin.
“It’s sure tight in here,” Jason muttered under his breath. “Good thing I’ve been working out.”
“Really. I hadn’t noticed.”
“Which part? How tight it is here or how I’ve been working out?”
Tasha rolled her eyes as she came to a bend in the shaft. “Do you have to use humor in every situation?”
“It’s how I cope,” Jason took a breath.“So is this how all your other missions go?”
“If you’re asking if I’ve ever had to climb in an air vent in my pajamas. The answer is no.”
“I should have figured.”
“I see some light up ahead. I think it’s the end of the shaft.”
Tasha winced. “Ow.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I cut my leg again on the side of the shaft.” Tasha reached the top of the vent. “We made it to the next floor.” She pressed up against the vent cover and pushed it to the side. She slid through the opening and stood up. Jason quickly exited the air vent. They each looked around, expecting any moment for their pursuers to turn up. The floor level remained all clear and eerily silent. Except for their heavy breathing, not another sound was discernible on the third story. They each eyed the staircase for a few seconds. Seeing no one they gave the other a knowing look and nod and raced to the stairs. Down the winding staircase, they went. The clattering of their footsteps resounded through the building. They were going so fast they nearly tripped on a few occasions. Tasha and Jason had reached the last landing before the ground floor when Jason felt a tingling sensation in his leg. In a split second, it turned into a searing burning pain, like an electrical current flowing through his body. Every inch of his body was in excruciating pain. He felt his legs begin to give way and he collapsed to the floor. He could hear a muffled sound. The sound of Tasha calling out to him yet he was too dazed to make out the words.
Tasha saw standing in front of her the younger gentleman she’d taken down earlier. Holding a taser in her direction. The left side of his face was still splattered in blood from the punch she’d given him earlier. “Looks like this is the end of the line” he snarled.
Tasha hurled herself at the man. The man fired off his taser gun just as Tasha reached him. The shot fired off at the ceiling. Tasha sent the man flying back into the wall behind him. The man brought his hand up Tasha’s throat. She struggled to breathe as the man’s fingers closed tighter around her neck. She brought her leg up and kicked the side of the man’s head. He released his grasp and slumped to the floor.
Tasha whipped her head around and saw two other men coming at her. She crouched down to the ground and kicked and spun her leg out toward one of the men, taking his legs out. Tasha flipped over to her feet and delivered a kick to the other man’s abdomen. The man stayed on his feet and grabbed Tasha from behind. He desperately tried to pin her arms behind her back. Before he could Tasha elbowed him in his face and placed her hand firmly behind his neck. She brought her legs to her chest and then down again to the ground, flipping the man over her head as she fell to the ground. She quickly placed her hands behind her head, lifted her legs into the air, and pushed herself back on her feet into a squat. She straightened herself up and rushed to Jason’s side.
She brought her hand to his face. “Jason, are you okay?”
He struggled to sit up. “I’m fine,” he grimaced.
“Here let me help you up.” Tasha gave him a hand and helped him to his feet.
“Thank you.” He took a breath. “Nice job by the way.”
“Thanks.” Tasha scanned their surroundings and the stairwell exit making sure it was clear. “Can you walk?”
Jason took a step forward. It was painful but nothing he couldn’t stand. “Yeah. I’ve had worse.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“White Falcon have you acquired the targets yet?” Red Sparrow’s voice came through the man’s earpiece as he ran down the hall.
“Negative” the man replied, out of breath. “Acquiring them has proved more difficult than I anticipated. Fortunately, though…” he paused to try to catch his breath “I have several…backup plans.”
“You better.” she snapped. “I’m not paying you all this money to screw this up. Understand?!”
“Completely,” he muttered in response.
Tasha and Jason ran out under the portes-cochère of the hotel. Overhead the sky was still pitch black with visible stars dotting the night here and there. Two black SUVs with tinted windows were parked by the curb out front. The cars appeared unoccupied. By appearances, all the men had entered the hotel. One thing was for sure they weren’t sticking around. From behind the vehicles, a man suddenly appeared with a taser gun. Tasha and Jason ducked to the ground as he pulled the trigger. They walked crouched to the side of one of the cars and pressed against it. They quickly made their way around to the back of the SUV while the man walked around it as well. Every second felt like an eternity passing. The man appeared in front of him. Jason brought his fist square to the man’s face catching him off guard. He hit him repeatedly in the stomach and flipped him over. The man almost immediately regained his footing. Jason was still experiencing the effects of being tased earlier and could feel himself quickly losing strength. His opponent sensed this as well and punched Jason multiple times in the jaw and stomach, causing him to stumble to the ground. Tasha’s opened the trunk of the car, looking for anything useful. Inside she spotted a tire iron which she grabbed. Seeing the man’s back to her Tasha firmly gripped the tire iron and hit him as hard as she could across the head. The man fell forward to the ground, blood spewing from the gash across his head.
Jason stood up. “He’ll have a nasty headache tomorrow,” he commented as Tasha began to search the unconscious man’s pockets. Inside one of them, she found the keys to the SUV. “Got the keys.”
Tasha jumped in the driver’s seat while Jason climbed into the passenger seat beside her. She twisted the key in the ignition. The car rumbled to life. Tasha backed the car up and drove forward into the street. A shout from the entrance of The Chardell filled the air. Through the car windows, Tasha and Jason could see the rest of the men running outside and scrambling into the other SUV. Tasha spun the car on the asphalt and headed down a side road. She floored the accelerator. Cars beeped and honked. Dust filled the air as Jason and Tasha raced down the street, weaving through traffic. They could make out the car following them at full speed.
Tasha knew at higher speeds the risk of an accident astronomically increased. One could easily spin out of control or slam into another vehicle. However, that was a risk she had to take, she reasoned. She flattened the accelerator as much as she could. The reading on the speedometer went up with every passing moment. 80 mph. 90. 95. 100. The sound of guns firing filled the air. The rear window shattered, sending glass flying in every direction. Their pursuers, whoever they were, were getting desperate.
“Get down!” Tasha yelled. Jason and Tasha crouched down in their seats. More gunshots pierced the air. Glass rattled and flew every which way. On the floor. The dashboard. The leather seats. Toward their faces. Jason didn’t even want to imagine what would happen if they got caught.
“What the heck are you doing?!” the man screamed. “We need them alive!”
“We are aiming for the tires! Besides you were the one going on about how we need to take them out fast!” one of the men responded as he fired his gun.
“Just hold the fire, we don’t need it!” he barked at them. He looked down at the clock located on the car dashboard. “It won’t be long now.”
“What’s our next step?!” Jason asked.
Tasha glanced at Jason. Panic gripped her eyes. “Try to get to a secure location. After that, I’ll try to contact Headman. He’ll either send a helicopter for us to an extraction point or try to come up with some rescue plan if we’re taken in. Though I can’t promise it’ll be successful.” Tasha looked back at the winding road ahead. “We knew the risks aft…” Tasha trailed off. Her mind felt suddenly clouded and a wave of sleepiness washed off her. She shook her head trying to shake it off. “After…after all.”
Jason put his hand on her shoulder. His eyes filled with worry and panic. “Tasha! Tasha, are you okay?!”
Tasha felt a pounding in her head and her vision blurred. She squinted her eyes desperately trying to see the road, but it was no use. A nauseous feeling came over her and she found it difficult to breathe. Every passing second she felt worse and worse.
“Jason…” Tasha struggled to speak. Jason was at a loss of what to do. They were caught in some hellish grave nightmare and there was no escaping. He pulled the pen out he had carried in his pocket. He knew they couldn’t afford for its information to be in the wrong hands. It was basic training. When facing imminent capture, discard any evidence. He quickly pressed down on the black button of the pen which was located below the two metal buttons. He held it down for five seconds. The seconds he counted down in his head. One by one the images it contained were permanently erased. Jason then glanced at Tasha. Desperation and pain were etched on her face. He could tell how hard she was trying to hold on yet she was failing.
“Here let me drive.” Jason sat up from his chair and started to move to the driver’s seat. Suddenly a wave of pain washed over him too, sending him back down. There was no mistake he’d been drugged as well. In his blurred vision, he could make out saw Tasha’s darkened form slump onto the steering wheel. Dear God…help us. He prayed as he slipped into unconsciousness.