Chapter 24: Not Dead Yet
Tasha stirred. Opening her eyes she realized she was tied to a chair. Her head pounded. Behind her back, ropes dug into her wrists. As she shifted in the seat she bit back a moan that escaped her lips. Looking down she saw her pajamas were splattered in blood.
Dark shadows filtered in through the crack under the metal door. Loud voices came from outside the door. As she experimented with her bonds, testing their strength, a man’s scream pierced the air – Jason’s. Tasha shuddered at the sound. I can’t just sit here. We’re running out of time. She forcefully tugged at the ropes hoping against hope they’d give way.
Tasha stopped as she heard the metal door swing open. Raphael appeared in the doorway. “Have a nice nap Sleeping Beauty” he stepped into the room. Tasha didn’t respond but stared at the blank wall in front of her.
Raphael chucked. “Not much for talking huh? That’s okay.” He stepped closer to her. “I like the silent stoic ones.” The man kept lumbering forward and withdrew a knife from his belt. He brought his finger to the tip of the blade and twirled the knife. “It makes things more interesting.”
The door creaked open again. Dalmar and Tarek appeared in the doorway. Dalmar strode inside. Tasha’s eyes were smoldering as her gaze rested on Dalmar. “So, Melinda, do you want to pick up where we left off?” He marched forward and began walking behind her chair.
“If I were you I’d skip to the end.”
A shrill laugh sounded from Dalmar. It was a truly awful sound. Tasha tried to twist her head to meet his gaze but couldn’t. “Aww, what’s the fun in that?” Tasha flicked her gaze to Tarek.
“I don’t know Tarek, maybe Ms. Tylerson has a point.” He stopped pacing and crouched down beside her. “Or maybe not.” He straightened himself up and grabbed her throat, leaning Tasha and the chair back. Tasha choked as the pressure increased, wheezing, desperately trying to inhale. Dalmar leaned closer to her, his face mere inches from hers. She could feel his hot breath hitting her face. “I think I’ll keep you around for a while,” he hissed in her ear. He let go of her neck, sending Tasha jolting forward. She coughed and gasped for air. A result of being deprived of oxygen. Dalmar straightened himself up. “Though I don’t imagine it’ll be the most pleasant stay.” His voice was cruel, empty, and heartless. Her death wouldn’t cost him a moment’s sleep.
Dalmar grabbed Tasha’s auburn hair, lifting her head up. Brass knuckles adorned his hand. Tasha braced herself for the coming blows. Dalmar struck her cheek. Blood splattered across the floor. It felt as if her jaw had been cracked open. Dalamar flung his fist repeatedly into her face sending more blood splattering across the room.
Suddenly a blaring alarm sounded through the bunker. Dalmar stood in shock. His heart began to race. It was evident to Tasha something had gone wrong. Two men rushed into the room. “Sir. I’m afraid we have a problem” Adrian said. “Police and NSS agents just showed up. There are at least three-dozen squad cars, a dozen unmarked cars, and five SWAT team vans outside. They’ve surrounded the entire compound.”
“How did they get in here undetected?!” Dalmar asked.
“It appears that some of the security cameras were playing a looped feed,” Emil explained.
Dalmar shouted a string of profanities. He took a deep breath trying to calm himself. “Adrian tell Avak to get my Cadillac ready. We’re leaving immediately. If the authorities show up at the armament bunker tell Daron to blow the place. And inform Wilhelm to gather my files, computer, and any other necessary data. Everyone else is going to cover me and meet us later at the tarmac.”
“Yes, boss.” Adrian rushed frantically from the room.
Dalmar turned to Emil, Raphael, and Tarek. “You all load the agents into the truck and follow behind my car.” Dalmar quickly exited the room leaving Tasha alone with his henchmen.
“You load her up, I’ll handle the other one,” Emil stated as he exited.
“Looks like we have a trip to make Sleeping Beauty” quipped Raphael.
“I’m not going anywhere with you.” Tasha fired back.
Tarek smirked. “The boss wasn’t asking.”
Raphael stood in front of Tasha and reached out to grab her. Tasha brought her leg up and kicked him in the crotch. Raphael let out a scream and staggered to his knees, instinctively bringing his hands to the affected area and dropping the knife to the floor. Tasha butted him in the head, further aggravating his pain. Tarek lunged at Tasha. Tasha stood up and whipped the back of the chair into his legs causing him to stumble to the ground. Tasha crashed the back of the chair into the concrete wall causing the wooden frame to crack. Raphael threw himself towards her but before he could grab her she brought her leg to his head. She flipped over onto Raphael who was laid out on the ground, breaking the chair and loosening the ropes from her wrists.
Tarek, enraged, grabbed the knife and flung himself at her. The two of them crashed into the wall. Tarek tried to bring the knife to Tasha’s chest but she grabbed his arm, holding it above her head. The knife scraped along the wall and flew out of his hand. Clanking to the floor.
Jason groaned as his eyes opened. Waves of pain, like daggers, hit him all at once. Sweat trickled down the side of his face, or maybe blood, he couldn’t tell. Unconsciousness had been a welcome sweet relief from the nightmare that was reality. “What, what’s going on?” Two men’s faces came into view but he didn’t recognize them. His mind was muddled and confused. The last thing he could recall was being at a political rally of some sort.
“Look who finally decided to join us,” Levon chuckled.
It all came back to Jason—what he’d thought—what he’d hoped was a dream. He and Tasha being chased and captured. Dalmar driving a knife into his side. Tasha being beaten senseless in Dalmar’s office.
Levon struck Jason across the cheek. The tang of blood filled his mouth. Before he could brace himself another blow slammed across his face. Jason didn’t flinch back but met Levon’s gaze.
A knife dug into his shoulder. Jason screamed. It was a quick sharp pain. Then it dulled for a moment before hitting him again with full force.
Jason’s eyes flitted from Martin and Levon’s faces to the door and back to the two henchmen. He had to make his move. Sure he was strong and determined but who knew how much longer he’d be able to hold out. The more time passed the less likely it was that he and Tasha got out alive. It was now or never.
At that moment the door swung open. A man burst into the room, out of breath with a look of sheer panic on his face. “We have to get moving. Apparently, the cops just showed up so we gotta get outta here.”
Jason glared at the three men standing in front of him. He knew full well leaving with them was signing his death sentence. And even though he was willing to give his life for his country he wasn’t exactly eager to die in his early twenties. “What if I said I’m not going anywhere with you and your boss.”
“You can say it. But I think this…” Emil brandished his gun and pulled back the safety, “will have the final word.”
“Good point,” Jason nodded.
“Martin!” Emil barked as he lowered the gun to his side. “Untie him from the chair and put the handcuffs on him. And hurry it up. We have to move. This place could be crawling with agents any minute.”
“Sure thing.” Martin moved behind Jason and loosened the ropes binding him down before pulling out a pair of handcuffs from the back pocket of his pants. A tremendous crash echoed from farther down the hall. Jason took advantage of this distraction and brought his fist to the side of Martin’s head, sending him staggering to the ground. Emil aimed the gun at Jason. Jason grabbed his arm in midair and outstretched it above his head. Emil pulled the trigger. The bullet flew past Jason hitting Martin. Martin staggered, fell back, blood spilling down the side of his face. Then he fell backward onto the floor. Jason delivered a swift kick to Emil’s midsection followed by a blow to his jaw. Levon threw a punch at Jason. Jason sidestepped the strike, caught his fist mid-punch, twisted his wrist in a painful angle, and flipped the criminal over his shoulder. Levon hit the concrete, groaning.
Emil picked himself off the concrete. Jason, undeterred, lunged towards him. He gritted his teeth and drove Emil into the wall. Levon delivered a strong blow to the side of Jason’s head. A fist grabbed a fistful of Jason’s shirt and dragged him off Emil. Jason wrestled himself from Levon’s grasp and spun his leg out toward him, taking his legs out. Jason’s fist flung toward his face knocking him out. Emil stood up and threw himself at Jason, sending them both to the floor. The two struggled on the ground neither willing to give in. Each man exchanged blows. Pools of blood were scattered across the floor. Jason felt his strength beginning to fade. He scanned the room frantically, searching for something to defend himself. His eyes fell on a knife attached to Martin’s body. Emil followed his gaze. Both lunged for it. Emil got there first. He quickly raised it and brought the blade toward Jason’s chest. Jason reached out and grabbed Emil’s arm, redirecting the knife’s course.
It plunged into Emil’s chest. Emil’s body stiffened and blood spread over his shirt. Staining it red with blood. Jason pushed Emil off of him. Jason stood, shakily, staring down at the ghastly seen in front of him. There was no time to process what had happened. What he had just experienced. He felt exhausted, he wanted all this to end but knew there was no time to rest. His and Tasha’s lives were still in the balance. Crashes still echoed from a room down the corridor. Jason grabbed Emil’s gun and scrambled out of the room, tarring down the hallway.
Tasha’s heart raced. Pure adrenaline surged through her veins masking the fear she knew she should feel. Her fist collided with the side of Tarek’s face causing him to fall to the floor. He willed himself from the ground and threw himself at her legs. Sending them each to the floor. The side of Tasha’s head hit the concrete, blood seeping from her hairline. He threw himself on top of her. Grabbing Tasha’s arms Tarek pinned them above her head. Tasha brought her leg over Tarek’s left foot, grappling it. She abruptly pushed up and rolled to her left, turning Tarek around and landing on top of him. A sharp blow struck the side of his head. Tasha’s face blurred as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Fear seized Tasha as she heard the distinctive sound of a gun cocking. Whipping her head back she saw Raphael standing behind her with his gun drawn. Her eyes widened and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. There was nowhere to run.
A shot went off.
Tasha involuntarily shuttered. A small gasp escaped her lips. Raphael staggered to his knees. Then fell face forward on the floor. Dead.
Tasha’s eyes shifted from Raphael’s body to a darkened shadow standing in the doorway. “Jason,” Tasha exclaimed, out of breath and heart racing.
Jason lowered the gun. It clattered to the ground. He rushed over to her side and gently brought his hand to her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
Tasha took a deep breath.“I am now…thanks to you”
A slightly panicked voice came from Tarek’s shoulder speaker microphone. “4672. This is 2737. Do you copy?” Jason and Tasha looked at each other, not entirely sure what to do. A few seconds passed before Jason scrambled over to Tarek and kneeled down to his side. He pressed down on the “push-to-talk” button.
“What are you doing?” Tasha mouthed.
“Roger. 2737.” Jason responded, imitating Tarek’s voice.
“The NSS agents have just breached the premise. We have to leave now! Where are the agents?” the man barked.
“We are making our way to the truck now.” Jason calmly replied. “Both agents put up quite a struggle but we were finally able to subdue them. We’ll be there in two.”
“You better.” The line went silent. Jason removed Tarek’s black turtleneck, leather blazer, and slant pocket pants. He stood up and tore off his own shirt. His chiseled chest and arms were covered with bruises and wounds. Blood poured from his side. He ripped his pajama top into strips and began to bandage his chest. He let out a pained grunt as he tied the strips off tightly against his stab wound.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” Tasha demanded.
“What do you think?” Jason tied a strip of cloth around his shoulder. “I’m going after Dalmar.”
“At least wait for backup. You are in no condition for us to bring him in on our own. The NSS agents should be here any minute.”
“Oh sure wait for backup and then what? Spend ten minutes trying to prove we’re actual NSA agents while we lose Dalmar?” Jason pulled the turtleneck over his head and stepped closer to Tasha. “You know as well as I do that this is our best-perhaps our last chance to bring him down.”
“I can’t believe you.” Tasha held out her hand exasperated. “After everything that’s happened you’re still doing this! Do you have a death wish or something?!” She inhaled sharply through her nose and closed her eyes, fighting to regain her composure. “Make sure you don’t do something you’ll regret.”
“Look, this is an entirely different situation.” Jason pulled the black trousers over his pajama pants. “I admit following Dalmar’s men was an unnecessary risk. But I have the chance to arrest a dangerous criminal. A man who’s hurt countless people.” Jason slipped his arms into the leather jacket. “Letting him go isn’t an option.” Jason sensed Tasha’s growing frustration but knew this was something he had to do. Nothing, not even his partner’s objections, could deter him. “I can’t make you come with me. You have to decide what’s best for you.” He checked the back pocket of Tarek’s pants, finding a pair of handcuffs. “But I’m going.” Jason’s resolve was unwavering. The determination in his eyes was unmistakable to Tasha. Bending down to the concrete he retrieved the gun and held it out to her. “Here. Best for you to hang on to this.”
Tasha took the gun from Jason and watched as he faded out of view down the hall. Tasha sighed. She knew Jason was right. Every second that passed the chances of catching Dalmar rapidly decreased. She recognized along with him that this was their best shot. A shot there was no guarantee would be theirs again yet the memory of Jason’s earlier recklessness still burned in her mind. During her short career as an agent, she had made sure to stay between the lines. Follow procedure to a tee. Even her superiors had commented on how careful she was to follow regulations. On one occasion Donovan had amusingly remarked that she was stricter than him. Leaving with Jason would be going against all her instincts on the field. Was she really willing to take such a giant leap of faith? The success of their mission rested on her choice.
Milena shifted on the couch, leaning further into Lorenzo, her head resting on his shoulder. Lorenzo rubbed her hand reassuringly. While his other arm was draped around Milena. She savored his touch which had been gone for what seemed like forever from her life. Around her a storm raged; Lorenzo was her shelter. “There were so many times all I wanted to do was call you,” Milena whispered. “Hear your voice again. But I kept telling myself it was better this way.”
“At least you’re here now.” Milena lifted her head from Loren’s shoulder and sat up on the sofa.“You always know what to say to make me feel better.”
“You forget how well I know.” Ten years of friendship and the last two of dating had made him quite knowledgeable of Milena as a person. He knew her habits, insecurities, and dreams like the back of his hand. He flashed a bright smile and gently pushed a strand of hair out of her face.
Sitting across from her former boyfriend the memories of the past dozen years together crashed into her like a wave. Paris, the city of lights, all aglow. Giggling and smiling together in front of the Eiffel Tower. Climbing the soaring mountains of Peru. Riding in a gondola through the canals of Venice. The overwhelming scent of peppermint icing and gingerbread when they’d constructed the biggest gingerbread house this side of the Atlantic. Life with Lorenzo had been pure magic. What possessed her to throw it away? The legacy of her father, which had been nothing but a lie. She was done with him. Done with her family. Sometimes one couldn’t rectify the past no matter how hard they tried. There were times it was best to leave it behind. Events of the past few days had reminded her of that. Now her future was what she wanted to focus on.
Milena placed her hand on the back of Lorenzo’s neck and kissed him. Lorenzo froze for a brief second as her lips met his, but then his hand slid from her face to her back, pulling her closer and kissing her with a passion that had been building during their months apart. Milena held nothing back, pouring her heart into the union of love they were sharing. When their kiss came to an end, She rested her forehead against his, the racing of her heart matched his own.
“Let’s get married” Milena breathlessly exclaimed.
“What?” Lorenzo chuckled.
“Why not? I love you. You love me. We’ve talked about it before. I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.” She took his hand. “Besides, we’ve already wasted enough time. I don’t waste another sec-”
Milena’s grin spread from ear to ear. Her eyes sparkled with delight. She threw her arms around him burying her face in his neck. Lorenzo stood from the couch, scooping Milena into his arms. After spinning her around he placed her feet back on the floor. He pressed his lips fervently against hers, forcing a squeal out of her as she kissed him back. They giggled and pulled away. Joyful exuberance poured out of them.
Lorenzo held out his hand. “Just wait here…I’ll be right back.” He excitedly ran out of the living room.
“Lorenzo, where are you going?” Milena laughed, slightly out of breath.
Seconds later, Lorenzo re-entered the room holding a small black velvet ring box. Liana was waiting eagerly by the fireplace. Lorenzo grinned at her and exhaled. He opened the box revealing a platinum diamond ring wrapped in two dozen tiny emeralds. At the sight, Milena brought her hand to her mouth. “Oh my goodness. It’s perfect” she beamed. “When did you get it?”
“About five months now. I saw it and immediately knew it was the one for you.”
Milena looked up from the ring. “I love it and I love you.”
“I love you too.” Lorenzo pulled the ring out and set the box on the fireplace mantle. He slipped the ring onto her finger. She let out a happy sob as the two of them embraced. Time seemed to stand still. Pure bliss and love were all they felt. Joy’s light was breaking through the dark clouds of despair. If the family of her childhood was lost to her forever now she had the opportunity to create and be part of one she’d dreamt of having. Dreams of wedding bells ringing and rice tossed into the air replayed in their minds. But destiny could be ruthless and heartless. Rather than the congratulations of wedding guests, the condolences of funeral attendees would permeate their future. Forever would not be theirs to share.