Chapter 22: Seeing Red
The henchmen paraded Tasha and Jason into the center of the room, then released their hold on them. Dalmar stood from his vinyl chair. He inched closer to Tasha and Jason, shoes scuffing on the floor. His jacket was ruffled and caked with dirt. Blood splattered the side of his face – Elias’ blood. The stench and thickness of cigar smoke were nearly overwhelming. A cloud of smoke swirled around Dalmar and a glass of whiskey rested on his desktop. Logs crackled in the fireplace in front of his desk.
An amused expression was etched on his face. Seeing Dalmar now, eerily calm, it would be hard to imagine the hysteria and panic that had enveloped him only hours before.
Dalmar laid his cigar on an ashtray and stalked over to the front of the desk, leaning back against its wooden surface. He folded his arms and focused his attention on Jason and Tasha, one foot tapping an irregular rhythm. “You know I have to give you two credit. For a while, you had even me fooled. But the truth always comes to light. It’s a shame though.” Dalmar took a swig from his glass and walked closer to Jason and Tasha. “The two of you could have been a vital part of my operation. You’ve shown yourselves to be quite useful.” He took another sip of whiskey and cleared his throat. “It’s such a shame to kill such skilled agents” He glanced at Tasha, “more so you…for nothing.”
“I’d choose my funeral any day of the week rather than be part of this pathetic puppeteer act of yours” Tasha fired back.
“This pathetic puppeteer act as you call it has enabled me to have the world at my fingertips.” He placed his glass down on the desk. “Your greatest mistake is underestimating me and my power.” His voice was hard and emotionless.
Dalmar strolled over to his chair and sat down, the chair squeaking underneath his weight. He brought his cigar to his mouth and took another puff. “In time everyone will come to see and appreciate the scope of my work. Soon the world will answer to me and the KLF.”
“You seem desperate to impress us,” Tasha said.
“I don’t need to impress you or anyone” Dalmar hissed.
“Really?” Tasha responded, unconvinced by Dalmar’s words.
He angrily crumpled his cigar and threw it into the fireplace behind her. “I have thousands of armaments at my disposal. Enough to wipe out-“
“Oh stop it” Tasha replied. “You’d be just a helpless little boy without these brainwashed ‘followers’ of yours to carry out your every wish.”
“Real power comes from concealing one’s strength.”
“Please, the only one you’re convincing is yourself.” Tasha walked steadily closer to him. “You know what bothers you? You know you’re nothing.”
Dalmar’s fist collided with Tasha’s face causing Jason to lurch forward. Adrian and Raphael grabbed his arms, holding him back, and forcing him to his knees. Tasha showed no response. “Is that all you got?” she chuckled. “What? Think I can’t take a punch?”
Dalmar struck her again, this time with more force. Tasha staggered backward. A small grunt came from her but she showed no strong reaction. Dalmar hit her again, this time with as much force as he could. Tasha laughed, “You’re even more pathetic than I thought.”
At that moment Jason saw him reaching for something around his waist. He pulled out his knife and held it to the base of Tasha’s neck.
“Stop!” Jason yelled, “Leave her alone!”
Dalmar walked over to Jason. How wonderful it felt for the balance of power to be restored. “So, you can’t bear to see her punished for her betrayal? Would you rather it be you than her, is that right?”
Jason felt the weight of Dalmar’s gaze on him but did not flinch back. Dalmar tapped Jason’s chest with the blade and then crept it to the front of his neck. Dalmar chortled. “Trust me you’ll have your turn.” He turned from Jason and took a step forward before stopping. “But then again why should you have to wait?”
Dalmar quickly spun around, turning back toward Jason, and plunged the knife into his lower left abdomen.
“No!” Tasha screamed.
Jason groaned and bit back a scream. Dalmar tightened his grip on the knife, twisting it, and then yanking it back towards him. White-hot pain seared through Jason’s body. The guards holding him back released his arms. Jason keeled over to the floor.
Tarek grabbed Jason by the hair, forcing him to look up. He swung his fist towards Jason’s face.
Tarek then punched his eye. His cheek. His Jaw. Again and again, punches were hurled at him. Blood gushed from his mouth and chin. Jason felt as if his face had been cracked open. Jason took a ragged breath and willed himself to stay upright. He met Dalmar’s gaze. “Guess no one ever told you I don’t crack that easily.” He chuckled “Don’t feel too bad. My friends in first grade didn’t think too much of me either. Well at least until I ate four eggs and a snail in succession. It actually wasn’t all that bad. You should try it sometime.”
It would be hard to imagine during Jason’s early years what a humorous and sarcastic person he’d grow up to be, as he was a rather serious child who didn’t find things all too funny. However, following the tragic death of his brother Jerry he had used humor as means to cope with his passing. In some way, it had made him seem closer to his older brother who always knew how to make Jason laugh. Over time, it had become a part of his personality, and his sense of humor often showed through, even in the most intense and dangerous situations.
“Amusing,” Dalmar responded. “Unfortunately for you, your glib sense of humor won’t save you.” He looked up from Jason and glanced at Tarek. A series of blows slammed the side of Jason’s face. He collapsed to the floor. His vision was blurred. Agony sliced through his body.
From a few feet away, Tasha helplessly watched the unfolding scene. Seeing Jason lying on the floor tore at her heart. Dalmar turned his attention to her. She braced herself for whatever was coming yet couldn’t help the shudder that ran up and down her spine. She had been in life-threatening situations before but never had she stared down death from this close a distance. Dying was a real possibility of being an agent. A possibility one had to accept when taking this job. When it came to the security of the free world sacrifices had to be made. If it came down to it she was willing to make the ultimate one.
Dalmar clicked his tongue as he caressed the side of Tasha’s face.“Such a shame to damage such a pretty face but I’ve grown tired of you sticking your nose in my business.”
“No one forced you to try to take over the free world. It’s my job to keep that from happening. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs.”
A smirk spread across Dalmar. He crossed the room over to Tarek and held out his hand. Tarek handed his boss his baton which was strapped to his utility belt. Dalmar fingered the rod in his hand. He stepped back over to Tasha and swung the baton into the side of her face. He then brought it to her side. Tasha doubled over to the floor. Coming closer to her, he kicked her in the side. Muffled moans escaped her lips. Tasha tried to struggle up from the ground but Dalmar slammed the baton repeatedly onto her back and shoulders. Tasha longed for the relief of unconsciousness, but all she was granted was constant waves of pain overwhelming her.
Across the room, Jason could make out Tasha’s blurred form laid out on the floor. Groaning, he struggled to push himself to his feet. Dalmar’s men shoved him down until his cheek rested on the cold floor. A heel dug into his back. A hard first collided with the side of his head, knocking him out.
The baton clattered to the ground. Dalmar struggled to catch his breath. Sweat glistened on his brow. He squatted down to Tasha’s level and grabbed her throat. “Did you really think you wouldn’t pay for your betrayal? Tasha struggled to breathe as his fingers tightened around her neck. Her breath hitched and her vision blurred. Dark shadows crept at the sides of her sight. Finally, everything faded to black as she slipped into unconsciousness. Dalmar let go of her throat and she fell to the ground.
Dalmar snapped his fingers. “Take them out to the basement. And get someone to clean the floor in here.”
“Yes boss,” said Tarek.
Adrian, Raphael, Mason, and Wilhelm pulled Tasha and Jason to their feet and dragged them out of the office. The small group passed through several hallways and down multiple flights of stairs. Pendant lights hung from the hall ceiling. By all appearances, it seemed as if they were in another underground basement, very much like the concealed tunnels Tasha and Jason had been in before on Dalmar’s property.
Jason was placed into the first room off the corridor, while Tasha was thrown into the second room. Metal doors clanked behind them.
One day earlier:
A car rolled up outside of a metal fence. Liana stepped onto the ground and took a few steps forward. Typical forest sounds of owls hooting and crickets chirping were heard around her. She carefully pulled out her phone and stared at the coordinates displayed. After glancing at the screen for a few seconds she placed the phone back in her clutch, next to the voice-activated recorder she had placed on Dalmar hours earlier. Attached to the recorder was a tracking device. “Yup,” she said to herself, “this is the place.”
She pulled up the back of her floor-length dress and made her way to the gate entrance. Along the way, her heels kept sinking down in the soft ground much to her annoyance. Her eyes landed on the security keypad. She casually typed in several numbers and pressed the pound button. A smug expression spread across her face as the metal gate slid open. All these months she patiently spent working for Dalmar day after day had paid off as she had slowly gained his trust. She had also learned one could learn vital information, such as sensitive passwords, simply from patiently waiting in the shadows. Or listening behind a door marked “private” in Zakázáno. Liana quickly walked over to the control room. Every step she took she made note of her surroundings, looking to see if anyone was watching her.
Liana reached the control house and entered the passcode for the door. Inside, she went down the stairwell and sped across the corridor toward the metal door. Liana entered the final password and eagerly waited for the door to open.
Automatic rifles, machine guns, and cases of ammunition greeted Liana. For a moment she stood still trying to take the scene all in. Judging off of Dalmar’s plans she had imagined a significant amount of weapons stored but the sheer size of the armaments left her somewhat startled.
Standing there it hit her how close she was to her goal becoming reality. The events of the last few days had gone according to plan with neither Dalmar nor the NSA agents the wiser. Dalmar might have been laughing earlier, surrounded by his allies and comrades, jolly and full of himself, but soon enough he would be lying in a pool of his own blood.
Three months earlier:
Jovial laughter and cigar smoke filled the room. Glasses clinking and lively music sounded throughout the bar. Liana scanned the crowd gathered across the room searching for a familiar face. At a round table in the center of the room, Liana spotted Dalmar. Seated at the table were three other older gentlemen who all engaged with Dalmar in a round of poker. In the center of the table sat thousands of dollars worth of crisp dollar bills.
Liana stood at Dalmar’s left, her eyes glued to him. Dalmar ignored her and kept his attention solely on his card game. Liana was undeterred, her gaze never wavering. Annoyed, Dalmar slammed his cards down on the table and looked up at her. “Are you lost?”
“Only if this isn’t the Osudový Bar and Lounge.” Liana glanced over the room. “Which looking at this place, not to mention the sign outside, definitely is.”
“If you want a drink see Garine at the bar” he pointed in its direction. “If you’re here for work we’re not hiring.” Dalmar picked up his cards.
“Judging by that hand I’d say you do need help cause you’re not winning with a pair of deuces.”
Angrily Dalmar threw his hand down in the center of the table. Followed by the other three men. Dalmar shouted “Tarek! Get this woman out of here!”
Tarek marched over to Liana. Liana suddenly grabbed his wrist and twisted herself upside down, bringing her legs around his neck. Grabbing Tarek’s neck she flipped to her feet bringing him to the ground.
Raphael swung at Liana but she caught his arm, extending it behind his back towards her. Raphael let out a groan. She suddenly released his arm and brought a swift kick to his midsection which sent him flying into a table.
Wilhelm attempted to grab Liana from behind. Liana brought her hands to his neck and flipped him over her to the floor. She brought her forearm to his throat and pinned him down.
Liana stood up and casually smoothed out her hair. The crowd stood around her in silence. Dalmar found himself taken aback by this supposed stranger. As she came closer to him he sat farther back in his chair. “Not the warmest welcome,” Liana quipped “but I guess It’ll have to do.”
“Who the heck are you?” Dalmar asked.
Liana ignored his question and kept coming closer towards him. “Word on the street is that you want Norvan Ohanyan dead. I can help you with that. Provided you want my assistance of course.” She reached the edge of the table and picked up a random card. Glancing down at the card she saw it was the queen of hearts. She threw the card over her shoulder and it came to rest a few feet away. “Though if I were you no wouldn’t even be an option.”
An amused expression dotted Dalmar’s face. Something about this woman struck Dalmar. Her fire and spirit were something he could find useful in taking care of Norvan. During the last few days, he had increasingly butted heads with Norvan Ohanyan. Time and time again he questioned his decisions and authority. Tensions between them had reached a breaking point. Among all his threats Norvan was chief among them as his influence and wealth rivaled his own. Elias Aloyan, once one of the closest friends, had not been immune to Norvan’s deleterious influence as his sympathies now lay with his rival. Dalmar held out his hand across the table. “I think we can come to an arrangement. Ms…” Liana took his hand.
“Vardanyan. Scarlett Vardanyan.”
Liana silently drove in her car. Her mind was filled with a torrent of thoughts. Try as she might she could not get the picture of Milena out of her head. Images of them fighting and screaming at one another flashed before her. Her eyes had overflowed with pure anger. Given the chance, her sister would probably want her dead. At least Milena knew of her intentions to also kill Dalmar which would check her anger against her until the job was done. Still, some naive part of Liana expected things to be different between them. Anger, sadness, despair. She felt all the emotions. Hope could be such a cruel thing sometimes.
Tears began to well in her eyes. Liana shook her head, willing herself not to break down. “Stop!” she yelled at herself, “She’s not worth it. She never was! She wasn’t there when I needed her most…no one was!” Her mind drifted to the months following Erik’s death. The loneliness, the grief, the sense of loss, it all came crashing back.
Liana snapped out of her recollection as her phone rang loudly. Seeing the number on the screen she quickly picked up. “Yes?”
“Scarlett!” Tarek’s voice echoed through the car speaker. “Where are you? We brought in the NSA agents nearly half an hour ago.”
“Sorry for the delay Tarek. Ruben and I were ambushed by some of Elias’ men. We were able to take care of them but unfortunately, Ruben was killed in the crossfire. I have his body in the back.”
“These things happen so just forget about it.” Tarek coolly replied. “The most important thing is you took care of them. As the boss says, we can’t afford any loose ends.”
“No, we certainly can’t.” Liana’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “I’m less than five minutes out from the main house.”
“I’ll inform Dalmar.” Tarek abruptly ended the call. Liana took a deep breath. Her plan was now in its closing stages.