Three Time's the Charm
"JASON!!!" I shouted, snapping into action. In a millisecond I had pulled my shirt over my head, snatching up the backpack and slinging it over my shoulders, while using my hold on Marta's arm to propel her away from the window and out the door into the main room.
Jason and Nikki had already started up, Jason now chambering a round into the Glock he held firmly in one hand.
"What is it?" he demanded, his grey eyes narrowing with a firm intensity shining in them as he approached me.
"We've got company." I answered, taking out my own Beretta and moving towards the door, opening it up a crack and taking a swift peek into the hallway outside.
It was silent and abandoned. For now.
Jason nodded, and snatched up Nikki's backpack from the ground where it had been leaning against the couch, tossing it to her.
She caught it, and speedily began slipping it on over her shoulders, snagging the recording device off of the counter as well and zipping it up into one of the side pockets.
"We're all clear on this end." I said, moving away from the door towards Marta, where I bent and pulled out a revolver from my ankle holster and pressed it into her hands. "You know how to use this?" I asked, already knowing that she did, but I wanted her to say it, I wanted her to gain the confidence for herself by voicing it.
Her clear hazel eyes flashed up briefly into mine and I could see a spark of fear in them before they calmed. "Yes," she said with a firmness that surprised me, and I felt her fingers close over the gun.
I nodded, placing a hand on her shoulder, before quickly turning away towards the door again.
Jason had already loaned his secondary sidearm to Nikki, who chambered a round into it with at least enough confidence to assure me that she had used one before. Though how long ago and with what accuracy, I wasn’t sure.
"I know the city better than you do," Jason was saying, moving to stand beside me, "I'll take point, you cover the rear."
I nodded, seeing the sense in this, and held the door partly open for him as he slipped out, clearing the passageway before I guided Marta and Nikki out, following behind them my gun at the ready by my side.
"They'll expect us to go down the stairs." I muttered in a low tone to Jason, and he nodded, leading us at a swift but silent run down the opposite length of the corridor instead.
After taking a right turn, we reached the end of the hallway, where outside of a window, a rusty fire escape could be seen leading down into an abandoned alleyway. This window was swiftly opened, and Jason checked to see if the coast was clear, before beginning to help Nikki and Marta down the fire escape.
Marta's feet had just hit the pavement below, when a man's form darted around the corner at the far end of the corridor. Upon seeing us, he raised his gun, but Jason and I were faster, whirling around and snapping off two rounds each at the exact same time.
All four shots were a direct hit to various vital organs, and the man staggered back as the impact of the bullets hit him, before falling to the ground where he lay motionless.
No sooner was he down, then Jason quickly descended down the fire escape, waiting on the alert beside Marta and Nikki till I had swung down beside them.
My boots hit the pavement, and we were off again, Jason once more taking the lead, while I covered our backs, hedging Marta and Nikki in between us.
With our large party, it would be difficult to blend into a crowd, so Jason led us through an intricate web of byways and alleys, all of which were unpopulated and empty.
"Jason," I hissed just loud enough for him to hear, "Where are you taking us? What's your end game?"
He opened his mouth to reply, when a man appeared from around the corner without warning and body slammed into him, hurling him forcefully against the cement wall. Jason let out a grunt as his back cracked against the wall, before falling roughly on his side on the pavement, the gun in his hands clattering to the ground where it was quickly kicked out of reach by his attacker.
I rallied to Jason's aid with my gun up, but right when I was about to put a bullet in his attacker's skull, I heard the quick repetitions of heavy footfalls on the pavement moving towards me.
I whirled around, but too late, as the bulk of a man's form barreled into me as well.
Having had the split second warning of his approach, however, I fared better than Jason, and though my attacker knocked me off balance, I managed to feint slightly to the right, hooking my foot around his and sending him stumbling past me into the wall. Though not before he made pretty square contact with my shoulder, wresting my gun away to take with him.
As he hit the wall, he twisted around with my gun up hoping to get off a shot at me, but I forced the barrel up into the air at the last second, the shot ringing out into the sky, before I brought the side of my palm into his jugular and used the combined strength of my whole body in a quick twist over his wrist, sending my gun out of his hands and flying along the pavement to stop at a slide about 7 feet away.
He choked, but not as much as he should have done, and swiftly recovered to dish out a staggering blow to my rib cage, sending me back a few steps and giving him the space he needed to bring his boot up into my chest and clipping me under the jaw.
And as for the shot, by my estimations we would have the area swarming with police in about 6 minutes; and not just your standard Glock-wielding, donut-consuming city boys, but trigger happy hot shots with AK-47's in their trunks.
This was Tangier after all. Might as well use that to our advantage.
The force of the kick sent me back and into the wall, falling hard on my side on the pavement and knocking the wind out of me. For a moment I lay motionless, oblivious to all except for my lung's desperate cry for air, and though a voice inside my head was screaming for me to move, knowing that my opponent would swiftly be upon me, I was powerless to do so.
The point of a boot came into my line of vision on the ground, and I awaited the inevitable.
However, the inevitable never came.
The crack of a gunshot went off, and upon instinct I whipped my head up, my breath just beginning to come back to me.
I looked up just in time to see the impact of a bullet hitting my opponent's shoulder, and Marta standing a couple feet away, her eyes shining and her lips slightly parted with fear, but the gun I gave her held firmly between both of her hands.
The man fell back a step, his eyes dropping down blankly to his shoulder where a rusty red stain was rapidly growing on his shirt, before his eyes rose slowly up to Marta, staring into hers with a cold intensity that made her take a step back.
He, however, took several purposeful steps forward.
Another shot rang out, this time hitting my opponent's other shoulder, and Marta was unmistakably trembling now. However, the second bullet didn't even slow the man down.
On the contrary, he sped up, charging towards Marta, and though she fired again in a last ditch effort, her eyes widening in fear, her shot went high and she was out of time to pull another.
The LARX agent barreled into Marta with an aggressive strength, forcing the gun in her hands up into the air before whipping the back of his hand harshly across her jaw. Then with a wrench, he forced the gun out of her hands and brought the butt end of the revolver into her temple.
She gave a cry before crumpling to the ground, a spot of blood appearing over her temple where he struck her, and as she lay motionless, he raised the revolver once more, this time aiming for a kill shot on her unprotected form on the pavement.
A guttural sound of rage escaped my throat, and a feeling of overpowering fury such as I have never felt before swept over me. In a millisecond I had risen, pushing off the wall for an extra burst of speed and taking off like an Olympic sprinter, putting everything into my strides as gravel was kicked up from my shoes.
The distance between us was crossed before anyone had time to react and I threw myself at the LARX agent full force, tackling him and slamming him forcefully to the asphalt.
He let out a grunt as he hit the ground, trying to recover himself, but I was already on top of him. A desperate struggle on both ends ensued while he fought to throw me off and pull off a shot at me with the gun he still held in his hands, while I tried to overpower him and wrest the gun away. In the meantime, both of us attempted to exchange blows; and even though he was LARX, the image of Marta's crumpled form on the ground that seemed burned into my mind filled me with a rage that gave me an almost supernatural strength.
With an effort, I managed to wrest the gun away from his grasp while minimizing his efforts to get at my face with his hands, and taking an opening, I brought the butt of the revolver down on his skull. He let out a groan and his efforts to escape and cause me harm were redoubled, but all I saw through a red haze was Marta falling to the ground and all I heard was her soft cry of pain.
The rage that filled me was redoubled, and I brought the revolver down again and again, repeating the process with more and more force, while hearing and seeing nothing but Marta and my own elevated heartbeat that sounded like a drum in my ears.
Once. Twice. Three times.
At length the bloodlust cleared and the red haze passed from my eyes when I realized that my opponent was no longer moving. For a moment I just stared down at his limp body beneath me, my breath coming in quick, heavy gasps, blinking at his face now reduced to a……
The report of a pistol was heard followed by another crack of a gunshot, and I quickly rolled off of the dead LARX agent, rising to one knee with my gun up to survey the scene, knowing instinctively that there was still one more threat remaining taking the form of the first LARX agent who had attacked Jason.
The ex Treadstone agent had taken care of himself however, as he now stood over the body of the LARX agent, a small curl of smoke twisting up from his barrel as he looked down at his opponent, his breath coming in heavy while blood streamed down from his nose onto his shirt. Beside him crouched Nikki, one hand pressed to her ribcage while with the other she held the sidearm Jason had loaned her still trained on the dead body of the LARX agent on the pavement before them, a wisp of smoke escaping it's barrel as well.
"You okay?" Jason asked her in a low tone, lowering his gun and turning his head to look down on her.
Nikki nodded, and she too lowered her gun, her head dropping for just a moment to rest against his leg while she let out a breath.
In an instant I had slid to her side, and a choked sound caught in my throat as I looked down upon her. She wasn’t moving, her eyes closed and her lips slightly parted, while a small trickle of blood was flowing down from her temple.
With my heart in my throat, I pressed two fingers to her neck, feeling for a pulse, while my other hand lightly hovered over her lips, hoping and searching for the tickle of an exhaled breath.
Relief flooded my entire being as I felt both, proof of her life touching my senses sending a tingle down my spine and making me feel something strong deep in the pit my stomach.
"Marta….Oh, Marta……" I whispered in a cracked tone, my fingers lightly brushing away the tendrils of hair about her temple. Her eyelid stirred and I heard her breath come stronger, yet still she remained unconscious.
I'm so sorry, Marta. I'm so sorry I failed to protect you. You shouldn’t have taken the shot for me. You've already done enough. You've already done enough for me.
"Aaron, we have to keep moving," I heard a low voice just behind me, while I felt Jason's firm grip on my shoulder.
I nodded, swallowing my emotions and thoughts and burying it deep inside of me for the moment. We still were very far from being in the clear, and I wasn’t about to let anything diminish or get in the way of Marta's safety, or Nikki's for that matter.
Stooping, I took Marta's slender form into my arms as gently as possible, careful to cradle her head against my chest.
I was surprised at how light she seemed, and looking down upon her, her façade
of blonde hair spilling over my arm and her dark lashes brushing both her cheek and my chest, she appeared so vulnerable, so dependant, and yet so beautiful that my breath caught in my throat again.
The sound of sirens off in the distance brought me back into reality, and I turned about to face Jason and Nikki. "What's the plan?" I asked Jason. "Where are you leading us?"
Jason hurriedly ripped off a portion of his shirt and used it to stanch the flow of blood from his nose, while Nikki quickly went from both LARX agents and pocketed both of their phones and dog tags.
"There is a parking garage not to far from here." Jason said, throwing away the square of fabric having staunched the blood flow and wiped down his face. "We can jack a car and put a bit of distance between us and the agents you call LARX, and then maybe catch a train from there out of the country."
I nodded, my eyes following Nikki in her work before dropping down to Marta once more.
Taking Nikki's hand, Jason began starting forward once more at a slow jog, one in which I matched his pace, careful to cushion the impact and jolt Marta as little as possible.
Behind us, I could hear the sirens getting closer to our previous position, while both Jason and I were on high alert for another attack like the last one.
We paused for a moment at the end of an alley where across the street, the parking garage was visible. Jason assessed the scene while I stayed back with Nikki, leaning against the alley wall and supporting Marta.
While Jason peered around the corner to make sure the coast was clear, I felt her form stir in my arms and looking down I saw her eyelids flutter.
A moment later and my world became a pair of hazel eyes.
She groaned, turning her face inward and burying it in my shirt, her hand shifting to my chest feeling like a caress but I knew it to be unintentional.
She groaned again. "Oh, my head!" she moaned into my shirt.
My thumb went up to brush her forehead before I could stop myself, and my heart skipped a beat when she actually leaned into my caress, before she froze, her eyes flashing open as she realized where she was, who I was, and what her situation was.
My hand hastily dropped away as her eyes focused on my face, something sparking in them before fading, a line appearing on her brow either from pain or from realization as everything came back to her.
Probably from both.
"Hey," I said softly with a note of concern in my voice for lack of better words.
She frowned slightly, scrunching her eyes closed again, no doubt in an effort to dull the pain of the throbbing headache she must be feeling now. "Hey…" she managed, with her eyes still closed. "What happened?"
I slid down to the ground with my back still up against the wall, positioning her so that I wasn’t exactly carrying her anymore, but that she was half sitting beside me, though still using my body for support.
"You got hit really hard in the head." I mumbled, watching her face closely. Chances were she had a concussion, though I was hoping against hope that was a serious as things got. If she was bleeding internally right now….
"How do you feel?" I asked anxiously.
She gave a weak little laugh. "Like I got hit really hard in the head."
My smile was only halfhearted as I continued to watch her, and after a moment her eyes flashed open to meet mine before closing again. "I'm fine, Aaron." she said quietly in a more serious tone, trying to assure me. "I just have a headache, that's all. It'll pass."
I hope so, I thought, but instead what I said was: "Can you walk?"
She nodded and made a move to stand using the wall and my arm for support, and in a moment she was on her feet, though she blinked and shook her head slightly as if to clear it and cease its throbbing drum beat.
I continued to offer her my arm until she had steadied herself, before my hand slid down to hers and claimed her fingers. "You're sure you're alright?" I asked again, gently, bending my head slightly to peer into her eyes.
She met my gaze with her clear hazel green ones, and smiled softly. "I'm fine, Aaron."
I nodded, and then grudgingly pulled my eyes away from her to look at Jason who was just walking back towards us.
"We're all clear," he said, coming to stand beside and take Nikki's hand again. "The parking garage is just across the street."
Our guns and all evidence of our injuries were concealed, and we crossed the street slowly in pairs, taking our time and blending in with the crowd, Nikki and Jason first, then Marta and I.
To increase the ruse and to give added support to Marta, I put a hand around her waist and drew her close to me with a small laugh, as if we were sharing an inside joke. With a shift of my shoulders she could apply as much weight as she wanted onto them.
When we reached the parking garage, the air was now reverberating with the sound of sirens, the police no doubt having found the bodies of the two LARX agents by this time.
Descending down into the dim complex, Marta and I met up with Jason and Nikki who were waiting for us, before moving quickly through the cars lined up on the first level.
I found one that I thought would serve our purposes, and promptly began picking the lock using a hairpin of Marta's.
"Aaron!" Jason warned, snapping into action as he saw a form dart amongst the cars on the far side of the lot. With one hand he had pushed Nikki and Marta down, and with the other he whipped out his gun, firing off two rounds at the agent taking cover behind a car, his own gun held between his hands.
Glass shattered, the agent popped up again over the roof of the car to snap off a couple rounds at Jason who had, by this time, taken cover behind a separate car.
Marta fell against my leg when Jason shoved her down, Nikki close behind, and I reached out to grab her hand and pull her close to a better position, doing to same to Nikki as well, before finally opening the door to the car.
Keeping my head down, I crawled inside and busted open the compartment under the steering wheel, my fingers searching for the right wires. Snapping open my knife, I cut two of them before pinching the blade between my teeth to give myself room to work, peeling back the small plastic film covering the wire underneath with my nails.
Glancing back for a quick assessment of the situation, I saw Jason was still exchanging fire with an agent across the lot, though he was a newcomer, the first was sprawled out over the asphalt in a pool of his own blood.
A flash of movement caught my eye from through the car window, and I was just about to shout out a warning to Jason, when Nikki popped up, her finger on the trigger of Jason's sidearm.
Three shots. Glass shattered. Through the window I could see one shot hit its mark, lodging itself in the agent's shoulder, who grunted but remained standing and instantly began returning fire.
Damn it! Where the hell do they get all these LARX agents?!
As the bullets began flying towards Nikki, I reached up and grabbed her jacket, yanking her down to cover beside Marta. The window of the car behind us shattered, showering shards of glass down upon us.
Sparks flashed as I connected the two wires in my hands. Once. Twice. Three times.
The engine sputtered into being.
With a breath of triumph, I opened the back door a crack and hustled Nikki and Marta in, before popping up over the hood of the car, bracing my elbows upon it for increased accuracy as I cracked off shots at the LARX agent Nikki had winged with my Beretta.
Four shots and he went down. I turned to help out Jason who was taking cover behind a cement pillar while another agent peppered it with bullets.
Our eyes met.
I didn't even have to sign to him what the plan was, the ex Treadstone agent had already come up with the same solution. It was like our minds were working on the same track—no, two joint tracks that met in the middle.
With a nod, he acknowledged that he was ready, and I sprung into action.
Diving into a roll alongside a car with a better vantage point, I came up fighting, snapping off round after round in a quick covering fire that forced the agent to take cover or be taken out. While I was keeping him occupied with his tail between his legs, Jason came out from behind the pillar and took his time lining up the one shot that would matter.
The gas tank.
A crack of a gunshot between the sporadic pops coming from my Beretta, and the whole car exploded, blasting the agent taking cover behind it forcefully back into the windshield of another car two spaces behind him.
He wasn’t going to be getting up.
Two more agents appeared down the lot to take the places of their dead comrades, but Jason and I didn't want to be caught up into another firefight.
In an instant, he and I were back by the car, myself sliding into the passenger seat while Jason threw the gear into drive and screeched out onto the asphalt.
Bullets followed our flight, blowing out the back window and showering glass upon Marta and Nikki in the back who let out little gasps and covered their heads, ducking below the seat.
The sound of sirens were almost as loud as the sound of the gunshots behind us, before all at once three cop cars sped around the corner.
When they saw us driving towards them they tried to pull a blockade, but Jason didn't stop and with a skillful twist of the wheel he had evaded all of their attempted pit maneuvers and brought us screeching out of the parking garage and up onto the street.
Looking back in the review mirror before the events in the lot were obscured from view, however, I saw that the momentum of the cop cars had brought them into the line of fire from the agents pursuing us.
A windshield had been shattered before the cops were out of their cars, taking cover behind the doors and hoods of their patrol cars, and returning fire upon the two agents who were forced to retaliate in turn.
A desperate and heated firefight ensued, and I knew that we wouldn’t have to worry about the two agents following us for a while, if at all.
For the first three minutes or so, Jason drove recklessly, putting everything into just putting some distance between us and the CIA, as well as the cops. After that, he slowed down, followed traffic laws, tried his hardest to look as inconspicuous and to draw as little attention to the shot out back of the car as possible.
Once we had a cop on our tail, though Jason quickly lost him when he took a rocky plummet down a stairwell.
Fifteen minutes later, we were pulling into an empty patch of dirt under the shelter of a bridge.
Silence filled the car after Jason killed the engine. I looked at Jason. He looked at me. We both turned around in our seats to look at Marta and Nikki in the back, who were still picking glass shards out of their hair.
"We all okay?" I asked, and they nodded.
Jason turned and leaned his head back against his seat, letting out a breath and closing his eyes. I knew the feeling. The one second of calm in which you allow yourself to take a breather, before you have to jump up and get moving again. The adrenaline was cooling in my own veins, and already my mind was thinking up our next move.
"If I'm right," I began, glancing at Jason, "the train station's right around the corner."
Jason kept his eyes closed but nodded.
"Alright." I looked back at Marta and Nikki. "We split into pairs again: Nikki, you're with Jason, and Marta you're with me. We go in separately. Keep your heads down, stay close, and stick to the camera's blind spots. Jason, you got cash?"
He nodded and patted his jacket. In the lining. An old trick that almost never failed to work.
"Good." I was now speaking mostly to him, using a quieter and lower tone accordingly. "I wont tell you how we do this. You know the drill. Separate compartments—first class to blow off their expectations. We'll do a brush pass at 6:30 in the dining car. Sound good?"
"Oh, and Jason…" I waited for him to look at me. He did. "Take care of my sister."
He smiled, met my eyes, and nodded. "With my life." And I knew he would.
Satisfied, I turned again in my seat. "Marta?"
I smiled slightly at her readiness. "Let's do this."