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A Hard Way to Heaven

By S.D. Macdonald All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Romance

Chapter 1

Budapest, Hungary

"Fuck!"  Akir Macleod hissed out, as he turned into the alleyway, slowing to a stop, and leaned against the wall, catching his breath.  

He was literally, figuratively, and royally fucked.

His body was running on empty, and the wound at his side was draining his reserves of strength.  His fingers pressed at the tear to his black tactical fleece, and blood dampened his fingers as he probed the wound.  The bullet had torn through the flesh at his side, grazing him deeply.  He rubbed his bloody fingers on his black combat pants, and fished a small plastic tube from one of the pockets.  Crystalline green eyes narrowed in on the shadows, and length of the alleyway as his teeth tore off the the stem of the vial.  Steam curled up from a grate, but nothing moved.  He had no time to waste, complaining not an option.  Time was the enemy.  Akir spit the end into a gutter, watched it ping pong on the grate before falling through and into the drain.  He downed the red liquid within, gagging against the medicine’s bitter taste.  He forced it down, tossed the vial under his booted foot, and crushed it.  

A pouch of blood coagulate was extracted from another pocket, torn open, and poured over the wound.  His breath hissed out sharply as the grains burned his flesh.  Akir dumped some over his fingers, and reached around his back, and pressed into the exit wound.  "Fucking hell."  Suddenly his mind cleared, feeling a surge of adrenaline, and the weakness retreat. The medicine was kicking in as he tossed the empty pouch into the sewer.  

He ejected an empty clip from his Glock, calculating a path through the alleyway.  He tucked the clip into his pocket and slipped a full clip home, rounded a charge, and engaged the safety, jogging deeper into the alleyway.  God, his nose wrinkled, his stomach threatening revolt.  The alley stunk of stale beer, human waste, and something else that made his eyes water.  He tucked the gun away at his hip, and swallowed the bile that rose in his throat.

Move dammit or your ass is grass, he thought, and ran.

He didn't need to look at his watch to know he was running out of time.  Trepidation, failure threatened to freeze his insides.  His training and knowing that his father’s and brother’s very lives were at stake, kept his feet moving. A running clock was illuminated in the corner of the interactive virtual glasses or IVGs stuck on his nose, and cast a prayer to the heavens hoping that any God was listening.  Akir prayed he wasn't too late. He pushed the pain of his own injuries aside, knowing he couldn't let them down. He had lost too much in this damn war already. And he knew his reckless actions had been the root cause of most of it. He cursed his own soul, if only his desperate prayers would save those he loved.

Several crates, a dumpster, and the small ladder dangling from the fire escape at the end of the alley marked a path to the roof.  Akir hit it at a dead run, clenched his jaw as pain erupted along his side as his foot connected with the crates, the wall, then the dumpster, climbing up as his arms stretched as his fingers reached for the lower rung of the ladder. He swung his body backward, forward and let go of the rung, used his momentum to propel upward, to grip the third rung above his head. He slammed into the steel as one of his hand's lost grip, knocking the air from his lungs.

He growled, reaching to gain purchase as the full effect of the medicine kicked in dampening the pain.  He clambered up the ladder, up the fire escape to the roof of the apartment building.  Akir gained the roof and stopped, taking a deep breath of the chilled night air. His lungs burned as his eyes darted around the cityscape of Budapest. He gritted his teeth, frustrated. He called up the map of the city on his IVGs, taking all of two seconds for the map to reset, and superimpose over the landscape to his current location. A small pinprick of red blinked over one particular point marking his destination.  He caught sight of the familiar dome of the Royal Palace, then scanned left, and took off at a run, his mind envisioning the route across the rooftops, until he could gain street level.

The digital clock kept running.  A deep roar built in his gut as he commanded his body to move, to run faster.  Akir dodged around an air conditioning vent, gritted his teeth seeing a small gap between the two roofs. He easily hurdled the short distance, keeping his feet. He fervently prayed his strength held out, knowing he had to fly, hoping he circumvented the right path to his target. Their recon had been solid, and if their technology didn't falter, malfunction he might just get there in time.

Akir really hated the fact he was on foreign soil, chasing a homicidal maniac that had no regard for any human life.  He hated the thought that his family was now suffering at the man’s hands, kidnapped in broad daylight, snatched off the streets of Berlin by their old enemy.  He was chasing a man that more than hated his family, and despised him.  Two families that would make Shakespeare's Capulets and Montagues look like fluffy bunnies with pop guns compared to the scorn their families held for each other.  

Two families torn apart by the hubris of mankind.  

Their feud was old, more than twelve hundred years in the making.  They were two houses of the same family, fractured because two brothers couldn't see eye to eye.  It was the old adage, good and evil, red and black, yin and yang.  Macleod versus Macleod.  One supposedly virtuous and the other wronged.  

Stupid. 

Idiotic.  

Totally screwed up.  Innocent people were paying the price, and his side of the family thought they were the righteous sons of bitches.  He wasn't sure anymore after all the times he had to bury family and kin.  He was tired of this war, tired of it all.

He scurried along the roof lines, dropped down onto another roof at a dead run, and saw the gap, fifty yards away.  His lips lifted in snarl as his ear piece crackled to life.  He heard his cousin Dac’s deep Scottish brogue in his left ear.  He cut him off before he had a chance to speak, breathless, "Hold...on."  He took the gap at a hard run, arms pumping and jumped.  He flew across the distance, hit the opposite roof, fell, tucked his body and somersaulted forward.  He rolled to his feet, and kept going, "Go!"

Dac’s eyes followed Akir's signature blip transversing the digital map on his monitor screen, "Cutting it close."

Akir estimated the time, a football field away by the crows fly and then another seventy-five feet or more to the ground.  That is if there was a way down to street level.  He cursed under his breath, he wasn't going to make it.  He drew deep into his energy reserves, "Ten minutes."

"Move your ass, the Merc's close."

"Right."  That Mercedes was carrying the one person that would have any clue to the location of his family.  It might as well have been ten miles.  He bellowed his frustration.

He saw the iron railings of another fire escape and gripped the edge, jumped down onto the top landing, and then swung, dropping from one landing to another until he could make the jump to street level.  Akir burst out into the street, darting through late evening traffic.  A car swerved to miss him, honking their horn, feeling the side-view mirror brush his arm.  He bit out a snarl, boxed in on all sides by the height of the buildings.  He made a choice, hoping it was the right one, darted through an alley, turned a corner, and burst out onto a main street, saw the Hotel Sofitel in the distance.  He stopped in the center of the road, his chest heaving as his side burned from his injury.  His sprint across the rooftops should have put him in the right place at the right time.  He half shouted, knowing his ear mic would pick up his frustration.  He didn't care, "Dac talk...talk to me."

One word came back, "Now."

His eyes darted one way, then another as he stood in the middle of the road, unholstering his gun, bringing it to bear.  Akir's body whipped around at the screeching sound of tires as a silver Merc rounded the corner behind him.  His body tightened as his training ratchet up to the next level.  He focused, taking deep breaths to slow down his heart rate.  He saw the license plate, saw the match flash in his glasses, his fingers curled around the trigger of his gun.  His plan was insane, certifiably nuts, and he bolted, saw the right moment to make his move.  Before he launched himself up into the air in the classic pose of a hurdler, he took aim at the driver and got three modified rounds off.  The projectiles punched through the integrity of the bullet proof glass, and keeping the crosshairs of his gun trained on the driver, squeezed the trigger three more times.  As he hurtled through the air, Akir barely cleared the auto, his butt skimming the roof.  He rolled off the boot, gravity and speed doing their work, and somersaulted over the pavement a few yards.  He rolled to a stop, and turned in time, grinning as the tires screech hard left as the vehicle lurched.  His bullets had hit the mark.  He staggered up, recovering as the car crashed into several others parked along the street and went airborne, propelled up into the air.

The crash echoed around him, metal screeching against concrete, sending sparks flying as the roof skimmed along the concrete.  Akir didn't wait, rushing back as the Merc skidded to a dead stop.  The smell of burning rubber, electronics and gasoline filled his nostrils as he reached for the door handle, the edge of the door of the back passenger area.  He thanked whatever God was looking after him as he used sheer adrenaline fueled strength to pull it open.

Akir could tell the driver was dead, half his head blown off by his shot, the front passenger was moving, groaning, stunned by the accident.  He was more interested in the man in the back, that dangled from his seat belt.  He grabbed him by the lapels of his trench coat and shook him, yelling, "Tell me where they are?"  He shook him merciless, "Where the fuck are they?"

The man laughed, blood and teeth burst from his mouth onto the fine leather seats in front of him, onto Akir's face.  Nivan Louvella’s cultured accent distorted now by a lisp, rasped out, "You will never get there in time."

Akir shoved the edge of the gun into the Louvella’s cheek, "Tell me and I will let you live."

"I am dead any way."  The car smoldered and Akir knew he had little time.

"Tell me!  And I will make it as painless as possible."

Louvella laughed, "Le loup noir, tis time you pay the price."

"Where?!"

Louvella’s laugh turned to a hard cough.  Blood bubbled over his lips, dripped down his face. "The Basilica."

Akir pulled the trigger, blowing a hole through the man's temple.  He then leveled it at the other man in the passenger seat, and shot him.  He retreated as fire flamed in the under carriage.  His eyes darted around, rubbed the blood from his face, spying several pedestrians emerging from the hotel, looking for the sound of the crash.  They started down the streets, hurrying towards the accident, sirens wailing in the distance.  He smelled the gasoline beneath his feet and knew there was only one way to slow down the rendőrség.  He fished out his fake credentials, yelled to the approaching people in Hungarian as he shuffled back, hiding his gun at his side, lifting his badge, "Stay back police, gasoline.  They are dead."

He ran towards the people, screaming, his chin down and was thankful they backpedaled back to the hotel.  He spoke, hoping Dac heard him, "Dac sanitize, CCTV...?"

"Got it already, get your ass out of there."

"Basilica."

"Right."  Dac’s voice was tight over his ear piece as the car exploded behind him and the heat of the flames lapped at his back, shoving him into the shadows of the alleway.  Akir tucked his gun into his hip holster.  In all the chaos and the people rushing to the scene, he made a dash for it.

Akir burst into St. Stephen's Basilica, dipped his fingers into the holy water, dropped to a knee and hurriedly crossed himself as his eyes darted around.  He half-ran, looking at the few people in the pews.  He didn't recognize any of them.  Where were they?  They had to be here.  Heads turned, sensing someone there, and he smiled reassuringly.  He dipped again at a pew, crossed himself twice and slipped along the space.  His eyes caught sight of the confessionals, shuffled towards them, hoping, praying.

He saw the door open for the faithful and stepped inside.  There through the wooden mesh, beneath the small drape, he spied the white surplice and purple stole of the priest.  He eased his gun out of his holster and lowered it to his side, pointing at a the back corner of the next stall, not trusting even a man of God.  He wouldn't put it past his enemies to use any method to kill him.  He took a deep breath, to steady his rapid beating heart, whispered the start of the confessional in Hungarian, leading into, "Tell me where you bastard or I swear..."  He heard mumbling and the confessional shook.  Akir pushed opened the screen, lifted the drape that separated them, and saw the priest had been trussed up and gagged.  An envelop was pinned to the surplice, and he reached in, tore it from the priest's chest.  He holstered his gun, leaned in, and removed the gag, asking, "When Father?"

"Not long, five minutes ago."

Fuck.  He opened the envelop and turned it over, stepping from the confessional.  A thin SMART phone slipped out into his hand.  He took out his own mobile phone, speaking to Dac as he hurried down towards the door of the Basilica.  "Dac, another clue.  New phone, left with the priest."

Dac’s curses filled his ear, this panic retreated  His brother spoke clearly, "Got it, hit the bluetooth security app I installed last week.  The phone will pair once you boot it up, and I can clone it safely.  You should be good to go."

By the time he made the front door and stepped out onto the steps, Akir's phone paired with the other device, and he could see another small screen open on his IVGs, code running in green lines on minuscule black terminal box.  "An ambiguous system, searching."  No more than three seconds later, a text appeared on the front screen of the provided phone.  "It's another address, picture."

It was the courtyard in front of the church.  Akir looked up, his eyes widening as his heart lodged in his throat.  He shouted, recognizing the two men that knelt on the ground, illuminated by the last street lamp at the end of the courtyard.  A figure emerge from the shadows, his features hidden by the wide brimmed hat.   Deep down, Akir knew who it was, "Élan!"  He watched his mortal enemy walk up behind his brother, touch the brim of his hat, mocking him.  Akir broke into a run, lifting his gun, and stumbled as pain erupted in his thigh.  He roared, dragging his injured leg, hopping forward as blood dampened his black pants from the bullet wound.  A sniper was somewhere above him.  He didn't care.

He shouted as Élan lifted his hand, saw the glint of the knife in the light and watched in horror as he made a swift motion, cutting across the neck of his younger brother.  Ian pitched forward, his eyes wide in shock as blood burst from his neck, from his cut aorta.   Akir keened, "Ian!" He struggled forward, only to have a bullet rip into his other leg.  He crashed to the ground, his gun lost, skipping a foot ahead on the pavement.  Élan stepped to his father, and just as swiftly, cut his throat, as Akir screamed, "NO!"  He crawled to his gun, snatching it up, rising onto his elbows, and leveled his gun at his enemy and took aim.  His gun exploded in his hand, his fingers, his palm bloody.  He could hear Dac screaming in his ear, heard shouting behind him, and laughter coming from across the courtyard as Élan stood under the street lamp, laughing.

Akir screamed, his voice going hoarse as his tears rolled down his cheeks.  He rolled back and forth, trying to crawl towards his family.  His eyes locked on the horror of his father and brother laying in a pool of blood fifty yards away.  Numbness gripped him, and he struggled with the realization that he had failed yet again.  He was responsible for their deaths.  He cursed his family, the elders, cursed them all for this continued feud, hating them all.

Suddenly his mind exploded in a burst of white light and pain.  He fell hard into the black abyss.

Dac’s hands gripped the edge of the counter as silence filled his ears, his eyes taking in the scene on his monitors.  He sat down heavily in their van as they navigated the streets of Budapest, ensuring the privacy of their communications  His voice croaked out, seeing his kin, his brother in arms, motionless on the grown, having witnessed the head shot.  His voice croaked out, praying, "Akir speak to me." He stood, shouting again, and again, calling for a situation report from his other brothers.  He heard their voices and tensed at their shouts turned frantic as they came into view on the monitors.  He heard the codes, sat heavily into his chair, and reached back to his key board, his fingers flying across the keys, entering instructions, and replies into the computer, knowing that their family was monitoring the mission in London.  He swallowed, feeling his own grief at the certain loss of his uncle and cousin.  Praying for the slim chance that Akir had survived.  He froze, his stomach clenching as he heard the next words from his brother Zeke.  His voice came over his headphones, repeating again and again, "Man down."


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