Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2), page 16
Upside Down and Inside Out
As the engines of the G650 screamed to life, Jack, Zhanna, and Kyle peered out the window and watched as jeeps, cars, motorcycles, and vans poured out of every orifice of the airport like an ant colony taking on water. There must have been over a dozen of them coming straight for the runway.
Kyle turned in his seat, one eye on the oncoming army, one toward the cockpit. “Bob! It’s now or never!”
Just then the engines began to wind down, almost like they were letting out a sigh of relief.
“Bob! What the fuck?”
Kyle heard a seatbelt click and then Bob came walking down the isle. “Bob, wh—”
“They have surface to air missiles.” Bob said, dejected. “There’s no way out. Believe me, if there was I would find it.”
“We have to try, they take us and we’re dead!”
Zhanna unbuckled her belt. “He is correct, my father would not hesitate to shoot us down. This way we at least have chance. Not good chance, but chance.”
Kyle’s face knotted up. He’d been captured before, and it was absolutely the worst memory of his life. “So, that’s it? We just...”
Kyle’s voice trailed off. He noticed Jack reaching for the phone. Outside, the horde of Dragov’s blood thirsty minions began to surround the plane.
“Mary, this is Jack...There’s no time, just listen. We are in Moscow, and we are being taken. All of us. Domodedovo Airport is compromised. I would imagine any other airport near here will be as well. You, Marv, and Sarah have to find another way in,” he paused. “No, no word from Xander. Mary, no, no Mary, they are approaching the plane now. We should have known better.”
Viktor fired up the engine and the rotors began to whirl to life. At the same moment, the second helicopter was descending toward them. Viktor pulled back on the yoke and they began to lift off the ground.
Xander shouted. “How well can you fly this thing?”
Viktor looked over at Xander, wide-eyed with a grin full of yellow, tobacco stained teeth. “Viktor is best pilot in Ukraine!”
Xander couldn’t tell just how off his rocker Viktor was, but he certainly had no confidence in his self-proclamation. As he pulled the bird into the air, the other chopper followed, its front end seemingly grimacing back at them. “I saw the missiles were stripped, this thing got any ammo in the chain gun?”
“They make Viktor get rid of ammunition.”
“But, Viktor never really get rid of ammunition!”
Oh hell, yes.
“Viktor thought, just in case when I left, and put ammo in chain gun! Haha!”
Off his rocker or not, at that moment, Xander wanted to kiss that crazy bastard. “You ever been in a dog fight?”
“I play lots of Call of Duty, so don’t worry!”
Viktor turned the yoke to his left and then pushed it forward, their helicopter lurched forward and the Russians followed immediately behind him. Xander unbuckled his belt and made his way back to the opening in the side of the chopper. The wind whipped around the cabin as Xander grabbed the metal handle and looked back behind them. He really couldn’t be in a worse spot. He felt helpless. Just then sparks flew from under the Russian chopper’s fuselage. A split second later, bullets zipped under Xander’s feet and then he heard a clank-clank-clank-clank as several of them bore into the side of their helicopter. Xander dove back inside the cabin and pulled his pistols.
“Viktor! We have to get behind them! It’s our only shot!”
Before Viktor could respond a buzz-buzz-buzz clamored from the cockpit.
Viktor shouted after he jerked the yoke, “Hold on to pecker, Xander King!”
The helicopter jerked east and Xander slid toward the opening of the cabin. Just as his feet dangled out into the open air, Viktor jerked the yoke in the opposite direction, sending Xander flipping toward the other side of the chopper. BUZZ-BUZZ-BUZZ continued to scream from being locked in the Russian’s missile sites. Xander jumped to his feet, slid back across the chopper, and looked back out the opening just in time to see a missile dislodge from under the Russian bird.
“Countermeasure! Hit the antimissile flares!” Xander screamed, hoping against hope that they had never been removed. The missile was halfway to them now and just as Xander was about to turn away in hopes of finding a parachute, sparks flew out from behind their chopper. Viktor had released the flares. Their helicopter launched upward and Xander saw the missile explode mid-air.
“Hahaha!” Xander heard from the cockpit. “So that is what that button does!”
Xander’s stomach rolled, and it wasn’t because of the helicopter’s steep ascent. It was because he was hanging on for dear life, and that his dear life was currently in the hands of a madman. Xander fought against gravity and worked his way back up to the cockpit, just in time to hear another BUZZ-BUZZ-BUZZ alert of another oncoming missile.
“Any more flares?” Xander screamed, stabilizing himself by holding on to the backs of the cockpit seats.
“No more flares.” Viktor said calmly. Then he yanked back on the yoke again.
“What are you doing? We’ll stall!”
Xander looked at the altimeter; only three thousand feet. If they stall here, there would be no time to recover.
The nose of the helicopter was now completely vertical, pointed directly toward the heavens. The heavens that Xander figured he’d be seeing the inside of in a matter of seconds. He death-clutched the back of the cracked leather seats and his feet dangled out behind him.
Viktor pulled the yoke back to his stomach and screamed, “Do not worry Xander King! In simulator I have done this many times!”
“How often did it work?” Xander yelled back, hanging on with all he had. The helicopter began to pitch backward and the engine began to sputter.
“Almost?” Xander shouted as the helicopter stalled and the nose dove downward, the ground coming into view through the front windows of the cockpit. The next thing Xander saw was a missile flash in front of them, just missing the helicopter. Viktor didn’t even notice the dodging of the missile. He had already shut off the engine and was desperately attempting to get it roaring again. The crazy fucker had done this before. Apparently, however, this next part was as far as he got.
“Come on!” Viktor shouted at the helicopter’s dash. “Don’t do this to me, not now!”
As Viktor madly fiddled with the electronics, Xander held his ground against the seats in front of him. The ground grew larger and larger through the windows. It looked like a bad CGI job in a terrible crash scene of some underfunded B movie. Out of nowhere, Xander wondered what Natalie might say about this predicament. Amazing where the mind goes when it is panicked. He wished he could see or touch her one last time. He thought of Sam, alone, awaiting her execution. There would be no reason to keep her alive once Xander was dead. And, Kyle, would he die trying to save Sam? Most assuredly so. He could tell his best friend was falling for her. It seemed to Xander that Sam’s hardened heart was maybe growing a soft spot for him as well. But, neither would ever get to explore that if Xander didn’t make it out of this. Viktor continued to pluck at the controls. They were at the point of no return. The last face that popped into Xander’s mind was Zhanna’s. A bolt of hatred crashed through him. Everything in the cockpit turned red.
Bob lowered the door on the G650. A cool breeze filled the plane. Aggressive shouts from a baritone Russian man sounded off just outside the door. Bob put up his hands and started the long walk down the short set of stairs. Kyle’s mind had gone completely blank. It was as if he were a part of a terrible dream. Jack passed by him and started to walk down the stairs. With his mind numb and senses overloaded, like a zombie, Kyle blankly followed behind him. When he reached the top of the stairs, co
The Russian bull spiked Kyle in the forehead with the butt of his gun and purple sparks exploded in front of his eyes. Instead of the sounds of vehicle engines, all he could hear was a buzzing sound in his ears as pain rattled around in his brain. Two other men rushed past Kyle and up inside the jet. Kyle gave his head a shake, trying desperately to regain his wits. From his knees he looked back up at the entrance to the jet. A man reappeared in the doorway, looking down at the man that struck Kyle. As he shook his head from side to side, he said something in Russian that made the man pick Kyle up from his knees.
The man, his face twisted in anger, looked into Kyle’s eyes and in a thick Russian accent he addressed him. “Where is girl?
Kyle looked back to the jet, then back at the man. “I-I don’t know.”
The man punched him in the stomach. Shockwaves of pain spread through Kyle’s midsection and he desperately sucked in air.
“Where is Zhanna!” The man shouted.
Kyle had no idea, she was just there behind him when he exited the plane. At least he thought she was. Where could she have gone? Kyle just shrugged his shoulders and took another punch in the gut. As he dropped to his knees, he couldn’t believe he let her come along. Zhanna must have radioed ahead and told them they were landing there. She had set them up. This must have been her plan the entire time, to spy on them in the plane and then disappear. But why run now if this was her plan? The pain in Kyle’s body was jumbling his brain. Nothing was making sense to him. He could barely even think. All he could hear now was Xander’s voice in his head about Zhanna being no good. All he could do now is hope that for once, his friend was wrong.
The image of Zhanna and thoughts of her being a traitor blew away from Xander’s mind’s eye the moment he heard the engine come to life and the rotors fire up overhead. The ground was closing fast in front of them, but, maybe there was still a chance. As Viktor put two feet on the control panel in front of him and put all of his might into pulling back the yoke, Xander jumped into the co-pilot seat and pulled with everything he had as well. As what used to be dots, slowly became trees in front of them, the nose of the helicopter actually began to rise. The two of them maintained their strain, almost yanking the yoke right off its hinges, and gradually the ground shifted in front of them, and just as they were about to become eagle dinner, Xander saw a hint of evening sky.
“Pull Viktor! Pull you crazy son of a bitch!”
Viktor’s voice straining as he used all of his might, “Viktor...is...pulling!”
As they continued to pull, the helicopter finally began to level out and the tops of the trees that had come inches from swallowing them, finally crept farther away. Off in the distance, against a wall of the dying fiery light, there was a little black dot.
“Viktor did it! Xander King, Viktor pulled off loop! Haha!”
A rush of relief flooded over Xander, but he wasn’t quite ready to celebrate with Viktor. He knew if they didn’t go right after the little black dot in front of them, and take them out, they would be right back where they were a moment ago.
“Viktor, have you ever shot down a chopper in that simulator?”
Viktor smiled big. “Are you kidding me? That is Viktor’s specialty!”
This time Xander believed the psycho little man. Ten minutes later, after Viktor went back to the chain gun, the Russian helicopter was a ball of flames in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains. Xander and Viktor shared celebratory high fives and hugs as they floated along toward Moscow. The happiness inside that cockpit was a stark difference from the darkness that awaited them. Death had knocked on the door far too many times already that day. Unfortunately, the night was young.
A Roomful of Worry
Sam sat alone, her butt was on the concrete floor with her back against a cold cinderblock wall. The holding cell they were keeping her in was more of a room. Four gray walls and a white door. The only connection to the world beyond the room was a small sliver of light that squeezed its way through the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. She couldn’t help but let her mind wonder back to the concrete room she shared with Kyle, and about ten terrorists just a couple of weeks ago. That didn’t go so well, and she figured this wouldn’t either. However, if she was lucky, it would end the same way.
Watching Xander fall backward out of that cargo plane gave her hope as silly as that may sound. Most of the time when a man falls out of a plane, no parachute on his back, bullets flying all around him, and four assassins jumping out after him, hope would be one of the last things someone would have. But, amazingly, she had seen Xander in worse predicaments, and heard tale of some from his Special Forces days that would make today in the plane seem like a day at the fair. It also gave her hope that Kyle hadn’t been taken. Though he didn’t have the experience, knowledge, or even the skill necessary to form a rescue mission, he had the thing that mattered most. The thing you couldn’t teach, and the thing that Xander had in spades. He had heart. She knew that he would fight to the death, literally, until he saw her and Xander free.
When she first met him, not long after her and Xander decided to work together, she couldn’t stand him. He was arrogant for no reason, chauvinist, and seemed that the only direction he had in life was determined by who he could poke next with his pecker. Though she found him physically attractive from the beginning, it wasn’t until she went into battle with him in Syria that she saw what Xander saw in him. Loyal, strong willed, and heart. She couldn’t help but smile when she thought about him.
The door to her holding room pulled open and immediately her smile was wiped away. It was replaced with as dejected a look as one could ever wear. The crazy thing, the very person that made her smile a second ago was the reason she now wore a frown. Kyle, Jack, and Bob were pushed inside with her, and the door slammed behind them. Sam let out a long disheartened breath as Kyle raced over, brought her to her feet, and wrapped his arms tightly around her. She had never been so sorrowful and happy to see someone in all of her life. She returned the hug in kind, squeezing him tight, not a word spoken between them.
After a minute, Bob broke the silence, “Any word about Xander?”
Sam released Kyle’s embrace as the three of them looked at her expectantly. “No. Last time I saw the crazy bastard, he backed out of a cargo plane at fifteen thousand feet, without a parachute, holding onto a man that did have one.”
“What?” Jack was visibly shocked.
Kyle said, “Sounds like something Xander would do. At least he’s okay. Well, was okay, a couple of hours ago.”
Sam perked up. “You heard from him?”
“Oh shit, that’s right, you wouldn’t have known if he made it down safely or not. Sarah got an email from him. He dropped a pin showing his location somewhere in Ukraine.”
“I knew he’d make it.” Sam’s eyes filled with hope. A catch in her voice.
“Last we heard they were trying to get him a helicopter. Don’t know how that turned out. Sarah, Marv, and some woman from the CIA—”
“Mary Hartsfield,” Jack informed.
“Yeah, Mary, they were on the way here from Virginia, only a couple of hours out when we we
“What happened?” Sam asked.
“Zhanna must have set us up, they were ready and waiting for us as soon as we landed.”
Jack interrupted. “I know you are having a hard time believing me Kyle, but I’m tellin’ ya, Zhanna did what she did to give us a chance.”
Kyle looked annoyed. “Jack, she left us high and dry. She just disappeared.”
“I know that, and I’m tellin’ ya it was the best thing she coulda done. Now we have somebody workin’ for us on the outside. Someone that knows this place inside and out. I know her, Kyle. She ain’t workin’ for her daddy.”
“What do you think, Sam?” Kyle asked.
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t know her. All we can do is hope that either Zhanna, Sarah and crew, or Xander gets here fast. Dragov has no need for more than one hostage.”
With those dark words, they all let a morbid silence fall over the room. Kyle took Sam’s hand and gave her a hopeful gaze. He didn’t need words. They both knew that as long as Xander was out there, he wouldn’t rest until he saw them all safe. The only unspoken question that both of them knew hung in the balance, was how many of them would be alive when he finally made it.
A Moment of Clarity
Darkness successfully swallowed the last of the dying light of day. A damn long day. From the cockpit of the helicopter that was approaching Moscow, Xander and Viktor noticed the dots of light on the ground below had begun to outgrow the specks of fire scattered like broken glass in the sky. The air around them had finally begun to cool, but the smell of urine still lingered. Xander could hardly harp on it, Viktor had saved his life for god’s sake. After a while the sense of smell has a way of deadening such strong scents, good or bad. Much the way life has a way with a man’s feelings. No matter how much of a high you are on in life, or how low your depths, just hang on, because something will change, and it can always go either way. Xander’s life was no picnic before Sean spilled the beans—or thought he had spilled the beans—about Khatib a couple of weeks ago, but ever since that day it has been a gradual descent from controlled chaos, to bouncing around on a razor blade trampoline. One minute he’s getting revenge, the next it’s gone. One minute he’d been celebrating the launch of his bourbon company, the next his good friend is executed in front of him in Syria. His newfound love is lost—his partner in crime, Sam, is raped and degraded—he celebrates victory with his best friend and then gets raided by his real enemy—gets shot a couple more times—gets blown out of his hospital room—gets attacked at his hideaway home in Tuscany—falls out of an airplane without a parachute—avenges the capture of said partner in crime, Sam, by killing a known assassin in Pavlovich—and now, here he is, ticking his way back up the steep incline of the roller coaster, and god only knew what awaited him once he got to the top and looked down. Xander had no way of communicating with Kyle’s group, Sarah’s group, or Sam, and he not only had to watch his back against the world’s most notorious gangster and his goons, but also his enemy’s daughter—Zhanna—who may or may not be working with him, or she just wants Xander and all his friends dead because, well, maybe she just started her period. And—oh by the way—his father’s life was a lie and he was actually a CIA operative.