Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2), page 20
“Sam isn’t the only one that has your back.”
Then she kissed him.
Xander didn’t need that kiss to know that Sarah meant what she said. She had proven herself through her actions far more than once in the short time he’d known her. She was a lot like him. She understood him.
She was also a really good kisser.
Sarah pulled away after running her hand through Xander’s hair.
Sam checked the clip on the AK-47, satisfied herself that it indeed was full, and she snapped it back into place.
“Time to go and do what we all came here to do.”
Life is a Highway
Ten minutes later, Xander twisted back the accelerator with his right hand, pulling up the nose of the Yamaha R1 and sped down MKAD, the outer loop highway that ran around Moscow, toward Domodedovo Airport. It was dark now and Xander easily weaved in and out of the small amount of traffic that rolled along the highway. The accelerometer registered one-hundred and forty-three miles per hour. A metaphor he thought for the last couple of weeks. Life in the fast lane. A life Xander supposed he had chosen when he was just a teenager. A teenager that had just lost both of his parents.
So he’d thought.
His life had been a whirlwind of violence and chaos since that day. And until today, he had directed his anger at an unknown bad guy. A mythical figure with fangs and talons. A murderous stranger that, seemingly without reason, took his parents from him and his sister. But there was no evil man with horns. No, the evil mythical creature that Xander had conjured all these years was nothing more than his very own father. All that Xander had put himself through over the last decade was because of him. The things, good or bad, that made Xander who he is today.
A trained killer.
A smattering of red taillights sporadically danced back and forth in front of him on the otherwise dark highway. What was he doing? Why was he still so hell-bent on pursuing this now that he knew the road ended at his father’s feet? Could he really kill his own father?
A rolling chill prickled down Xander’s spine. His lungs were on fire and he wasn’t even exerting himself. He sat up on the bike and backed off of the throttle. The motorcycle groaned as its RPM’s wound their way down. He lifted the clear shield on his helmet to let some cold but much needed fresh air in, as he down shifted and steered to the far right lane, slowing to around forty-five miles per hour.
Sam squeezed his waist, and over the wind rushing past them and the hum of the motorcycle, she shouted to him, “Xander, are you all right?”
Xander continued to steer and hold the throttle steady as he turned on the motorcycle as much as he could to face her.
“Xander?” Sam leaned around to meet his eyes.
Shifting his head back and forth between her and the road in front of him, he spoke with an uneven voice. “Sam, what are we doing?”
Ignoring her request, he continued riding along in the right hand lane. “Shouldn’t I just let this go? It’s my father?”
Sam was quiet for a moment. Deciding between what should be done, and what must be done.
“Sam?” He shouted back to her.
She once again raised her voice over the noise of the road. “If you don’t see this through, will you ever have peace?”
“Will I ever have peace if I do?”
It was a good question, but one Sam was ready for. From the moment this entire crusade for vengeance had begun, Sam’s biggest worry wasn’t if Xander would achieve revenge. Her concern was that Xander would always be left hallow, after he did.
She shouted to him again. “Honestly? I don’t know. But I do know that if you don’t have a chat with your father about it, no matter what closure that chat may or may not yield, you will always wonder. I’m not saying you shouldn’t kill the man, I’m not saying you should. What I am saying is that you must confront him, or the questions of why he did what he did to your mother—your entire family—will never let you rest.”
Xander turned his body back toward the road. Sam let him be. She knew he was trying to process. A moment later he turned back to her.
“What would you do?”
Sam now had a decision to make. She never had much of a relationship with her family, even before they were all dead. The decision was easy for her. She thought for a moment, trying to put herself in Xander’s shoes. She pictured the scene that Xander had so vividly described when he witnessed his beloved mother gunned down in front of him. In her mind she could see Xander’s young face, staring at the blood that leaked out of his poor mother’s back. Xander glanced back at her, the question in his eyes. Then, she swallowed hard and answered Xander as she always had, holding nothing back.
“I’d kill the motherfucker.”
Xander didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. He slammed his windshield closed on his helmet, leaned forward and spiked the throttle. The motorcycle leapt forward and in a matter of seconds they were doing a hundred and fifty miles an hour, a blur in the night. They were speeding towards Vitalii Dragov, Martin King, and a large group of Russia’s most notorious mafia thugs.
Xander had agreed with Sam.
Slow-Motion, Art, and a Fireworks Display
Xander and Sam were like a lightning bolt as they took the off-ramp from the MKAD and continued onto A-105. They were only minutes from the airport now. For what it was worth, they hadn’t seen a plane’s lights fill up the night’s sky. Maybe they would make it in time. Maybe Dragov and Xander’s father never really planned on leaving. They could very well be riding right into a trap. It only took twenty-four seconds on A-105 before it was apparent that the trap thing was at least partially true as a blacked out Cadillac Escalade EXT swerved over in front of Sam and Xander’s surging rocket.
Xander tapped down on the front and back brakes at the same time, applying even pressure so as not to go into what was called a stoppie, where the bike’s back end pitched upward and they rode solely on the front tire. The applying of that even pressure, however, still didn’t keep the back end from sliding out to the left on him as they skidded. The sound of the tires screeching against pavement and the roar of the SUV’s engine filled the air around them. Xander was ready for this sideways skid as well, and like moving his hands on a guitar to play the perfect note, he played the brakes in harmony to straighten the motorcycle and maintain their balance. It was the second Escalade that dropped back on their right side with a gun out the window that threatened the key of the dangerous tune he was playing. But this wasn’t Sam’s first rodeo on the back of a motorcycle with Xander. Four years ago they had found themselves in Rome in a similar situation.
Just as normal friends would.
Sam had already pulled the AK-47 and, just as Xander hit the throttle and swerved to roar past the left side of the Caddy in front of them, she squeezed off a short burst of three bullets, the second of which punched right through the hand of the man holding the gun. It was a good thing too, because this was a well-coordinated attack. A third Escalade—Russians aren’t known for their creativity—swerved into the lane in front of them and Xander was forced once again to lay on the brakes, sending them back into what would have been the line of fire. Thanks to Sam, a bloody hand was all that greeted them. Until, of course, the tailgate lifted on the Escalade in the middle. The three Escalades pulled even in front of them, closing off all three lanes of the highway. Xander checked his left rearview mirror and, no surprise to him, three more Escalades took up the lanes behind them.
At least one of those was white.
They were in a bad spot. The other two tailgates raised on the Escalades in front of them and they were now staring down the barrels of three semi-automatic assault rifles. The interior of the truck’s lights illuminated the three men behind the guns. All three dressed in all black, down to their matching ski masks. Beyond the trucks in front of them they could see the lights of the airport reaching up into the black sky.
So close, yet so far away.
Xander had no choice but to act fast, his only hope was that Sam would be ready. From the center of the middle lane, Xander drifted to his left, until he was perfectly aligned with the white dotted line that separated the lanes. Xander found that as with most moments of surged adrenaline, everything around him, including his breathing, slowed to a crawl. His senses heightened. He could smell the burnt rubber, the gasoline fumes from the Escalade’s massive engines, and he swore he even saw Sam nod in the side mirror, as if to say, we are in this slow-motion world together. And just like that, the slow-motion ended as he squeezed the hand brake on the right handle bar, clamping the brakes down on the front tire. As the backend of the bike came up, Sam had a clear line of sight, and as she gripped the back of Xander’s t-shirt with her left hand, she sprayed the AK from left to right, dropping every single one of the three men holding guns in front of them. The three Escalades roared past them and there couldn’t have been more than two inches on either side of the motorcycle as they did. Xander moving onto the dotted line so they wouldn’t hit the bike when he suddenly hit the brakes was a stroke of genius. Just as soon as the Escalades flew by, Xander let go of the front brake, the back tire slammed down as he simultaneously pulled his pistol with his left hand and shot out the back tire of the Caddy on the left, sending it careening off the road, leaving a space for him to pull away. But just as he gave the bike gas, swerved around the back two Escalades, and swerved back to go in between the left two Escalades in front of him, the drivers swerved together, cutting him off. He immediately steered left to go around on the strip they had left when they came together in front of him, but the driver quickly cut him off by swerving to his left.
They were still trapped.
The sides of the road would be too risky. They were all gravel and if you’ve never been on a motorcycle, gravel and motorcycles don’t mix. But as two more men began to steady their guns on them from the backseats of the two Escalades in front of them, he was left with no other choice. Sensing that this was the only option, Sam squeezed both arms around Xander. Just as the men fired their guns, Xander swerved wildly to the left, avoiding the bullets, and plunging into the gravel. At first, when he turned back to the right, paralleling them to the road, the back end searched for grip in the loose rocks as it slid wildly out to the left. To keep from toppling over sideways, Xander was forced to jerk the steering column back to the left, entering into a deadly game of one hundred mile per hour, motorbike balance.
Sam had the wherewithal to leave the steering worry to Xander, and if she hadn’t, they would have been dead. As Xander desperately fought to regain control of the death machine, Sam became one herself. She brought the AK up to shoulder height and held the trigger down for as long as it would shoot. The bullets arched left, right, up and down as they followed the tilt and lean of the wobbling motorcycle. The result was like one of those artists—if you can call them artists—that fling paint all over a canvas by swinging a paint full brush wildly through the air. The result, a come what may, smattering of paint wherever it might fall—art. Sam’s bullets painted the Escalade in much the same way. They sprayed up, down, left and right, taking out the man holding his gun through the rear window. The blood from his forehead was a masterpiece of its own. And just as Xander decided that gunning the throttle would finally straighten out the motorcycle, the last bullet in the AK-47’s clip found its way to the cheekbone of the driver in the SUV. The motorcycle surged forward, up onto the smooth blacktop now, and Xander heard what Sam was able to turn and see. The dead man in the driver’s seat fell forward onto the right side of the steering wheel and turned the Escalade right in front of the other two SUVs. In a spectacular crash, the Escalade flipped up in the air, the sound of the twisted metal like a tornado demolishing an aluminum barn reached all the way to the motorcycle. Tires scorched the blacktop and the rest of the SUV’s came together in an automobile fireworks display, worthy of the greatest of Fourth of July celebrations. It all ended in a fiery blast—the grand finale—and Xander leaned forward as he spiked the throttle and the bike sped away toward the airport.
Let’s Make a Deal
The engine of the motorcycle wound down as Xander slowed, pulling into the eerily quiet parking lot. That didn’t lower Xander’s heightened senses. He and Sam both were well aware that all eyes were on them. If Vitalii Dragov and Martin King were smart, they would level them with an RPG missile right now. So far, no screaming missiles were headed their way, and just an empty parking lot that overlooked three private aircraft hangars loomed in front of them. Xander pulled the bike into the first parking space inside the lot, behind a van, that just so happened to be the lone vehicle there. It at least provided a small amount of cover. They were at least a hundred yards from the nearest hangar.
Xander waited for Sam to get off from behind him before he peeled himself off the bike. As he stood, his legs maintained a comically bowlegged frame. Sam couldn’t help herself.
“Okay cowboy,” she nodded toward his still separated legs, “what now?”
Xander looked down and couldn’t help but smile as he removed his helmet. A street light shined down over them, almost in a spotlight.
“Nice moves back there, Samantha.”
“We make a hell of a team.”
“No sign of the helicopter full of our calvary yet. It looks like we’re on our own.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Sam removed her helmet, her dark hair fell down around her face and her smile curled into a confident smirk.
“What now?” Xander asked.
Before Sam could answer, they heard a cell phone ring. They both looked around like it would be on some invisible man standing beside them, then Xander felt a buzz in his pants. Sarah’s phone. He pulled the phone from his pocket, the number was blocked. Xander answered without speaking, placing the call on speakerphone.
“Xander, turn the motorcycle around and get the hell out of here now. I don’t want you to end up like your mother.”
Hearing his father’s voice on the other end of the cell phone did a lot of things to Xander all at once. The first feeling was a pang of nostalgia. Remembering the goofy sayings and all the lessons that voice had taught him. The second feeling was disbelief. That after all these years of supposedly being dead, that it could actually be him. If Xander hadn’t heard Sarah tell him about Manning flipping on his dad, and if he hadn’t seen him with his own eyes just a bit ago, he would have believed that someone was playing a sick and twisted joke on him. The third feeling, the feeling that stomped on the other two feelings, was one of sheer, unadulterated, blood boiling, skin-roasting anger.
“Fuck you. Come out here like a man and talk about it.”
“Aah, I see we are very much alike you and I, son.
“You and I are nothing alike.”
“So, you think because you were a Navy SEAL, Special Forces, and all those other meaningless titles that you are better than your old man, huh? You have no idea what I’ve been through in my life.”
“You’re right, I don’t even know who the fuck you are. But, step out into this parking lot and you’ll find out who I am.”
Sam swore she could see steam wafting into the cool air off Xander’s head. Then she realized she actually could, and that it was from him being in that motorcycle helmet for so long. She wanted to help, but there was nothing for her to say. This is the moment that her partner—her friend—had been waiting for since he was just a teenager. All she could do was be there for him in the aftermath. If either of them were around for the aftermath.
“Xander, I’ve lived a long and mostly brutal life. That hardens a man. Thickens his skin in a way that you couldn’t imagine. You think I would be afraid of you? I’m not saying I’m not proud of you, son, cause you are a hell of a soldier. But your tools have yet to be sharpened enough to take a man like me.”
The man on the other end of the phone was no longer his father in Xander’s mind. He was now
“I’ll tell you what, son, you leave your weapons where you stand, walk into that middle hangar there in front of you with your pretty unarmed girlfriend, and I’ll make you a deal.”
“I’ll let you have your shot at me. I know more about fighting than you will ever learn, but, if you win, I’ll instruct everyone here that you will be free to go. You and your girlfriend there, and the rest of your friends that I captured so easily earlier today.”
“And if you win?”
“They’re all dead. Everyone but you.”
“What happens to me?”
“You come to work for me. I think we’d make a pretty damn good team. You and I together could run the whole damn world.”
Xander looked up at Sam.
“Xander, you know it’s a trap. We both know you can’t win. Even if you win, you lose. He will never let you go.”
Xander didn’t respond. He removed both pistols from the back of the waistline of his pants and tossed them on the ground.
“Sam stays out here and you’ve got a deal.”
“Deal,” Martin King said without hesitation.
Xander ended the call.
“Xander, you can’t—”
Xander interrupted, “I have put you and Kyle in danger far too many times already during my search for revenge. I won’t do it anymore. This ends now, and it ends with me. If you are truly my friend, Sam, you will get on that motorcycle and get the hell out of here. Get on your phone and tell everyone else the same thing.”
“Xander, I can’t leave. I won’t leave.”
She spoke those last words to Xander’s back. He had already started the short walk toward the end of his long journey. And this time, for the first time, Sam didn’t follow.