Free Story: The Hitman Chronicles: Rumors of War – Chapters 9/10 (Conclusion)
Viktor Mogilevich’s office was located on the first floor at the rear southern corner of the mansion, at the junction at which two corridors met in an “L” shape. Inside Viktor and his men were counting and dividing up the week’s proceeds, money that was going to be laundered via various front operations in New York and New Jersey.
While Viktor and the men were tallying the proceeds, the bodyguards Mike and Ivan roamed the halls outside the closed office door, each taking a leg of the “L” so that they could see anyone approach along either hallway. When they came together in front of the office they spoke in hushed voices.
“What do you think Viktor will make Vanna do today?” Ivan asked.
“I don’t give a shit,” Mike said. “She’s a filthy whore, like all of them.”
“I would love to stick my dick in that filthy whore,” Ivan laughed.
“But you won’t – not unless Viktor says so. That’s his woman.”
“She’s not his woman,” Ivan said. “He has a wife. And he lets anyone fuck Vanna, like those lucky bastards in there right now. And then there are the losers who pay for her to spread her legs.”
“Right now all I want to pay for is food,” Mike said. “I’m going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.”
Ivan had no concerns about Mike leaving his post. Nothing ever happened on these Sunday mornings when Viktor’s lieutenants came to collect the money. On Sundays there were only a few girls and Amarante here. There was nothing to worry about.
Mike was standing in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open, trying to decide if he wanted ham or turkey or both when he sensed that he wasn’t alone. He hadn’t heard anything, but his instincts as a bodyguard and a killer put his senses on alert. He closed the refrigerator and turned toward the kitchen entry.
Nikira Horikoshi was standing in the kitchen entry. She was smiling at him.
She wore all black – jeans, turtleneck, and rubber-soled shoes. Neither Viktor nor Amarante had advised that she would be here today. Mike was about to ask her why she was here.
But then he died.
Duncan’s blow to the back of the bodyguard’s neck separated his brain stem from his spinal cord. Not wanting the sound of the big man’s fall to alert anyone, Duncan caught him as he collapsed and eased his lifeless body to the kitchen floor.
When he looked up Nikira was shaking her head and smiling at him. Her eyes burned with primal heat. She bit her bottom lip seductively and stepped into the kitchen.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he whispered.
Nikira leaned to him and placed her mouth close to his ear. “I’ve never seen you kill anyone with only your hands,” she said. “That was so sexy.”
From the back seat of the Escalade Vanna watched Amarante and Marita in the front, and cut glances at the new girl Nicole, who sat across from her in the rear. No one was paying any attention to her, so she eased her cell phone out of her pocket and held it between her leg and the vehicle door. She slid it open, and wondered if she could speed dial Viktor’s number without anyone hearing.
She couldn’t talk to him, but maybe he would take the open line as a warning that something was wrong.
They were on a rural road, approaching the stop sign at an intersection. That gave Vanna another idea. As Amarante slowed the vehicle to a stop Vanna opened her door and leapt out of the SUV. She ran back up the road toward the mansion, fumbling desperately to punch the speed dial key for Viktor’s office.
Between her nervous fingers and her desperate running her finger couldn’t find the key. She needed to stop for a moment. She veered off the road and stumbled into the forest to find cover.
Ivan decided that he wanted a sandwich too, and as he strolled along his leg of the corridor toward Viktor’s office he wondered what was taking Mike so long. He was supposed to make himself a sandwich and come back, not eat it down in the kitchen. As Ivan reached the juncture he was thinking that Mike was a fool to leave his post for so long. If Viktor found out he would have his head.
When Ivan reached the corner he looked up the other hallway, hoping to see Mike returning from the kitchen. Instead he saw Nikira Horikoshi running up the hall toward Viktor’s office with shocking speed but as silently as a ghost. It took Ivan a moment to register the wrongness of her being there, and the potential threat of her running toward Viktor’s office. That was a moment too long.
Ivan was carrying an Uzi. He raised his weapon just as the woman’s hand found and clamped around his throat. Her fingers were steel claws digging into his flesh. The pain was incredible in its intensity, so incredible that he forgot about his weapon and tried to tear her hand from his throat.
Duncan watched, amazed and impressed. The bodyguard had to be almost twice Nikira’s size. But she’d honed her ability to focus her chi to the point that with just one hand she could hold a man as helpless as a rag doll and crush the life out of him.
The bodyguard sank to his knees as his brain succumbed to the lack of oxygen and his body to the indescribable pain that drained his strength away. Duncan knew that Nikira could kill him quickly if she wished. But she didn’t. She stared into the man’s horrified eyes until they rolled back in his head. Then she braced herself with her knee against his chest and ripped his throat out.
Overkill. Definitely overkill.
When she looked back at him there was none of the sexual heat in her eyes he’d seen in the kitchen. Now they were cold and cruel, and Duncan saw in them the same madness he’d seen on that stormy night two years ago. Once again he was looking into the eyes of the monster.
She made no comment. She just pulled Beretta out of her fanny pack and moved as soundlessly as a shadow to the office door.
Duncan pulled out his Beretta and followed Nikira down the hall. For a moment he felt an animal urge to shoot her in the back of her head. It was his survival instinct, telling him that he and the rest of the world would be a lot safer if she were dead. Six billion people would be better off with a dozen members of the Russian Mafia alive than with Nikira Horikoshi walking the earth.
But the moment passed.
Duncan hoped that he wouldn’t live to regret it.
Vanna found a clearing in the woods about twenty yards from the road and stopped. She listened, straining to hear over her own labored breathing. She didn’t hear any vehicle on the road. Amarante hadn’t come after her.
She raised her phone in a trembling hand and squinted through stinging sweat at the dial pad.
“You are a very foolish woman.”
Vanna screamed and dropped her phone into the leaves. She looked around wildly, not knowing which way to run. And then she spotted Amarante coming into the clearing from the woods between her and the house. How had she gotten in front of her – ahead of her?
Vanna stood terror-stricken as Amarante approached. She saw no compassion or mercy in the tall African’s panther green eyes. She didn’t realize that she was backing away until her back bumped into a tree.
Amarante stopped right in front of her and stared down at her. A smile played at the corners of her mouth, but Vanna saw no humor in her smile.
“If you touch me Viktor will kill you,” Vanna said.
Amarante flicked her hand as if shooing away a pesky insect and a narrow, gleaming blade appeared in her fist. Vanna was going to scream, but a second flick of the African’s hand opened her throat.
“Viktor will die today,” Amarante said. “Perhaps you will service him in Hell.”
When his office door flew open Viktor expected to see one of his bodyguards, or Amarante in the entry. Instead he saw the Japanese bitch. She moved quickly into the room and to one side of the open door. A black man followed her in, moving just as quickly to the other side. Both were armed with machine pistols.
His men were shouting and springing to their feet around the conference table and dying as they tried to draw their weapons. Nikira and the black man were cutting them down with quick, cold efficiency. Viktor dove for cover behind his desk, screaming his rage and fear.
The carnage lasted for seconds that to Viktor seemed like hours. And then his office was silent save for the echo of gunfire and the moans of the dying. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that some of his men had managed to kill the bitch and her associate. But then he heard her voice, calling to him in a sing-song melody:
“Viktor…come out, come out, wherever you are…”
Duncan watched as Viktor Mogilevich scooted out from behind his desk and moved against the far wall with his hands raised in surrender. Nikira moved toward him, stepping over the bloody bodies of his men. She held her Beretta leveled at his head.
“I have more money,” Mogilevich pleaded. “I can pay you more.”
“Oh Viktor, I don’t want any more of your money,” Nikira cooed.
Duncan couldn’t see her face, but he knew that Nikira’s expression didn’t match her breathy Marilyn Monroe imitation. The pure terror on Mogilevich’s face told him that he was looking up at the monster.
Nikira pulled a cell phone from her pocket. She toyed with it with one hand for a moment, and then tossed it to Viktor. It fell onto his lap.
“Look at it,” Nikira ordered. Now her voice had gone icy.
Viktor did as he was told. He looked at the phone’s display, and the fear on his face turned to horror. He screamed and kept screaming until Nikira placed the barrel of her Beretta against his temple and squeezed off a three-round burst that sent the contents of the top half of his head splattering against the wall behind him. Then she retrieved her phone.
As they left the office Duncan asked, “What did you show him on the phone?”
“Just a photo I took of his wife and daughters,” Nikira said. “It’s a nice family picture…I even had his dogs in it.” She laughed and added, “I don’t know why Viktor was so surprised. I told him I was going to do it.”
Duncan didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know.
Long Branch, New Jersey
One Month Later
They stood on the boardwalk together, gazing out at the ocean. It was cold out, so Duncan stood behind Maisha with his arms wrapped around her to keep her warm.
“I wish you could have seen this place the way it was when I was growing up,” he said. “It was so much nicer before the fire.”
“It’s nice now,” she said.
“But everything is burned down. There used to be all the arcades, the eateries, the rides. It was a good place to raise children. Now it’s all condos and expensive boutiques.”
Maisha turned around in his arms and gave him a soft, sweet kiss. “Well, I like this part, with just you and me and the ocean,” she said. “It feels so right with us being out here. It’s like it’s just us and God, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Duncan said. “As long as it’s just us then everything is all good.”
She watched them through a pair of high-powered surveillance binoculars from a rental car parked a couple of blocks away.
She’s very pretty, Nikira thought. She could understand why Duncan was attracted to her. But a woman’s beauty fades over time. And after that, what does one have? After beauty fades you have to have some type of commonality to serve as the glue to hold you together.
Duncan and I have that commonality. Their commonality was blood, and death. They were creatures created together, two of a kind, like Adam and Eve. Duncan couldn’t see that right now, because right now he was blinded by Maisha’s beauty.
That’s what Nikira was thinking as she put the binoculars down and started the car. And as she drove away she was thinking that one day Duncan would come to his senses and realize the truth. All it would take was for Maisha to be out of the picture.
One day, when his wife was gone, Duncan would be able to see with whom he really shared a bond. He would understand with whom he really belonged.
Not today, but one day.
Maybe one day soon.
The warm rays of the Carolina morning sun filtered through the blinds, gently coaxing Duncan awake. He rolled over and reached out, but Maisha wasn’t there. He sat up and saw the note on her pillow:
Taking a walk.
I love you,
The clock read just past nine. He’d been up late last night painting and Maisha had let him sleep in.
He read her short note again, smiled, and decided that he’d make breakfast for her this morning – something healthy with a lot of fruit and fiber. In her condition she needed to eat good food. He got up and slipped on his sweats.
He was going to make her breakfast, but first he bypassed the kitchen when he got down to the first floor and kept going down, to the basement.
He found her with camera number six, which was mounted among the trees on the trail that ran into the woods in back of their home. He smiled at the monitor. She looked so cute in her overalls with her swollen belly. Being pregnant did nothing to detract from her beauty.
She was standing at the edge of the creek that interrupted the trail about an eighth of a mile from the back gate of their yard. She seemed to be considering.
Come on babe, be a good girl…
A fallen tree lay across the stream. He’d used that tree to cross the water when he first moved here. But after they learned that Maisha was pregnant, he’d built a footbridge for her. At its greatest depth the creek was only about a foot deep, but it didn’t pay to take chances. Of course Maisha didn’t see it that way. He’d often scolded his wife that she needed to be more careful, and to take it easy in her delicate condition.
Duncanwas thinking now that he should have just moved that tree off the stream so she wouldn’t even be tempted. He continued to watch her and sure enough, she picked the tree rather than the bridge. She stepped up gingerly onto it and started across, her arms outstretched to keep her balance on the rough, rounded bark.
He shook his head at the monitor. She was going to be in so much trouble when she got back to the house.
A blip from the LED under monitor number five drew his attention. The camera for that monitor was trained on the back gate. The monitor flickered on, and Duncan’s mild concern spiraled up into shock. That monitor showed Nikira Horikoshi running through the back gate and sprinting down the trail.
She was dressed in black, and as she ran the sun flashed off something clutched in her right hand.
A hunting knife.
Duncan fought off the wave of panic that threatened to immobilize him and shot up out of his chair. He dashed to the armory and grabbed a Glock .9 mm combat pistol from the shelf, slamming a 15-round magazine into the receiver and flipping off the safety as he bolted up the basement steps.
Fifteen rounds. Enough to kill a monster?
He wasn’t aware of making the top of the basement steps, wasn’t aware of bolting through the house and bursting through the back door out onto the porch, or of leaping from the porch and hitting the ground at a dead run. His only thought was of Maisha and their child that she carried inside her.
He ran faster than he’d ever run in his life, and yet he felt as if he were moving in slow motion. Nikira was fast and had a good lead on him, but if he could just get her in sight he wouldn’t need to catch her. If he was lucky he’d get her in range before she knew he was pursuing, and he’d kill her with his first shot. If he missed she’d at least have to take cover, and that would keep her from going after his wife. From then on it would be a game of cat and mouse in the woods, the result of which would be that either he or Nikira would die. In the meantime Maisha would hear his shots and know to get away. That was all that mattered…that she was safe.
He had to catch Nikira.
He ran wildly, desperately.
He was through the back yard and on the trail, but he didn’t see her. Where was she?
He was halfway between the gate and the creek and he hadn’t spotted Nikira. Had she heard him coming and hid in the forest? If that were the case he was in danger of being ambushed. It didn’t matter. He had to get to Maisha.
He was nearly at the stream. It was just ahead, around a bend in the trail. He sprinted around the bend and there it was. He scanned the area wildly, seeing nothing at first because he was blinded by his anxiety. And then he spotted them.
They were in the water. Maisha was scooting backward out of the stream onto the far bank, her overalls soaked, her hands slipping in the mud, her face a mask of terror. Nikira waded through the water after her, that knife poised and ready.
He shouted, “Nikki, no!”
Nikira looked around, saw him and gave him a smile full of hatred and triumph. She was between him and Maisha. She knew that he wouldn’t shoot at her and risk hitting his wife.
He ran toward the stream, his heartbeat thudding in his ears with every step.
He wasn’t going to make it. Nikira was standing over Maisha now. She raised the knife. The sun caught the blade again, and it flashed like lightning in her fist. And then it whipped down in a terrible arc toward his terrified wife.
Duncan bolted upright in bed, yelling and striking out blindly in the darkness, his scream ripping out of his chest.
“Baby! Baby, it’s okay!” Maisha was clutching at his arm, trying to shake him awake.
Slowly awareness came to him, and he stopped thrashing. But his heart still beat wildly, thudding like a bass drum in his ears. His breath still escaped his throat in ragged gasps.
Maisha switched on a bedside lamp. Her face was etched with worry.
Before she could ask the question he gasped, “I’m all right, babe. It was just a dream. I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep.”
It didn’t surprise him that Maisha wouldn’t be put off so easily. She caressed his arm and then placed her soft hand against his pounding chest and said, “Honey, you’re shaking. What were you dreaming?”
“Nothing. Just crazy stuff. Nothing.” I should have killed her when I had the chance.
“Was it about the past – about what happened before?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Maisha was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Honey, when you came back home by yourself you said that you had to take care of some things. You said you had to make sure that the past didn’t come back on us.”
“Yeah.” He thought he’d done that. He thought that by working with Nikki on that contract that they could put the past behind them and stop being a threat to each other. It seemed that he’d accomplished that. After the job he and Nikki had parted ways without trying to kill each other.
“Did you do that?”
“I think so, yes.”
Duncan lay down again. Maisha lay with him, with her face resting on his chest. He held his wife close; kissed her hair.
He lay quietly, holding his wife close until her breathing grew deep and he knew that she was asleep. He was glad that she could sleep so peacefully, that she could sleep the sleep of the safe and protected.
Hours later, as sunrise lit their bedroom, Duncan was still awake.
The Hitman Chronicles: Rumors of War