Three months earlier:
Norvan clenched his fists as he struggled to control his growing anger. Thoughts raced through his mind. Not even one week ago the pieces of the puzzle were continuing to fall in place. Everything was going according to plan. But now in light of recent events, he couldn't help but feel that everything they had worked toward was beginning to slip away. Success is certain. That had always been his motto in life. A saying he had always stood by. But now he had been given a rude awakening. Reminded that nothing in life is assured, least of all, power. He passed through an iron gate, beyond which a BMW was parked, and walked a few more feet until he reached the car. Norvan opened the right rear passenger door and quickly climbed in.
"Where to sir?" his driver Aren asked.
"Home Aren." Norvan quietly replied.
"Of course sir."
Aren turned the key in the ignition and the BMW roared to life. He then pressed down on the gas pedal and they began making their way from the large mansion and down the wooded mountainside.
For several minutes Norvan and Aren rode in silence, Norvan completely lost in his thoughts about the events of the last few days.
Aren glanced in his boss' direction and noticed the pensive uneasy expression spread across his face as Norvan peered through the passenger window.
"Sir?" Aren asked, interrupting Norvan's thoughts.
Norvan turned his head toward Aren. "Yes, what is it?" He asked, not much in the mood for conversation.
"Forgive me for asking," he spoke somewhat hesitantly "but are you, all right? Pardon me for saying this sir but you don't look well."
"I'm fine Aren. Just a little tired is all. I haven't been able to get much sleep lately."
He glanced momentarily at his reflection in the window. His hair was disheveled and large dark circles had formed under his eyes. On the outside, it looked as though he hadn't slept for months which was probably true. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept. The stress and constant worry of the past few months had heavily weighed on him through all hours of the day and try as he might he couldn't shake them.
Aren spoke again, "Well, we have a long drive ahead of us sir. Perhaps you can get some rest on the way."
"I believe I wi—"
Norvan was suddenly cut off as a bullet shattered the rear windshield sending shards of glass flying toward him and Aren.
Norvan quickly turned his head and saw three vehicles following behind them.
"Hold on sir!" Aren flattened the accelerator to the floor, pushing them each back in their seats as the car accelerated forward.
Aren drove the car as fast as he could, mindful of the winding road, and the steep embankment on one side of them. Afraid they might drive off the road to their certain deaths. After a few moments, Norvan carefully looked behind him again and saw the line of cars still in hot pursuit. Drawing closer to the BMW with every passing second. It was clear they would soon catch up to them.
"Shoot!" Norvan muttered under his breath as he bent down and grabbed a gun from under his seat. It was something that he had always kept hidden there for situations like this. In his line of work, one could never be too prepared. For a brief moment, he stared down at the gleaming pistol and then cocked back the safety. He turned around and aimed the gun through the shattered rear windshield. Norvan could feel his heart beating rapidly and drops of sweat trickling down his face. He struggled to keep his aim steady as his hands were shaking profusely. He swallowed hard and pulled back the trigger. He fired off a rapid succession of shots which sent one car careening to the side. He assumed he'd hit the driver.
Within seconds the BMW was hit by another barrage of bullets. Norvan sharply inhaled as he felt a searing pain shoot through his side. The sudden agonizing pain caused him to drop the gun beside him on the back seat. He could feel a wet, sticky liquid dripping down his chest. Looking down he saw the whole side of his blazer and shirt stained red with blood. He quickly dug a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it up under his coat, pressing it tight against the bleeding wound. An involuntary gasp escaped his lips as he reacted to the pain unleashed by the slight contact. Even with his high pain threshold, he was in agony. Aren, hearing his boss' distress, called out to him.
"Sir! Sir are you all right?!"
"I—" he took a deep breath "I'm fine. Just ge—aaahhhh!" Another sudden jolt of pain racked Norvan's body, sending him crumpling to the car floor.
"Sir! Sir!" Aren called out desperately to Norvan after hearing him violently collapse.
As Norvan lay there on the carpeted floor he could make out the muffled sounds of Aren calling out to him over and over. No matter how hard he tried no sound or response came from his lips. As time passed he could feel himself slipping further into unconsciousness. The once overwhelming sounds of gunfire and tires skidding were now mere echoes in the distance. The previously distinguishable form of Aren was now a blackened shadow. He tried to fight it, telling himself to stay awake. That this wasn't how it was supposed to end. However, he knew the writing was on the wall. In his nearly unconscious state, he heard a muffled yet eerily distinct noise that sounded like an explosion. This was followed by another indistinct yet terrorizing sound. Was it a cry of pain, a shriek, or the sound of wailing? He couldn't tell. Only one thing was certain, time was up. He saw lapses of flames engulfing the sides of the BMW and could feel himself being lifted off the car floor. It was as if he was suspended in the air for a moment. Frozen in time, floating in mid-air, defying the laws of gravity. For a brief second, he saw the grey of the carpet, then everything faded to black.
Thunder rumbled overhead and lightning streaked across the sky as Adrian drove carefully to the hotel where Tasha and Jason would be staying. A heavy torrent of rain enveloped the Mercedes, the windshield wipers swiping back and forth furiously to wipe the drops of rain off the glass. For Tasha and Jason, the sudden weather change was unexpected as it was bright and sunny out that morning when they first arrived. They learned from Tarek that unexpected rain showers were something to be expected here in Krudia. After driving for over an hour they finally arrived at their destination.
They pulled up in front of the marble stone building. The exterior of the hotel was very beautiful with iron balconies attached to each suite. The building was also heavily detailed with stone carvings and columns. There were also two Ravenna fountains on either side of the portes-cochère, each one surrounded by a colorful assortment of flowers such as carnations, chrysanthemums, and hydrangeas. Tarek, Jason, and Tasha stepped out of the car. Tarek retrieved their belongings from the back and set them on the sidewalk next to Tasha and Jason.
"Thanks for driving us here," Jason said.
"And for getting our luggage," Tasha added.
"Certainly, anything for Dalmar's associates. We'll be seeing you Saturday evening. Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon," Tasha and Jason each replied in succession.
Tarek climbed in the car and the Mercedes pulled away.
"Let's get out of this rain before we get soaked," Jason said as he picked up their bags and headed for the entrance.
"I think it may be a little too late for that," Tasha stated as she glanced at their drenched clothes.
Jason and Tasha both laughed and made a dash for the front door. They stepped into the lobby and walked over to the front desk, where they were greeted with a receptionist's cheery welcome.
"Good evening Madam, Monsieur. Welcome to The Chardell"
"Hello, I'm Melinda Tylerson and this is Edward Delucas. We have reservations."
The hotel clerk opened the hotel's registry on the computer and scanned the list of names.
"Let me see, Tylerson...Delucas….Ah yes, you have booked rooms 202 and 204." The clerk retrieved the keys and handed them to Tasha and Jason.
"Here are your keys."
"Thanks" Jason responded as he took both of them. "Here you go, Melinda."
"Thank you, Edward."
"The bell boy will bring your luggage up to your rooms." The receptionist pressed down on the service bell.
A young teenage boy emerged from the curtains behind the desk.
"Yes, Mr. Perot."
"Henrie, take Mr. Delucas' and Ms. Tylerson's luggage to their quarters. It's rooms 202 and 204."
"Of course sir." Henrie bent down and grabbed their suitcases.
"Right this way."
"Thanks," Jason replied.
Tasha, Jason, and Henrie began making their way to the elevator. As they walked Tasha and Jason took in the sights around them. The inside of the hotel was breathtaking, even more lovely than the outside of the establishment. The floors were made of stunning Carrara marble and along the walls striking paintings of various styles hung. Ornate gold carvings lined the windows and doors. Beautifully carved marble statues were also placed throughout the hotel. In the lobby, there was a fireplace in front of which a walnut victorian sofa, two-hand carved chairs, and side tables were placed. The hotel even had a spa, restaurant, exercise room, and pool.
Once on the second floor, the three of them first made their way to room 202.
"Here is your suite Ms. Tylerson," Henrie said as he opened the door for her.
"Thank you," she replied as she entered the room. Henrie followed behind and placed her suitcases on the luggage rack. He then exited the room and opened the suite next to it which was room 204.
"And here is your room Mr. Delucas."
"Thanks," Jason responded as went into the suite. Henrie entered and then also placed Jason's belongings on the baggage rack.
"Will that be all?" Henrie asked as he turned to Jason.
"Yes, that's everything."
"Of course sir. I hope you have a wonderful stay here. If you ever need anything don't hesitate to ask."
"Thanks," Jason replied.
"I'll be off then" Henrie turned to leave.
"Wait, before you go," Jason said as he reached into his pocket to grab his wallet.
Henrie turned back around. "Yes sir?"
Jason pulled out several dollars. "This is for you," he said as he placed the money in the boy's hand.
Henrie's face lit up. "Thank you so much," he replied, his voice full of gratitude.
"Don't mention it" Jason responded as he placed his wallet back in his pocket.
"Thanks again," Henrie said before turning and making his way out the door.
As he passed her room Tasha, who was standing in her room's doorway, called out to Henrie.
"Yes, Ms. Tylerson."
"A little something for you," Tasha spoke as she held out some money.
"Thank you. You both are so generous" Henrie replied, taking the money, his smile even wider.
"Thank you. You're very sweet. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day."
"And you as well."
Henrie walked down the hall toward the elevator leaving Tasha and Jason alone. Tasha walked over to Jason's suite.
"I must say these suites are lovely." Tasha said as she entered the room, "They're definitely much better than most places I've stayed. And believe me, I've stayed in quite a few places over the last couple of years."
"I know right. This suite is incredible!" He said, looking about the room which had a large window that overlooked the skyline of the city with mountains in the distance. There was a large mahogany bed with tufted bedding and a crystal chandelier that hung from the ceiling. The walls were lined with ornate wooden panels and expensive impressionist paintings. Jason continued, "It's not every day you get to stay in a hotel room with such fine works of impressionism."
"So you know your art?" Tasha said playfully.
Jason shrugged. "Somewhat I suppose. My mother loves art. She pretty much knows all the styles and artists. Everything I know I got from her," he paused remembering, "and from the two of us visiting art galleries together."
"That's very sweet," Tasha smiled.
Jason smiled as well. "Yeah, my mom, she's really amazing."
Jason stood there for a moment, as he suddenly realized just how much he missed her. Her smile, her laugh, the feeling of her warm hugs, nothing compared to them. It had been quite some time since he had last seen his mom and dad. He quickly snapped out of his reverie. There would be time to see them later for now he had to focus his whole attention on completing this assignment. Right now he couldn't afford to have any distractions.
"Well, I better go unpack and then get some rest. I'm exhausted." Tasha spoke.
"Sure. I was planning on doing the same myself. A seventeen-hour flight can really wear a person out."
"Yes, it certainly can. Sleep well, Edward."
"You too Melinda."
Tasha exited the room and closed the door behind her, leaving Jason to unpack his luggage.
Outside The Chardell, a man sat in a dark car with tinted windows, listening to a woman speaking over his comms.
"Black Hawk, this is Red Sparrow. Do you copy"
"Coming in loud and clear" he responded as he glanced outside his car window.
"Do you have eyes on the targets?"
"Affirmative. The man and woman are now in The Chardell. I have eyes on them through the second-story windows."
"Very good. Continue monitoring their movements. If anything significant happens contact me immediately."
The woman ended the call and sat back in her leather chair. She glanced down at the photo on her oak desk. It was a picture of her and her father. She smiled as she thought of all the wonderful times they had shared together. Her favorite memory was of the two of them in his office playing chess. Every day she'd go there around noon. The chessboard and pieces would be all set up on a table in the center of the office, and they would play there for hours. He taught her everything he knew. He showed her that the game was not about luck but strategy. When to advance and when to hold back. How to know your opponents and anticipate their moves. When she was eight she thought he was only talking about the game but now she knew he was also talking about life. She shifted her gaze to the chessboard displayed on a bookcase to the left side of the room. She smirked. All the pieces were falling in place; it was just a matter of continuing to make the right moves. Whatever happened she still held the queen; she knew the players from the pawns.