Chapter Twenty-Four

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Martin sat on the surface of his coffee table, resting his soaked palm against his swollen cheek. The moisture and heat projecting from his hand nursed the puffiness forming around the outside of his eye. The inside of his month throbbed, his gums ac...

Martin sat on the surface of his coffee table, resting his soaked palm against his swollen cheek. The moisture and heat projecting from his hand nursed the puffiness forming around the outside of his eye. The inside of his month throbbed, his gums aching from the sensation of air brushing over them. The saliva interspersed with the taste of wet iron spilling from the gaps where his teeth once were—almost to the point of forcing him to swallow it down so it wouldn’t flood the inside of his mouth.

But physical pain was the least of Martin’s worries. The possibility of Lianna getting caught by some insane grifter plagued his thoughts while he heard his room being ransacked by Mitchell’s accomplice. He listened helplessly to the man shouting in his native language as sounds of furniture being violently shoved over and glass shattering assaulted his eardrums. Even from his peripheral view, he noticed Lianna’s tree house being tossed across the room.

Martin silently hoped she found the vent built into the closet without trouble. If it was spacious and cavernous enough, she could at least stay hidden until the arseholes robbing him wore themselves out. But he wanted the woman to remain scarce and not pull any heroics. Lianna may be a warrior in her own right, but there was no fucking way she’d be able to fight a human and survive. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try it.

Stay in the closet, he thought desperately. Don’t do anything rash and you’ll most likely stay alive.

“How’s your face?” Mitchell teased with a chuckle, snapping Martin back to the present.

“You should know,” Martin answered bitterly, continuing to look at the floor. “You’re the one just standing there looking at it. Please just take what you want and go. I won’t phone the Yard.”

“That’s very kind of you to offer, Keating,” Mitchell responded, “I’ll be sure to take you up on it.”

Martin lifted his head and looked at the gunman, making sure that his perplexity was masked. This guy knew his name. But how though? He’d never seen this guy or his partner in his life and didn’t recall ever doing computer repairs for anyone in the Hungarian community. And every piece of his personal and professional information was web blocked with the Phantom Web software installed on his laptop, guarded by at least five firewalls and an encryption code. So why the hell would two grifters jump through so many hoops to…

Martin felt his heart sink. The gunmen in his flat weren’t thieves, but henchmen. Whoever hired them had cracked the security codes ghosting his information long enough to find out about him in order to get to Lianna. And if these men found them, then…shit…

“You look so distressed,” Mitchell observed, kneeling down in front of him, locking his full attention onto him. “But it’ll be over soon once we find this tiny woman and take her so we can collect our credit. So no need to worry.” Though a smile stretched his lips, his eyes had a disturbing remoteness.

Martin sternly eyed the henchman, his brewing anger warming his body. It was one thing that his home was being violated by complete strangers, but another to harm an innocent being for the sake of profit at the expense of people he cared about. He had never been in a bout or ever looked for one, but everything in him wanted to beat that smirk off this bastard’s face.

Mitchell’s smile quickly faded before shifting his glare away from Martin. He looked over his shoulder suspiciously, frowning as he concentrated on whatever sound his hearing detected. Martin peered over Mitchell’s shoulder and noticed what caught the man’s attention.

Standing near the entrance was a stranger dressed in black from head to toe, hair covered by the hood attached to their jacket. The bottom of their tight black jeans were tucked inside leather combat boots while a black handkerchief screened the lower half of their face, revealing dark eyes that regarded them with a remorseless glare. The height and physical features indicated that this person was a female, about three centimetres shorter than Martin and the gunman.

Meanwhile, Martin quietly observed the woman, anticipating her every move. Was she another person-for-hire paid to apprehend Lianna? If so, how did she obtain information on Martin and Chess? Was she working with Mitchell and the other guy or was she working alone? Speaking of the other guy, he noticed that his bedroom was completely silent. Was Mitchell’s accomplice watching, waiting for some signal to attack their competition?

“I don’t remember inviting you in,” Mitchell spoke to the stranger over his shoulder. “Who are you?”

The stranger responded with silence, her hostile stare locked onto her opponent. Her legs were parted slightly, in a defensive stance as if prepared to row at a moment’s notice.

Mitchell rose to his feet and turned towards the stranger, resting his gun against his outer thigh. “Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time,” he said, his irritation smoldering beneath a calm demeanor. “So I’m going to ask you again. Who the fuck are you?”

Martin focused on Mitchell’s gun, his body stiffening when he noticed that the man tightened his grip on the handle. He swallowed the dryness in his throat, breathing steadily to temper the rapid throbbing in his chest. The woman was pissing him off and this Mitchell bastard was going to lose his shit, shooting everyone within arm’s length.

Martin’s mind started reeling as he mentally assessed the exchange between the two hires with silent reservation. He had to find some way to grab Lianna and get the fuck out of here—quick, fast and in a hurry. Then go alert Chess and get somewhere safe until they can plan their next move. Or die trying.

Martin twisted his head slightly towards his room to try to catch some glimpse of where the other hire was, but couldn’t even spot him. Just as he was about to turn his head again, his sight fell onto the small collection of empty bottles sitting on the coffee table. Most of them were scattered on the surface next to him, tipped over with tiny drops hanging from the rims. But then there was a bottle that stood alone not too far from him that was only a grab away from possibly becoming his exit strategy.

While Mitchell remained focused on the stranger, Martin slid his hand off his lap and slowly began reaching for the bottle. He occasionally side eyed the two assailants, then his bedroom door before he finally closed his hand around the bottle head. He stole another glance at the two hires before drawing the bottle close to his side. Again, he wasn’t much of a fighter type, but he’d play the part if it meant getting the hell out of here unscathed.

Meanwhile, Mitchell took in a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Ok,” he finally spoke as he raised his gun and pointed it at the woman. “Have it your way.”

It’s now or never, Martin thought, mustering up the courage needed. And before the gunman could pull the trigger, Martin sprang up from the table and smashed the bottle against the back of his skull.

Mitchell yelled as blood sprayed from the back of his head, spilling through the gaps of his long, pale fingers, staining his brown mane. "Fasszopó!" the gunman barked furiously at Martin. “Majd ölni!”

Martin quickly ducked as Mitchell attempted to point his gun in his direction. He again missed the opportunity to fire his weapon when the stranger hurried towards the gunman, giving Martin time to retreat to his recliner for safety.

From behind the recliner, he watched the stranger grab Mitchell’s arm and violently rush her knee into his elbow, forcing the gun out of his grasp and onto the floor next to the coffee table. His excruciating cries were soon interrupted by vigorous blows to his face, whipping his head back and forth while moving him backwards with very little effort, occasionally landing a punch onto the man’s chest.

Mitchell seemed caught off guard initially as he nearly tumbled onto the coffee table. Martin figured the arsehole was somewhat handicapped by the desperate gasps for breath and streaks of fresh blood streaming down into his eyes. But he managed to regain his balance by blocking one of her punches with his left forearm. He then threw a rapid left hook and then a right while moving sideways to grant himself more space. The gunman soon rotated his entire body and lifted his left leg at the knee, flinging his foot to deliver a powerful side kick.

Luckily, the woman bowed her upper body backwards, avoiding contact with the maneuver. While she straightened herself, Mitchell growled and charged at her, fiercely hurling punches in hopes of making contact. But she dodged all of his strikes, shifting side to side effortlessly as if she knew the gunman’s every move ahead of time. She then rotated her entire body and raised her right leg before the sole of her black combat boot collided with her opponent’s stomach.

Mitchell flew back and collapsed onto the floor, hitting his head against the hard surface. When he tried to lift himself up, the stranger immediately pulled what looked like a stun gun from her waistband and sat on his torso. She then pressed the devise onto her opponent’s shoulder and pushed the button on the side of the weapon. The man suppressed his screams through clenched teeth as bolts of electricity were unleashed into his body, his blood stained head elevating off the floor.

Martin tore his eyes away from the two hires and glanced at the gun near the coffee table, completely unnoticed by the two other parties. He shot a quick glance at them and then at the weapon again before he rose slowly. He snuck forward a couple of steps, licking the beads of sweat off his upper lip, his attention fixated on the gun.

Suddenly, he sprang from behind the recliner and sprinted towards the gun lying on the floor, picking it up without hesitation. He then hurried towards the henchmen and aimed the weapon at them, his hand trembling while his finger was bound around the trigger.

“Don’t either of you move,” Martin commanded angrily, his voice failing to conceal his nervousness yet prepared to react, “or I swear to gods, I’ll blow your fucking heads off.”

The stranger stared straight at him, her gaze displaying the same fearless intensity. “You’re pointing that thing at the wrong person,” she said evenly.

“So you say,” Martin scoffed.

“Yeah. Because we know each other already. Study me for a second.” Without looking away, she shocked Mitchell again when she felt him to shifting beneath her weight.

Martin lowered his lids into narrow slits, examining the stranger with genuine confusion. At first, he wondered if she was even telling the truth, covering herself by trying to convince him that they were somehow acquainted. But as he studied her eyes, he noticed that they exuded a level of confidence and respect that was also reflected in her tone…he felt his expression soften a bit when he realized who the stranger was.

Rumi Peterson.

Holy shit.

“I see you caught on,” Rumi assessed, nodding her head. “Is there another hire?”

“Yeah,” Martin stammered, lowering the gun and backing away. “He—he’s in my room. I gotta go get Lianna. We gotta get out of here.”

He turned abruptly and ran towards his room with the gun in his sweaty hand, forgetting about the stinging pain in his nose.

 

Martin halted at the threshold and assessed the damage done to his room. The drawers belonging to his computer desk were exposed and emptied, their contents scattered on the floor, torn from being trampled upon. The nightstand lay face down next to his bed, its hard wooden back exposed. Not too far away were shards of broken glass that was once a lamp shade, sparkling and embedded in the carpet.

Martin bent down and lifted the picture frame and turned it over with his free hand. Thin, spidery cracks lined the glass protecting the photo of him and Charlie, pieces chipping and falling onto the carpet. The more defined cracks cut across Charlie’s face, covering her mouth and jaw as if hell bent on mutilating her features.

He stared at the fractured glass, his hand trembling as heat rose to his own face. This stranger and his fucked up intentions violated his space—the very sanctuary that guarded him from this chaotic city—this world, for Christ’s sake. And one he once shared with the only person he wished to spend his entire life with. It was bad enough that these bastards had threatened his safety, but the thought of their grimy fingers on anything that Charlie touched, anything that kept him from forgetting her was unbearable. The picture…he touched the very object that chronicled a moment that belonged to them.

Martin lifted his head and scanned the room and searched for the second henchman. His eyes stopped on a head of crow black hair belonging to the assailant that spilled over the side of Martin’s bed, the back of his neck resting on its blankets. From where he was standing he could see that the henchman was sitting on the floor in front of the night stand where Lianna’s tree house once lived, facing the solar generated blinds that decorated the windows.

He glared at the unknown assailant, his nervousness now replaced with an undeniable rage. After the bullshit he caused, there was absolutely no way in hell this arsehole was leaving uninjured. Martin lowered the hand that held his picture and began heading warily towards the henchman, important documents crackling beneath his steps. Meanwhile, he still counted on Lianna remaining in the closet, tucked away inside the vent, hoping not to startle her too much when he eventually retrieved her.

Martin finally reached the edge of the bed and halted, aligning the barrel of his weapon with the henchman’s temple as he lowered the photo onto the sheets. He noticed that the guy held no gun of his own—at least not one that he saw. His empty hands hung loosely over his lap, fingers interlocked while his elbows sat perched on either thigh. His long legs were criss crossed and eyes were closed as if immersed in a meditative state, completely oblivious to Martin’s presence.

The henchman lifted his eyelids and turned his head towards Martin, a frown immediately tinting his young face. “You’re injured,” he noted compassionately. “What has my brother done?”

“Nothing compared to what I want to do to you,” Martin spat venomously. “Get up.”

The henchman tilted his head to the side slightly. “You must be the man she referred to,” he finally spoke, his bass tone gentle and welcoming. “The one called Martin Keating. Greetings.”

Dread washed over Martin at the sound of his name. Christ…he must’ve found her, which was why his room had grown unnervingly quiet earlier. “I told you to get up,” he commanded sharply.

“As you wish, Mr. Keating.” The assailant turned his head forward and, after unfolding his hands, pressed his hands against the carpet to hoist himself up off the floor. The man then rose to his feet, looking at Martin once again.

“Now put your hands behind your head.”

The henchman complied, lifting his arms up and placing his hands behind his head, interlocking his fingers.

Martin quickly approached him and began patting the man’s chest and legs, looking for any weapons concealed on his person. When he touched the henchman’s lower back, he felt the outline of a gun beneath his bomber jacket. Martin moved behind him and lifted the back of the man’s jacket, finding what looked like a silencer tucked into the waist of his jeans.

Martin pulled the weapon out from its place and backed away a couple of steps, keeping both guns on the arsehole in front of him.

“May I put my hands down?”

“Do it very slowly.”

“Yes, Mr. Keating.” He then unlocked his hands and unhurriedly brought down his arms to either side.

Martin eyed the man’s every move, pointing both guns at him. He needed to stay on point in case the hitman became aggressive. But to Martin’s surprise, the young man didn’t even flinch to defend himself. In fact, he just looked at Martin, his entire demeanor calm as if he were not an accomplice to an attempted kidnapping. Something else that he noticed was the look in the henchman’s eyes. They seemed to reflect sympathy, his green eyes flickering with a sadness indicating regret. However, Martin remained on guard, unsure whether or not this guy was going to lunge at him.

“The woman you’ve referred to,” he began. “What have you done with her?”

“I’ve done nothing to the woman,” the henchman responded kindly, “and I assure you that she is safe.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, Mr. Keating.”

“Then tell me where she is.”

“I am right here, Hoonii.”

Martin turned his head slightly, following the sound of the Shuluan’s voice. “Where are you?” he asked, still eying the henchman. “Are you hurt?”

Lianna soon emerged from behind Martin and stood next to him, a tiny backpack strapped to her back. “I am unharmed, so the use of violence is unnecessary.”

“The hell it isn’t,” Martin said spinning around again before gesturing the gun towards the man. “Not after what just happened. He tried to kill me and take you.”

“I am sorry that my brother and I have done this to you,” the henchman continued, genuine remorse darkening his expression. “We had no right coming here to instigate trouble.”

“Oh! So now you’re sorry. Well speaking of which, I’ve every right to—“

“Remain calm,” Lianna interrupted, swiftly moving in front of Martin, looking up at him.

“…What?” Martin asked incredulously, briefly glancing down at Lianna and then at the henchman again.

“You heard correctly. You will remain calm and lower your wands.”

“Are you—? No!”

“Yes!” Lianna barked, “Now honor my request.”

Martin shot another confused look at Lianna then at their opponent. Was this really happening right now? Here he was, trying to save her as blood gushed from his fucking face and she was asking—no, telling him to let this guy walk out of here? “This is a joke,” he finally concluded.

“It is not,” Lianna assured him, her tone even. “And if he wanted to end you, he would have done so the moment you came near.”

“Your friend is right,” the gunman agreed. “I am trained in unarmed combat. If I wished to inflict harm, I would have.”

Martin pressed his lips together, unsure who to believe or what to make of the situation at hand. This was the same guy who vandalized his room not even a few minutes ago, yelling and searching for Lianna with the intention to abduct her. And now he turned a complete one eighty, becoming a monk all of a sudden? This act he was putting on could be complete bullshit and Lianna was naïve enough to fall for it.

At the same time, Lianna was right. He didn’t exactly consider this guy’s skills as he left himself when frisking him. And if he fought the way his brother had, he easily could’ve finished what the other guy started—gun or not.

Martin sighed deeply before allowing his arms to fall at either side. He then moved away carefully, his glare still locked onto the henchman. “One false move. Just one.”

The young man nodded. “I will do nothing but whatever you ask of me,” he promised. “You have my word.”

 

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