Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Men's Adventure
Doing close to a hundred, the driver noticed the bodies in the roadway just too late. Throwing the wheel over, he tried to slalom around the prone forms. Broad tires being stripped of tread and squealing under the forces imposed on them, the BMW clipped the tailboard of a truck parked at an angle to the curb.
A fender was crushed into a wheel, and with its windshield shattered by the collision, the car went out of control. There was a succession of further impacts as the BMW wrecked a line of vehicles by concertinaing them. Then came a last torrent of noise as it pounded into, and partly demolished, the porch of a bank.
Steam gushed from the battered car as Hyde and Dooley tugged at its jammed doors. The driver's side came open and an AK47 clattered out on to the road.
“Spetsnaz.” Reaching in through a glassless back window, Hyde retrieved a holdall from the crushed back seat. Delving into it, he pulled out a handful of assorted gold jewellery, then a second, then a third. “These boys were going freelance.”
As the steam and dust of the impact drifted clear, Revell could see that the three men in the coupe all wore Soviet paratroop coveralls and helmets. The crumpled floor was littered deeply with more jewellery and loose ammunition.
One of the three Russians was still alive. He was dragged out, semiconscious. Both his arms were obviously broken at wrist and elbow, where he had tried to brace himself by holding onto the back of the front seats. His face was covered in blood from a broken nose and more dripped down his front from his mouth.
Sampson pulled the man's bottom jaw down, and more blood poured out. “Don't hold out and hopes of interrogating this guy, Major.” Sampson bent down for a closer look. “He's gone and bitten his tongue clean through. Must have some internal injuries as well, judging by the difficulty he's having breathing.”
Propped against the side of the wreck, the Russian groaned as he tried to move his arms. His eyes were open startlingly wide, but he appeared to be looking through the men, unseeing. His mouth hung slack, blood pulsing from the back of his throat. Again in his pain he made a slight movement.
His left eye splattered apart as a shot rang out. The other closed abruptly, and a strong pulse of blood became instantly a trickle that soon stopped.
“He was going for a weapon.” Andrea saw the looks directed her as she holstered her pistol.
“Like hell he was.” Revell had been all but deafened by the report almost in his ear. “With two broken wrists?”
Andrea shrugged. “What would you have done? Bound his injuries and sent him for treatment? This way we waste no time on him.”
There was nothing, Revell knew, that he could say that would get through to her. The fact that the Russian was probably dying made no difference. If she could have cut short his life by half a second, then Andrea would have done it. The only time he had ever seen her spare a Russian who she could have finished, was when they were trapped in burning vehicles.
Dooley was looking longingly at the gold bracelets and rings brightening the gory interior of the BMW “Nice stuff, but it wouldn't have gone far between three of them. Suppose they couldn't resist it, never having seen anything like it back home.”
“You are very wrong about their not having seen such goods before.” Boris had been looking for ways to fill his own pockets, but was aware that Sgt. Hyde was watching him. He was also very aware of Andrea being close by. He knew that only the major's presence prevented her from summarily executing him. “But correct about them not seeing such things in the USSR. Many Spetsnaz, like KGB men, travelled widely in the West before the war. Usually as members of sports teams. It helped them get to know their future targets.”
“So this lot will have already done a reconnaissance of Munich, got to know the ground.” Dooley reluctantly tossed a heavy gate-bracelet back into the wreck. “Pity they didn't teach them to drive decently at the same time.”
As usual, Boris took the remark quite seriously at face value. “I do not think that instruction on a Moskvitch or Lada is good training for handling a BMW, but that and army vehicles is all they would have had.”
It was quite light now, and with the day was coming more evidence of attempts to tackle the Russian incursion. Small-arms fire could be heard coming from several directions. Some was clearly sniper fire, single shots at widely spaced intervals. That would mark enemy attempts to keep the civilians below ground. But there were also outbreaks of heavier exchanges, proof that police units were also getting involved on an organized scale.
As yet, there was nothing to indicate that the columns supposed to be working their way inwards, were as yet anywhere nearby. Revell hadn't expected that there would be by this time, if there was to be any at all.
If Col. Klee's men had his enthusiasm for their task, they might not even have left their barracks yet. As for the force coming in from the airport, their antiterrorist training hardly fitted them for the role of street fighting infantry. It was likely their progress would be very slow.
Re-forming the patrol, Revell had a brief word with control - to advise them of the burning hotel and the casualties - and then resumed their interrupted progress.
Every intersection, every open space, and every wide avenue was a potential death trap, but taking to side roads wherever they could, they encountered no more snipers.
There were more bodies to be seen. Individual police officers, emergency service vehicles with their crews dead in and around them, and a surprising number of civilians.
Most were near the entrances to air raid shelters. A few were scattered more widely. Some could be identified as looters by the goods they still clutched in a last greedy embrace. Others were there for less definable reasons. Perhaps they were drunks who had not heeded the sirens or possibly the more desperate of the many who found the shelters hard to endure.
Revell didn't know how many shelters there were, but there had to be quite a number the enemy gunmen did not cover. From them would come a steady trickle of the more foolish or foolhardy. Perhaps the obvious sounds of conflict would convince the majority to stay under cover, even though no bombing had materialized.
Ahead of them there appeared to be a fierce fire-fight in progress. Halting, Revell tried by radio to determine if any SWAT team was already engaging their .objective. He didn't believe, until they had checked twice, that none of the units under the city's control were fighting in the area.
“Maybe it's two Spetsnaz mobs slugging it out with each other?” Hyde tried to identify the weapons in use by their rates of fire, but so many were being employed it was impossible to single out any individual.
Carrington came loping back from the point. “This is about as close as we're going to get, Major. You could walk on the lead that's flying about down there.”
“Okay, so find me a vantage point. I want to have a look for myself. We're not going to stroll into any crossfire.”
“There's the church tower.”
A spent round zipped past. Two more followed, bursting scabs of soft stone from a door post.
“I hope that tower is well made.” Revell felt to check that his flak vest was fastened.
As they started forward, the gunfire ahead seemed to increase in volume and ferocity.
They had no trouble entering the church, a side door was open. But officer and NCO were not prepared for what they found there.
It was full. Every seat, every bit of space in the aisles, even right up to the alter rail the church was crammed with people. A thousand pairs of eyes looked at them as they entered, and followed them as they made their way, with difficulty, towards the tower staircase.
“No, - you must leave.”
A priest ran towards them, tripping frequently on the outstretched legs of his over spilling congregation.
“Please, do not bring the fighting in here, not in God's own house, I beg you.” He grabbed both men by their arms and tried to turn them. Men among the crowd got to their feet and looked likely to add their efforts.
Revell shook himself free and unslung his submachine gun. “Why aren't these people in the shelters, or at least down in the crypt?”
With the gun being cradled, the cleric and his would-be helpers fell back. They watched the weapon as much as the major.
“The crypt is full, but these people came here for more than mere shelter. Please, do not bring the fighting in here.”
The gunfight outside had not diminished in intensity, but its crash and clatter was muted by the thick walls. There was multicoloured glass on the floor, where stray bullets had punched through the high-set stained glass windows.
“We're not here to set up a fire base. All we want is to use the tower as an observation post, for a very short while.”
Partly reassured, the priest still looked uncertain. “I doubt we'll be in here more than a couple of minutes.” “But you may be seen, and then the guns will be turned on these people. Look at them, they have been through so much already.”
Revell had been looking at them. Going by their faces, he could see little proof that any of them had found the comfort they had come here for. On every side, tired faces watched him intently, showing their concentration as they strained to catch what was being said. Some were already gathering their belongings together.
The priest saw those actions and turned aside to urge the crowd to stay. The packing was halted, but not undone.
“If you show us the best spot, there will be less chance of our being seen, and we'll be on our way all the sooner. We're trying to stop what's going on out there.”
“Very well, I will. But please, will you leave your weapons by the door?”
There was no way Revell could or would comply with the request. Among the faces of the frightened faithful - and those who had suddenly, if perhaps temporarily, found their faith again - he had noticed several distinctly un-Christian faces. Bulky packs and parcels, carefully guarded by the rough individuals, strongly suggested to Revell that some looters had found the church a convenient bolt hole when the fighting had swept to this quarter.
I’ll give mine to my corporal. He'll wait down here.” Seeing that was the best arrangement he could make, the priest led the way to a low doorway and up a steep and winding set of stone steps.
As they climbed, the sounds of battle grew louder, when on a landing where a shutter was pulled fractionally open, it burst upon them at full volume.
The intersection, with its wide expanse of pedestrian pavement, was spread out below him. Masses of tracer were converging on a corner property off to Revell’s right. It came mostly from a long building across the way. There was hardly a window in it that was not the source of a near-continuous stream of light-automatic fire.
Moving to another side of the tower, Revell looked in vain for any sign of answering fire from the structure being gradually chipped and flaked to a ruin by the hail of bullets.
“Okay, I've seen enough. I know what we're up against.” “Thank God.” Securing the shutters, the priest hurried after Revell.
Retrieving his weapon, Revell was about to leave when the priest restrained him.
“I know that if I ask you to put down your guns and implore you to stay, you would not. So I can only hope it is your sense of duty and not a lust for killing that sends you back to that terrible fighting. Before that, join me in prayer.”
“I'm sorry.” Strangely, for an instant, Revell almost felt inclined to do just that. “So am I, for your sake. At least, think of some words of the Lord as you go.” From deep inside his memory came words that Revell had not heard for a long time, to which he'd never given thought. Thou shalt not kill... He said them quietly, almost to himself.
“Yes, man soil nicht toten. It is not too late to stop killing. It is never too late.” “It's been too late for me for a long time, Father.” The priest watched them go. Overhead another fragment of coloured glass, in an already damaged window, was splintered to a thousand pieces that rained into his vestments. He turned to the alter. “Then I shall say it for you.”
The interior of the Residence was magnificent, but Revell had no time for its rich decorations and furnishings as he led a squad through its long halls and high- ceilinged apartments.
“Fucking hell, look at this lot.” Dooley paused beside a long glass-topped showcase. It held row after row of neatly labelled silver coins.
Reluctantly he kept up with the others, as they passed many more cases containing the city's famous coin collection.
“This stuff must be worth a fortune.” He kept attempting to snatch glances at the displays. “You think they'd have shifted it out of the city, what with the Zone being right on their doorstep.”
“A lot has been moved; they've had copies made.” Burke checked that he had a round chambered. They were right underneath the floor from which the massed firing was emanating. He could hear empty cartridge cases raining down on a tiled floor. “I suppose they've been trying to keep the city abnormal as possible for as long as possible. This little lot should blow the lid off that, I imagine.”
“Where are you going? You can't come through here, get out, get out.” “Not again.” Revell wasn't prepared to go through another sermon.
A fussily officious little man in an attendant's uniform had bounced out of a side room, almost getting himself shot by Ripper.
“Shit, you got a death wish?”
Wagging his finger at them, the security man kept up with their rapid pace through the building. “You cannot come in here, the Residence is closed.”
An old steel helmet - too small even over his thin face - perched on his head, giving him the appearance of an image stretched in a distorting mirror.
“Fuck off, granddad, there's a war on.” Dooley brushed an attempt at obstruction aside.
Still the German skittered along with them, using a peculiar, hopping crablike motion as he persisted in his efforts to halt their progress.
“The Residence is closed.” His voice hit a high falsetto, and he flew in to a passionate rage at being ignored. “Closed, closed, closed.”