Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Men's Adventure
“The police are holding suspects. They've got nothing useful out of them so far.” Gebert scrutinized the map once more. “And I don't expect they will. They appear to be low-grade sleepers, expendables who were given a task by a controller, who has since disappeared.”
“Then what does it all mean?” Klee was confused by events. “I don't understand why you should need me here at this late hour. This is purely a matter for the civil authorities, surely. No military targets have been attacked, have they?”
For a moment Klee gained a little confidence as he made that point. “Not that I know of, I’ll check the current situation.” Friedmann took his radio to the far end of the room.
“Really, I do think that this is a matter for the police.” Klee shifted uneasily, yawned, looked at the time, and then yawned again.
“They're stretched to the limit already.” Gebert made an effort, and managed to keep his language moderate. “In a few hours, the Oktoberfest commences. The city is bursting at the seams, and now they also have the traffic problems brought about by all the rubbernecks gawping at the fires.”
Klee bridled up. “My men are trained soldiers, not traffic police. They have other duties to perform.”
“Hell and shit,” Gebert exploded. “Those garrison troops of yours are the worst parasites in the city! If it wasn't that they were sometimes called on to perform a few gentle ceremonial duties, we'd never get them off their fat backsides and out of the beer halls.”
During the display of rage by the mayor, the colonel appeared visibly to shrink. He made a last effort.
“That is a slur on the men I command...” “No actual military targets,” Friedmann didn't apologize for interrupting, “but one blaze is threatening a clothing store holding army supplies, and another is half a block from a supply corps headquarters.”
With a marker pen he indicated another four locations on the map. “Four more fires in the outer suburbs. Might have been more, but the police have stumbled across a couple of groups in the act of setting more incendiary devices.”
Gebert snatched up the telephone. “Get the police commissioner up here the moment he arrives ... No, it's okay.”
As the door opened to admit the man, Gebert had not recognized him for a moment. The police chief was not in uniform.
“My men have taken a few students in the act of starting fires. They made a run for it. We shot three. Two are dead, one in a bad way.” Commissioner Stadler was listening to his personal radio even as he spoke. “He'll live most likely, and well be picking up the bill for months. The last one gave himself up, he almost shit himself. Singing like a bird he is, but he doesn't know anymore than the others we picked up for sabotage.”
Stadler turned to the fire chief. “When will you have those fires out, how long?” Freidmann busied himself over his map. “Several of the outer ones are coming under control already. Those in the centre we'll let burn out. My men have orders to prevent their spread, that's all.”
“What the hell good is that?” Waving his arms, Gebert stalked around the desk. “At the moment they've got a novelty attraction. When the crowds find out that the one they're watching is part of a rash of the damned things - started by commie agents - what the fuck do you think is going to happen?”
“Panic.” Stadler knew the answer. “When that happens, we'll need troops on the streets.”
“I don't think so.” Colonel Klee was wringing his hands together slowly, sufficiently hard to make the knuckles go white. “If you really think it's advisable though, I could have a couple of platoons, or even a company, put on standby. At least that's the recommendation I'd make, if you'll back me.”
“Are you afraid of upsetting someone? You worried about all the generals we've got in town?” Keeping his patience was proving difficult for Gebert.
“I command the garrison troops.” For a moment, Colonel Klee felt able to assert his position, but the recollection of other considerations he had to be aware of swiftly robbed him of that transient dignity. “But as a courtesy, I will consult other senior officers, though I do not know if I should bother them at this late hour.”
The mayor opened his mouth to reply, then changed his mind and ignored the man, turning instead to the fire chief.
“I'll tell the civil defence people to let you have all the dispatch riders they've got. Have them check out all the emergency calls, save your men from rushing about following up hoax calls. Anything else you need?”
“No, not that I can think of. We'll have things under control soon enough. There won't be many more fires ...” Friedmann saw the look that Stadler gave him. “At least, I should imagine there won't be.”
“I need those damned troops.” Stadler didn't wait to be asked. “I need them tucked away up side streets, in platoon strength, in constant radio contact with my control room. I’ll attach a couple of my men to each platoon, so that we can meet every legal requirement. I expect those pink shits from the civil rights crowd will have already been mobilized, so as to cause us as much hassle as possible.”
The phone rang, and as Gebert answered it, there came a distant strident wailing that grew rapidly louder as sirens close at hand joined in.
“Thank you, Frau Pasch, yes, I know. I can hear the klaxons for myself, thank you.” Reaching down into a deep bottom drawer, Gebert rummaged about beneath piles of paper and extracted a steel helmet. “I think we should adjourn to the civil defence bunker in the basement now, gentlemen.”
The-calmness in his voice and manner was not matched by what Gebert felt inside. Seven times in the past year, the sirens had sounded. Five occasions had been for civil defence practice. Once had been due to faulty equipment. The other time had been triggered by a crippled Soviet bomber, still miraculously flying after being damaged and abandoned by its crew while over the Zone.
He felt that this was not an event like any of those. Already it was too late to do what instinct urged him to do. That was to walk to the window and take what might be a last look at the city.
Already switches were being thrown that would plunge the whole of Munich into darkness. Gebert made his own contribution, turning off the room lights. He was surprised at how bright it remained, with the moonlight streaming in through the big windows.
At least in the rush to the shelters, only drunks would be falling down and breaking bones. But there would be other injuries, caused by fights to actually get places inside. The population protection program had been reasonably comprehensive, but the budget had fallen far short of allowing them to provide sufficient places for as many as were in the city at the moment.
As he followed the others to the stairs, a thought occurred to Gebert. Thorough though the blackout would be, and vigorously as it would be enforced by the police and air raid wardens, tonight it would not be complete.
Flaring in a circle about the city were those fires, and it the centre, carefully spaced around the park, were the four big blazes the fire chief was allowing to burn themselves out. Munich had been marked out as a target, complete with bull's-eye.
“Stupid bloody way to die.” Sgt. Hyde walked along the row of bodies. He counted fifty.
The last of the corpses had been pulled from-the tangle at the bottom of the subway steps and laid out to await removal. Jackets and torn scraps of clothing covered the faces, but here and there a piece of material had slipped aside.
All those that the NCO saw wore the same terrified expression, eyes bulging, tongues protruding. The press, as the panicking mob had rushed the staircase, had crushed their chests and suffocated them. Many had died while still on their feet. Trapped and carried back and forth by the surging mass, their bodies had not even been able to fall.
“And not a single bomb dropped so far.” Scully kicked a flattened beer can from the outstretched hand of a victim.
“Just as well.” Burke redraped the exposed face of a pretty - or what had been - a pretty teenage girl. “Seeing as how we've had to stay above ground to deal with this lot.”
“There was never likely to be any. Probably a radar operator with the jitters was spooked by a speck of dirt on his screen.” Scully looked down the short flight of steps. “Amazing how they managed to bend those steel handrails. They even tore off some of the tiles towards the bottom.”
“Think of it as a few tons of meat being shoved about.” Corp. Carrington handed a purse he had found to a police officer. Many of the dead had been stripped almost naked. Every shred of evidence would be needed to assist in identification, especially with so many casual visitors in the city.
“Don't you have any feeling for the poor sods?” Burke handed over a sheaf of identity cards he had picked up. Several were saturated with blood, or other substances he didn't like to dwell on.
“Don't jump down my throat. What I meant was, well, you've seen those westerns where stampeding cattle knock over chuck wagons. Same sort of principle applied here.”
“People aren't cattle,” Burke persisted stubbornly with his objection. “I didn't say they were...”
“Right, back in the station you lot.” Several times while his men had been carrying out their gruesome task, Hyde had been forced to step in and prevent bickering that threatened to be become, more than that.
All of the men were on edge. Seven days among the flesh-pots had been an attractive proposition at first, but Munich had been an unfortunate choice. Something of the brittle mood of the city had communicated itself to the troops.
It would not have been so bad if they could have gotten away quickly, but the major had insisted on their being mustered early so that the missing could be identified. And now the air raid, even though it had not materialized, was bound to create further delays.
From across the city came a brief burst of light machine-gun fire. “Flak?” Garrett listened, but it wasn't repeated, though he thought he distinguished two or three single shots following it. “No, can't be. Too light, not enough of it.”
“Shut up.” Carrington thought he heard something. He strained to catch it again. “I must be imagining – “
A glass canopy above their heads shattered, and a body hurtled down amid shards of glass. It jerked to a stop a meter above the ground and swung violently back and forth, suspended from a tangle of fine lines caught in the roofs lattice girdering.
“Shit.” Dooley scrambled to his feet, to be knocked flat a second time as the figure swung back and caught him again. Blood spattered from the lacerated hands and face of the man, as he struggled feebly to release himself. A babble of incoherent Russian came from his gashed mouth.
“Paratrooper!” An instant after the shock, Hyde gauged the situation. “Scully, get up on top, cut him down. We'll want him alive.”
The injured Russian was still trying, weakly, to free himself from his harness. His feeble, barely coordinated movements brought his hands into contact with the damaged AK47 slung across his chest.
Several closely spaced shots rang out. The impact of the bullets sent the paratrooper spinning like a crazy pendulum.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” Hyde rounded on the police officer who still held his Walther pistol. “We might have got something out of him. He's no bloody good now, is he?”
The officer looked down at the automatic, as if doubting it was he who had fired. Then he looked at the obviously very dead Russian and appeared to be about to throw up. He swallowed hard, his face staying drained of colour.
“I’m krieg totet man seinen Fiend.”
“Sure, you kill your enemy in war, but we could have taken him prisoner. Kriegsgefargen, verstehen Sie michP A prisoner of war, you understand?”
The body collapsed heavily to the ground as Scully finally managed to sever the tough strands of nylon rigging.
“You want me to get the chute as well?” “Everything, and have a look for any equipment that might have got ripped away as he broke through.” Hyde carried out a hasty check of the many pockets in the paratrooper's jumpsuit, by the light of a small torch. They were crammed with ammunition. His webbing carried extra magazine pouches and those too bulged.
A pack had been torn away and lay nearby. That the sergeant checked more gingerly. Its contents were a selection of demolition devices and fragmentation grenades. Several were fitted with what looked like booby-trap attachments, to give them a dual function.
Hyde indicated the ordnance to the police officer. “Dangerous, Gefahrlich. Put a guard on it.”
“Looks like this creep sacrificed creature comforts in order to carry as much ammo as he could.” Dooley had noticed that the Russian carried no rations, not even a water bottle. “Must have been planning to live off the land.”
Audible quite clearly now were sporadic outbreaks of rifle and machine-gun fire, coming from the direction of the city centre. They were punctuated by occasional grenade explosions.
“Pretty obvious this one wasn't on his own.” Hyde looked up into the clear night sky. Only wisps of smoke were straying across the face of the moon. “The major is due back soon. We'll set up what defences we can right here, and wait for him. No point in us chasing off without knowing where we're going, or what we're likely to run into.”
“Hope he's not too long.” Dooley listened to the shooting. “I get the feeling all hell is about to break loose around here.”
Ackerman was sore, in every sense of the word. His eye still stung. He was sure the blow from the MP's fist had blackened it. Shit, all those bribes he had been forced to shell out, and he'd still got busted just as the deal was going down.
The Turks had jumped from the back window of the warehouse. It was slight compensation to him that both had been prevented from making an escape by breaking legs on landing.
All that time and effort, and all those German marks, and for what? For a few short moments he had been on the verge of making a fortune. A couple of minutes longer, and the truck would have been loaded and away.
And now? The money was lost, the truck would be confiscated and the goods still sat in the government warehouse. The only ray of light had been the major turning up to spring him. Even then the provost marshal wasn't about to let him go until he had proof that the unit was going straight back into combat in the Zone.