Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Men's Adventure
“This ain't the way to the station, Major. Where we going?” “I don't like to admit it, but I don't know. All I've been told is that the Special Combat Company is to place itself at the disposal of the civil administration. We're on our way to the city's command centre, wherever that may be.”
“Must be to do with the looters. I've been hearing a bit of gunfire. Must be more of them than the police can handle.” The irony of the situation appealed to Ackerman.
The Audi turned the corner into Blumenstrasse, slowing to negotiate a partial roadblock caused by hastily abandoned vehicles. Their driver looked back over his shoulder.
“There was a lot of panic when the sirens went. There'll be more after the all- clear, when those owners come back for their cars. The local police chief is very hot on air raid precautions. Failing to leave the road clear for emergency services means that - “
The windshield shattered into a million interlocking fragments and became opaque. At the same instant the driver's head burst, smothering the interior and the other occupants with its contents.
At low speed, the Audi crunched the side of a parked panel van and came to a stop against an ornamental concrete tub planted with flowers. Its engine stalled.
Another shot rang out, and a bullet ploughed across the top of the roof to destroy the flashing blue lamp.
With the surviving MP, Ackerman and the major baled out and ran, crouched low, for the cover of a store's arcade entrance.
From there they could see a body in the road. Nearby a motorcycle lay on its side.
“Where's the fire coming from?”
Revell yanked the MP back, as he stuck his head out for a look around. “That's a good way of finding out. Where were we supposed to be going?”
“The civil defence bunker, under the New Town Hall. We can't get to it this way though. Not while that sniper's out there.”
“Use your pistol on this door. We'll go through the building and use the back streets.”
“Major, I can't do that. Damaging civilian property is a real no-no.” “Then walk out the front way. Well follow, if you prove it's safe by staying alive for more than thirty seconds.”
Reluctantly, shielding his face with his hand, the MP put a shot into the lock. His half-hearted push, to see if he'd succeeded in breaking it, achieved no result.
A full-blooded kick by Ackerman did better. An alarm clamoured shrilly.
At the rear of the store, a locked fire door proved more resilient. It took a combined shoulder charge to burst it open.
With only the one pistol between the three of them, they could take no risks of running into any armed bands. They threaded their way through a succession of alleyways between the stalls in the Viktualienmarkt.
When they crossed an open space, a single shot passed between them, punching through the striped canvas screens enclosing a gift stand. There came a long clatter from within, as the shattered vases and figurines settled.
Revell realized that the shot could only have come from the tower of a nearby church. No looters would have hung about to take pot-shots. They were up against more than opportunist thieves. He struck off through a small plaza and into a maze of narrow passageways and courtyards.
“Who the hell is doing the firing?” Ackerman had picked up a short length of timber, in the absence of any other weapon.
Hugging the wall, the MP noticed with relief that the tower was masked by other buildings. “Must be commie fifth column. The police have been chasing after saboteurs all day. Seems a chunk of the local fire brigade have been put out of action. Kind of ties in with the fires in and around the city, I reckon.”
Signalling a halt, Revell surveyed the route ahead. To get to their objective, they had to cross a broad avenue, Maximilianstrasse. It looked the best part of a fifty- meter dash. There wasn't a shred of cover. They would be in full view of the sniper every step of the way.
They made the run in an irregularly spaced group, breaking from the cover of the side street and piling on all the speed they could. Last to reach the far side, Acker- man literally threw himself into the shadow of a wall.
No shots came. While they paused to catch their breath, Revell tried to make sense of the situation. There seemed to be small-arms fire breaking out in several quarters of the city.
Sabotage he could understand, but communist deep-cover agents were usually far more subtle than to start a mere handful of fires. War production and communications centres were their more usual targets, along with power generation, transmission, and transport. Burning down a few buildings was going to make virtually no difference to the NATO war effort.
If it was intended as a psychological blow, aimed at the civilian population, then strange targets had been selected. He'd seen a part of the growing list at the provost marshal's office.
Most were anonymous office blocks or unguarded warehouses. All they seemed to have in common was that they were individually and collectively of so little importance that they didn't warrant any guard or special security arrangements.
Munich was a vital manufacturing, administrative, and military centre. And a cultural one as well. To Revell's mind, the destruction of any of fifty buildings that he could think of, would have had a more damaging strategic or morale effect than all these combined.
There was also the extra ingredient of the gunmen. The shots he heard were coming from several separate locations. Direct confrontation was a tactic enemy agents had never employed, except on the rare occasions when assassination attempts had gone wrong. It was difficult to see what a handful of them could achieve in a city this size.
The last part of their journey was down the narrow Altenhofstrasse, to the rear of the town hall. They were within sight of the entrance they wanted, when a bullet smacked into and ricocheted from, a street sign post beside them.
It had come from the doorway. Revell had clearly seen the muzzle flash. He called out in English and in German. An answer came in the form of a burst of machine-gun fire.
“That's some of my outfit.”
Starting forward at a lope, the MP made straight towards the opening, waving his arms and shouting. A second crackle of fire smashed his legs, and he went down screaming.
Again Revell tried to identify himself to the unseen sentry. This time he was told to advance with his hands up. Followed by a cautious Ackerman, he walked slowly forward. They passed the MR. His left leg had been virtually severed just below the knee. He was in pain too great to articulate, and watched them silently as they passed.
A few steps later, Revell reached the door and was allowed to squeeze his way in, past the heavy furniture being employed to partially barricade it.
“Oh Christ. Is he one of ours? Did I kill him?” Revell took in the machine gunners pale, frightened face. “You shot one of your own corps, but he's not dead.”
“Aw shit. Fuck it, Major. Why didn't you drag him in here?” “You shot him, you fetch him. And don't leave it too long, he's bleeding heavily.” Revell walked on into the building.
Ackerman grinned at the sentry. “Better do it fast, when you get round to it. You're not the only one taking pot-shots.”
Another guard conducted them down steep stone steps that smelled of cement dust and copper piping. A corridor at the bottom led to a strongly constructed blast- door with yet another armed sentry.
This one was asleep standing up. Confused, he shook himself awake and pressed a signal bell. The massive slab of steel slid aside to reveal an airlock.
There was another pause, while the outer door closed and the air was sampled for contamination. Then the inner door, of less substantial construction, glided silently into its recess.
It opened to reveal a long, low-ceilinged corridor. Many rooms led off of it. Some they passed were open. Revell saw a telephone exchange, radio and telex equipment, a kitchen, and even a small gymnasium. Shower and rest rooms added to the impression that the facility had been fitted out very thoroughly.
Leaving Ackerman in the corridor, Revell was shown into a large room with map-lined walls. On shelves running below them were banks of telephones. Not too many of them were visible though. The room was filled with staff officers from a host of rear echelon units, all of them engaged in noisy debate.
A short, fat civilian broke from an arguing huddle around a table and greeted the major.
“I'm Franz Gebert, Mayor of Munich while it and I both still exist. Come with me, Major. It was only by luck we found you. Do you know, you're the only combat commander we can find in the whole city?”
“That I can hardly believe.” Making a quick estimate, Revell reckoned there had to be at least six generals and the same number of colonels in the room.
“Take my word for it. This lot might be great with battalions of packing cases and brigades of filing cabinets, but I don't think one of them has ever heard a shot fired in anger.” Gebert mopped his face. He was perspiring even though the air- conditioning was working full blast, sending draughts of chill air through the complex.
“Did you have any difficulty getting here?” “One rooftop sniper. Your own sentries shot one of our escort.”
“Nerves, Major, nerves. When, if this mess can be sorted out, we may find we've killed greater numbers of each other than we have of the enemy.”
Revell took an immediate liking to the little German, with his abrupt no- nonsense style. After the reception at the rear of the building, the sleeping air-lock sentry, and the confusion of the room, the mayor shone like a ray of hope.
“What sort of mess do you have? All I've been able to gather so far is that a few commie agents and sympathizers are on the rampage.”
“It's worse than that. How much worse we're only just beginning to discover.”
“There's someone I want you to meet.” Gebert towed Revell across the room. On the way they passed two generals in heated conversation.
“...And there's a tank repair workshop at Fursten-feldbruck. Always a few sitting about on trailers, waiting to be shipped back to the front. A squadron of Leopards, that'll do the trick. Soon blast them out ...”
“...take too long, too much collateral damage. No, I say evacuate the city. Clear out all the civvies, then give the place a good drenching in Sarin, or any of the nerve gasses. That'll winkle out the snipers ...”
The mayor looked at Revell to see if he had heard, and shook his head. “I've been listening to that sort of rubbish for the last hour. And those are bright ideas compared with some. This is Karl Stadler, our chief of police. He'll fill you in on the situation.”
“The fires you probably know about.” Stadler wasted no time with pleasantries. “There's a ring of them, right around the city centre. Four here, much closer in, and two at either end of the English park.”
“Significant?” Revell didn't need to look at a wall map to visualize the picture. “We didn't realize so at first. The fire service resources were stretched. Compared with other outbreaks, these four were relatively unimportant. Also they were buildings that stood alone. No other property was immediately threatened. There were a lot of hoax calls early on, our few pumps were dashing about to military headquarters, art galleries, gas stations, hospitals, high-priority stuff like that. So, I'd say that in those circumstances, a good case could be made for our fire chiefs' decision to let them burn themselves out.”
“We'll be going into that at another time, Karl.” The mayor had been quick to see that line of discussion terminated. Revell could see why no representative of the fire service was in on the briefing.
“In any event, when the air-raid alert was sounded, the blackout drill went perfectly, but those damned things were still going strong.”
“No Warpac aircraft homing on the city would have needed visible markers like those. Not with the sort of navigation equipment that they're fitted with.”
“No,” Stadler nodded in agreement. “No, aircraft wouldn't. They had to serve another purpose. We believe they were intended, to mark a landing area.”
“Paratroops, Major. Warpac paratroops ... I'm sorry, Karl,” Gebert apologized. “Do go on.”
“The Soviets had a few bombers stooging about right on the western borders of the Zone. That was close enough to trigger our alert. After they'd kept it up for a while, they hit our radars with a spot of jamming. We soon got the measure of that, but while our screens were down they sent one of their big transports in on a fast sweep right over the city.”
“No interception, no anti-aircraft fire?” “None, Major. Surprise, plus some sabotage, plus the fact that our defences have been absolutely stripped to the bone to bolster more active fronts are the main reasons, I imagine.”
Still Revell found it hard to see what the enemy could gain by so limited an operation.
“How come, with all this in the pipeline, neither the police nor the intelligence services got wind of what was cooking? Activating sleepers on this scale must have caused some ripples.”
Stadler stuck his hands deep into his pockets and looked hard at the floor. “I regret to say that every week in Munich, we suffer at least twenty identifiable major acts of sabotage. Most are aimed at industrial production or the public utilities. Very likely twice that number are attempted but fail for various reasons. Also, there must be others that are so cleverly done that we can not be certain that we are not looking at genuine machinery breakdowns.”
“We think there may be as many as one hundred and fifty communist agents active in the city. How many sleepers, deep-cover agents, there may be, we can only hazard a guess. Perhaps twice that number, as we are a university town.” For butting in again, Gebert threw a mute look of apology at Stadler.
“But to get-all this set up...” Revell persisted. “After some earlier successes by my department, the Russians have adopted a new system for initiating and triggering these various acts.” Stadler looked at the map, imagining what it would look like if a pin were inserted for each confirmed act of sabotage in the last two years. There was such a map in his office. He kept it locked from sight.