Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Men's Adventure
“Their agents get their tasks from a controller. Usually that's by a dead-letter box. There must be so many of them in the city as to almost parallel our own postal service. So, they pick up their instructions and make their preparations, construct a bomb or whatever it may be. The order to proceed with the operation they get by telephone. Sometimes they have as little as an hour's notice.”
Revell could see the problem. “So, unless you pick up and successfully interrogate a suspect between the time he gets the go-ahead and actually does the deed...”
“Precisely. Pick them up before they get the go-ahead, and all we find out is that something is going to happen, we can't find out when because they won't know themselves. We have little chance of discovering what is happening even in the near future.”
“What about the controllers? Have you ever got your hands on one of them?” “No, Major, but then, operating the way they do, they expose themselves to very little risk.” Stadler ground coins in his pockets together. “I suspect that even if we could grab one of them, we would learn very little, if they in turn are activated in a similar way. What it boils down to is that, unless by a freak of chance we arrest a score of agents on their way to carry out an act of sabotage, we have no means of discovering in advance a mass effort like we've seen today.”
“We have these basic facts, Major.” Gebert checked them off on his chubby fingers. “Firstly, the Russians are prepared to put at risk an army of agents in this one operation. Two, they have dropped an unknown number of paratroops into the city ...”
“An Antonov 22 transport might carry up to a couple of hundred paras. At least, that's a figure to work with.”
“Thank you, Major. As I was saying. We have enemy paratroops in the city who, thirdly, have been able to disperse to unknown locations. That is in no small part due to the fact that virtually all of the population are in the shelters.”
Stadler accepted a sheaf of messages. “My men are already reporting difficulties with some elements in those shelters. That is nothing though to the panic there would have been had Warpac troops dropped in full view of everyone.” He flicked through the wad of paper. “My men are taking casualties. They cannot move in the open without coming under fire.”
“What's the best estimate of the numbers in the shelters?” Revell was beginning to have an understanding of the enemies thinking.
Gebert considered. “I can tell you how many places there are. I was on the committee when the program was voted through. Half a million is the figure, if you include the subway platforms and the bomb-proof basements of hotels and office blocks.”
“Tonight those numbers will be exceeded by a considerable margin.” Stadler could see what Revell was driving at. “The number of tourists will have swollen that by perhaps twenty-five percent. Conditions will rapidly become most unpleasant.”
“But at least they'll be safe down there, off the streets.” Gebert knew he was missing a point. “What harm can they come to? Two hundred Russians cannot kill them all.”
“They don't have to.” Revell hoped he was figuring things wrong, but knew that he wasn't. “Let's work with that figure of two hundred. That could split into sections of about six men each. If we allow ourselves the luxury of hoping that a few went astray or broke their legs or backs, that leaves us with about thirty independent squads roaming at will.”
“I was thinking they would stay together, or at most divide into two or three battle groups.” Gebert exchanged glances with his police chief. “It could take days to clear the last of them out.”
“That's what they're counting on.” Behind Revell, two colonels were engaged in a shouting match. He had to speak up to be heard above them... “In the meantime, your good citizens and the visitors are bottled up with minimal facilities and severe overcrowding. I've seen their mood, this last week. A lot of them are going to crack very quickly. If they stay down, they'll go mad, if they come up, they'll be picked off.”
Gebert mopped his face. “You are right. Within forty-eight hours, Munich will no longer be a part of the NATO war effort. It will be a gigantic asylum.”
Colonel Klee let the arguments swirl about him. Occasionally, when one of the generals would tug at his sleeve for attention, he would nod a pretence of agreement and understanding. His vacant gaze flicked from one to another of the faces about him. He failed to catch more than a few words from any sentence, and not a single idea from the hundreds with which he was bombarded.
Finally, dazed and bewildered, overwhelmed by the speed of events, Klee stuttered an excuse and hurried from the room. Outside in the corridor, he leant back against the wall, gulped air, and loosened his tie.
From inside he could hear voices raised, as the heated discussions continued without his being missed. He was fast persuading himself he was not well.
It was his wife and that damned brother of hers in the appointments office who had got him his present position. And why had he let himself be transferred from a similar post at Saarbrucken on the French border? Because she liked the stores in Munich!
Well, he had done all he could. At the general's insistence, he had fired off urgent requests for help. That, at least, he could be confident was the correct course of action. From now on the staff officers could formulate all the plans. He no longer had to accept any responsibility or blame for events.
Even as his churning stomach began to settle, Colonel Klee experienced a sudden feeling of utter despair, as he saw the police commissioner and Mayor Gebert bearing down on him.
Stadler was waving a message pad. “Are you mad, Klee? Have you really sent this?”
Klee accepted the pad, and put on his gold-rimmed spectacles to read. Not that he really needed to, poor though his eyesight was, he recognised his own handwriting.
“Yes, fifteen minutes ago. What else was I to do? They outrank me!” “You have no comprehension of what you've done, have you?” Gebert's hands clenched and unclenched. It was only with an effort that he prevented himself from committing an act of violence on the elderly officer: “As a result of those damned cries for help of yours, we are shortly going to be playing host to contingents from every gung-ho outfit in NATO.”
“The situation is worse than we can handle. I don't see that there is any other way...”
“So you send an SOS, an open invitation. When the 'Marines and the SAS and the Rangers arrive, how do we coordinate them, integrate them with your troops, the police...”
“I don't know. Let the generals sort it out.” Klee's petulant response to the questions was almost a wail of anguish. “What more do you expect me to do? I didn't ask for this, I should have retired last year.”
“It's too late for any of us to wish that had happened.” Stadler couldn't feel any pity for the broken man. He had put too many lives at risk. “We have to avoid a free-for-all in the streets. How many troops have you got in barracks?”
Sobbing, Klee shook his head. Both his hands came up to his face just a fraction too late to prevent Stadler's fist connecting with his mouth. The police chief made ready to launch another blow. I asked how many.” . “Perhaps three hundred or so, I think.” Klee made no effort to staunch the flow of blood from his split lip. “We are under strength, and some are on leave or away on courses. I didn't know this was going to happen.”
“What the devil is going on out here?”
As Stadler began to drag Klee away, a balding staff officer stuck his head out of the door abruptly.
Gebert turned on his politician's smile. “The colonel appears to be suffering from acute claustrophobia. For the sake of morale down here, we thought it best to subdue him quickly.”
“Quite right. Can't have men cracking up. Especially officers, sets a bad example. Taking him to the sick bay, are you?” Not waiting for an answer the officer withdrew, and the door closed behind him.
As he disappeared, Gebert heard more snatches of the continuing debate. “...take at least three weeks...”
“...need a couple of divisions I should say ...” “...street fighting, nasty business ...” “...a couple of mini-nukes will flush them out. Worth a few of our own and a chunk of the city...”
“We're keeping the whole operation under civilian control, using the police radio net.” Stadler tapped the wall map with his marker pen, leaving an unintentional cluster of smudged red dots on the plastic cover.
“Most of the land lines are out, with the exception of the duplicated hardened cables to the airport and the barracks. If the damage to the telephone system is going to continue to escalate, then we could still lose them. So we'll rely exclusively on radio.”
“A pity the trunk lines weren't knocked out before the colonel had his calls put through.” Gebert glared at Klee, who sat slumped on a folding chair in a corner, taking no part in the discussion.
“If we stick to the plan I've sketched out, then hopefully we establish contact with the special forces as they arrive, and then absorb and employ them, Everything depends on this central control knowing the positive location of our hunting units at any moment. Most important, none of them must make a move without having it cleared first.”
“You're expecting a lot of men who -are not used to working like that.” Revell was thinking of the hastily formed police SWAT teams that would shortly be going into action against the paratroops.
“I know. I'm spelling it out to them that with two columns pushing into the centre, and with hunting groups already at work there, we've the ingredients for more than a few home-goals. Lose control, and it'll be a disaster.”
That was one hell of an understatement, Revell knew. The first stage of the operation would soon be underway. Civil defence teams were making ready to lead to safety the masses who had taken shelter in the subway stations.
It was a daunting task, fraught with difficulties. The only factor that made even its contemplation feasible was that with each team there would be U-bahn maintenance staff.
Stage two was far more risky and complex. From the north the garrison troops, and from the east a mixed force of armed police and airport security staff, would have to push steadily in towards the city. As they came, they would have to evacuate every shelter and send the civilians back along the route they had, hopefully, cleared of snipers.
The columns would radio when they encountered serious opposition. Where they couldn't go around, attack teams would endeavour to eliminate the obstructing paratroops by direct assault.
Both columns would be able to deploy some light armour, in the form of armoured cars and personnel carriers. Their heavy machine guns and cannon would he invaluable for scouting and close support.
If the Russian paratroops had anti-armour capability though, the usefulness of armoured vehicles in street fighting would be severely limited. With thousands of hiding places for ambush teams in every street, a rocket-propelled grenade into their vulnerable side armour would turn them into fiery death traps.
“You manage to get in touch with your men, Major?” Stadler groped in the pockets of the jacket draped over the back of his chair. He fished out cigarettes and a lighter.
“I'll be rejoining them shortly.” Revell slipped on a flak vest Ackerman had found for him. “And I'll be glad to. There are too many high-powered staff officers here for my liking.”
“Mine as well.” Stadler lifted his eyes to the ceiling in pained resignation. “The generals didn't like being told that the operation was staying strictly under civilian control. A few of them I thought I might be forced to lock up out of harm's way. It is possible I still might. I feel they are plotting.”
“Have you been able to contact the main police communications room yet?” Revell was aware that during their conversation Stadler had been half-listening to the operator who was trying line after line and channel after channel.
“No, I am afraid the headquarters will have been an early target. At this time of night, there will have been only forty staff members on duty. But we can carry on from here for the moment.”
“What about the men who were actually on the streets?” Stadler toyed with the lighter, flicking it to produce a tall flame. “I can reach about half of those who were on duty. When the sirens sounded, they would have stayed above ground. They would have been easy targets for the Russians, alone on the streets.”
“They might just be pinned down. They're not necessarily casualties.” “Foot patrols and car crews all have radios. If they were able to, they would use them.” Keeping the flame turned up, Stadler watched it absently. When finally it died to nothing, he pocketed it without lighting his cigarette.
“It is the manpower situation that is most worrying. After forming SWAT teams, those officers I have left are being spread far too thinly. Some are on standby to attach themselves to the columns as they approach. I have to dispatch most of them to man roadblocks as far out from the centre as I can. As the morning goes on, a torrent of vehicles will converge on the city. Not all will be aware of what is happening.”
It took little imagination on Revell's part to realize what would happen if a bus load of tourists suddenly appeared on the streets. “Do you have reports of many civilian casualties so far?”
“Too many. There's been no bombing, but no all-clear either. They've started sticking their heads out to see what's going on, and getting them shot off.”
“At least it's not all one-sided. One of your men got lucky.” Revell had seen the report. A lone police officer had come upon a Russian squad preoccupied with breaking into a building. He'd killed three before being wounded himself.
“I'd like to think it was more than luck.” “Perhaps it was. Either way, let's hope it's a good omen.” Revell patted his flak jacket. “Normally I'd put most of my faith in this, but I think in our situation we'd be unwise to turn down any offer of help, even from the supernatural.”
A messenger handed Stadler a sheaf of photocopies. “Here are your maps, Major. You'll see that the area I've allotted your company comprises most of the actual city centre. By now they should be armed, I believe.”