Authors: James Rouch
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Men's Adventure
“To what extent I don't know. We were due to reequip when we went back into action. All they'll have is what they've been able to scrounge off the transport police.”
“Then your first target will have to be the armoury at police headquarters. Internally it's like a fortress after the most recent alterations. I wish you luck. Even with the assistance of a team of my men, it is going to be difficult to get inside, if the Russians are determined to hold it.”
“They got in...”
“They had the advantage of surprise”.
“...so I'm sure we can. But I shan't be needing your help. I know the layout. We'll tackle it on our own, radio in when it's okay for your men to reoccupy.”
Revell was glad to be getting out of the bunker. The chill in the air from the overworked air-conditioning seemed strangely at variance with the perpetual smells of cigarette smoke and lukewarm coffee.
It was a miracle it had not been an early objective for the Russian assault. Perhaps the section detailed to take it had been one of those to go astray, or maybe they just hadn't gotten to it yet.
As far as Revell was aware though, there was only the single entrance to the building. That could be defended indefinitely by a handful of men. The staircase and double-blast doors also made formidable fall-back positions.
Or perhaps they had never intended to try and take it. With the exception of the police HQ, they seemed to have gone for far easier objectives, civilian ones for the most part. Their principle intention appeared to be to cause the maximum disruption to the population as a whole.
“One last thing, Commissioner.” A thought struck Revell. “Is there no word from the radio or television stations yet?”
Gebert had just entered. He heard the question, and exchanged glances with Stadler before taking the answer on himself.
“All local transmitters went off the air as soon as the alert was sounded. Also all relays of the national stations and cable TV networks. They make easy targets for emission-homing warheads.”
“Good job satellite TV ceased when the war started. You'd have had a difficult task pulling the plug on them.” Revell knew there was truth in what Gebert said, but felt he wasn't getting the whole story.
“Major, I won't try and fool you. It's federal policy that events such as we have here are given careful consideration before the media are allowed to broadcast a word.” Gebert was trying to make what he said sound convincing. He doubted that he was succeeding. “Look, if we put out any version of what is happening - even watered-down - it's not going to put everyone's mind at rest, is it? What do we say? 'Sorry, folks. We've got a few red hit squads roaming about. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.' And it'd be picked up by other networks who are still on the air, over which we've got no control. Switzerland, France, Italy. They'd have a field day with it. We wouldn't have just one city in trouble, the whole country could panic.”
“You know that down in those shelters, more Russian agents will be earning their bonus by sowing rumours, starting all sorts of stories.”
“I know that, Major.” Gebert offered Stadler a light, but it was waved away. “We'll have to rely on the police keeping control, or at least doing their best. We're having to accept the lesser of two evils. Better a few should have breakdowns in our shelters, than that a whole country should be made to run scared.”
Stadler finally crumpled his cigarette and threw it away.
“We are going after these Russians hard and fast. No finesse, just straight at them hard every time we see them. Anything goes, a gloves-off operation. When it's over, there will be time for considered statements, careful press releases, but you know something, I'm dreading that time as much as I hate what's happening now. When the fighting is over, the witch hunt will start, for the communist agents who came out of the woodwork and helped create this mess.”
Gebert nodded in agreement. “In the long term, Major Revell, it will be difficult to decide which has done the most damage.”
An ambulance had collided with a parked car. Both were burning fiercely at the corner of the main shopping , street. Close by stood a fire tender. Among the flattened snakes of its hoses sprawled several of its crew.
Revell and Ackerman took to a side road that skirted the scene, using every shred of cover offered by doorways and street furniture until they were well clear.
The moon had set, and where no alleyway funnelled the reflected glare of the blaze, their way led through near-pitch darkness.
Distantly there came the intermittent sound of light gunfire. Once a single shot from closer at hand was followed by a scream of pain that choked away to silence.
Keeping to the darkest route, they passed through an archway of the medieval Karlstor Gate. They passed an entrance to the Stachus underground shopping centre. At the top of the escalator, several bodies lay scattered. Loud cries and moans from below gave evidence that there had been other victims of the sniper's accurate fire. A figure lolled restlessly on the pavement, in pain too great to articulate. There was nothing they could do, except prevent themselves falling prey to the same marksman.
Beyond that there was another broad avenue to cross, but several strings of streetcars offered them a sanctuary halfway. They ran and dived into an open trailer car, throwing themselves full-length on the littered floor. Bullets punched holes through the panel work and seats.
“Soon as we move, Major, they've got us for sure.” A round had buried itself in the timber planking immediately in front of Ackerman's nose. “They're firing down from one of these buildings. When we leave this crate, we'll be right in their sights.”
“Just be ready to run when I say.” Revell clipped the radio back on his belt, and waited. There were no more shots; he hadn't, expected any yet. There was no point in their sniper wasting ammunition raking the trailer. He would have a clear field of fire soon enough.
A storm of tracers burst with a frenzied clatter from the far side of the avenue and flashed across its broad width. The noise of the many impacts on walls and downspouts blended with the shattering ring of breaking glass.
Ackerman didn't need the officer's urging. Scrambling to his feet, he was on Revell's heels as they jumped from the streetcar, and a pace ahead by the time they reached the sanctuary of the far buildings.
The instant they hurled themselves into concealment, the covering fire abruptly ceased.
“We were waiting a few yards further down. I figured you'd be here soon!” Sergeant Hyde hefted the machine gun onto his shoulder. A half-belt dangled from it. “The buggers are firing straight down the Schutzenstrasse, and the Palace of Justice route is too open. Didn't think you'd chance that.”
“Is this your first brush with them?” Revell had to jog to keep up with the men of the covering group as they made their way back to the station.
“We had one drop right in on top of us, and we traded a few rounds not long ago with a group trying to use Bayerstrasse. That's all so far.” Hyde called for a slowing of the pace as they prepared to cross the last road. “I think we winged at least a couple, but their mates dragged them off, back into the centre.”
“Might have been better if they'd got through. Our task is to root out and destroy any of them between here and the river.”
“The whole of the city centre? That's the best part of a couple of hundred blocks. How are we supposed to do that with only one under strength and a lightly armed company?”
“I know it's crazy.” They'd regained the station forecourt, and Revell made a swift appraisal of such defences as had been erected. The positions his men had taken were good, but Hyde's machine gun was the only weapon heavier than a machine pistol or pump gun. “But if our mission is nuts, it's only a shade more lunatic than the enemy's tactics. They've dumped maybe a couple of companies on the city. I don't know, what their commanders told them, but effectively they're on a suicide mission.”
“Maybe they'll realize that for themselves and give up.” “I doubt it, Sergeant.” Revell had good reason to doubt such an outcome. He knew a great deal about communist indoctrination methods. They were thorough, and in the majority of cases highly successful. “Whatever line those Warpac paras have been fed, you can be sure they'll believe it. And they'll go on believing it until they're finally cornered and killed.”
“So where do we start?” Resting the machine gun on the ground, Hyde looked out at the seemingly endless roads that radiated away from the railway station. Only one displayed any light, burning vehicles in the far distance. Clearing them was more than a daunting prospect, it was terrifying. Using every last man, they amounted to no more than three-platoon strength. Such a small force would have been stretched to take a defended village, let alone a couple of square kilometres of heavily built-up city.
“We need the weapons in the main police armoury. That has to be our first target. What weapons can we muster?”
Hyde was all too well acquainted with their meagre resources. “The MG with three-and-a-half belts, fifteen machine pistols with three magazines each, and ten pump guns with a hundred cartridges between them.”
“Couldn't you get anything more out of the transport police?” Revell had been hoping there were more weapons available than those he had seen being carried by the sentries and the section that had provided covering fire.
“This is all they had; they couldn't give them away fast enough. Mostly they're old boys with no stomach for a fight. Can't say I blame them. Bit different tackling Warpac paras instead of soccer hooligans. They're shitting themselves. Oh, there was a stack of riot guns. Unlimited baton and CS rounds for those, and plenty of masks.”
“Get them, and all the gas grenades the men can carry.” It was little enough Revell knew, but with it they would have to do the job. In the Zone they had often had to raid enemy dumps for ammunition and fuel. He hadn't expected to be doing something similar during the last hours of his leave.
Hyde shouted orders, then turned back to the Major. “Did you want to see the remains of that para?”
“Yes, while we're waiting.” Revell followed the NCO to the booking hall. Spread-eagled on the floor, the dead man's outstretched limbs and the dried rivulets of blood that radiated from him gave an absurdly picturesque sun-ray effect to the gruesome scene.
“Find anything on him?” Revell began going through the jumpsuit's many pouches and pockets.
“No papers of any sort. He had a satchel full of explosives, mostly booby-trap ingredients. Otherwise his equipment was pretty near standard, apart from the silencer for his pistol and sufficient ammunition to start a war of his own.”
His search complete, and apparently confirming the sergeant's findings, Revell began to wipe the blood from his fingers, when for some reason his attention was attracted to the man's helmet.
The strap had been almost severed during his fall, and a hard tug parted it completely. Revell ran his fingers over its greasy interior padding. The hunch paid off, and he pulled out two neatly folded squares of flimsy paper.
Both sides of the sheet were covered with indecipherable Cyrillic scrawl. The smattering of spoken Russian he could understand was of no use to Revell.
“I am here, Major. Are we going now, please. I am told that everyone in the city is to be evacuated through the subway. Shouldn't we start moving?”
“What do these say?” Ignoring the Russian's hopefully phrased question, Revell thrust the papers at him.
Squinting in the poor light provided by a shaded flashlight, Boris put on his glasses and skimmed the text.
“There is nothing of importance, Major. It is trivia, an unfinished letter to a girl.” “I'll make the judgments. What does it say?”
“Of course, Major, right away.” Turning back to the top of the first sheet, Boris reread more slowly. He stopped often to resettle his glasses on his broad Slavic features.
“Actually he writes obscenities about their last time together, and his plans for the next ... he hopes the drugs he sent have arrived safely, and that she gets a good price on the black market. As I said, Major, it is all idle chatter, gossip ...”
“Just fucking tell the Major what it says.” Hyde shone the torch in the translator's face.
Boris did as he was told, hurriedly.
“He goes on to say that he will send her photographs they took in a refugee camp... they had used flamethrowers ... he thinks she will find some of them funny. Here he says that he has not written for a while, as he was in detention for being drunk. He has been transferred from the naval brigade to an independent company... that is all there is, it ends there.”
“So now we know what we're up against.” Revell accepted the return of the scraps and crushed them into his pocket. “Only Spetsnaz forces in the Warsaw Pact have naval brigades as well as independent companies.”
“We had to come up against them sometime. The wonder is it hasn't occurred before this.” Hyde could see that the information had upset Boris, but then any prospect of his falling back into the hands of the army he had deserted had that effect. For himself, he was well aware of the Russian elite forces reputation, but you could be just as dead from a bullet fired by a shit-scared dolt of an in- fantryman, as by a highly trained commando.
Unclipping his radio from his belt, Revell broadcast his call sign. As he waited for an acknowledgement, he looked again at the corpse on the tiled floor.
An outstretched hand seemed to reach towards the bundle of torn panels and rigging in a corner. It appeared almost a gesture of accusation, aimed at the chute that had failed him.
Briefly, Revell passed to control the information they had obtained. He signed off without waiting to hear their reaction. Not that there could be any doubt as to what it would be. At that very moment, the communication room in the bunker would have gone very quiet, as the news sank in.
Spetsnaz troops had an appalling record of atrocity, even gauged against the horrors that were everyday events in the Zone. This time though it was not helpless prisoners or even wretched refugees, this time they held a whole city in their bloodstained hands.