We are into the home stretch!
There’s only 75 pages left in the manuscript; 5 chapters. There is on REALLY long one, Mike’s bachelor party, with shorter ones on either side.
What, you thought I’d forget about wrapping up the Mike/Kat storyline?
Not bloody likely!
Okay, pitch time.
First, if you want a chance to win an autographed copy of my next book, here’s a chance! Just click the button below and you’ll be whisked away to the magical Rafflecopter land, where you can enter to win. Just do it soon, as the drawing happens on release day, August 15!
Second, the next book is almost here! Now I know I don’t usually try to play in the military SF sandbox; after all, my main character has said that “Starfleet is for families.” Not exactly Kildar-style, is it? But this latest book bends all that; here, take a look at this:
If you don’t know the Cassidy books, and love action, this one’s for you!
Gereshk was finally alone.
All his men received instructions, money, and had flowed out into the streets to mix with the commuters heading home. They easily disappeared into the sea of humanity. Modern, cosmopolitan Moscow paid them no heed at all. He had bidden farewell to the last and closed the heavy steel door, throwing the ancient bolt to a horrendous screech. Small wonder it hadn’t been locked.
The bakery was a good refuge. It appeared the owner was on a week’s vacation, so he wouldn’t have to worry about an intrusion early in the morning. It wouldn’t matter for much longer. All he needed was another day. Less, actually. He planned to detonate the bomb at noon, the peak of the day, when the most people would be crowded into the city and the device could reap the maximum devastation, all for the glory of Allah.
It would also make the morning news in America. Another blow to the Great Satan, that even such a city as Moscow could be laid waste to by the defenders of the faith. Pity he wouldn’t be around to enjoy it, but faith demanded martyrs, too. His only regret was he would not be around to see the chaos, destruction and death he sowed.
Even if he’d planned to abandon the weapon, a thought which had occurred to him once or twice, the option was now gone. The timing mechanism was damaged in the firefight so he would be forced into an alternate method. More basic, less technical. The irony didn’t bother him. The product of the Russian’s technology should come down to this: man, hammer, bomb.
Fortunately this warhead had last seen life with an impact detonator which had remained intact through shipping and subsequent events. One solid whack on the nose and the bomb should explode, bringing Allah’s wrath down upon the Russian infidels.
Less than a day, now.
The Cosmos 2224 was part of a now-defunct missile launch warning system the Soviet Union had placed in orbit. Most observers assumed it carried only visible spectrum and infrared optics, those being most useful for detecting the launch of any kind of spacecraft from Earth. Usefully the Soviets had also installed a rudimentary gamma ray detector. This was to distinguish between a nuclear threat and other satellites, such as commercial birds or NASA’s shuttle fleet, passing through its patrol area.
Although the network was now inoperative some of the individual satellites had power and fuel remaining. These few continued their task of examining the planet below for anomalies.
On this pass over Moscow, 2224 was active instead of sleeping. The general mobilization of all resources had reached far enough down the chain to order it powered up. It peered down from its lofty perch upon the bustling city. Numerous gamma sources were noted, recorded, and transmitted down to its control station before it returned to its dreamless electronic sleep.
Murphy couldn’t prevent it transmitting; he had too much else on his plate. It was a Russian bird, and so the Keldara lacked the same instantaneous access to the data as they had with most American satellites. Thus it was nearly thirty minutes before the unexpected and highly unlikely gamma hot spot was downloaded to their server.
The action, and panic, when the alarms screamed more than made up for the delay.
“Bozhe moi!” The involuntary oath slipped from Lieutenant Sankovsky’s lips as his terminal lit up. He fumbled for the phone.
“We have found it,” announced Chechnik, closing his mobile. “Off Khoromniy Tupik. I’m having data and the address downloaded to you now.”
“How far away?” asked Mike, already jogging towards the car.
“Two kilometers, perhaps.”
Inside the car, Anisa was tapping at her tablet.
“Found it. Location matches a, Kildar, it’s a bakery! Called The Black Loaf!” She called directions to Jitka, who dropped the car into gear, followed by the rest of the team.
“Fitting place for a fucking blackass Chechen bastard,” growled Chechnik.
“Ah, ah, ah!” scolded Mike. “Remember, you turned him in, not the other way around. Come to think of it, I want you to stay in the limo. Out of sight.”
“It is my duty –”
“Stuff your duty. I’m worried if he’s still holding a grudge after all these years one look at you and he sends us all to Valhalla. Second point, we‘re trained in stealth ops and in condition for it; you aren‘t. You‘ll slow us down and potentially blow our approach. So. In the limo, voluntarily or not. Your choice; I don‘t care. We have plenty of rigger tape.”
“I hadn’t considered that,” said Chechnik. “Rigger tape not necessary. I shall remain here and await your success.”
“You seem very sure of our abilities.”
With a very Russian smile, Chechnik said, “I am. And if you fail? I shall never know it. One request. May I use my phone while I wait? I would like to keep track with my office.”
“No, but don’t worry. We’ll leave you a tablet to play with,” consoled Mike. “Something to keep you occupied. Anisa, don’t we have one of the original designs? The ones for Shota and the Mules before his little operation?” He asked in Keldara, hoping Chechnik hadn’t mastered the dialect yet.
“I believe so, Kildar. I use it for entertainment. It’s a wonderful e-book reader.”
“You have some suitable ones uploaded?”
“Oh, I think so,” she replied with a twinkle. “How about The Chinese Outlaw’s Quiet Lady, The Parisian Heir’s Depraved Captive, and The Italian Millionaire’s Irrepressible Mistress? Oh, and I think I have a copy of Scientology on there.”
“That’s evil, Anisa. I don’t even want to know why you have the last title.” In Russian, he said to Chechnik, “I think we can make sure you’re not bored.”
Traffic was a nightmare. Although his Keldara were typical third world drivers, for values of ‘driver’, there was little they could do with solid lines of cars and lorries blocking both sides of the road. Even Chechnik’s help was only able to shave a few minutes off the total time.
Soon enough Anisa announced, “Find a place to pull over. We don‘t want to get any closer, in case there are patrols out.”
“Teach your grandmother to suck eggs,“ said Jitka.
Parking was the easy part. They simply stopped where they were, traffic and parked cars be dammed, and unassed. Horns blared, then died, as the impatient drivers took a closer look at the uniforms and the lethal-looking rifles. Military actions were not uncommon in Moscow and the populace had long since learned how to deal with them: avoid making a scene and leave the area immediately. More than a few pulled as far off the road as they could, stopped, got out of their car, and started walking. Quickly. When the shooting was over, they’d come reclaim their transport.
Anisa had called up a blueprint of the bakery through her hacks into the planner’s server. It showed four rooms, plus a bathroom: a public space in the front, an industrial kitchen, an office next to the kitchen, and a storeroom across the rear.
“Two entrances, here and here,” said Mike to the gathered troops. “Only good line of sight is through the front; Sveryan, you’ll need to find a perch. This location looks promising. There’s an emergency ladder, but if it’s in the same shitty condition most are, you’ll need ropes and a grapple. You brought the Barrett?”
“Yes, Kildar, and the Mannlicher.”
“Take the Barrett. We might need the heavier round.”
“I understand. Penetration.”
“Hold your fire until ordered! We don’t know the situation; we can’t have civilian casualties. When I give the word, or you see action near the bomb, take the shot! Through people if need be.”
Sveryan and Gregor Makanee, his spotter, headed out.
“Vil, you, one squad, and your heavies to the front. Your second leads the other squad and bottles ‘em up at the rear. Heavy assault entry. If it‘s breathing when you go in, it’s not when you leave. Do not shoot the bomb and remember your assigned vectors.”
“Katrina, you, Adams, Arensky and the girls follow along. Stay close but out of sight. I don’t need my WMD expert or a big chunk of my Intel team at risk from a stray round.”
“And why me, Michael?” asked Kat, anger at being behind the action evident in her voice and stance.
“You’re there to keep a watch over them, you and the Chief. I figure between you, any random muj won’t have a prayer.”
“Oh,” she said, mollified. “We can do that. The Chief’s good enough to keep up with me.”
“And Chief?” he said, rolling his eyes slightly.
“ake-May ure-say at-thay e-thay ick-pray ays-stay ith-way e-thay ar-cay. Tries to leave? Oot-shay im-hay. Understand?”
“Got it.” Chechnik would stay with the car, or he’d be shot. Mike didn’t like surprises.
“Anisa, can you shut down their phone and computer lines? Without dumping the power? That‘s step one in the universal ‘Take Down Terrorists‘ playbook the Russians use, and I think Gereshk’s clever enough to figure it out.”
“Give me a few minutes and I can. How much of the network can I take down?”
“As much as you need. Get started.” He turned to the teams. “We move when she signals they’re down.”
The plan was simple enough. Mike would do the initial approach as if a regular customer and eyeball the interior. It was possible the weapon had simply been planted in the store without anyone’s knowledge, in which case he had a moral obligation to clear any civilians. It wasn’t likely; then it would be a hard and fast entry, nasty if there were hostages, but then it always sucked to be one of those. They’d deal with the fallout after the bomb was recovered.
More probably the Chechens had taken over the bakery completely and were simply putting on a front, waiting. If so, if the Russian Army didn’t screw it up, the Keldara would have the advantage of surprise.
“Kildar?” said Grez, looking up from her own tablet.
“What’ve you got?”
“I found their website. Apparently, this bakery closes at two every day.” It was well past two.
“Shit.” This made things simpler, in some ways, and more difficult too. If they were closed he couldn’t just walk in and look around. They’d be going in blind, or nearly so. On the plus side, they wouldn’t have to worry about customers, and there might not be any workers around.
“Okay, change of plans. I’m going to enter through the back and look around, then signal.” Nods all around. “Set teams for entry. God eyes, any watchers?”
“Negative, Kildar. No guards visible, nothing on thermal,” answered Gregor over the radio.
In the failing light, Mike re-dressed.
No camo or makeup. Button-down shirt, coat, slacks, and he was a moderately successful businessman on his way home. The dark suitcoat‘s pockets concealed a couple of Vanner’s toys, diminished the bulk of his Kevlar vest, and his Browning was in a holster under his arm.
Getting back into his casual sneak mode, he walked around the block to the storefront and passed by, totally disinterested in dark windows.
He didn’t see any movement in his pass but that didn’t mean anything one way or another. He walked to the end of the block and doubled back quickly, ducking down an alleyway before he returned to the frontage.
A wider alley led past the backs of the stores, obviously for deliveries. He shed the coat, shirt, and shoulder holster. He thought about shedding the vest, too, but decided reluctantly to keep it. He had to put it under the t-shirt which was going to be uncomfortable. At least it wasn’t summer in the sandy-ass desert.
The Browning got tucked into his pants and hidden under the t-shirt, and the micro video system looked like a smart phone, one of the design considerations. Now he was just a worker taking a shortcut.
He stopped before crossing the window set into the steel door. He placed a hand on it. Solid. The lock looked easy enough; he’d been forced to renew his picking skills with Mouse’s presence in the house. No signs of wires for an alarm. They could be mounted on the inside, though it was unlikely. Still, he had tools to deal with wires.
He knelt and threaded the fiber-optic camera under the door jamb. Taking one last sweep of the area he peered at the view. Nothing but sacks to the left, doorway ahead, and bingo! Nuclear warhead, one each, partially crated for transport.
Was the top open?
He’d have to risk the window.
The peek didn’t reveal anyone inside the storeroom. His senses on high alert, he moved.
The camera was pulled back out and lifted to window level for an instant, capturing a quick view. He studied it. Poor resolution or no, he could tell that the back room was empty, so he risked a longer view.
“What are you doing?” asked Jitka suspiciously. Chechnik had retrieved his phone and was about to make a call.
“It is getting late, and my wife expects me for supper. I must to call and tell her that I am delayed.”
Jitka looked thoughtfully at him. No phone calls, that was the order. But a man, facing death, with family… He relented. “Very well, but I need to listen.”
“Of course,” Chechnik replied easily, dialing Putin’s number. After a single ring, it was answered.
“Chechnik? Where are you?”
“Hello, dear! Sorry, I’m going to be late getting home.”
Putin had spent fifteen years on active service in the KGB and quickly deduced the situation. “Has he found the bomb?”
“Yes, of course I’ll be home tonight. It’s simply a matter of wrapping up some work.”
“Excellent! I am on my way, with the troops you had briefed. You did brief them?”
“Yes, yes. Very soon.” Of course he had briefed them. Hand-picked them, too. Called in many favors and would owe many more if he lived through this. It meant that he could rely on them, at least.
“Good.” Putin hung up.
“Love you too.” He ended the call before the electronics witch could think to query his phone for the call’s actual location.
Fifteen minutes of random observations had revealed no movement inside so Mike decided to risk picking the lock. The mechanism itself was almost childishly easy but age had nearly frozen the tumblers in place. Gently, slowly, he turned the tools, straining to hear the slightest scrape or groan of metal. Millimeter by millimeter, he felt it retract.
After what seemed an eternity, the bolt finally finished slotting home. Mike took another look through the window, gripped the door handle, tensed, and pulled.
The door moved about a quarter inch and froze.
That took another five minutes of finessing with fishing line to lift and lower it before tying the line to the door handle to keep it from dropping. Silence was his ally.
“Can you guess my name?” he sang quietly as he pushed against the door.
“Damn!” he swore under his breath. He felt the first tremors of resistance from age. Maybe the door was warped, too. That’d figure. Probably should’ve gone with the explosives entry, but too late now. Besides, he was stubborn and determined to see it through his way. Truth be told, he was enjoying the challenge.
He patted his pockets, hoping to find some sort of lubricant. Graphite, silicone, anything.
No time to search or wait. Wherever the Chechens were, they could come back at any moment. He had to hope that they hadn’t left anyone behind to guard. They could be in evening prayer, making peace with their god. Fine. He’d introduce them.
With a surge, he yanked the door open. One single screech of protest was all the door emitted and he was through and in front of the bomb.
No sounds, no movement. He stood on the balls of his feet, poised to move in any direction. He knew his men were preparing to make entry and back him up.
He stood and looked down into the box. Yes, that was it. Big, dull grey metal casing, open at one end.
Open? What was going on with that? Curiosity aroused, he looked down.
Ah. A hole in the box he hadn’t noticed told the tale. The timer must’ve been hit, and they were trying to rig an alternate…
The shot hit him in the left shoulder and spun him around.
He’d taken a second too long, forgotten the first rule of engagements: do your job, let others do theirs! He lingered at the bomb when he should have cleared the room and moved, leaving it for others. That was the fucking plan! He was getting old, rusty, or maybe just distracted. Too much shit going on. Too much to think about. All this while he continued the spin the bullet had started.
One man, dressed in faded Russian fatigues, holding an old Makarov PM 9mm. Dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin. Medium build. A couple scars Mike could just see in the semi-darkness.
“Away from Allah’s vengeance,” snarled the man, gesturing.
Carefully, Mike inched away from the box. Could he play innocent? No, probably not.
“I’m moving,” he said, activating the sub dermal transmitter.
“It’s just you and me.”
He clicked his teeth three times. That was the ‘balls to the walls’ signal.
“All Father!” he heard in the earpiece.
He inched a bit further, out of the entry lanes and lines of fire. He didn‘t need to be blue on blue again. It took him away from the bomb and that’s what the man wanted. Get him talking, keep his attention for a few more seconds.
“How are you going to set it off? The timer’s smashed to shit.”
“Coming,” said Adams in his earpiece. “Thirty seconds.”
“You won’t be around to see it, infidel! You and the rest of your city will be a glorious beacon to the faithful!”
“My city? I don’t think so. I’m not from here.”
“Keep him talking. Vil’s working on the front door.”
Just blow the fucker! he wanted to shout but couldn’t.
The muj was confused but the pistol didn’t waver. “Kiev. St. Petersburg. Wherever. You have no business being here and will pay for your presence.”
“I don’t think so,” contradicted Mike, still not moving any farther. It might piss him off, but he had to keep him focused on the immediate threat.
“Ten seconds,” said Adams. “Fuck. Car. Twenty.”
“No? Who will save you? Your Christian god? Your Jesus?”
“No. But where has Allah gotten you, Gereshk? You are Bursuk Gereshk?”
“How do you know my name?” He took a threatening step towards Mike and away from the device. He was now perfectly in line with the door.
“Does it matter? I know your name, like I knew the late Emir. Haven’t you wondered why you weren’t contacted? Or are you too stupid to realize you’ve failed?”
“The Emirate will never fall! Allah has revealed it to His servants!”
“Ibrahim’s dead too, and he was a fake. He lied to you all.”
“Five seconds. Stand by to drop on my signal.”
“No! Ibrahim was the best of us!”
“Now he’s just like the rest of you. Dead. You’re it, Gereshk. The last one.”
“Then I shall fall a martyr!”
Mike spun and fell to the floor.
Gereshk lunged forward towards him, pistol raised, but Mike was no longer there. Getting shot was one way to get rid of the rust. The adrenalin pumping through him made Mike move f