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Текст книги "Ghosts"

Автор книги: Mark Dawson

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Текущая страница: 12 (всего у книги 15 страниц)



Chapter Thirty-Nine

The six minute call. The ramp of the C-17 opened, slowly lowering and letting moonlight spill into the darkened cabin of the plane. The fresh air was a welcome relief. Milton used the fabric ties attached to the walls of the plane to pull himself upright and took a step forwards. They were up high, thirty thousand feet, and the landscape below was indistinct. Milton was wearing arctic battle gear: his field jacket had a hood concealed in a zipper pocket at the back of the collar, four large cargo pockets and a double zipper. He had buttoned in a separate Gore-Tex liner for additional warmth, he was wearing polypropylene knit undergarments and full face goggles over a balaclava that was unrolled all the way down to his throat. Right now, he was breathing pure oxygen through a mask to prevent nitrogen bubbles forming in his bloodstream. He stared out of the open end of the plane. It was minus forty outside and, were it not for the goggles, his eyes would have frozen instantly.

The jumpmaster signalled that they were ready to start the jump. Milton stood back as they released the drogue parachute that was attached to the first of the three Snowmobiles on which they had stowed the rest of their gear. The chute snapped open and dragged the skidoo backwards. It clicked across the metal rollers that were arranged across the width of the cabin, started to pick up speed as it rolled down the ramp and then disappeared out the back of the plane. They opened the chutes on the second and third skidoos and watched as they followed the first into the night. The plan was to drop their vehicles and gear first and then have the agents follow behind. Milton watched as the three main parachutes opened and the skidoos started their slow, gentle descent onto the snowy plains below.

The plan was simple enough. The Russians had permitted the C-17 free passage into their airspace. It had taken four hours to reach Kubinka. The Hercules had been refuelled and the Russians had loaded the three skidoos. They had been on the ground for an hour, long enough for Milton to stretch his legs and smoke a couple of cigarettes before they took off again. The jump point was over the horizon from Plyos to ensure that the guards at the dacha didn’t see their chutes. Surprise was critical. Their chances of success would be drastically reduced, practically eliminated, if Shcherbatov’s men knew that they were coming. A High-Altitude, Low Opening jump was the best way of ensuring stealthy infil; they would exit the aircraft while it was still plenty high, open the main chute after a long freefall and then glide the canopy all the way to the target. They would land twenty kilometres away from the jump point.

Milton did his last-minute checks and, satisfied, walked to the ramp.

The jumpmaster pointed out the back.

Number Two jumped and then, a moment later, so did Six, Eight and Nine. Milton was left with Ten at the lip of the ramp, both of them looking down at the ground, mantled with ice, thousands of feet below.

“After you,” Callan shouted, making an extravagant sweeping gesture with his right arm.

Milton nodded, not willing to engage him, and dived off the ramp.

He fell for seventy-five seconds at terminal velocity, following the line of dots below him. He had an altimeter strapped to his wrist but he had jumped hundreds of times before and didn’t need it. He knew the time to open the canopy and, as he reached the right moment, he yanked the handle and watched the main chute billow out overhead. His speed sheared to twenty miles an hour and his body pulled five Gs. The noise of the airplane’s engines and the whistling rush of the wind disappeared and everything was silent. The stars spread out above him, diamonds sprinkled over the vault of night. Milton tugged the straps to make himself a little more comfortable and aligned himself with the others, further along in the descent, their black canopies swooping out like wings above them as they stacked for landing. Milton closed his eyes for a moment and composed himself. The only sounds were the chute snapping overhead and his breathing, deep and easy. Milton opened his eyes again and, with his right hand, snapped the night vision optics down from the rail system that was attached to the side of his helmet. The landscape below was suddenly bathed in a wash of eerie green. It looked peaceful and, more importantly, empty. He touched the controls and selected infra-red; he saw a couple of heat sources but satisfied himself that they were animals. A couple of Elk, drinking at a stream, about to get a surprise.

The agents below swooped in, landed twenty feet from the nearest skidoo and immediately began to stow their chutes. Milton dropped to twenty feet, flared the parachute and landed on his feet. He unhooked his harness worked it over his shoulders and away. He heard the flapping of Callan’s canopy as he circled overhead, dropping suddenly and landing alongside with the same practiced ease that comes of repetition. Spenser and Underwood used retractable shovels to excavate a narrow trench and they each stuffed their canopies inside, covering them up again with the snow until the only sign that they had been there was the disturbed drift.

That would be righted soon enough. As Milton crunched across to the skidoo a snowflake landed on his nose. Thirty seconds later and a blizzard had started.

* * *

Milton looked at the others with wary caution. They were checking their weapons for damage from the jump, ensuring for a final time that magazines were full and that their complement of grenades and blasting charges had not fallen from their pockets or been detached from the velcro holding straps. They worked quickly and in silence, completely professional. Each one of them was lethally dangerous. Trust was impossible and yet, each of them had to cover the back of the others if the mission was to be a success. Milton had thought about whether to ask for more bodies. He had even considered asking for every operational member of the Group but he had decided that they stood a better chance with a smaller, more agile unit. The six of them would be a match for twice as many guards, but success depended upon the element of surprise and ruthless execution of the plan. There were variables: perhaps Shcherbatov had increased the security, maybe Pope had been moved after all.

There was nothing that could be done about things that were out of his control.

Their weapons had been strapped to the chassis of the skidoos. Milton undid the bindings around his M4 and checked the carbine and the M320 grenade launcher that was slung beneath it. Both had survived the descent without damage. He removed the magazine and then pushed it back again. The carbine was shorter than a full length rifle and better suited to close quarters combat. It was a good gun but dependant upon regular cleaning; Milton had taken it to bits and reassembled it after he had finished with his handgun. He had his Sig in a shoulder holster, four magazines for the M4 in a mag pouch, two hundred rounds of ammunition, six fragmentation grenades, two blasting charges and a Benchmade Infidel knife.

There were three Snowmobiles and six of them. Milton straddled the nearest skidoo and started the engine. The headlamp flicked on, a beam of golden light filled with fat flakes of snow. Hammond crunched through the crust of snow and rode pillion. The others got onto their own vehicles, two to each machine. The other two engines started with issue. Milton took off the goggles, shoved them into his Bergen and replaced them with a pair of Oakley Ballistics.

“One, Group,” Milton announced into the radio. “Comms check.”

“This is Eight. Comms check affirmative.”

“Two, affirmative.”

“Six, loud and clear.”

“Nine, check is good.”

“Ten, affirmative.”

He consulted his satnav. “Twenty clicks,” he said. “Couple of hours provided the road is where it’s supposed to be,”

“And that it’s clear,” Hammond said.

“Don’t worry about that. Ivan keeps his roads open, no matter what. It’ll be clear.”

Chapter Forty

It took them a couple of hours to reach Plyos. They hid the Snowmobiles in the grounds of an empty dacha on the edge of the village and tracked the rest of the way on foot. The six of them were split into three teams: Alpha Team was Spenser and Underwood; Bravo Team was Milton and Callan; Charlie Team was Blake and Hammond. On Milton’s signal they dispersed to their prearranged attack points. Milton and Callan scaled the side of an empty barn that, from the gently sloping roof, offered a good view of Shcherbatov’s dacha.

Milton watched as Alpha and Charlie Teams took their positions. Spenser and Underwood ducked behind a parked car a hundred feet from the entrance to the dacha. Blake and Hammond held position behind a low wall.

The roof was thick with snow and Milton sunk down deep into it as he lay flat. Callan took position next to him, settling his M110 semi-auto sniper rifle on its bipod and taking aim through the scope. Below them and away to the east, Spenser was prone on the ground beneath an old Soviet-era Lada that was so buried beneath snow that it couldn’t have been moved for weeks. He, too, had set up his rifle and was taking aim.

Milton swept the IR binoculars left and right, studying the dacha. He matched the compound’s layout against the video from the overflight of a Russian TU-300 Korshun drone from earlier that afternoon and what he could remember from his brief visit earlier that week. Everything was just as it should be. It was encircled by high stone walls with a large decorative wooden gate guarding the entrance. Beyond that was a short drive through a thicket of trees. Two large buildings, the main residence and a smaller guest house, had been constructed inside with a neat and tidy courtyard between the two. A Russian army jeep was parked near to the residence. An armoured Tiger personnel transport was next to the jeep.

He focussed on the heat traces from the guards.

“One, Group. Eyes on four tangos: two lookouts on the first floor, east and west third floor balconies. Two foot patrols, one at the gates and another in the grounds.”

“Two, One,” Spenser responded. “Guard dogs?”

“Negative. I’m just getting those four. The others will be inside.”

“Six, One. Can you see what they’re carrying?”

“AK-9s, AS-Vals,” Milton reported. “They’ve got night vision goggles. Can anyone make out an officer?”

No-one could.

“No sergeant, either. If anyone is here, he’s keeping warm inside.”

“See the Tiger?” Callan reported. “Engine’s cold, fresh snow on the roof, been there a while.”

“Affirmative. Could come in useful. Can anyone see anything else? No roving patrols?”

The replies came back in the negative.

“One, Nine. Have you confirmed all phone and power and data lines are above ground?”

“Confirmed,” Underwood said. “I’ll cut them on command.”

“Alright then. We’ll assume half a dozen inside…”

“Unfair odds for them,” Underwood said.

“But there’s a chance that they’ve got a relief bivouac down in the village. We’ll have to be quick and alive to avoid getting flanked.”

The mission had been constructed with a thirty minute envelope in mind. Local Russian security forces and police would know that they were here soon enough and they didn’t want to be in situ when they arrived. There would be no immunity for them if they were caught. They would be cut loose and left high and dry.

“We know what we’re doing, Milton,” Spenser radioed back tersely.

Spenser was the ranking agent. Milton taking control must have rankled him.

Tough shit.

“One, Group. All units, safeties off, weapons tight.”

Milton held the glasses to his eyes and waited an extra second, just to be sure.

“Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. Status check, comms check, sound off. On my mark.”

He watched a moment longer, waiting for the guard on the facing balcony to turn his head away.


Milton lay still and observed. The opening of the assault was terrifying in its efficiency. Underwood cut the power to the compound and all of the lights were extinguished at once, plunging it into darkness. Just as the lights cut out, Spenser and Callan fired single shots from their suppressed rifles. Milton watched through the IR; he could see the tracks of the bullets, made hotter by friction with the air, like tracer fire. The guards on the two balconies were both struck, one of them toppling over the balustrade and thudding into the deep drift beneath.

Hammond, who had crept from cover to cover until she was behind twenty feet from the gate, popped up and squeezed off two, short, silenced bursts. Another spray of tracer in the goggles. The guards who had been stationed at the street entrance were peppered and fell to the ground.

“One, Group. Weapons free, let’s go and get Pope.”

Chapter Forty-One

“Going explosive, main gate,” Hammond said over the troop net.

Milton had stowed the binoculars, pulled down his goggles and switched to night vision. They had dismounted the building quickly and sprinted for the muster point at the dacha’s gate. He could see Hammond, kneeling down at the wooden gates and slapping the explosive to the lock. Blake, Spenser, Underwood and Callan were arrayed behind her, pulling security, their weapons focussed on the hole that she was about to create.

“Fire in the hole.”

Here we go.

Hammond hit the detonator and the blast buckled the gate right down the middle. Spenser was the first to attack it, kicking and yanking at the rent until it was wide enough for the others to pass through. Milton was the last to pass inside, turning his body so that his gear didn’t snag against the sharp edges of the split wood.

Beyond the gate was the small courtyard.

The six of them communicated over the troop net as they split up into their assigned roles. Milton and Callan’s first target was to clear was the guesthouse. It was secured by a set of metal double doors with a glass window slit across the top; a window to the right had bars across the glass. There was no light in the windows and that made Milton nervous. The Russians would definitely have heard them breach the gate which meant that anyone here had either moved to the main building or they were inside, waiting in ambush.

Callan let him go first. It wasn’t because of cowardice; Milton was quite sure that a psychopath like Callan was not prey to something as mundane as fear. He wanted Milton in front of him so that he could keep an eye on him and so, perhaps, that he could put a bullet into his back once they had achieved their objective.

Milton tried the handle. It was locked. He unlatched his sledgehammer from the back of his kit and pulled out the extendable handle. He struck the lock with a hard downward swipe. The hammer clashed into the knob but it was strong and didn’t break. He tried again with no more luck.

“One, Group,” he radioed. “Going explosive.”

He stepped back, reaching around again but this time for a breaching charge. He peeled the adhesive backing from the charge and was on one knee, ready to place it, when the doors were suddenly flung open. A guard was above him, firing out in a wild burst. Milton rolled to the side, the rounds passing above his head. He was fortunate that he was already down or they would have cut him in half. He saw movement inside, a figure revealed as his goggles adapted to the deeper darkness inside the room. He brought up the M4 and squeezed off a tight volley, catching the man diagonally across his body and dropping him to the ground.

A second man appeared at the back of the room. Callan fired, the rounds whistling above Milton’s head and stitching a dozen bullets into his head and torso.

“Shots fired,” Callan reported. “Tangos down.”

The door had swung backwards again, half closing. Milton got up and approached it cautiously, nudging it open with the barrel of his rifle. He heard a voice calling out. He tightened the grip on his weapon. He saw a figure in the green glow of his night vision goggles. It was a woman. He held his breath, nudging the M4 around until the infrared laser sight rested on her head. She was holding something. Milton held the laser sight steady. He felt the give of the trigger beneath his index finger. She stepped forward; Milton gave the trigger a little more pressure; she changed her stance, revealing a baby in her arms.

“Stay where you are,” he said in Russian.

“Don’t shoot.”

Callan stepped up behind him and a second laser sight flashed across the woman’s face.

Milton held up a hand to hold him back.

“Who are you?”

“Just nanny.”

Two additional children appeared behind her, hiding behind the black fabric of her dress.

“Come forward,” Milton called out.

He kept the sight steady on her forehead as she did as she was told, the children holding onto her legs.

“You killed them,” the woman said. “They are dead.”

“Who are they?”

“Guards. The colonel’s men.”

Milton glanced beyond her. The night vision revealed a pair of feet in the doorway of the room, pointing up to the ceiling. Callan aimed down and fired two shots into the body, then aimed at the second body and repeated the trick.

“One, Group. Guesthouse secure at this time,” Milton reported over the troop net. He cracked a chemlight and dropped it at the guesthouse’s front door to indicate the the building was safe.

“Is the colonel here?”

“I believe,” she said.

“And the Englishman who was here a few days ago?”

“Yes,” she said. “Definitely. Guards for him.”

“Where? The basement?”

“No. In bedroom. Third floor. He is sick.”

“Stay here,” he said. “Don’t come out, not for anyone. We’ll be gone in ten minutes.”

Milton and Callan hurried the courtyard. “One, Group,” he spoke into the throat mike. “Pope is not in the basement. They may have moved him to a third floor bedroom.”

“Two, One,” Spenser said. “Copy that. We’re splitting.”

Milton slid behind a low wall and brought his rifle up to bear on the dacha. There were two exterior doors, north and south, and they had divided the team so that they could control both. Milton was not able to say for sure whether there was a corridor connecting the two doors. If there was, detonating charges on both doors at the same time could lead to explosive overpressure which would be unpredictable and dangerous. They had decided that Spenser and Underwood would attack the north door first and then Callan and Milton would breach the south. Blake and Underwood would retreat to the main gate for surveillance and crowd control and, if they needed it, reinforcement.

Callan prepared his charge, slapping it against the door and pulling back to wait for the order to blow it. Milton held his position, his laser showing green through his night vision as it danced across the wall of the building.

Spenser detonated the charge on the door on the other side of the building. Milton heard shots being fired: it was a close, controlled burst, from a weapon fitted with a suppressor. Likely an M4. There was a pause and then return fire, unsuppressed, the ragged chack chack chack of Russian AN-94s.

“Heavy resistance,” Spenser reported in a calm voice, bullets ricocheting nearby. “Five or six soldiers, all behind cover. This isn’t going to be easy.”

“One, Alpha. Get well back. We’ll blow the door from this side. Ten will attack from behind them. Use smoke. Copy?”

“Copy. What about you?”

“I’m going to go up.”

Milton heard suppressed fire across the radio. “Copy, One. We’re out of the way.”

He turned to Callan. “Initiate.”

Callan detonated the breaching charge. The rolling boom echoed around the courtyard and the door blew inwards. It fell so that it was blocking their path inside and so, with Callan covering him, Milton went forwards and yanked it until he had moved it out of the way. The blast had knocked a soldier backwards, the pressure slamming him into the wall. He was knocked out cold. Callan aimed and fired two shots into his head. Milton watched with a mixture of horror and appreciation; he was utterly ruthless.

“Successful breach.”

Callan took two smoke grenades from his bandolier, popped them and tossed them down the corridor to the room in which the Russians had made their stand. Alpha Team had already thrown their grenades and the room was quickly filling with dense, impenetrable smoke. Milton doubted that they would have been equipped with IR goggles. He heard the rattle of automatic fire, some suppressed, most not. The Russians were firing at shadows. Callan, Spenser and Hammond were picking off their targets carefully and efficiently

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

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