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Ghosts
  • Текст добавлен: 4 октября 2016, 23:37

Текст книги "Ghosts"


Автор книги: Mark Dawson






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Текущая страница: 13 (всего у книги 15 страниц)

Chapter Forty-Two

Milton put the noise of the firefight behind him as he started clearing up the stairs. There were no lights and it was suspiciously devoid of activity. He took a right turn and made his way slowly up. The stairs were tiled, and a little slippery, and he moved with exaggerated care. Each stair was set at a ninety degree angle to the landing and half-landing above with the result that it would have been very simple to prepare an ambush; anyone with an automatic weapon would be able to unleash a volley as soon as he made the landing, holding him and anyone else behind him in place. And they could not afford delay.

He reached the first floor. No lights had been lit. There were three bedrooms, including the ones in which Milton and Anna had slept. The bedrooms were empty.

There was a long rattle of gunfire below.

“One, Group. Report.”

“Three down,” Spenser said. “Two, maybe three left. They’re dug in.”

“Copy that. First floor clear. Ascending to second.”

Milton turned the corner onto the second floor landing. There was a narrow hallway, featureless and spare, with a darkened archway at the end that should, if his understanding of the drone intel was correct, open onto a terrace running along the south side of the building. The corridor had four doors: the first two were near to where Milton was standing and the others towards the archway. Milton nudged his goggles so that they were more comfortably pressed against his eyes and made his way carefully down the hall, stopping at the first door before opening it with the point of his weapon and clearing inside. He opened the door to the adjacent room and cleared that, too. He continued along the corridor, clearing the remaining two rooms. All empty.

He moved towards the stairs.

He heard footsteps.

He saw a flash of movement just above and fired, his suppressed M4 announcing contact with a BUP BUP BUP. Moments later, a bloodied body, dressed in Russian army fatigues, slid down the stairs, flipped over onto its back and came to a stop. Milton put another two rounds into the man’s head. Blood slicked down the tile treads of the stairs like the glistening path of a snail.

“Shots fired,” Milton reported. “Tango down.”

Another one. Was that it?

The troop net buzzed with Blake’s voice. “Six, Group. We’re outside the main gate. We’ve got activity.”

“Two, Six. How bad?”

“Maybe a dozen coming our way. Lights on in a few houses.”

“Keep them back,” Spenser said. “Two, one. Update, please.”

Milton spoke, whispering into his mike: “Going to third floor. Proceeding now.”

There couldn’t be much further to climb. The stairwell was dark, no lights anywhere, but Milton’s goggles gave him a good enough view. It had grown narrow, especially for a man wearing thirty pounds of kit, and he moved carefully and diligently, taking no chances. He looked and listened for signs of movement, the sound of a round being chambered, anything; he got nothing. He was put in mind of the countless times he had been through the Killing House during SAS Selection all those years ago: a twenty mile run so that they were exhausted and then a smoke-filled series of rooms, cut out terrorists popping out from cover, live rounds fired into the cut outs, and do it all again. That had been hard, and Milton had often resented it, but not now.

He climbed, reached the top of the stairs and turned the corner, onto the landing. His palms and fingers were slicked with sweat and he wiped his right against his combat pants so that he had a better feel of the trigger. The landing was short, a waist high balustrade looking down onto the final flight of stairs, leading into a constricted hallway. There was a door at the end that led onto the balcony; he could see a narrow sliver of midnight sky through the narrow slit of window, a sprinkling of stars, a quarter of moon.

The shooting downstairs had stopped.

“Two, Group. Seven tangos down. Ground floor clear.”

Halfway along the corridor were two doors, one on each side.

Milton proceeded slowly down the corridor, his gun up.

A switch was flicked and light crashed into Milton’s night vision, blinding him, and then he was grabbed by the lapels and hauled into one of the rooms, the M4 pressed impotently up against his chest. He was still blind as someone yanked him around and slammed him hard against the wall, forcing the rifle from his grip and sending it clattering to the floor. He was punched in the gut once and then twice and then a third time, and then a fourth blow dinged him on the point of his chin and the room dimmed for a moment. He was bounced off the wall again and, when he stumbled back in the other direction, a garrote looped over his head and it was only instinct that saw him stab his right hand inside the noose to stop it closing around his throat. His assailant grunted as he yanked the wire tight; Milton staggered back into his body and felt slabs of muscle. The wire bit into the soft flesh of his hand as he stamped down with the heel of his boot, raking the shin of the man behind him. The man’s grip did not falter and so Milton brought both legs up and kicked off the wall, sending both of them stumbling across the room like drunks. They hit a bed, bouncing off the mattress onto the floor beyond.

He swept his arm upwards, knocking the goggles from his face. The big soldier who had surprised him was already up. He had short cropped hair, hate filled eyes, his shoulders and arms heavy with muscle. Milton recognised him: it was Vladimir, the driver of the car that had brought him to Plyos with Anna.

There was blood on his wrist from where the wire had cut into his flesh.

Vladimir shone a smile that was full of bad intentions at him, reaching down and unsheathing a knife from the scabbard on his belt. He brought it up, the bright light shivering down the serrated edge, and passed it between both hands as he prowled towards Milton. Milton had no time to go for his pistol as Vladimir swung the knife into his ribs; Milton swept his right arm around to block the swipe, their wrists clashing. He jabbed and Milton swung to the side, then he slashed down and the blade sliced through the fabric of his shirt and opened up a six-inch gash on his forearm.

Jags of pain scorched up from the wound.

The Russian changed tactics and charged him, driving him backwards again. Milton tripped on the edge of a rug and they fell, Milton underneath him, pressed down by the bigger man’s weight. He smelt the sharp tang of vodka and sweat. Vladimir pinioned Milton’s left hand with his right and, the knife in his left hand, pushed down. The knife started above his nose, close enough for him to see his own eye reflected in the steel, and then it jerked downwards, the point catching on the skin above his jawline and scratching a bloody furrow as it tracked down towards his throat.

Milton had his weaker left hand around Vladimir’s wrist, but all he could do was slow the progress.

Blyadischa,” Vladimir growled through his grunts of exertion.

The point of the knife drew blood as it pressed down on his throat, the first few milimeters sinking into his flesh.

Milton worked his right leg free and drove his knee into the Russian’s crotch. His mouth gaped open and he released Milton’s right hand and he seized his chance, flashing down to the scabbard on his thigh and tearing out his own knife. He drew back his wrist so that the tip pointed upwards and punched it into Vladimir’s chest. The strength drained out of him immediately. Milton locked his hand around the hilt of the Benchmade, twisted it and thrust it up into his heart.

He pushed the big man off him.

He saw movement in the doorway.

His right hand went to his shoulder holster, bringing out the Sig.

He rolled onto his stomach and aimed in a single, fluid motion.

Pascha Shcherbatov was stooping for the M4 he had dropped.

“Don’t,” Milton said, his breath still ragged.

Shcherbatov stood. And raised his hands.

“I am unarmed. I surrender.”

Milton got up. Blood was running freely from the cut on the side of his hand and after he dabbed his fingers against his throat they were stained red. His jacket was tacky with the Russian’s blood. He wiped the gore from his hand against his trousers and took a step towards the colonel.

“Hands on your head,” Milton ordered.

Shcherbatov did as he was told, lacing his fingers and resting his hands on his head.

He indicated with the gun and Shcherbatov stepped away from the M4, heading back into the corridor. Milton gestured that he should keep going and he went back into the room adjacent to the one where Vladimir had hidden from him.

It was dark. Milton brought the goggles back down again.

Ahead of him, against the sloping wall, was a narrow bed. There was someone on the bed.

“Very good, Captain Milton. I am impressed.”

He activated the torch attached to his helmet rails and a sharp, bright beam of white light trained onto Shcherbatov’s face. He winced, a hand automatically coming down to shield his eyes.

“On your head!”

Shcherbatov replaced his hand and looked away.

“Anyone else up here?”

“No.”

“Just Vladimir?”

“That is right.”

Milton turned the light onto the bed. Pope was laid out there. He looked worse than when Milton had seen him before. He was unshaven, with thick curls of beard, brown streaked with grey. His eyes were rheumy and uncertain and there were fresh bruises on his face.

“I did not expect this,” Shcherbatov said. “It is Control’s doing?”

“No. All my own work, I’m afraid.”

“How many of you?”

“Six.”

He looked surprised. “An armed incursion onto Russian soil? That is a dangerous precedent for a little thing such as this.”

“Don’t worry,” Milton said. “We had help.”

“My comrades in Red Square, I presume?”

“What can I say? Turns out you’re not a very popular fellow.”

Milton turned the lights back onto Shcherbatov’s face and he squinted into them again. He laughed. “Then my congratulations, Captain. You have outmanoeuvred me.”

“Pope,” Milton called out. “Wake up.”

“Do not concern yourself. He has been well treated.”

“Is that right?”

“He has pneumonia. A doctor has been attending to him. He is not in danger.”

“Pope.”

“What will happen now, Captain Milton? You will finish the job you failed to do when we first met?”

Pope.

“I am not afraid of death.”

Milton had thought long and hard during the flight to Kubinka. Shcherbatov was not his enemy, not really, despite what he had done to Pope. The man wanted revenge for what had happened to Semenko and using him was his means to that end; that, Milton concluded, was reasonable. Milton was similarly inclined. They had both been burned by Control. His thoughts ran back to an innocent man, gunned down in cold blood in East London. He thought of all the men and women he had been sent to kill in the name of the state. He thought of the doubts that he now harboured about those jobs, about how many of them had been legitimate targets, deserving of the fate that he had dealt them. Really, how many? Two-thirds? Half? His doubts would never be answered as long as Control was in place at the head of Group Fifteen. But things might be different if he was removed.

That was the big picture; but it also served both him and Beatrix very well to leave Control with a problem that he would not be able to solve.

Shcherbatov’s arms were spread. “Please, Captain. You must do what you must.”

“I’m not going to shoot you, Colonel. I’m going to give you what you want.”

He tore open his thigh pocket and was reaching his fingers down into it when he heard footsteps behind him. His hand stopped as he half-turned, the beams of light raking across the wall towards the darkness of the doorway, just in time to see the muzzle flashes from Callan’s suppressed M4.

He turned back into the room.

Shcherbatov was on the floor. Callan had shot him cleanly in the head. Three rounds. The was blood and brain matter around the entry wound. He was still moving a little, the last spasms that would precede a certain death, but Callan trained his laser on the old man’s chest and fired two more rounds into him to hasten him towards his exit. The body spasmed again and then fell still.

“Ten, Group. Last man down.”

Milton turned to him, his fists clenched. “What are you doing?”

“We had orders, Milton. Everyone here is to be eliminated. No witnesses.”

“Those weren’t my orders.”

Callan was impassive. “You don’t work for us any more. I don’t take my orders from you.”

Milton surreptitiously sealed the pocket again, leaving the drives where they were.

“Six, Group,” Blake reported over the radio. “Hurry, please. There’s more of them on the way out here.”

“Bring him,” Callan said, indicating Pope with the muzzle of his M4.

Milton knew that the terrain was shifting beneath him.

He pulled his CamelBak hose from his kit and held it in front of Pope’s chapped lips.

“John?” he said, his voice weak.

“You’ve got to get up, Pope.”

“We need to move now,” Blake said. “I can hear police.”

Spenser’s voice was tense. “Ten, report.”

“Ten, Group,” Callan said. “Third floor secure.”

“Two, Ten. Copy that. Mission status?”

“Affirmative, Ten. SNOW is down.”

Chapter Forty-Three

Milton and Callan helped Pope down the stairs. He was barely able to support himself and Milton wasn’t sure if he had even recognised him. They reached the ground floor and then the courtyard. He clasped his fingers around Pope’s belt for a better grip as they picked him up and hurried towards the outside gate.

There were lights on in most of the nearby dachas; the residents had been awakened by the explosions and the gunfire. Milton could see the silhouettes of locals in their windows and perhaps two dozen had come outside and were climbing up the hill towards them. They were keeping a cautious distance, wary of the soldiers, but some of the more intrepid ones were only fifty feet away. Blake could speak fluent Russian and he bellowed out for them to go back inside. They didn’t, but they didn’t advance any further. It was a temporary stalemate, but Milton knew that eventually their curiosity would win out. There was also the question of footage of the raid finding its way online; he could see the glow of several smartphones held aloft to record the action. It would be on YouTube before they had crossed the town limits.

They carried Pope onwards. “He won’t be able to travel on the snowmobiles,” Milton said.

“You don’t need to worry about that,” Spenser said.

“What do you mean?”

Callan released his grip on Pope and stepped away. Milton had to bear the weight alone.

Callan raised his handgun and aimed it at Milton’s head. “On your knees,” he said.

Milton looked at Callan and then at the others. None of them looked surprised. Hammond and Spenser had stepped back a little, their hands resting on their automatic weapons, standing ready to provide support should it be necessary. Blake and Underwood had one eye on the crowd outside the wrecked gate and another on Milton. There was his confirmation, then: they were all in on it. It had always been part of the plan. Control was going to call his bluff after all. Bravo.

“Get it over with,” Spenser said to Callan. “You wanted to do it, so do it.”

“Callan.” It was Pope; his voice was quiet and hoarse. Milton turned to look and saw that he had managed to raise his bruised face. “What are you doing?”

“Control’s orders,” Callan said, his gun arm unwavering. He was only six feet from Milton; it would have been impossible for an amateur to miss from that range, and Callan was not an amateur.

“What orders?”

“He needs to be gone.”

“Take him into custody. You don’t need to shoot him.”

“Be quiet,” Spenser snapped.

Underwood approached from behind and drove his boot into the back of Milton’s knees. His legs folded and he fell forward, bracing with his left arm. Pope fell down with him, Milton’s looped right arm preventing him from falling face first into the snow.

Milton felt calm. He had faced the prospect of death for most of his adult life and he was accustomed to it. It was a possibility that he had accepted; the long-term prognosis for agents working for Control was not good. Milton did not know the average, but he did know that plenty of men and women had been killed in duty in the time he had been in the Group. He had managed to avoid the same fate thanks to a combination of careful planning, decisive execution and good fortune, but that was never going to work forever. Luck always ran out. And, as he knelt there in the snow and the muck, he realised that he was tired of running. Control would never stop. He was relentless. Maybe it was better to just accept the inevitable.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Do what you have to do.”

He closed his eyes. The snow had quickly chilled the muscles in his calves and thighs and it was was working up his spine. He breathed in and out and thought about the last six months: the long trek through South America, the time he had spent in San Francisco. Saving Caterina Morena. Meeting Eva. He had helped people. His account was far from being settled. It was still soaked in the blood that he had spilled, but he had started to make recompense. It was not his fault that he had not been able to do more. He had simply run out of time.

“Callan…” Pope was protesting weakly.

“It has to be done.”

“Of course it doesn’t.” The anger put a little of the steel that Milton remembered back into his voice.

“Enough, Pope,” Spenser spat.

Milton opened his eyes. Callan had taken a step away from him: pitilessly professional, sizing up the shot.

Pope was on his hands and knees, struggling to push himself upright. Spenser intercepted him and kicked his arms away. “You too, I’m afraid. Control doubts your loyalty. And you’ve already seen too much.”

Milton saw the satisfaction in Callan’s handsome, cruel face as he racked the slide to cock the hammer, chambering the top round in the magazine. He had seen it before, in a church hall in the East End of London. Callan was a killer, pure and simple. Each of Milton’s kills had scoured away a little more of the humanity that was left in his soul. Each had been a cause of the most exquisite regret, especially latterly, but Callan was different: he found pleasure every time he pulled the trigger or used his knife or his garrotte. He took pleasure in his job. In that sense, he was the perfect agent. No wonder he was Control’s favourite new creature. He would go far.

Callan straightened his arm and aimed at Milton’s head.

He knew with certainty that there would be no successful appeal to his better nature.

He closed his eyes again and waited.

He heard the crunch of snow.

The shot didn’t come.

Milton paused, holding his breath, wondering why he could still feel the cold working its way up between his shoulder blades, feel the rough texture on the inside of his gloves, the cold breath of winter on the patches of bare skin around his eyes and mouth.

He opened his eyes.

Callan wasn’t there any more.

He rubbed the snow from his eyes and looked. It looked as if a patch of the deep white drift at the side of the drive had detached and risen up. Snow and ice fell away, revealing the figure of a woman dressed in a makeshift ghillie suit. She was twenty feet away. He saw a parka with a mesh across the opening and shaggy threads sown across it in horizontal lines to break up its outline, similarly adorned waterproof trousers and chunky boots. Her face was visible within the loop of the fur trimmed hood.

Beatrix Rose.

She had two throwing knives, one in each hand.

Callan had fallen backwards and now he was facing straight up. Her first knife was buried in his throat. The knife was made of a single piece of steel. His carotid artery was severed and his still beating heart spent its terminal beats spraying aortal red blood across the dirty snow.

Milton’s head snapped around just as Beatrix flicked out her right arm and sent her second knife on its way.

Blake’s padded jacket seemed to absorb the knife, the blade disappearing into his gut, the impact and the surprise sending him staggering backwards, his hands clutching at the grip.

Spenser got a shot off but the bullet went wide, ricocheting off the wall of the dacha.

Milton crawled across the gritty snow, pressed right down into it, until he reached Callan’s body. He still had his Sig in his hand. Milton took it.

Hammond raised her rifle and fired an unaimed spray towards Beatrix. The bullets peppered the trees and the ground behind her, a dozen little explosions of snow jagging backwards. Beatrix ducked behind a tree, out of sight.

Hammond wasn’t looking at Milton. He shot her in the right temple, her head jerking hard to the left as she fell to the ground.

Underwood saw him shoot and brought up his rifle but Milton was quicker with the Sig and put two shots into his gut.

Spenser was last man standing. He turned and started to run but Beatrix's left arm flicked out again and her third knife caught him in the thigh. His leg went out from beneath him and he collapsed sideways into a drift of snow. He scrabbled around so that he was facing back towards them.

Milton aimed at him with the pistol. “Drop it!”

He flung his weapon aside and raised his hands. “Don’t shoot,” he called out.

Beatrix came out from behind the tree and stalked through the drift towards him.

“On your knees,” Milton yelled back. “Hands on your head.”

“My leg,” he said. “I can’t… my leg…”

It was moot: Milton might have been clement but Beatrix was not so inclined. She reached down to the bandolier that was hidden beneath the ragged strands of the ghillie suit, a leather strap that stretched diagonally across her chest, with half a dozen sheathes spaced across it, and took out another knife. She knelt down in the snow and spoke to him quietly; Milton couldn’t make the words out. He protested. She ignored him, stepped around, slid the fingers of her left hand into his hair and yanked back, exposing his neck. She drew the knife across his larynx, opening his throat, the razor-sharp blade severing his trachea. His fingers clutched at the gruesome rent, helplessly trying to close it even as it gaped open and closed with the frantic up and down of his head. His hands slicked red, his body toppled backwards, hinging at the waist, his torso thudding back into the drift, the abundant blood drenching the snow a bright crimson.

Jesus, Milton thought.

“Is that it?” she called out.

He hurried back to Pope and helped him up. “Are you alright?”

“Who’s that?”

Beatrix was over Spenser’s body. She wiped the bloodied blade on his jacket and slid it back into its sheath.

“You don’t know her,” Milton said.

“Who?”

“Her name is Beatrix Rose. She used to be Number One.”


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