The ringing in his ears was the first indication that he was still alive, no matter how much Akula wished he weren’t in that moment. Then came the feeling of bass-powered screams that hit his chest, which also made his brain realize there was a source of searing pain coming from his shoulder and calf. On instinct, the Shark rolled himself back up onto a knee, weapon drawn, though the rifle wobbled and wavered in his hands.
Being the closest to the explosion, Akula could see Grizli crumpled on the floor by the doorway. The Bear had been blown back spine-first. Pools of blood dripped down from his face, chest and forearms, though Grizli worked feverishly to block them with large bandages packed in his leg pockets. Fortunately for the Ukrainian, his legs still moved, even if they shook in the thralls of shock.
Volk had wisely dove through the doorway and down the stairs to shield himself with the barricade. Though Akula could see the trail of crimson coming from the Wolf’s ear, the smallest team-member still stalked up the half-pulverized ladder to the attic, fang and pistol drawn.
Where Volk had succeeded in finding cover, the Rhino had failed. Now, a dozen craters of streaming blood littered Nosorog’s backside, and the Chechen’s weapon and backpack were completely shredded. Still, the pain drove a look of unbridled rage into those eyes that told Akula they only had a limited time to escape before the team’s adrenaline rush wore off and their bodies gave out. Being closer to Nosorog, Akula went to him first. Taking out his own bandages and patching gauze, the Shark guided the Rhino’s clenched fist towards the larger wounds and had Nosorog apply whatever pressure he could to stop the larger ruby rivers from draining.
With the shock to his nerves starting to wane, Grizli now rose up to a kneel, though this only brought down a torrent of crimson from under the hand covering his face. Akula moved swiftly to the Ukrainian, who growled in agony as he pulled away a soaked piece of torn shirt. Even through the torrent of blood dripping from the pock-marks, the Bear’s eyes were thankfully intact, though his outer ear and cheek were not. With the last large patch of gauze he had, the team lead pushed down on Grizli’s face, making the larger man roar in pain.
“Clear!” came the announcement from the now- smoldering fourth-floor entryway, with the Wolf’s tone dipped in resignation at whatever he’d found.
Akula swore to whatever deity was listening as he spun away from his teammate and ran up the ladder, half clear-minded, half enraged at the carnage. Upstairs, he found Volk keeping his rifle trained on a form behind a thick metal desk that had been tipped over into a makeshift barricade. At the Wolf’s feet was the barrel and sling of an American-made M60 Mk. 43 box-fed machine gun, the same as al-Nujood had been photographed with in their dossier.
Coming around the corner, Akula was greeted by the savaged remains of a man that was more butchered meat than body anymore. The team lead wondered, just for a moment, if Abdullah Saleh al-Nujood, had prayed to his God when the grenades had flown back up in his face. Or did you cower behind your table and weep for mercy…
Nodding to the Wolf, Akula let Volk search the remaining pockets of their target while he inspected the rest of the room. This time, the grenades had done most of the cover-up work instead of Saleh himself, making the Shark’s gut sink even lower than it had before. Carefully, though fruitlessly, Akula swept the barrel of his AK through tattered and torn remains of important papers and the mangled wrecks of a few electronic devices. Only one tablet on a high shelf had survived unscathed, its cover marred with burn marks but its battery charged.
“Yest’ chto-to!” Volk announced, producing a small USB drive, another small bag of methamphetamine crystal pills and a roll of combined Libyan dinar and US $100 bills.
“At least he paid for his own funeral, ublyudok.” Akula retorted, stopping himself from grinding his heel into al-Nujood’s remains to serve sheer disrespect. Instead, he motioned for the Wolf to follow back down to their teammates. Both of which were standing now, but neither of the larger men looked in fighting shape. “Target terminated, with credit to Bear on his throwing arms.”
Grizli hissed out something resembling a laugh, before having to steady himself against a wall. Directing Volk to steady Nosorog for the descent to the street, Akula took the Ukrainian beast’s arm and helped shepherd him down. It was a slow, arduous trip, one step at a time so no one slipped on pooling blood or their own bootlaces.
Once at the bottom, Volk and Akula set their wounded passengers down and scanned the street. Fierce fighting could be heard echoing from west to east as the two sides clashed mere blocks away, the corner of another nearby building suddenly being ripped down by a ground-launched rocket. Both the Wolf and Shark agreed without words that simply dragging their larger pair back to the confiscated truck was a no-go. So something else needed to be done and quickly.
Thankfully, Volk’s eyes remained sharp, and he drew Akula’s attention to a locked bay door across the street. Too small to be a poorly-placed storefront, the Shark took the gamble and sprinted across the road. Once braced against the wall, he shot the two padlocks off their mounts and pulled down two large arresting bars with only raw adrenaline. Once gone, he threw up the unlocked door to find a damaged, but intact, 4-door sedan.
“Any experience with stealing cars?” Akula inquired, expecting Volk to shake his head and forcing them to keep looking. Instead, the Wolf opened the unlocked passenger door and immediately set to work. The Shark could feel the rush of energy from the night’s chaos starting to fade himself, so he took the emergency caffeine bar from a vest pocket and tore a chunk out with his teeth. The jolt of alertness hit him at the same time the car ticked to life, Volk opening the passenger door from the inside to admit his team-lead in.
“Do I even want to know?” Akula prompted, though his answer didn’t come from Volk’s words. Instead, the driver pulled his vest and shirt aside just enough so that Akula could make out a tattoo of the Orthodox cross on his chest. Within it was written a simple word: ‘Bratstvo’.
“Tambov?” the Shark asked as Volk inched the car out of the garage, passing the name of the only organized crime group he’d ever heard of.
“Solntsevskaya.” the Wolf answered, setting the car to park close enough to Grizli and Nosorog that the pair could stumble into the vehicle. Exiting the vehicle to cover his team, Akula felt his mind race in many uncomfortable directions. Why the fuck would Kontrol hire a mafia assassin for this?!
That frenzied tide of questions ground to an immediate halt when, over the cacophony of gunfire and foreign shouting, the ‘clack-clack’clack’ of heavy tracks on pavement echoed up to their ears.
“Move, NOW!” Akula yelled, making Volk stomp down on the accelerator and peel away from the now-ravaged house. In the rear-view, the Shark’s dread personified itself into the worn body of a salvaged Soviet-made T-62 main battle tank roaring into view. Immediately stopping in the open part of the intersection, the massive 115mm turreted cannon raised as it turned in their direction. But before it could fire at whatever it had located, the entire tank seemed to jump up in the air, propelled by fire that blossomed from the now-ravaged top hatch all the way down to the street. Choking black smoke bellowed out from the fresh hole that had gutted the armored beast, and Akula suddenly recalled that the Spook Schedule spoke of a Reaper drone in their area. “Apparently even the Americans want us to live today!”
Nosorog offerned a snort of mirth, though this was followed by an anguished ‘hiss!’ as he pulled a long string of metal shrapnel from his tricep.
Grizli looked back at the destroyed war machine and sighed. “Such a waste! My father drove one of those back in the glory days of the Red Army.”
Volk said nothing, keeping his eyes darting between the forward and rear views. To their chagrin, the team passed the remains of their more comfortable ride in, the truck having taken about a hundred rounds through each window, the hood, and the wheels.
The commandeered jalopy kept a dizzying pace until they’d reached the main coastal highway. Once a decent distance from the ongoing destruction, Akula moved to face into the backseat to help triage his team as best his first-aid knowledge could manage. Additionally, every half-hour, he would rotate with Volk to the driver’s seat to ensure neither of them would pass out behind the wheel as their pulses slowed down and muscles de-clenched from the insanity of battle. Though this stretched the return trip to over triple its length in time, the Shark refused to let this contract claim his team on a wasted mission.
“Well, that was a fucking mess…” Grizli summed up after a solid hour of drive time. The Ukrainian only spoke through one side of his mouth as the other one was immobilized under his massive hand. “Did you get anything at all?”
“Barely.” Volk replied, pulling the flash drive from his vest pocket. “Let’s hope this isn’t just Saleh’s porn stash.”
The minced Bear laughed at that, before wincing in agony. “Blyad, there’s easier ways to kill me, pup!”
“Cowardly little rat,” Nosorog ground out through his grimace. “There’s no way we’re getting paid full for this. Not even the drugs will net much.”
“They might, since it’s possible our last pickup brought them in as payment.” Akula corrected. “The baggies were delivered with Korean writing.”
The Rhino snorted at that. “Why pay for uranium with a narcotic? How does that work?”
Akula shrugged. “I don’t pretend to know how the illicit markets work, only that they do. Otherwise, we’d have no work left to us.”
“Korean product is easy for them to make, even if it’s sometimes real shit quality.” Volk added, before looking surprised, as if he hadn’t meant to let it slip out. Both giants in the backseat noticed this, to which Nosorog spoke first, “And how the fuck do you know that?”
Grizli quickly stepped in before Volk could respond. “You didn’t think he was hired because of his shiny fur coat, did you? Our little shchenok probably worked Far East.”
The Wolf nodded, which Akula wondered if this was something to cover his slip, or if Volk had been conscripted at one point. “23rd Air Defense out of Primorskiy Kray, before spending a year at the Border Guard in Khasan…and I hated every day of it all.”
“Ha! I knew it heard that Primo slur in your tongue, pup!” Grizli chuckled, an underlying hiss of pain very much audible in his mirth, which concerned Akula.
“Are you sure you didn’t take any metal to the brain, Bear?” Nosorog questioned, pulling another filament chunk from his own shoulder meat.
A point the Ukrainian brute shrugged away. “Not the first time someone tried to blow me up. Last time, it was those Luhans’k pig-fuckers.Took down most of my team with landmines before we brought their shit-hut down on their heads.”
This time, it was Nosorog that looked surprised. And as the car rolled to a stop for the mandated driver swap, the Rhino asked his neighbor. “So you understand?”
“Da, completely.” Grizli answered. An agreement that Akula filed away in his memory for later, should it ever arise to try and kill him.
Part 7 of the ongoing tales of trying to survive the horrors’ of war. I was very torn on this one, if I wanted to kill one of the squad or not. then, I did something I normally don’t do for these stories and thought ahead, creating something too good to pass up for these four later on. So they all live to fight another day…for now
I hope you all enjoy.