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Chapter Forty-Four

"Oleg," Juris called, tracking a moving figure and then stroking his trigger. The figure on the opposite roof fell, but two more dove past him and began peppering the window he'd shot through with fire. "We've got tangoes on the roof opposite. I have to pull out."


"I think we pissed these guys off," Jitka muttered over the radio.


"Their home turf," Oleg replied, scanning the street, then consulting his map. "They're very territorial are the Albanian clans. This is an affront to their honor. They'll keep coming, like ants to a picnic, until we've killed them all or the picnic's departed."


"Then I suggest we fold our napkins and go,. Juris chuckled. "Could I get some cover on that?"


"Roger," Oleg said. "Dutri's street team, pull back by sections. Section one, move. All teams, fall back on the Club. Kildar, we are withdrawing by sections at this time. Request cover fire in and around the club."


* * *

"Oleg, this is Kildar," Mike whispered. "Everyone's with you. I'll get back to you on cover."


"Roger, Kildar," Oleg said as there was a scream in the background.


"Vanner," Mike said. "Who's out on the interdict mission and what's the status?"


"The area's rigged," Vanner said. "They're pulling back."


"Get two of the Allouettes to them," Mike said. "Have them provide cover fire for the withdrawal to the club. Begin moving all personnel to the evac point on the roof."


"Will do," Vanner replied.


* * *

"Die you Albanian motherfuckers," Ionis muttered, stroking the trigger of his MG-240.


He'd thought flying in on the Allouettes had been scary. But that had worked out perfectly. Now, though, he and Stephan were under heavy fire, covering the retreat of one of Oleg's teams.


"Keep the ammo coming, brother," he muttered as Stephan clicked another hundred-round box into the linked belt that was feeding the gun.


"Keep firing, brother," Stephan replied, grinning, just as there was a whistling sound.


Ionis caught a brief glimpse of the RPG in the air before it impacted on the wall above him.


* * *

Oleg dashed across the street, ignoring the hail of small arms fire, and scooped up the MG-240.


"Dmitri! Sveryan! Grab Ionis and Stephan and get them under cover," the team leader roared, popping up over the stairway and hosing the far side of the street, holding the machine gun off-hand like a giant rifle. There was return fire, though, from every window it seemed and from the rooftop. He felt a round punch him in the armor and then another in the left leg. He ignored them and kept firing, both suppressing the fire from the far side of the street and drawing it so the team could withdraw. "Vagis! Juris! Somebody feed me!"


* * *

"Kildar, this is Sawn. We've withdrawn on Nevsk and Agayev. I'm shifting some forces over to Dutris, though. Oleg and his team are pinned there."


"Got it," Mike said, quietly. "I may have some support on the way. Get everyone withdrawn as fast as possible. Mouse is almost done. I need at least a fire team here in the building to make sure we get to the withdrawal point."


"Will do," Sawn said. "See you in Valhalla."


"Got it," Creata said, leaning back and twisting the handle. The handle moved for about a third of the way and then stopped. "Damn."


"What's wrong?" Mike asked. If they couldn't get the door open, the entire mission was for nothing.


"I thought I saw a fragment of metal in the tumblers," Creata said, standing up and walking over to Ivan's body. She calmly rolled him over and unshipped his SPR, then walked back over to the safe and hammered on the handle until it moved. "That's got it," she added, twisting it all the way to open and then opening the safe.


"Whoa," Mike said, blinking his eyes. "Sawn."


"Kildar, we've mostly pulled back to the club except for the group on Dutro. We have cover on their back, but they are under heavy fire."


"Okay, I need about ..." Mike looked at the contents of the safe again and then shrugged. "About ten guys down here. Some of the girls will do but I'm going to need strong backs."


"Roger, Kildar," Sawn said. "Will do."


"That is a lot of money," Creata said, pulling out one of the stacks of euros. "A lot of money."


"And the DVDs?" Mike asked, keeping an eye on the corridor.


"Here," Creata said, pulling out two audio storage boxes and lifting the lid on one. "In crystal cases, yes?" she asked.


"Check them," Mike said. "Vanner, what's the status on that Allouette?"


* * *

"Glad to see you!" Anton shouted over the rotor wash.


"You may not be," the pilot shouted back. "I know I'm not happy! See the machine guns?"


"Yes?" Gena shouted.


"They are to be used, yes?" the pilot said and then grinned. "As the Americans say, we are going Downtown."


* * *

"There is firing in town," Yevgenii Andrushkin said, looking over at Dmitri Balboshin. "And I cannot raise Yarok on his cell phone."


Yevgenii and Dmitri had been assigned to the same Spetznaz team, straight out of training, Yevgenii as a brand new lieutenant and Dmitri as an equally shiny senior private. And both had left the teams at about the same time, after an offer they couldn't resist from the Russian mafia. Since then, Yevgenii had risen on the paramilitary side of the mob, becoming a senior recruiter and leader of professionals in "wet work" while Dmitri had handled his personal security.


Yevgenii had reluctantly acceded to his former commander's request to form a large force for the Albanian mob. The Albanians and the Russians often clashed, but if there was a new anticriminal special operations team running around, Yevgenii felt it in everyone's interest to crush it as soon as possible.


That assumed that they could even get to the force before it completed its current raid. Yarok had said "soon" but not this soon.


"I could give a rat's ass about Yarok," Dmitri said, propping his SMG into a more comfortable position and fingering one of the frag grenades on his ammo vest. "We'd better get paid, though."


"We will be," Yevgenii said. "As long as we are not too late. Driver, hurry!"


"Yes, Mr. Kutkin," the Albanian driver said, nervously. "But this road is very twisty—"


"I don't care!" Yevgenii shouted, just as there was a crack from the roadside.


The small Keldara team had not had much time and they had only recently been through demolitions school. But the total of what they knew about dropping trees hadn't been discovered yet.


The explosion sequence was started by three grenades, their pins loosened and attached to wires spread across the road at waist height. As the first bus hit the wires, the pins were pulled and each of the grenades detonated.


Under the grenades, the trees that they were rigger-taped to had a triple wrap of detcord with two small charges of Semtek wrapped in with it. The detcord detonated sympathetically from the grenades, detonating the Semtek in turn, and the base of the trees shot away from the road, bringing their crowns down like rockets.


But that wasn't enough for the busy Keldara. They had run more detcord from the primary trees to others along the roadway, along with stringing claymores on their trunks.


Before the first bus had even crashed into the obstacles suddenly dropped in its path, more trees were dropping into the road for over fifty meters, along with a hail of ballbearings that turned the buses into so many bleeding collanders.


* * *

"Oh, that was very cool," Gena said. The helicopter had pulled up high enough that he could see the entire road and they had added some flares so the scene was fully lit. The buses carrying the "reaction force" were twisted across the road every which way and three were on fire. Only the rear two buses appeared unscathed.


"Sawn, this is Anton," the fire team leader said. "The reaction force is ... not having a good night. They will be late to the party."


"Good," Sawn said. "One good piece of news. How long to the town?"


"Perhaps three minutes," Anton said, cocking the door-mounted MG-240. "I take it you have more work for us."


"Yes," Sawn said. "Hurry."


* * *

Oleg had been hit two more times, but had only been able to pull back half the block. He knew he was bleeding too much, but he could barely take time to cram bandages on the wounds.


"Juris, you there?" Oleg called weakly.


"Above you, brother," the sniper replied.


"There are fighters on the roof over you," Oleg said. "Pull out."


"You don't have any cover, brother," the sniper pointed out. "I'll stay."


"Go," Oleg said. "Go now. That is an order."


"Going," Juris said after a moment. "But I thought I'd shoot the fellow about to drop a grenade on you."


"Thank you," Oleg said, stroking the trigger. He was almost out of ammo for the 240 and Sveryan, who had picked up the spares, had already been pulled back with a sucking chest wound. What was that song that the Kildar sang?


"And in the fury of this darkest hour, we shall be your light," Oleg said, tracking a moving figure on the rooftop opposite and stroking the trigger. The machine gun spat out three rounds and then went silent. "You've asked me for my sacrifice, and I am Winter Born ..."


* * *

"Oleg," Juris whispered. "Get up."


"Get out," Oleg replied. "Go."


"Not without you, brother," the sniper replied, targeting a figure on the far rooftop. The man seemed to stumble and then fell into the street but the single shot, even with the silenced sniper rifle, had attracted a hail of fire from all along the street. "Time to crawl."


"Bit hard to do," Oleg said, choking. "But, yes, we crawl ..."


As they tried to leave the shelter of the stairs, though, rounds cracked all around them.


"Or not," Juris sighed. "Perhaps we stay here, yes?"


"I told you," Oleg replied, laughing redly. "You should listen to your brother."


"I would much prefer to be in the house, yes?" Juris said, leaning against the wall and trying to search for targets. "Having some of Mother Lenka's brew."


"I would rather be in bed with Lydia," Oleg said. "If you make it, tell the Kildar ..."


"We will both make it, brother," Juris said, knowing he was lying. "But I will tell the Kildar ..."


He paused as a body dropped from the window above, spinning to fire and then checking.


"You see!" the girl behind him said. "I told you it was Juris and Oleg! Here," she added, tossing him three boxes of ammunition for the MG-240. "Get to work, Juris. You always were lazy!"


"Elena," Oleg said, blinking his eyes in surprise. "Catrina? Is it really you?"


"I wondered how long it was going to take for you to find us," Elena said, making a moue. "I didn't expect it to be this long." She reached down and yanked off her stilletto heels, rubbing her feet. "I'm so glad to get those off!"


"We're not here for you," Juris said, slipping the ammo into the machine gun and opening fire. "Not that I'm not glad to see you, especially bringing ammo!"


"Oleg, Juris," Sawn said. "You there?"


"Here, Sawn," Juris replied. "We could use some cover fire."


"You're about to get it," Sawn said. "Get down."


"Tell whoever is firing to be careful," Oleg said, reaching up and pulling his sister in close as his eyes watered from more than pain. "We found Elena and Catrina."


"Found us, hell!" Catrina said, hugging Juris triumphantly. "We had to find you!"


* * *

The Alloutte slid to a halt at the intersection of Dutris and Turla, behind the assaulting Albanians. As soon as the helicopter slowed, Anton and Gena opened fire.


The two MG-240s were firing down, suppressing or engaging everyone along the street as the Allouette slowly tracked back and forth. They started with the rooftops, firing from above and behind the attackers that had made their way up there, then started on those on the street.


The Albanians, caught in a crossfire from behind and above, didn't have many choices. Mostly, they died. Some ran into the buildings, a few managed to retreat under the helicopter, but they weren't much better off there. Efim and Vitaly, the other two members of the blocking team, had found a case of fragmentation grenades. Anyone headed for the helicopter found frags dropping on them from great height. Due to the timing of the frags and the distance to the ground, most went off before they hit. This didn't do the retreating pimps and guards much good, though, since that just meant the frags spread around better.


As the fighters near the helicopter were suppressed, the pilot slid the helicopter sideways down the road, letting the machine gunners and grenadiers engage more targets. However, it started taking fire from hidden riflemen in the windows of the houses along the street and backed off.


"Sawn, this is Anton" the team leader called. "What's the status?"


"Pull off," Sawn called. "All personnel recovered. We're beginning extraction. Come to the other end of Dutris and cover us as we leave."


"Got it," the pilot called, pivoting the bird up and around. "Will do."


"Anybody got any idea how we're doing?" Antoniya asked.


What was that line the Kildar used?


"Don't count your cards while they're sitting on the table," Sawn growled. "Just shag your ass."


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Framed