Back | Next


Author's note: I'm indebted to Wilkeson O'Connell, whose work showed me the way to solve a problem that had been exercising me for some time. —Dad 




Colonel Evertsen heard voices in the outer room of his office in the Tactical Operations Center. An outbound convoy—a convoy headed from the interior to the front—had reached Fort Burket a half hour before; District Administrator Kuyper, Evertsen's civilian counterpart, would be coming to discuss the latest dispatch from Capetown.

Evertsen turned, closing the maintenance log he'd been studying in a vain attempt to change the numbers into something Capetown would find more acceptable. The roads in this Slavic hinterland had been a joke before they were made to bear the weight of mechanized armies. Now they'd been reduced to dust, mud, or ice. Take your choice according to the season, and expect your engines and drive trains to wear out in a fraction of the time that seemed reasonable in an air-conditioned office in Capetown.

Instead of the rumpled Kuyper, a tall, slim officer turned sideways to enter the narrow doorway and threw a salute that crackled. He was wearing battledress in contrast to Evertsen's second-class uniform, but the clean, pressed garments proved he was a newcomer to the war zone.

"Janni!" said Evertsen in pleasure. He rose to his feet, stumbling as he always did when he tried to move quickly and his right knee betrayed him.

"Lieutenant Jan Dierks reporting to the base commander, sir," the newcomer said. He broke into a grin and reached across the desk to clasp Evertsen by the arm. "You live in a maze here, Uncle Jan. Is the danger so great this far from the front lines?"

Evertsen bit back the retort—because Dierks was his nephew, and because anyway Evertsen should be used to the attitude by now. He got it every time he went home on leave, after all. I see, colonel, you're not in the fighting army any more . . .  

"Not so dangerous, not now," Evertsen said, gesturing Dierks to a chair. The room's only window was a firing slit covering the east gate. There were electric lights, but Evertsen normally didn't bother with them until he'd shuttered the window for the night. "The fort was laid out two years ago, after all. But although the danger has receded, one gets used to narrow doorways and grenade baffles more easily than one might to a sapper in one's bedroom."

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply . . ." Dierks said in sudden confusion. He was a good boy; the sort of son Evertsen would have wanted if things had worked out differently.

"No offense taken, Janni," he said easily. "Though in fact the constant advance causes its own problems. The point elements always bypass hostiles, and some of those are going to decide that a logistics base guarded by cripples and transients is a better choice for resupply than trying to get back to their own lines."

Evertsen tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice when he said, "cripple," but he knew he hadn't been completely successful.

Dierks looked through the firing slit, perhaps for an excuse to take his eyes off his uncle, and said, "There's a convoy from the front arriving. Do they usually come in at the same time as an outbound one?"

"Not usually," Evertsen said in a dry voice, "though they're supposed to. We won't be able to send your trucks forward without the additional escort that accompanies the inbound convoy."

He rotated his chair to view the east gate. There were about forty vehicles, meaning a score or more were deadlined at one of the forward bases. That was par for the course, but Christ! why couldn't Capetown see the Russian Front needed mechanics worse than it did more riflemen? Around and beyond the convoy, the plains rolled on forever.

The leading truck was a standard 6x6, empty except for the load of sandbags that would detonate any pressure-fuzed mine. The duty of driving that vehicle changed every fifteen minutes.

Two armored cars followed. There should be four more at the middle and end of the line, but Evertsen saw only two. The four guntrucks, each with quad-mounted heavy machine guns behind walls of mortar boxes filled with gravel, were spaced evenly among the non-combat vehicles.

"I suppose returning convoys are to reposition the trucks?" Dierks said.

"That," Evertsen said. He turned from the window. "And for casualties and leave-men. Mostly casualties."

He cleared his throat. "A fit young man wouldn't be posted to Fort Burket, Janni. Where do your orders take you?"

"The Fourth Independent Brigade, sir," Janni said with pardonable pride. The Four Eye was a crack unit whose neck-or-nothing panache made it a fast route to promotion . . . for the survivors. "I could choose my itinerary, and when I saw an officer was needed to escort specie to the District Administrator at Fort Burket, well, I volunteered."

There was an angry mutter in the outer office. Administrator Kuyper squeezed through the doorway with a document in his hand and shouted, "Evertsen, do you know what those idiots in Capetown have done? They've—"

Janni jumped to his feet. Kuyper noticed his presence and said more mildly, "Oh, good afternoon, Lieutenant. I didn't realize . . ."

"You've met the Lieutenant Dierks who brought the discretionary fund supplement, Kuyper," Evertsen said from his chair. "Allow me to present my nephew Janni, who's been posted to the Four Eye."

"It's about the damned discretionary fund that I've come, Evertsen," Kuyper said. "They've reduced the bounty authorization from a hundred aurics to sixty, and they've made an immediate cut in the supplement to the discretionary fund."

Evertsen's fist clenched. "Do they give a reason?" he asked, more so he had time to think about the implications than because any reason could justify Capetown's action in his mind. He wished Janni wasn't present for this, but he couldn't very well order the boy out.

Kuyper waved the document, obviously the one Janni had brought with the paychest. " 'At this crisis in national affairs,' " he quoted, " 'the fighting fronts must take precedence for resources over the lines of communication.' By Christ, Evertsen! How much use do they think those greater resources will be if the convoys carrying them are looted by guerrillas?"

Dierks looked from one man to the other, hearing without enough background to understand the words. The hefty administrator was between him and the doorway. Because he couldn't easily leave, Dierks said, "The specie I escorted was to pay the Slav irregulars, then, the Ralliers? Rather than your own troops?"

"Yes," Kuyper said, "and there'll be hell to pay when they—"

Kuyper's eyes were drawn to the viewslit because it was the brightest thing in the room. "Oh, Christ!" he said, staring toward the gate. "It never rains but it pours. There's Bettina Crais, in with the convoy and coming toward the TOC. Three guesses what she's going to want!"

"And how she's going to react," Evertsen agreed grimly. He'd rather have had a few weeks to figure a way out of the impasse; but if he'd been a lucky man, he wouldn't be commanding a line-of-communication base. "Well, we may as well get it over with."

"Lieutenant, give me a hand with the paychest if you will," Kuyper said. "Even in its present anemic state, that much gold is a load for me. Besides, it won't hurt to have a fit young officer like you in the room when Crais gets the news."

The two men started out. Evertsen said, "Kuyper, perhaps Lieutenant Dierks shouldn't be . . . ?"

Janni stiffened in the doorway. "Sir," he said, "I'm cleared at Most Secret level. I'll obey any order from a superior officer, of course; but I remind you that to treat me as a child because of our relationship would dishonor the uniform I wear."

He thinks I'm trying to protect him from violence by an angry Rallier, Evertsen thought. And he's young enough to worry about honor! 

"Yes, of course," Evertsen said with a curt nod. "You'll find the experience instructive, I'm sure."

The colonel stared at his hands while he waited. Once he'd dreamed of commanding a unit like the Four Eye himself. He'd had a lot of dreams. Once.

Janni and Kuyper returned from the latter's office with a metal chest which they set on the corner of Evertsen's desk. The administrator waited beside it; Janni stood at parade rest on the other side of the desk, facing the door.

The maintenance log was still out. Evertsen sighed and slipped it into a bookcase behind him as voices murmured in the outer office.

Bettina Crais entered.

She was a petite woman; that was obvious even though a felt camouflage cape, worn dark-side out in this season, covered her from neck to ankles. She'd slung her long-barreled Moisin-Nagant rifle muzzle-down over her right shoulder; a swatch of rabbitskin, bound fur-side in, protected the bolt and receiver against the elements. Mounted on a stud in her left ear was half a gold coin the size of a thumbnail, so worn that the fractured portrait of George III was barely a shadow on the surface.

"Colonel," Crais said, nodding. "Mister Administrator. I've come for my pay."

Dierks blinked in amazement. Despite Crais' fine features and short blond hair, he'd assumed she was Slavic until she spoke—with a Vaal-District accent you could cut with a knife.

"Mistress Crais," Evertsen said, "allow me to present my nephew, Lieutenant Jan Dierks."

She turned her head. Janni drew himself to attention reflexively. Crais grinned and said, "A pretty boy you've got here, Colonel. Want to send him out with me to blood him?"

"Lieutenant Dierks is on his way to take up a combat appointment," Evertsen said, trying hard to keep the disgust out of his voice. He didn't want to anger Crais, particularly not now.

"And d'ye think what I do isn't combat, Colonel?" she sneered. "Without me and the Ralliers, the truck drivers and invalids you've got staffing this place would find out what combat really is."

"Well, Crais," said Kuyper with false warmth, "you'll probably want to relax for a few days before you head back. I'll arrange a room for you in the transient officers' billets so you won't have to doss down in the civilian lines. You can run a tab at the O Club as well until we get the finances straightened out."

Crais turned her ice-blue eyes on the civilian. "I don't owe anybody, Mister Administrator," she said in a voice that came straight down from the Arctic Circle. "And I'll find my own bed. It's for the one night only, because I'm heading back at dawn with the inbound convoy. I've got my husband Lute up with the three kids, and I want to get back to them."

"You've brought your family to the Zone?" Evertsen said in amazement. "Good God, I didn't know that!"

"I shouldn't wonder if a lot goes on around here that you don't know about, Colonel," Crais said with not quite a sneer. "We've got a dugout as snug as you please with paneling inside. Lute doesn't hunt with me—it's no more his thing than it would be your nephew's here, I reckon—but he takes care of the kids and the garden. We'll have all our own food come this time next year."

"Where is it you live, Mistress Crais?" Janni asked with careful politeness. He was too much a gentleman to allow Crais' belittling to affect him openly, though Evertsen had seen a vein throb in the boy's throat a time or two during the conversation.

"Nowhere, now," Crais said, turning her cold eyes onto him, "but it'll be an estate in a few years when things settle down. Me and mine'll be here on the land, and no rich party-boy from Capetown will take it away from us. There'll be no more scraping a crop from sunbaked clay the way my family's always had to do."

She caught the line of Janni's eyes and tapped the broken sovereign. "This, you mean?" she said. "This came from Lute's family. My folks arrived at the Cape without a pot to piss in, but that'll change, boy. My son and the girls, they'll be folk as good as any walking the streets of Capetown!"

Crais looked out the viewslit. Vehicles were still grunting and snarling through the entrance baffles. It might be an hour before the last of the convoy was safely within the perimeter of Fort Burket.

"The outbound convoys drop me on the road and I hump my goods home myself," she said. She was obviously pleased to tell a young aristocrat how hard her life was and how well she succeeded. "From a different spot each time. Most of the hostiles couldn't track a tank over a grass lawn, but I don't make it easy for them. When I come in, I wait at Depot Seven-niner for an inbound convoy."

She grinned. "You don't stand out in the middle of the road and flag a convoy," she said. "Not even me."

"How do you get into the fuel depot?" Evertsen asked, both from interest and because he saw that the chance to talk—to brag—put Crais in a better mood. "I'd have thought the garrison would be just as quick to shoot as the convoy escorts are."

Crais shrugged. Even the simplest of her movements were as graceful as a gymnast's. "We have click signals on the radio so they know I'm coming," she said. "And they know they need me. Depot Seven-niner would do better to take down its barbed wire than to lose me patrolling the district."

Her left hand reached under her cape and came out with objects on a string. "That's talk enough," Crais said. "I've got six hundred aurics coming. Pay me and I'll arrange for my needs."

She tossed the string onto the center of the desk. There were six items tied on a strand of sinew. Shrivelled up the way they were, they could be mistaken for mushrooms or nutmeats, but of course they were—

"Those are human ears!" Janni said. "Good God! Some of them are from children!"

"Your uncle don't trust nobody, boy," Crais said with a sly grin toward Evertsen. "Not the Ralliers and not even a fellow citizen from the hardscrabble part of his own country. He wants proof, so we bring him the left ear from every kill."

She looked at Evertsen. "So here they are, Colonel. Want to soak them open so you can be sure I'm not trying to cheat you with a right ear or two?"

"That won't be necessary," Evertsen said without inflection. He and Kuyper had seen more ears than Crais had, many more of them. They were experts by now, well able to make sure the State wasn't cheated by the irregulars in its service.

"The lieutenant's right," Kuyper said. "Four of these are children. Stay-behinds, and all the men able to carry a gun off with the guerrillas."

"Aye, that's right," Crais said; her voice calm but the look in her eyes as she gazed at the administrator . . . less calm. "A family, still working their plantings from a cave-in in the wall of a ravine. Pretty well hid, too. I wouldn't have found them, I guess, without the smell of wood smoke to draw me. That's why I pack in block alcohol for our fire, you see."

Janni didn't speak again, but neither could he draw his eyes away from the wizened trophies. Crais grinned more broadly and went on, "I hid at the treeline for three hours till I got the woman and the older girl, she was maybe twelve, together. Nailed them both with one round. The grampa came out of the house with a rifle and I shot him too. Thought I could use his ammo belt, but he had an old single-shot Berdan, so I was out another round. Cartridges cost money in the Zone, Lieutenant."

Janni stood iron-faced. It was hard to tell whether he even heard what the woman was saying.

Vaguely disappointed at the lack of response, Crais continued, "I tossed a smoke bomb into the dugout and waited to see if anybody more come out. I use sulphur and tar and enough gunpowder to keep it going if they try to douse it, but nobody did this time. They all choked. I went in when it aired out and found a girl of eight and a boy of six. And a baby, but I didn't bother to sex that one."

Her left index finger, as delicate as carved ivory, indicated the tiny last lump on the string.

Crais looked directly at Janni again. "You may wonder why I used a smoke bomb instead of a grenade, Lieutenant," she said. "I'm a working girl and can't afford to lose a trophy. Your uncle wouldn't have paid me for the baby if all I'd been able to bring him back was the foot and a few toes. Would you, Colonel?"

"Good Christ, woman!" Evertsen said. "We have to do this; we don't have to like it."

"Some of us have to do this, Colonel," Crais said. "Some of us don't have estates we could retire to if we felt like it."

"Ashkenazy's band brought twenty units to Fort Schaydin last week," Kuyper said. "All of them were real guerrillas, too."

Crais turned to the administrator like a weasel preparing to spring. "Real, were they? Aye, I suppose they were—if you want to call people who get drunk around an open fire in the Zone real guerrillas. They were under a political officer from Berlin who was going to show the locals how to do it."

The woman stood like an ice pick stuck into soft flesh, looking disdainfully at the three men. "You know the real danger's locals from the Zone who filter back and hide with stay-behinds till they're ready to cut throats, Kuyper," she said. "Ain't that so, Colonel?"

Evertsen nodded curtly. "Yes," he said, "I suppose it is."

Kuyper peered toward the viewslit. "There's a lone truck following the convoy," he said. "I think it's Bruchinsky's lot."

Colonel Evertsen stood and looked, in part because it gave him a chance to turn away from Bettina Crais. A 6x6 truck had caught up with the convoy just as the last armored car grunted through the gates. It was originally a German Horch, Evertsen thought, but with a wood-burning gasogene adapter and repairs which used parts from many other vehicles. At least twenty Ralliers filled it, already whooping with anticipation of their next few days.

One man jumped out of the cab and started purposefully toward the TOC, however. Unfortunately.

"Yes, that's Bruchinsky," Evertsen said heavily. "I'd have appreciated some time to untie the knot Capetown's bound us with; but if there's any luck, it doesn't come to poor bastards with gimp legs that keep them out of field commands."

"I'm not holding you up, Colonel," Crais said, misunderstanding the comment. "I'll take my pay now and leave, so you needn't to share your pretty office with me and Bruchinsky both."

Evertsen turned. "Explain the new situation to Mistress Crais, Kuyper," he said.

Kuyper nodded calmly; the plump civilian had never flinched from the unpleasant duties of his position. "We've received a dispatch from Capetown changing the amount of the bounty," he said. "From now on we'll be paying you sixty aurics per assessed unit instead of the hundred you've received in the past. That means three hundred and sixty aurics will be paid for the present string."

"The hell you say, lardbelly!" Crais shouted. Her left hand moved beneath her cape and clenched on something hidden. "The hell you say."

She looked venomously at the men, her lips working without sound. The flesh was drawn so tight across Crais' cheekbones that her face might almost have been a skull. "Do you know what it costs me to live in the Zone? Nobody issues me food and fuel. Do they think I could patrol every day and tend crops besides?"

"Capetown believes that since the threat has diminished," Kuyper said, "the bounty can also be cut. In my capacity as District Administrator I'll make representations to Capetown about the changed policy, but—"

"How diminished will the threat look if me and the Ralliers stop hunting the Zone, mister?" Crais said. "In a month, in a week even? And what happens if some of us start hunting for the other side, hey? How many ears are there on a convoy inbound with a load of wounded, hey?"

"You can swallow that sort of nonsense, for a start!" Evertsen said. "Berlin might be willing to take on the Ralliers—for the duration only, of course—if they decided to turn their coats again; but the only use they'd have for you, Crais, is the same one they have for every Draka they capture. And if they were going to make distinctions among Draka—that wouldn't be to the advantage of any of the three of us, would it?"

"Damn you, it ain't right!" Crais said, but there was more despair than anger in her voice this time.

In a gruffly conciliatory tone Evertsen said, "It isn't my job to explain Capetown's policies, Mistress Crais. That's just as well, because sometimes I find those policies completely inexplicable."

"See here, Crais," Kuyper said mildly, "I think there's a way we can work with you. Capetown's right about the number of units dropping these past months. The guerrillas have been steering clear of the district, and you've rooted out most of the stay-behinds. I think there'll be enough in the account to pay you at the old rate for adults; but children will have to go at sixty aurics per unit, I'm afraid."

Crais looked at the two older men. Her expression couldn't be said to have softened, but Evertsen no longer felt there was a real chance that she was going to lunge for his throat with a skinning knife.

"I understand your concern about the cost of supplies, Crais," he said. "I'll give you a chit for my steward, directing him to sell you food and fuel from my personal stock at the delivered cost to me. I think you'll find that more reasonable than dealing with drivers for supplies that've fallen off the back of quartermaster trucks, so to speak."

"Still ain't right," Crais muttered. "But I guess I oughta be used to the short end of the stick. All right, I'll take your bargain."

Evertsen stripped an order blank off the pad and began writing directions to his steward on the back of it before Crais had an opportunity to change her mind. She added in a mixture of explanation and defiance, "It won't matter so much next year because we'll have the crops in. But we need to make it through the season, you see."

A heavy Slavic voice sounded at the entrance to the TOC. Kuyper had already raised the lid of the strongbox. He paused and said, "Say, Crais? Would you mind waiting a moment to be paid? I want Bruchinsky to see that everybody's being treated the same, if you see what I mean."

"Afraid Bruchinsky might fly hot when you tell him to bend over, hey?" Crais said with a cold smile. She straightened her trophy string on the metal desktop. "Yeah, all right, I'll help you with him."

She frowned in concern and added, "Bruchinsky keeps pretty good discipline in the field, you know. You only see his lot when they come in to tie one on, but it'd take a battalion to replace them."

"But you bring in two units for every three we get from Bruchinsky's whole band, Mistress Crais," Evertsen said. He was flattering her, but the words were still the cold truth.

Crais grinned. "That's so," she said. "Hunting's a job best done alone, I think."

There was a boom of laughter and a huge Slav squeezed through the entrance. His hair and beard were matted into a sheepskin vest worn fleece-side out, and a large rosary hung from his neck. "It is I, the great Bruchinsky, Colonel!" he said. "Eight hundred gold you owe us! We celebrate tonight!"

Evertsen saw his nephew's nostrils flare, then tighten. The Rallier's effluvium was a shock even to those prepared for it by experience. Well, Janni would smell worse things when he first stood on a battlefield fought over for several days in high summer; as he surely would, if he survived.

Crais and the Rallier exchanged brief comments in Zone Pidgin, a mixture of English, German, and several Slavic dialects. The two irregulars respected one another, though Evertsen knew there were undercurrents of mutual disdain as well: for a Slav on the one hand, for a woman on the other.

"We'll be with you in a moment, Captain Bruchinsky," Kuyper said. "We were just paying off Mistress Crais."

He took out a roll of ten-auric coins and broke the paper on the edge of the strongbox. He stacked ten pieces of new-minted gold behind each of the larger ears. "That's a hundred apiece for the two adults, and . . ."

Kuyper set six coins beside the first, the second, and the third of the small ears, then paused to break another roll. "And the last," he said. "Sixty aurics apiece for each of the children, two hundred and forty in all."

"What?" Bruchinsky said in amazement. "What's this fucking shit? You pay for ear, not fucking man ear and kid ear!"

"Not any longer, Captain Bruchinsky," Evertsen said coldly. "Capetown has decreed a change in the bounty, and of course we're bound by their decision."

"No fucking way I let you Draka bastards cheat me!" the Rallier shouted. "No fucking way!"

He flung back the sheepskin, exposing the sub-machine gun he slung beneath it. Like Crais' rifle it was of Soviet manufacture, a Shpagin with a 71-round drum. Soviet weapons had a rugged willingness to function that made them favorites among troops who operated without the luxury of a unit armorer.

Neither Evertsen nor Kuyper spoke. Janni stood like a statue, his face unreadable. The only sign that the boy was aware of his surroundings was the way his eyes traversed the room: back and forth, taking it all in.

Bettina Crais bent forward and scooped her coins, stack by stack, into a calfskin purse. The gold chimed musically. She folded Evertsen's note to his steward and stuck that in her purse as well.

"Crais!" said Bruchinsky. "You let them shit on you this way? You take their fucking sixty?"

Crais looked at the Rallier. Evertsen had seen gun muzzles with more expression. "It doesn't look to me like there's much choice, Bruchinsky," she said. "You want to buy my string off me at the old price?"

"Fuck!" the big Slav said. "Fuck all fucking Draka!"

He laughed as explosively as sudden thunder and slapped his string down on the desk beside that of Crais. There were eight units, four of them so fresh that a drop of blood oozed from the adult's torn lobe.

"Sure, pay me the fucking money," he said cheerfully. "The boys all be so drunk in the morning they don't know how much money we get. Me too, by Jesus!"

Crais settled the purse back under her cape. She gave a nod; more a lift of her chin. "I'll be on about my business, then," she said. "See you in a week or two, I reckon, Colonel."

She stared at Janni again with her expressionless eyes. "Watch how you go, boy," she said. "It'd be a pity if ears as cute as yours wound up hanging from a string."

Bruchinsky laughed uproariously as Crais left the room.

Kuyper began stacking coins with unobtrusive precision. The administrator made a show of every payout. Partly that was because the Slavs generally liked a bit of ceremony, but Kuyper himself was the sort of man who wanted order and dependability in all things. It was difficult for Kuyper to be stuck in this wilderness with Capetown's whimsies grinding him from one side against the flint realities of the Zone on the other, but he served the State as well as humanly possible.

So did Colonel Evertsen; but it was hard to remember that as he read the disgust under his nephew's blankness.

"Shit on Capetown," the Rallier said cheerfully. "We still richer than I think when we start in. We break down and get lucky."

"A breakdown in the Zone lucky?" Evertsen said, frowning slightly. "Lucky you survived, you mean."

"Aw, our fucking shitpot motor, you know," Bruchinsky said. "Still, she not fancy but she get the job done okay. Just like me and the boys, that's right?"

He laughed and fumbled a bottle out of a side pouch. It was empty, as Bruchinsky decided after frowning at it for some moments. He cursed and deliberately shattered it on the floor.

Evertsen said nothing. His batman would sweep up the glass. It was the colonel's duty to the State to deal with the irregulars. . . . 

"Naw, the luck's good because we walk around while Oleg fixes the motor," Bruchinsky resumed, sunny following the momentary squall of the empty bottle. "Pedr thinks he sees a track. I don't see shit, but Pedr, he good tracker. Near as good as your blond bitch-dog, Colonel, that's right?"

Evertsen offered a thinly noncommittal smile. He didn't like to hear a Slav animal refer that way to a Draka, but more than policy might have kept him from reprimanding Bruchinsky in this particular case.

"We go a little ways in and I think 'a rag,' but we look at it and it's a doll," the Rallier continued. "So Pedr's right, and six of us we follow up fast while the rest stays with the truck."

Kuyper broke another roll of aurics with a golden tinkle. There were five adults and three children in the string. The latter were very fresh.

"We find the place three miles, maybe, off the road," Bruchinsky said. "It's hid good, but a kid's crying before we see anything and we crawl up close. There's a man hoeing squash and corn planted together, but he's patting a kid who's bit on the neck by a big fucker horsefly. One burst—" he slapped the sub-machine gun "—and I get them both. Not bad, hey, even though the boy wiggles till we twist his neck."

Kuyper set six coins behind the first of the small ears, then looked at the Rallier with an expression Evertsen couldn't read. The administrator resumed counting, his fingers moving a little slower than before.

"There's two girls in the dugout," Bruchinsky said. "They got good gun like this—"

He pumped his sub-machine gun in the air for an example.

"—but they little girl, they cry and cry but they can't cock it, you see?"

Bruchinsky racked back his charging handle. His weapon was already cocked, so it spun a loaded round out onto the floor.

Evertsen managed not to wince. He supposed being shot by accident in his office by a drunken Slav would be a fitting end to his career.

"Pedr finish them with his knife after he have a little fun, you know?" the Rallier said. "So we run back with four more kills, the truck fixed, and we drive like hell to catch up with the convoy almost. Lucky, not so?"

"That completes the count, Captain Bruchinsky," Kuyper said, closing the lid of the strongbox. "Six hundred and eighty aurics."

"Shitload of money," the Rallier said admiringly. "It all be shit gone soon, but we party tonight!"

"If that's all . . . ," Evertsen said. It had gone better than he'd dreamed a few minutes before. Not that his superiors would care about the skill with which he and Kuyper had covered Capetown's idiocy. . . . 

"One thing," Bruchinsky said, fumbling in another of his pouches. "This I get from the farmer today. Does it spend? It's broke, but it's real gold by Jesus!"

He held it out for the others to see. It was a sovereign, snapped in half and mounted for an ear stud. The legend and lower portion of the bust of George III were worn to shadows.

Janni began to laugh. The sound started normally but rose into hysterical peals.

Bruchinsky, the only man in the room who didn't get the joke, looked in growing puzzlement at his Draka companions.


Back | Next