They drove south to Pine Island Airport, a private airport designated for light aircraft only but enough money can make just about anything happen. The Gulfstream sat at the end of the runway waiting for them. Zeus pulled right up and they loaded the crates back on board. Zeus parked the truck and minutes later they were airborne bound for Moscow.
It took ten hours to touch down at Chkalovsky Airport just outside of Moscow. Waiting for them at the airport was one of Zeus’ security team, Iosif or Joe as he preferred to be called sitting in a dark green Range Rover with tinted windows.
Joe was born in Stalingrad to a family of Russian heroes. His father fought the Americans in the space race as a scientist, his grandfather fought the Germans from their doorstep in Stalingrad to Berlin and his grandfather fought on behalf of the Russian monarchy a fact that was never mentioned around anyone during the Soviet era.
They repeated the process of loading the SUV with the weapons crates and Joe drove them to a quite country cottage on the outskirts of Balashikha. Unknown to most Westerners, Russia was as much a melting pot as the United States. The Turks, the Tatars, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan, the Huns, the Slavs, the Finno-Ugric and dozens of other Russian and non-Russian ethnic groups melded together. The locals are predominantly Russian Orthodox with a smattering of other Christian faiths, Jews, Muslims, and Neopaganism and Tengrism. Though the etymology is up for debate, the name Balashikha has links to several of these groups. With ancient trade routes running straight through the region linking east and west further diversifying the population it was not a stretch that languages combined and overlapped to create the name Balashikha.
Before they set foot outside Zeus had them all do a weapons check. They each put on body armor, Zeus and Joe wore soft body armor while he had Richard put on a vest of hard armor capable of stopping armor piercing rounds.
Zeus carried a G18 Glock automatic pistol with an extended clip, a Heckler and Koch Mark 23 pistol, and a Sterling submachine gun that with its folding stock could easily be concealed. Richard carried the same Glock as Zeus. Joe on the other hand was prepared for war.
Laid out before him on the table was a 9A-91 assault rifle with folding stock, next weapon a SARichardGA-12 automatic shotgun modified with a cut down barrel and foldable stock, and last but not least two Makarov pistols.They each put on brown trench coats that would conceal they armaments and armor, topped off with a brown hat.
They set out before dawn and traffic was already starting to swell heading into Moscow. Joe had driven these streets thousands of times and navigated them like a formula one driver in the grand prix. It took them a half hour to reach the Russian State Archive of Military History. It is a beautiful palatial building hugging the Yauza River. The building is lathered in a light yellow paint adorned with white trim and columns that looked like it was from a southern plantation.
Joe pulled past the Archives and down a side alley. As they pulled up a metal door opened and a mountain of a man stepped out wearing a security uniform. Joe went and embraced him. Another member of the military fraternity.
The big Russian spoke to Joe in their native tongue before introducing himself in broken English and explained it would be several hours before the Archives opened. Joe’s comrade led them through a maze of the archival underground. Rows of shelves filled with books, papers, and artifacts.
They went upstairs into a grand gallery. The ceiling towered three floors above them. The main floor had rows of tables, desks and computers with a selection of reference materials at either end of the room. Two majestic staircases swept up from the main floor, an archway connected to an identical room on the other side. The balcony led to more archive stacks on the second floor.
The security guard led them to a desk where an ancient archivists was sitting. He looked like the mad Russian Rasputin. His beard and hair were long and scraggly. His face looked like it was trampled by horses. When the old man stood, his tall lanky frame towered over all of them. He introduced himself as Zakhar speaking a jumbled mixture of Russian and English. The security guard dismissed himself and the old man came around his desk.
The years had taken a toll on his body. He hunched at his shoulders and bent at his waist as he walked. He grabbed a cane that looked as old as him. Zakhar led them to a computer and pulled up the archive catalog. “So what are they looking for?”
Richard looked at Zeus and then down at Zakhar. “Anything about the German Messerschmitt Richard 262.” Zakhar’s spindly fingers slowly and methodically punched the keys. A list of two dozen sources pulled up. Zakhar hit print and motioned to Joe to retrieve it.
Zakhar handed a sheet to Richard, “I take Mr. Zeus, you go with Joe.” Split up in teams they searched for their quarry. Zakhar and Joe translating the documents and Zeus and Richard transcribing them. Some of the documents were digitized speeding things along. Joe and Richard finished just before 9 am waiting for Zakhar and Zeus. The doors would be opening to the public in a few minutes and outside there were already students and researchers mulling about.
For several minutes Zakhar looked increasing frustrated as he pulled materials and placed them back on the shelf. He mumbled to himself and shook his head. Finally he turned to them as they continued sifting through the stacks already pulled.
“The last documents are in the vault.” Zakhar gestured with his hand for them to follow. Underneath the grand staircase was an indiscriminate door with a card swipe reader. From around his neck Zakhar removed his name badge and ran it through. The door hesitated for a moment then as it unlocked they could hear the hiss of air escaping. Cool, dry air flowed out at them sending a shiver that shook Zakhar down to the bone.
He led them down cement stairs lit only by small floor lamps. When they reached the bottom Zakhar stopped and felt around the wall until his hand grazed a dial that he turned. The lights slowly came on as if they had to charge up. The hall was lit dimly by tiny fifteen watt incandescent bulbs that lit up about a foot of floor. The rest of the space was lit by black lights providing just enough so you could read a piece of paper but prevent the light from deteriorating any documents.
Zakhar led them down row after row of shelves. Each was ten feet deep and contained a variety of materials including war artifacts. After fifty feet down the passage Zakhar stopped and ducked into the bookshelves. He pulled a plastic tote from the shelf and placed it on the floor. He flipped through its contents before extracting a folder.
The folder contents were all in plastic sleeves. The paper they contained was browned and tattered. Zakhar handed a few to Joe and they began skimming the pages. The minutes passed by at a snail’s pace. Zeus and Richard felt worthless not able to read the documents themselves.
Through the concrete floor they could hear the protest of the ancient doors as the Archives opened for the day, the feet of dozens of individuals shuffling in to work on their projects. Joe had paused on a page taking in the words, then read it for them.
“Dispatch from the Front to Command. March 15, 1945. Commander Komarov. We have met little resistance behind enemy lines. We took the town of Neustrelitz with minor resistance and no casualties. We continued west taking the airfield at Rechlin-Larz. The Germans occupying the base fled before us. We took a single prisoner of war, left at the base with a broken leg. He only gave name and rank: Henrik Brunnuer, Flight Instructor. He showed us where the Germans had dumped their equipment in the lake. One float plane was half sunk and we are working on recovery.”
Zeus and Richard looked at each other. Could it be mere coincidence that the pilot they found had the same name or did he somehow make his way from Soviet captivity to a Georgian swamp?Joe read the next page.
“Dispatch from the Front to Command. March 17, 1945. Commander Komarov. In the night they were ambushed by a small band. They suffered minor loses, the airbase sustained damage, an engineering team will be needed to repair it, the prisoner escaped.”
The next page in the file was marked with a large bold header that Joe translated. TOP SECRET. The page had little writing and it did not matter what language was on the page the crude schematics were easy to make out. The swept wings with mounted engines, the lack of propellers, and the pontoons and struts holding the plane up.
Joe and Zakhar saw their expressions, they found what they were looking for. Richard pulled out his phone and took pictures of each document for reference purposes. As Zakhar put the file back in the tote they all felt the air rush down the corridor and up the stairwell. When the steel door at the top of the stairs closed shut it made a distinct metal on metal sound.
Zeus picked Zakhar off the floor and asked him if there was another way out. He shook his head. “The corridor just loops around.” Zeus and Joe shed their trench coats revealing their weapons. Zakhar’s face went pale, his mouth opened but nothing came out. Zeus began ushering Zakhar and himself down the far end of the hallway. He looked at Joe and nodded. Joe pulled out one of his Makarov’s and guarded the corridor. He could hear two sets of feet coming down the cement stair.
Joe stepped back into the shelving just as the automatic lights turned off. Joe worked his body onto an empty bottom shelf and waited for his prey. He only had to wait a moment when he saw a small pen light begin to scan the hall and each alcove of documents.
Joe waited for the light to pass, got to his feet and stealthily approached his adversary. He took a low, shallow breath and held it as he came within arms distance of the man. With a single motion he reached around grabbed the man’s chin with his right hand and the back of his head with his left and pulled in opposite directions.
The snapping of the spinal cord was instantaneous. Joe then carefully lowered the body to the floor. He quickly turned off the flashlight and picked up the man’s weapon. In the darkness Joe could feel the added weight of a silencer mounted onto the barrel. He walked methodically down the hallway toward the other flashlight.
The man turned before Joe could sneak up on him. Joe simultaneously turned the flashlight on and put two shots into him.
Joe moved quickly back to find Zeus babysitting Zakhar and Richard down the far bend of the hallway. Joe stated in Russian “There must be another other way to get out.” Zakhar hesitated. Joe stepped in close to him, “This is life or death.”
“Yes, there is a closet that has access to the upstairs power panels, I show you.” Zakhar found his inner strength and pushed past Zeus. He refused to look at the bodies lying on the floor and instead just grabbed Zeus’ shoulder to steady himself as he stepped over them.
At the far end of the hall Zakhar used his swipe card to open the door to a large maintenance room. It was mostly empty but in the back was another door that Zakhar headed for. The door hissed and released its seal. Behind it was a ladder that led up two stories. Zeus placed a hand on Zakhar’s shoulder and shook his hand.
“Close this door behind them and don’t open it until the police come.” Zakhar nodded and Zeus turned to head up the ladder. Joe and Richard said good bye and followed. At the top Zeus carefully opened the hatch. He stood in a room lit by the glowing electrical breakers for the building. Zeus then formulated a plan.
“There will have a guard watching the door we came down. There will be guards on the exit doors, we will have the advantage of the high ground. There is a lot of bystanders and these guys won’t care who gets in their way. Joe take the guard down at the door and then kill the lights. That should clear the room then we figure out an exit.”
Joe still had the silenced pistol, he cracked the door enough to see the guard pacing about staring at the door into the basement. He lined up for the kill shot. He steadied the gun with his left forearm. He held out three fingers, then two, one. They heard a thud and Zeus and Richard began flipping the breakers. Computers and lights went out across the building.
The students and researchers groaned in protest. The large windows and emergency lights produced enough light for the patrons to exit. Joe slithered out the door on his belly and inched to the edge of the balcony. He saw his friend waving people out the doors and mixed into the crowd the confused mercenaries.
Zeus joined him on the floor. They pulled their submachine guns. As the crowds kept emptying each door was covered by two obvious mercenaries. Zeus shimmied to the opposite side of the balcony from Joe and waited. When the patrons were clear Joe watched as his security guard friend tried to remove the last two men on his side. One distracted the guard as the other pulled a pistol. He gripped it by the barrel and smashed the butt into the back of the guard’s head. He fell like a giant red wood nearly crushing the man in front of him.
On the opposite side of the building Zeus watched two men incapacitate one of the Archives staff. From outside each door, two more mercenaries entered. They all carried submachine guns and before they could find targets, Zeus and Joe opened fire. Like mirror images of each other they both took down two men. These adversaries were trained well like the first they encountered.
The remaining assailants dove under the oak tables. Seconds later they were returning fire upward. Then the doors burst in as more assailants carrying heavy weapons rushed to their aid. They took cover and systematically began firing rounds at the balcony. They leaped frogged forward making their way towards the stairs.
Then the worse possible scenario. Tear gas grenades were tossed up. Zeus manages to kick one back down but the smoke was overwhelming. Hunched over he ran to the maintenance door, bullets riddled the ceiling above him. He reached through the door and grabbed Richard by the back of the neck.
He pulled Richard down to his level and threw a phosphorous grenade over Joe’s side. Joe sprayed bullets down on their adversaries preventing them from firing on Zeus and Richard. Zeus pushed Richard ahead of him along the balcony to the back wall behind the book stacks. “Stay Down, Don’t Move!” Zeus yelled above the gun fire. He ran to the balcony edge and began peppering the enemies’ positions, catching two by surprise from his new location.
When the phosphorous grenade erupted in flame it blocked the stairs on the one side and set off the sprinkler system. As Zeus laid down fire, Joe made his break toward them. He made it four steps before fire was redirected at him. He dove and slid across the floor, his momentum carrying him like a slip and slide to the back wall where Richard was hiding.
As he got to his feet he pulled the magazine and dropped it. He reloaded before he took his first step forward. Zeus was across from Joe firing bursts down. Joe came up the row next to him, dropped to one knee and began firing.
“Low on ammo.” Joe unslung his SAIGA and passed it through the book shelf knocking its contents to the floor. Zeus let his sub hang from his neck as he unfolded the SAIGA’s stock. As he did two assailants appeared on the main balcony. Joe never saw them, but Zeus did through a gap in the books. He opened fire hitting the first man with a spray of buckshot blasting him backwards into the wall and then the body hit the floor. The second tripped on the body giving Zeus no line of sight at his target.
Zeus couldn’t step forward for a better shot it would expose him to the men firing from below. He yelled “DOWN!” and slammed his shoulder into the book case. The stacks fell like dominoes. The second assailant had regained his footing and was still coming but the bookcase stopped his advance.
It pinned him against the wall and Zeus finished him off by decapitating him with a shotgun blast. Joe was now lying under the fallen bookshelves his back and legs covered in books. Zeus yelled, “You ok?”
Joe replied back, “My parents always said I should hit the books.” Zeus cut him off by spraying the wall at the corner with three shots, chasing the next group of attackers back around the wall.
Zeus retreated to the back wall. He took one look at the window opening then aimed the shotgun at the lock. It annihilated it along with the latch and the bottom group of windows. Zeus stepped back and shot out the rest of the window. He grabbed Richard pulling him close.
“I am going through that window and you will be right behind me.” Richard shook his head up and down. Zeus then called out, “JOE WE ARE LEAVING!” With that Zeus took a running start and jumped through the window. Richard waited a second before following.
Joe was shimmying backwards when a fragmentation grenade was lobbed up to the balcony. It exploded in midair spraying shrapnel everywhere. Joe tucked his arms and head into his chest letting the body armor protect his upper body. The grenade detonated at the peak of the throw somewhere in front of Joe. While the shelves absorbed some of the fragments others penetrated through the wood finding there mark in Joe’s legs. The wood slowed the speed of the fragments down enough to keep them from shredding straight through his legs but his muscle tissue was still susceptible.
Joe pulled a smoke grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin and placed it on the floor. He continued crawling backwards even with the searing pain in his legs. When he got out of the shelves he willed himself to his feet.
Joe was trained to take it and forced himself into an unsteady gallop towards the window. He mostly fell out of it onto a raised grade of grass. Zeus and Richard had already made it to the Rover and were backing up to Joe. Zeus leapt out and carried his comrade to the front passenger seat. He jumped in the back and Richard stomped on the accelerator. Joe was already removing his belt and wrapping it around his upper thigh. Zeus did the same and handed it to Joe as they turned the corner to go up the side street they came in.
Richard came to a screeching stop even before Richard saw the gunfire. Richard threw the Rover in reverse and whipped it back around the corner. Richard pulled the hand break and spun the wheel. Richard released the break and a second later Richard threw it back in gear, straightening the wheel out performing a J-turn. Richard followed a foot path behind the Archives and along a wall separating it from a large parking lot.
It meandered around the building and as Richard rounded the far corner Richard found a much more imposing road block. The attackers had commandeered a big orange garbage truck. The truck was rumbling towards them before Richard could react, smashing the Rover on the front fender on the driver side.
It sent them spinning 180 degrees. The cab of the truck was directly alongside them. Richard looked over and saw two assailants sitting in the cab looking for a clean shot. The driver attempted to pin the Rover into the building. Richard jammed the accelerator to the floor sending the Rover lurching forward.
They shot out in front of the truck and the driver slammed his vehicle into the building. Richard heard glass shattering behind them as the attackers knocked out the windscreen. In the side view mirror Richard could see the forks lowering. As Richard swerved to avoid obstacles like garbage cans, benches and lamp posts the garbage truck plowed through them closing the gap.
One of the forks ripped through the back windshield, Zeus had to duck to avoid being hit. Richard could feel as the garbage truck began to raise the forks. The Rovers wheels began lifting off the ground. Zeus sprayed automatic fire into the cab.
None of the bullets found a target but it hesitated the driver. The Rover slid forward on the forks. When the driver recovered the forks caught on the rear roof. It tore through the metal like a can opener exposing the interior.
As they came free Richard gunned the engine into the Archives courtyard. Zeus scrambled over the back seat taking the SAIGA with him. He stood in the cargo hold in the freshly made sunroof. From his right to left he unloaded with the automatic shotgun.
The first shell of buckshot maimed the two passengers in the truck. The second shell was filled with explosives and annihilated the radiator. The third was buckshot again causing the driver to swerve wildly. The garbage truck was now a non-factor in the chase.
Richard continue forward as Zeus ducked back into the boot. A narrow archway led to the front of the building. The mirrors came clean off as the Rover went barreling up the stairs and onto the main street. People were scattering every which way from the noise of gun fire.
The blockade they first encountered had packed up and was now mobile. Two silver Porsche Cayenne’s were in hot pursuit. Even above the clatter of gunfire the Porsche’s turbos could be heard spooling air giving them the extra kick to close the distance on them. Zeus tried to keep them at bay with sporadic shotgun fire. When he finished his rounds he ducked back in and the Porsche’s instantly closed in.
Zeus grabbed his Sterling and Joe’s 9A. He popped back out the roof and opened up with both guns on the closest Porsche. In seven seconds he had put 90 rounds into the SUV. It swerved violently around before careening head on into a building.
In its wake the other Porsche came flying in. Zeus dropped flat in the trunk as they peppered the car with bullets. They blew out every piece of glass forcing Joe and Richard almost to the floor. Richard did the only thing he could, held the wheel straight and kept the accelerator down.
Zeus had expended all his ammo except his pistol. The attackers kept him pinned down as they pulled alongside them. Joe reached down to his ankle holster and pulled his last pistol. He sat up in his seat irked a quick smile and emptied the clip into the front driver’s side tire.
The tire burst and melted off the rim. The Porsche continued forward for a few seconds before it became unmanageable. The Cayenne was handling like a greased watermelon. The sparks cascaded backwards until the rim caught a pot hole and forced the wheel to turn. It sent the SUV into a spin and when the rim dug into the ground threw the entire car into a death roll.
The three of them watched as it flipped again and again across the road. It finally came to a stop and a few seconds later exploded in a ball of flame. Zeus yelled above the howl of the wind from the trunk, “That wasn’t the gas tank, whoever was left alive was destroying the evidence.”
Zeus climbed into the back seat. He stuck his head into the front and looked at Joe who was going pale. Zeus removed Joe’s tourniquets to allow the blood to flow again. “We have to get you to a doctor.” Joe groggily opened his eyes.
He began directing Richard through Moscow, taking side streets and back alleys. As Joe’s condition worsened his English did too until he dropped it completely for Russian. Joe sent Richard down an alley between a few dilapidated, graffiti covered building. They helped him out of the SUV and carried him up fifteen flights of stairs in a Russian project.
Down a long, dark, dingy hallway they reached a metal cage. A pair of cameras stared down at them from inside. Joe leaned into the door buzzer and they could hear blaring inside the penthouse apartment. A voice came over an intercom in Russian. With the last bits of energy Joe called back in Russian and the cage door unlocked.
They got inside the cage and it locked behind them. A minute passed and the steel door in front of them didn’t budge. The apartment behind the door remained totally silent. Joe yelled out the one word in Russian Richard knew “Mudák!” Followed by English, “Open the fucking door.”
Finally they heard bottles clanging together, then the shuffle of a pair of feet on the floor. They listened as bolts and locks were undone. The door opened and a half awake and half-drunk Russian with wild hair, silk pajamas and a shotgun stood before them.
Joe slapped the shotgun from his face and pushed the door open with his remaining strength. The Russian mumbled as they passed. They dropped Joe on a pool table littered with beer and liquor bottles. He rolled onto his belly and the Russian walked over and leaned by his head. “Always getting yourself in trouble Iosif.”
Joe responded, “It’s good to see nothing has changed with you Yuri.” Joe’s eyes gazed around the a well partied in room to a mirrored table full of cocaine, pills, marijuana and an assortment of other drugs.
Yuri went over to the table and dug out a pair of scissors. He handed them to Zeus and instructed him to cut away Joe’s pants. Carefully he went up from the ankle to the thigh on both legs. His legs were much worse than they had thought. Large chunks of tissue were missing from various locations. In some spots the splintered wood was now embedded into his skin and in others the metal shrapnel from the grenade.
Yuri went back to the mirror table. He flopped down on a leather couch and reached under it pulling out a briefcase. “You want painkillers?”
Joe called back, “Do you even know where they are?” Yuri looked left then right. He dipped his finger in a small pile of white and rubbed it across his teeth. He shrugged his shoulders and grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels. Yuri took a swig then handed it to Joe who began sucking it down.
Yuri opened the case full of an assortment of medical tools. He pulled out forceps and began casually removing foreign objects from Joe’s body and dropping them onto the floor. Yuri had Richard on blood detail cleaning the other leg and stopping any leaks that developed as he worked.
Zeus being no stranger to war wounds was stitching up the smaller ones and then covering them with gauze. Yuri finished the left leg and moved on to the right continuing in his ho hum manner.
The back of Joe’s right knee looked even more gruesome then the rest of the injuries. Yuri skipped over it to finish the lesser wounds. He came around the table to Joe’s head and took a pull at the Jack. Yuri gave it back to Joe and when Joe put it to his mouth, Yuri held the end of the bottle in the air. Joe had no choice but to keep drinking.
Yuri released the bottle and Joe gasped for air. “There is a big piece in the back of your knee. It severed the hamstring tendon, possibly damaging the meniscus and embedded into the bone. It’s gonna hurt like hell, you are going to need a surgeon to repair it.”
Joe dazedly looked up at him. “Get it out, the rest can be fixed later.”
Yuri went to the kitchen and came back with a wood spoon. He gave it to Joe, who placed it between his teeth. Out loud Yuri asked Zeus and Richard to hold his leg still. He carefully inserted the forceps a half inch. He made contact with the metal shard and Joe winced in pain but never moved his leg.
Yuri pulled and Joe bit down. He grunted and drove his teeth into the wood. Yuri finished prying the object out and triumphantly held it in the air for Zeus and Richard to see. It was over an inch long and a half inch wide.
Richard was so enthralled in the victory celebration he missed the blood flowing freely from the wound. Yuri cleared his throat and pointed down. Richard quickly put pressure on the wound. Yuri slapped Richard on the back and grabbed the Jack Daniels. “You are going to have to keep pressure on it for a while.” He took a swig and handed it to Joe, who promptly finished the bottle and passed out.
Zeus checked Joe’s pulse, it was a little weak but nothing life threatening. “I’m going dump the car.”
Yuri chimed in, “Take it down to the Moskva, no one will notice one more car in the river.” Zeus lifted up his shirt exposing a form fitting belt with stacks of cash in it.
He pulled one out and went to hand it to Yuri. Yuri walked over and thumbed through the stack then pulled the top $100 dollar bill out. “This is all I need for payment.” He rolled it into a tube as he walked over to the coffee table. Zeus was out the door before Yuri had sat down. He used a playing card to cut a line of white powder out of a pile. Then his fresh new $100 bill and sucked the powder into his nose. A minute later Yuri was passed out on the couch, he had found the pain killer.
An hour went by before Zeus returned, blaring the doorbell. Yuri sprang back to life to let him in. Zeus told Richard he arranged for secure transport back to the airport, once out of the country they would get Joe to a surgeon to repair his leg.
Joe remained unconscious and Zeus fireman carried him across his shoulders. Waiting downstairs was a limo. They carefully laid Joe on the bench seat and Zeus lay down opposite him. A few hours later they were on the ground in Berlin.