V plague book 11 mercile.., p.24

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 24

 

V Plague (Book 11): Merciless
 


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  The hotel occupied most of a city block, immediately adjacent to a large park. Across what was probably once a broad, manicured lawn, a small lake glistened in the night, reflecting the moonlight. We were crouched behind a low wall that separated the sidewalk from the entrance to some sort of municipal building and had a good view of the area. As I scoped out the hotel, Rachel faced the rear to make sure no one and nothing was sneaking up on us.

  Methodically, I scanned the roofline, searching for a sentry. I didn’t see one, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have a man posted up top. He could have been on one of the other sides, taking a smoke break or a piss, or even a nap. There are few things in life worse than being assigned sentry duty, especially at night. It’s damn difficult to stay alert and focused.

  Moving down from the top, I scanned each window. It took some time to check every one, and I found each to be completely dark. Again, this was only one side of a four sided building, so I didn’t put much stock in the results other than it didn’t appear there was anyone to see us approach the structure.

  “We’re moving,” I mumbled to Rachel. “Keep an eye behind us, and for God’s sake, don’t fire that rifle unless you have no choice.”

  “No shit,” she sassed back, reminding me she might have done this a time or two before.

  Climbing over the wall, we hurried across a broad street and onto the hotel grounds. Dead, brittle grass crunched slightly under our feet, but we were as silent as we could be. Reaching the exterior wall, I put my back against it, Rachel doing the same right next to me. Catching her eye, I pointed to our left, the direction of the loading dock.

  Moving at a slower pace, I hugged the wall and came to a stop a foot short of the rear edge. Taking a moment to listen, I peeked around after hearing nothing other than the wind.

  A loading ramp, three large dumpsters and a stack of damaged furniture waiting to be disposed of. Beyond the pile was a set of steel doors that most likely accessed the maintenance and working areas of the large hotel. I briefly wished Johnson was with us to open them, then stopped myself from wasting time on frivolous thoughts.

  Reaching behind me, I tapped Rachel to let her know I was ready to move. I felt an answering touch on my arm and rolled around the corner, dropping a few feet to the concrete ramp. I heard her soft footfalls behind me and dashed across the open space and up a short set of steps. Avoiding the collection of broken chairs and tables, I pulled up next to the doors. Rachel was right with me.

  Easing forward, I placed my ear against the closest door and listened. Nothing. Complete silence. My own heartbeat was all I could hear. Cautiously, I grasped the knob and very gently exerted pressure. It didn’t turn. Crap.

  There was a time when I’d been taught how to pick a lock. It came with the territory of being in special operations. But it had been a very long time ago, and frankly I’d never been very good at it. To successfully pick a lock requires a delicate touch and patience. I have neither. Especially when an ounce of plastic explosive will open most doors. But I didn’t have any, and even if I did, it would have made too much noise.

  “Are you wearing a bra?” I mumbled to Rachel.

  “What?”

  “A bra. Are you wearing one?”

  I glanced over to see her looking at me like I’d lost my mind.

  “I need some thin wires to pick the lock,” I explained, glad it was dark so she couldn’t see me blushing.

  Without hesitating, Rachel lowered her rifle, reached under her shirt and five seconds later handed me her bra. How the hell do women do that? It’s never been that easy when I was trying to remove one from someone who was wearing it.

  Using my knife, I cut open the bottom of the cups and ripped out the two lengths of underwire. I worked on one of them for a few minutes, putting the proper kinks into one so it could manipulate the lock’s tumblers. The other would remain straight, and if I could manage to get all the pins to drop, would help me turn the cylinder.

  Setting to work, sweat was soon dripping off my brow from the concentration, despite the cold wind blowing across me. Several times I thought I had succeeded, only to find the lock wouldn’t turn. Fighting frustration, I lowered my hands and shook them out.

  “What’s wrong,” Rachel asked.

  “Never been very good at this,” I said.

  “Then let’s find another way in,” she said.

  “The more we prowl around looking, the greater the odds someone inside will spot us. Or we’ll run into more infected than we can quietly handle. I’d rather go in this way if we can, but I’m about ready to admit defeat and move on.”

  “What’s the problem?”

  “It takes the right touch. Have to be able to feel each pin drop.”

  “Can I try?”

  I looked at Rachel in surprise.

  “You ever picked a lock?”

  “No,” she said. “But I did a couple of surgery rotations. I know I’ve got good hands. Just tell me what to do and I’ll give it a shot.”

  What the hell. She couldn’t do worse than I was.

  “OK,” I said, changing places with her. “The kinked wire is to trick the pins into dropping. There’s five, maybe six, but probably five pins you have to control.”

  Rachel looked at the bent wire as I spoke.

  “Think of the bends as the points on the teeth of a key. When you feel a pin, push against it, and if you’re in the right spot you’ll feel it move into place. Get them all and use the other wire for leverage to turn the cylinder and unlock the door.”

  She nodded, peered at the keyhole for a moment, then inserted the first wire. I let her work. Didn’t try to offer advice, or critique how she was doing. It was damn hard, but I kept my mouth shut and maintained a scan of the open area behind us.

  About a minute later there was the snick of metal followed by the scraping sound of a retracting latch bolt. I looked at Rachel’s beaming face with my mouth hanging open. She reached up and gently patted my cheek.

  “I had a good teacher,” she whispered.

  Shaking my head, I waved her behind me and took position. This time, the knob turned easily in my hand. Grumbling internally, I cracked the door an inch and paused. Looked and listened.

  It was completely dark inside and I didn’t detect any sound, so I pulled slowly until the door was fully open. Still quiet, the air musty. I moved inside, quickly stepping out of the door so I wasn’t silhouetted by the moonlight. Rachel followed a moment later and I pulled her away from the opening and reached out and shut the door behind us.

  We stood perfectly still for several minutes. Listening. Waiting. But we apparently had made it inside, undetected. Clicking on one of the lights the Rangers had left with me, I attached it to my rifle and scanned the space.

  We were standing in a long, wide hallway. The walls were covered with cork boards that held various papers attached with thumbtacks. Work schedules for the employees. There were the normal posters stating the legal minimum wage, the rights of the workers, and that the employer screened all applicants for illegal drug use.

  Walking forward, we passed two locker rooms, one for each gender, and a large break room with half a dozen tables and a scattering of chairs. Continuing on, a door to the left opened into a restaurant kitchen, then the hall ended at a pair of swinging doors.

  I probably should have cleared each room as we passed it, but if I did that it would take hours just to get through the first floor. The hotel was big, and there were only two of us. I was betting that the men who had taken Irina had holed up here because the building was secure and free of infected. If I was wrong, well…

  The swinging doors opened into a public area, and I turned off the flashlight before pushing one of them open a few inches. I looked out at a large, glass fronted lobby. Plush carpeting, nicely upholstered furniture and a granite topped reception desk. There was enough light from the moon coming through the windows for me to see most of the space.

  There were some dark areas where
an infected, or sentry, might by lying in wait. But not many. All of the glass at the front of the lobby was intact, and nothing was in disarray. It was almost like every guest and employee had just calmly walked out. Maybe they had. Maybe there’d been an evacuation order before things got really bad.

  Pulling back, I let the door swing shut and described what I’d seen to Rachel.

  “Where do we start?” She asked when I was finished.

  “Garage. Then the top floor,” I said.

  “Why?”

  “Garage in case they left a guard on their vehicle. Top floor because that’s where I’d be,” I said, having already thought this through. “Less noticeable in case the infected happen to breach the lobby level. Also, best way to have a commanding view of the surrounding area.”

  She thought about my logic for a moment then agreed. We pushed through the swinging doors and stepped into the lobby.

  40

  We found the stairs easily. Moving through the door, we lost the moonlight and I had to turn on my flashlight again. Standing on the ground level landing, I paused to look over the area.

  To our front, the concrete steps descended, probably heading down to the garage where the captors had parked. To our right, a flight headed up. Stepping forward, I closely examined the stairwell. Hoping to see signs of a bound woman being carried or dragged up the stairs. I didn’t see any, but that meant nothing.

  Signaling to Rachel, I headed down. At the bottom of a long flight of stairs, I killed my light as we approached the door that opened into the garage. It was made of steel with a tall, narrow, wire reinforced window running most of its height on the handle side.

  Sidling up, I peered through. And saw a dim light on the far side of a vehicle. Jessica had said they’d been driving an SUV, and the outline I could see looked very much like a Jeep Cherokee. I watched the light for nearly a minute, not seeing any movement. It didn’t guarantee there was a guard in the garage, but I couldn’t think of a reason for it to be there otherwise.

  Standing post in a pitch black, underground space would be a royal pain in the ass. Humans rely heavily on our sight. Take that away suddenly by thrusting a sentry into an environment completely devoid of light, and funny things will happen.

  Every noise and smell is magnified as the other senses try to compensate. The mind plays tricks. Imagination runs wild, inventing things that aren’t there. A leaf blowing in the wind will sound like a monster slithering across the floor on its way to crush you in its slimy embrace. This induces fear, which triggers a huge adrenaline dump into the bloodstream. For a bit, you’re hyper-alert. But when nothing happens, and the adrenaline burns off, you’re left feeling tired. Sleepy.

  The military recognized this a long time ago and dealt with it in many different ways. Frequent changes of the guard. Shorter times on post. Two man teams instead of solo. Today, night vision helps soldiers on sentry duty stay focused and alert.

  I had maintained watch as these thoughts tumbled through my head. Now, I was rewarded when there was the sudden flare of a match. I didn’t see it, but saw the dancing, orange light on the walls and ceiling beyond the SUV. It went out a moment later and a cloud of cigarette smoke swirled in the dim light I’d first spotted. A second later, it went out, too.

  Continuing to watch, I saw the faint glow of the burning tobacco reflected on a smooth, concrete wall every time the man took a drag. This let me fix his position, even though I couldn’t see him. He was at floor level, probably sitting with his back resting against the front tire on the far side of the vehicle.

  Leaning close, I mumbled in Rachel’s ear for her to stay in the stairwell. I felt her hair brush my face as she nodded, then I slowly pushed on the crash bar that would release the door’s latch. I wanted to take this guy out. Didn’t like the idea of leaving him down here to come running if I couldn’t silently disable all of Irina’s captors. Also, this wouldn’t be a bad escape route for us once we had her.

  Make a dash down the stairs and hop in the Jeep. Drive it out of the garage and to the waiting Hummer, a mile away. It shouldn’t be a problem finding the keys. In fact, they might be hanging in the ignition. I needed to check after I took out the guard.

  The latch released without making any noise, and I pushed on the door, hoping like hell the maintenance staff had kept the hinges well oiled. Apparently they had, as it swung silently. Moving through the opening, I paused to control the closing, making sure it was just as quiet.

  The Jeep was about twenty yards away, no other vehicles between us. I covered the first ten, stepping cautiously on the outside edges of my feet. I couldn’t see a damn thing other than the occasional glow of the cigarette on the wall. If there was any debris on the floor and I stepped on it, or kicked it, I was in a bad spot. Nowhere to go to seek cover from the fire that would almost certainly start coming my way.

  Sweating again, I focused on each step. Made sure one foot was firmly planted before I lifted the other. Was careful as I put it down to feel for anything before transferring my weight onto it. This is a damn slow way to move, but the only way when you have to be as silent as is possible for a human being.

  The final ten yards were covered an inch at a time. It was painfully quiet in the garage and I was sure I could hear my own heartbeat. I could definitely hear the soft sizzle of the burning cigarette when the man inhaled, as well as the low sigh when he exhaled smoke.

  I froze when he turned his light back on. This time, I could tell that it was a small, LED lamp. He was holding it up and I got a look at it in the sudden brilliance. It was an inspection light used to see down the barrel of a weapon when you’re cleaning it. Not bright at all, but compared to the perfect darkness it was startling.

  There was a scraping sound as he ground out his cigarette, and I quickly covered the final two yards to the side of the Jeep while he was occupied. I had already drawn my knife and started to step towards the front of the vehicle. Planned to get close enough to make a lunge and catch him by surprise when I buried the blade in his chest.

  I stopped when his foot scraped on the floor and he slowly stood. His back was to me as he extended his arms and stretched. Quickly sheathing the knife, I pulled my rifle around. If he was going to make it easy, I wasn’t going to complain.

  The muzzle was aligned with the back of his head, my finger tightening on the trigger, when he began speaking. I was caught completely off guard when I heard Russian. At first I’d thought he was talking on a radio, then realized he was just mumbling to himself as he kept stretching kinks out of his back.

  Dismissing my surprise, I pulled the trigger. Even with the suppressor, the shot was loud in the still, echoing garage. The Russian’s head snapped forward and he pitched lifeless to the floor with a muted series of thuds. I dashed around the front of the Jeep and put another round in him, just to make sure.

  Stepping forward, I avoided the blood and snatched up the small light, turning it towards the corpse. Russian Spetsnaz uniform. Until now, I’d only seen him briefly, outlined by the light. Hadn’t realized who and what he was. Or that he was drinking. A one-third empty bottle of vodka sat next to the Jeep’s front tire. That explained his carelessness.

  Rifling through pockets, I found several personal items, but nothing of interest. What was enticing was the suppressed AKMS rifle slung across his chest. Working it free, I grabbed six spare magazines out of pouches on his gear and stuffed them into my pockets.

  Leaving the body where it was, I headed for the stairs, then reversed course when I remembered to check for the Jeep’s keys. Running up to the passenger window, I directed the light inside and saw them dangling from the ignition.

  Turning, I jogged back to the stairwell door. Rachel saw me coming and popped it open.

  “We good?” She asked as I came into the stairwell.

  “Yes and no,” I said. “The guard is down, but it’s not some locals like I thought. We found our missing Russians.”

  “What? That was a Russian? You sure
?”

  “Don’t know anyone from Nebraska that speaks the language and wears a Spetsnaz uniform. Or carries one of these,” I said, holding the rifle up to the light.

  “What the hell’s going on? Do you think they’re here for Irina?”

  “No way,” I shook my head. “There’s no way they knew she was going to be here.”

  “Then what?”

  I thought about that for a beat before shrugging.

  “Doesn’t matter. All that does is that we have a much deadlier opponent holding Irina than I expected.”

  “But they don’t know we’re here,” Rachel said.

  “That helps if we continue to catch them completely by surprise. But even then, they’ll react a whole lot faster than someone who isn’t trained. But we’ve got one big advantage.”

  “What?”

  “They’re drinking. At least this guy was. Hopefully, they feel safe and their guard will be down. Otherwise…”

  “So, how do we do this?”

  “Very carefully,” I said, realizing how corny it sounded the instant it came out of my mouth.

  41

  We headed up the stairs, moving very slowly. I had given Rachel her rifle back and was carrying the captured Russian weapon. Finally, both of us were outfitted with suppressors, but in the tomb-like silence of the hotel it didn’t make that much difference. It helped, but we still had to be careful.

  I held the small, LED light in my left hand as we climbed. My fingers were wrapped around it, only allowing a couple of small slivers of light to escape. Just enough to see as we ascended so we didn’t trip on the edge of a step or trigger a booby trap.

  Actually, I was fully expecting to find one of the latter. These were special forces soldiers. Unless they’d forgotten all of the training that had been drilled into them, they would have prepared a few little welcoming treats for uninvited guests.

 
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