Chapter 12

Nadovev, Ricky, Arkady, and Iosif met at the back of the store having swept it thoroughly. So far, nothing had been found. It appeared as though someone had already gone through the place. All the money from the cash registers had been taken. Non-perishable food items had been taken as well. They wouldn’t have been very good for anyone, they would have had high levels of radiation. The only section of the building they hadn’t searched was the stock room in the back. There might even be a basement attached to it. The group huddled around the double doors that lead to the stock room.

            Nadovev turned his head towards the door, “let’s do this,” he kicked one of the double doors open and stepped inside. The squad followed him in keeping a semi-circle of coverage with their backs to the wall. Shelving for merchandise packed in crates and pallets were all around. They reached nearly eight meters tall. Towering orange steel giants glinting from the light of their headlamps. Most of the pallets and crates were still unopened. Every now and then some merchandise stuck out of one. Odd that the scavengers didn’t bother to try climbing up to get at some of the expensive stuff. Ricky himself wondered what were on those shelves.

            They moved as a group among the shelves looking for any sign of hidden entrances. Ricky’s mind was a drift looking at all the merchandise that could be stolen to get some heroin. He suddenly realised how much it was on his mind. He had to keep focused or he was going to make a mistake. But really, some of those higher shelves had what looked like jewelry in them. He gave a moment of thought to going up there and getting it. He couldn’t do it right now, the squad would snap at him for going scavenging while they were looking for something important. Man, I need a fix, he said to himself.

            Nadovev noticed a huge crack in the floor near one of the support pillars for the shelving units, “watch yourselves, there’s a crack in the floor,” he told them.

            The squad looked down and manoeuvred around it. Ricky distracted, stepped right on it. A cracking noise came from the floor and Ricky looked down. As he did the floor gave way, dropping him into the darkness. As the floor started to crumble, a metal creaking sound came from the shelving unit. The rest of the squad made a break for it as it started to tip over. With an ungodly tearing metal shrieking sound the shelf fell over. A thunderous boom shook the whole building as it hit the ground. Other shelves rocked back and forth, but they didn’t fall. What seemed like fifty pounds of dirt and dust fell from the ceiling coating the remaining members and the immediate area.

            “What the hell was that?” Camera blared into his PDA.

            Coughing from the dust Nadovev said, “We’ve had a bit of an accident, stand by.”

            Nadovev raised his head up raining dust off of him onto the ground. He looked around and saw Iosif and Arkady also rising up. Iosif looked like a menacing ghost rising from the grave. All of them were disoriented. Their bones felt as though someone had rattled them around in an earthquake. Arkady’s head was pounding with pain, he must have hit his head on something. The shelving unit was hanging halfway down the hole in the floor. A ton of merchandise had spilled down into the hole as well. It was all over the place, covering everything.

            “Where’s Ricky?” Nadovev asked. They began calling out his name looking for him. Iosif moved a several piles of merchandise looking him. Arkady was coughing his way through piles of dust. Nadovev stopped and listened. He swore he heard some moaning. He crawled over to the hole in the floor and shined his headlamp down. He suddenly spotted Ricky barely conscious, moaning in a pile of dust and merchandise. His head appeared to be bleeding. But he could’ve been hurt much worse. He could probably have a broken leg.

            “Ricky!” Nadovev called out, “can you hear me? Ricky wake up!”

            At the sound of Nadovev’s calls, Ricky began to come to. His vision was blinded by a mountain of dust. It was everywhere, his eyes, mouth, ears, and a good quantity in his lungs. He began coughing it out as he recognised Nadovev’s voice. He was half buried in rubble and merchandise. He felt something pinching his legs. His mind was swimming in a sea of disorientation. Eventually he summoned the strength to answer, “yea, yea, I’m here.”

            Nadovev spoke into his PDA, “it’s all right, Ricky fell through a weak spot in the floor,” he told Camera, “we just need a minute to get things back together.”

            With some pain and effort Ricky managed to dig himself out of the mess he was buried under. He looked up to see the other members of the squad standing around the hole he fell into. They looked concerned, expect for Iosif, who seemed amused by his accident. He waved at them to let them know he was okay. Struggling to his feet, he noticed that his leg was stiff and sore.

            “Are you alright?” Nadovev called out to him again.

            Ricky wiped more dust from his mouth and said, “yeah, I’m fine, just got a bruised leg I think.”

            “All right we have to get you out of there. Can you see a staircase or anything?” Nadovev asked, “anything at all?”

            Ricky began to take in his surroundings. While it was dark, almost pitch black where his headlamp couldn’t reach, he sensed things around him. “Wait, give me a moment here,” he said, ‘let me check this place out.” As he stepped further into the shadows he began to make out some of his surroundings. More crates and pallets were lined up against the wall. As he approached, he could see that the labels on the crates were covered with dust. With his left hand, he reached out and wiped a thick layer off of it. The label clearly read “Soviet Military.”

            “Hey,” he called up to the squad, “I found something here.”

            Ricky started looking for an opening to the crate. There was no obvious lid, he was going to have the pry it open with something. He began looking around for a metal rod, or something to get the container open. He spent about a minute or so digging through the fallen merchandise and mountain of dust. When he came up from his search he had a box of tools. Ricky pulled out his combat knife and ripped open the packaging around the tool set. He tossed the plastic wrapper on the floor, then reached in. They were rusted only a little bit, but they would get the job done. He pulled out a heavy flathead screwdriver. He raced back to the crate and began trying to pry it open. The crate was old and stubborn, refusing to give way to its contents.

            By this time the rest of the squad had found the staircase to the basement. Off to the side, concrete formed with a metal handrail. They jogged down the steps carefully and made their way over to Ricky. It sounded like he’d found something good. As they approached, they found Ricky trying to pry open a crate. Nadovev clearly saw the stenciling on the side of it that said “Soviet Military.” Ricky was struggling with the crate something fierce. He was reefing on the screwdriver the best he could to no success. The crate had been sealed well. If only they had a proper crowbar.

            “Get over there and help him,” Nadovev said to Iosif.

            Iosif carefully made his way over the treacherous ground of dust and merchandise. Once or twice he almost lost his balance. Eventually he made his way over to the crate and stuck his hand out to Ricky offering to help.

            “All yours big man,” Ricky said defeated in his efforts, “good luck”, his tone was utterly sarcastic.

            Iosif put down his machine gun and took over the job. He stood straight and got his feet planted the best he could. He placed both hands on the large screwdriver. With monumental force Iosif pushed down on the screwdriver. A few seconds later the top of the crate popped right off. He stood back and looked that the crate lid on the floor with pride. They all came close and peered inside the crate… it was full of smaller boxes that contained F-1 hand grenades.

            “Well, now, what have we here,” Nadovev said. He reached into the crate and pulled out one of the grenades. He looked it over and determined that it was still good to go. Of course to know that a hundred percent they’d have to throw one.

            “Looks like we got ourselves some free grenades,” Ricky said, “I’m almost glad I fell down that hole.” He scooped up a few of them and started stuffing them in various empty pockets. He was intent on taking as much as he could carry.

            “Well boys,” Naodvev said, “we don’t often get a bounty like this. Take all that your heart desires.”

            The squad, including Nadovev, dug right in opening the smaller boxes and snatching up as many hand grenades as they could. It truly was a feast of handheld explosives. There was a near childlike glee on their faces as they scooped up the prize.

            Nadovev pulled his head up from the feasting and took out his PDA. “Camera, we found a crate of hand grenades and have decided to loot it,” he said, “how many do you want?” he asked.

            “We’ve got a problem right now chief,” Camera replied, “I’ve spotted a squad of duty soldiers closing in on our location. And I think it’s the squad I hit earlier. They seem angry and looking for revenge.”

As Duty approached the building Captain Mikalish sent two men forward to scout the outside of the building. They reported back that they suspected that someone was inside. The captain maintained that the large crashing nose that had caused them to stop had come from that very building. The whole situation seemed suspicious to him. He’d be willing to wager a month’s pay that this is where that great crashing sound had come from. After the incident in the woods, he was going to take things slowly, and more carefully. They’d already heard the awful cries of the Bloodsucker some time ago. Whoever was shooting at it had been in it deep.

            The two men acting as scouts ran ahead of the squad and circled around the building from opposite sides. Taking their time they looked over all the possible entrances, and checked all the windows for movement. It was quite dark out and their headlamps and rifle mounted flashlights fared poorly against the darkness. The whole squad had been rather disturbed by the sudden approach of night. In the back of some men’s minds, it would appear as a bad omen. The captain wasn’t a man of superstition, he was a man looking for revenge on whoever had embarrassed his squad in the woods.

            Coming back to him the scouts reported that the main entrance had been entered recently. The swish marks on the floor showed where the door had been recently opened. From the windows they could see that too much of the dust was airborne for it to have been remained sealed. They estimated that whoever had breached the building was probably still in there. The captain decided that they best take this easy, and carefully. He called up his immediate subordinate, Lieutenant Vesuvius.

            “Lieutenant,” the captain said, “I want you to take half the squad and head around the side entrance. I’ll take the other half and head through the front door. I want you to leave two men behind as lookouts, understood?”

            “Yes, sir,” he answered.

            “I have a feeling that the guys who hit us are in this building,” the captain said, “I don’t know how I know this, I just got a gut feeling … Now move out.”

            The two men split the squad in half and led each to their designated entrance point. Lieutenant Vesuvius ordered two men to stand guard while they went inside. As they jogged to the front of the building, the captain asked if everyone was ready. All points radioed in the affirmative. The captain satisfied with their plan ordered the building search a go. The seventeen men made their way into the building, spitting out as much light as possible. The silhouettes of the moving Duty members made them look like an elite Spetsnaz group storming the stronghold of an enemy force. Boots rang out on the floor as tight drilled and trained men began making their way through the building. If they were here, revenge would be his.

“They’re in the building, you have to get out now!” Camera blurted into his PDA.

            He had watched the squad approach the building too late. They had come from behind him so he couldn’t see them. He hoped his warning was enough. Camera managed to catch the leader of the squad give out orders from his second story window. They seemed to be taking a standard two prong approach to seizing the building. He hoped his squad was capable of squeezing their way out of it.

            “You all heard that,” Nadovev said, “we have to get out of here now.”

            Heavy feet could be heard above them as the Duty squad made their way through the building. They didn’t have much time. The squad stopped their looting and followed their leader up the stairs. Their best chance for escape was the roll up doors on the loading dock. They quickly dashed through the stock room to one of the doors. Nadovev reached down to open it only to find that it was locked. He reefed on it a few times, but gave up. He spotted a padlock on the side of it and cursed.

            “We need this God damn lock open,” he told the squad.

            “We don’t have any tools, we’ll have to smash it,” Ricky said.

            “If we do that,” Arkady said, “they’ll be all over us in an instant.”

            “Oh, and you got a better idea?” Ricky said mockingly.

            “Stop it,” Nadovev said, “here’s the plan, Iosif do what you can to break this lock. There’s a hammer over there. The rest of us will cover him while he goes to work.”

            The squad got into position while Iosif grabbed the hammer. Nadovev counted down from the three on his hand and Iosif began hammering away on the lock. Nadovev knew this was going to be a close one. Too close. Already Arkady was getting shaky, he wondered if it was possible for the Star Loop’s effects to wear off.

BANG!

            The men of the Duty squad froze. They tried to identify the source of the sound, but it was echoing off the walls of the sales floor.

            BANG!

            A second noise pierced the near silence. This time the captain had determined that the sound was coming from the back of the store in the stock room. He gathered up some men and headed there to investigate. His heart began to hammer, he knew they were going to engage the enemy soon. That sound was most likely coming from them. He psyched himself up for the moment of engagement. They were only a few meters from the door to the stock room. He called them to a halt and ordered one man in to take a look.

            BANG!

            The man jogged up to the front and stopped at the door. He reached his hand out and slowly pushed the door open. Gradually the big plastic utility door began to open. He held his rifle at the ready in his free hand, prepared to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice. A few seconds later the door was open. He could see the headlamps from Radiochemical Company beaming across the floor, and on the door itself. They were on the opposite side, the Duty man using the door as cover.

            BANG!

            The man carefully began to stick his head around the corner of the door to see who was there. The moment the crown of his head went past the edge a stream of bullets went his way! He pulled his head back and heard them ricochet off the floor and door! He’d come so close to being shot. This was going to be a hard one. They had the great cover of being on the positive side of the entrance. He immediately backed off and met with the captain about what to do next.

            BANG!

“Damn it,” Ricky said, “I was sure I’d got him.”

            The three members of the squad had opened fire on the first sign of someone trying to enter the stock room. It wasn’t going to be long before Duty made its way in. They were highly trained professionals, they could overwhelm them quickly.

            BANG!

            “The lock is beginning to give,” Iosif said, “I just need a few more good whacks at it.”

            The men were getting nervous. This was taking too long. Duty would be on them at any moment. Suddenly an idea occurred to Nadovev.

            “Who here has an accurate arm?” he asked.

            Ricky put his hand up, “I played baseball in college,” he said.

            “Good,” Nadovev replied, “take a few of those new grenades and start throwing them at the other door so they bounce off into the Duty squad. That ought to keep them ducking and buy as a few more moments.”

            BANG!

            Ricky got up to his feet and took a pitcher’s stance. He pulled out a grenade and pulled the pin.  He cooked it for a few seconds, then threw it against the opposite side door edge. The grenade reflected off the door edge and sailed right into the midst of the Duty squad hiding behind it. A brief cocky smile flashed across his face.

            They heard several voices of the Duty squad scream “grenade” then scramble away. The explosion was fairly loud and satisfying. They hoped at least a few Duty men had been injured in the blast. A few causalities would slow them down. They could only guess if anyone had been hurt. Ricky reached down and prepared another grenade to throw. He threw the second with as much accuracy he had the first. This time there was a shriek of pain.

BANG!

            The captain grabbed a hole of the screaming man and dragged him clear. He was lucky, it was only a shrapnel wound in his leg. With luck he’d be back to soldiering with no ill effects after recovery. A squad medic ran over and began attending to the injured man. He’d had enough of this. There were clearly some armatures behind that door and it was making them look incompetent. Losing his temper at the situation he drew his side arm and approached the door. Quickly he whipped his arm around it and fired off a few shots. He heard someone squeal out in pain.

            Good, he thought. These assholes have made us look bad enough as it is.

            He changed the clip in his side arm and prepared to fire off more shots. He stuck his arm around the corner again, but this time they fired back before he could get a shot off. One of them hit the back of his hand. He dropped his side arm and pulled his hand back.  There was a gash on it, the bullet had just grazed him. A few stitches and it would be closed up. Cradling his hand against his chest, he was angrier than he’d ever been.

Ricky was lying on the ground with a bullet wound in his left shoulder. It was superficial, but it hurt like Hell. Nadovev was reaching over Ricky trying to take care of the wound as Arkady fired back. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d hit the guy’s hand. The man’s pistol fell to the floor, so it was a pretty good bet.

            A scraping metal noise cut through the commotion as Iosif finally got the lock off and the roll up door and opened it. Immediately they began moving out into the shipping yard dropping off the loading dock. Iosif had to drag Ricky out of the building. The bandage Nadovev placed on him was quickly turning red. Iosif picked him up and threw him over shoulder as they began to make their getaway. Both Nadovev and Arkady threw a grenade into the stock room to keep them at bay longer. Then they shut the roll up door and took off.

            Ricky started struggling against Iosif, “get off me you big idiot!” he exclaimed.

            Ricky shook himself loose from the man’s grip and fell to the pavement, which clearly caused him considerable pain. He got up and started running with them.

            “I was trying to help you,” Iosif said.

            “I don’t need any help from you,” he replied acridly.

            They kept running. They turned left at a chain link fence and took off down the street.

Lieutenant Vesuvius ran over to the captain to give him and update. They’d managed to breach the stockroom from another entrance, but they had gotten away. The captain slammed his good fist on the wall and cursed quite colourfully as the medic attempted to stitch up his hand.

            They got us again, he said to himself raging inside.