The Zalozhniy Quartet

The Odessa underground

Duck, Donald!

Stockholm

The feeling of being hunted had faded. Russia and Austria were pointing fingers at the CIA for Vienna, and no-ones pointed anything at the team for three weeks. The Euro was in trouble. Strikes paralysed European manufacturing. The news was full of normal stuff again.

The rented suite looked like Somerset and Sergei had been hiding in it for two weeks and smelled like Somerset lost the battle about smoking. Buying air freshener was too painful after Zurich.
Patrick was offline in Ireland sorting out his affairs.

After a quick discussion, the three agree their next best lead was the Crimea. Iraq was tempting, but there was still much that was unclear.

Katya left a message for Donald Caroll arranging a meeting. Sergei briefed us about him from the Lennart dossier. Donald was an American with a Russian passport. He advised the Ukraine on the US, watched the Black Sea fleet movements out of Sevastopol, and made a living in the middle ground between countries.

Sergei’s made arrangements to get shipped to Sevastopol in a sea container. He persuaded Somerset to join him on the week long imprisonment, and offered Katya a space. She looked at him with disgust, booked a business class flight and spent the week exercising off the Dubai food.

Sevastopol

Carroll’s holiday home overlooked Karantynna Bay, Sevastopol.
The sun glinted off the grey warships cruising in and out of the Black Sea Fleet’s base. A submarine powered out on the surface, crewmen visible on the topside. Katya watched them pass.

The smoke from Donald’s BBQ drifted across the lawn, and his young Russian girlfriend brought out bottles of imported beer before tottering back into the house. Donald took a drink, then leaned forward, intense.

“Nate tells me you lot are top dollar. So, I got a puzzle for you. A few months ago a friend from Langley tells me there’s US armaments turning up in Odessa. Cash and materiel going AWOL in Iraq. The crates’re RFID tagged so his man tracks ‘em from Iraq to Samsun, Turkey and there they’re shipped across in freighters to Odessa, which is where his man gets gutted. Very literally.” He snorted.

“Now, there are many organised crime groups in Odessa, and my friend wants to know who is getting military-grade weaponry. He needs actionable evidence to back it up, since oversight committees and nonsense. I, myself, am not welcome in Ukraine no more, so I’m offering this work to you guys.”

“How much is your friend willing to pay for this work?” Sergei asked bluntly. He was still sore about the lack of reward from Zurich.
“He’ll stump up 250k. Dollars. Across all of you that is. I’ll add to that some of my assistance and favours called in.”
Katya, Sergei and Somerset made quick eye-contact, agree.
“Deal” said Sergei, “Now what information do you have already?”
“Well, great! Nate said I could count on you guys. Marta! More drinks!” he yelled over his shoulder to the house.

“The next shipment is coming in on the SS Yelkenci in two days. The crates and armaments are all RFID tagged, and I got a reader that’ll ping when you’re near ‘em. Get into the warehouse, check ’em out and then watch to see who picks ’em up. A Russian admiral owes me one, so there’s a motorboat full of Naval Infantry on standby in case you need assistance.”
He checked our faces to see if we’re impressed with his power and influence.
“What about paperwork and upfront expenses?” Sergei asked, unimpressed.
“Hell, I can get passports and papers to get you in there. Another favour from me to you. And I’ll advance you $20k, OK?.”

Odessa

The train to Odessa was old and slow, like the border police. They checked passports, the ones Caroll supplied passed inspection.
It has been a month or so since they were last in Odessa, and they headed for Sergei’s safehouse to collect the Merc and guns left behind. Sergei reappeared with a small assault rifle.

Somerset and Katya took shifts on the roof of a nearby office block, Sergei got work in the docks. The Yelkenci appeared on time, wallowing heavily. Somerset watched from the roof, Sergei from a jetty, as a Police speedboat zoomed out to meet it, and escorted it away from the normal dock area. It took time to arrive, and Sergei got into position at Berth 22, where it was headed.

On the dockside were two trucks and six armed guards standing around, smoking. As the Yelkenci ties up, the crew disembarked and Sergei saw cash exchanged from the guards to the crew. They started unloading crates fast, into the trucks. To do this so openly, the Police and Port authorities must be corrupt.

Sergei read out the truck registrations over tacnet. Then he stopped, one of the boxes being loaded looked like a coffin. Maybe it was missiles. Missiles in an oddly coffin-shaped box.

Somerset and Katya waited in their Merc on a side road, watching the port road exit. The trucks came roaring out. They were not hanging around, and Somerset struggled to keep them in sight as they barged through traffic and intersections. No police stopped them.

Eventually they turned off into an anonymous warehouse in Odessa’s industrial zone. There were armed guards obviously on the roof, and Katya pointed out another guard on a nearby roof, overlooking the entrance. The RFID reader from Donald was pinging away. The armaments were there.

Katya disguised herself as a homeless person and took first watch. She slowly wandered around the warehouse block, scouting. It was wire-fenced all around. One exit from the building. By the main road she spotted a couple of Civil Police sat in a patrol car, watching the traffic.

Four hours later, as it got dark, Somerset and Sergei met up with Katya a couple of streets away and planned the intrusion. She’ll stay outside and watch, they’ll go in and check out the warehouse.

Guards walked the perimeter of the warehouse regularly, Somerset studied their routine. In the six minutes one side is not watched, he and Sergei climb over the fence and into the warehouse.
It was dark inside, but they could make out several crates with Cyrillic and Arabic writing. Sergei flipped through paperwork on a clipboard hung nearby. Nothing obvious. Somerset waved the RFID reader around, but there’s no bleep. Where have the armaments gone?

Sergei spotted a large trapdoor in the floor. He cautiously lifted it, there was a concrete ramp leading down, below the ground. Sergei updated Katya over tacnet, and they crept down into the dark, weapons ready.

The ramp continued for longer than it should. The floor and walls changed from concrete to brick to rough limestone. Sergei whispered “I remember now, there are catacombs below Odessa. Old mine workings.”
The RFID tracker bleeped, faintly. They followed the tunnel, the bleeps getting stronger.
Ahead there was light and Russian voices.
The first voice was angry, defensive. The second was quieter, a hoarse whisper.
Then a third voice.
“Doctor, I’ll get it back for you, it’s not lost.” Somerset’s blood ran cold, that was Blaise’s voice. A French agent who disappeared, presumed dead a year or two ago.

Katya watched the outside of the warehouse from a dark corner, well away from street lights. There was little outside movement, but instinct told her the guards were alert. Another two trucks roared round the corner, and braked hard at the warehouse. Armed troops jumped out the back, and double-timed into the warehouse, machine guns at the ready. They must have found Somerset and Sergei.
Katya tried the tacnet, but there was no answer, no signal. What could she do?

Sergei and Somerset sneaked closer to the light and voices. They edged onto a small wooden landing at the end of the tunnel that overlooked a large room. The voices came up from below. The air smelt strongly of rot and damp. They peered carefully over the edge of the landing.

Wooden crates filled the chamber below, dozens of armed men moved around, but what caught their eye was a US army-issue coffin in the middle of the room, with an American soldier in it. Bending over it was a man, the Doctor maybe, injecting the corpse. Standing behind him was Marco Schwetz and Lili Blaise.
Something didn’t feel right to Sergei, he studied them for a minute.
“Somerset! Lili is not breathing. Her chest doesn’t move.”

Marco started to speak again, Lili turned and with one hand lifted Marco off the ground by his throat. Marco struggled, gagging, but couldn’t overcome Lili’s one hand. Then.

The world shifted likes it had been badly edited. Phones beeped, the effect rippling out.
Somerset and Sergei felt double heart beats.

Disconnection.

Suddenly Blaise was there, standing two feet away on the platform looking at them.

On the surface, Katya decided she needed to arrange a distraction, she slipped round a corner and called the Naval Infantry officer, Krupin. She ordered them here ASAP, in commanding Russian. The NCO jumped, he’ll be there in five.
Then she dialled Donald. He ought to be aware.

Donald answered the phone breathless, noisy. He was running.
“It’s all gone to shit! Come on Marta! Lisky Bratva are big players, if they catch us we’re dead! They’re onto me..”
Loud helicopter blades drowned out his voice. Then Marta screamed.
Donald shouted down the phone “Katya, we’re heading for safe house in Vienna. If we don’t make it check locker 827 lost luggage..”
There was a loud explosion, the sound of metal tearing. Breaking glass. Engines screaming, humans screaming.

The sounds stopped.

Katya felt a disconnect, the phone line was still open, but the crashing noises have stopped. Mobiles beeped at the other end, getting fainter.
Katya listened hard, trying to make out what’s happening.

“We will kill you if we can” A female voice calmly told her down the line.
“We’ll kill you first!” Katya snapped back and hung up. Then she took the phone battery out and threw the bits away from her. Childish threat. What the hell happened?

Underground, Somerset reacted instantly, he snap kicked Blaise in the chest. Who fell backward off the platform, surprised. Sergei and Somerset sprinted back up the tunnel. If Blaise was another Thaler, they were in deep trouble.

The tunnel split and branched off, dark holes headed in all directions. Sergei was pulling out the tranquiliser gun, Somerset fished out a cigarette packet bomb. Time to smoke indoors.

Ahead there were voices and torch light, behind they could hear footsteps approaching fast. Sergei tried to recall what he knew of the layout of the tunnels. There were miles of them beneath the city. People often got lost and died in them. They might.

“Here!” Sergei tapped Somerset’s shoulder, and they diverted left down a side passage. There was a large space with more crates. Stamped with US Army stencils. Sergei swung the gun up to cover the entrance, Somerset levered open one of the nearest. M16A2’s and magazines. Somerset stuffed magazines into a hip pocket, and grabbed a couple of rifles. The noise behind had faded, maybe they’ve lost the guards?
But now they could both clearly hear running footsteps, a single person, approaching. The footsteps didn’t pause or vary.
“I think there’s a church crypt somewhere near here” Sergei said.

Quickly and quietly they weaved through passages, until they came across a set of bars. A metal grate was padlocked shut. Somerset paused, then sprayed the lock with bullets, it sparked and disintegrated. Sergei yanked it open, and ran into the cool stone crypt. Somerset flicked the switch on the fake cigarette packet, and threw it back down the passage.

As they exited up the stairs into the empty church, the ground shook from the underground explosion. They pushed over a large cross, blocking the entrance to the crypt, dumped the rifles on a pew and walked into the street, trying to look innocent.

Across the street, armed men looked straight at them, pointed and ran towards them, readying weapons.

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