I was challenged to tell a story in Ten Little Chapters.
Lieutenant Richards looked up from the orders with a frown.
“I don’t like this, sir.”
“What’s to like?” The colonel didn’t look at his subordinate as he circled the map on the table in the center of the room. “They’ve got intelligence, they’re pinned down, and they need extraction.”
“This is deep in enemy territory. In a civilian area, sir. And we may need to work around hardened positions equipped with anti-air.”
“That’s why I bought you in, Richards. You and your team are legendary for this sort of thing.”
Richards shook his head. “Don’t use that word, sir. It’ll go to their heads.”
“You told him this is bullshit, right?”
Richards looked at Sergeant McNally. The enlisted woman had her arms crossed, and her freckles were scrunched in a frown.
“Not in so many words, but yes.”
“Should’ve used those words,” Corporal Collins offered. “Easier than beating ’round the bush.”
“So what’s the plan, then?” Corporal Nicheyev was never one for waiting. “Surely you have one, sir.”
“Of course he does,” McNally said, “and don’t call him ‘Shirley’.”
“Seriously. The four of us, this bunch of fortifications, and no air support?” Collins frowned. “This had better be good, boss.”
Collins listened closely to what he was being told. After a moment, he turned to the others with a shrug.
“He’s asking for a hell of a lot of money to show us the way.”
“He’s probably afraid he’ll catch a bullet.” Nicheyev shrugged, adjusting the rifle on his shoulder. “I would be.”
Richards rubbed his forehead, pushing the turban back a bit. It kept falling towards his eyes. “Collins, pay the man.”
“You can win it back from me next time we throw down some Hold ‘Em,” McNally said with a nudge.
“You all suck.”
Collins paid the man.
“I want to go record that this plan sucks ass.”
“What was that, Collins?”
“You heard me, sir!”
“Half the town will hear you if you keep that up,” Nicheyev reminded his compatriot.
“Fuck you. We’re at least a klick outside of the town, I’m waist-deep in sewage, and I’ll need to shower for a damn year after we get these geeks out of Hotel de-”
McNally hissed, holding up her fist. The four of them froze, lowering their weapons from where they’d carried them over their heads.
The truck above them shook gravel loose into the sewer.
The nice thing about civilized areas is that they needed to put down walkways for sewer workers. The bad news was, the rusty grilles were noisy at anything faster than a slow walk.
“Nicheyev, get some eyes up there.”
The corporal slipped past Richards, the snake-like camera in his hand. He gently worked the tube up the pipe and took a look.
“Not yet. Seems to be a bathroom.”
McNally glanced over her shoulder. “Hostage-takers gotta shit, too.”
“I know, but… hang on.”
There was a pause. Slowly, Nicheyev pulled down the camera. He blushed at the others.
“Wrong house. Definitely.”
Richards really wanted to ask Collins if this was any better. Instead, he crept forward another inch, gently probing with the barrel of his weapon.
The lights from their shoulders were hooded, and they didn’t want to risk more. That, however, made tripwires harder to find.
Like the one Richards found with a soft, deadly click.
He froze, and the three others behind him did the same.
“Claymore,” he hissed after a moment. “Nicheyev, you’re on.”
The corporal slipped past him, pulling tools from the pockets on his vest.
“Don’t move, sir.”
Richards started to sweat.
The manhole cover slid back, and one by one they climbed out into the street. It was dusk, and by Richards’ watch they were just about on schedule. They took positions outside the house’s back door, and waited.
The voice rang out around them, calling the faithful to prayer. Richards nodded at McNally. The sergeant thumbed the safety on her .45 and raised the suppressed pistol as she entered the door Collins opened for her.
Under the cries from the mosques, Richards heard the metal clangs of silenced gunfire. When it was over, they swept inside.
“How many, Collins?”
The corporal on the other side of the door poked his head out to look, only to jump back as cackling automatic fire peppered the wall and doorjamb with rounds.
“Two at least, sir!”
Richards touched the radio control at his neck. “Nicheyev, did you hear that?”
“Copy,” was all Nicheyev said. Richards said a silent prayer of thanks for this being a two-story house, and leaned out to deal some suppressing fire across the street.
When the return fire started again, it stopped abruptly after two loud shots from above.
“Got ’em, sir.”
Richards turned to McNally, who held the CIA man up on her shoulders.
McNally gestured towards the door with a grunt.
“After you, LT, by all means.”
His ears were still ringing from the rocket blast. Richards tried to keep the pace up, but he could go no faster than his sergeant. The operative was still delirious from drugs and torture, unable to walk on his own.
“It isn’t right,” Collins lamented. “We shouldn’t have left him.”
“If he survived, he can take care of himself,” Richards replied. “If he’s dead, we can’t help him.”
Collins was going to protest more, but then he stopped and turned back, carbine raised.
“We’re not alone,” he hissed.
Richards kept the ice pack on his head as the Colonel read the report.
“I’m telling you, Richards… legendary.”
“We got lucky, sir.”
“Your man Nicheyev survived a rocket attack, son, that wasn’t luck.”
“He also nearly lost a leg, sir.”
“Did Collins really carry him the kilometer back to the extraction point?”
“He and McNally took turns with carrying duty, sir.”
“Unbelievable. I’ll see to it you all get full honors for this.”
“Thank you, sir. Even if we can never talk about it.”
The colonel nodded. Richards reached for the bottle.