Cold Sunlight [A Laura Axle E-Single ( exclusive)]

Cold Sunlight

This is a work of fiction. Characters, institutions, products and organizations mentioned in this series are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously without any attempt to describe actual conduct or usage.

Copyright © 2013 by Craig S. Brantley


The shotgun blast hit me in the back, knocked me off my feet and sent me tumbling down the rest of the stairs. That’s what saved my life, since the second blast went over my head. Still, I was stunned. The body armor under my jacket had deflected the round–fired from a Russian-made KS-K, I knew from the sound–but only because it was fired from too far away. Shotgun rounds hit hard, but they disperse with distance, lessening impact.


The shooter made another mistake by not finishing me off. He came down but paused, peering to see if I was alive or dead. The smart thing would have been to fire anyway: there’s never any harm in putting another round into a dead enemy, but it’s sometimes fatal to not put one into a live one.


As it was for this shooter. I was still partially dazed but I nevertheless came around fast to a prone firing position with my FN 5.7.  The Belgian pistol put three quick rounds into the Pole’s center body mass, and he collapsed like an un-stringed puppet, dead.


Duffle bag of rubles still in hand, I scampered up into the rear of big Mercedes Benz Actros truck we had brought the cartons of guns in. Its walls would provide at least some protection from any flank fire. Right behind me were Brooke, Dan and Rebecca, with duffle bags of their own. All four of us squeezed off more rounds back toward the angry Poles that were spilling out of it. I keyed the “throat mic”-style application communicator (app comm) to Max in the truck cabin. “Go!” I shouted.


With a jerk, the cargo truck got in gear and tore away from the ramshackle old house in the woods we had all been exchanging smiles and handshakes in just moments ago.


“Stop!” I shouted to Max as the truck came up to four Audi A7s sedans parked in a semi-circle.


“What?” came the worried reply from Max.


“Stop, NOW!” I shouted into the app comm.


The truck stopped. I hopped out of the back. The Poles were still letting off rounds at me, but they were too far away to be accurate–I hoped. Using the car bodies as partial cover, I used the last rounds of the FN 5.7 to shoot out the tires on the left side of two cars, changed clips, and then shot out the tires of the other two.  I didn’t want any road pursuit—the Actros certainly couldn’t outrun the Audis. All the while, my team was giving me covering fire.



With the last tire on the fourth car flattened, I hopped back into the rear of the Actros. “Go!” I shouted to Max through my app comm. The rounds from the Poles were getting closer, with one whizzing by just over my head and ricocheting off the insides of the cargo bay.


The big vehicle got into gear again, bouncing over dirt roads on its way to Route E-77, which would take us into the Port of Gdansk.



I turned angrily to Brooke, “What happened back there?!”


As soon as we’d exchanged the American-made guns from the truck for several duffel bags of Russian rubles, Brooke and one of the Poles–as if on cue– had suddenly started firing at each other. Both had been wearing body armor under their jackets, both had been knocked off their feet without being seriously harmed.


But that had started a wild shootout between us and the Polish Resistance fighters. Three other members of my team, James, Alise and Tucker, were dead from that. At least five Poles were also dead, including two I had gotten on the way out. At least we had gotten the cash. But the whole thing was murderously ridiculous.


“What happened?” I asked again to Brooke, who just shrugged plaintively. “I don’t know. The guy drew on me, I drew on him.”


I was doubtful, arguing, “We’ve worked with the Poles for years–ever since Russia overran Europe and our New England states. We’ve never had a problem with them. Now you say they just went crazy for no reason? I don’t buy it!”


“Buy whatever you want, ‘ team leader’,” came the hotly sarcastic reply.


I glared at Brooke, and she glared right back.  I wasn’t sure if I was seeing truth, lies or something in between. This whole situation stank of some sort of Russian Foreign Intelligence –SVR—involvement, most likely with the Poles, our ostensible friends.  In any event, I couldn’t sort it out here, in the back of a moving truck. It would be something Langley would deal with. If we made it home.



I’m a deep sleeper. That’s bad in my line of work. But I’m up like a panther when something doesn’t seem right. That’s why I snapped fully awake when I heard the muffled sounds, grabbed the loaded FN 5.7 under my rack, and dropped prone to the deck in one motion. Even in darkness, there was a very dim sense of embarrassment in being only in a T-shirt and panties pointing a weapon at the hatch. Plus it was freezing in  a way only the Baltic could be. But never mind, I kept my ears tuned to the sounds of the suppressed fire.


A suppressor–better known as a silencer– is not actually “silent.” Nor does it sound like a quiet “zip” you hear in movies. Rather, it’s a distinctive “cough,” like a baseball hitting a blanket. That’s what I was hearing dimly above me. That, and the quick but careful steps of rubber-soled boots. They were on the decks above me, working fast. Professionals. Obviously executing everyone onboard. No alarms, no return fire. Just the steady cough of suppressors murdering sleeping crew members in their racks.


We had only been out into the Baltic Sea for maybe five hours, but I had almost immediately dropped off like a stone in one of the empty crew cabins on this rusting hulk of a freighter. One thing I learned a long time ago on missions like this was to sleep whenever I could.


My men and women were out there in other cabins. If they were still alive, we’d be better off as a team. And they were my responsibility.


I spared myself 30 seconds to pull on a sweatshirt, jeans and gym shoes—along with my shoulder holster. I considered the FN 5.7. The moment I opened up with that, the killers would know where I was and converge on me.  For now, stealth and surprise would be my best weapons. So I would put off using the gun as long as I could.


I holstered the FN 5. 7 but clicked open the Benchmade 8600 Bedlam. The black, lethal switchblade would be quick, clean and quiet. It was down to the blade.


Quietly as I could, I opened my cabin hatch, and then closed it behind me.



“What do you Americans say? ‘Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight’?” A gravelly male voice in Polish-accented English.


The other men and women garbed in black sweaters and jeans chuckled at this, all cradling Steyr Aug A3s, Uzis, and of course the Russian AK-9s. They had been waiting outside the hatch all along. I was done. I made to drop the knife, which made the Poles relax almost imperceptibly.


And then I was up. The Poles had made a mistake, standing so close–too close to bring their guns to bear without hitting each other, but easily within knife range. I slashed open the first man’s carotid artery like cutting through a sheet of wax paper. The second man was already backing away to open up distance between us for his gun but I was faster, the Bedlam whipping through his windpipe as if it were crisp celery.


I expected to be full of bullet holes by now, since the others had backpedaled out of range and raised their guns at me, as the blood dribbled out of their comrades on the floor.


I didn’t care. I just wanted to go down fighting. And I had gotten two of them. That was enough.


But three would be even better.


My eyes fixed on the apparent Pole leader, a wizened old bear of a man.  I expected to be cut in half by his AK-9, but that was okay. As long as I took this guy with me. Or died trying.


But he didn’t shoot. Instead, handed his assault rifle to one of his men and unsheathed a wicked-looking blade of his own, a Spyderco FB25.

Idiot. I used  Eskrima, the Filipino knife fighting style that’s ideal for carving up men quickly. I had done it many times before.


In a rush, I was on him.


But instead of steel slicing open flesh, this time there was a crushing blow in my midsection, like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer. It wasn’t bullets and it wasn’t a knife twisting into me.  I know how those feel. It was a knee that had connected with my midsection.


I don’t think I’ve ever been hit that hard. It was a miracle I’d stayed conscious.


With the same motion that he’d kneed me–in Muay Thai fashion I vaguely recognized–he’d flipped me over so that I’d landed right on my back. The Bedlam skittered away from my hand on impact, along with my last shreds of hope.


Everyone has to meet a superior fighter at some point. Looking up at the corridor lighting, I knew I had met mine. I closed my eyes, thought of my father and prepared to be gutted by the grizzled old Pole’s Spyderco.


Pain and Blackness fell on me.


When I woke–in extreme surprise to be still alive– I could still smell the dirt from the Polish boot that had kicked me unconscious. The old bear had done it.


I sprang off the bed, but only got about one meter before I felt my own right leg trip me up. It was so heavy for some reason. When I got off the floor, groggily, I realized I had been shackled to the bed.


“As with any mad dog, you need to be chained.” It was a female voice in Polish-accented English. She was standing about four meters away, out of reach of my apparent “leash.”


I sat back on the bed, eyeing her intently. “I am Milena,” the woman said. “I will be your ‘minder’ for the next two weeks, until we reach Baltimore.”


Faintly, now, I could hear screams.


“Yes,” said the Polish woman.  “Those are your friends. We are asking them questions, using ways the Mongols taught us a long time ago.”


Instinctively, I rushed to attack but the chain yanked me right back.


Milena smirked, “Sometimes an animal will gnaw its own foot off to escape a trap. Why don’t you try that?”


I resumed sitting on the bed, spitting “I’m going to kill you later. That’s just a heads-up.”


Milena shrugged. “Unlikely, although I will certainly kill you for a good enough reason. Like I said, I am your minder for the next two weeks. Sometimes, I will be relieved by another woman, Danuta. We will bring you food and water. You have the pail–she nodded toward one in the corner–for your bodily functions.”


“Why?” I asked.


“I will answer no questions,” Milena answered. “We will sit in silence for the next 14 days until Baltimore. But you have those.”


She nodded toward a half-dozen copies of the Polish news magazine, Przekrój. Heavily censored by the Russians now but still available. “Do something useful,” Milena intoned. “Improve your miserably weak Polish.”


“I’m going to kill you,” I repeated.


We sat staring at each other in the blackest hate. Below, the screams of my team continued to echo through the ship.


As advertised, we were at sea for two weeks.  Sleepless and tormented by the screams of my men and women the whole time, I wracked my brains looking for any escape. There was none. I was watched 24/7 by either Milena or Danuta. They never came within the radius of my shackle. They were armed with Glock 9mm’s. They never answered my questions. They made no mistakes. My Polish did not improve.


Finally, we indeed docked in Baltimore. Neither Milena nor Danuta opened the hatch this morning. Instead, it was my boss, Smith.


Without a word, as if it were entirely normal, he came across the room and unlocked my shackles. He had been given the key.


“Where’s the rest of the team?” I asked urgently. I was ready to go on a rescue mission this instant.


“Let’s get back to Langley,” he replied, ignoring my question. “We need to debrief you. Good job getting that money, though. Dollars are useless, so we could always use more Russian rubles. On top of that, you exposed a group of American traitors. We’ve got full confessions on video.


“Classic move by the Russians, really. Picked up Brooke and the others nine months ago as soon as they got off a train at Warsaw Central. Our people were given the age-old choice: work with the Russians and get paid in hard currency, or head off to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow.  Brooke and others chose the rubles.


“Only thing is one of the Resistance Poles works at Central Railway so he saw the whole thing. He knew no one is shuffled off by an SVR arrest platoon and released an hour later unless they agree to go on the Russian payroll.


“And under  questioning— ”


“Under torture you mean?!”


“Yes, then, under torture, your team confessed to everything. We even got descriptions and names of SVR agents that match our database. This entire ship was manned by Poles working with the SVR. That’s why the Resistance fighters executed them. ”


It hit me in a rush. At the guns/cash exchange outside Gdansk, one of the Poles must have recognized Brooke and she him.   At that instant, neither Brooke nor her counterpart could afford to let the other leave the house alive.


That’s why they had opened up on each other.


But these were American men and women I had worked with for years. I had trusted them and they me. We had come through for each other time and again.


“I don’t believe it,” I thought, then said aloud.


“Believe it,” answered Smith. “And be thankful for it. If the Resistance  hadn’t boarded, you would have been shot and tossed overboard as soon as you reached the Atlantic. Brooke and the others would have concocted any story they wanted once they got back. Come on, let’s go.”


We began walking through the corridors. It was like walking through a ghost ship.


“And the Poles now?” I asked.


“Back in the mix against Russia, what else? ”


We reached the upper deck and stepped out into a bleak  Maryland morning. In the distance, I could already hear sirens and the shouts of huge mobs. There had to be another food riot in progress. Getting enough to eat regularly was almost impossible for the average American, with a bankrupt national government, widespread lawlessness and unemployment running at 68%.  The heavy Port of Baltimore fortifications would keep the rioters out–or at least it had until now.


On the pier below, an unmarked UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter had landed. Shackled, stumbling, shattered figures that looked more like bloody pieces of meat than humans were being herded aboard.


With a shock, I realized that was my team.


“Where are they going?”


Smith guided me toward the gangway, answering. “Not  toward anything you’ll see on Fox or CNN.”


But I could already guess their destination. There were still any number of Agency “black site” prisons that always had room for  more.


I followed Smith down the gangway. The Blackhawk was clattering away now, rising into cold sunlight, its mangled,  horrified,  weeping former Agency men and women onboard.


I fought to suppress a shudder at the thought and pulled my sweatshirt  tighter around me. I looked out to sea when I reached the pier. The Atlantic looked right back at me, heavy and unmoved.







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