Girl on a Bullet [A Laura Axle E-Single ( exclusive)]





Girl on a Bullet


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


By Craig S. Brantley


“He’s dead,” said the cop. “Let’s get out of here.”


“We can’t be sure of that,” the young blonde replied, keeping one eye on the cop and the other on the urban ruins surrounding them. They were infested with the worst sort of gangs, marauders, and assorted urban nomads drawn to the area outside the super-affluent, high-security enclave known as the Blue Zone.


“His body isn’t anywhere around here,” the young blonde, Laura continued. “He might have escaped. He might’ve been taken hostage.”


The old black cop, Elias Compton, shook his head at the girl, adamant. “A Russian colonel scampers across the DMZ on the Ambassador Bridge, from the NAN,” he said, referring to the Russian-controlled North American Northeast.


“A defector,” he went on. “So your guys pick him and, for some inexplicable reason, bring him outside the Blue Zone.


“Naturally, marauders–or one of the dozen or so gangs that run this city– got to them before they got 300 meters. The defector and his Agency handlers were killed, stripped of anything valuable, and tossed out here. End of story. Happened every day in this city, even before the Collapse. Report that back to Langley. I’m ready to go home–back inside the Zone.” He motioned with his unholstered Glock 9mm back toward the Blue Zone Wall. A Detroit Police Department-issue AR-15 assault rifle remained slung over his back.


Laura shook her head. “We find the Russian’s body, we do just that. Until that, you’re with me. Besides, you’re on the clock. What’s the problem?”


“My problem is that we’re just two people standing outside   in Detroit City. This place was like Mad Max land even before the Collapse; now it’s 100 times worse.  I’m surprised we’re not already dead yet. We never come out of the Blue Zone in anything less than platoon strength.


“And to top it off, I’m a grandfather. All this running around outside with guns is a young man’s game.”


Laura was unrelenting, snapping, “You’re a cop–a lieutenant–a boss of cops.”


The man bristled. “Cop, not Kamikaze. You want to go further, you’re on your own, Wonder Girl.  I’m punching out.”


“You know this area better than me. You lived here before the Collapse. You’re my guide. You try to leave now, I make a call and you’re done, no pension.”



“And I’m taking it a step further,” Laura cut him off. “Your family: wife, kids, and grandkids are kicked out of the Blue Zone.”


Anger surged into the old black cop’s face as he retorted “That’s completely illegal. And impossible.  You don’t have the power.”


The young blonde was silent but her cold blue eyes bored into him.  Try me, the unspoken words hung in the air.


Compton had played decades’ worth of late-night poker games with countless squads. He knew how to read faces.


She’s not bluffing, Compton grimly acknowledged to himself. Despite his strict Christian upbringing, a vile curse rose in his throat.




“You B–”


“Because I Take Charge Here,” said Laura, her eyes narrowing. “So watch your words.  From here on in, Grandpa, you do what I say, when I say. Got it? ”


An acid silence hung between the old black man and the young blonde.


“Got it?” Laura repeated. “Don’t make me ask again.”

“Got it,” the cop answered between clenched teeth.


“Good. Then let’s get going. Now, and I mean right now, I need your best bet on who took the Russian and where.”



Despite his anger, Compton almost automatically slipped into a tactical assessment. “There are several major gangs in this city, but only one, the Xom, have any real brains and organization. If they took him, they’re likely holding him at their ‘headquarters,’ Manford Tech.”


“A university?”


“A high school, on the northwest side, near McNichols Road and Fenkell Avenue.  Used to be the best public high school in the city. It’s where I went to high school. Now it’s where the Xom are based.


Laura nodded as the old black man continued, “The Xom aren’t just street killers–though they do enough of that, of course. From Manford Tech they consolidate their operations–drugs, arms and human trafficking to the Caliphate.


“Assuming they’ve snatched the Russian….well, for them, this Ivan is just another product. They’ll sell him to the highest bidder:  the Russians, the Asia Union, the Caliphate or us. And that begs the question: Why don’t we just buy him back?”



“Because the United States went bankrupt decades ago, that’s why. Everything we do is self-funded.”


“Even at Langley?”


Especially at Langley. It’s basically an open secret in the Intelligence world.”


“So the Xom won’t even bother to ask you to put in a bid?”


“No, they won’t. Especially if they’re as sophisticated as you say.”


“Well then, that also means they’ll probably be anticipating some sort of snatch of the Russian.” From Manford Tech, they could hold off a brigade–much less the two of us. You’re one crazy white girl if you think we’re going to shoot our way in there–and I’m too old to do any of that ‘go in quietly over the wall’ stuff anymore.”


“You just get us there. I’ll get us inside.”





Laura slung the big duffel bag she had been carrying onto her back. Then, both of them got back onto their Zero MMZ   motorcycles.  The bikes were dark, sleek, fast and stealthy. Like I used to be, thought Compton ruefully. The two riders then fit Shoei GT-Air motorcycle helmets on, strapping ATN PS15-4 Night Vision Goggles over them. And with a muffled roar of the bikes, Laura and Compton sped away from the walled towers of the Blue Zone–and   into one of the most violent cities on earth.


The riders raced north deeper into the city, avoiding gang-operated roadblocks, fortified gang territories and sprawling tent cities that dominated the city.


The landscape of post-Collapse urban America lay before them as they continued heading north. Yet, despite its appearance, the city was not just ruins and vacant lots. Apart from the tent cities and gang territories, there was a growing “settler” class in the city. These were mainly Americans who had saved hard currency by working on the Russian side of the Detroit River. Afterward, they had built small, heavily-armed, self-patrolled gated communities–which looked like mini-Blue Zones of their own. Hailing mainly from American Heartland states like Nebraska, Utah and Montana, they had, like their forefathers, become a type  of urban frontiersmen and women, and the name of each mini-fort reflected that: Fort Boone, Fort Crockett, Fort Bowie. Post-Collapse America is full of ironies, thought Compton as he and the young blonde raced past several of them. Settlers manning the walls of each mini-fort tracked the bikes carefully with heavy machine guns but, seeing no hostile intent, held fire.






Twenty minutes later, both bikes pulled up 900 meters away from Manford Tech. Compton had been right. The Xom were no dummies.  Their headquarters put all the settler mini-forts to shame by comparison. The Xom had demolished all the housing within 500 meters of the old high school. They had also built a 15-meter-high wall that circumvented the building.  Machine gun positions on top of the wall had a completely clear field of fire, aided by the powerful glare of Profiler II searchlights. It was like a miniature version of the Wall the Caliphate had built around Charleston during its months-long occupation of that city.



Compton took off his helmet, saying. “Take a good look. Like I said, it’s a fortress. Even the police can’t approach it. Only an armored group could, after the wall had been reduced by artillery. Or possibly a heliborne troop insertion–up and over the wall. Or you could just lay siege to the place. But that’d take time and resources. And the Xom have got food and ammunition stores in that place to last a long time, not to mention tunnels leading who knows where. They could probably resupply themselves for months that way. Or we’d have to devote even more resources to counter-tunnel operations.”


“You know a lot about it,” commented Laura.


Compton shrugged, “It’s been regularly brought up at Strategy Committee Meetings with the Chief for years, decades even. We always come up with the same analysis: it’s too big for us, short of help from the U.S. Army.”


Compton pointed at the towering structure and said, “Look at that and recognize: it’s just not doable.  Report back to Langley that you did your best. They’re just federal bureaucrats. You did your best. That’s all they want to hear. Forget the Russian. Forget trying to get in.”


“We’re going in,” said Laura. “Just get ready.”


Compton was exasperated, saying, “Look,” the chief got me out  of bed and running around like I was rookie patrolman or something but this is as far as it goes. It has to end here.”


“Remember what I said about your kids and grandkids,” Laura said, studying the Manford Tech building intensively through the NVG. “And forget about that idea you’re getting–or will get–about shooting me and then making up some story later about me being killed by the Xom. We’re on a clock. A team–this one with badges and guns–has orders to get your family out of bed and push them out of the Blue Zone if they don’t hear from me by 09:00.”


Compton was livid, barely restraining himself from reaching for his holstered Glock.



“Like I said, it’s because I take charge. Prepare to breach.”


“Breach? Look at that place. It’s impregnable.”


“Not to gas.”


Now it was the old cop’s turn to smirk, saying, “You think CS gas is going to scare those brothers? They’ve been to–or started more food riots than you can count. They know the routine: stay low to the ground, use fire–even cigarette lighters–for gas dispersal.  Tear gas won’t do a thing.”


“Sarin gas will.”


“Don’t even kid about something like that,” said Compton in soft, grandfatherly tones.


Laura unslung her duffel bag and began withdrawing equipment, including   a Heckler & Koch AG-C/GLM grenade launcher. She also carefully withdrew two sinister-looking red, unmarked canisters, fitting one of them carefully underneath the H&K, which was then fitted beneath the barrel of her AR-15.  Compton was rocked back on his heels at the sight.


“Here,” she said. “Put this on.” She was now withdrawing two Tyvek Hazmat suits. Lightweight, flexible and loose enough to allow the wearer to work a weapon. Not perfect but good enough for brief combat operations in biochemically hazardous environments. Good enough for a short walk through hell.


Compton was both stupefied and angered by the sight.



“Use of nerve gas is a war crime–and this isn’t even a war,” he said accusingly. “And those are American citizens!”


“Those are organized criminals who have illegally occupied part of a major American city and kidnapped a foreign intelligence asset,” Laura responded coolly. “And if the Detroit Police Department was doing its job, it wouldn’t have come to this.  But I’m not going to argue with you. You’re going to put on this suit.”


“This is crazy. And anyway, what if the gas kills the Russian?”


“It won’t–and you’re wasting time talking. Time that your family doesn’t have.  Now get it on.”


The old cop stared daggers at the young blonde. She stared right back at him.


He snatched the suit from her hands.


Laura began donning her own outfit, saying, “Remember to just breathe normally,” she said, her voice somewhat muffled now through the mask. “Let the filters do the work.”  Compton nodded, grudgingly giving a thumbs up.




“Laura’s application communicator– app comm–beeped twice.

She tapped a sequence, paused, and tapped again.


“Don’t get fidgety,” she said. “Support is here. They’ll be approaching our position from the south.”

“I’m not ‘fidgety’,” Compton replied testily. “But who is it? SWAT? Special Forces?”

“Yeah,” replied Laura. “Sort of a special force.”


They approached from the ruins: huge, muscled, tattooed, heavily armed black men.


With a start, Compton instantly recognized them, and brought his AR-15 around.


“I said don’t get fidgety!” snapped Laura. “Stand down!”


“Those are Bronx Monsters! A criminal gang! Do you know that?!”


“Of course I know that. It’s why I brought them here! Now stand down, unless you want to get dropped!”


Now, the gangsters were targeting their own weapons–a mix of AK47s, Steyr Augs and FN Scars. “Stand down, Oreo, unless you wanna git’ dropped!” one of the gangsters ordered.


“Told you,” said Laura, shrugging.


“You outnumbered, dogg! Stand down or git’ dropped, homie!” barked another Monster, pointing his AK at the old man.


For a brief second, Compton imagined turning his own weapon on Laura and the Monsters, taking as many of them as he could until he was taken out himself. But this thought only lasted that second. He had to get home–and he had to complete this mission–if he wanted to save his family.


So he lowered his weapon.


Satisfied, the Monsters began opening their own duffel bags, which contained Tyvek suits similar to Laura’s.


“Scardy-cat pig,” snarked one of the gangsters as he suited up. “I know’d he was a punk.”


The word “pig” registered with Compton. In this protective gear, in plainclothes without his badge, the Monsters should have had no idea he was a cop.


Unless Laura had informed them, Compton concluded.

And now the picture was becoming clearer to him.  Apart from muscle, they were a counterweight to him–just as he was to the Monsters. Laura hadn’t needed Compton to guide her to this high school. She had known the Russian would be here all along. How else would she have known to bring the Bronx Monsters to these coordinates? The girl was frighteningly young and seemingly wildly out of place. But despite that Compton had to admit to himself she was already good at playing all sides against the middle.




“Okay, DeShawn,” she said, indicating the man obviously in charge of the Monsters, your team–


Team? thought Compton. How could this ‘Band of Thugs’ be a team?


“—is right behind me” Laura continued.  “The gas should neutralize resistance outside, and on the floors above ground.  We’re breaching through the front doors. Kill anybody you see but the Russian.”


“How we gonna’ know who da’ the Russian?” asked one of the Monsters.


“It gonna be the only white dude in the place, dummy!” snapped DeShawn angrily.




Compton listened intently but bleakly as Laura outlined the plan of attack. He wanted no part of any of this, but there was absolutely no way out. Of course, the blonde knew this. She had set up the whole thing so that he only had one course of action open–compliance. He was participating in what could only be described as an atrocity, led by a shady (if admittedly extraordinarily beautiful, his much younger self would have recognized) government agent and supported by, impossibly enough, one of the largest and most dangerous gangs in post-Collapse North America. It was a dark, evil thing, yet no one here seemed bothered by it in the least. The Monsters were nodding along to Laura’s instructions as matter-of-factly as if they were being given directions to prepare for a fancy dinner party.





Laura fired the first canister over the wall. It bounced off the face of building, and fell into the main courtyard. She rapidly fitted on another canister, and fired it. Then, a third and last one.


The effects were immediate.


The Sarin was colorless and odorless and caught the men in the courtyard completely by surprise. The first indication they had that was something was wrong was when their bodies stopped working and they began dropping like sacks of bricks. Their glands, under non-stop intensive stimulation, were filling with fluid. They were drowning on dry land.


In seconds, the courtyard was full of men writhing on the ground, flailing like insects impaled on pins, their faces screwed up into masks of indescribable pain.  Those that could scream, screamed. Others, choking on their internal fluids, could only convulse in agony. They felt as if fire hoses were being turned on in their throats. One of the men let out a long, watery cry, “AAAAAAAAAAH!”


Compton’s heart sank. With almost 50 years as a cop in one of the most violent cities in the world, he had seen any number of horrors. But he had never even imagined something like this.


Laura keyed her throat mike on her app comm. “Let’s breach,” she said. “Compton, take point.”


“Got it,” said Jamal, one of the Monsters.  “Take point, Oreo.”


Seething under the insult, Compton nonetheless did just that, his long years of experience and training taking over. He took charge the same way he had on dozens of other patrols into the miserable city as a young man. “Follow me,” he snapped. “Stay close, and do exactly what I say.” Laura and the Monsters nodded.


Inside the protective gear, and hefting their assault rifles, they plunged into the nightmare.



There was no resistance within the high school. Like a scene out of a horror film, the Xom were sprawled over the corridors, choking, gurgling, horribly. They had abandoned their weapons, which lay scattered on the floor.


Compton scanned the corridors through his mask. Now, at least, he was back in his element.  Despite his age, he felt a surge of adrenalin. He was all of a sudden young again, as if he was a patrol leader going on another long-range reconnaissance mission into the chaotic urban nightmare outside the Blue Zone.


Of course, it wasn’t uncommon in those days to stagger back into the Blue Zone with a third of the patrol injured or killed, Compton reminded himself. The same could happen here.




In each room, Laura’s team found the same thing: dead Xom sprawled on the floor, their faces frozen into the silent horror they had gone through in their last moments of life.


Laura’s team had still met no resistance, only dead and dying gangsters. It was only in third-to-last room, the school auditorium, that they found the Russian. Or Russians.  Four of them, dead among several dozen Xom. Sophisticated electronics gear was stacked up in the room, along with a dizzying array of automatic weapons, grenades, mortars, and other light weapons.


And huge stacks of cash. Not worthless American Dollars but hard currency: Russian Rubles, Caliphate Pounds, Asia Currency Units. The Bronx Monsters were stunned at the sight.



But Compton was transfixed by the Russian corpses. “Not one. Four. And all dead,” he said through his mask. “The gas killed them. I warned you.”


“How you know ‘dey Russians?” asked one the Monsters.


Compton turned angrily to the gangster. “Look at them: Caucasian, close-cropped military-style haircuts, Slavic features. You think they’re tourists?”


The Monster was puzzled. “What’s a Slavic?”


Compton had to check himself from laughing. He knew it would be a madman’s laugh, and if he started to do that, he wouldn’t be able to stop. He just wanted to get out of here. To do that, he had to hold it together. He had to stay sane.


“Tag ‘em and bag ‘em,” Laura ordered the Monsters through her mask. “And pick up very piece of equipment on this room. I want it on a secure road to Point 97 within the hour.”


Point 97. Must be some sort of off-the-grid Agency storage facility or transshipment point, Compton surmised. And the Monsters know all about it. It was clear to him now that the Monsters had some sort of nebulous connection to the Agency. And that made sense. A huge, unpaid army of mercs, killers, and smugglers, completely deniable if exposed. What intelligence agency wouldn’t want that?


“And the cash? The guns? Wha’s up wit’ dose?” DeShawn asked.


Laura strolled over to one satchel of cash– upwards of 200,000 in hard currency, thought Compton– and hefted it. “Little decontamination and it’s good as new,” she said smilingly. “Everything else is yours.”


“Everything else is yours,” she said.


“True ‘dat,” said DeShawn. Then he turned to his men.  “Get Laura her stuff, ‘den everything else be ours.”


“What about them?” asked Compton, motioning toward the dead Russians again. “This mission’s a bust, isn’t it?”


Laura ignored the question as she directed the Bronx Monsters through the collection of the dead Russians and their equipment.




Checkpoint Rooker  

Ambassador Bridge



“If I can’t do it, Homie, it can’t be done…”



The 50Cent rap song was deafening as it blasted from the Kenwood EXcelon car audio system of the shiny 1964 Chevy Impala “hoopty.” The ghetto super-car slowly cruised out of the US Army checkpoint toward the Russian side of the bridge.


“If I can’t do it…”


The song continued to blast loudly as the Chevy rolled toward the Russian guard post at the other end of the bridge. Hydraulics lifted the car up, then down.


“It can’t be done…”


“It can’t be done…”


The car rose up on hydraulics, first on the left, then on the right.


“I never really cared for rap,” said Laura. “But I have to admit it grows on you a little, the more you hear it. It’s got a beat, you know?”


Compton was silent as the hoopty neared the Russians, now piling out of their guardhouses, AKSU-74 assault rifles drawn. They were ordering the Chevy to stop, but it kept moving toward them.


“Of course, my boyfriend knows more about rap than me. Has a small collection. I’m more of a pop and country and Western girl myself: David Nail, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, stuff like that. But I try to keep an open mind. Toward music, anyway. How about you, Compton? Do you like rap? Oh, no, no, no…I know your file. Classic Jazz: Billie Holliday, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald. Sort of a Jazz snob, I believe. Isn’t that right?”


Compton was dead silent. The insane night was still not over.


“Shtoi! Shtoi!” Stop! The Russians were pointing their weapons at the hoopty now, threatening to fire.


In compliance, the Chevy stopped, rose up once more on its hydraulics in dramatic fashion like a cobra opening its hood, then came to rest.



The Russians approached carefully, ordering in Russian and English, “Get out of the vehicle! Get out!”


“If I can’t do it, homie, it can’t be done!,” the song continued to blare loudly.


The doors clicked open. But no one came out.


Cautiously, one of the Russians tried the handle. Covered by his platoon, he opened the door.


Four men inside.

All Russian.

All dead.


“Self-drive,” said Laura, standing next to Compton back on the American side of the bridge.  “I love that feature. “


Compton was solely focused on the fact that it was 04:00. In five hours, his family would be forced out into the jungle world of Detroit beyond the Blue Zone.


The Russians reacted as they had been trained. Automated cross bars came down and tire-puncture devices with wicked-looking metal hooks sprang from the bridge road. Behind this, one squad of Russian soldiers barred civilian vehicles–mostly trucks full of American day laborers–from crossing back. Another two squads manned sandbag barricades, pointing their weapons toward the heavily outnumbered Americans at the other end. Other Russian squads began setting up powerful 2S12 Sani mortars.


The Americans on their side of the bridge reacted similarly, manning defensive positions as a gruff Hispanic American sergeant barked orders at his men and women. Compton looked on nervously at all this, wondering if he should get behind a barricade himself. If the shooting started….


But Laura seemed completely unperturbed, standing out in the open and staring hard at the Russians. She’d swapped her previous nondescript street clothes for  Chloe black leather jacket, For All Mankind jeans, ECCO BIOM running shoes and Paloma Picasso bracelets and earrings. She put that stolen money to good use– got to be wearing at least 5,000 in hard currency worth of fashion, thought Compton ironically. I guess if you’re going to be shot and killed, best to go in style.


Now, two huge armored combat vehicles, BMP-3s, were chugging up to the Russian checkpoint. Their rear ramps fell to disgorge more Russian troops, who took up positions next to the others at the sandbags.


“Shouldn’t we take cover?” Compton asked quietly.


“No,” the hyper-well-dressed young blonde replied. “We shouldn’t.”


“You sure? It looks like World War Four is about to pop off here,” Compton offered.


Laura shrugged, “Then what better place to be?”


Fluent in Russian, Laura listened to orders on both sides, which amounted to the same: continuous requests to higher-ups for permission to fire, which were repeatedly denied.


“The Russians can put three brigades on this bridge in an hour,” Compton remarked. “I don’t think we have three brigades in all of Michigan.”


Laura didn’t respond. She took a tug from a bottle of cola she had gotten from somewhere. “Want some?” she asked, offering it to Compton.


Compton shook his head no.


“Suit yourself.  Strange man: you didn’t take any money from that high school, either.”


“It’d be illegal. The entire amount should have been turned over to the FBI. Instead, you just took a cut, and turned over the rest of the money–along with several hundred guns–to the Bronx Monsters. That was obviously some sort of payoff. ”


“Wow, now you’re getting it, Sherlock. Look at that,” she said, pointing with the bottle.


The Russians were setting heavy machine guns, KPV 14.5s, at their end. Two more BMP-3s also surged onto the Russian side of the bridge, iron dragons angrily belching smoke.


“Do I have permission to engage?!” Laura could hear a Russian captain asking again and again.


Not 10 meters away from Laura, a red-headed, freckled-face American first lieutenant, rushed to the bridge from a command post a few hundred meters away, was also frantically asking for reinforcements but, as Compton had correctly guessed, there were almost none in Michigan.


To Compton, the scene was surreal–yet reminiscent of so many decades ago when he was a rookie on the force. He still remembered those days clearly:  the U.S. Army-Canadian Forces Reserve/Canadian Army Task Force sent reeling in defeat back over the bridge toward the American side of the river. They were fleeing just ahead of heavy Russian armored columns and mobile infantry.  All discipline had been lost among these Western troops, with soldiers abandoning their weapons and sometimes their uniforms. Officers and military police found it impossible to stop the rout, which had already become the biggest, most humiliating one in North American history.  Compton remembered seeing the Russian Mi-28 “Havoc” helicopter gunships screaming down on the Canadian side of the river, their Shipunov 2A42 30mm cannon raining fire on the helpless, retreating Western soldiers still trapped in Ontario. It was like something out of a disaster movie.  But it was real. The screams of the horribly mangled and dying Americans and Canadian that wafted across the water proved that.


And those were just the first few weeks of the Collapse. Things had gotten worse, much worse, after that.


Yet, all those decades ago, the Russians had not pressed their advantage by attacking across the bridge itself. The Pentagon had expected the Russians to cross it in hot pursuit of the fleeing Americans and Canadians and then fan out into the American Midwest–where flat plains and open spaces made for ideal tank country. But the Russians stopped on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.  After all, who would want Detroit? became the dark joke when the Russian formations had stopped on a rough line that encompassed the northeastern sections of Canada and the United States, much as Asia Union forces had stopped after seizing the American Northwest and British Columbia.


There they perched, watched and waited for the remainder of North America to fall apart of its own weight. But it hadn’t. At least so far.


Compton’s mind returned to the present.


Where another hour passed. Then two.




Speedily, the Russians had indeed reinforced themselves with a brigade, the Americans still making do with a single, desperate platoon.


But now the undercurrent on both the American and Russian sides was more one of carrying out a performance than preparing for battle. Like two angry bears circling each other snarling but not wanting to risk an actual fight, the higher-ups on both sides had decided it was too dangerous to go further.


But it was 08:52 now, and Compton was out of his mind with worry about his family. He could only imagine his grandkids being woken by black-clad gruff government agents. It was beyond bearing. If it happened, he would shoot the young blonde dead. He was firmly determined on that.


“Laura, I did everything you wanted. I held up my end.”


Laura turned to him. “Oh, your family? Don’t worry about that. Dogs are called off. I sent a text a few minutes ago. Grandkids can wake up and watch cartoons, no problem. Looks not we’re not going to have World War Four either. Getting a little boring now, if you ask me.”


Laura stifled a yawn. “Well, let’s call it night. You’re cool, Compton.  Efficient. Even ‘moral’ and all that stuff. I really hope we can work together again.” She gave him a smile that was almost playful but Compton’s face remained a stone.



The lithe blonde then strolled back to her motorcycle. With a start, Compton realized she was now riding an MV Augusta F4CC, a shockingly high-priced bike that could easily outperform anything on the road. More of that stolen hard currency put to use, mused Compton.


With the smooth, effortless grace of a ballerina, Laura swung her legs over onto the motorcycle seat, and brought the 4-cylinder engine to life. She took a pair of Jee Vice sunglasses out of her coat pocket and put them on. Compton had to admit the girl looked sharp.  If he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought a Hollywood supermodel was getting onto her ride.


Or the Devil onto her chariot.


Either way, Laura gunned the engine once, then, a girl on a bullet, she raced off into the frosty American morning.




Capella Luxury Towers 

Blue Zone 

(Detroit, MI) 

Compton loved holding his youngest grandson, Solomon, in his arms. Solomon, a good Biblical name, the old man thought. The baby smiled broadly at his grandfather. As he held the infant, Compton’s mind went over yet again the midnight run with that “Laura Axle” woman.  The entire thing had become clear to him.  It had been a long time since he’d been a detective, but he’d never forgotten how to recognize patterns, clues, traps and distractions. And they had all been there from the start. Laura had put them there.


For one, he was now certain there had never been a Russian “defector.” Laura had showed him a group of dead bodies in civilian clothes on Linwood Avenue, outside the Blue Zone, but they could have been anybody. Maybe Laura had simply shot some random men and later claimed they were a CIA pickup crew that had come to pick up the defector. He wouldn’t put it past her. In any event, she had just shown him the bodies. He had never believed for a second a seasoned Agency special action team would have been lured outside the Blue Zone and then taken down by the Xom. The Xom were good, but not that good. And how would they have known to be at that point at that time, anyway?


No, Laura had lied about that.


And the lies hadn’t stopped there of course. Laura had already known the entire Detroit Russian network would be at Manfred Tech at that point in time. Catching them all together like that enabled her to run up a “kill chain” without having to hit dispersed targets simultaneously.


And of course she had lied about trying to “rescue” the Russian. Nobody rescues anyone with Sarin. No, she had meant to kill everyone in the building, and in the worst way possible, heedless of any possible civilian casualties. Then, returning the bodies to the Russians–who would surely autopsy the corpses and confirm the cause of death. It wasn’t just an insult. It a message. It was to tell Moscow that, however weak and poor America was, it was willing to cross any red line to protect itself and its remaining territory.  Vast portions of America were now lawless but even so the country wouldn’t tolerate foreign agencies capitalizing on that lawlessness.


Taking it further, the kill chain the Agency brought down on the Russians and the Xom had been a warning to other American gangs: don’t cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies. The Xom had been punished for their collaboration by having their leadership and hundreds of street enforcers killed, their money and guns seized. No doubt, the Bronx Monsters were right now eagerly replacing the entire Xom network in Detroit, maybe the entire region. Any other Midwest gang would think twice before doing what the Xom had done.


Compton surprised himself at feeling a grudging sense of admiration for the sheer ruthlessness of the Agency plan.



And why had the chief ordered an old goat like him into the fray? That answer had come to him by now, too. The chief had ordered him to do “whatever he was ordered to do” by this Laura. The chief hadn’t contacted SWAT, the Gang Squad, or any other of a number of young, fit, smart and intensively trained young men and women who were far better equipped for an operation in the city outside the Blue Zone. On the face of it, it made no sense for him to have called an old lieutenant only weeks away from retirement.


But now Compton realized he had been selected because he was an old man with a lot to lose–specifically, his family. The Agency had an implicit guarantee of his permanent silence from that.


Beyond that, they had a hook into him after retirement. Detroit was a ruined city, but it was also a border city, with over 25 Russian armored divisions just across the river. The Agency needed human Intel on the ground here. It was clear that Compton–despite his advanced age– had been pressed into future service. He had a dark feeling the young blonde–or someone else from the Agency–would be in touch again “if they really needed something.”  Perhaps they would just need a name or a piece of advice. Or perhaps something terrible and dark. And maybe it was fair enough. After all, his generation had lost the country. Maybe it was up to hard young patriots like Laura to get it back.



Compton held up his grandson, who looked down at him, happily gurgling.





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