The Boltcutter: the Service
At least three of the watchers Deng attributed to Alor remained within sight of the safehouse. The “merchant” had closed up shop and how sat in front of his store, conversing with the two “mechanics.” He seemed much more comfortable around them than he had with shoppers – and those came from his community, did they not?
In the darkness, illuminated only by light escaping from a few doorways and windows, Reno couldn’t verify the watchers on the unfinished building remained. He assumed they would.
“There is a nightclub that backs onto my apartment.” Deng pointed to an area of bright lights, some of them coloured, beyond the unfinished structure. “There is a tree that we can climb that can get us within jumping distance of my balcony.”
“A nightclub will be bright.” Reno scratched at his stubble. He hadn’t slept well on the flight in, and had just popped a modafinil stimulant. He’d pay for it later, but he needed to stay alert and he didn’t imagine he’d get a chance for a nap any time soon. “I’ll be an easy mark.”
“It is a favourite destination of NGO and UN whites, even after being declared off limits many times,” Deng said. “We will blend in well.”
They left the Landcruiser. Reno had the SIG knock-off in his waistband and the HK MP7 in his messenger bag. In a secluded area out away from the main populace earlier, he had zeroed the Elcan reflex sight, but had done a quick job, fearful of burning through too much ammunition. Deng had his Browning and the Uzi in his field rucksack. Deng led the way, staying on side streets and alleys, flanked by rough one- and two-story buildings of poured concrete or wood and plaster. The poured concrete ones were the most recent, but their workmanship meant the wood and plaster ones would likely last longer. The two dodged stinking piles of refuse and the occasional recumbent figure.
Reno heard the nightclub almost as soon as he got out of the Landcruiser. The pulsing music grew louder, and the Christmas lights along the walls of a compound ahead of him left him in little doubt as to the origin. Deng paused at the last crossroads before reaching the nightclub. They would be in sight of anyone in the unfinished building as they entered the compound.
“Stay to the right.” He gestured along the main road that led to another intersection and the fulsome illumination of the gate, guarded by four men armed with AKs and a smaller, lithe man Reno guessed to be Ethiopian or possibly Somali. “We’ll have our backs to Alor’s men as we enter.”
Reno followed Deng’s lead. He had never forgotten the absolute darkness he had encountered in the bush, far from ambient light and noise, relying on the sounds of movement and even unfamiliar smells to identify danger. The city had once been like that, but many establishments had bought generators and the government had even set up a very primitive power grid. The city had more light, yes, but the darkness still held court in so many parts of it.
At the nightclub, Deng spoke to the guards in the local Arabic dialect, a lingua franca left over from the occupation by the North in the past. The lithe gatekeeper used broken English, soliciting money and warning about trouble. Deng paid and the two entered. No one searched them. That seemed incautious at best given the ethnic tensions that had come with the latest civil war. Still, that gatekeeper probably knew his business much better than Reno.
The nightclub consisted of a small wooden structure – perhaps it had once been a residence or business of some sort – from which flowed both the libations and the music. Christmas lights hung from trees within the courtyard, creating a luminous web above a collection of plastic patio furniture at which revellers sat and the dancefloor on which they gyrated. Most of the males were white and most of the females local. Reno had seen the same in every country touched by war or disaster into which the international community poured. Society warped even more than the local economies. Desperate people made desperate choices with which they learned to live.
More than a decade previous, Reno could have been one of the men. He had not been chaste during his first contract, but losing two different women to war – even if he had not really considered his bush wives as his spouses or partners – changed that. It changed his perception of it. He couldn’t say it troubled him more than any of the other acts he had undertaken in those days, but it did trouble him.
The locals working at the bar and clearing the tables barely noted Deng and Reno – a curious glance, a moment’s appraisal, then nothing more. The two followed the wall to a corner, not dark but not as brightly lit as the rest of the courtyard. Deng jerked his thumb upward, and then began to scale the tree. Plenty of footholds and handholds allowed Reno to scamper up behind him.
If anyone in the nightclub noticed, nobody remarked on it.
Deng dropped to a balcony on the building backing the club’s courtyard. Fashioned to look like stone, it felt rough and Reno assumed concrete, like every other new building in this city that had been almost uniformly huts and wood back in 2006. The balcony doors were wood with windows, but the glass in those windows had a grid of metal wire running through them. You could shatter them, sure, but it’d be easier to just force the door off its hinges or smash the lock.
Deng didn’t need to do either. He drew out a key. His first attempt didn’t work. Reno started to feel exposed. He drew his Chinese SIG, watching the courtyard though the intervening branches and leaves. Deng finally had the lock. The doors didn’t open immediately, and he had to put some weight into them to get them to swing inwards. They groaned in protest.
Little of the light from behind them filtered into the room. Reno made out some rudimentary furnishings, what he took to be a kitchen to his right and a doorway into a bedroom or toilet on his left. Deng took a step in.
“Stay where you are.”
The voice spoke English with a local accent. Reno thought he could make out the speaker sitting in a chair in the middle of the room. Reno kept his hand at his side, hoping the poor light would hide his sidearm.
Deng straightened. “What are you doing in my house?” He spoke with the mixture of distaste and civility one might use with an unwelcome guest, but generally not with a burglar.
“This is not your house, Abraham Deng.” The figure in the chair shifted. “You do not exist. You are nothing here.”
A light turned on then, a hooded lamp on a table beside the chair in which the figure sat. A big local, his head shaved bald, his white shirt and blue pants immaculately pressed, trained a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol on the two. Reno didn’t know him. He pivoted slightly, putting his left hand up in a show of shielding his eyes from the light while trying to block the intruder’s view of his sidearm.
“You were talking with the CIA, Mr. Reno.” At least this stranger pronounced the name correctly. “You both met with Major General Alor. What is his connection to the CIA?”
“You are NSS, the security service.” Deng hadn’t moved, arms easy at his side, his untucked shirt hiding the Browning at his back in a holster on his waistband. He could get to that, but not the Uzi in his rucksack.
The stranger didn’t respond to Deng. “What is the connection between Alor and the CIA?”
“Ask him.” Reno kept his body turned, hiding the knock-off SIG. “Or ask the CIA. The NSS has some connections there, I’m sure.”
“Is that what your friend told you?” The stranger’s eyes narrowed. “Did he connect Alor to us?”
Whether he meant to or not, the stranger had confirmed he was NSS. Reno’s jaw tightened. Dealing with a rogue general with ties to terrorists had its difficulties, but in the end he was rogue, and his course of actions limited. The NSS liked to disappear people. It liked to torture. One couldn’t really call it an intelligence organization because it didn’t seem to care about collection. The NSS cared about intimidation. It cared about politics.
“John didn’t even mention the NSS.” How much to tell? How much did this guy know? “Alor wants us to find someone and I thought the CIA could help.”
The stranger leaned forward. The barrel of the pistol moved to his right, straying off target. His finger, though, remained on the trigger – forget discipline. “Who are you looking for?”
“Don’t you know?” Deng crossed his arms at his chest. “Isn’t that why you are here?”
“You don’t get to ask questions.” The stranger snarled the words out. Did frustration come so easily to him? “You can answer my questions here or at headquarters. We have a deep basement.”
He’d like that, no doubt. Reno decided to stoke the fire, see if the stranger would make a mistake. “And you are going to take us in yourself? What if we don’t go quietly?”
That brought the gun around to Reno. “I have plenty of help. I think you know that or you would have come in the door.”
“Is it money?” Deng pointed to the closed door. “I have money. I have it hidden. You can have it.”
As Deng started for the door, the stranger rose. “Wait. Don’t move.” The stranger took a step to intercept Deng, his attention off Reno. “What are you–?”
Reno lunged forward, bring up his sidearm. The stranger started to turn back to him, his Glock low. He started to bring it up, but Reno was within reach and grabbed the stranger’s wrist. Reno had his own pistol trained on the stranger’s head just above and between the eyes. The stranger wouldn’t relent, struggling to bring his gun around. The Glock discharged. The sound of it filled the small room, made Reno wince. The stranger pulled his arm back, dragging at Reno. The chance he would get his weapon free or knock Reno off balance forced a decision.
Reno fired once into the stranger’s face then slightly lowered his aim and put two in the man’s chest.
Smoke and stench lingered after the collection of detonations which had left both Deng and Reno slightly stunned. For less than a heartbeat, Reno watched the stranger fall to the ground, then he moved. Kicking away the Glock, he knelt beside the figure. Putting his knock-off SIG to the stranger’s temple, Reno checked for a pulse. Nothing. Deng put his hand over the stranger’s nostrils and mouth.
“Do you think they heard?” Reno began rifling through the stranger’s pockets and patting down the body.
Deng went to the bedroom door. “Maybe. Someone surely did. We have little time.”
Reno jammed a wallet, a small notebook, cell phone, loose bills, and two Glock magazines into his messenger bag, then deposited the recovered pistol along with them. Deng exited the bedroom with a large kit bag over one shoulder and another rucksack in his hand. Reno went to the lamp and turned it off.
“I don’t suppose you have NVGs in there.” Reno didn’t expect an answer. They couldn’t afford the light whether or not they had nightvision equipment. A light in the room made them lovely targets.
Going to the balcony, Reno jammed his SIG into his waistband and extracted the MP7. He could see some interest in the night club, but mostly apathy. Then the two mechanics came into sight, moving through the crowd, chased by the skinny gatekeeper. Reno couldn’t see the two guards who had been on the gate, but since the mechanics each carried an AK, he figured the guards were paid off, disinterested, or dead. The mechanics ignored the gatekeeper and made directly for the tree Deng and Reno had used to access the balcony.
“Our friends have figured out our exit.” Reno opened one of the balcony doors, swinging it all the way in, giving him access to the balcony and a clear line of sight.
Removing a suppressed Heckler & Koch MP5SD submachine gun from the kit bag, Deng dropped his packs to the floor and went to the entrance. Removing the iron bar that braced the door, he poked his head out. “We’re clear here.”
“Won’t be out front.” Reno sighted the MP7, waiting for the first head to pop up. Would he take the shot? No, not initially. He hadn’t wanted to kill the stranger, and he frankly didn’t want to kill these guys, unless they forced him.
Deng collected his gear. “We go to the roof. It is better than this place.”
Reno followed Deng out the door. “Completely agree.”
The centre of the building was open like a courtyard but with a roof. A metal walkway framed this enclosed courtyard on the second floor, with stairs beside the main entrance, directly across from Deng’s doorway. A ladder off to the right led to the roof. Plaster had once covered the smooth concrete walls, but it remained only in small, dirty patches.
The two moved as quietly as possible. None of the other residents came out to investigate. With the civil war in its second year, gunfights in the capital had lessened in frequency, but the populace likely remembered well what happens to curious cats. No one came through the main entrance. Reno could appreciate that. Why make an entry when you can lie in wait for your adversary to exit into the open?
Deng went up the ladder first. Reno swept the courtyard, the main entrance and Deng’s doorway with the MP7 shouldered, sighting through the Elcan. Deng wrestled with the access cover. It hadn’t seen much use. Reno slowly inhaled through his nose and exhaled through his mouth, controlling his breathing, cognizant of his heart rate. The stimulant he had taken may have kept him alert, but now with adrenalin also filling his veins, it was like he had drank a pot of espresso.
The hatch gave, and Deng disappeared through the opening. Reno let the MP7 hang from its sling as he clambered up the ladder. Deng closed the hatch as soon as Reno had exited. He lowered it carefully, quietly. Reno moved to the front of the building, keeping low. The roof had a low wall running along its edge, and Reno kept below that. On his side, he raised the right side of his head high enough to see over the lip of the wall. He couldn’t see the merchant. Deng stayed at the hatch, so Reno crossed the roof to view the construction site.
Reno had a hard time making out the figure on the unfinished building’s roof, but he was fairly certain that was a rifle barrel trained on the entrance. From the angle, Reno couldn’t tell if the man on the second floor remained there or had joined the merchant doing whatever the merchant was doing – Reno assumed that was covering the entrance. Deng now crouched at the rear of the building, and Reno joined him, keeping watch on the hatch.
“Sniper on the roof, two guys probably covering the entrance.” Reno spoke in a low voice.
Deng gestured to the back of the building with a nod of his head. “Our two friends who came through the nightclub didn’t go to the balcony but are waiting inside the grounds. I don’t believe any one is ready to make an entrance. The man in the apartment could have been their commander.”
“Or they’re waiting for someone to come and take charge.” Reno relaxed, though he still watched the hatch. “I’d say we’re still on a clock, though. The longer we wait, the worse this is going to be.”
“Are you good at long jump?” Deng started toward the side of the building opposite the construction site. “There is a ladder on the side of the tenement beside this. If we jump to the roof, we can get to the ground and the truck.”
Reno considered the size of the gap. Maybe two metres. It couldn’t be more. They built them close in the capital. “Yeah, I can do that. Can you with your–?”
Deng had not waited. Taking a run, he easily vaulted over the gap, landing with a thud and a grunt, but rising and waving Reno on. Reno had to stand upright, even if it outlined him. A crouching run wouldn’t give him the speed he needed. He slid the knock-off SIG into an interior pocket of his messenger bag, selected safety on the MP7, then made his run. He focused on the other roof, slightly lower than Deng’s building as he leapt. He made it with maybe 30 centimetres to spare. A bit close.
The two waited, crouched back to back, listening. Both swept their surroundings with their weapons. Several heartbeats passed. Nothing.
“And now?” Reno asked.
Deng went to the metal ladder bolted to the side of the building. “Now it is time we introduced ourselves to Boltcutter.”
You can find part one of “The Boltcutter” here.
You can find part two of “The Boltcutter” here.
Look for more Friday Fiction here.