The man’s no coward, hesitates, part of him wants to fight, sees the young man turn away, crouching low, one rifle over his shoulder, the other grasped in both hands, feet race past the closed office door, they must think we made it to the stairs. He takes a step back to help, but the young man’s gone, diving through the now open door, firing rapidly to his right and is then out of sight. He turns back, the last to drop to the ground, praying for the first time in years that they make it across before the bullets come for them in the open street, only the thinning dust giving them any cover. More shots from the building behind them, but inside, he’s keeping them away from us; when I get out of this I’m going to make a programme about him, whoever he is.
Sam’s diving shots took down the two who had run past from the left, but neither was killed, one making it into the stairwell, another into an open room. He could hear them shouting, someone else was racing back up the steps, must have already started descending.
Run! He turns left, races away; find another way out, this is survival now, nothing more. He heads through the open plan space into another, a right turn, new corridor, keep weaving, find some more stairs. In the distance he can hear voices behind, hunting him, the crackle of radios, how many more of them are there? Finally, a staircase, another fire exit, but there’re voices down there too. Up then, second floor, quieter here, don’t trip over the bodies, right, left, a drunken spider’s path, they’ve lost him, but will be searching, for revenge if nothing else. Voices somewhere ahead, not English, don’t stumble into them.
A room, looks like a radio studio, a body or two, broken equipment, a producer’s cubicle. Not in there, that’s the obvious place, out here, ninety-degree angle to it, behind that piece of equipment, whatever it is. From here, at the right angle, I can see a reflection of the doorway in the remains of the cubicle glass. Minutes go by, ten, twenty, thirty, have they given up? The sound of shooting and explosions is much more intermittent now; they must be running out of targets, their prey thinning out. No, there’re voices somewhere out there, searching slowly, fearful of ambush, little idea whether he’s even on this floor, they must be spread thin by now.
Another ten minutes or so passes, they’re getting closer, two of them nearby by the sound of it, I’m like a rat in a cul-de-sac here, perhaps I should have kept moving. The door swings open slowly, no one’s visible, but they must be there, one either side of the door probably, don’t risk firing unless you’re certain. Don’t show yourself, wait, patience, let them expose themselves, become the hunter.
A blurred motion in the glass shards, one’s in behind a recording station, the other’s barrel sweeping the room from the doorway, the one inside crouching, moving left towards the cubicle, assuming I’m there, the other one covering him from the hallway outside. He’s preparing a grenade, it’s pitched into the cubicle, the remaining glass blown out, the man’s springing forward to enter, he’s sprawling… Too predictable sunshine. That used four rounds, plenty left still, fire a burst either side of the doorway, a yelp, winged the other, but he’s firing back. Get ready for the grenade, another burst and dive for the cubicle, up and ready. But no follow up, the other one’s withdrawn, can hear him talking to someone on the radio. Must be covering the exit from down the corridor, I’m trapped. What now? No way out other than though the floor or ceiling, wait, the authorities will surely be here soon, they can’t allow this slaughter to continue.
Then what? Try to escape in the confusion?
Time passes, suddenly a huge earthquake followed by a crescendo of noise, dust falling, loose items shaken, lights going out, dark. Must be them, a tsunami of firing, rifles, machine guns, something heavier, further but mercifully smaller explosions.
Wait or move?
Safer to stay here but no chance of escape if I do, I’ll be taken if I survive and the soldiers will be in a killing mood, so probably not then. Move then, darkness helps, find some stairs, the enemy are going to have their hands too full to worry about me anyway. Lord, forgive me; it’s in Your Hands.
Edging to the doorway, still dark, the emergency lighting providing a bare minimum of eerie illumination.
Listening intently: is there someone there lying in wait for me?
Impossible to hear anything, given the rising noise of battle, seemingly closer now, building shaking, even some smoke filtering in. What do I do? Move or stay? I want to see Martha, Iltud, Narin, the others, my home again, not die here failing at the last. All those I couldn’t save, dying in front of me, lost to the only ones who ever bothered, polluted by it all. Don’t know what to do, so weary, nearly but not quite, not enough, falling short, just like me, always falling short.
Minutes pass, gunfire down the passage, an AK47 on automatic, but firing in another direction, no two of them, then something else, quieter, on semi-auto, more disciplined, much further away, it’s prolonged, no one’s going anywhere.
It’s broken the paralysis of indecision, looking out, two dim figures firing back up the passage, in their excitement they’ve forgotten me. Too bad, empty the whole clip into them from behind, they’re down, right down to Hell, feet racing forward, to run is suicide, detach the empty clip, hold out the rifle stock first, drop the other to the floor, the pistol’s in the pouch pocket, too late to move for that now, they’re here, all in black and masked, weapons and torches pointing at me, poising to fire.
“Don’t shoot, I’m with you.”
“Freeze, turn around, NOW, against the wall.”
There are four of them at least, two race past to the right searching room by room, the rear one has checked the two he shot, joins the one covering him. Educated voice, posh almost.
“Undercover, intelligence, followed them inside, shot those two for you, at least four more.”
“So you say.”
This one’s intelligent, examining me, finds the pistol, the cross around my neck, his eyes widen behind the facemask.
“Was it you, silenced pistol, outside?”
“Yes, two there, pursued the others in, lost them, lost myself, got some civilians out, but I’ve been trapped here, thanks.”
“Ok, we’ll have to hand you in. Here’s the handgun if we run into any more of them, but do as you’re told, ok?”
“There’s an emergency stairwell some way ahead, on the west side of the building, should be a police evac team there to take you in.”
Following the others, he saw no chance to get away from these guys unless they’re ambushed. One turn, then another, they must be near; the team leader’s looking at a handheld map device. They stop, ceiling down, impassable, have to find another way, an internal staircase, another turn, then another, there it is, down they go, it’s intact, just a body at the bottom, onto the first floor, more turns and corridors of darkness, nearly there, make a dash for it here, no, after the handover, outside in the confusion, the smoke. Gunfire behind them, one of them goes down swearing, then quietly fading, shock sweeping him away in its floodtide. The others return fire, spreading out.
“The exit’s that way, they should be out there, go, now!”
One hurls a grenade down the passage, the others volleying fire in pursuit to cover his dash for the stairwell, around a corner, it’s there. Where to now? Abscond via another way out? No, the cordon will be too tight now, if the soldiers were convinced, maybe the cops would be too, can always try to slip away when through the police ring. Who knows, there may be no one there to meet me anyway, ride your luck, someone upstairs has been looking out for me so far today. Wait here until the shooting dies away then go.
Some minutes later, Sam opens the door so very carefully, no one there, so step through.
© 1642again 2018