Citadel of Fear

Citadel of Fear

by Don Pendleton

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460382059
Publisher: Worldwide Library
Publication date: 06/01/2015
Sold by: HARLEQUIN
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 307,718
File size: 620 KB

About the Author

Phil Elmore is a freelance journalist, author, and technical writer who lives and works in Western New York State. He has contributed extensively to various trade magazines in the "tactical" gear and self-defense fields. He is also the senior editor of an IP development company based in Florida and the author of multiple commercially published scifi and action novels.

Read an Excerpt

Poland, Gulf of Gdansk

"I have movement," Gary Manning reported.

David McCarter, leader of Phoenix Force, looked up into the scudding rain of the Baltic Sea in winter. "Able Team gets all the soft jobs… " he muttered. "What do you see, Gummer?"

Manning spoke from his sniper hide three hundred meters back. They were in Baltic marshlands and he held the only high ground, but it was barely ten meters above sea level. "Three trucks, as reported. I make them Russian civilian Zil half-tons. Canvas tops."

T. J. Hawkins checked his weapon. He mostly approved of the Polish kit. The Beryl rifle was basically a Russian AK but sexier and built to NATO standards. The young soldier peered out into crepuscular dawn across the gulf and took in the lights of Kaliningrad across the border as they came on in the predawn. "You know, I still don't quite get how that's Russia."

Calvin James checked his weapon a final time, as well. "It's an oblast, Hawk."

"A what?"

"An exclave federal subject of Russia."

"You know I love it when you talk all smart 'n' stuff," Hawkins declared.

Calvin James waited for it.

Hawkins sighed. "Okay, what's an exclave?"

James made the young warrior work. "What's the difference between the Latin prefixes en and ex?"

"Ex! Like exoskeleton! Outside! Like sci-fi body armor, and bugs!"

James nodded grudgingly. "Someone give that Wal-Mart-shopping, cornbread-fed Son of the South a cigar."

Hawkins beamed. "Yeah, but why is it Russia? I mean, shouldn't it be part of Poland or one of the Balticstans?"

Rafael Encizo snorted. "Did he just say Balticstan?"

"That piece of property has gone back and forth more than a few times historically," Calvin James explained. "But the last time it traded hands? The Soviets took it from the Nazis, in World War II, and they didn't give it back. To anybody."

Hawkins nodded sagely. "They have a habit of that."

"That they do. It's the Russian Federation's only western seaport that doesn't freeze over in winter. They aren't going to give it back to anyone anytime soon."

Hawkins looked to their leader. "So what are we doing here again?

McCarter watched the trucks approach down the one-lane road through the misty marsh forest. They were a dozen klicks outside the Polish city of Elbag. The land was flat, dank, forested with twisted trees right out of a horror movie and mostly undeveloped. The Kaliningrad oblast was indeed Russia's westernmost outpost, and had a massive military presence. Not unsurprisingly, the oblast also had a massive Russian organized crime presence, and served as a launch point for Russian mafiya endeavors into Western Europe.

This stretch of coast was a well-known smugglers' route. McCarter knew that big money was paid on both sides of the border to keep the salty, dark, cold and windswept stretch of wetlands clear of Polish state police and customs.

Phoenix Force had rather neatly stopped a terrorist attack a week ago in Prague. McCarter had been rather pleased with himself and his team. However, Stony Man Farm had picked up some very strange and seemingly related chatter within hours of the strike. Strange enough that Aaron "the Bear" Kurtzman, the Farm's cybernetics genius, had used the dreaded word anomalous.

The Farm had tracked the weapons through the black market web and their path had led to the Gdansk smuggling route and Kaliningrad. All signs pointed to something going on tonight.

McCarter scowled into the misting rain. Phoenix Force had once again been reduced to sticking their necks out and seeing who tried to chop their heads off. It was the Englishman's least favorite method of investigation.

"With any luck we're tying up loose ends, Hawk," Mc-Carter replied.

"I got a feeling we're just getting started."

McCarter nodded wearily into the wind. "And you're not alone in that, are you, old son?"

"He called me old son."

"You know? One day you are going to go one right proper Charlie too far."

"What the hell does that mean?"

James answered. "It means, young blood, that one day, you are going to be all full of piss and vinegar, and say 'you love it when I talk all black and stuff' to me, and our fearless leader shall sit back and laugh at what happens to you."

Hawkins looked back and forth as every senior Phoenix Force member save Manning grinned at him in the gloom. "That's not right. That's wrong. I'd never say something like that."

Phoenix Force, including Manning over the com link, spoke as a unit. "Yes, you would."

"That's just wrong—"

Manning interrupted him with, "One mile, within range of my rifle, waiting on green light."

"Roger that, Gummer," McCarter replied. "Wait on my signal unless you get sudden inspiration."

"Copy that."

Encizo flipped up the sight on his grenade launcher. "Three trucks, how do you want to play it?"

"Well, I suppose I could step down there, step out in front and ask for an inspection."

The Cuban grunted in amusement. "You don't speak Russian or Polish."

"But I do know a lorryful of Russian swearwords, and the word stop. Then it would be up to you lot and we all play it by ear."

James gave the Phoenix Force leader a bemused look.

"Wow."

"You've got a better plan, then?"

"No, not all." James grinned. "I'm all in." Manning's voice dropped low over the link. "Guys?" The convoy had stopped at approximately three hundred meters.

Hawkins stared at the three idling trucks. "Now why do you think they did that?"

McCarter's brows bunched. "Don't say it…"

Encizo said it. "I got a bad feeling."

"They know we're here," James confirmed.

Manning's voice grew concerned across the link. "Does anyone else hear that?"

McCarter strained his senses over the sound of the idling trucks in the distance.

Hawkins's head snapped up. "Aw, hell."

McCarter heard it. It was low and sounded off in the fog, which told him that it was actually high. It sounded like a distant gardener's Weed-Eater whirring from on high. Hawkins raised his weapon skyward. "It's an RC helicopter"

"And it has a bloody infrared camera," McCarter snarled. "And it bloody well has us! Fish?"

Encizo opened the action on the Pallad grenade launcher slaved beneath the barrel of his rifle. He took out the fragmentation grenade and slid in a fléchette round. "Hey, Hawk."

"Yeah?"

"Go out in that clearing behind us. Do a little duck tolling. Maybe entice that eye in the sky to come down and take a closer look at you."

"Oh, for…" Hawkins popped to his feet and ran at a crouch into the clearing.

Encizo shouldered his weapon. "Cal, a little light on the subject, if you please."

Calvin James clicked an illumination-round rifle grenade over his muzzle. "Say when."

The other members of Phoenix Force watched as Hawkins squelched across the wet glade one way and then came back the other. He suddenly crouched and ran to his left.

"Would you describe those as furtive movements?" James asked.

Manning spoke across the link. "I'd describe it as—"

"Now!" Encizo shouted and estimated the shot. "Nine o'clock!"

James snapped up his rifle and fired. The rifle bucked and the illumination round burst skyward. The low clouds, fog and predawn murk lit up and the small remote-controlled helicopter found itself starkly illuminated at five hundred feet. It appeared to be a fairly standard quad-copter with four rotors. It hovered in place for a moment like a deer in the headlights. James suspected the nonmilitary-grade night-vision camera's lens had temporarily solarized.

The spy-copter was blind.

Like a cockroach when the kitchen lights came on, it suddenly tried to scuttle away. In this case by accelerating straight upward.

Encizo raised his weapon and fired. The 40 mm Pallad belched pale yellow smoke and sent fifty steel darts screaming skyward in an expanding swarm. The RC chopper tilted crazily as fléchettes speared into its plastic fuselage and tore apart its starboard rotors.

McCarter grunted in appreciation. "Nice shot, Fish."

The little unmanned aircraft suddenly dipped with only its portside rotors to support it and spun violently toward the earth like a falling maple seed on meth.

"Hawk," McCarter ordered, "be a good lad. Find that and mark it for retrieval. Everyone else hold position."

"Be a good lad…" Hawkins muttered. Nevertheless the soldier slogged out of the slough and into the trees.

Encizo opened the smoking breech on his weapon and slid in a frag. "So what do you think they're up to?"

McCarter kept his eyes and his muzzle pointed at the trucks in the mist. Above the tableau, the illumination grenade guttered as it descended on its parachutes. "They just lost their drone and are watching the end of the light show."

"If I were them? I'd attack right now."

The canvas covering of the lead truck suddenly popped off like a magic trick. The truck was armed with twin-mounted 23 mm automatic antiaircraft cannons.

Encizo shook his head. "Why don't you just spit in the wind, Cal?"

Hawkins trotted through the trees clutching his prize.

"What's—"

"Down!" McCarter ordered.

"Jesus!" Hawkins threw himself down. "They brought artillery!"

"And aerial reconnaissance," James reminded.

"Who are these guys!" Encizo snarled.

McCarter roared as the twin cannons hammered into life, sending high-explosive shells into the trees. Shrapnel from the high-explosive fragmentation rounds tore through the foliage over McCarter's head. It was only a matter of moments before Phoenix Force got shredded. "Gummer!"

"Gimme a second! The cab is in the way!"

Encizo fired his 40 mm. The round detonated well off target as it hit a tree branch shrouded in fog. "Goddamn it."

McCarter, James and Hawkins hugged mud. Encizo reloaded. The twin 23 mms thundered like giant jackhammers and continued to give the forest a haircut as they sought out human targets.

Manning did his math and found his shot. It was lost in the cacophony of cannon fire but from his little hillock his bullet drew a deadly line through the lead truck's windshield, rear window and the cannon operator's skull. The gunner rubbernecked and oozed out of his seat. The cannons went silent and oozed smoke. Armed men spilled out of the trucks. McCarter decided he'd had enough of this ambush. "Counter attack! By twos! Fish, on me!"

McCarter and Encizo jumped up and advanced through the trees straight at the enemy. They fired on rapid semiauto and reaped the men deploying across the open road. McCarter dropped to one knee beside a tree as his weapon slammed open empty. "Reloading!"

"Reloading!" Encizo echoed.

"Coming through!" James bellowed.

"Coming through!" Hawkins shouted.

The two soldiers leapfrogged McCarter's and Encizo's positions, firing as they went. James put a burst though the window of one of the trucks as it tried to back up. The truck lurched as the driver fell against the wheel. James dropped to one knee. "Reloading!"

Encizo fired his weapon empty. "Reloading!"

"Coming through!" McCarter and Encizo advanced, relying on their optics and shock and awe. The enemy expected to chop their prey to pieces with the cannon or at the very least pin them down and then flank them. They had not expected a counter-assault. The enemy fired wildly on full auto and appeared to be in full panic mode. Manning's sniper rifle reached out unseen for men who had taken cover behind the trucks. The rear truck was reversing and some of Phoenix's assailants were running for their lives to get to it and get in. "Fish!"

Encizo instinctively knew what McCarter wanted. He dropped to one knee. "Grenade!" His 40 mm fired and his grenade flashed and smoked and perforated the truck's cab and its occupants. The rear truck ground to a halt.

The enemy found themselves pinned.

McCarter was getting the feeling these guys were gangsters rather than real soldiers. His boots hit pavement and the last bullet in his magazine pushed a man into the ditch by the side of the road.

"Reloading!"

Encizo fired off three more rounds and knelt again.

"Reloading!"

James and Hawkins charged forward. "Coming through!"

McCarter slammed in a fresh magazine as the twin 30 mm antiaircraft cannons suddenly traversed. McCarter swung up his rifle one heartbeat too slow. He had just enough time to see the new gunner's teeth flash in the gloom as he smiled and told McCarter goodbye. The cannon operator tumbled out of his seat as Manning's longrange rifle said so long first.

James and Hawkins fired their rifles empty and knelt out in the open, counting on their comrades. "Reloading!"

McCarter and Encizo advanced, firing. "Coming through! Flank the road!"

McCarter and Encizo reached the bumper of the first truck and gave covering fire as Hawkins ran across the road.

Manning shouted over the com, "Watch out! Second truck!"

Rubber screamed as tires spun against the slick road surface.

"He's ramming!"

McCarter leaped back. Encizo was a second too late. The middle truck rearended the lead and moved it six feet. Encizo was at the end of the chain and the bumper sent him flying. "Fish!" The truck tilted as its rear axle snapped. The Cuban did a spectacular reverse somersault across the pavement and collapsed prone by the side of the road. "Fish!"

James burst out of the trees. He grabbed Encizo by his straps and hauled him back. Tracers flew between the tree trunks in angry streaks. James jerked three times and fell. Gears ground as the middle truck went in reverse to position itself for a second ramming attack. "Cal! Fish!"

Calvin James's voice was ragged over the line. "We can fight!"

"Covering fire!" McCarter vaulted up the steel bumper and onto the hood of the truck. He emptied his rifle on full-auto as he went over the top and leaped to the tilted truck bed. The second truck's tires screamed and bit in. The truck lurched forward to ram. McCarter tossed his empty rifle and swung into the gunner's seat. He kicked the traversing pedals and brought up the muzzles of the twin cannons.

The truck driver stared into the twin 23 mms and stood on his brakes; the truck started to hydroplane. McCarter snarled and squeezed the trigger. The bastard should have stayed on course. The cannons came to life and ripped the truck apart from stem to stern. The truck was instantly reduced to burning wreckage, but the wreckage had the good taste to swerve and slam into a tree by the side of the road. This conveniently left the third truck wide-open.

McCarter gave truck number three both barrels. The truck broke apart like a beer can. McCarter traversed and scoured the underbrush on both sides of the road. He eased his finger off the trigger. The misty road was eerily lit in orange by the burning trucks. The road was littered with bodies. For McCarter the loudest sound was the ticking of his red-hot cannon barrels and the misting rain sizzling off them. The Phoenix Force leader spoke quietly into the com. "Sound off."

Phoenix Force came back in the affirmative. James and Encizo sounded worse for wear.

"Hold positions," McCarter bellowed like a boss. He used a choice phrase in Russian he had picked up in his travels. "Surrender or die!"

Two men hesitantly rose from the wet, their hands raised. On the other side of the road a rifle clattered out onto the wet pavement. A large, bald man came out with a pronounced limp.

McCarter kept his hands on his cannons' firing grips. He jerked his head at the road and the three men went to their knees. "Fish, you all right?"

"I got my wind, my ribs and my lungs knocked out of me. It'll be a miracle if nothing isn't broken."

"Cal?"

"I got it about one-sixteenth as bad as Fish. I took three to the chest, but my armor held."

"Hawk, Fish, sweep the area. Gummer, hold position and keep an eye on the road. Cal, on me with our friends."

Phoenix moved.

Cal came forward and admired the cannons. "Well played, team leader. Well played."

"Thanks. Check our pals, would you?"

James strode up upon the prisoners. The three kneeling men regarded the large black man with mixed fear and hostility. "Anyone speak English?" he asked. Three sullen glares was the only response. James clicked the Polish-issue bayonet onto his rifle. "You boys sure?"

The big, bald, wounded man spoke. "I speak."

"Good, that's real good." James shot him a winning smile. "Russian, huh?" The man's shoulders sagged. His leg was clearly paining him. James continued to smile and continued to keep the brutal-looking man kneeling in place. "What's your name?"

The man seemed to search for strength.

"For the next forty-eight hours you're mine. So, what would you like me to call you?"

The man closed his eyes. "Nikita."

"Okay, Nick. Can I call you Nick? Good." James took a big, deep breath of the misty, salty, dank Gdansk dawn. He sighed happily. "So, how are you enjoying Poland?"

Nick's accent was very thick. "I hate fuckin' place."

"Rather be back in Kaliningrad, would you?"

Nick sighed fatalistically. "Never should have left Orsk."

"Orsk?" James grinned. "I killed a whole bunch of guys in Orsk once."

Nick didn't bat an eye. "I believe."

James looked at the other two. One was tall and skinny and one was tall and fat; they looked related. "Do those two speak English?"

Nick glanced at the men. They glared back. "No."

"Who are they?"

"Hammerhead scum."

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