The raid on the Guz’s HQ had been a spectacular failure. They hadn’t found Sgt Cutler; they’d lost the initiative, subsequently retreated, and left the building in flames. There would be consequences.
Holed up in their rented storage building just outside the walls of the Krakow Old City, Maks took stock of their situation. Their prisoner Elizka had relayed good intel, and seemed keen on joining them on their exit out of town. Several had wounds needing care, and Doc Schultz was working on that.
Loose ends. Lucja, Cutler’s girlfriend, was still safeguarded in their room at the church administration building adjacent to St. Mary’s Basilica. If she got picked up by another party, she could reveal too much about the group. Heck, she could be more involved in Cutler’s dealings than was known, Maks realized. They needed to move her.
0330H 19 Aug 2000
Nobody had slept, but that could wait. Maks grabbed William and Aron. “Saddle up. We got some unfinished business.” They drove the Gaz to the ORMO checkpoint into the Old City.
Even at this hour, the line was long. Easily a dozen vehicles ahead of them, largely marketplace sellers heading in to set up in the early morning hours. The ORMO troops were being more thorough than usual. They were patting down people, and the group could see flashes from cameras. This was new, photographing those passing through the checkpoint. Camera film was precious these days.
As the group inched closer to their turn, they could see the soldiers checking ID papers, taking notes on a clipboard, and searching cargoes more thoroughly. They were attempting to conserve camera film by taking photos of all vehicle occupants in one shot, next to their vehicle. It appeared they were still allowing pistols through.
The group got through without incident, though now their photos would be on record. There was some traffic downtown as battered merchant vehicles and carts congested the tight streets. When they arrived at the church admin building, it was busy across the plaza, merchant stalls being stocked, opening for the day, though it was still 4:30 in the morning.
Something felt off as they entered the three-story building. Usually, a member of the clergy or a lay staffer would be manning the front desk, regardless of the hour. It was empty now. Down the hall, they heard the sound of somebody speaking on a hand radio. A man stepped out from the stairwell down the hall.
It was Schneider, the chess-player from the Na Zdrowie. He seemed unarmed. “Colonel, hello.”
Schneider approached, with only the radio in his hand. “Maks, I want you and your men to relax, and let’s talk.”
Maks, with narrowed eyes, nodded. Schneider continued, “We’ve been talking with Lucja upstairs, and I think we can come to an arrangement.”
It was all very strange, as they followed Schneider and then a soldier wearing American fatigues upstairs. Major Wolf – who Maks had largely forgotten about – had been speaking with Lucja. She was sitting on a bed, crying, and holding a small card. As Maks approached, Lucja looked up and handed him the card.
It was a Soviet military ID. It had Cutler’s photo, but identified him as Sgt. Kozlov. Which was starting to make a semblance of sense. Elizka, the Guz’s lieutentant, had mentioned that she’d briefly seen Cutler’s rough interrogation, and that he’d been cursing in Russian.
Major Wolf cleared his throat. “Maks, allow me to lay down our cards.” He explained that they were what remained of a Soviet Spetsnaz company. His name was Volkhov. He pointed at Schneider, “He’s Lieutenant Gulashev.”
Their fate had gotten tied up with that of Maks’ group. After Maks and Wojciech had assassinated the CO of the Soviet division mobilizing north of Silesia, Volkhov’s team’s mission – translated as “Operation Reset” – had been ordered aborted. They were to explode a captured American nuclear demolition device at Raciborz, to cripple the Markiz’s defense of Silesia in the recent campaign. But with the 129th Motor Rifle Division beheaded, that never happened.
After the mission was cancelled, Volkhov returned to the Soviet OMG encampment for orders… and was promptly arrested by the KGB in connection with the division CO’s assassination.
Kozlov/Cutler, as it turned out, had been a KGB plant in Volkhov’s special forces unit. But really, it seemed, he’d been working for himself. He’d engineered the arrest, and stayed behind at camp when several of the Spetsnaz men decided to go jailbreak their commander. When Volkhov later visited Raciborz as “Wolf” to build contacts for their newly independent unit – unaware of Cutler’s treachery – the traitor back at camp was at it again. Murdering his fellow sentry, Cutler fled with the Reset device and the camp’s radio. But he wasn’t finished with his treachery, as he radioed Volkhov’s route to the KGB posted in Raciborz, who ambushed the commander’s vehicles on his return to camp with a roadside bomb.
It was unbelievable how much damage this one man had caused.
“Cutler,” he spat. “Is responsible for the deaths of most of my men. There are so few of us left.” Volkhov paused. “Everyone else wants the Reset device. I want Cutler. I want to kill him myself.”
Maks told him of a plan he’d been mulling to use the Reset device to draw the Guz out in a mock exchange for Cutler, back when Lucja believed in the man. It was flawed. The hole was: Who’d value Cutler more than the Reset device? A man this craven had no friends.
Maks and Volkhov agreed on an alliance, and shelved the shaky Cutler extraction plan for the moment. Lucja indicated that Cutler didn’t actually know the location of the device now, and really had nothing for the Guz except her identity. The pair had stashed the bomb at her apartment. However, after Cutler was grabbed by the Guz’s men, Lucja had fled to her Mother’s cousin’s place, and brought the device with her.
Maks’ group went to go pick up the device, and Volkhov took his men to go stake out Lucja’s apartment, see who showed up. As they were leaving, Volkhov told Maks he’d want to go to his friend Adam – the barkeep at the Na Zdrowie – and release him. The Russians hadn’t hurt him, but he had been drugged, questioned, and bound in his apartment above the bar.
The teams set about their tasks. Adam didn’t open up his restaurant, fearing that others would come. They talked briefly while Adam’s head cleared. It was a confusing story, and Adam was only certain he was done with Krakow for a while, until the chaos ebbed. He would relocate to his boat moored at the river.
Adam had been preparing his “Vistula Queen” for a trip up the river to Warsaw in a week to find his family. Maks’ group were previously signed on as guards. Given recent events, he was moving up the timetable
Sunrise. The group located the device without incident and took it back to their rented storage building where the rest of the group was waiting. The bomb was a bulky cylindrical container, attached to a frame that made for a ersatz backpack.
Maks told everyone to pack up the vehicles. He sent Wojciech, William, and Aron to go join Volkhov’s team on the stakeout.
Wojciech briefly entertained waiting hidden in Lucja’s apartment building, bag the thugs the Guz sent to pick up the Reset device, and take a prisoner.
Fortunately, as it turned out, he decided they’d wait in a vehicle a couple of blocks away. Two armed UAZ-469 jeeps pulled up in front of the building, and ten ORMO troops ransacked the building for 45 minutes. They left unhappy. Wojciech had heard the crime lord’s tentacles reached deep into the city, and here was evidence of it.
The situation worsened. ORMO troops were attaching flyers to walls, knots of people began gathering to read. The flyers stated that the city’s charismatic commander,
“Dowodca Josef Kutrzeba was killed in a fire last night, along with several other people. A group of criminals attacked a house on Józefa Sarego street, and set fire to the building.”
Reward of up to 50,000 Krakow ration chits is being offered to the identification and apprehension of those responsible. Tip sheets are available at the Police office just outside the Wawel, and can be turned in anonymously by tearing off and retaining a identification serial number slip to collect the reward later.
In light of recent violence, a Decree from the Police Prefect: All Old City ID papers must be updated at the Ratusz building with photos, by 25 Aug. A new form of ID papers will be issued in Swiat, Nowy, Piasek, Kleparz, Warszawskie, Wesota, Stradom, and Kazimierz Districts. These District IDs will not allow travel in other districts.
Questioning Elizka, Maks found it was very doubtful that the Dowodca was in the building when they attacked. This smelled like city intrigue, with the team being set up as fall guys for somebody’s political ascension, likely the Police Prefect.
They hadn’t been identified yet, but Krakow was getting hot. Maks indicated a willingness to keep up his end to Volkhov and try to get Cutler, but he reminded the Soviet major that Cutler was a dead man once the Guz realized he wouldn’t be able to find the Reset device. The major left, lost in thought.
Also announced throughout the city was the Pope’s special outdoor Mass in the western reaches of the city tomorrow. The ORMO sent a battalion over to Henryk Reyman Stadium to clear it of squatters, and neighboring Park Jordana as well. A detachment was sent to raid the Na Zdrowie, and rumor spread of other raids in the city.
Down at the river, the group began loading their large BAV onto the Vistula Queen’s barge, and packing their gear on the tug.