Read Angel, Archangel Online

Authors: Nick Cook

Angel, Archangel (4 page)

BOOK: Angel, Archangel
9.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The Hanomag evaporated.
Ivan never learnt.
Those stupid potato-heads must have stored some ammo in the back of the vehicle.

Now they’d have to move fast before every Russian in Central Czechoslovakia came down on them like a ton of bricks.

When the dust settled seconds later, there was no sign of movement around either the jeep, or what was left of the Hanomag.
The SS officer cocked his machine-pistol and walked down the hill to the nearer of the two vehicles.
His feet slipped once on the rough scree slope, but he kept his balance by grasping a clump of grass that was growing up through the rocks.

The rear wheels of the upturned jeep were still spinning furiously.
The officer looked at the two bodies lying spread-eagled on the ground beside it and then beckoned to the rest of his men who had remained by the boulders.
He put a boot under the belly of the driver and rolled him over onto his back.
Dietz had done a good job.
The old rogue must have used a dum-dum, because the bullet had blown off most of the Russian’s left shoulder.
There was no sign of his arm.
The officer who had been behind him was also quite dead.

There was not so much as a forage cap to be found beside the burning chassis of the Hanomag as the officer and his men patrolled around it looking for signs of life.

Dietz had wandered down to the jeep and wasted no time in pulling off the Russian officer’s watch.
He then disappeared behind the vehicle and started rifling through the pockets of the inside of the vehicle’s door.
He emerged thirty seconds later with a khaki coloured canvas dispatch case tucked under his arm.

The officer walked over to Dietz who was admiring his handiwork with the Mauser.

“A good shot, sir?”
Dietz looked up and was grinning from ear to ear, exposing an uneven row of brown teeth.
“I keep a few of these beauties for special occasions.”
He was holding one of his specially doctored bullets between thumb and forefinger.

Then the officer noticed the dispatch case under his sergeant’s arm.

“It was in the jeep, sir.
In a compartment on the inside of the door.
It’s sealed.”

“Give it to me.”
Dietz hesitated before handing the case to his superior officer.
Several other camouflage-clad figures drew round the officer and Dietz, sensing a showdown between the two of them in the air.
If they disliked the officer, they absolutely detested Dietz.
He was not only their sergeant and superior, but an outsider.
Some even thought that he was a Nazi party minder who’d been assigned to their platoon to spy on them.

If the officer’s men had been less intent on the confrontation, they might have noticed a slight movement in the tall grass ten paces away from the jeep.
As it was, the twitching arm of the second Russian officer who had been thrown furthest from the vehicle went completely unnoticed.

Major Yuri Paliev had been brought round by the sound of voices nearby.
His ribcage felt as if a tank had driven across it and he could taste blood in his mouth.
He knew he was dying.
Waves of pain were washing over him, but he was fighting them, motionless, except for the twitching movement in his arm, over which he had no control.
What bothered Paliev was that his mind was quite lucid, at least he thought it was, yet these men who seemed to be arguing a little way over to his left were not German.
At first he thought that they had been ambushed by Slav partisans, who were not uncommon in that part of Czechoslovakia, but he knew some Slavic and he knew some German, and these men were neither.

He couldn’t raise his head, but through the tall grass he could see a group of men.
They were soldiers, all right, but whose, it was hard to tell as they wore camouflaged battle gear and even their helmets were covered in grass, twigs and leaves.
He couldn’t get a look at the two men who seemed to be arguing, but one of them must be an officer, he thought, from the way he was barking out orders.
With all his remaining strength, Paliev craned his neck for a better look.
At the precise moment he spotted the peaked cap of the Waffen-SS officer, one of his smashed ribs dug into his diaphragm and he screamed.

Seven heads spun round in the direction of the cry and three machine-pistol bolts clicked in metallic unison as the guns were cocked.

One of the men ran over to the dying Russian and peered at his face.
Blood was trickling from Paliev’s mouth, but the soldier hardly noticed it.
He was captivated by the quizzical expression, which furrowed the Russian’s brow.
It was as if the Ivan wanted to ask him something.

“Over here, sir!
One of them’s still alive!”

But it wasn’t the officer who rushed over to the Russian’s side first, it was Dietz.

“Who are you?”
Paliev choked out in German.
Dietz drew the bolt of his sniper’s rifle back and slipped in a bullet.
He cocked it and pointed the gun nonchalantly at the Russian’s head.

“We’re just about all that’s left of the Second SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, Das Reich Division, Ivan, which is too bad for you.”
Dietz’s finger tightened on the trigger.

The Russian’s eyes looked imploringly at Dietz.

“What’s bothering you Ivan?
Is it the others?”
He laughed.
“I am German.
But these reprobates I’ve mothered for the last fifteen hundred kilometres, they’re not.
I’ll show you.”

Paliev could hardly understand a word the Bavarian was saying.
He saw Dietz grab the soldier next to him and rip open his camouflaged jacket.
The grey uniform underneath was the same as a thousand other SS uniforms he’d seen on dead Germans along the front.
The young soldier did not resist as Dietz took off his battle smock.
The others had all crowded round and some were laughing.
It was as if they were playing a game which had been rehearsed many times before.
Dietz grabbed the young soldier’s arm and pointed to a little badge just below the elbow on the field-grey uniform.

“See Ivan?
It’s red, white and blue.”
Dietz was revelling in the Russian’s confusion.
He could not have sounded more mocking.
“We’re a Freikorps unit.
Very rare they are too.
You’re a lucky boy.”
He laughed loudly again before reverting to the language which was the native tongue of his officer and those five other young idiots.

“Yes, we’re a British Free Corps unit in the SS,” he said slowly, mocking the aristocratic English accent of the superior officer.

He levelled his rifle once more at the Russian’s forehead.

Paliev closed his eyes before Dietz’s second dum-dum bullet entered his cranium.
He died without having a clue what the German had said.


Although it was raining lightly, Kruze chose to walk from Waterloo Station to the Air Ministry.
The journey from Farnborough to the London terminus had taken well over an hour because of an unscheduled stop in a tunnel near Addlestone.
Air raid, someone had said, and Kruze had not moved to disagree, even though he knew it was just another false alarm.

The rain fell more heavily as he walked down the Strand.
He contemplated calling a cab as he dodged the pedestrians who weaved down the street of theatres and music halls, but dismissed the idea as the familiar sight of Nelson’s column came into view.
From Trafalgar Square the Ministry was only a few minutes’ walk.

Londoners seemed to have forgotten the war.
The last German air raid on the capital was a distant memory.
Although the buzz-bomb threat had been serious enough for the government to consider an evacuation of the city, everyone always referred to it as if it was nothing more than a mild nuisance.
In the four years that he had lived among the English he still had not quite got used to their vagaries.

Kruze paused by a crowd that had gathered outside the Rialto Cinema.
The proprietor was shouting excitedly at a policeman and pointing at two lower ranking soldiers, who joked and winked at the girls in the crowd when the policeman’s back was turned.

“But I saw them do it!”
The proprietor looked ridiculous in bow tie and ill-fitting impresario’s jacket.
There was loud laughter as one of the soldiers turned drunkenly and shrugged at his growing audience.

Kruze saw the object of the owner’s displeasure.
A poster, boasting the proud, manly figure of Errol Flynn in combat attire, had been defaced in a large scrawling hand with the word “pansy”.
The film was
Objective Burma
and it had caused quite a stir when it had first been released in London, Kruze recalled.
It implied that Errol Flynn had captured Burma from the Japanese single-handed.
An old woman caught Kruze grinning and frowned her displeasure.
Kruze transferred his smile to her, touched his cap lightly and moved on.

He skirted the edge of Trafalgar Square and looked up at the figure of Admiral Nelson.
That the Germans had not flattened the centre of London had been a miracle.
The great buildings of Whitehall, the nerve centre of the British war effort, bore few scars, unlike Waterloo.
There, Kruze had seen workmen pulling down the shell of a huge warehouse, hit by a V2 attack some months before.

As he approached the Ministry, Kruze patted the document in the inside pocket of his greatcoat.
Once he’d delivered it he’d have more than enough time to take in a show or a film in one of the myriad theatre halls that crowded the West End.
Perhaps he would see the Errol Flynn if the cinema had not been burned down by the mob he had just left.

The lobby of the Air Ministry was cold and gloomy and a large puddle lay under the coat-stand beside the main reception desk.
Kruze took off his cap, exposing blond hair that was slightly longer than the regulation length.
The middle-aged woman behind the desk smiled warmly at the Rhodesian.

“What can I do for you sir?”
The voice was from the East End of London.

“I’m carrying a dispatch for Air Vice Marshal Staverton.
Special delivery.”
Kruze saw the heavily made-up face crease for a second as she tried to place his accent.

“Right, sir, I’ll have a pass made up for you right away.”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Kruze said quickly.
The woman left the drawer with the entry forms half-open and looked up at him in surprise.

Kruze lowered his voice.
“Look, I’m on leave at the moment and I’ve got a nasty feeling that if I see the old boy, I’ll never get away.
You know how it is.”
He leant forward a little until he could smell the powder on her face.
She blushed under the gaze of his bright blue eyes.

“Of course, sir.
I’ll see that this gets to the Air Vice Marshal all right.
You’ll have to sign for it, though.”

Kruze printed his name on the form.

“Thank you, Squadron Leader,” the woman said, “enjoy your leave.”

Kruze couldn’t wait to get out.
The thought of working at a desk in the Ministry brought him out in a cold sweat.

He rushed headlong into the cold air outside and never even saw the person who collided hard with his shoulder.
Before he knew it, she was sitting in a puddle on the Ministry steps, rainwater splashed across the uniform of a sergeant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

“Aren’t you even going to help me up, you ill-mannered oaf?
No, on second thoughts, don’t bother.”
There was something about that voice.
The shapely legs swivelled round until her feet were positioned on a lower step.
As she reached for her cap, fair hair cascaded down over her shoulders.

Kruze knew it was Penny Fleming even before she had turned round.
She gasped when she recognized him, the mask of anger turning immediately to surprise.

“Oh, Piet, I’m so sorry.
I’d no idea -”

He helped her up.
“Don’t apologize, it was my fault.”

“No, really, I wasn’t looking where I was going,” she stammered.
“Are you all right?
I didn’t mean to be so rude.”

He smiled.
“I hate to think what would have happened if you had.”

She flushed and turned away from him.
He bent down to pick up her cap, taking his time.
When he handed it to her she seemed to have regained her composure.

“Look,” he started, “if you need me to get you through security, I could go with you as far as the Bunker.
You’ll never reach Robert otherwise - you know what Staverton’s like about guarding that miserable place.”

“No, thank you.”
Her voice was firm, but her eyes seemed to shift nervously away from him.
“I’m only leaving a message ...
a letter.
They can take it down to him from the lobby.”

He sensed she wanted to leave.

“I hope to see you both soon,” he said.
“I owe you a dinner ...”

“That would be nice,” she said, making her way up the steps towards the great door of the Ministry.

He thought about Staverton’s questioning the day before.
Perhaps he should have told him about Fleming’s panic attack during the air-test, the look on his face when he had drawn up alongside the Spitfire’s cockpit.
The irony was, he knew Staverton didn’t really expect him to say anything, despite all the talk about the conspiracy of silence between pilots.
Staverton was direct enough to probe the truth from Fleming himself, a fact which made the old boy’s interrogation all the more puzzling.
The strain of the last few months had been getting to all of them.

Kruze decided to put it out of his mind.
At the Cenotaph he turned right towards Trafalagar Square and back down the Strand, searching out the cinema where
Objective Burma
was showing.
Kruze wanted as much to get out of the rain as to see the picture.
He spotted the Rialto a hundred yards down the street.
The crowd had disappeared, leaving only a few ticket-seekers gathered by the foyer.

It exploded without warning.
No one saw it and no one heard it coming.
Kruze was lifted off his feet as the cinema and several buildings on either side disintegrated in a ball of flame.
The rush of hot, choking air that swept over him a second later was accompanied by an eerie high-velocity whistle.

Kruze tried to suck in the air that had been compressed from his lungs, then picked himself up and ran through the fog until he could see orange flames flickering through the clouds of dust and acrid smoke that burnt the back of his throat.
As he stood before the epicentre of the blast, a cold breeze blew up from the banks of the Thames, driving the smoke away towards Piccadilly and fanning the flames to an intensity that forced back the few who had rushed to the building in the hope of finding survivors.

When the choking mist lifted, Kruze knew that few, if any, people would have survived in those buildings.
A large store had taken the worst of the explosion, but the cinema was not much better off.
Pieces of plush red seating poked through the shattered masonry.
Broken pipes sprayed water over the entire scene, creating tiny flame-free oases around them.
A woman’s body lay horribly mutilated a few feet from him, her limbs twisted and limp, as if every bone within them had crumbled into powder.
Elsewhere, people attended passers-by who had been caught by the blast in the street.

The crackle of the flames from the building mixed with the crescendo of pain from the survivors, until it was the human sound which dominated.
A distant clatter of bells signalled the approach of the fire engines and seconds later three arrived, weaving their way through groups of people in whose midst lay the wounded or dying.

When the fire engines fell silent, Kruze heard a cry from the far reaches of the cinema.
At first he thought he’d imagined it, but then he heard it again.
There was no one around him.
The firemen were some distance away, bringing hoses to bear on the flames.
Just then, two young soldiers appeared through the smoke and began pulling at the rubble twenty yards from him.
Kruze called over to them, but they took no notice.
Each had his own casualty to help.
Realizing he was on his own, he darted towards the alley that used to separate the store from the cinema.

A moment later, the sound was distinctly recognizable as a plea for help, but Kruze could not see through the smoke.
Then he saw the bright red sweater through the grey pall.
For a second, Kruze was transfixed as the arms seemed to beckon to him.
Then he realized that they were thrashing and clawing to be free of the wreckage.
Kruze leapt over the smouldering velvet stage curtain between him and the obscure figure and seconds later was tearing at the bricks which had half-buried the young boy.

He could not have been much more than ten.
When he stopped struggling, Kruze thought that he was too late, that the shock had killed him.
He wiped the grime away from the small, bruised face and saw the tears squeezing out between tight-clenched eyelids.

“What’s your name, feller?”
Kruze tried hard not to transmit the slightest trace of panic in his voice.

The eyelids flickered open, but the reply was feeble.

“Billy, sir.”

“I’ll have you out of here in no time, Billy.
Can you move your legs at all?”
The lad shook his head and began to cry, his chest heaving as the sobs convulsed his body.
“I want my Dad,” he whispered.

Kruze tore at the bricks once more and uncovered the beam which had fallen across Billy’s legs, breaking both of them and pinning him to the floor.
The Rhodesian bellowed at the top of his voice for assistance.
On the other side of the ruins he could hear more bells; ambulances removing the dying and the wounded.
There was little chance that any of the rescuers would hear him.

He tugged at the beam.
At first it would not move, then it gave a little, but Kruze could only raise it a few inches off the ground.
It was all he could do to prevent it from crashing down on the boy’s pale and broken legs.

Kruze wiped the furrowed forehead and swept the matted brown hair from Billy’s eyes.

“Listen to me,” he said gently, “I’m going for some help.
When I get back we’ll have you out of here, that’s a promise.”

Kruze made a move, but the boy grasped him by the fingers and tugged with all his strength.
“Please don’t leave me.

Kruze was about to soothe his fears, when a gust of wind blew through the ruins, fanning the embers of the stage curtain which had been slowly smouldering nearby.
It burst into flames.

Kruze tore his hand free from Billy’s grip and wrenched off his greatcoat.
He tried to get close to the source of the flames but the wind whipped them up into an inferno which drove him back.
He threw the coat over the boy and tried with all his strength to lift the beam high enough to throw it clear of Billy’s feet.
This time Kruze raised the thick wooden support almost a foot off the ground, but the weight of the masonry at one end made it impossible to do any more.
Kruze screamed for more strength, but he felt the energy being sapped from his body.
The beam started to slide from his fingers.

BOOK: Angel, Archangel
9.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Ancient Chinese Warfare by Ralph D. Sawyer
Seeking Carolina by Terri-Lynne Defino
Major Lord David by Sherry Lynn Ferguson
A Little Harmless Lie 4 by Melissa Schroeder
Assignment - Quayle Question by Edward S. Aarons