Read Angel, Archangel Online

Authors: Nick Cook

Angel, Archangel (7 page)

BOOK: Angel, Archangel
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Staverton sucked his teeth.
“That’s all we need,” he said.
He would have a lot more to tell Churchill and the Cabinet tonight.

“Very well, Robert, we’ll talk about this again in the morning.
If you’re right, the next few days are going to get damn busy.”

Fleming saluted and turned for the door.
There went the prospect of some leave.

“Oh, Robert.
.
.”

Fleming paused with his hand on the door handle.
Staverton looked levelly at him.

“Nice work,” he said.

* * * * * * * *

Since he had been working in the Bunker, ‘home’ for Fleming had been a small rented bedsit in Courtfield Gardens.

Once inside, the strain of the trip to Norfolk caught up with him.
He felt a sudden, searing pain where the worst ridges of scar tissue criss-crossed his chest and stomach.

He breathed deeply and massaged the point where it seemed worst.

He walked into the kitchen, found a drop of whisky in a bottle at the back of a bare food cupboard and poured himself a last, stiff measure.
He decided to call Penny at the cottage the moment the alcohol had got to work enough to loosen his tongue so that at least he could try to explain that he wanted to see her as soon as possible, and why.

He walked back into the sitting room and collapsed in a chair, cursing as he crumpled the smartly pressed tunic that he had thrown over the seat-back.
When he pulled it out from behind him the small brown envelope fell from a pocket to the floor.
He had not opened it when he had found it in his pigeon-hole on the way out of the Ministry.
He always savoured her notes and letters.
He realized again that that was something else he had never told her.

He smiled to himself.
It was just like her to use their best vellum and seal it in a shabby, official-use-only envelope.

The smile left his face before he had even started to read.
The needles of panic, the same ones that had jabbed his flesh through the sweat that had covered his body in the Spitfire’s cockpit the day before, were there again.
But this time he managed to fight them.

The writing was bold, rounded, in keeping with the finality of the message.
She exhorted him to read the letter through, not scrumple it into a ball and throw it away.
In that moment he felt the change in himself more acutely than ever.
It was what he would have done, pretended it was not happening.

He read, carried along by the conviction in her words and wondered, in some far away part of his mind, why it was that he already felt jealous.
He had never felt that way about her before.
She had always been there, he never imagined she wouldn’t.
He had seen men looking at her, longing for her even, but it had never concerned him.
He cursed his arrogance, and understood a little better why she was doing what she was.

He turned the pages, looking for evidence of self-doubt, or a weakness in her hand to tell him that she didn’t mean it, but there were none.
A terrible thing had happened to him, she didn’t shrug it off.
Another man would have died, but the price of his survival had been their marriage.
It was the frustration of not being able to help, for in everything she had done before she had never known failure.
She too had started to become bitter, try as she had to fight it.
She saw it starting to twist her in the same way that it had him.
She didn’t want it to take them both.
She hoped he would try, in the months ahead, to understand.
There was no mention of the day he had hit her, no outpouring of emotion, no recrimination at his failure to let her in over the last few difficult months.
It was a practical decision.

“You left it just a little too late, didn’t you, old boy,” he told himself.

His hand fumbled for his glass and he brought the whisky to his lips.
When the alcohol permeated his stomach wall, he began to feel calm enough to think it through.

It had been almost a fortnight since he had last been at the cottage and, following a pattern that had been pretty much set since his convalescence, things hadn’t exactly been cordial between them.
He couldn’t blame her.
He had been nothing short of cruel.
And with that realization came the knowledge that he not only had the strength to live without her, but the determination not to give her up without a fight.

When he felt steady, he walked into the hall and asked to be connected to Padbury 278.

It rang for two minutes before the operator apologized and told him that she would have to ring off.
Wartime rules prevented her from allowing him the line any longer.
Perhaps he could try again the following morning?
The caring female voice persuaded him that that was the best course of action.

He replaced the handset slowly and walked down the narrow corridor to the bedroom, taking his cigarettes and the dregs of the whisky with him.

* * * * *

Kruze knelt beside the fire.
He blew on the glowing logs until the warmth began to spread to the corners of the sitting room.

There was no light on in the small, low-ceilinged room, but when he turned round he could see the slight mist of perspiration on Penny’s brow as she stood watching the flames.
She was wearing her blue WAAF skirt and shirt; the jacket had been thrown over the small sofa by the hearthrug.

Her tie was off, the collar open.
The glow from the fire played over her face, its soft light making her look even more beautiful.
She had let her hair down and the long, gently waving curls fell over her shoulders and down her back.

They had spent the last three hours at the dinner table talking the light-hearted banter of two adolescents discovering each other for the first time.
To his surprise, Kruze realized that he was probably falling in love.

She looked at him and smiled.

He moved to her and ran his hand up her back, felt the heat of her skin beneath her shirt.
She held him tightly and looked into his eyes.

“I need you,” she whispered.
“I hope you don’t think that’s -”

He kissed her before she could finish the sentence.

He explored her mouth.
She responded, slowly winding her tongue round his.
Then her hands were combing his jacket, undoing the buttons, tugging at his uniform.
She managed to get it half off before he helped her.
It fell on the ground between them.
She ran her hands through his hair, then traced a long nail down his scalp, his neck, across his back.
She felt the perspiration that soaked the top of his shirt, smelt the fresh, outdoor smell of him as she twisted and turned in his embrace.

He stopped and held her at arm’s length.
She opened her eyes and watched him as he stared, questioning, into her face.
She smiled and opened her mouth a little.
The flames flickered in the grate and reflected momentarily on her glistening lower lip.
He ran his hands down her back and pulled at her shirt.
Then his fingers moved over her bra strap, seeking the catch.
He tugged and it seemed to give.
She had undone her buttons so that when he slipped his hand under the cups of her bra, both it and the shirt fell to the floor.

She stood standing before him in the semi-darkness with only her skirt on.
He bent down and put his mouth around her nipple and sucked.

She moaned softly.

“Take me to bed.”
Her words were choked.
He could hardly hear them.

They took the rest of their clothes off slowly, watching each other all the time, neither wanting to rush in case they broke the spell.
Kruze felt as if he were drugged, or dreaming.
Suddenly he prayed this was real, that he wasn’t about to wake up and find himself in a strange place, without her.

CHAPTER FIVE

The Focke-Wulf 189 was a curious-looking aircraft.
Between its twin engines the cockpit area was covered almost completely with perspex for maximum visibility, designed as it was exclusively for observation and tactical-photo reconnaissance.

In the nose of the German plane, Oberleutnant Rudi Menzel felt cold and vulnerable.

Cold, because his electrically heated flight suit was not functioning properly and because the damned FW 189 was more full of holes than the Wehrmacht’s boots.
He had remonstrated with the ground crew before the last flight for not patching up the aircraft following its brush with a Soviet La-9 several days before.
Now the icy slipstream cut into his face as it was forced through the bullet-holes and into the cabin at 280 kph.

Vulnerable, because the FW 189 was slow and under-armed and he quite expected to see more Lavotchkins, Yaks and any other Red Air Force fighter he cared to think about between their present position and Chrudim, their destination, east of Prague.

His headset crackled.
At least that seemed to be working; Menzel almost allowed himself to smile.

“Keep a look out for enemy fighters.
Especially you, Freddi, you dozy sod.
No slip-ups like last time or I’ll put in a personal recommendation to the Kommandant that you join our ground forces in the defence of the Reich.
If we get bounced by Ivan we can’t expect any help from our own fighters.
Just remember that.”
The pilot, Hauptmann Pieter Klepper, sounded edgier than usual, Menzel thought, but he was right about Frederik Lutz.
The idiot had let the La-9 get really close to them two days before because he’d thought it was one of their own FW 190s.
The La-9 didn’t look anything like the radial-engined German fighter and there was Lutz almost blowing kisses at the pilot until Ivan started shooting at them.
Lutz deserved to be posted to a slit trench at the front.
Then he wouldn’t mistake Russians for Germans in a hurry.

Menzel got back to his map reading, every so often peering through the clouds for a landmark that would point them accurately to the Chrudim sector.

The Army had received reports of an unusually large Soviet presence in the area and had contacted the Luftwaffe to go and take a look-see.
The twenty-year-old Klepper, being one of the most senior and experienced pilots on the squadron, had been asked with his crew of two to take off from their airfield at Altenburg, forty kilometres south of Leipzig, fly to Chrudim to establish the validity of the reports and, if they were substantiated, bring back pictures.

Fucking marvellous, Menzel thought.
Here he was, suspended four thousand metres above the earth and heading for one of the hottest sectors on the Eastern Front.
All on the say-so of some madcap intelligence officer who had received spurious reports about a Soviet armoured and logistics build-up in some shithole near Prague.
So what.
The Russians had been ‘building up’ their forces in the region for months and he hadn’t noticed any sign yet of a German counter-offensive.

Menzel had no faith in the Wehrmacht’s intelligence corps.
For a start, Chrudim had been behind enemy lines in Czechoslovakia now for weeks.
So what did the Army know?
The nearest an intelligence officer or a scout party had ever got to Chrudim in the last month was staring at it on a map.

Since the big Russian breakthrough in eastern Czechoslovakia several months before, all had been chaos on the squadron.
Things had become so desperate in the last few weeks that some joker at Luftwaffe Staff Headquarters had given orders for their FWs to be equipped with bombs.
The mechanics jury-rigged racks under the wings and the same afternoon the lumbering aircraft had set out to bomb Soviet armour.
Mercifully, their supply of bombs had run out ten days ago, so the squadron’s remaining six aircraft went back to their observation duties.
It was up to the Wehrmacht and the SS to defend the homeland against the Russian T-34 tanks now.

Below their port wing Menzel caught a gleam of sunlight on metal.
Shit!
Yaks scrambling to meet them.
He was about to alert the others when a gap in the clouds showed him that it was water and not airframe on which the early morning rays of sun had reflected.
Menzel glanced at his charts.

“Crossing the Elbe now, Herr Hauptmann.
We should reach Chrudim in twenty minutes.”

‘Good,” Klepper said.
“Both of you.
Keep alert.
The Soviets must be worse than we think they are if they haven’t spotted us by now.
If we get bounced by fighters I’ll head for the nearest clouds and try and shake them off.
Once we get to Chrudim, the important thing is to take a look, take pictures and get the hell out.”
Klepper’s intercom clicked off.

Menzel scanned the sky, looking for a Soviet air presence, but saw none.
Every so often he shot a quick glance at the cloud cover above them.
The cumulus had never taken on such significance before.
When the Yaks came for them Klepper would have a hell of a time finding cover.

As the March sun climbed higher into the sky the clouds around them evaporated one by one.

* * * * * * * *

So far, the major of tanks concluded, the maskirovka operation had been a complete success.

As the engineers erected the last of the dummy T-34s in the town square of Chrudim, Major Kirill Malenkoy sat back in the rear seat of the jeep and ordered his driver to return to HQ.

The road that led from the little provincial Czech town was lined with T-34s and even the new Josef Stalin 3s, their barrels stowed to the rear in readiness for rapid mobilization, their drivers’ cupolas pointing north-east.
The dirt track met the main Prague highway about ten kilometres from their present position.
But this was one armoured division that would never make it to the Prague-Berlin road, and Malenkoy smiled with satisfaction.
General Nerchenko would be pleased with the progress.
Who knows, maybe even Marshal Konev himself would hear of his handling of the maskirovka if the final manoeuvre proved a success.
The major gazed down at his smartly pressed uniform and tried to imagine how the Order of Lenin would look amongst the other glittering medals that were pinned to his chest.

There was plenty more work to be done before the prized Order was his, though.
The engineers had been instructed to erect another hundred tanks from the rough scraps of wood that had been sent forward from Ostrava by special convoy and the major could also have done with another fifty engineers to ensure that he would finish the job on time.
But judging by the speed with which his existing men had put together the first four hundred dummy vehicles, he estimated that he would be finished in a few days, easily within the deadline that had been set by Nerchenko.

As the GAZ jeep wound along the muddy track that led towards Branodz, Malenkoy cast a quick glance skyward to see if there was any sign of aircraft in the vicinity.
He was pleased that the thick pines that lined the road almost totally hid the track from the air.
Only a crazy Nazi would take his plane low enough to see any enemy activity on that road.

Nerchenko said that he had picked him for the maskirovka because Cadet Officer Kirill Malenkoy had passed out top in his year at the Red Army Academy at Smolensk and maskirovka, the general noted, was the part of the training course for which Malenkoy had shown a particular aptitude.
Malenkoy had shrugged it off modestly at the time.
As a peasant’s son, one who had spent his life in the forests and fields of Georgia, he had found the art of concealment, camouflage and simulation very easy.
When maskirovka became adopted as a formalized tactic of the Red Army, Malenkoy saw an opportunity for him to shine in this uniquely Soviet technique of deception and disinformation.
He was now something of a specialist in the field, having masterminded several similar operations in the early part of the “final offensive”.

There were over one and a half thousand real T-34s hidden in the forests forty kilometres west of Chrudim at Branodz - the simple town also dubbed as Konev’s HQ -which could wipe the Wehrmacht in this sector off the face of the globe if they were to roll towards Berlin now.
Even the SS offered little resistance, except for the maniac Waffen-SS terrorists who operated behind their lines.

Trying to flush them out was a job that Stavka left to the Siberian divisions.
Fight fire with fire, Nerchenko had told him.

Maybe, but Siberians ...
he was damned thankful that he didn’t have to work with them.

Among the junior officers at HQ the topical horror story was the tale of the Siberians who had murdered their young platoon commander, recently arrived from the Academy only two weeks before.
All fifteen of them had deserted and headed for the hills above the central Czechoslovak plain.
The officer had pursued them across country and caught up with them after several hours.
Picking up their tracks couldn’t have been difficult.
The trail of rape victims, both male and female, had considerably narrowed the search.
The commander’s attempts to bring them in had resulted in his death too, but only after he had been tied, tortured and screwed by each Easterner in turn.
The officer had no choice but to find them, Malenkoy knew that.
He had either to bring them back for trial or face the prospect of a bullet in the base of the skull for gross failure in the field.

Malenkoy’s driver slammed his foot on the brakes and the jeep slewed across the road.

The first bullet splintered the windscreen, the second tore a hole the size of a man’s fist in the petrol can that was strapped to the inside of the jeep next to Malenkoy’s legs.
He threw himself flat on the other rear seat, but not before he caught a glimpse of something in the middle of the road about fifty metres from them.

Malenkoy’s mind screamed.
He fumbled for his pistol.
The driver was crashing the gears trying to find reverse.
The smell of petrol burnt his nostrils.
Why couldn’t he get the fucking pistol out?
Just as he felt the reassuring rough texture of the pistol grip, the driver found reverse and Malenkoy was jolted forward.
Another crack, but no telling where the bullet found its mark.
Malenkoy took a deep breath and came up from the seat letting four shots off in quick succession at the figure further up the track.
The jeep shot forward and Malenkoy’s fifth shot went wild.
The driver tore off down the road back to Chrudim and Malenkoy fired the rest of his clip at the single assailant who had ambushed them like some sort of maniac, standing unprotected by cover, in the middle of the track.

The hunter had the last word.
Malenkoy saw the flash from the panzerfaust just within the tree line and then the searing blast of hot gas caught him on the side of the face as the explosion tore into a pine only metres to his left.
The jeep lurched onto two wheels and Malenkoy thought they would go over.
The wheels spun, then gripped the surface of the road.
Two seconds later they rounded a bend in the track.

Malenkoy and his driver never exchanged a word.
The speed of their departure almost took them off the road at several points.
The Russian kept his eyes on the dark interior of the forest, scouting the shadows for signs of movement or a hint of sunlight reflected off metal.
They could be anywhere.
It was the first time in three years of fighting that he had felt shit-scared.
If one bullet had found the petrol-soaked interior of the jeep, he would have been roast meat by now.

Shit!
The fucking SS were in his sector.
It hadn’t been a partisan who had attacked them.
He had seen the camouflaged battle smock and the coal-scuttle helmet.
He had better place a call through to HQ when they got back to Chrudim.
This was another job for the Siberians.

Half a kilometre back up the track, the soldier was still swearing loudly at his comrades about the failure of the ambush.

They ignored the tirade of profanities.
So two more Ivans had got away.
There were probably half a million others in the area to choose from, judging by the enemy activity they had seen.

* * * * * * * *

The officer was chastising the burly sergeant for his bungling stupidity.
What had he hoped to achieve by darting into the middle of the road and taking on the Russians alone?
Another act of disobedience like that and he would be shot.

As the small party of insurgents set off in single file through the forest, the sergeant smiled to himself.
They would not dare to shoot him.
Without his battle experience, they would never be able to make their way back through enemy territory to their own lines.

BOOK: Angel, Archangel
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

DEATH IN PERSPECTIVE by Larissa Reinhart
Hard to Trust by Wendy Byrne
Do Penguins Have Knees? by David Feldman
A Perfect Love by Lori Copeland
Lord of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle
Everybody Wants Some by Ian Christe