Operation: Snow Leopard

The air was ice-dry under the coal-black Siberian sky; his ears were blistered from his snow-mask . He glanced at his watch, illuminated by the bright winter moon, only five seconds until an amber glow fell over his camp. The camouflage had worked well so far. He wasn’t worried. He was a professional. He clicked a button in his right hand. The lens on his scope snapped shut. He knelt in a prone position looking down waiting for the security light to wash over him. 

He waited thirty minutes in his camp, set behind two rocks jutting out the earth like death-grey battlements. He took the time to check his tactical backpack and weaponry, it was a habit. A habit that had saved him several times before. Once he was happy he had everything he’d need he took one last look at the map of the compound. He decided on going through the front gate. It didn’t have to be complicated. 

There was a slight wind carrying drifting snow. Right on schedule the lamp went out. The clink of heavy boots on metal, it took the guard between two and three minutes to walk through the wrought iron archway and into the warmth of the safehouse. He’d spent three nights doing recon. He was going to wait another couple of days before the assault but a call came through from Deputy Director Gorschev. It had to be done tonight. 

He remembered the mission briefing back in the mouldy room they had designated Operational Command. A nondescript base used by the GRU to train their agents. It was the closest to Ali bin Yadeen’s Snow Leopard’s compound. The Snow Leopard, a beautiful creature now tainted with the association to the jihadi terrorist he had been tasked with killing. He is responsible for the death of over fifty Russians and is a recruiter and trainer of deep-cover terror cells. He fled Afghanistan and has been running ever since from Russian and the US.

At the sound of a slamming door, he crouched and made a dash to the perimeter wall, then sticking close to it, followed it four hundred metres to the wrought iron gate that was never closed. Arrogance was a great instiller about false senses of security. And there was nothing more arrogant than a terrorist leader who’d managed successful attacks against the Motherland, he thought.

He walked through the iron gate. There were no guards on duty at this time. He still clung to the wall, keeping his trigger-finger ready on his rifle. The compound to the left consisted of two single-storey, opposing L-shaped buildings, one lit and filled with noise (which was closest), the other still and silent black. To the right was a large metal barn, which was also night-dark. He approached carefully, there was no front covering but he saw several vehicles including a tractor, bullet-proofed 4×4 and a couple of snowmobiles. Only the 4×4 and one of the snowmobiles were open with keys; he cut the fuel lines on everything else. He had planned on the 4×4 when he saw it pulling onto the  Returning to the rear of the 4×4, he unzipped and climbed out of his arctic camouflage ghillie suit then pulled up the tactical backpack on to the back seat. Leaving the mask on he laid out his kit. A block of C4 with some blast caps and receivers were ready to go. His SR-3 rifle was in good order, he no longer needed the scope. The GSH -18 pistol slid into its holster with ease. Quickly, he fastened his ammo pouches to his body, picked up his rifle hanging it over his shoulder and held the C4 and blast caps in his hand. He took one final item from the bag and placed it in his pocket. 

He crouched and left the barn, heading for the safety of the wall at the far end. He stood upright and made his way around the perimeter until he was at the wall closest to the front of the compound and started laying C4, blast caps and receivers. He set two on the wall, crept around the corner, placed one adjacent to the door frame and another further along under a shuttered window. He heard singing in a language he didn’t understand but one he’d heard years ago in the Bora Bora mountains. The scent of mutton, spices, hashish and cigar smoke was permeating through the bottom of the door. He thought they probably never reckoned they’d be found especially out here. But, their time had come. 

He heard the distinct rattle of the door, quickly he darted up and around a corner, staying out of sight. A man in robes was beating his chest, walking to the darkened building. He watched as the bearded man slid the door open, entered and left with two girls, both shrieking, gutturally in two different languages; Russian and German. He spat at them as he dragged them violently by the shackles on their arms. They cried and cried, the look of impending threat and dread etched into their hollow faces. This complicated things. He couldn’t kill these girls along with the jihadis. 

He ran back to the 4×4 and took two pepper bombs and two concussion grenades from the tactical backpack. He heard violent voices in the building. He ran back to the shuttered window and tapped on it five times and ducked. No response. Then another three taps and he heard metal scrape against wood he ducked quickly and watched as more light escaped out into the world. He pulled the pins from the pepper bombs and concussion grenades, stood up quickly then shot out the window watching as splinters of glass painted the face of the man looking back at him. He threw in the grenades and ran to the wall next to the door. 

He held his rifle level to his body. The way he’d trained near Averyeko. It was muscle memory. His finger was twitching on the trigger. He heard the door heave open and two men ran out in single file, covering their eyes and choking. They took bullets through their necklines. Their scarlet spilled out, staining the purity of the fresh snow. Then another man this time using the door for cover, ran out again. His eyes were covered by one of his hands but he held a revolver in his other hand. As the man twisted his arm to take the shot, a bullet plunged through his elbow, the power of the subsonic round mangling the tendons. He fired another bullet through the man’s cheekbone. Another one down. By his count he only had another five to get rid of. Nobody was coming out of the front door for a while but as he approached, his boot made a crunch in the snow alerting the terrorists to his proximity. 

He heard the footsteps from two men get closer to the door. One fired a couple of tracer shots out into open air warning him their guns were ready. Their training camps must be poor these days, he thought as they jumped out back-to-back their AK 47’s, trained at chest level. The terrorist facing him looked full of spite and hatred, then had the blank look of death in his eyes as a bullet went through his forehead. The other man spun around and fired a shot that he felt nip the outside of his knee, then nothing. He thought he was being toyed with for a second then realised this next victim’s AK was jammed. He let a glint of a smile wash over his face as he approached the man shot out his legs then his head. There was only the leader and his bodyguards left. They never left his side. He heard shouts in different languages until he heard a shout in Russian saying they would pay him to go away. He can also have the girls. They are willing girls. He heard the Russian girl tell him he was dead; then, he heard a slap.

The two bodyguards walked out with the slight young girls who looked even worse close-up. He spoke to them in both their languages asking what had happened to them as his main target stepped out with a holdall. It was grim listening. Kept as slaves. They had been physically and sexually abused. He said he would get them help immediately and asked for their trust. He stepped back a few feet, telling the terrorist to release the girls saying his vehicle was hidden behind the compound walls. His gun was aimed straight at the main target. He knew they’d release the girls. These men were cowards; they were in hiding. Being a martyr for Allah didn’t appeal. He stepped back further, waited a minute then the girls stumbled past him. He asked in English what was in the holdall. The target replied with ‘five million dollars US, give or take ‘. He started moving his body to his left, the bodyguards and the bin Yadeen followed suit, keeping the space between them. He watched smiles cross their faces as they realised they were close enough to retreat into the house and if he stormed it again they’d easily take him out. He asked for the holdall and as Bin Yadeen threw it, slim bricks of paper money slipped out. He didn’t attempt to catch it, that gave them another advantage. The three men were speaking in the language he couldn’t understand. Not glancing at the cash, he screamed at them to go back inside the lodge. They retreated, back and inside. The last bodyguard heaved the door shut. It was almost silent. They had a perfect sniper position from the window. He heard the instruction to take it up. Then an explosion. A big explosion. 

The snow was disturbed by chunks of wood, burning money, bricks and concrete. There was a fire in the middle of the freeze. He heard wailing and moaning from three voices. He saw limbs detached from bodies. He approached the debris, a mental map of the interior in his mind. He found the body of bin Yadeen tangled in brickwork. Saw the tears streaking through the dirt on his face. Heard the gurgle come from his throat. Then heard the bullet from his SR-3 shatter his skull as it travelled through his head from the optic nerve. 

He moved all of his kit into the front of the 4×4. You could never be too certain of your safety. It started immediately, the engine purring as he pulled out of the compound onto the gravel track. The two young girls were shivering with shock and cold next to the wall. He slit open his gilly suit to make a blanket as best he could, then turned the heating up as much as possible. He had a couple of protein bars and the remains of a bottle of vodka which he gave them. He heard them devour the food and within ten minutes of being on the road, heard the girls sleeping.

He drove back to Operational Command, the 4×4 handled the snowy conditions well and it had a good top speed. The journey was quiet, apart from the restlessness of his passengers in their sleep. He had to take them back to Command. They’d be questioned about anything they’d heard. He knew they’d never be able to give anything of value. But you never knew, especially with trauma. They would, at the very least, be reunited with their families and be given a medal by the state. And some money. The Politburo would use it as a positive story between Russia and Germany. His name would be kept out of it at the very least. 

Artyom Garin, the Snow Leopard killer.

Thanks for reading the first story in the Artyom Garin series. I hope you liked it.

Take it Easy

Paul

Killing Time In NYC

There was nothing ornate or sparkly about the dagger in her hand. It was her instrument of death. The blade was fatally sharp and coated in black oxide to prevent any glints from flashing in the restroom mirror that may alert her target. She had learned that bruising lesson in Berlin a couple of years ago. 

She had been waiting almost an hour in the stall, still focussed. There had been a trickle of visitors in the first thirty minutes or so who had added some floral fragrances from the handwash and their perfumes. The occasional waft of garlic, beef, and seafood permeated the walls which made her lick her lips.

A clean, crisp server’s uniform with a stranger’s name on a white plastic rectangle, a purse, and a blonde bob wig hung on the back of the door looking down on her. That was the only company she had. She had rigged the remainder of the stalls with a remote control locking device and they were now all set to ‘occupied’. Can’t have any distractions or witnesses. It was a waiting game which she would always win. She’d not waited in Berlin and that had ended badly.

To pass the time, she thought about the small space she was operating in. There was no room for a struggle. She knew it would be a quick kill. The dagger allowed that. In. And. Out. A few times. Rhythmically. 

She placed the dagger in the purse. Removed her phone from her pocket and checked an app that was streaming the CCTV of the restaurant floor. It was busy for early evening, probably a theatre crowd, she thought. Her eyes were drawn to the round table in the back. Her target, a heavy-set woman in her fifties wearing a figure-hugging scarlet dress that accentuated her curves, was just finishing a glass of wine that had been spiked by the sommelier, with a specially formulated laxative, at a cost. One hundred dollars, her phone number (which was fake), and the promise of a date. After two minutes she saw the look on the target’s face change from joy to fear. She watched her stand up reading her lips as they mouthed “I don’t feel so great, I’m just going to nip to the ladies’ room.” The target clutched her stomach. When she saw this she used her phone to unlock the cubicle directly next to hers then put it in her purse. It gave the target only one destination. Controlling the situation was the key to her success.

The night before, before rigging the locks, she had timed how long it took to walk from the same table to the restroom. She took into account the extra patrons and factored in the polite shuffling of chairs for the target to get by, estimating it would take her target around two minutes to reach the sanctuary of the restroom. She wondered whether they would make it there before soiling herself. It sometimes happened. It had in Berlin.

The hurried click-clack of heels on the restroom floor tiles announced her target’s arrival. She lifted the dagger in her hand, feeling its perfectly balanced weight in her palm. She listened as the clack got louder and closer, hearing the lock on the stall next door slide into place, the gentle thud of flesh hitting the wood, panting groans, and a violent explosion of crap hitting the pan. Her target sighed deeply, then in a low, thick New York accent said “Thank fuck I made it in time”. A smirk slid across her face. She had made it. She waited for the target to stop tearing the luxury toilet roll and for the flush. It ended being a couple of flushes. It wasn’t a surprise based on the amount of paper used. When she heard the door unlock and a more relaxed click-clack of heels on tile and the sudden rush of water, the waiting game was over. 

She stepped outside the stall, knowing that the noise and possibly shame would make the target turn around instinctively. Which she did. The dagger plunged deep into her throat. In. Out. No need to worry about screams. Then the dagger was plunged into the target’s heart, the thin blade scraping between the ribcage. No heartbeat. A quick kill. She walked calmly to the restroom entrance and locked the door. Then she returned to her target and went to work on the rest of her vital organs, precisely, rhythmically, then finished chaotically with a frenzy of slashes. Her clients had paid extra for that. Something about sending a clear message to some crime family, but she wasn’t interested in why. 

She cleansed the blade of blood under the running sink and went back to her stall, navigating around the slowly seeping pool of blood. Put the blade in the purse, took out her phone to take a picture to confirm her kill, and used the apps to unlock all the other stalls and turn off the CCTV in the hallway connecting the restroom, entrance, and kitchen. She changed into the uniform, fixing the nametag so it was straight.  She hid her other clothes in the toilet tank. She left the stall clutching her purse and used the mirror to straighten her wig. She looked like the name on her tag. Sasha. She walked to the restroom door and unlocked it. 

She was face to face with a younger woman, mid-twenties from the same table as her target. “Oh, sorry, this restroom is out of order”. Her words came out musically. “I’m looking for my mom” the girl replied in a lighter version of that thick New York accent. “You’re on the round table at the back yes?, I think I saw someone from your table with a red dress run into one of the accessible restrooms, the middle one I think, she didn’t look so good, give me a tick, I’ll just lock up here and grab the Out of Order signs from the storeroom, and let’s see if I can help you find her” her tone was reassuring. The daughter smiled and stepped back to let her lock the door watching her shuffle the keys to find the right one. “Thanks Sasha, that would be great”. 

She left the girl by the locked restroom door then walked into the kitchen, turning and holding up her fingers in a peace symbol to indicate it would be two minutes as she slid through the door. She glided past the busy fish and sauce sections and out into a yard where the staff had cigarette breaks. She asked for help, pretending to struggle to open the black security gate then walked to the end of the alley, dropping the wig into a dumpster, and stepped out into the slipstream of New York foot-traffic.

She walked casually to the end of the block hopping into a vintage boutique. She picked out a full outfit including a stetson and a pair of suede cowboy boots. She giggled with the sales assistant saying she had a date at a line dancing bar and wanted to look the part. She asked if she could pay and get changed there and then. Her eyes smiling and hopeful. She knew she had an easy way with people. The sales assistant agreed. She handed over a credit card. It was printed with someone else’s name on it. She asked for a bag for her belongings and headed for the fitting room. She removed the dagger from her purse and wrapped it up in the trousers from the server’s uniform and placed them on top of the shoes that were nestled tightly in the bottom of the bag, folding the rest of the clothes neatly on top. She tipped the assistant fifty dollars and walked out to hail a cab. 

The cab driver was Jamaican and talkative, giving out tidbits of New York trivia believing she was a tourist. She instinctively glanced over her shoulder at the sound of the sirens and saw the unmistakable blinking of an NYPD squad car echoing behind her. She asked to be dropped at Times Square and said he could take his time. She thought about the daughter of her target wondering whether it was her who raised the alarm. She would make sure to check the news websites over the next few days to see if it was reported. It wasn’t out of sympathy, she simply would like to know. She took out her phone and removed the sim card, snapping it in two and dropping it to the floor of the cab. She knew she’d never be caught or prosecuted. Her clients valued her too much. But a loose end is a loose end. She thought of Berlin. Control the situation. She inserted a replacement sim card then turned the phone back on.

She got out a block from Times Square. Tipped the driver fifty dollars. She quickly found a dumpster and discarded the bag of clothes and her dagger. She spent time gazing at the dazzling lights, inhaling the smell of a busy New York evening, the city felt alive. Until her next assignment, she only had time to kill. And where better to kill it than right here?

Thanks for taking the time to read this short story, I hope you enjoyed it. It’s my first time writing in this form so would appreciate any feedback. I may write a series based on the main character…

Take it easy,

Paul.