Book: Precipice

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More than a thousand Russian troops had descended on Twin Falls.  It was late in the day, the sun rapidly approaching the western horizon.  After leaving the house where he was certain the Major had spent a couple of nights, Colonel Grushkin followed the tracks south until running out of snow to mark the passage of his quarry.  But by that point there was no doubt the Americans were heading for Twin Falls.

Ordering the helicopters out of the mountains, he had them form an aerial perimeter around the small city, hoping he had arrived in time to contain the Major.  A radio call brought in a Beriev A-50, a Russian AWACS aircraft, which was specifically designed for airborne early warning and control.  The jet not only took control of managing the airspace and ensuring the steadily growing number of helicopters and transport planes didn’t run into one another, it also began jamming every radio frequency that was not in use by the Russians.

Throughout the afternoon, large Antonov An-12s, the Russian version of a C-130, landed at the Twin Falls airport and disgorged heavily armed ground troops and light infantry vehicles.  Under the direction of the Spetsnaz troopers they began a house to house and building to building search. 

Twin Falls wasn’t large geographically, barely covering eighteen square miles, and between the patrolling helicopters and foot soldiers there was no way anyone was getting in or out without the Russians seeing them.  But such close scrutiny of everything that was moving tested Grushkin’s patience.  There were still a lot of infected in the city.

There were no tall buildings in town so he settled for setting up his command post on the roof of a large Costco.  Throughout the afternoon he stood at the southern parapet of the roof with a pair of powerful binoculars, constantly scanning.  Several soldiers operated a variety of command and control gear to direct the ground operations and he had them turn the volume up so he could listen to the reports coming in.

The sound of gunfire was nearly constant as the search parties put down infected who were drawn to them.  A steady stream of reports came over the radio, documenting each engagement as well as identifying specific houses and buildings that had been searched.

Frustration ate at Grushkin as he monitored the progress of his troops.  The presence of the infected greatly hampered his efforts.  Every time one of the men fired his weapon, more infected would be drawn to that location, necessitating more firing when they arrived.  And if the American Major was hiding somewhere he was getting regular feedback on exactly where the Russian searchers were.  It wouldn’t be difficult for him to stay a step ahead.

But there was no choice.  His orders had no ambiguity.  He was to deliver the Major, or indisputable evidence of his death, to Colonel General Kozlov.  The only way to do that was to leave no stone unturned.  But after several hours his men had only managed to search less than a quarter of the city.  Too much time was being spent battling the infected.

Glancing at his watch he noted the time and that a report to the General in Seattle was due.  Turning his head, he snapped an order and a young Corporal snatched a satellite phone off its charger and dashed over to hand it to him.  Taking the handset, he pressed a speed dial button before lifting it to his ear.

The General’s aide answered and when Grushkin identified himself the phone was quickly passed to Kozlov.

“Tell me you’re calling with good news, Colonel,” the General said by way of greeting.

“Not yet, Comrade General,” Grushkin answered before going on to brief his superior on the current activities.

“Do you believe he is hiding in this town?”  Kozlov asked when Grushkin finished speaking.

“I believe he may have slipped out before we sealed the perimeter, sir.  But there is also a possibility that he is still here so we must complete our search.  I have the Air Force conducting surveillance flights for a two hundred kilometer radius around the city.  We will find him.”

“Do not come back without him, Colonel.”  Kozlov broke the connection without another word and Grushkin had to take a moment to martial his anger at the dismissive treatment.

“Comrade Colonel.  This just arrived, marked for your attention.”  Grushkin turned to see the same Corporal who had brought the sat phone holding out a thin sheaf of papers.

Handing the man the phone, he took the papers and looked at the header.  It was a report on the DNA taken from the body in the mountains.  Surprised at how fast it had been turned around he began reading, disappointed when the tissue sample was identified as belonging to an American Navy pilot named William Smith.  It was noted that his DNA had been on file for eight years, having been obtained by a female agent in Cyprus. 

Grushkin flipped pages, scanning the rest of the report.  He wasn’t interested in the pilot’s service record or any of the personal details that the GRU had recorded on the man.  He was preparing to toss the papers back to the Corporal when a notation at the bottom of the last page caught his eye.

It was handwritten and addressed to him in response to a question he’d asked.  The technician had searched the database and was confirming they had Major John Chase’s DNA record on file.  This was the first good news Grushkin had received.  At least they would be able to confirm the man’s identity beyond any doubt once they found him.

There was no additional information on the Major included with the note.  Grushkin had reviewed the file that was maintained by the Red Army on his flight to Mountain Home Air Force Base, but perhaps the GRU had additional information that would give him more insight into his prey.  Handing the papers back he instructed the Corporal to request the GRU file, highest priority.

Half an hour, and innumerable battles between the ground forces and infected later, the Corporal brought him a thick print out.  Grushkin accepted it in surprise, not expecting the Major’s GRU file to be so dramatically thicker than the one maintained by the Red Army.

“Chair,” was all he said as he began reading the biography.

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