The Jeep and the smoke husking seemed to fill their line of sight. The corners of the yard were visible past it, but it lined up perfectly with the entry way, and it seemed like all there was, a panorama of destruction. They’d seen, and created, much worse.
There was a string lying on the wood of the deck, leading into the house. She bent, grabbed it, yanked. The cranky old shotgun, hidden under the house, managed a single loud bang, although apparently nothing else. It might buy them another second.
“Draw right, after three shots, I’ll target left.”
“Double it up, go reverse the second time.”
She hesitated, but only for an instant. “Roger that.”
Baxter approached the right side of the smoldering Jeep, knowing there were four armed men behind it somewhere. He checked his footing, looking for tell-tale dig marks where he’d laid to rest his ugly Serbian surprises, the primer of a shotgun set to explode upward like a tiny landmine when someone stepped on it. It fired a burst of fire, overfilled with powder, as well as a handful of shot. The fire ignited the gas that soaked the ground around the improvised mine, so the wounded would fall into flame. Ruthlessly effective.
He was about to step around the edge of the Jeep, at the trunk end, when he saw the suppressor on the barrel of a submachine gun. He dropped one pistol, reached out and shoved down, the shoulder strap pulling the soldier’s head into view. Baxter shoved the remaining Glock into the space between helmet and flak vest, firing three rounds into throat and neck. He ducked, picked up the spare gun, and popped around the corner, into the open, firing wildly at whatever he might find.
What he found was another soldier, trying to back away from the immediate violence visited on the guy he was following. Baxter and soldier saw each other at the same instant, but Baxter’s instincts were better, more deeply ingrained. Or maybe he was just better.
Baxter dropped to his knees and leaned back at the waist, muscles protesting, and the three-round burst from the MP5 went right over him. In return, one Glock round hit the soldier in the groin. The other just missed the opening at the top of his vest, and as he crumbled, Baxter turned to cover the sight line to his right. No one. He grabbed the fallen soldier, pulled him close, popped him in the throat, stripped his submachine gun.
He went back the way he had come, but she wasn’t behind the Jeep anymore. He hadn’t registering her firing when he had, as agreed, but he hadn’t really put out a burst of distracting fire, either. The soldiers had made a pincer, perhaps in anticipation of their aggression or perhaps seeking the same edge.
“Clear!” he shouted, his voice loud, his nerves crawling.
“Clear,” she said in return, but it was weaker.
He backed away from the Jeep, leaned around to scope past the hood, and then walked into view. The unfortunate soldier who had discovered the bear trap was sprawled flat, limbs at awkward angles, half his leg torn away. Someone had shot him.
“Yeah, I put him out of his misery,” she said, “second I heard you fire. Then this asshole was right on top of me.”
“Yeah I got one--” Baxter turned and really looked at her for the first time. A soldier was slumped over her, blood was all over her face. “Jesus are you--”
“I’m fine, it’s his blood. He’s just too fucking heavy. Hurry up.”
Baxter grabbed the shoulder of the flak vest and hauled the soldier off Barnes, feeling a twinge in his back at the action. He’d pay for it later, he was sure.
The got behind the Jeep, feeling more secure behind it than open to the field.
“Where’s the last one?” he asked.
“How many did you get?”
“Two on my side, so there’s one soldier, and two pilots, I guess.”
“Side arms for the pilots, fuck ‘em, this isn’t their job.”
“Hey, pilots!” Baxter roared, and he heard a crow caw in response. “I don’t care where you are, but don’t let me see you and don’t even think of shooting at us. Just wait for your ride home. Fire a round into the air right now if you can hear me.”
There was a long, pause, and the silence after the shooting and the yelling and the rush of blood in his ears was astounding. Finally there was the pop of a handgun.
“Good move!” he yelled again.
They were kneeling in the lee of the Jeep, she was reloading.
“Do we wanna smoke the last guy out?”
“Well he didn’t shoot at us when I came to get you, that’s a good start. He could have run, he could be waiting for instructions. Grab that gun, we’ll both hose down the trees and make a run for the car.”
She mopped at the blood on her face with a sleeve and considered. “There’s two bodies on your side of the Jeep?”
“Strip at least one for parts before we run.”
He did, dragging both soldiers, one, and then the other, behind the car. His back protested again, and he could feel how hard he was breathing, and for truly the first time in his life, in defiance of grey hairs and middle-age spread and everything else Baxter thought, “I’m old.”
With fresh magazines and a spare each, they readied themselves. He pulled the pin on a stolen grenade and held it. He looked at her. She nodded.
“Way easier than Herzegovina,” he said, heard the ping of the spoon as it popped out of the grenade, and he threw it. After it blew, they charged out into the yard, splitting at the fresh brown explosion pothole. In controlled bursts, he shot right, she shot left, and they laid suppressing fire over the trees, ran, fired, and reached the road.
“I’ll cover,” he said, turning his back on the road, and walking slowly back. He changed the selector on the gun, firing one round to the left, one to the right.
“Go!” she heard him yell from behind, and he turned and ran as she took on cover duties. He ran past her, slid in the dirt.
“Changing!” he said, and switched magazines. Then he rolled onto his stomach and took over covering. “Go!”
She ran past him, and a moment later he heard the car turn over. He got up to one knee, still popping single shots to either side. The bullets could be a colossal waste, or it could be all that prevented the final soldier from getting the drop on them. The horn honked, he climbed up on his feet, fired a final shot, and climbed into the car.
He didn’t look back, just slid down in the seat to make a smaller target.
“Huh,” Barnes said, and an instant later, there was a hollow bang and Baxter saw the soldier bounce off his window. “Guess he did a runner.”
“Pussy,” Baxter said, drawing himself up in his seat. He looked at her. “Want me to get that off you?”
“Please,” she said.
He undid a snap-clip at the butt end of the MP5 where it rode on her hip, and slowly drew it over her lap and away. He put the safety on, placed it in the backseat, then put the safety on his, drew it over his seat, and put it with the other. He shrugged awkwardly out of his plaid shirt and draped it over the hardware.
“Got your Sig?” he asked her.
“I’ll hold onto it.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“It’s kind of halfway down my pants now.”
The car reeked of cordite from the guns and from their clothes. There was a hint of gas fumes as well, and a soupçon of something else, maybe burnt tires.
Baxter writhed in his seat, reaching into a too-tight pocket. He pulled out a miniature radio headset, stripped from one of the bodies.
“Ops, come back.”
“This is Ops, sound off.”
“Negative, this is the mark, not the team. I want you to tell Smith that I don’t have what he wants. Repeat, he thinks I have something. I don’t know what it is. I don’t have it. Tell him to back off.”
Baxter rolled down the window and dropped it out.