Cat crouched low to the ground, peered around the corner, and loosed off a burst. The butt of the rifle slapped his shoulder in recoil, and spent cartridge cases went flying into the street. Smoke from the burning buildings made his eyes water despite the goggles.
“Cover me,” he called over his shoulder. “I’m going to try to make the other side.”
Something smacked into the wall just above his head. Chips of brick and plaster bounced off his Kevlar body armour. Cursing, he threw himself back, almost falling over in his haste.
“Damn bastards don’t know when they’re beaten,” he said.
Tiny Marc laughed, his huge frame shaking so hard that the rocket propelled grenades in his backpack clanked against each other. “It’s just this last building,” he said. “Fighting on isn’t going to do them any good.”
Very cautiously, Cat edged a mirror past the corner to get another look at last remaining enemy stronghold. The tall, cylindrical building was burning in three or four places, but he could still see the enemy’s flag flying on top, its white and yellow emblem clearly visible. His throat tightened with anger.
“What are they still fighting for?” he asked. “Don’t they know they haven’t got a hope now?”
“Money,” Jean-Baptiste said. “As long as the money flows through the taps, they’ll fight, even if it’s just one building.”
“Shut up,” Cat told him sourly. “Last building or not, we still have to beat them.” A machine gun rattled and tracers streaked down the street at head height. “They aren’t going out of their way to make things easy for us, either.”
“Look,” Jean-Baptiste said, pointing. A small figure was hurrying past on the other side of the street in a shambling trot, dodging shell holes. It ducked behind the charred remains of the truck Tiny Marc had destroyed earlier. The truck had been carrying food, and might have been able to supply the enemy. It had therefore, they’d decided, been a legitimate target, and Marc had wrecked it with one well-placed rocket. The hurrying figure emerged again, clutching two dusty loaves of bread to its chest.
“Civilian,” Cat said. “Not worth a bullet.” They watched the woman run down the narrow alley opposite, still clutching her bread.
“Civilians,” Marc said. “I hate ‘em. Useless people.”
“Without them we’d be out of a job,” Jean-Baptiste reminded him.
“Here comes the artillery,” Semmler said, from his position further back. “Dupree must have got through after all.”
A pickup truck mounting a light cannon wheeled into position at the end of the street. Its shells slammed into the blue-and-white concrete of the enemy building. The machine-gun fell silent. The pickup truck kept firing, hosing the lower floors of the building with metal-jacketed death.
“Let’s go,” Cat snapped, and signalled a frontal charge. Tiny Marc stepped into the street, the RPG launcher at his shoulder, and his rocket propelled grenade streaked to the sandbagged entrance of the building. With a colossal explosion, part of the doorway fell in.
They charged, running through the smoke, stopping momentarily to fire and then charging again, past the wrecked truck and over the scattered sandbags, into the building. Scrambling up the stairs, shooting past every corner, hurling grenades into rooms as they passed. The walls trembled from the explosions.
And then, quite suddenly, it was over. The remnants of the enemy, who had fought so hard for so long, surrendered. Their last troops descended the stairs, hands held high.
“Set them to putting out the fire,” Semmler suggested.
“Not unless you pay us,” the leader of the prisoners snapped. “We’re security contractors, hired to fight, not put out fires.”
“Never mind.” Cat said. “Next campaign, we might be on the same side. What’s your outfit?”
“Argus. And yours?”
“Blockwater, of course,” Cat said proudly. “The best of the best. But you put up a great fight.”
“Here come your employers,” the Argus man said, peering over Cat’s shoulder. He turned to see a retinue of men in suits climbing up the stairs. One was carrying a flag.
“Gentlemen,” he said on seeing Cat and the others. “I must congratulate you. It was a hard campaign, and expensive, but you fulfilled all expectations.”
“We always do.” Cat glanced at the Argus man and back. “Blockwater always delivers results. That’s why your firm hired us, sir.”
“Yes.” Triumphantly, the man in the suit shook out the flag with the twin golden arches and posed so that one of the others could take a photograph.
“Once again,” he declared exultantly, “McRonalds has beaten Sunway to control the burger market of the free world!”
(With no apologies whatsoever to Frederick Forsythe, for whom my disdain is unfathomable)
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012