The Wrong Girl
Taylor didn’t leave for the docks immediately. Instead, he ducked down a side street, then picked up the pace to get back to his car as quickly as possible. Heading along a parallel street, Taylor went up one block then turned again and returned to the street where Reznikov was parked. Stopping at the corner, Taylor watched them for a minute to see how much attention they were paying to the area around them.
He couldn’t make out details precisely, but the bodyguard had turned around in his seat, and was talking to the fat man rather than watching the street around him. That was good enough for Taylor, who took the opportunity to head to his car parked a few dozen feet farther away from Reznikov’s car on the same side of the street. Taylor was amazed they hadn’t left yet, considering what had just happened. If it had been him and someone slipped into his car and pointed a gun at him, Taylor wouldn’t have hung around once the gunman disappeared.
Taylor wasn’t sure what they were doing since now he could just see the side of the car from the driver’s seat of his own, and the occupants were totally obscured. They sat for another minute before pulling out. Whitaker had worked with Taylor on his pursuit techniques, since in his new profession, tailing a car was something he needed to be proficient at. She’d been a treasure trove of skills and, in her typical anally retentive way, had worked out an entire training regimen for him when he hadn’t been out on a case. While Taylor had a variety of applicable abilities brought over from his years in the Army, being an investigator was a trade all its own, and his girlfriend had spent a considerable amount of time making sure he had the knowledge to do it well.
Thinking about her, Taylor found himself amazed by Whitaker. A year ago he’d had zero interest in dealing with other human beings, most especially, women. Now, when he thought about the serious FBI agent, he felt his heart give a jump. It wasn’t his way to spend a lot of time ‘navel gazing’ over his love life or even the people in it; but he knew things were starting to get serious between the two of them, more so even than living together. What surprised Taylor the most was how much that thought pleased him.
Taylor followed Reznikov through the winding Russian streets even as he worked over all these thoughts in his head. It was still early, and he didn’t want to go stalking around the docks in daylight. Plus, Taylor had a feeling he would have to deal with the fat man again and didn’t want to have to hunt for him a second time.
He followed Reznikov and his driver at a distance for over an hour. They’d made another stop, at a bar this time, but had only gone in for a few minutes before pulling out again. The sun was just starting to set when they headed outside of town, to a faded yellow house on a small plot of land scattered with the skeleton figures of trees. It was probably lush and green in the summer, but they gave the house a sad and vacant look with limbs bare of leaves.
Taylor parked along the street in the small rural suburb and watched the guard open the door for Reznikov then collect things from the trunk while the fat man waddled to what Taylor assumed was his house. To his credit, the guard did look around before following his boss inside, but clearly didn’t see the nondescript rental along the street with their earlier assailant behind the wheel.
Taylor watched for another forty-five minutes, until the sun was all the way down, before deciding this was Reznikov’s house after all. With a nod to himself, Taylor started the car, grateful for the warmth that began to flow over him as he pulled away from the curb, headed back into the city. Whitaker had stressed the importance of not sitting in a running car while staking out a target, but he was pretty confident she hadn’t ever tried to do it in the middle of a Russian winter. It was another check on the list of things he hated about stakeouts.
The docks weren’t hard to find. St. Petersburg is a city built around a natural harbor, and every road seemed to lead in that direction eventually. The city was built at the end of the Gulf of Finland, which is itself at the end of the Baltic Sea. A point of trade between the Russian plains and the west dating back before the time of the Vikings, it had built up over the years in an almost horseshoe around the terminus of the Gulf of Finland, and the place where Taylor had been directed to was smack in the middle of that horseshoe.
It turned out that FTC stood for First Container Terminal, which Taylor thought might be the most on the nose name of anything he’d ever heard of. He had spent most of the day searching for Reznikov, and it was already getting dark when he arrived at the terminal, which turned out to be just a big open area in the middle of one of the long docks that extended out from Russian soil into the Gulf. The area was covered in stacks of shipping containers, creating an almost maze, with cranes on either side for ships to unload.
Thankfully, from Taylor’s point of view, security was so lax as to be non-existent. Two ships were currently unloading, each lit by large lights. Lights were also scattered around the storage yard, but the stacks of containers blocked most of that out, creating an area that was more shadow than anything else. He also couldn’t find any sign of security cameras or at least any that were readily visible. Considering how ubiquitous cameras had become in the US, it was weird not to see the small rectangles on security poles or one of the black fish eyes on a wall.
Parking in the lot that serviced FTC, Taylor had spent fifteen minutes before realizing security was non-existent, and he could just walk into the canyon-like container yard with no trouble. He did have a moment of wonder why in Russia, which generally had more crime than most places in the US, especially crimes involving theft, there wouldn’t be even a roving security patrol. Of course, it could be on purpose. He couldn’t imagine people off-loading kidnapped women secreted as cargo across the Atlantic would want much in the way of witnesses.
Even though two ships were docked at the moment, both seemed to be devoid of action. Taylor could see a scattering of workers on the ship or near the cranes, but they appeared to be just milling about, not doing anything. The one thing he couldn’t see from outside of the yard was the name of either ship. With one last look to reassure himself there wasn’t a roving security guard, Taylor headed into the container jungle. As he walked through the towering stacks, he occasionally caught glimpses of the ship he was headed toward, to keep his bearings, but he still couldn’t make out a name, now because of the containers blocking his view. It was only when he got about halfway through the container yard that Taylor caught sight of the first armed man stalking him, and realized he’d made a critical mistake.
Since this whole chase after the senator’s daughter began, he’d been somewhat successful at bullying what he needed from the various scum that stood in his way. That had been his go-to tool over the last year in fact. He’d found if you threatened someone, then proved you meant it by, say, breaking a finger or a bullet in the foot, the information tended to flow forth. So far it had all been accurate. Sometimes he didn’t even need to do anything to prove he was serious, and the threats alone were enough to do the job. While he’d always limited those methods to people who actually deserved the treatment, be it drug dealers or kidnappers, he’d found it was a trick he could rely on.
Which is why, in this case, he hadn’t even thought twice when that fat piece of trash had given him the name of the ship and where to find it. In hindsight, of course, he could see why Reznikov wasn’t intimidated. He’d played Taylor for a fool, and Taylor had let him.
Of course, recriminations would have to wait. Taylor had been following a wall of containers on his left, with perpendicular rows evenly spaced on his right, making alleys he would pass every fifty feet or so. The alleys would head down a few hundred feet and end in another path, identical to the one he was on, running parallel, but with the container wall on the right.
He’d caught several glimpses of a man wearing jeans and a hoodie going along that parallel track, but at a different pace, apparently trying to keep out of sight as Taylor passed an alley. Ahead Taylor could see where this row dropped out into a more open area, with something that looked like a forklift, only larger, sitting in the middle, before a new configuration of containers picked up on the other side.
As he closed to within fifteen yards of the open area, the man who’d been shadowing Taylor finally showed himself, turning into the alley that Taylor had walked level with. At the same moment, three other men came around one corner, where they’d obviously been hiding, waiting to spring their trap. The trio now effectively blocked Taylor’s forward progress with his path to the left blocked by the approaching stalker and to the right still barred by a wall of containers. If Taylor hazarded a guess, someone else was coming up behind him to block that exit as well. It was a well-planned ambush, and it shouldn’t have left Taylor with a lot of options.
In both the Ranger and Special Forces training, Taylor had spent a lot of time being drilled on small unit tactics with ambushes being an entire section of that training. There are essentially two types of ambushes that a soldier needed to worry about, the near ambush and the far ambush, and each was responded to by a different strategy. If this had been a far ambush, say an attack at a distance by a sniper or emplaced machine gun, Taylor’s best option would have been to find cover and return fire while attempting to find an option for assault or retreat. In a near ambush, the Army trains its soldiers to assault through the ambush, using violence of action to make up for poor position, punching through and out of the kill zone.
Taylor knew this and had trained to deal with an ambush, but no amount of training lessened how deadly they normally were, even if executed badly. Being caught unaware gave the attacker the momentum and put the defender on weak footing. Even if everyone caught in the ambush reacted quickly and correctly, casualties were hard to avoid. And casualties meant a lot more when your ‘small unit’ consisted of one person.
While the ambush was well timed and set up as effectively as it could have been, considering the limitations caused by the layout of the container yard, the people now surrounding Taylor had made two critical mistakes. Their first was that none of them had a weapon ready in hand. Taylor could see guns in belt holsters or just shoved in the front of pants, but every one of them would have to pull the weapon to use it, wasting time. Their second mistake was how slow they were in closing on him. These were clearly not professionals, or maybe they were and just didn’t want Taylor dead. For an ambush to work, you have to start shooting the minute the trap is sprung, to drop as many targets as possible while you still have the element of surprise. Both mistakes caused a delay in fully effecting the ambush, and the delay gave Taylor too much time to react.
And react he did.
As soon as the men ahead of him appeared, Taylor turned and sprinted along the alley toward the shadow, pulling his weapon even as he pivoted and started moving. Maybe they’d expected Taylor to give up or thought he might try to talk his way out. It was evident they didn’t expect Taylor to do what he did. The man he was now quickly closing on paused for a second, registering Taylor’s action before he scrambled to pull his own weapon. He wasn’t slow, Taylor had to give him that, but Taylor was faster. Taylor did not wait or give a warning, just double-tapped the trigger twice as soon as he raised the weapon and lined it up, and the man’s body jerked as both bullets impacted his chest. The look of surprise was still locked on the gunman’s face as he dropped to the ground, dead.
Taylor hurdled over his still falling body, trying to get to the end of this row of containers before the other men had a clear line on him. In between the two towering stacks of metal, there wasn’t adequate cover, and the last thing Taylor wanted to do was get in a shootout with three men and no cover.
He didn’t look over his shoulder, not wanting to slow his momentum, and as he rounded the corner of the large rectangular box he heard the first pops of their gunfire and the metal on metal zinging sound of bullets whipping off the containers as he disappeared out of sight. Taylor circled around the two-container-wide stack and headed into the open area, in the direction of the large forklift. As he ran, Taylor kept his weapon up, his body twisted so his gun pointed diagonal to the path he was travelling, ready for one of the gunmen to decide he could cut Taylor off by circling back. Once Taylor had turned right, it would have been obvious to his pursuers that his only destination would have had to be the open area between containers.
Sure enough, after he’d only taken two steps, veering away from the container wall he’d circled, a figure came around the corner. To his credit, the gunman had at least finally pulled his weapon. But he was carrying it pointed at a downward angle while he ran, while Taylor had been running with his weapon continually pointed at the corner of the container. The man barely had time to clear the metal box and an expression of awareness of what was about to happen flashed across his face, before a bullet tore through his body just below the hollow of his neck. Taylor took a second to consider the impact point since he’d been aiming center mass, as he’d been trained. But, he’d fired on the bounce, never dropping speed, so being a few inches north of his target was forgivable, if not acceptable.
The bullet must have clipped the man’s spine, because his legs went out as if someone had cut his strings, crumbling under him as the rest of his body continued its forward momentum, causing him to slide across the ground a few inches after he hit.