Updated: Jun 11, 2020
The little girl was supposed to be with the others. She should have been hiding in the school, huddled next to other students in the cafeteria as a precaution against stray bullets. She was not supposed to be directly in the path of an advancing gang of killers.
The Mailman cursed. He patched his smart glasses into the Bloodmen’s observation drone, which circled three thousand feet above. A quick rewind of the video footage showed exactly what had happened.
He followed the figure of the girl as she peeled off, unseen, from the group of other children being shepherded to safety by an old woman. He saw as the skinny child duck into a doorway, waiting while a pair of Bratva rushed past, and then dart after them down the narrow streets. He cursed again when he saw the girl slip right past the line of defenses on the edge of Maputo, and climb to a vantage point along the rocky hills by the side of the road.
The footage showed the outcrop below the girl give way, causing her to lose her footing and tumble down the hill in a cloud of dust. The Mailman switched back to a real-time view, where he saw the girl lying on the ground, her leg pinned under a rock, her frail body right beside the road that, even now, Sergei Mogilevich’s ‘Prizraki Smerti’—Death Ghosts—were advancing along.
The Bratva were pushing to become a Guild and knew that if they delivered Mozambique to Russia, they’d be sanctioned. The Bloodmen had been paid a lot of money to make sure that didn’t happen.
The miniature rock slide had thrown dust and gravel into the air, there was no way the Bratva, watching the road intently, could have missed it. Still, the Mailman hoped.
“Kamara,” the Mailman said in a low voice. The small bud in his ear picked it up. “We’ve got a kid on the board; a little girl. You see her?”
Nearly nine thousand miles away, in the Ile of the Bloodmen, newly appointed Guild Professor Kamara Keita replied, “Yes.” His rich baritone voice betrayed a nervous excitement.
Another window opened up in the Mailman’s smart glasses. On the screen was Berkeley, who had been recruited into the Bloodmen out of Special Forces right along with the Mailman. “Bruh, we’ve got a problem,” Berkeley said.
“Yeah I see her, we’re going to—”
“Not the little girl,” Berkeley said. “Look at grid J13.”
The Mailman switched the view in his smart glasses again, until he was looking down on the line of built-up defenses he had helped reinforce on the edge of town. From one of the fortified houses, fattened by sandbags and bristling with machine gun barrels, he saw four soldiers creeping past the foxholes and barbed wire, toward the road and the supine figure of the girl.
“God dammit,” the Mailman hissed, switching to the radio channel he and Ungulani Gungunhana, the commander of Mozambique’s Special Forces Group 2, had agreed upon. “Ungulani, where are your men going?”
The reply, curt and scratchy, came immediately, “To get Ayane.”
The Mailman rolled his eyes. “Negative, Ungulani,” the Mailman said, “Hold location. “We’ll ensure the Death Ghosts never reaches her.”
Ayane Gungunhana was Ungulani’s granddaughter, and the commander doted on the girl immensely. He had even let her sit in on the planning meetings, as Gungunhana and Kamara went over fields of fire, approach probabilities, and fallback positions. The young girl had looked on in unconcealed awe, as much for her grandfather as for the mountain of a man, Kamara, towering over everyone else in the room.
The Mailman’s map overlay in his smart glasses showed the five red icons of Berkeley’s team of Bloodmen along the hills on the western side of town, overlooking the road.
His own team was opposite Berkeley’s, concealed behind scrub brush and within shallow, hastily dug foxholes. Gungunhana’s hardened soldiers lined the defenses along the edge of town. The Mailman was on his belly in the dirt, settled in next to Lou Dean, a former CIA Black Ops operative who had been recruited into the Bloodmen after being fired from the ‘Company’ for exposing its racism.
The Mozambican commander didn’t reply, and he and his men continued moving through the defenses toward the road.
“Damn,” the Mailman said, shaking his head. “Berkeley, see if you can talk some sense into Gungunhana, I’ll try to buy more time.”
The overhead view in the Mailman’s glasses showed the plume of dust where Mogilevich’s Prizraki Smerti was advancing along the road, capturing hundreds of Mozambican soldiers.
The Mailman spoke again into his radio, “Kamara?”
“I’ve got full control of the drone,” Kamara said. “No tracking by the Bratva.”
“Good. Drop it and patch me into its speakers.”
“O dara,” the young Guild Professor said.
The Mailman brought up the window showing the camera feed from the drone and watched as it angled tightly toward the line of Bratva below, guided expertly by Kamara.
It was close enough now for the Mailman to pick out olive drab jumpsuit-clad figures, faces covered with black balaclavas, Vityaz-SN submachine guns glinting. Several heads turned upward.
He engaged the speakers and said in Russian, “Attention: you are entering territory legally protected by The Bloodmen. Turn back now or be fired upon.”
He was about to repeat the message when a dozen flashes flared up simultaneously from the ground, and the picture from the drone skewed violently before cutting out to black.
Mogilevich’s Ghosts of Death spread out, keeping space between each Bratva special operative, and then surged forward until they were close enough to see Gungunhana and the other three Mozambican soldiers, still running to Ayane’s prostrate form. The Mailman saw puffs of dust kick up around the feet of the sprinting Mozambicans as bullets whipped toward them. One man staggered, hit in the shoulder, but lowered his head again and kept running.
As the Mailman watched, Gungunhana and his men reached the pinned girl, diving into cover behind a large rock. It was scant protection from the submachine guns and pistol fire now concentrated on their little force.
“Berkeley,” the Mailman called into his radio, “Lay down covering fire for Ungulani and his men. Concentrate on anyone getting too close.”
“O dara,” Berkeley said.
The five Mozambican soldiers opened up with a hail of bullets from their FN FAL rifles, 7.62mm rounds felling a dozen Bratva.
With his glasses the Mailman zoomed onto Gungunhana’s gruff face as he crouched behind the rock, which was barely big enough to protect him or his granddaughter, let alone his other three men. Two of them were pushing, leaning their shoulders into the stone, the girl was screaming. One of the soldiers, lying prone and firing his rifle at nearby targets, suddenly jerked and slumped forward, his body still.
“Damn,” the Mailman sighed.
“Lou,” the Mailman said, turning to the man on his left.
Lou nodded. “O dara,” he said.
Lou signaled the other Bloodmen.
The Mailman lifted himself into a crouch and raised his Barrett MRAD Mk23 precision rifle.
“Suppressive fire!” Lou yelled.
The roar of rifles from the Bloodmen under Lou’s order thundered across the sky and the Mailman sprang up, charging down the hill, his focus on the four soldiers huddled behind the rock on the side of the road.
Before he was even halfway there he heard the distinctive crack of bullets being fired in his direction. One whistled past his head, another slammed into the packed dirt of the roadway in front of him. He ran faster, forcing his legs to push harder. As he reached the rock he slid onto his side into the scant cover beside the other men.
Gungunhana’s wide eyes showed he hadn’t expected the Mailman to risk his life like this.
The Mailman grabbed the commander’s shoulder and shouted to be heard over the racket of bullets hitting stone, “Where do I push?”
The militia commander pointed, and the Mailman joined with him and one of the surviving soldiers as they heaved against the stubborn rock. The Mailman’s feet dug into the dirt. Gungunhana grunted. Finally, it moved, lifting slightly into the air. The third soldier pulled the little girl back, sliding her out from underneath the rock. She screamed again. As soon as she was clear the Mailman and the soldiers let go and the rock crashed down.
“We need to get out of here!” the Mailman shouted. “Get her arms, I’ll cover!”
Gungunhana and another soldier scooped up the girl between them as the Mailman turned back to the advancing enemy. He brought the rifle’s scope to his eye and squeezed off a round at a group of men coming up the other side of the road. A Bratva operative’s head snapped back, sending a mist of blood into the sky behind him. He fell. The Mailman charged the bolt and fired again, dropping another Bratva. The another. The remaining Bratva fell back.
He risked a glance behind him in time to see one of the Mozambican soldiers take a round to his neck. He crumpled, losing his grip on the injured girl and pulling Gungunhana down with the sudden unbalanced weight.
Without thinking, the Mailman stood, firing the last round off blindly behind him as he ran to Gungunhana and the last surviving soldier. He swung the rifle to his back and kept running.
He was almost there when a round hit him in the leg, sending him tumbling forward into the hard dirt. A sudden blooming of pain told him the bullet had broken his lower shin. He struggled to his feet and limped the last few yards to the pair of soldiers.
The Mailman was helping Gungunhana to stand when another slug hit him in the back, shoving him forward. The Mailman went down again, dozens of bullets chewing up the road around him. Gungunhana was yelling something but the noise of the enemy rifles, and the pain in the Bloodman’s leg and back, made it impossible for the Mailman to hear him.
But he heard something else. Something on the edge of his perception. Something familiar.
The Mailman stopped, looking around as he listened. Then he saw them, two dozen Bloodmen—the best assassins in the world—descending upon the Bratva.
Bodies disappeared in a cloud of dust and blood. Men in olive drab jumpsuits screamed, threw down their rifles and ran, or ducked into even the faintest of hollows in the ground for cover, hoping to be spared.
In his glasses, the Mailman could see the Bratva beating a hasty retreat. It was over.
* * *
Ayane lay in a hospital bed, her leg straight out in front of her, set in a cast.
She looked up from her bed at the Mailman as he approached.
The Mailman smiled, but the little girl didn’t return the expression.
Instead she stared at him, her eyes wide. “It has only been three days,” she said. “How are you already up walking while I’m still in this cast and you were more injured than me?”
“We Bloodmen have a mushroom from the Zulu that helps us block out pain,” the Mailman said. “I’m still healing, though.”
“I need some of those—how do your people say… ‘shrooms?”
The Mailman laughed. “Not those kinds of mushrooms.”
“So you’ll be leaving soon?”
The mailman shook his head. “Mogilevich’s army hasn’t been broken, just beaten. They’ll be back. And the Bloodmen always complete a contract.”