The Bourne Legacy - By Robert Ludlum

Khalid Murat, leader of the Chechen rebels, sat still as a stone in the center vehicle of the convoy making its way through the bombed-out streets of Grozny. The BTR-60BP armored personnel carriers were standard Russian military issue and, as such, the convoy was indistinguishable from all the others rumbling through the city on patrol. Murat's heavily armed men were crammed into the other two vehicles - one in front and one behind his own. They were heading toward Hospital Number Nine, one of six or seven different hideouts Murat used to keep three steps ahead of the Russian forces searching for him.

Murat was darkly bearded, close to fifty, with a bear's broad stance and the fire-lit eyes of the true zealot. He had learned early on that the iron fist was the only way to rule. He had been present when Jokhar Dudayev had imposed Islamic Shariah law to no avail. He had seen the carnage wreaked when it had all begun, when the Chechnya-based warlords, foreign associates of Osama bin Laden, invaded Daghestan and executed a string of bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk that killed some two hundred people. When the blame for the foreigners' actions was falsely put on Chechen terrorists, the Russians began their devastating bombing of Grozny, reducing much of the city to rubble.

The sky over the Chechen capital was blurred, made indistinct by a constant flux of ash and cinder, a shimmering incandescence so lurid it seemed almost radioactive. Oil-fueled fires burned everywhere across the rubble-strewn landscape.

Khalid Murat stared out the tinted windows as the convoy passed a burned-out skeleton of a building, massive, hulking, the roofless interior filled with flickering flames. He grunted, turned to Hasan Arsenov, his second in command, and said, "Once Grozny was the beloved home to lovers strolling down the wide tree-lined boulevards, mothers pushing prams across the leafy squares. The great circus was nightly filled to overflowing with joyous, laughing faces, and architects the world over made their pilgrimage to tour the magnificent buildings that once made Grozny one of the most beautiful cities on earth."

He shook his head sadly, slapped the other's knee in a comradely gesture. "Allah, Hasan!" he cried. "Look how the Russians have crushed every-thing that was good and fine!"

Hasan Arsenov nodded. He was a brisk, energetic man fully ten years Murat's junior. A former biathlon champion, he had the wide shoulders and narrow hips of a natural athlete. When Murat had taken over as rebel leader, he was at his side. Now he pointed out to Murat the charred husk of a building on the convoy's right. "Before the wars," he said with grave in-tent, "when Grozny was still a major oil-refining center, my father worked there at the Oil Institute. Now instead of profits from our wells, we get flash fires that pollute our air and our water."

The two rebels were chastened into silence by the parade of bombed-out buildings they passed, the streets empty save for scavengers, both human and animal. After several minutes, they turned to each other, the pain of their people's suffering in their eyes. Murat opened his mouth to speak but froze at the unmistakable sound of bullets pinging against their vehicle. It took him but an instant to realize that the vehicle was being hit by small-arms fire too weak to penetrate their vehicle's sturdy armor plate. Arsenov, ever vigilant, reached for the radio.

"I'm going to order the guards in the lead and tail vehicles to return fire."

Murat shook his head. "No, Hasan. Think. We're camouflaged in Russian military uniforms, riding in Russian personnel carriers. Whoever is firing on us is more likely an ally than a foe. We need to make sure before there's innocent blood on our hands."

He took the radio from Arsenov, ordered the convoy to a halt.

"Lieutenant Gochiyayev," he said into the radio, "organize your men into a recon. I want to find out who's shooting at us, but I don't want them killed."

In the lead vehicle, Lieutenant Gochiyayev gathered his men and ordered them to fan'out behind the cover of the armored convoy. He followed them onto the rubble-strewn street, hunching his shoulders against the bitter cold. Using precise hand signals, he directed his men to converge from the left and right onto the place from which the small-arms fire had come.

His men were well trained; they moved swiftly and silently from rock to wall to pile of twisted metal beams, scrunched down, presenting as small a target as possible. However, no Copyright 2016 - 2024