Journal of R.Steiner – transcribed and translated from German by an unknown source.
2014. Date Unknown.
Now that the shrapnel has been removed from my brain and my memories have come back in full force, I feel it is time for me to write…so no one will be confused about who and what I am once I am gone.
Every horrible thing that has happened to me and the ones that I love can be traced back to seven families, but mainly one family in particular…and one man.
Jerald Fucking Black.
He is the cause of it all, and the reason that I am here now, as I am.
But to tell this story properly, I have to start at the beginning.
When I left school at the age of 17, I enlisted and went straight into the Bundeswehr – the unified armed forces of Germany. After some basic training, I was sent to the infantry, where my skills as a marksman started to be noticed – I appeared to have a knack for it and was, after not too long a time, approached by my drill sergeant and asked if I would like to undergo sniper training. In the infantry we could burn up thousands of rounds in a single engagement, but as a sniper I was taught the art of “one shot, one kill” – a mantra that was drilled into us night and day.
Not long after I finished my sniper training, I was deployed to Afghanistan for the first time.
Afghanistan was a sniper’s dream, a rich hunting ground – high elevation and hilly terrains making it the best place for stalking one’s enemies.
One not particularly special day, I had set up a hide in the hills and was watching the area below for insurgent’s placing Improvised Explosive Devices. My orders were simple: if they were seen laying out IED’s they were to be taken out without question. Within the first week my team had already racked up 25 confirmed kills…by the second week, the insurgents had begun to send children in their place. It was on that unspecial day during the third week- while I was watching the road from my hide – that I saw a 7-year-old girl running towards us with a radio detonator. I knew that if she hit the button our troops would die – but, going against my training and better judgement, I only shot her in the foot. The child hit the deck and as I cycled my bolt to load a new round, she pressed the detonator button. The IED exploded, killing her and 4 of our soldiers.
From that day forward, I made sure that it was always one shot, one kill – no exceptions.
During the tour, we began to hear rumours that children were being kidnapped from their villages at night. Most of us thought it was the Taliban “recruiting” new soldiers – but one of our men made a joke that maybe it was the KSK German Special Forces was responsible.
That soldier was killed in action the next day by a renegade sniper.
At the time I didn’t give it much thought – soldiers died in warzones every day…you just accepted that there was a bullet with your name on it somewhere down the line – but now I know the truth. He was taken out by the KSK, because he knew too much.
The tour ended just after my 21st birthday, and I returned to Germany. By then I had made the decision to join the KSK and had started training in preparation for selection tryouts. The KSK not only required high fitness levels, but a degree of academic achievement, forcing me to study a university course in order to be eligible for entry. Due to my family’s background in gunsmithing, I decided that Mechanical Engineering was the way to go.
The selection process was brutal and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 30km pack marches carrying 50kg backpacks and 12 kg in our webbing, plus weapons, 18 hour days of heavy physical training and course studying – after a while you felt like death walking, your body was sore, your mind was working a hundred miles an hour and your dedication to the unit was the only thing keeping you alive. The drop out rate was, of course, high…out of 145 applicants only 56 lasted to the end, and only 35 got in.
I was one of the lucky ones.
On the day that I received my red beret and was finally accepted into the KSK, the only member of my family to attend – and the only one who really understood what I went through to get there – was my Grandfather. He took me out for drinks and told me that he was proud that I had served the Fatherland, as he once had.
I was on my way.
It was that night, after my Grandfather had gone home and I was left drinking alone, that I saw her. A blonde-haired angel walked into the bar…with a black eye and bruises down her neck. Watching her, I ordered another stein before moving to greet her…getting halfway to where she sat before slipping on the wet floor and smashing my face on the table in front of her.
Blood streamed out of an open gash on my forehead as she stared at me in shock, finally helping me up and asking if I was ok. It was all I could do to nod as she called for a cloth to help clean me up, eventually introducing myself and apologizing for bleeding all over such a beautiful creature.
“Now there’s no way in hell you could mean me,” she blushed, shaking her head as she wiped at my face.
The blonde angel told me that her name was Claudia, and when I asked about her injuries, she became very quiet, then told me that she had recently left her boyfriend, who would drink too much and beat her. I saw that it was making her uncomfortable so I changed the subject and we talked some more…about Germany and her favourite places. Eventually she asked me what I did for a living but – before I could answer – a skinny looking man appeared out of nowhere, storming over and shouting at her. It was her ex-boyfriend.
I asked him what the trouble was but he ignored me, pulling out a knife and waving it at Claudia.
Without thinking, I stood up and made a grab for it, disarming him and stabbing him in the stomach. The piece of human garbage whose name I still do not know fell to the ground, blood gushing from his wound. Stepping over him, I asked Claudia if I could take her home. She stared at her ex-boyfriend before nodding and taking my hand.
Claudia asked me where I’d learned to fight, and I told her that I had been in the Bundeswehr. She mentioned that her father had been a soldier, then asked which unit I was in. She didn’t believe me when I told her that I was in the KSK, I had to show her my credentials and even then she was dubious. She seemed to like my uniform, however, and when we arrived at her place she invited me in for a drink.
6 months later we moved in together, 1 year after that we were married, and in the year following, she gave birth to our son, Peter.
Not long after the birth of my boy, I was sent by the KSK back to Afghanistan to investigate rumours of a child-trafficking ring paying the Taliban to do their dirty work for them. The ring was originally thought to be from Europe, but it was later discovered that the information was just a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess). The KSK was working over-time in Search and Destroy (S&D) missions, and we were raiding more Taliban strongholds than ever before. At the time I thought it was odd that we had so much initial intel – normal S.O.P (Standard Operating Procedure) was to gather most of the information in the field. But, we had our orders, and no one really cared where the intel came from as long as it was accurate.
I now know, of course, that the KSK got their information from the Seven Families, who were paying groups like the Taliban for their own enterprises, and did not want any loose ends leading back to them.
When our tour ended and the enemy were wiped out, we were sent back to Germany for a ‘special operation’. We had gotten the go-ahead for a Search and Rescue of 30 children, who were allegedly being held in a warehouse in Europe in yet another child-smuggling operation. Normally the local police could handle these types of missions, but these particular smugglers apparently had more hardware than downtown Kabul – or so we were told- and they needed ‘experts.’ All the men in this operation had been on deployment in Afghanistan together – and the location of the mission and the names of the men who died there has remained classified ever since that last day.
But I need to speak the truth, even if it’s just to myself.
The operation took place in the city of Dresden, beginning at 0330 hours on the 8th of March. The KSK had deployed 4 teams of 5 men apiece to launch an assault on the warehouse, and since I was trained as a sniper, I got the job of providing over-watch. I had set up my Sig Sauer SSG 3000 with a Schmidt & Bender PM2 5-25x56mm and a custom made suppressor – perfect for the job. I was 400m away from the target building; I had set myself and my spotter Karl up on top of another factory, watching the northern sector.
As we ranged the killzone, the hair on the back of my neck stood up; and I suddenly had a horrible feeling that something was amiss. I don’t know what it was…the world became too quiet, like the calm before the storm. And then, there was the heavy sound of machine gun fire! The smugglers had set Browning M2 50 BMG’s at all the entry points! The bastards knew we were coming, and they had set up an ambush!
I remember turning to Karl, his face twisted in shock as all at once a clump of brick and mortar exploded between us. We were taking fire from another sniper who, luckily for us, was either an FNG (Fucking New Guy) or had made some serious math errors about his bullet drop/windage. Both Karl and I dove for cover as a second shot rang out. I took a round in the canteen before swinging about and counter-firing. Karl fired not long afterwards, and then all went quiet. The target was down.
More targets began to appear in our sights and we readied ourselves to engage, but our commander gave us the order to pull back. Grabbing our gear, we slid down the nearest ladder and ran for the helicopter.
He got shot in the back by a 50 cal. round, falling lifelessly to the ground beside me, not 20m from safety. I vaguely remember picking him up and carrying him to the transport as our Tigers Attack Helicopters fired 30mm rounds and 70mm rockets on the warehouse.
It didn’t take long for the whole things to collapse.
“Where were the children?” I shouted at anyone who would listen or care to respond.
“They weren’t there, they’d been moved already,” replied one of the survivors – one of only two others left. He seemed to be in shock, his head was shaking as he wondered aloud what had gone wrong.
Our commander was waiting for us back at base – we were grabbed by armed Military Police and escorted to a private debriefing. Still soaked in Karl’s blood, with a large piece of shrapnel stuck in my plate carrier, I sat there as we were told that they intended to blame the entire fuck-up on poor planning and execution, instead of admitting that there had been a setup within the KSK. It seemed that our commander was more concerned with missing a chance for promotion, than about the 17 soldiers whose bodies we had left back in Dresden.
I spent that night on base with the remaining team, in shock and needing to rest. The following night I planned to go home to see my wife and son. I told my commander that I needed some time out to clear my head after the operation – they were trying to pin the failure on the survivors, thinking that if we took the fall for it, it wouldn’t reflect so badly upon them. They told me that I was forbidden to leave the base, but I’d had enough. I wanted to see my Claudia.
I lied and told the commander that I would take the fall for the bungled operation if I was allowed to go and see my family, and he finally agreed, telling me that I had 24 hours before I was to report back for an inquiry hearing. He tried to get me to stay the night and leave in the morning, but I was adamant I wanted to go immediately.
In the end it didn’t matter.
I might as well have stayed on the base.
I thought, in my time with the KSK, that I had seen it all and that nothing could get to me. But despite my extensive training and years of kill or be killed operations, nothing could have prepared me for what I found on the night that I went home.
As the taxi approached my house, I could see black smoke filling the air, the blue and red flashing of lights reflecting in the night sky as we drove closer and closer. My heart sank and my blood ran cold as we reached my street…there were firetrucks everywhere…and my house was a raging inferno!
Diving from the taxi, I ran towards the blaze, screaming for Claudia and Peter. The firefighters stopped me, three of them pinning me to the ground as I fought them to try and break free. The police turned up, two officers joining the firefighters and attempting to calm me. The officer in charge was, ironically, a former KSK soldier himself…and he knew how to handle the situation. After a long while, he managed to talk me into silence so that the firemen could let me go and continue fighting the blaze. Didn’t I want them to put the fire out? he asked me.
I stopped struggling. I was numb.
Staring blindly at what was left of my home, I watched as the flames and then the embers were put out. The forensics team stumbled through the rubble, searching for my family as I looked on. They found 2 bodies, so badly burnt that the only way they could be identified as Claudia and Peter was by the HOG’s tooth necklaces I had once made for them. The police took my name and my details, I don’t remember much of what was said, I just remember sitting there for the longest time in silence. The neighbours hovered nearby, but none of them came to talk to me…none of them knew what to do or say and I hardly knew them anyway.
I don’t know how long I sat there, staring as forensics took the bodies of my only world away, but when I finally looked up I saw an older man in a fedora, leaning on a walking cane, watching me. He was standing across the street from what was left of my house with the other neighbours, but he was not anyone that I recognised.
Limping over slowly, the man asked in a heavy Russian accent if I had a moment to talk, offering me a cigar. Not in the mood for conversation with strangers, especially Ruskie’s, I turned him down and he laughed at me, saying that if I wanted the truth about the fire and who had killed my wife and son, I would listen to what he had to say.
“And no Politsiya,” he added, shaking his head as an officer walked by. Blinking at the man, I grit my teeth, wanting to snap his neck – but not before I heard more.
“What truth, Ostlander!?” I hissed at him, my voice hoarse from all the shouting.
“Come and sit with me, and I will tell you,” the man replied, smiling at me and once again offering me a Cohiba Comador cigar. I took it slowly, telling him that if he was wasting my time I would break his neck then and there. He nodded, then shrugged, lighting the cigar for me and watching in silence as I took a puff, my hand shaking as I stared at him. We moved to a low brick wall nearby and sat on it side by side. Finally, I asked him to tell me what he knew.
“Straight to the point, you Germans don’t mess around, eh?” the man said, shaking his head, then smiling again, “My name is Alexei Katorga.”
“Reinhard Steiner. I know who you are.”
“What do you want, old man? What do you know about the fire, about my wife?” I demanded, my voice lowering as a police officer looked at us in curiosity.
“I’ll tell you, Herr Steiner, what really happened here,” Alexei went on, his eyes on the policewoman taking notes from my neighbours nearby, “This fire was no accident. This house was burnt to the ground with your family still inside on purpose…now, don’t get so upset already…you’ll draw attention to us.”
The man held up his hands, waving for me to stay calm. I could feel my blood boiling, but for the sake of finding my Claudia’s murderer, I called on my KSK training and cut off all feeling.
“So, who did it then?” I snapped, glaring at him.
“Before I tell you,” Alexei said with a half-smile, “I need something from you, in return for this information.”
I wanted to punch him. I almost did.
“Ja, and what is that, Ostlander?”
“There’s a boy. My son. He will need your protection when I am dead.”
“That is all I need from you.”
I wanted to ask why me, how he had found me and what made him think that I could protect his prized ‘boy,’ but I was more interested in learning what he knew about Claudia and the fire.
“Who is this boy I’m supposed to look out for?” I asked.
“My son, Nikolai…he’s been away for a while and he’s coming home soon, back to the man who adopted him and calls him Jasper. Jasper Baelian Black…” the man frowned at the name and shook his head, “Niki’s a bit of a worry, I need to make sure that his ‘father’ doesn’t harm him…anymore…” Alexei added.
I didn’t bother to ask how or why. I stared at the man who called himself Katorga – it wasn’t a name I was familiar with. I looked at the police doing fuck all to find out what had happened to my family, I watched the ambulance drive away with their remains…and I looked at the smouldering ashes of what had been the only good thing in my life.
I made up my mind.
“Okay, Ostlander. Say we have a deal…tell me who killed my family!”
“I have your word?” Alexei pressed, holding out his hand. I looked at him for a moment before shaking it.
“You do,” I told him.
Satisfied, Alexei went on.
“The one who ordered your family’s deaths was a business associate of mine and, funnily enough, my boy’s adoptive father. He’s a man named Jerald Black, of the Black Family.”
“You say that name as if I’m supposed to know who this Family is,” I spat at him, “Aren’t you worried that your son may be a bit upset if I kill his so-called father?”
“I doubt Nikolai would even know. There is no love between Jerald and my son, I can assure you.”
“Fine. How do I find my target? And will you supply equipment, or am I on my own?”
“I may not hold Jerald Black in high regard and I’m more than happy to see him dead, but I can’t provide the equipment you need. Nothing can be traceable back to me, do you understand?”
I watched him for a moment, this smug Russian man, trying to gauge whether or not he was telling me the truth, or if this was just another setup.
“Why?” I asked finally.
“Why did he have your family killed?”
“Because, my boy, you got in the way of his games. Jerald has been having a difficult time lately, our ‘son’ is due home any day from his extended holiday…and thanks to your meddling with the KSK there will be no homecoming party…” Alexei stared at me with cold eyes.
“You mean the children…” I said and the man nodded. I thought for a moment longer, “What proof do you have that it was Jerald? How do I know you weren’t involved?” I asked. Alexei laughed and patted me on the arm. I tried not to deck him.
“My boy, if I was involved, you’d already be dead…and I wouldn’t be dancing around here infront of the police making myself seen…” he replied, “Besides, even if you don’t believe me, you don’t have any other leads…the police will be no help, and I hear that the KSK are about to feed you to the sharks…I wouldn’t do that if I were you…”
Alexei leaned back as I slid off the wall and stepped forward, his eyes growing colder. Nearby, the police were starting to stare and whisper amongst each other.
“I leave it to you, Herr Steiner, you do what you like. But if you do decide to follow my advice and seek Jerald out, even if only to ask him yourself about why your Claudia and Peter had to die, I’ve left an envelope of cash for a plane ticket and an address in your conveniently unburned letterbox. There is a key in there too, which opens a safety deposit box at the town bank. There is a file in there that will tell you everything you need to know. Try not to be an idiot and look for the cash and key while the police are watching…happy jagdziet, Reinhard Steiner…”
The older man who called himself Alexei Katorga slid from the wall and limped away, melting back into the crowd. I sat and thought about what had just happened. I had no proof or any reason to believe that his words were true – more than likely he too was involved.
But at least I had something, which was more than the police were giving me. They took my details and asked me if I needed to call someone or wanted to be escorted back to base. I told them I had already arranged to stay with a neighbour and thanked them for their time.
It was hours before everyone left me the alone and I could return to the ashes of the only things I had ever loved.
Sifting through the rubble, choking on dust and ash, I rummaged until I found an old photo album, mostly burned by the fire. Retrieving a photo of my wife and son, I stumbled to the letterbox, throwing it open to find the envelope inside, just as Alexei had said. There was cash in there, lots of it, a small brass key and an address…
“Jerald Black, The Black Family Estate…Yarra Valley…Victoria…Australia…fick mich…”
Standing there as the sky began to get lighter, studying the scrawled address and the wads of cash in my hands, I swallowed hard.
I wouldn’t be going back to the KSK, that day. I needed to find a hotel, and to get cleaned up before I went to the bank to get the files that I needed – target locations, security layouts of the Estate, known associates and medical history…
I would study the intel for hours, and I would try not to think about Claudia or Peter. I wouldn’t think about them until it was done.
And this was a welcome distraction.
Written by M. Jones.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015. Natalie Ristovski.