The Green Scorpion - J Hawk - darmowy ebook

The world has been watching a dangerous Neo-Nazi armed group rise in Eastern Europe. Led by an elusive, dark leader, the organisation has its sights on America. As chaos unfolds overnight, Luke Johnson, an outcast soldier, finds himself pit against the terrorist group in a desperate race to stop madness from being unleashed upon America.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi

Liczba stron: 239

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:


The Green Scorpion


Copyright © 2018 J Hawk

All rights reserved. No part of this book or any of its content may be reproduced or distributed in any form without prior written permission of the author.


The dry rumble of the van’s engine was all that was heard.

Sitting beside the driver, Kruger gazed out through the windscreen. They were driving through a rural region that looked mostly uninhabited. The empty streets were flanked by a neat line of buildings. Large moulds of rubble lay spilled onto the sidewalk and the road occasionally. Some of the structures were ravaged and torn down, while others had massive holes over them. Years of war had damaged this country in Eastern Europe, and left it scarcely populated.

Kruger turned and looked at the back of the van. Seated about the area were four men in black shirts and military-trousers. Some of them were holding handguns, and others had black assault rifles placed by their side. All of them had composed, focussed expressions.

“We’re an estimated two miles away from the location.” said the driver, a thin man called Mark.

Kruger nodded.

The van shook slightly as it ran over the dusty, unlevelled road. This region of the town had a more spaced-out spread of buildings. They saw abandoned, old vehicles parked by side of the road occasionally. The desolate sensation followed them as they drove down the empty streets.

Kruger was leading a team from the CIA, for an important operation. They were here to engage an armed group that they had been watching for long now. One which posed an indirect threat to US national security and American interests in this region.

For a moment, Kruger was looking into his phone. Briefly going through some of the information and intelligence that they had gathered over the time. His device was specially sanctioned by the CIA, one of the few devices on Earth that had direct access to GroundField.

GroundField, a government program launched a few years ago, aimed to organise and centralise all government facilities within the country. Public transportation systems, government offices, prison facilities, police stations, intelligence databases … All of them were currently operated and controlled by this magnum program, which aimed to accelerate public services across the entire country.

Kruger accessed the CIA’s digital storage base through the program. He spent a moment scrolling through the files in the database, reading everything he found about the organisation they were now confronting.

As the van continued to rumble down the hard road surface, the men sitting behind loaded their weapons and readied themselves.

“Almost there,” said Mark.

Kruger lowered the phone and picked up the large assault weapon leaning by his door.

“You all know the plan, men.” he called, turning back. The men nodded as one.

Kruger mentally went over the task at hand.

The US intelligence community had been devoting increased attention to this militant group off late. It was classified as a terrorist organisation both at home and in numerous countries abroad. And its presence was rising in many nations across Europe.

For some time now, the CIA had been attempting to track and locate its members. They had now managed to uncover a remote meeting point where a few of the militants were supposed to be present today. Kruger and the men were on a mission to capture a few of them, to interrogate them. They needed to extract information from them.

“Any new intel on the leader?” asked one of the men from behind.

Without looking back, Kruger shook his head. “Nothing at all.”

His gaze dropped to the phone held in his hand again. He pulled out one final file…

As the contents of the file filled the screen, a small photo occupied the corner of the screen.

And within it was a dreadful face, one that Kruger had seen in a CIA record book very recently. A face that was receiving growing eminence in the news across this part of the world.

His name was Skrone. And he was the leader of this armed group. The CIA, in co-ordination with other intelligence entities across the world, had been attempting to find him for months now. But to no avail … Skrone was impossible to find. Rumours of his sighting regularly sprang up in multiple cities across the West, from London to Amsterdam, Berlin, Moscow, Brussels, Vienna … In America alone, he was said to have been spotted half a dozen times.

He was the most elusive individual the US intelligence had ever dealt with.

The van continued down the deserted roads, slowing down steadily. A minute later, it had come to a stall in front of a large abandoned building. It sprawled over the size of a small mall, rising to three storeys. The structures surrounding it in this area here were relatively scarce.

The men lingered within the vehicle, their eyes scanning the magnificent structure for a brief moment. It exhibited an eroded sense of grandeur. Some of its windows and panels were broken, dotted with bullet hones and gaping mortar holes. Cracks ran over the walls.

“I’ll be waiting here.” Mark said, looking at Kruger.

The doors of the van swung open, and the men landed on the ground. Kruger stood there, the other men waiting behind him. A mode of fine-tuned, military precision had taken over his mind, as it would before any operation.

He moved his sight over the four men, standing with their assault weapons ready in their arms.

“Keep the objective of the mission in mind.” Kruger told them. “We’re expecting to find a few members of this militant group within the location. Catch as many of them as we can, and detain them for questioning and interrogation. Neutralise threats and resistance while we’re moving in.”

He turned and looked ahead. “We’re here to find out as much as we can about their leader, Skrone. It’s a key priority and keep that in mind when we’re interrogating them.”

The men nodded.

Giving a nod, Kruger raised his weapon and made forward. The group slowly proceeded towards the entrance of the sprawling structure.

Keeping their footsteps as soft as they could, they made forward through the double-doored entry-way. They found themselves entering a small corridor with scarce furniture around.

The walls were a faded white colour and there were cobwebs stretching over the corners. Kruger and the men crept down the hall, all of them keeping their rifles held aimed in front. As they neared the end of the corridor, Kruger’s eyes paused on a large sketching on the wall by the left. It was a symbol … one that continued to inspire dread in this continent and around the world.

A slanted swastika.

The Nazi symbol spread prominently across the wall, coloured in deep red.

The men’s gaze rested briefly over the graphiti symbol.

“So this is a Neo-Nazi group that we’re after.” said the man beside Kruger softly. “What do they call themselves again?”

“The Order.” Kruger answered, turning his eyes ahead of him. He pushed open the door, and they emerged into a large hall-like room. The silence that had followed all the way was broken. Gunfire slammed the air.

The two figures on opposite sides of the room were taking cover as they fired at the CIA men. One of them ducked behind a sofa, while the other leaned from behind a pillar. Both of them were carrying large black machine guns. They were dressed in dark-purple suits, and their faces were hidden behind black masks shaped like a skeleton’s face.

Kruger and the team reacted immediately. Ducking and taking cover as they fired back.

The militant leaning from the pillar shuddered as a burst of dust came from his chest. He stumbled and hit the ground, struck by multiple bullets.

The man shooting from behind the sofa held the men off for a few more seconds, before he was also brought down with a swift bullet to the head.

Kruger and the men rose from cover and burst forth towards the door of the room. Their guns were raised, aimed towards the door as they reached it. Kicking it open, they barged into what appeared to be a massive empty hall. The roof rose well over them, leaving a vast expanse to permeate the region within. Large factory-like mechanical objects were present about the floor.

Present about the massive hall were men with the same black skeletal masks. Some of them were sitting by the ground, examining clutters of items before them, while others were standing. All of them instantly turned to the entrance, raising their guns automatically.

The sound of heavy gunfire descended over the air. Kruger’s gun blazed into the area while he made his way towards a large pillar by the right. The rest of the men also took cover, ducking behind pillars or the objects lying nearby.

Kruger kept calm, leaning out of the pillar to send bullets at the militants hiding across the hall. He managed to bring down two of the men with precise shots. The gunmen hid behind pillars, as well as a large conveyor-belt that stretched around the hall. Bullets slammed onto the floor and walls, leaving shrapnel and dust flying.

Kruger paused and looked about the large hall. The place appeared to be some sort of abandoned factory. A corridor stretched over the walls by the second floor, and open doors and windows could be seen across the railings of the corridors.

One of Kruger’s men brought out a grenade from his belt. Activating the trigger, he turned and tossed the device across the large hall.

Gunfire continued to pound the air for a second, while the grenade soared over the hall serenely. The militants made to move as it landed right amidst them.

A resounding blast ripped through the air. Kruger closed his eyes, feeling the shock wave resonate through the entire building. Debris and shrapnel showered over the room, and a burning smell filled the place.

He turned with his gun raised. The centre of the massive hall was smouldering with ash and dust. The impact had tossed two of the terrorists to the back of the hall. Just five of them remained now. Kruger and the others continued to fire at them, and in the chaos, they quickly struck down two more of them.

The last three of the militants one by one dropped their weapons in surrender. Kruger and the agents left cover to storm out in front.

They spread out and reached the three remaining gunmen, restraining them. They then gathered others in the area who were injured but still alive. A few minutes later, they had seven of the militants restrained and sitting on the ground before them. Kruger and the men stood around them.

Kruger spent a second surveying the men before him. The same skeletal-faced masks rested over all their faces. They were all gazing ahead motionlessly, their hands behind them.

“Nice job, team.” Kruger said softly. The guys around him nodded.

Taking in a deep breath, Kruger walked before the line of men.

He bent down before them, letting his voice roll out in a bare whisper.

“Listen carefully, because we don’t have the time to go over this more than once. Today is one of the most significant days of your life. And if you refuse to co-operate with us … possibly your last.”

Reaching for his belt, Kruger drew his handgun. He stood there calmly, the weapon in his hand.

“We understand that you’re just soldiers doing the bidding of people higher up than you, and that you don’t have too much access to high-level information in this organisation. But we want to know everything that you do.” Kruger said. “Let’s start with all you know about the man who leads this ... Skrone. His whereabouts, his details. We wanna hear all you know about him.”

His words settled into silence. Seconds rolled past quietly, and nothing in the massive hall seemed to move. Kruger and the men stood as they were, letting a few long seconds pass.

And then, Kruger took a step forward to the line of men.

“Let’s try this one last time.” Kruger said softly. Bending down, he pressed mouth of the handgun onto one of the militants’ forehead. The man was looking ahead through his skeleton-shaped black mask. He remained just as still as the gun’s cold metal rested against his head.

“Where is Skrone? Where is he hiding?” Kruger spoke through gritted teeth. Silence continued to linger as he waited for an answer. “There’s no point fighting us. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to spill your secrets.”

The militant sitting by the end of the line replied.

“It’s only because we can keep our secrets, that we’re here.” His voice was steady and strong. Devoid of fear. “And it’s only because we manage to get the better of our enemies … that you’re here.”

Kruger moved his gaze to the man by the end. He turned and walked over towards him. Bending down before him, Kruger spent a second studying the cold eyes beneath the skeleton mask. And then, he slowly reached down and lifted the mask.

Skrone looked just as Kruger had remembered from the picture he saw. He had long black hair falling to the side of his face in curtains. The region around his eyes were a dried black colour, as though they had been burnt. His eyes were deep green, with a power and allure to them.

As the moment of surprise passed, Kruger spoke. “Seeing whom our team’s found tonight, I’m willing to bet that it’s us that got the better of you.”

Skrone’s green eyes were fixed coldly on Kruger.

“The beauty of American arrogance.” he said. “You can’t imagine a world where you’re outsmarted.” The ghost of a smile came over his lips. “Your planning and schemes have gotten you far in your world. But this is no longer your world.”

On the corridor by the second floor, gunmen appeared from within the rooms. Masked and uniformed like the rest, the militants fired at the CIA men from above. Bullets smashed into the floor and the pillars, sending bits of concrete loose in the air.

It’s a trap! Kruger and the men stepped back and hurried for cover. Gunfire rained down from almost a dozen or so militants in the area above. They had evidently been hiding there all along.

“Take cover!” Kruger yelled, as the agents ducked from the hail of bullets while running across the room.

Skrone rose from where he was sitting, snapping his ropes and reaching for his gun. A few of the other men followed after him.

Kruger threw himself behind a pile of large sacks and ducked. The barrage of gunfire was intensifying. He looked across the hall to see two of his men lying on the ground, clutching their legs. They had been shot.

Raising his own weapon, Kruger leaned out and fired back at the militants. But he knew it was to no avail. They were well outnumbered. Dust and debris erupted over the ground near him, as a stream of heavy gunfire poured from above.

Kruger kept himself covered for a moment, before leaning out to fire once more. A bullet slammed into his shoulder. He was thrown back at the force of the shot, landing eagle-sprawled over the ground.

Kruger clutched the wound tightly, feeling himself moan as he lay there. A stinging pain slowly spread over his shoulder.

The gunfire had stopped.

Kruger strained his neck and looked around. The two remaining CIA agents were being tied up by a group of the masked gunmen. Skrone and the others were slowly making their way towards where Kruger lay. Helpless.

Kruger’s breath was flying from his mouth in short, quick bursts. He could feel his heart beating within his chest. Skrone and his men stopped before him. Skrone slowly bent down before the injured agent, letting his piercing green eyes rest over him. He then reached into Kruger’s pocket, and pulled out the phone he had been carrying.

Standing straight, Skrone reached into his own pocket and produced a smaller phone and a USB cable. He connected Kruger’s CIA-phone, which had direct access to GroundField, to his own phone. Kruger watched with wide eyes.

A few seconds later, displayed over the screen of Kruger’s phone was the heading:


Skrone stood there quietly. Waiting. The rest of his men stood behind him, their skeletal mask still on.

Kruger could hear his heart thudding against his chest. All our government and intelligence archives are in there!

A minute or so had passed, before the heading on the screen read:


Disconnecting the two devices, Skrone pocketed his own phone. He then swung his hand back and hurled Kruger’s device way across the massive hall. Kruger could hear it faintly clatter amidst the junk that it landed on.

They’ve taken something from our archives! Kruger thought, as an anxious sensation spiked within him.

Skrone’s eyes moved over the injured agent before him. He bent before Kruger, bringing his face close to him.

“You have a driver waiting outside for you, don’t you?” Skrone’s voice was soft. But there was a steel to it that made it menacing and clear. “When he comes in and has all of you transported back … deliver this message to your authorities.” Skrone’s eyes flickered with a quiet fire. “Tell them judgement’s coming.”

The hand holding his gun moved slightly, and a gunshot rang out.

A scream of agony roared across the massive chamber. Kruger clutched his kneecap, lying sideways on the ground. Pain like nothing he had felt before exploded through his mind. The muscles across his right leg had paralysed.

With a nod, Skrone made his way across the large hall, and the rest of his men followed. In a few seconds, they had crossed the massive chamber and were gone … Kruger’s screams continued to rack at the air.


Two years ago

The bright morning sun was seated over the horizon. Sprawling out below was a large green field. A majestic building stood by the corner of the field. Standing before it were a line of fifteen young men, all of them appearing no older than twenty. They were dressed in sparkling bright blue uniforms.

A man with a toned physique and trimmed brown hair was moving down the line of men. Commander Horton stopped before each of them, pinned a gleaming badge to their chest, and then moved to the next. He was inaugurating these young men in their entry to the most extreme and most respected defence entity in the country. The Black Knights.

This was an elite arm of the US military that had been formed very recently. They were made for combat operations during war, as well as covert operations such as this. Unlike the army, they had a far smaller membership and had fighters trained in multiple extreme fighting disciplines.

It took him close to a minute before Horton was done pinning badges on each of them. Turning over, the commander walked to the centre of the field and faced the group of men.

“Congratulations to you all,” he said. “The nation is proud of you. You are officially members of the US Black Knights, the single most elite defence squadron in the world.”

Commander Horton moved his gaze down the line of men. “I’ll be supervising you during the initial tenure of your time here. We’ll be enrolling you in active field duty in a few days’ time, and you will be deployed both here and abroad in military-missions or covert operations.”

He paused to take a deep breath. “Although this is a proud and memorable day, it is also the beginning of a challenging and tough life. The Black Knights are sent to some of the most dangerous set-ups that we have. As your leader, I will be guiding you, teaching you to live upto the code of strength and honour that you were trained to follow. This is a job where we cannot make compromises and cannot yield. We always persevere. Make no mistake, nothing less will be expected of you all.”

He touched his badge at the chest of his uniform. A bald eagle was situated in the crest of the badge, with the words ‘Black Knights’ overhead and a slogan following below: ‘Never surrender. Never yield.’

“We have the privilege of accessing tools and technology that the rest of the world could only dream of,” Horton strode down the line of men as he spoke. “and those that even our own police and ordinary military branches are only given very rare access to.”

Horton paused walking and turned to face the other end of the field. “Situated just a dozen miles East from here is the X-5 jet, the fastest air machine in the world right now. It can cover fifteen hundred miles in just three minutes. And it’s just one among countless other tech that we control. All of this, all this power is provided with the sole purpose of serving this great nation.” He let a brief pause permeate his speech, before concluding: “Welcome aboard.”

He carried his eyes through them, and gave them a nod. Turning around, he walked off.

The newly initiated young men dispersed.

Walking down the field at the edge of the pack was a thin youngster with tidy blonde hair and spirited blue eyes. Luke felt a glow within him like he never had before him. He had worked for this day his entire life…

It had been two whole years ago that Luke had entered this academy. Fresh off his military schooling, he was aspiring to enter the most extreme, highly-disciplined defence entity in the country. The Black Knights.

The training was tough as it could be, and the selection process was even tougher.

And yet, here Luke was, two years later. It had been a life-long dream, and he had made it.

He was going to join the Black Knights.

Walking alongside him was an old friend that he knew from his childhood … One who had followed the same path as him.

Daniel was untucking his shirt and loosening his uniform as he strode alongside Luke. His lush red hair, which usually remained messed and tousled, was well combed today for this occasion.

“Can’t believe we made it, pal.” he said, looking at Luke.

Luke nodded. “Guess all of those gruesome hours were worth it.”

“Definitely were.”

“So what’re you upto today?” asked Luke.

“I’m meeting up with Alison,” said Daniel, referring to his long-time girlfriend. “Haven’t seen her in some time.”

He gave a moment’s pause, and then turned to Luke.

“We’re getting engaged soon.”

Luke smiled. “Congrats in advance. Found an apartment in Chicago, yet?”

“No, man. It was too expensive. We decided on getting a place in a town just closeby called Rockford.” He looked at Luke. “What about you? Got any plans today?”

“Heading to my parents’ place for dinner.” said Luke.

For a second, Luke flashed back to the expression on his father’s face, when he had heard about this. It had been one of the most priceless moments of Luke’s life.

Luke was wondering what lay ahead. He had always wanted to spend his life serving his country, and this was the way he had wanted to do it. He wanted to live a life of adventure.

The two of them walked across the field in silence, before making their way home from there.

The present

The dream faded as Luke opened his eyes. It took a second for his sluggish senses to refine themselves back to the conscious state. On his right was a large window, through which sunlight streamed into the place.

As the last strains of sleepiness vanished, Luke slowly hoisted himself upright on the bed. His gaze moved over the small apartment that he now lived in. Clothes lay scattered over the place. A small table with a few chairs lay across the room. A drawer rested against the wall nearby, with a large mirror seated over it. The TV, hanging by the opposite wall, had been left on all night. Voices issued from it.

The glow of delight, contentment, that Luke’s mind had sensed seconds back was gone. Replaced by a dull, blank sensation.

He sat there by the bed for many seconds, before wrenching his blanket off and getting to his feet.

He paused before the mirror over the drawer.

A lean young man with long blonde hair stared back at him. An air of dustiness seeped out of him, with his unshaven face and unkempt hair.

Luke spent a moment gazing into his bright blue eyes on the mirror. There was missing spark within them … Deep within, something had gone hollow.

Turning over, Luke walked over to the bathroom by the side of the hall. He spent a few minutes washing his face and tidying up before walking out back into the room.

For a moment, he stood there and looked about his apartment. Only the sound of the TV was heard for a few seconds through the silence.

Lying next to the dust-bin by the corner of the room were a bunch of crumpled black robes.

Turning over, Luke walked over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He briefly scanned what he saw inside. It was mostly empty, with some old leftovers of pizzas, burgers and some shrivelled up vegetables by the lower rack. Luke reached in, grabbed a carton of juice and shut the door.

He walked back to the main room, sliding back over the bed. Slumped with his back against the wall, he sipped the juice from the carton while the TV continued to play.


The large table in the CIA’s meeting room was occupied on both sides by seven suited men. Focussed looks were mirrored on every face.

Sitting upfront was a middle-aged man with red hair. Having spent years as a senior analyst for this agency, Malcom knew that this was a grim situation.

Hours ago, one of their enemies had gotten hold of one of their agency’s devices, and had accessed GroundField, the program controlling the US government’s facilities, through it.

They need to find out what he had stolen…

Sitting beside Malcom was a woman holding a walkie-talkie. She held the device close to her as she spoke.

“We’ll be co-ordinating and assisting you along the way,” Bertha said. The rest of the room was paying close attention.

“All right.” replied a voice on the other side of the line. A soldier from the Black Knights, leading this operation. “We’re moving towards the site right now.”

Bertha was looking into the laptop on the table before her.

Malcom edged closer to the walkie-talkie. “Daniel, remember, we’ve given you the failsafe.”

There was a moment of confusion, after which the voice on the line said, “I’m sorry?”

“The failsafe, Dan.” Malcom knew that this guy was from the military, and therefore, untrained in codenames. “The device that we gave you? It’s in your pocket now.”

“The pendrive?”

“Yeah,” Bertha responded. “That’s a special CIA hacker weapon, Daniel. You can use it to break through passwords in any device or hardware. You probably won’t be needing it in this mission, but keep it with you just in case there’s something with restricted access.”

“Got it.” Daniel responded.

“Good luck, men.” Malcom said, leaning forward towards the walkie-talkie. “Keep us updated along the way, Daniel.”

“We will.” answered Daniel.


Hundreds of miles away, an SUV was ploughing through the road. Sitting within it upfront was Daniel Roberts. He had a earpiece strung around his ear that kept him in contact with the CIA. They were receiving assistance and supervision from the agency back at home for this important operation. Five more men sat behind in the SUV, all of them carrying military-grade weapons.

“So you got the route to the site?” asked Daniel, looking at the driver.

“Yeah,” replied John. He adjusted the mouthpiece that he was wearing, and spoke into it. “So we arrive at a junction from here, turn right and go all the way through?”

“That’s right.” said Bertha, her voice heard in Daniel’s earpiece as well.

“Got it.” John nodded, glancing sideways at Daniel.

John and the others were CIA operatives, while Daniel was a member of the US Black Knights.

The team of them were moving towards the warehouse where an encounter had taken place many hours ago, between a CIA team and enemy militants. They needed to recover a device of their agent that was used by the enemy to access GroundField.

The CIA agents who had been attacked in the warehouse had been pulled out by their driver and extracted back to the base. All of them were wounded or unconscious when they were rescued. The device hadn’t been recovered…

Now, Daniel and the team needed to find the phone, and read it to find out what exactly the enemy had obtained from the US government’s archives. It could have been top-secret information that was extremely damaging.

Daniel knew that GroundField was now used to connect and operate countless infrastructure and facilities in the country. This was a new and improved mode of working that helped function their country. From transport networks to public medical facilities, military systems, prisons and countless other services, the program was used to run vast parts of the country. And it therefore stored a massive archive of data and sensitive information from almost all sectors of the country.

For that reason, it was more important that they understood what the enemy obtained from it. There was room for accessing a whole array of sensitive information through this program.

Bertha’s voice sounded in Daniel’s ear. “We don’t want anything unforeseen like the last time, so we’ve got a satellite scanning the warehouse and the region all around it. We’ve found no signals of life in the warehouse or anywhere around. No hostiles in the area for now.”

“Okay.” Daniel nodded.

“But you’ve gotta stay alert. This area has seen regular activity from these militants. So keep your guard up while you go in. Hostile elements could be present nearby.” Bertha said. “We’re keeping a close surveillance through the satellite, so we’ll inform you if anything does show up.”

“Sounds good.” said Daniel.

The SUV shuddered as it ran over the coarse, unlevelled roads of the town. The rumble of the engine was all that was heard as they drove down the path. Daniel’s eyes strayed to the sight around him. Buildings that were completely abandoned, some of them damaged and destroyed, filled the landscape. There was very scarce life that could be felt in the area.

Daniel’s thoughts drifted as he gazed out of the window. He was scrolling over the numerous problems facing their country right now. Rising crime and gang violence on the inside, aggressive nations on the outside. This was not a time when they had expected more threats to emerge. Such as this one.

The Order.

As a member of this elite fighting force, Daniel was kept aware of security threats and their reach. He knew that this group had a rising presence in European countries, as well as other parts of the world. The US intelligence community was unable to determine the extent of their presence in American soil.

Daniel reached into his leg pocket, where a mild vibrating sensation was occurring. Contorting his face for a second, he tried to pluck his phone out from the tight pocket. Having succeeded, he looked into the screen.

A message from Alison.

It read: “Dan, I’m gonna be travelling out of Rockford just nearby to meet my college friend, Tiana. Be safe. I love you.”

Closing the message, Daniel held the phone in his hand for a moment. He gazed out the window as they drove down the crumbling city.