Authors: William W. Johnstone
Tags: #Science Fiction
“We have bigger guns and more powerful grenades.”
The merchant suddenly smiled. “I will do as you ask, General. And so will the others along my block.”
The back door suddenly burst open and Jersey and Cooper threw a young man inside. He slid on the floor on his face. He was butt-ugly before he hit the floor, so the slide really didn’t hurt his looks any.
“You will die for this, you coward!” he hissed at the merchant.
The interpreter told Ben what the punk had said and Ben kicked the hoodlum in the face with the toe of his
boot. Several teeth abruptly left the young man’s mouth and went bouncing around on the floor.
A policeman stood by watching the scene very nervously. The local police, those that weren’t on the take, were largely ineffective.
Ben smiled down at the hoodlum who was looking up at him, blood leaking from his mouth. “Oh, I don’t think so, bub.”
There were three Rebels in every store along a five-block downtown area, both sides of the street. They had slipped in earlier and taken up positions. Two were armed with M-16’s, the CAR version, the third armed with a pump-action, sawed-off, twelve-gauge shotgun, loaded with 00 buckshot, three-inch magnums.
A prearranged hand signal had been settled upon to warn the Rebels when a gang member entered the shop. It wasn’t a long wait for Ben, Jersey, and Anna, in the back room of one shop. Ben’s company commanders did not like the idea of him being right in the middle of things, but he was the boss, and they knew better than to argue with him.
Ben didn’t need the hand signal to tell him a punk had entered the store. Ben could smell the bastards from a hundred yards away.
Jersey listened to her headset for a moment, then whispered, “Corrie says gang members are entering every store along the way. Guess the shopkeepers were leveling with us: this is collection day.”
“This is the day they get sent right straight to hell,” Ben returned the whisper.
Anna smiled, a strange savage moving of the lips. The young woman could be almost bloodthirsty at times. But, as Ben often had to remind himself, she grew up fighting gangs of punks and hoodlums and other types
William W. Johnstone
of human slime. She hated punks just as much as Ben did, and that was saying a mouthful.
Ben clicked the shotgun off safety.
The punk facing the shopkeeper shook his fist at the man and the two with him laughed. Then the punk jerked out a pistol. Ben didn’t have to understand the language to know the shopkeeper was being threatened and cussed. Ben stepped from behind cover and gave the hoodlum a full load of 00 buckshot.
From a distance of about fifteen feet, the load of buckshot nearly took the thug’s head off. The impacting lead knocked him out the front door. He sprawled in front of the store in a pool of blood.
Jersey and Anna stepped around Ben and gave the other two bursts from the weapons. They joined their friend outside, in front of the store.
All up and down the block the sounds of shotguns and M-16’s could be heard, roaring and clattering. It lasted for no more than a minute, then a strange silence followed.
Ben stepped past the shocked shopkeeper and walked outside, looking up and down the street. Rebels were dragging bodies out of the stores, dumping them unceremoniously in the gutter. Several Rebel deuce-and-a-halves appeared. Using local help, the bodies were tossed into the covered beds of the trucks and hauled off to the mass grave that had already been scooped out of the earth, well outside the city.
Ben carefully rolled a cigarette and lit it. The shopkeeper appeared by his side. “Friends of the dead thieves will stop by for a visit later tonight. They will attempt to burn my shop in retaliation for this.”
“We’ll be here,” Ben assured him.
“Others will be back tomorrow,” the shopkeeper persisted.
“We’ll be here then, too,” Ben said.
The shopkeeper smiled. “Is this the way they do it in America?”
“No,” Ben told him. “But it’s the way we do it in my part of America.”
The Rebels stayed in the city for ten days, Chase and his medical personnel keeping busy seeing people, Ben and his people keeping busy dealing with punks.
At the end of the week, the Rebels had brought the reign of lawlessness and near anarchy to a stop, putting nearly two thousand punks in mass graves.
New city officials had been elected in fair elections (replacing the old corrupt officials-some of whom had been promptly hanged by extremely irate citizens, after very short and highly emotional trials) and the police force had been completely revamped.
Rebel political officers had worked closely with the local hierarchy and trade agreements had been signed establishing trade between the SUSA and the country of Senegal.
Gangs of punks, thugs, and various other types of human vermin had fled the city in droves aftxjr the first seventy-two hours of retribution, knowing if they stayed their future was going to be very short, with a very abrupt cessation of life coming at the end of a rope or a bullet.
For the first time in years, Dakar was a peaceful city.
“Your concept of justice is rather harsh, General,” Paula said to Ben on the evening before the column was due to pull out. She had poured a mug of coffee and seated herself across from him. It was the first time she’d had anything to say to him in a week, which suited Ben just fine.
“But it works,” Ben said shortly, hoping to end the conversation before it could get started.
His remark didn’t faze her. Paula stared at him for a moment, then sugared and creamed her coffee and slowly stirred it. “If what I’ve seen so far is your method of dealing with the poor unfortunates who are forced into a life of crime, I don’t want any part of it.”
“I can arrange for a plane to pick you up in the morning,” Ben said quickly.
She didn’t blink. “Forget it. I’m here for the duration. I am going to report you to the United Nations, General.”
Ben laughed. He wiped the tears from his eyes and said, “Lady, I don’t care who you report me to. Send out as many reports as you like.”
“Oh, I have, General. I have sent dispatches to all the major newspapers outside of the SUSA. They are sending reporters ASAP.”
“Are they, now?”
“Yes. I want the world to see the conditions here in Africa and especially your methods of dealing with unfortunates.”
“Oh, my!” Ben smiled at her.
“You think it’s funny, don’t you?”
“Sort of, Ms. Preston. Tell me, who is going to provide food and water and shelter and protection for these guardians of the Constitution?”
“They’re bringing everything they need,” she said smugly.
“Are they, now?”
“Well, that takes a real load off my mind. My goodness, I was worried about their welfare. I certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen to any of them. I don’t know if I could endure that.”
“Your humor is grotesque.”
“My God, General, I didn’t mean that as a compliment.”
“Oh? Well, sorry about that.”
She narrowed her eyes and stared at him for a moment before realizing that he was putting her on. She sighed and took a sip of her coffee. “I’m beginning to believe you cannot be insulted, General.”
“It’s been tried by the best, Ms. Preston.”
“I can just imagine. Whatever happened to Ben and Paula?”
Ben smiled. “You got all stiff and formal on me, Ms. Preston.”
“For that, I apologize, Ben. But I won’t apologize for calling the press in.”
Ben shrugged his indifference. “I think most of them know by now they’ll be on their own here. I won’t nursemaid them.”
“Those two or three reporters who write favorably of you probably won’t be along on this trip.”
“I know. I’ve been advised of that.”
“You were advised? …” She spoke softly and let that trail off into a moment of awkward silence. “Then you knew all along that I had alerted the press?”
“And you just let me ramble on?”
She flushed. Cleared her throat. “Does anything happen in the Rebel Army that escapes your attention?”
“Not very much, Paula. Tell your reporter friends to link up with us in Banjul, Gambia. I’ll have my people alert them when the airport is secure and they can come in. I’ve already had the ship captain who is bringing their vehicles and supplies over alerted to hold off attempting to dock until he receives word that the dock area is safe and secure. He’ll lay a safe distance offshore until he gets word.” Ben pushed back his chair and
stood up. “We’ll be pulling out of here at dawn tomorrow. Nice talking with you, Paula.”
Ben walked away and Dr. Chase sat down, a smile on his face.
“What are you grinning about?” Paula asked.
“You’ll learn not to try to get sneaky with Ben Raines, Paula. The man invented the word.”
“I’m beginning to think you’re right, Lamar.”
Lamar’s grin faded and his eyes grew serious. “Paula, warn your reporter friends not to cross Ben. Ben doesn’t like the press, and he believes strongly that the press has no business anywhere near a war zone. He’s not going to cut them any slack. If they get into trouble, they’re on their own. I’ve gone over the list of reporters Ben’s people intercepted from your State Department transmissions. As far as I can tell, they’re all a pack of whiny left-wingers who pee their lace-trimmed drawers at the sight of a gun and fall into a foaming fit of indignation when some punk gets shot. Paula, he’s shot reporters for filing a biased story.”
Paula’s smile quickly faded at that. “You and Ben think quite a bit alike, don’t you, Lamar?”
“Quite a bit, Paula. We’ve been together a long time.”
“These men and women will report what they see.”
“Will they, Paula?” Lamar questioned. “Or will they report what they want to see?”
“Well, we’re beating the rainy season,” Ben said, when the column was about an hour’s drive from the Gambian border. “But not by much.”
“17 and 18 Batts are reporting the roads are in really bad shape,” Corrie said. “Slowing them down to about ten miles an hour, tops.”
“They’ll get worse, much worse,” Ben warned. “The
rainy season is not far away. And when that happens the roads will turn into a quagmire of red mud.”
None of the team asked how Ben knew that. They did not inquire into Ben’s past … although all knew that Ben had done contract work for the CIA as a young man just out of the service, and some of that work had been in Africa.
“The column’s going to have to stop,” Corrie announced. “There is some sort of old military truck stalled in the road ahead.”
“Let’s get out and stretch our legs,” Ben said, opening the door and stepping out onto the road.
He leaned against the big wagon and rolled a cigarette. All around him lay creeks and swamps, foreboding looking even in the midday.
A strange stillness lay over the land, and Ben puzzled about that, for this area was known for its chattering monkeys and squawking parrots.
“Jersey,” he said softly.
“Tell Corrie I said to put everybody on high alert, but to do it quietly and easy. I’ve suddenly got this real bad feeling about this place.”
“You are not alone, boss.”
Corrie quietly issued the orders and the Rebels began unassing from the trucks, nonchalantly appearing, but all the while they were seeking out the best defensive positions along the road. Tank commanders were talking on another frequency, ready to button up and swing their turrets, staggered left and right.
Ben reached into the big wagon and pulled out a rucksack containing several dozen filled magazines for his CAR and for his team. He had already picked out a good position in a ditch just a few yards from the road, and with his eyes had told his team where they were going when trouble started.
Jersey stepped close and stuck a stick of chewing gum into her mouth. “Wagon’s going to get full of holes, boss.”
“Better it than us,” Ben said with a smile. He cut his eyes to Cooper. “What’s Coop looking so worried about? An ambush is nothing new for any of us.”
“He’s worried about his recently acquired collection of filthy magazines. He picked diem up back along the way. Really nasty ones. They’re in the truck right behind our wagon.”
Ben chuckled. “These real juicy magazines, hey, Jersey?”
“Filthier than any I’ve ever seen him read. And Cooper has some real gross magazines.”
Before Ben could reply, Anna said in a whisper, “Movement in the swamp, in front and behind us.”
“I wonder who they are?” Beth questioned, getting ready to jump into the ditch in front of them. “Gangs usually aren’t this smart.”
“We’ll question any prisoners we take,” Ben replied.
“If we take any,” Anna said.
“There is always that to consider,” Ben agreed.
Out in the swamp, someone got anxious and rose up from behind a log. A Rebel stitched him with a burst from his M-16 and the fight was on.
Ben and team jumped for the ditch.
“Well, crap!” Beth said, from her position on the far left side of the line. “I landed right in a pile of shit!”
“Probably monkey shit,” Ben told her.
“Thanks a lot,” Beth replied.
Then there was no more time for talk as the as yet unknown enemy opened up from both sides of the swamp.
These were not undisciplined gangs of punks staging the ambush. The Rebels knew that within a few seconds. These were trained soldiers. Or, as Ben thought, they had been at one time.
But as highly trained as they were, the ambushers could not match or withstand for long die withering fire from the Rebel column.
The first wave of ambushers died before they could make ten yards toward the road. The dark swamp water soon became stained widi their blood.
In less than one minute, die Rebels in die long column probably blew ten thousand rounds of various types of ammo at the ambushers. The swamp became thick with bodies of the dead and the dying and the close still air was soon acrid with the smell of gunsmoke.