Authors: William W. Johnstone
Tags: #Science Fiction
“All right, Ben. I’ll get right on it. But what a monstrous thought.”
“Not so much, Mike. Left-wing liberalism is a form
of socialism. Socialism is a first cousin to fascism. It really isn’t that far a jump between the two.”
Mike smiled and took the makin’s Ben offered. He rolled a cigarette and lit up, then said, “There are many people who would argue that connection, Ben.”
Ben shrugged. “Both of them are a form of people being dependent on the government and the government being all powerful in the lives of its citizens. People can argue that all they want to, but it’s true.”
Mike wandered off to the communications truck and Dr. Chase walked up.
“I just spoke with a doctor in Bissau via shortwave, Ben. Things are not that bad there. They’re desperately short of supplies, but morale is high and they’ve maintained a fairly decent standard of life, considering the circumstances.”
“Why do some people just give up and others fight for life, Lamar?”
“Ben, don’t get philosophical on me while we’re standing by the side of this miserable road sweating and slapping flies and mosquitos. Hell, I don’t know.” La-mar squinted his eyes and stared at Ben. “What’s really on your mind, Ben?”
“You like Paula Preston, don’t you, Lamar?”
“Well … she’s all right. We get along. But I don’t believe she’s the shrinking violet she would like people to think. Why she insists upon maintaining that charade, I don’t know. Why are you asking about her?”
“She’s a ringer, Lamar.”
“Explain that, please. I’m a physician, not a cryptolo-gist.”
“She’s told so many lies since she joined us I’m surprised she hasn’t tripped over one.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“Oh, yes, Lamar. For a fact. Mike just had her checked out back Stateside …”
“I thought I saw him skulking about.”
“Yeah, he’s here.”
“Tell me about Ms. Preston.”
Ben brought him up to date as they walked, being careful to stay on the road, for it was marsh and swamp on both sides. Since the ferry across the Rio Cacheu over to Cacheu had not run in years, the longer route was the only option left. The column would have to travel the road east to Ingore, then down to Sao Vicente, finally into Bissau.
“You actually think there will be a war waged against us, Ben?”
“I thought we were talking about Paula Preston?”
“Oh, to hell with her. We can feed her false information and have her and whoever the hell she’s working for so confused they won’t know up from down.”
Ben laughed at his old friend. “You’re getting feisty in your advanced years, Lamar.”
“Damn right, I am. Are we going to have to fight on American soil, again, Ben?”
Before Ben could reply, Corrie came running up. She paused for a moment to catch her breath, then said, “Boss, I just got this flash from Base Camp One. The EUSA and NUSA have rejoined …”
“That answer your question, Lamar?” Ben said, a grim expression on his face.
“… It’s now the United States of America, boss,” Corrie continued. “And they are working on the WUSA as we speak. They’re leaning toward reuniting.”
“Son of a bitch!” Lamar cussed.
“I suspected it was coming,” Ben said in a calm voice. “I just had a hunch it was.”
Mike Richards came panting up. “Goddamnit!” he cussed. “I just heard. Is it true?”
“It’s true, Mike. Calm down. Take a deep breath. It will take them months or a couple of years, or more,
to work out the political angles. Hell, you get a bunch of loud-mouthed politicians-especially a gaggle of liberals-together and all they’ll be able to agree on is to disagree. They’ll be enough hot air expelled to heat a major city for a year.”
Lamar laughed and Mike grinned. “You’re probably right, Ben,” Mike said. “I lost my cool there for a moment.”
“Cecil knows what to do,” Ben assured them both. “Believe me, he does, and he will. Right now, let’s get this show on the road and get to Bissau. I want to get a link set up with Base Camp One. Cecil and I have a lot to talk over.”
“Not to worry, Ben,” Cecil’s voice was strong over the thousands of miles that separated the two good friends. “They know better than to make a move against the SUSA.”
“They do right now, Cec. Down the road is another matter. How about our friends in the NUSA and the others?”
“We have no politico friends in the newly reunited USA, Ben. They’ve all been replaced; some of them forcibly.”
“That doesn’t surprise me one litde bit. Have any of them asked for asylum in the SUSA?”
“Quite a few, and I granted it.”
“Good. What about any type of armed forces?”
“They have no navy or air force. But they are building an army as quickly as they can. And with their economic situation as bleak as it is, they’re having no problem getting recruits.”
“I can just imagine. And many of those men will have combat experience and make damn good soldiers. And thousands of them will have a very strong hatred for us.”
“That’s true, Ben. But it will take them months to put any type of army together. They’re having to start from scratch. They have few weapons and are having to build the factories to manufacture the weapons from the ground up. They have no missiles-none, zip. They have no bombs of any kind and no delivery system if they build bombs.”
“Two years, Cec. That’s how I figure it. But two years max before they’ll be capable of launching any type of effective attack against the SUSA.”
“I agree, Ben. But there is something else we’ve got to think about.”
“Bruno Bottger,” Ben said quickly.
“Right. You can bet he’s already heard the news and has his political people working around the clock trying to come up with some plan to offer the USA aid.”
“If this entire scheme wasn’t hatched in his sick brain to begin with.”
“There is that to consider.”
“I have and I think the Nazi son of a bitch is behind it all, Cec.”
Cecil had the key open when he sighed, the sigh very audible over the distance. “I think you just might be right, Ben. Needless to say, our intelligence people are very red-faced about this matter.”
“Tell them to stop kicking themselves. This caught all of us off guard. Good God, Cec, we’ve got the best intel system in the world. They’ve done a superb job over the years. They can’t be expected to nail down everything. All right, ol’ buddy, here it is: I want infiltrators moving ASAP …”
“I’ve got them ready to go, Ben. At the very first sign of aggression, they’ll start knocking out vital facilities in enemy territory.”
“I’ve placed the SUSA on low alert and beefed up
our border crossings. We’re monitoring every transmission. We’re stockpiling supplies.”
Ben laughed and let Cecil hear the laughter. “Hell, Cec, I’ll stop worrying then. You’ve got a handle on it.”
“Ben, I’ve just been notified that the new President of the USA wants to talk to me. I’ll break off and get back to you just as soon as I find out what’s up.”
“Ten-four, Cec. I’ll stay close to the radio. Good luck.”
“Watch your ass over there, Ben.”
“You can bet on that. Talk to you soon. Eagle out.”
Ben stood up and walked around the room for a moment, deep in thought. He stopped and turned to the crowd who had gathered to hear what Cecil Jefferys had to say. “Corrie, advise the batt corns of the situation. But tell them I don’t want to even think about a meeting just yet. There really is no point. We simply don’t know enough to warrant that. Cecil’s got everything under control back home. We’ve got a job to do over here, so let’s concentrate on that for the time being.”
He put his gaze on Dr. Chase, sitting on the corner of a deck in the old office building on the edge of the airport. “Lamar, give me your first estimates of the health situation of the people here.”
“Pretty good, Ben, all things considering. We’re getting supplies in from Europe in a couple of days: enough vaccines to last us for a long time. Those countries have really come through for us.”
“Good, Lamar, good.” He looked at each of the company commanders. “Any trouble in town?”
“Not a bit,” one told him. “General, the press is due to arrive this afternoon. What the hell are we supposed to do with them?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
“The ships have docked, waiting to be unloaded,” another CO said. “You want us to see to that?”
“Hell, no!” Ben said emphatically. “That isn’t our job. I didn’t invite these people over here. Let them take care of their own mess.”
Lamar turned his face away so Ben could not see his grin. Ben was determined to get off on the wrong foot with the press. Lamar was always amused at that, for Ben had a marvelous relationship with the press back in the SUSA, occasionally writing columns for them when he was home. There were several reporters traveling with the Rebels, constantly moving from one battalion to another, and they wrote and sent dispatches back home. But the difference between the national press and the press from the SUSA-at least one of the differences-was that the local people never had to have their columns censored. The local press knew there were always going to be accidental killings of innocent civilians-that was war-and they didn’t dwell on it and blow it all out of proportion, pissing and moaning with every sentence. Not so with the press outside of the SUSA, and Lamar often wondered when that changed. His father had told him that the press was respected and trusted-for the most part-during World War Two. So when did it change and why?
Lamar shook his head, mentally laid the problem aside-if it was a problem-and returned his attention back to Ben.
“I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we’ve got the gangs on the run; we’re pushing them south, and that is making our primary job of seeing to the needs of the people a lot easier. But sooner or later the running has to stop and the gangs are going to stand and fight.”
“The sooner the better,” Jersey griped, and the people in the room burst out laughing.
“Keep your pants on, Jersey!” one of the CO’s called.
“Oh, don’t tell her that!” Cooper yelled.
The last thing anyone saw of those two for about an hour was Jersey chasing Cooper out the front door, threatening all sorts of pain and suffering upon his body.
The press was two days late in arriving, due to the big news Stateside about most of the country reuniting. They started raising hell within moments after their charter plane landed at the Bissau airport. They were very unhappy about their vehicles and supplies having not been unloaded. Several of the big-shot news anchors, from the Big Three Networks, demanded to know why their equipment had not been unloaded.
“It’s your equipment,” several Rebels told them several times within the span of about twenty minutes. “You unload it.”
That attitude did not do much to improve strained relations between Ben Raines and his Rebels and the nation’s press. Not that Ben cared.
The press finally contracted with some locals to offload their equipment and that was completed just about the same time Ben and his 1 Batt was due to pull out. They had done all they could for the residents of the city.
Ben had yet to meet with any member of the press, even though they had repeatedly asked for a meeting.
Ike had radioed Ben, telling him if he sent any of the press over to his sector he’d strand them in the middle of hostile territory the first chance he got.
“They don’t want to travel with Ike anyway,” Mike
Richards told Ben on the day before the battalion was due to pull out. “They want to get some dirt on you.”
“I’m sure of that. You going to stay with me on this next run?”
“Not on your life. I’m gettin’ out of here today. Press types give me a pain in the ass. They always ask the dumbest questions.”
“I wish I could go with you,” Ben said wistfully. “Sooner or later a half a dozen of them will corner me somewhere and bombard me with questions.”
“Thanks a lot. Keep in touch.”
“I will. From a distance.”
Ben watched the chief of intelligence walk away. There was no telling where Mike would pop up next. Even though he should have his butt parked behind a desk, he had spent too many years in the field to be content with paperwork.
“We’re lining up the column now, boss,” Corrie said. “Where do you want the press?”
Ben sighed. “Oh, hell, Corrie. As much as I want to, I can’t stick them at the rear of the column. They’d get lost or ambushed. I’d get the blame for sure. Put them in the middle of the column. Hell, we might as well get used to baby-sitting them.”
“Right.” She didn’t tell Ben she’d already done that, knowing that would be his final decision. Corrie was one of the few people who knew that in many cases, Ben’s bark was a lot worse than his bite. He didn’t like the press, and wouldn’t hesitate to inconvenience them, but he didn’t want to harm any of them. Well … most of them.
There were three news anchors that Ben had absolutely no use for at all. Stan Travis, Marilyn Dickson, and Ford McLachlan. Those three had been up-and-comers just before the Great War, being groomed for
William W. Johnstone
the anchor spots on the big three networks. All three were one-hundred-percent left-wing democrats, sobbing and pissing and moaning every chance they got about guns in the hands of private citizens, the use of deadly force by the police, the death penalty, and anything else that smacked of conservatism.
Ben’s feelings for the three news-people came very close to open hatred. And he made no effort to hide it.
Before dawn, on the morning of the pull-out from Bissau, Ben was standing beside his vehicle when the three news anchors walked up.
“Well, General,” Ford said. “We meet again.”