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Authors: William W. Johnstone

Out of the Ashes

BOOK: Out of the Ashes
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Available wherever paperbacks are sold, or order direct from the Publisher. Send cover price plus 50¢ per copy for mailing and handling to Penguin USA, P.O. Box 999, do Dept. 17109, Bergenfield, NJ 07621. Residents of New York and Tennessee must include sales tax. DO NOT SEND CASH.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To Danielle Dubois
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
Abe Lincoln
Louisiana, 1984
“Are you nuts?” Ben Raines asked, fighting back an urge to laugh in the man's face. “I mean, honest to God, fellow, have you got both oars in the water?”
The sarcastic slur and intellectual insult was lost on the visitor. “I assure you, Mr. Raines, I am in full command of all my faculties. You came highly recommended to me. To us.”
“By whom?”
“I cannot divulge that information. Not just yet. I am sorry.”
“How do you know I won't go straight to the FBI with this . . . scheme of yours?”
The man pointed. “There is the phone. Call them. You can't prove a thing. But we can—about you.” He smiled.
“The FBI knows damned well I was a mercenary back in ‘69 and '70. So does the State Department. I made that very clear in several of my novels. Blackmail won't work with me.”
The man shrugged. “It was worth a try.”
“Look,” Ben said, “I don't like the way this country is going any more than you do—believe that, or not. But violent overthrow—even if you people had the men and equipment, which you don't—is not my forte.”
“But we do have the men and equipment, Mr. Raines.”
“You say. I don't want any part of it.”
“You're certain?”
“As certain as the sun comes up in the east.”
“Then we badly misjudged you, Mr. Raines.”
Ben shook his head in disagreement. “No, you didn't. If you had approached me just a few years ago, back in ‘80, or even '82, I probably would have gone along with you. But now . . . no.”
“May I ask why not?”
“Because for the past few years I've been very comfortable. And getting fatter all the time. My books are selling well; no bill collectors calling every night; everything you see around you—including the house—is paid for. I have no reason to rock the boat.”
“If you are so happy, why do you drink yourself into a stupor every evening?”
Ben smiled. “You have been investigating, haven't you? I didn't mention happy, did I? Comfortable was the word I chose.”
“Has it not occurred to you that we may be privy to ... matters concerning the situation in the world that . . . you are not aware of, sir? I beg you to reconsider your stance.”
Ben shook his head no.
The man sighed. “Well . . . you will not be contacted by us again, Mr. Raines. Thank you for your time.” He hesitated, then said, “I ... may be making a mistake, Mr. Raines, but everybody is entitled to one. So here is mine: Bull Dean and Carl Adams are still alive. They're running the show.”
Ben came out of his chair. He stared at the man. “I don't believe it. Hey! I saw the bodies, buddy.”
The man's expression did not change. “If you reverse your position, Mr. Raines, just run an ad in the local paper that you'd like to buy a Russian wolfhound. You'll be contacted.” He turned and was gone into the night, the door closing softly behind him.
Ben sat down. He looked at the half-full glass of bourbon and water on the table. He picked it up and emptied it without taking the glass from his lips.
Bull and Adams alive? No way.
Ben Raines laughed and put the mysterious visit out of his mind. He put on a symphony and got drunk while listening to it. The next morning, the visit was hazy in his mind. After a week, he had forgotten all about it.
Washington, D.C., 1988
“Maybe historians will treat me in a more humane fashion than the press has for the past eight years,” President Fayers remarked to his wife. “But sometimes I wonder.”
“You've done a lot of good things over the years, Ed.” She smiled at him, patting his hand. “SALT 5 was only one of them. It's taken you time, and you didn't win all the battles, but you certainly didn't lose the war.”
“Then why, for the past several months, have I had this . . . uneasy feeling in my guts that . . . oh, hell, honey—I don't know. I've been a politician all my life. And I
know something
is going on. I can't put my finger on it, but . . . some
is crawling around the gutters of this city. Some . . . secret I should know.”
His wife studied him. She knew only too well the sixth sense career politicians develop over the years, and knew it was not to be taken lightly. Her husband had had his finger on the pulse of the world for more than forty years, for the past eight as President of the United States. If he believed something was amiss . . . it was.
“Ed, this unknown . . . quantum bothers you that much?”
“Yes, it does, honey. Ever since that gun-control bill went through, the unrest in this country has been building. Baby, citizens of this country—not criminals—have been beaten, jailed, and
simply because they clung to the belief—a correct belief, I might add—that they had a right to own a gun. Damn that Hilton Logan for the son of a bitch he is! He and that pack of liberal bastards really stirred it up with that gun-control bill.”
“You didn't sign it, Ed. Don't forget that.”
“It still became law.”
“The law of the land, Ed,” she reminded him.
“But,” the president stared hard at his wife of fifty years—more than his wife: his friend, his confidante. “Is it really the law of the land? Of the people, for the people? Is it constitutional?”
“The supreme court says it is.”
“Five to four,” President Fayers grunted. “Not exactly an overwhelming majority.” He walked to the window and looked out at the night. “I cannot forget the news film of that fellow down in South Carolina. That man never had so much as a traffic ticket in his whole life. And agents—federal agents—employed by the very government his taxes help support, shot him
stone damned dead!
And for what? Because he wanted to keep a. 38 pistol in his house. Ah, hell!” The president waved his disgust.
“The country is becoming prosperous once again,” she said, attempting to change the subject.
“What's the matter?” He grinned at her. “You worried about my blood pressure?”
“Somebody has to. You won't.”
“After all the social blunders of the ‘60's and '70's ... I'll be goddamned if we're not heading down the same old road. Just look at that new pack of liberals in Congress.”
“It's the will of the people, Ed.”
“No.” He shook his head. “No, honey, that's the shame of it—it isn't. It's the will of pressure groups, lobbyists, so-called Christians.” He poured a drink under the frowning gaze of his wife. He downed it neat, then sighed. “Something's in the wind. And it stinks. I just don't know what it is.” He sat down. “God, I'm tired. I'm seventy-five years old. I'm tired. I just want out.”
Ben Raines sat on the front porch of his home in Louisiana and for the first time in a long time thought about Vietnam and how, during the quiet moments after patrol, unwinding, but still too keyed up to sleep, he would sit with his buddies and talk of home, women, movies, and politics—as well as other topics.
Two decades had passed since that exercise in futility had ended for Ben. He didn't think about it often. The nightmares had dimmed into occasional dreams, without substance, the blood in them no longer red and thick and real. The screaming faint night sounds now had no meaning, and the smoke from the burning villages was no longer acrid, did not burn his eyes or leave a bitter taste on his tongue.
It was just a fading memory. Nothing more.
He wondered, now that SALT 5 was two years old and the nuclear weapons around the world had been greatly reduced, at least for the major countries, if there would ever be another war.
He felt there would be, and he also wondered if Russia and America were living up to the terms of the agreement.
He doubted it. Both sides still had missiles tucked away, hidden, ready, and aimed. Each side knew the other too well. Only the doves in America truly believed in all the terms of SALT 5. Ben wondered if those missiles aimed at Russia and America were nuclear or bacteriological types. He thought probably the latter, for SALT didn't cover germ-type warheads . . . that came under a different agreement.
“Come on, Ben,” he muttered. “Why are you thinking like this tonight?”
He tried to think about the new novel he was planning, but his thoughts would not jell. Then he suddenly recalled the words one of his long-dead buddies had spoken to him, so many years before, during one of those long bull sessions.
“How would you change our system of government, Ben? I mean, we all agree the system isn't working. But how would you correct it? If you could?”
And that had sparked hours of debate and sometimes heated arguments that turned into fist fights. The debates had lasted for days.
He recalled the legendary Col. Bull Dean listening to his men argue and debate. The Bull had smiled. Then, when they were alone, Bull had said to Ben, “Keep your dreams, son. You have good thoughts for one so young. Keep them alive in your mind, for someday, probably sooner than you might think, you just might have a chance to see them spring to life. Hell, son! You might write a book!”
Ben had grinned, thinking the Bull was kidding.
On this soft night in Louisiana, Ben remembered Bull's words as they had waited to lift off from Rocket City, heading into North Vietnam, to HALO in: high altitude, low opening. They would jump at twenty thousand feet, their chutes opening automatically when they got under radar.
“We're losin' this war, son,” Bull had said. “And there is nothing that guys like you and me can do about it—we can only prolong it. Back home, now, it's gonna get worse—much worse. Patriotism is gonna take a nose dive, sinking to new depths of dishonor. There is no discipline in schools; the courts have seen to that. America is going to take a pasting for a decade, maybe longer, losing ground, losing face, losing faith. That's when the military will be forced to step in and take over. And God help us all when they do that.”
“Why do you say that, sir?”
“Remember that line about absolute power?”
“Yes, sir.”
“The military leaders—those with enough sense to pour piss out of a boot, that is, and we do have a few of them in uniform—realize the truth in that line. They won't want to take over the country—but they might be forced into doing it. For a time. It will be a bad time for you all.”
all? Not including yourself in that, Colonel?”
The Bull had smiled.
“Sir? Why are you telling me all this . . . now?”
The Bull shook his head. “I haven't told you as much as you might believe. But in the years ahead of you—two decades, more than likely—you'll understand.”
Ben stirred uncomfortably on the porch. It had been two decades, almost. The strange visitor of several years back suddenly popped into his mind. He shook away those memories.
And just before that leap into the rushing night, so many years ago, as the Bull stood in the door of the plane, he screamed at Ben: “Bold Strike, son. Remember it. Bold Strike. Say it to no one.”
A few weeks later, Col. William “Bull” Dean was supposedly killed, his mutilated and unrecognizable body found days later by a team of LRRPs—Long Range Recon Patrols. Then Adams was reported missing. He was MIA'ed; then, finally, listed as KIA.
A month later, Ben had been wounded and sent home.
After he recovered from his wounds, he found he could not tolerate the attitudes in America toward her Vietnam vets. He was restless, and missed the action he had left behind. He had been sent home to a land of hairy, profane young men who sewed the American flag on the seats of their dirty jeans and marched up and down the street, shouting ugly words, all in the name of freedom—their concept of freedom.
Ben left the country and made his way to Africa, signing on as a mercenary with anyone who wanted and appreciated fighting men. For two years he fought in dozens of little no-name wars, just drifting, becoming hardened to death and blood and suffering.
One day he told a visiting American writer—whom he had met in a bar—he thought he might write a book. The writer questioned Ben closely, then told him to do just that, and when he was through with it, to send it to his agent. He'd tell the agent it was coming.
The more Ben thought about it, the more he liked the idea. He went home, back to Illinois, to his parents' home, and wrote his book.
He'd been writing ever since and had lived in Louisiana for almost fifteen years.
He stirred from his misty memories and realized the phone was ringing in the den. He walked from the coolness of the front porch and picked up the phone. Two words were spoken, and they caused his heart to pound and a dizziness to spring into his head.
“Bold Strike.”
Then the line went dead.
Ben sat down hard in a chair. He had not heard those words in years. But what the hell did they mean? A warning? A cue for him to do something. What in the shit had the Bull meant by them?
Ben turned on the TV set and caught the last of the nightly news. Fresh outbreaks of race riots in Newark and Detroit. The government was worried about the resurgence of the KKK and the American Nazi Party—and the fact that they had joined hands, to jointly spew their hate. White robes and black uniforms.
“Bold Strike,” Ben muttered. “What's going on? Bull Dean is dead. And so is Carl Adams. I saw the bodies.”
No, he corrected his thoughts. You saw
body. Someone said it was Colonel Dean. You later—much later—saw pictures that someone
was Adams.
Then the words of the news commentator numbed Ben. “Certain military units have been placed on low alert. No reason was given. But it's nothing to be concerned about, the Pentagon says. Just testing security.”
“What units, you son of a bitch!” Ben shouted at the TV set.
A commercial for a female hygiene spray greeted his question.
Ben turned off the set.
Something dark and elusive darted around the shadowy corners of his mind. He fixed another drink and sat down by the phone. He jerked up the phone, consulted an address book, and dialed the number of a friend over at Fort Stewart, Georgia. His wife answered the phone.
“No, Ben, he's not here. No. I can't tell you where he is, 'cause
don't know where he is. It hasn't been this tight around here since the Iran thing.”
They chatted of small things for a few moments, then Ben said good night. The wall of secrecy was closing. Ben knew it well.
He tried his old outfit, the Hell-Hounds. Probably less than five percent of Congress knew of their existence. Maybe not that high a percentage. Certainly no member of the press knew of them. In times of trouble, they would be gearing up in Utah, at an old AEC base. The Hell-Hounds had no permanent base, being constantly on the move. The nearest thing they had to a home was that desolate, deserted spot in Utah.
Col. Sam Cooper, CO of the Hell-Hounds, was blunt with him. Blunt, but not unfriendly. He simply had his orders, and that was that.
“I don't know what's going down, Ben. But it's good to hear from you. I enjoyed your last book. Good stuff.”
“Honestly, Sam? You really don't know what's happening?”
“I'm leveling with you, Ben. To tell you the God's truth, I can't find anybody who knows what's going on. Or at least who will talk about it.”
Ben felt a chill move around in his belly. “Take care of yourself, Sam.”
“Will do. You hunt a hole, partner,” the Hell-Hound said. “Keep your head down.” He broke the connection.
Or somebody did it for him.
“It's firm, Hilton,” the senator's chief aide told him. “The military is up to something. Lots of moving around and quiet talk. And I can't even get in the front door at Langley. Certain units of the military are on some kind of low alert.”
“Why?” the senator demanded.
BOOK: Out of the Ashes
6.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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