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Authors: Mack Maloney

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BOOK: The Twisted Cross
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Frankel and Rolfe watched as one of their attack craft sped to shore and tied up at a nearby dock. An officer jumped out of the boat and double-timed it up to the villa. Out of breath and sweating, the officer handed two documents to Rolfe, saluted and ran back to his craft.

"The Koreans claim they are carrying three tons of uncut poppy paste from Burma," Rolfe said, reading the first document. "They've been out two weeks and say they are heading for a processing plant in Cuba."

Frankel rubbed his eyes and splashed more water on his face. His heavy, bulky uniform was causing him to chafe around the neck and shoulders.

"Is their vessel armed?" he asked, dabbing his brow with a damp cloth.

Rolfe flipped over two pages in the document, which was actually a collection of notes made by his men while interrogating the freighter's captain just

-minutes before.

"Yes," Rolfe answered. "Two 20-millimeter antiaircraft guns fore and aft. Two Chinese antishipping missile launchers amidships."

"And they are carrying gold?" Frankel asked.

"Our men saw at least three hundred and fifty bags in the captain's safe, sir," Rolfe replied.

Frankel pulled on his scruffy beard in thought.

"All right," he said finally. "Confiscate one of the missile launchers and collect all the gold. Then let them pass. Next ..."

Rolfe turned to the other report. "Free-lancers out of the Sunset Islands," he said. "Claim they are on their way to San Juan to exchange female slaves for a load of cocaine and milk sugar . . ."

"And there are women on board?" Frankel asked, raising his binoculars to get a closer look at the ocean ferry.

"Our men saw at least a hundred," Rolfe replied. "Mostly Oriental, but some whites."

"How 6ld?"

Rolfe flipped another page of the report. "Teenagers, young twenties, our men estimate," he said.

Frankel shook off a thrill that involuntarily ran through him. It was only recently that he had partaken in the sex-with-teenage-girls fad that seemed to be sweeping the globe.

"It's a dangerous journey from the Sunsets to San Juan," he observed, still watching the flat, squat ferry. "What are they carrying for arms?"

Rolfe quick-studied each page of the report. "Our men didn't find any large weapons," he concluded. "Just a couple fifty-caliber heavies, and a few RPGs."

Frankel snorted a sinister laugh. "Sailing across the Pacific without deck weapons?" he said. "And heading for San Juan? I must assume these men are fools."

"They are not carrying any gold either, my colonel" Rolfe added, he, too, fighting down a jolt of excitement.

Frankel lowered his spyglasses and mopped his brow again. "Then they are fools," he declared. "Or liars. Such people must be made an example of ..."

Rolfe waited a few moments, then asked: "Your orders, Colonel?"

Frankel closed his eyes in thought, then said: "Confiscate the females and check the crew for gold fillings. Then you know what to do from there."

Rolfe couldn't suppress giving his superior a salute. "Yes, my colonel," he cried out, bursting with enthusiasm. His day was made. "And, do you wish to

... review the females personally?"

Frankel leaned back in his chair, placing his high leather boots up on the villa's railing and putting a damp cloth across his forehead. He closed his eyes and wished for just the slightest of breezes.

"Of course, I do," he said nonchalantly.

Thirty minutes later, the North Korean freighter raised its anchor and sailed toward the entrance to the canal, less one missile launcher and 350 bags of gold. After another

half hour, the ocean ferry was also permitted to sail out of the small harbor-but only as far as the deep water.

"Are you in position?" Rolfe asked into the radio microphone, watching as the ferry made for the open sea.

"We are," came the reply from the second-in-command of the Italian attack cruiser, which was now also turning slowly out of the harbor entrance.

"Then do it," Rolfe said, his voice almost giddy.

No sooner had he spoken when the cruiser opened up with its two large foredeck guns. Two huge shells came crashing down close by the ferry's midsection, near-misses but devastating nevertheless.

"Fire again!" Rolfe ordered into the radio.

"Yes, sir," came the reply.

Three seconds later the big guns opened up again. This time the shells ran true. One smashed right into the fleeing vessel's wheelhouse, another caught its bow.

"Once again!" Rolfe called out.

For a third time the big guns spoke, delivering two direct hits on the ferry's midships. The vessel immediately capsized, its decks awash in fire and smoke.

"Good work!" Rolfe called into the radio, his excitement so acute he felt a stream of warm body fluid run down his leg. "If you wish, you may close in on the wreckage and shoot any survivors . . ."

Chapter 11

"No way is this guy Hawk Hunter . . ." the soldier in the green camouflage poncho said. "I have it on good authority that Hunter was killed over in Saudi Arabia last year."

The man he was talking to, a jungle fighter named Dantini, shrugged.

"Hey, I heard the same stories," Dantini said, working his way through the noontime meal of corn mush and tomatoes. "But why would some guy come floating down on our turf and claim he was Hunter? He'd have to be a complete idiot to think he'd get away with it."

The man in the poncho, a lieutenant named Burke, threw the remnants of his lunch back into the campfire and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

"Well, how about those crazy bullshit stories he's been telling us, Major?"

Burke said.

"Like what?" Dantini asked, washing down his meal with a swig from his canteen.

"Like the British actually stopped Lucifer's fleet at Suez? With just one aircraft carrier?" Burke said in a sarcastic tone.

Dantini stretched out and undid the laces on his jungle boots. "He didn't say they stopped the fleet with one aircraft carrier," he told Burke. "He said they fought a delaying action in Suez until help arrived . . ."

Burke laughed. "Yeah, right," he said. "And if you believe that one, you must believe that he and his boys kicked ass on The Circle, too."

Dantini reluctantly nodded. "Well, that one is a little hard to swallow," he said. "But, look at it this way: How would we know either way? We've been down in this Goddamn jungle for almost two years straight. For all we know, anything could have happened up there . . ."

Burke shook his head in frustration. About a dozen other soldiers in the 100-man helicopter assault company had finished their meal and had gathered around to listen in on the discussion.

"Look, Major," Burke said, leaning forward to make his point. "First, the guy claims he's the famous Hawk Hunter. Then he tells us that the Russians hauled all these SAMs into the Badlands, but that he and his merry band beat them anyway. Then, he says he and these Brits tow -tow.'-a. motherfucking aircraft carrier across the Med and used it to beat Lucifer, who only raised the largest Goddamn army on the globe.

"And then, he says he flew back, and he and his gang not only knock off The Circle, and The Family, but they recapture all the territory east of the Mississippi, too?

"I mean, you've got to admit sir, that's really stretching it . . ."

Dantini was almost too tired to play devil's advocate. He and the company had been on the move for two days straight and he was beat. He didn't want to get involved in a prolonged discussion with Burke, who, besides being an exceptional fighter, was also an expert debater.

But they did have a prisoner on their hands and he was claiming to be the famous Hawk Hunter. The man seemed to be a straight shooter and didn't hesitate a microsecond in telling them about the supposed string of victories he and his allies had pulled off against Lucifer, the Soviets and The Circle.

Still, Dantini was skeptical, as would anyone who had been out of touch with North America since right after the original Battle for Football City.

"Okay," he said to Burke. "Let's go at it from another angle. Do you know what Hawk Hunter actually looks like?"

Burke had to think for a moment. "Just from photographs," he said finally.

"Newspaper pictures and so on."

Dantini turned around to the 25 or so troopers who were listening in. "Anyone here ever see Hawk Hunter in the flesh?"

To a man, the troopers shook their heads.

"Well, I don't know what he looks like either," Dantini said. "Yet, that guy was almost certain that we'd recognize him. I mean, if he's lying, he's damn good at it."

"But, sir," Burke said, taking a different tack. "If those creeps down in the Canal Zone wanted to keep tabs on us, say as part of some really way-out plan, do you think it's beyond their abilities to plant someone here who could claim he was the famous Hawk Hunter? I mean, just in the time we've been fighting them, look at the resources they've come up with. They're experts in psych-war

-as good as the Russians or even better."

Dantini removed his jungle hat and took another swig from his canteen. "But turn that argument around," he countered. "Why would they go through all the trouble of dropping someone in here who just claimed to be Hawk Hunter? They must know that we'd be, at least, suspicious, right? Do you think that they think we're so dumb as to greet with open arms someone impersonating Hawk Hunter?"

Burke had to shrug. "Well, that's a good point," he conceded. He thought a minute, then added: "So what you're saying, sir, is that the guy locked in that tent over there is actually Hawk Hunter?"

Dantini shook his head slowly and looked over at the sealed-up tent. "I just don't know ..." he said finally.

Chapter 12

One thousand miles to the north, in the midst of the Mexican Yucatan peninsula, another noon meal was ending.

But far from corn mush and sun-dried tomatoes, the revelers were eating steak and drinking exquisite Bulgarian wine. They sat at a finely set table, complete with linen cloth and napkins, finger bowls, silver utensils and goblets. Three large candelabras adorned the table for 20, although the sharp Yucatan breeze made it impossible for their wicks to stay lit.

This was not a typical setting for the men working nearby. The elaborate arrangements were set in place to honor a visit from an emissary of the High Commander. Work at the remote Yucatan site -a collection of ancient Mayan ruins called Chichen Itza-had been proceeding ahead of schedule and reaping benefits beyond anyone's expectations. Thus the visit from one of the High Commander's men.

"It gets this hot everyday?" the emissary, Adolph Udet, asked, downing a mouthful of steak with a half a glass of wine.

"Yes, my general," the newly-appointed man in charge of the site work, a colonel named Krupp, responded. "Our heat peaks around mid-afternoon. The nights are pleasantly cool, though I can assure you ..."

Udet wiped his mouth and pushed his empty plate away from him. "Well, I'll take your word for it, Colonel," he said, barely suppressing a burp. "I must leave well before sundown."

Krupp wasn't surprised to hear that; this area of the Yucatan peninsula simply wasn't safe after sundown. Krupp looked down the length of the table at his staff - captains and majors, young men all. And a glance around the clearing, which sat in the shadow of Chichen Itza's largest excavated pyramid, reassured him that more than 100 of his best troopers were on guard duty at the moment.

What bothered him was that he had to double that number when night fell . . .

"A fine feed," Udet said, lighting his pipe, "in a very adventurous setting."

He turned and checked to see that his own entourage of guards -three squads of black-shirted special forces troops -was still close by. Only that the mysterious High Commander, a man Udet had never actually met, ordered him had he dared to chopper into this remote hell hole to recognize the work of a low-level officer such as Krupp.

But even a callous officer such as Udet had to admit that Krupp had taken over this command under very difficult and mysterious circumstances. One month before, the original commander of this co-called "recovery" mission, a veteran lieutenant general named Heinke, had simply disappeared - vanished at dusk one night while walking his perimeter. His aide-de-camp and several other officers swear that the man was there one moment and gone the next. Intensive searches found nothing. By design Krupp, who was Heinke's second-in-command, was well schooled in Mayan archaeology. He was named commander of the mission three days later.

But there was a limit to everything including the heaping of praise. Udet nodded to one of his aides, who in turn ran back and spoke to the pilots of the three Hind helicopters that were waiting nearby. Seconds later, the whine of the chopper's electrostatic starters began to permeate the air. Krupp had been congratulated enough. The visit was rapidly drawing to a close.

"Our leader is well pleased with you and your men's work," Udet said, reciting the words from a small card provided to him by yet another aide. "Your discoveries here were well beyond what was expected of you, especially under your somewhat unusual circumstances. Through your efforts, our cause will be much enriched."

Krupp bowed his head gracefully. He knew the short speech was prepared well in advance and most of it given to any number of successful commanders out in the field such as he. Still, it never hurt to receive accolades - stale as they may be -from a man ^so close to the High Commander.

"I thank you and my men thank you," Krupp said, reciting a short speech of his own. "Even in these less-than-ideal conditions, our efforts and work bring us great pleasure, as we know the High Commander and our people will benefit. As always, you honor us with your presence."

On cue, the officers seated at the table broke into a brief round of applause.

The meeting over, Udet stood and gave a wooden wave to the officers. As one, Krupp's staff stood and snapped to attention. One long salute from Udet and then the man turned on his hobnailed heel and made for his Hind helicopter, his small army of bodyguards surrounding him in a human phalanx.

BOOK: The Twisted Cross
5.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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