Authors: David E. Meadows
Tags: #Fiction, #General
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Joint Task Force: Liberia
Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
David E. Meadows
This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
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Electronic edition: June, 2005
Berkley titles by David E. Meadows
THE SIXTH FLEET
THE SIXTH FLEET: SEAWOLF
THE SIXTH FLEET: TOMCAT
THE SIXTH FLEET: COBRA
JOINT TASK FORCE: LIBERIA
While Amphibious Group Two, Norfolk, Virginia, is the outfit in
Joint Task Force: Liberia,
this book is dedicated to all those who sail as United States Amphibious Sailors and Marines, ready to project power ashore whenever and wherever called upon.
It is nearly impossible to thank everyone who provided support and encouragement when writing a novel such as
Joint Task Force: Liberia.
But I would like to acknowledge some who were kind enough to encourage, provide technical guidance, or many times just answer questions unique to their professional skills and qualifications: Ms. Sharon Reinke, Mr. Art Horn, Colonel Bridgett Larew (Doc), Lieutenant Colonel Ken Gill, Commander Scott Fish, Ed Brumit, John Tegler, Admiral (Ret.) Tom Stevens, Sharon Stevens, Mike & Nancy Shank, Bob Gensler, Tommy Grunwell, and members of the VQ alumni and the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association with their great wealth of knowledge. And, of course, the comments from the many fans who corresponded via my website at
are much appreciated. My thanks to all of you.
I have two brothers, Wesley and Douglas, who have always been inspirations to me. I am very proud of the success they have enjoyed in their chosen careers and as family men. We Meadows brothers all wear uniforms. Wesley is Fire Chief of Southside Savannah, Georgia, and Douglas is Police Chief for Newnan, Georgia. Since September 11th, the importance of their vocation and dedication has never been more apparent and, to me, they represent all the firefighters and police who risk their lives as our first lines of defense against terrorism throughout our great nation.
I am blessed with the encouragement and suggestions that my better half, Felicity, continues to provide. Without her, I would never have become a writer, and neither would we have been blessed with such great children as Sara and Nicholas.
My thanks to Mr. Tom Colgan for his editorial support, and to his able assistant, Ms. Samantha Mandor. Where would an author be without a publicist? Ms. Tina Anderson and I have had the pleasure of growing together in the world of publicity.
Bottom line is that I have learned a lot from the association with The Berkley Publishing Group family.
While I have named a few for their support, rest assured that any and all technical errors or mistakes in this novel are strictly those of the author, who many times wanders in his own world.
ULLMA PULLED THE CHILDREN CLOSER. LIBERIAN-ACCENTED
English, mixed with slaps from flip-flops hitting the wood floor overhead, caused the three to huddle closer. A burst of gunfire caused Ullma to jump involuntarily. Oh, why, oh, why did she ever listen to that fool of a husband of hers and come here? Ullma’s huge arms, rolls of fat hanging beneath them, enfolded the two children. Dust dropped onto their heads and shoulders. Shadows flickered through the planks of the floor overhead, blocking and unblocking the light from the faint bulb in the dining room.
“Momma, you’re hurting me,” Selma, her six-year-old said, trying unsuccessfully to push Ullma’s arms away.
“Shsss,” Ullma commanded. Ignoring the girl’s protest, she whispered, “Listen to me, children.” She pulled Jamal closer while pressing Selma against her side. Selma gritted her teeth, but kept quiet. “Jamal, you’re twelve years old. You know the way to Uncle Nathan’s. You gotta take your sister and work yore way to his house. You hear me?”
Jamal leaned back, trying to see his mother’s eyes in the dark. The faint light from above reflected off two rivulets of moisture running down her cheeks. “Uh-uh, Mom. Dad said stay here with you.” He glanced briefly at the small
ground-level basement window a few feet away. Tropical bushes blocked the moonless view of the backyard.
More gunfire erupted from above, followed by shouts and screams that caused the three to huddle closer. The cry of
rose above the cacophony of noises. Three—maybe four—automatic weapons, thought Ullma. Somewhere up there . . . she didn’t want to think about it.
“Jamal,” she whispered firmly, her voice shaking as she glanced again at the floor a couple of feet above her head. Like an icy cold hand, a deep fear rushed through her. The man she loved, the man she followed, and her oldest son were going to die up there, trying to protect them.
“Mom, I’m scared,” Selma said.
“We all scared, honey,” she replied. She pushed the young girl away, holding both her arms in her massive hands. Looking into her daughter’s face, Ullma continued, her voice trembling. “But you gotta be brave and go with Jamal. Now, you listen to me, Selma. You do what Jamal tells you to do. I don’t wanna hear about any arguing with him. You hear me?”
Shouts drew their attention for a moment. Bits of African dust rained from the floor above as more running footsteps pounded by overhead. She was scared.
Holy Lord, He knew how scared she was.
She released Selma with one hand long enough to wipe the tears from her eyes.
Why in the hell did she ever agree to this asinine idea of Jerry’s to emigrate to Liberia? Never should have left Mobile.
She should have stood her ground and told him that if he went, he went alone. Should have kept the children with her in Alabama.
She looked over at Jamal, who was staring at the floor above them. The fight up above wasn’t going to last much longer. Then, those nasty God-baiting rebels would start to loot the house. Eventually, they would reach the basement. She knew from stories she had heard from other American expatriates what was in store for them. She hugged Selma closer. It was better her daughter die than be taken by the Liberian rebels—followers of this Arab bastard they called Abu Alhaul. This Arab proselytizer had issued a Fatwa to clean Africa of the American infidels, proclaiming the Arab and African people were all one, and that those who called themselves African-Americans were not African at all.
There was so much hatred against America out here. It had surprised her to discover just how much. Sure, they were Africans—African-Americans. This Abu Alhaul wasn’t. He was another Arab religious nutter trying to kill his way into whatever heaven he could. Why couldn’t her family come back to the land of their ancestors who had been forcibly taken away? But Ullma’s friend, Christina, had answered that question.
“Honey, you can’t no more go back to where you ain’t never been than you can teach what you ain’t never learned.”
“Listen to me, Jamal,” she said, taking his chin in her free hand and turning his face toward her. Sweat soaked the loose dress she wore. She reached up and wiped the thick perspiration and the tears away from her eyes. Ullma cleared her tightened throat a couple of times, praying she was hiding the fear she felt from Jamal and Selma. She pointed to the dark entrance of the circulation pipe that led away from the basement. “You’ve gone through this thing before, Jamal. I know you know how to do it. You take Selma and go through it again.”
“I don’t want to go with Jamal,” Selma whined.
She stroked the little girl’s hair. “I know, sugar, and if Mommy could she would keep you here with her, but I need you to help Jamal go get Uncle Nathan. Think of it as a game.”
“I don’t want to play this game, Mommy. I’m scared. I want Daddy. I wanna go to my room,” she cried softly, throwing her small arms around her mother’s large neck.
“I know, but you’re going with Jamal. You hear me?” she asked, pushing Selma away slightly and looking her in the eyes. “Momma loves ya. Mommy loves both of you. And when Uncle Nathan and his vigilantes get here, you can go back up to your room. Okay?”
The darkness of the basement hid her daughter’s face. She saw the shadow of the girl’s head nod.
“Good.” She put Selma’s hand in Jamal’s. “Go. Be careful out there and avoid everyone you see until you get to Uncle Nathan’s. You tell him about the men in the house. He’ll come. He’ll bring the other vigilantes with him. Tell him we need the vigilantes.”
Jamal leaned down toward his mother’s squatting figure and kissed her on the cheek. “Come with us, Momma,” he said.
A burst of gunfire, followed by laughter, drowned out her reply.
“I said, I wish I could, but yore Momma ain’t small enough to get in that thing. You and Selma have used it. You know where it goes. I’ll be all right here until you return, Jamal, but you gotta tell Uncle Nathaniel to hurry.”
“I will, Mommy.” He pulled Selma toward the lip of the shaft. “Stop that, Selma,” he said.
Ullma reached out and touched her daughter. “Selma, you stop that, you hear? You do what your big brother tells you and you keep quiet. You don’t want them bad men up there to hear you.”
Jamal felt Selma’s hand relax. He lifted her up onto the lip of the two-foot-by-two-and-a-half-foot aluminum shaft that allowed cooler air from the small copse of trees out back to circulate through the one-story house. He pulled himself up. He couldn’t see her, but he heard his sister scrambling ahead of him. She’d be as scared of being in the pipe at night as she was of the men above them. He pulled himself up and into the pipe, effectively blocking off what little light there had been. The soft sound of her whimpering reached him. He should never have kidded Selma about snakes sleeping in this thing.
Jamal crawled after her, hearing the sound of her shoes scuffing on the rusting metal. All the houses along this street had these underground shafts as part of a natural ventilation feature.
Ullma listened for a few seconds until the sound of them moving away faded. Then, she reached down, picked up the fan, and pushed it back into the opening. They would never know Jamal and Selma had escaped through the ventilation shaft.
A scream echoed from above. “No, don’t!” shouted an American voice. It was Jerry. The rebels must have him, and if they had him, then they had her eighteen-year-old Abdul.
Ullma put her hands on her knees and forced herself upright. She braced against the cement side of the basement for several seconds to give her legs a chance to adjust to the change. Reaching over against the nearby wall, she picked up the ax that they had brought all the way from Alabama when
they shipped their household goods to Monrovia. Trailing it after her, Ullma shuffled to the narrow stairs that led up to the kitchen. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for the Lord God Jehovah, he is with me,” she prayed softly, the words trailing off as she started up the stairs.
A horrible scream broke through laughter of the Liberian rebels, bringing forth a chorus of
from those she imagined surrounded her husband.
Ullma put one foot in front of the other as she moved up the stairs. It was almost as if she was standing outside her body watching what she was doing. As if she truly believed that armed with only an ax, she could rout these African fanatics who believed that only by killing Americans could they go to paradise. She stopped on the next-to-the-top step and ignored the tortured screams of Jerry as she finished reciting the Psalm. She bent her head. “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” A minute later, finished, she looked up and with her free hand, opened the door.
The kitchen was dark. The top step squeaked as she put her weight on it and leaned her head into the kitchen. One hand gripped the door facing, while the other held the ax about halfway up its handle. Faint light from the open door to the dining room revealed an empty kitchen. Ullma pulled all of her 250-pound-plus weight into the kitchen. Seeing a nearby kitchen towel, she grabbed it and wiped her face, shifting the stinging sweat away from her eyes. The fear was still there, but buried down deep beneath what she knew she had to do.
The Lord commanded. He gave and He took away.
The rebels’ celebration in the dining room drowned out the creaking of the floor as she waddled slowly to the open door. Standing to the side in the shadows, Ullma could see into the room. Her son’s body sat on the floor with his back braced against the far wall. His opened, glazed eyes stared back at her. The torso tilted slightly to the right. Both hands lay palm up on each side of him. A puddle of blood surrounded her oldest son.
The rebels had Jerry tied by his arms to one of the family’s pinewood chairs that they had bought at an Ethan Allen’s just outside of Mobile.
Blood ran down the side of his face. One of the rebels leaned forward with a razor cutter and slid the knife down the skin of Jerry’s face. She had heard of others skinned alive by these radicals. The scream broke through her inertia.
Ullma took a deep breath, hoisted the ax, and moved forward, picking up speed as she burst into the dining room like a locomotive emerging from a tunnel. She swung the ax, nearly decapitating the nearest rebel on her right, and with the return swing Ullma broke the kneecap of another African who had frozen at the sight of this unexpected apparition. His comrade tumbled lifeless to the floor, his head hanging by a stretch of skin. The laughter and shouting stopped abruptly as the huge African-American Amazon turned on her heels and bore down on them. They stood paralyzed just long enough for Ullma to bring the ax down on the head of the man with the razor, splitting his skull in half. That was enough. A couple of the rebels ran for the door. She must have seemed a mad African spirit sent to kill them.
Two men, wearing long flowing robes, busy breaking the bottles of whiskey and brandy on the other side of the room, stopped what they were doing. They brought their AK-47’s up and fired. The bullets hit Ullma. Her body jerked as the bullets entered, but her momentum carried her forward, the ax coming up. It came down, slicing through the shoulder of a third attacker, who had tripped, his feet kicking as he tried to back away. The ax sliced through the shoulder, stopping as it passed through the genitals, digging into the floor beneath. The man’s flip-flops jerked spasmodically, slapping the floor, as his screams drowned out Jerry’s.
Two more bullets hit her. Still moving, she turned, and rushed the men firing. They were not Africans. They had the short beards, light features, and black headdresses of the Arabs. The Africans were either dead, dying, or making new roads into the jungle. The two men with the weapons stood with legs slightly spread, firing into the huge demon rushing them. Their lips curled beneath narrowed dark eyes that burned with hatred. The words
flowed from their lips.
She couldn’t feel her legs. All the noises and screams started to fade. Her upper body moved forward a few more
feet, and in the next moment the floor rushed toward her. Pain shot through her chest. Ullma tried to roll over, but her hands and arms were numb. As if a curtain was dropping, light faded. For a moment she seemed to be looking down at her body, spread-eagled across the floor, her dress up around her buttocks, two massive thighs touching each other. The ax lay useless, a few inches from her twitching right hand.
One of the men put a combat boot under her and tried to turn her over, but her weight was too much for him. The other said something she didn’t quite understand—sounded Arabic. He leaned over and put the weapon against her head. A bright white light was the last thing she saw, and before she died, she wondered for a brief second why she hadn’t heard the noise of the gunshot.
“IT’S DARK. I DON’T WANT TO GO,” SELMA SAID. SHE LEANED
her head out of the shaft and looked both ways down the small ditch that crossed the opening.
“Look, Selma. I can’t get around you to go first. You’ve sneaked out this way before. Just jump down. You aren’t gonna get hurt,” Jamal said. He pushed her on the butt. “Go on.”