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Authors: Ralph Peters

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BOOK: The War After Armageddon
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The staff members cleared the room, moving through air so humid the next stage would’ve been swimming.

“Okay, Real-Deal. Talk to me. How you going to make this work?”

The colonel responsible for logistics, Sean “Real-Deal” McCoy, threw up his hands in the polar-bear salute. He had worked for Harris at battalion, brigade, and division, and he still played the staff-clown role that Harris had tacitly agreed to tolerate a decade before.

“Work? We’ve got less than a quarter of the force ashore, and I’m already holding things together with chewing gum and baling wire.”

“POL?”

“Over-the-beach will keep the tanks full for three, maybe four days. Then we’re up against it. Basic physics. Once we’re down in
the Jezreel, we’re not going to be able to move enough fuel over those ridges without asking the engineers to spend a year or two building pumping stations.” He waved his arms, as if the world were ending. “Eighty-four percent of the big boys and about seventy percent of the infantry tracks have been refitted with the miniaturized engines. But ‘miniaturized’ is still relative.”

“Got it.”

“Sir, I need your permission on something.”

“Talk to me.”

“The SeaBees want to play. They’re good guys.”

“And?”

“They want to suit up and go ashore at Haifa, check out the condition of whatever’s left, see if we can run any of the old pipelines . . .”

“You’ve seen the radiation charts. Most of Haifa’s a dead zone. It was hit even harder than Tel Aviv.”

“They’d just be in and out. Suited up. The radiation’s patchy. Or so Tolliver tells me. Once we’ve taken a bite out of the Jezreel, we might be able to run a line and keep it going with robotics.” He waved one arm, then the other, a scarecrow on a caffeine jag. “Beats trying to pump enough POL over those ridges to get us to Damascus.”

“I just want to get this corps ashore, at the moment.” Harris sighed, something he did only when he was too weary to catch himself. “All right. If the ‘High Lord of the Admiralty’ has no objections, the SeaBees can go in. And God bless ’em. But Sean . . .”

The Four perked up. Harris used his given name, rather than “Real-Deal,” only when things were deadly serious.

“. . . I don’t want you going ashore at Haifa. Not now. I need you.”

“Doesn’t sound like my kind of town, anyway, sir.”

“And ask me, before you decide to go in the future. No surprises. You hear me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I could piss on my boots for saying this, but you’re the indispensible man on this one, Sean. We can fight blind, if we have to,
and we even can fight without a plan, if it comes to that. But those soldiers and Marines can’t fight without bullets, water, POL, chow, and Band-Aids.”

“And T-and-A mags? Ah, for the good, old days of the Internet . . .”

“I’m serious, Sean. You know my priorities on this one: ammo, potable water, POL, then chow. As long as they’ve got something to shoot and something to drink, we’ll at least survive.”

“Loggie Basic for the Middle East, sir: warm water, cold rations, rounds in the chamber, and fuel in the tank.”

“Don’t carry this load yourself. Come to me if you need supporting fires.”

The G-4 looked at the man he had served for half of his career. “You’re not carrying a few short tons yourself?”

Harris smiled. “That’s what I do for a living, Real-Deal. Beats working. Try to get some sleep yourself, all right? I don’t want to see a thousand-mile stare at tomorrow night’s briefing.”

“Which will be where, exactly?”

Harris smiled. “In the Land of the Bible, as our MOBIC brothers put it. Now, march, soldier.”

Flintlock Harris signed nine papers, then dismissed his aide and walked two bulkheads down to his stateroom—which reminded him of a room in a motel bypassed by the Interstate in the last century. The moment he shut the hatch, he let his shoulders sag. And he closed his eyes where he stood, touching them lightly, as if probing for damage.

After washing his face and brushing his teeth, Harris took off his uniform blouse to sleep. He kept his trousers on, though. In case he had to move fast. But before he dropped onto the bunk, he got to his knees, just as he had done since his childhood.

His prayers were never long, but always earnest. This night, he was as brief as he had ever been and didn’t even pray for his wife and two daughters. He just said:

“Dear Lord, give me the strength to see what’s right and the strength to do what’s right. Help me be a just man. Amen.”

 

MT. CARMEL RIDGES

 

A male form emerged from the burning house and ran toward the Marines.

“Peace! Peace!” he cried. “America good!”

“Halt!” Sergeant Garcia yelled.
“Stop!”

The man kept running through the darkness, shifting his course to head straight for Garcia and repeating, “America good!”

“Halt!”

Garcia pulled the trigger at the same instant the suicide bomber detonated himself. He felt the shock wave, but the bomber had not gotten close enough to do any damage. Garcia hoped.

“Everybody okay? Check your buddy.”

No casualties. This time.

“Drink some water. Everybody.
Now
. If you’re out of water, piss in your hand and drink it.”

Bad enough to lose good Marines to the Jihadis. Garcia wasn’t going to lose them to dehydration. But the fact, which he did not broadcast, was that his own camelback was empty. He figured most of his men were in the same boat.

Drink it, if you got it.

They had flanked the Jihadi positions on the ridge as mortar rounds, then serious artillery fire, thumped down on the houses the Mussies had turned into rent-a-forts. In the flame-scorched night, twisted rebar scratched the air, and the block-shaped buildings looked like the faces of junkies with their teeth knocked out.

The street bums back home. So far gone on one drug or another that even their families didn’t want any part of them. Could’ve joined that outfit, too. One more road Garcia had never gone down. No gang tattoos, either. Just the Virgin of Guadalupe. And she’d done okay by him so far. Patron saint of the Marine Corps. From the Halls of Montezuma. The brass just hadn’t figured that one out.

“Larsen, Cropsey. Take the flank. Move out!” Garcia pointed toward the backside of the ridge.

The Marines worked forward, maintaining good combat intervals. No one fired at them. But Garcia had his street sense turned
on. There were still bad guys up in that mess, behind the remaining walls. Armed and dangerous. The human body was
loco
. You could trip on the sidewalk and die, or live through an artillery barrage dumped on your head.

“Sitrep?” he heard through his headset. The captain. Solid again. Mr. Annapolis.

“Rounds on target. Moving in now.”

“Re sis tance?”

“There’s gonna be. It smells like it smells.”

“Keep moving. Battalion needs that ridge cleared.”

And I need an ice-cold Bud, Garcia told himself.

“Roger. Moving now.”

He waved at the remainder of the two squads he’d rounded up and brought this far. Several streets away, Corporal Gallotti’s squad was still laying down look-at-me fire. Less of it, though. Which was righ teous. No need to waste ammo. Anybody left alive in those buildings was going to play dead until he had somebody in his sights point-blank. Unless his nerves got him. Then he’d fire too soon.

Yeah, triggerman, Garcia thought. We’re coming. Just give me a sign. Squeeze one off early. Just one.

The Marines worked their way forward, with Larsen and Cropsey acting as flankers where the ridge dropped off toward Indian country, the two of them disappearing into the shadows. Twice, Garcia held back when he wanted to bitch at the way his Marines were moving. Perfection wasn’t in the cards. They were all five-o’clock-Sunday-morning tired, running on pure nerves.

He was getting jumpy, thinking too much, he told himself. When it was down to the bone like this, you didn’t get through by thinking. The streets had taught him that much. You had to trust what you
felt
.

Cold Bud really would do the trick, though. Or a rat-piss Corona, for that matter.

They were good for another thirty meters, Garcia figured. Working their way up the rutted chute that pretended to be a street. Then it was going to go nuts. It was just too quiet. Every back-on-the-block nerve in his body said that the Jihadis left alive were just
waiting for them. Watching them. There wasn’t even any crying from their wounded—which would’ve been a sign that the Jihadis had lost their grip on the situation. The battalion Two had briefed that the suicide commandos cut the throats of their own casualties to keep them quiet. So the quiet meant that the bad
hombres
were still in control.

Garcia wondered if he could do that. To one of his Marines. Cut his throat, if the mission required it. Truth was, you never knew. Until the moment came.

Plenty of shooting farther down the ridge. In another battalion’s sector, maybe another regiment’s. His thighs and back ached from humping all the way up from the beach, a march that, physically, had been worse than the fight. Clambering up those slopes gave you the
burn
.

Pay attention! he told himself. Jolting himself back from the mind-drift.

Gunshot. No. Lance Corporal Polanski kicking a brick. Lamest Marine in the platoon. But the noise charged Garcia’s battery.


Everybody down
.
Now!
” he called. Loud. So anyone whose headset was busted would still hear him.
“Guns up!”

The Marines scrambled for cover. As they did, a machine gun opened up. From a second-floor window. Or the hole where a window had been.

Too much return fire. Weren’t going to get him that way, unless it was pure luck.

“Aimed fire only!” he said into the mike. “Tell your buddy. Don’t piss away your ammo. Larsen, Cropsey. You read me?” he said into the mike.

No answer.

“Larsen? Cropsey?”

“Yeah, Sergeant.” Cropsey. A kid like a coiled snake. Attitude problem.

“Larsen with you?”

“Roger.”

“You see that machine-gun position?”

“Just the tracers.”

“Hold where you are. I’m coming around behind you. Everybody else, stay alert. Let that asshole on the machine gun get Nervous. And no firing to the left flank, unless you’ve got a one-hundred-percent positive ID. Don’t want no blue-on-blue.”

A few murmurs, plenty of static. Half the headsets were broke-dick. He just had to hope that the rest of them would figure it out. Hate to take a nail from another Marine.

Garcia slipped back into the darkness, then worked around behind a compound wall. At the rear of somebody’s private world, the sloped dropped off sharply. He felt the steepness even more than he saw it in the murk. Working his way carefully, back to the masonry, he ground his heels into the earth as he sidestepped along. Like a duck in a shooting gallery at some rat-bite fair down in Durango, at his grandmother’s. Anybody firing at him now was going to win the prize at the fiesta.

He paused for a stolen moment to kiss the sleeve covering his left forearm. Under the cloth, the Virgin of Guadalupe prayed for him.

“I’ll do the prayers right later,” he told her. “I promise. But you know what I need right now.”

He got around the far corner of the wall. To reasonably level ground.

“Cropsey? Where are you, man?”

“By the twisted-up tree.”

“That’s an olive tree.”

“Whatever.”

“Coming in. On your six.”

The firing to the right, back down in the street, came in short bursts followed by Nervous quiet. Each side daring the other to really open up.

“Cropsey?” he whispered to the form ahead of him.

“I’m Larsen, Sergeant. Cropsey’s over there.”

“Listen up. Either of you got grenades left?

“One.”

“Same here.”

Shit. He’d used all of his own in the street fighting. Two grenades wasn’t much to clear that house. And whatever else was waiting for them.

“Give them to me. You’re going to keep everybody off me while I’m laying these eggs. You can’t see it, but the gunner’s in the second building up there. We’re almost behind him here. And we’re going to try to come in
right
behind him. But we’re going in there figuring he’s not feeling lonesome.” Garcia fit the grenades to his armored vest. “Larsen, you’re on point until we get to the back wall. Then you’re tail-gunner on the outside. Cropsey, you’re first in. But don’t open up unless you’re damned sure there’s something to open up on. No yelling, no grab-ass. I want to
smell
that motherfucker before I throw any of these. You’ll have the first deck. I’ll take the stairs. Now move out.”

Larsen was a good shot, just short of sniper level, but this wasn’t a rifle range. It was going to be all close quarters. And Larsen was clumsy as an Anglo on the dance floor. He could watch their backs when they went in. Cropsey was a mean little bastard, though, born for a razor fight in a closet. Almost crazy mean. But not stupid. The kind of Marine who spoiled your Saturday night when the duty officer took a call from the San Diego cops. But good when the killing started.

Garcia gave his sleeve another furtive kiss. He’d taken a lot of grief about the tattoo. But he was still alive. Half the punks he went to high school with were dead.
Before
the Day of the Dead came early.

He tapped the bottom of his magazine, making sure he had a tight lock. Nervous habit. Everybody had one. Trick was not to let people see it.

They moved up between black trees, trip-me stumps, and small boulders. Everything in this world seemed disordered, messed up. Crazy people. Who started all this. For what? The nuclear blast hadn’t reached his hood in East L.A. But the radiation did. He’d been on Okinawa. His family had been home.

Now the Jihadis were going to get their shit handed to them.

The machine gun sent another burst into the night. Exploring. Limited field of vision from where he was hunkered down, Garcia figured. Dude was probably shit-scared. No matter what he believed in, he had to be scared in a hole like that. The hunted, not the hunter. Death comes knocking.

BOOK: The War After Armageddon
3.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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