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Authors: Ralph Peters

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Military, #General

The War After Armageddon (6 page)

BOOK: The War After Armageddon
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We’re coming,
amigo
, he told his invisible enemy. Your old pal Ricky Garcia is coming to the party. Just for you.

Larsen reached the rear wall of the building, with Cropsey just behind him.

Garcia whispered into his mike, still worried about friendly fire. He told the Marines down in the street, “We’re up his ass. Just hold his attention.”

Larsen edged along the rear wall of the line of ruined houses. Garcia wondered how many more Jihadis might be inside, just waiting for a Marine to walk up and wave.

Only hand signals now. Time to stay real quiet.

Lit by starlight, Larsen leapt past the rear door. Then he crouched, ready to fire at anyone who appeared from the far side.

Garcia waved Cropsey forward. The lance corporal crunched down like a boxer who liked to hit below the belt. Weapon jutting out at crotch level.

The machine gun fired. Different sound from behind. Like being the safety NCO on the range. Better than being in front of it.

Cropsey looked back for the go-ahead to enter. Garcia put a finger to his lips, then signaled “Go!”

One piece of luck: They didn’t have to break down any doors. The rear entrance gaped, blown out by the mortars and artillery.

Cropsey was good. Garcia had never known an Anglo kid who could move like that. He was already inside, quiet as the confessional on Saturday night.

Garcia checked the grenades, then moved forward.

Inside the masonry house—what was left of it—a burst from the machine gun rang impossibly loud. Still no sign of any back-up protection for the gunner.

Garcia signalled Cropsey to clear to the bottom of the stairs. The kid had it figured out. Without being told, he hugged the right wall. In case any friendly fire came in the front.

Nice and quiet. Nice and easy. Cat-foot the rubble. Take it nice and slow.

Garcia wasn’t sure if he hated what he was doing, loved it like sin, or both. But he wasn’t tired anymore. Zooming on body chemicals. Aware of every breath sucked down in the world.

Then he heard it. A voice speaking Arabic. Whispering. Not the way a man talked to himself or cursed, but the way he spoke to someone else nearby.

Shit
. But better to know it now.

Cropsey was looking at him. Kid had it figured out, too. But he needed to be looking everywhere else.

Garcia motioned for him to be ready. Then Garcia put his rifle on burst, switched it to his left hand, and gripped the first grenade.

Carefully, he thumbed out the pin, keeping the lever clasped death-grip tight to the curve of the metal. And he started up the stairs. Back to the wall. Ready. But already dead, if any fuck was watching from a back room up there.

Again, he heard a whisper in Arabic, followed by a rip from the machine gun.

One last split second prayer to the Virgin. And Garcia stepped up high enough to peer over the lip of the second floor.

His head struck something, and he froze. Unsure if the noise amplifed inside the helmet was equally loud to anyone else.

Silence.

Were they onto him?

The hand that held the grenade was sweating. Bad shit. Didn’t want it slippery when he threw it.

Artillery fire had torn loose an iron railing, leaving it dangling over the staircase. A twist of its metal had scratched his helmet.

Don’t let this goddamn-it-to-death grenade cook off.
Please
.

He heard more Arabic whispering. Too loud for them to be worried about anyone hearing.

He saw the pattern now: Whisper, then shoot. When the machine
gun kicked out the next burst, he used the noise and its echo to scoot under the railing.

A wedge of exterior light shone through a doorway, leading his eye to the blown-out window frame where the machine gun perched. But he couldn’t make out the gunner or his companion, who were out of his line of sight and and wrapped in darkness.

As Garcia placed his foot on the next step, it creaked.

He threw the grenade over the railing, hoping it would go through the door and not bounce back at him. Then he fired toward the front room, double bursts, as he plunged for cover.

The blast was doomsday loud. The wall that shielded him shook. But Garcia was going full throttle now. He leapt back to his feet, charged forward, and hurled the second grenade into the room an instant before diving behind another wall.

He hit his elbow hard. Bitch hard.

The explosion seemed powerful enough to tear the house apart. But that was just the confined-space effect.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,
shit
,” he barked. Cradling his elbow.

“Sergeant?”

“Shut the fuck up. Stay there.”

He flipped magazines and edged back toward the room where the machine gun and at least two Jihadis had been at work. He wasn’t going to mess it up now. No hot-dogging. Human being could live through a lot. Even two grenades.

At least one of them was cooked to serve. The second blast had blown the Jihadi halfway through the door. Dead meat.

That left at least one more.

Garcia heard a moan. Sounded real. But the bastard could be faking it.

He put a short burst into the room, then ducked back.

Fucker groaned again. Like he was trying to take a last shit before dying.

Garcia went in, ready to lay down another burst. By starlight and fireglow, he saw a figure gleaming with blood, propped against a wall in the settling dust. The man was alone, and his eyes were ablaze with the struggle for life. He was dying, but he wasn’t quitting.

Garcia knew what he was supposed to feel. Pity. Compassion. All that shit. But he
didn’t
feel it. Instead, he saw his mother dying of radiation sickness, her skull bald and raw, her body bent like a witch’s in a cartoon and her skin loose over Popsicle-stick bones.

He walked over to the Jihadi, got his attention, then put a bullet into his forehead.

“That’s for the City of Angels,” Garcia told him.

THREE

 

 

 

“DAYTONA BEACH,” EMIRATE OF AL-QUDS AND DAMASKUS

 

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Cavanaugh just wanted to get off the beach. With all of his men and all of their gear. But the gentlest word that came to mind to describe the scene before him was “clusterfuck.”

“Nothing’s ever easy in the Big Red One,” the battalion command sergeant major said.

It was a popular saying among the junior enlisted troops. Typical soldier talk. But it was jarring to hear Sergeant Major Bratty even whisper anything that might be construed as critical of the Army he seemed to have joined at birth.

The sergeant major spat on a rock. “Brigade-forward’s somewhere up the road, sir. And the buggers down at the division forward CP wouldn’t even talk to me. ‘No time now, Sergeant Major.’ Like I was six years old.”

Cavanaugh smiled. Ruefully. “Well, nobody at the beachmaster’s set-up has time for a lowly lieutenant colonel. They haven’t done this in a while.”

“Neither have we, sir.”

“Neither have we.”

“But
we’re
not belly up.”

“No, we’re not.” But Cavanaugh wasn’t so sure they wouldn’t be belly up soon, if things didn’t start moving again.

“Think I’ll stroll on down and see if Sergeant MacKinley’s ever going to get Charlie 14 off that beach.” But the sergeant major didn’t stroll. He marched double-quick into the confusion roiling below, heading for the broken-down track.

Cavanaugh remained by the side of the road. The surface was already breaking up under the armored traffic. He glanced up along the line of Charlie Company’s Bradleys, vehicles more than twice the age of their drivers. Three times older, in some cases. Idling wasn’t good for them. The battalion had already had two go down before they left the beach. And spare parts were as rare as thoroughbred unicorns.

Captain Walker came up to him. Again.

“Any word about what’s holding us up, sir?”

“Jake, nothing’s changed since you asked me that ten mikes ago. You’re on the battalion and brigade nets. I don’t know anything you don’t.”

Have to watch Walker for nerves. But Cavanaugh understood. The desire to get up into the hills, to get into the fight, to go anywhere, just to move. Instead of sitting here, vehicles nose-to-butt because the one road that wound off the beach was backed up with traffic that had come to a dead stop and nobody knew why.

The maps, engineer briefings, and old sat photos showed a steep two-lane blacktop that could be blown out at dozens of points. One big boy broken down on a hairpin curve would be enough to stop the entire brigade.

Add to that the screw-up in the landing and march tables, with the brigade put on hold after 1/4 Cav went ashore so that two artillery battalions and an attack-drone squadron could be rushed forward. Followed by a jerk-the-leash resumption of the brigade’s landing operation.

And the Jihadis had a lock on them now. Waiting offshore in a made-to-sink “get-ashore boat,” one of the infamous GABs designed badly and built in haste, Cavanaugh had watched successive waves of drones pop up over the ridges and bluffs. He’d caught himself hoping only that none would hit the GABs carrying his battalion, as if wishing the fate on comrades outside of 1-18 Infantry.

Well, at least the Marines had fought to build the boats, as shoddy as they were. Cavanaugh gave the Corps, the Army’s eternal rival, credit for figuring out fast that the old days of exploiting existing port facilities had ended when Israel’s coastal cities vanished under a dozen mushroom clouds.

Two GABs bearing old Marine M-1 tanks had taken on water and sunk when the pumps failed. Without any help from the attack drones or blind missiles. But without the landing craft, crappy as they were, the entire operation would’ve been impossible.

Thus far, all of 1-18’s allotted GABs had stayed on top of the water, where they belonged. With only Delta Company and the ash-and-trash from HHC still waiting to come ashore.

At the moment, there was no place to put them.

Out in the haze, the closest Navy ships were distant smudges, but the near waters roiled with GABs, fast boats, picket boats, beachmaster craft, and oceangoing tugs dragging barges loaded with God-knew-what or towing floats to be rigged as temporary docks. Buoys ringed the spots where GABs had gone down under drone attack, and enough debris bobbed on the mild waves to start a cargo cult.

But the real pandemonium had broken loose on the narrow shingle between the water’s edge and the elevated road where Cavanaugh stood. With even local comms heavily jammed and erratic, petty officers, Marine loggies, and Army engineers trotted about with megaphones, snarling tinny commands. Vehicles splashed ashore through shallow water, churning the pebbled seabed into mud that sucked at their tracks until one vehicle in every four or five had to be winched onto the beach. Stevedores worked mobile cranes or manhandled supplies into little mountains waiting to be hauled forward. As Cavanaugh watched, a burdened forklift listed in the sand and toppled
onto its side. Then there were the burned-out vehicles not yet cleared away and, near the beachmaster’s op center, four long rows of dead Marines in body bags, laid out reverently at perfect intervals. More and more casualties were coming down from the hills, evacuated along firebreaks by all-terrain vehicles.

Thousands of people were doing their best, he knew that. But Cavanaugh still wanted to punch something. A commander had to appear stoic, to control his emotions, to set the example. At times, that seemed the hardest part of his job.

Why wasn’t anything moving? The beach was getting as crowded as a stadium lot on homecoming weekend. Soon even the blind missiles wouldn’t be able to miss.

He’d sent his XO forward, on foot, to find out what had blocked the road. But for all they knew, the stoppage might be a dozen clicks up the line, on the high ground. The XO could be walking for a while.

And then what? Cavanaugh could talk intermittently to his companies lined up ducks-in-a-row and to those still afloat, but brigade forward had disappeared into the hills and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Old Flintlock Harris had trained them for this, for the day the make-it-easy technologies would fail them. But no amount of training could lessen the sheer frustration. You grew up in a force accustomed to talking secure to anyone, anytime, and now, the inability to reach over a ridge for information made you want to break things.

Well, they’d get to breaking things soon enough.

He wished he’d marched up the road himself, instead of sending the XO. Just to have the illusion of accomplishing something. But Cavanaugh knew his place in the great scheme of things: The commander had to remain where he could exercise maximum control over his unit.

To the extent he controlled anything.

His earpiece crackled and made him jump.

“Bayonet Six, this is Five.” The XO.

“Whatcha got?”

“Tank retriever lost its brakes. Not one of ours. Went over the
side dragging an M-1. Then a drone hit the goat-rope on the road. Big ammo fry. They’re clearing it now.”

“Estimated time to movement?”

“Christ if I know. It’s a mess up here. I’d guess at least thirty mikes.”

BOOK: The War After Armageddon
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ads

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