Death in the Ashes [Ashes: 11]
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by William W. Johnstone
Category: Historical Fiction
Description: The war against the Night People continues as Ben Raines and his rebel army set forth on a scorched-earth policy, systematically destroying the favorite living places of the cannibalistic mutants--the once great cities of America--and forcing the half-human, half-hellborn monsters into the open. As the rebel mop-up team pushes through the smoking rubble that once was Dallas, Ben Raines comes within a hair's breadth of being shot and killed. The death squad is dispatched by none other than Matt Callahan, a warlord headquartered near Custer's battle-field in Montana. Like Ben, Matt was a writer before the Great War, but unlike Ben, Matt has turned to outlawing. Now Ben must go north, and the two old friends will face each other in hand-to-hand combat--and one more bloody last stand will be fought on the banks of the Little Big Horn to decide the fate of freedom's cause.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1990
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [368 KB]
Reading time: 234-328 min.
* * * * ONE
Ben turned his head to gaze at the silence that was once Monroe, Louisiana. Buddy had cleared the small city of Night People some months back. Ben could only wonder if any of the cannibalistic people had returned. Probably so, he concluded. But that was now the problem of Ike and Cecil.
The long column rolled on westward and put the city in their rearview mirrors.
There was no conversation in the Blazer; that would come later on. For now, Ben and his personal team were silent with their own thoughts.
The Blazer hit a rough stretch of interstate and Ben grimaced. That was something else that the Rebels would have to start on, and do it pretty damned quick. The nation's highways were deteriorating rapidly; if something wasn't done to correct it, ground transportation would be slowed to no more than a crawl.
But Jesus God! Ben thought. There were thousands of miles of just interstate alone, and the Rebels were so few. He twisted in the seat and looked at Beth.
"Make a note, Beth. When I call Base Camp One this evening, remind me to tell Ike to put together a combat engineer crew and start working on the interstate system."
"The Mississippi River bridge at Vicksburg is to be guarded at all times."
"Ruston up ahead," Cooper said. "You want to stop, General?"
"No. All this sector is Ike's baby now. We'll start our inspection tours when we clear the Louisiana line." Ben lifted the mike from its hook and keyed it. "Eagle to Scout."
"Go, Eagle," Tina's voice came through the speaker.
"Give me your twenty."
"Coming up on Minden."
"Roll on through. Stop at Bossier City and wait for us."
"Ten-four, Eagle. It'll be slow going from our position on. The roads are not in good shape."
"Ten-four. Any detours to watch for?"
"Not yet. And no signs of life either."
"I was afraid of that. Eagle out." Ben opened a map case and studied the clear plastic enclosed map. Maps had become very precious articles; they were taken whenever they were found. And they were constantly being updated by a small section of Rebels working at Base Camp One. Whenever the forever wandering teams of Scouts found a bridge out, they would radio back to Base Camp One and alert the map section. The map crews would then change the maps and radio that information out to all field units.
And it was a job that seemed never to end as the nation's highway system continued to fall slowly but steadily into disrepair.
The long convoy was slowed to a crawl after passing the Minden exit.
"We'll be lucky to make it out of Louisiana by nightfall," Ben said. "And this used to be an easy three-hour run." He smiled. "Driving only slightly over the posted speed limit, that is."
"General Raines breaking the law," Jersey said sarcastically. "I just can't believe that."
Ben took the ribbing with a smile.
"I remember order and laws and policemen and TV and all that," Corrie spoke from the back seat. "But I didn't appreciate the safety of it, of course. Not until the whole world fell apart."
"That's the way it always is, Corrie," Ben said. "Now it's up to us to try to rebuild it back to some semblance of what it used to be."
"It seems an impossible task for so few of us," she countered.
"Castro started a revolution with only three or four people--and won."
"Who's Castro?" Jersey asked.
Ben halted the column at Bossier City, a couple of hours before dark. They needed that much time to seek safe shelter and set up guard posts and for the meals to be distributed.
Ben set up his CP in the Hilton Inn in Bossier, just off I-20. A team of Rebels began scouting out the hotel and reported back that they had found nothing, except a lot of litter. They declared the interior of the building secure.
Ben radioed back to Base Camp One and reported in. He instructed Ike to form an engineer team and get to work on the roads and bridges.
"None of us will ever live to see the highway system completely repaired," Ike told him.
"I know it. But it's a start. We can only hope that those who come after us will continue our work. Have you heard anything from Striganov?"
"Nothin' since you pulled out. I expect he's busy outfitting his people and then will move over to the Canadian line, to wait for you."
"Ten-four. Talk to you tomorrow. Eagle out."
Ben ate ah early dinner and walked outside, joining Dan and Buddy and Tina in the parking lot.
"We'll stay on Interstate 20 to Dallas," he told them. "We'll spend a few days there checking the place out. From Dallas, we'll hook up with 287 to Wichita Falls. I want an outpost established in that area, so Dan, you start talking to the settlers with us. We'll spend a few days with them, helping them get settled in."
"After that?" Tina asked.
"We'll play it by ear," Ben told his daughter.
Ben had heard the sounds of something alien to the night reach his ears. He let the others talk while he listened. He stepped back away from the others; they were deep in conversation and did not notice. He cradled his M14 and walked toward the hotel building, his eyes moving, searching the darkness. There it was! Something ... no, several somethings were crouched in the darkness next to a line of rusting and long-abandoned vehicles. Ben could not make out what they were; he assumed they were humans, for the light breeze was coming from their direction and he could not detect the hideous scent of Night People, which he considered a subhuman species.
Ben stepped close to the building, putting himself out of sight of the hostiles, and he had to assume they were hostiles until they proved otherwise. He began working his way along the side of the building. Dan picked that time to glance at Ben. Ben pointed to the line of cars.
One second Dan and Tina and Buddy were standing up talking, the next instant they had vanished. Tina stayed where she was, flat on the parking lot, weapon ready, while Buddy and Dan circled the row of cars.
A figure darted from the darkness of the abandoned cars, a short-barreled Uzi in his hand. Ben knew it was a he because of the shaved head clearly visible in the darkness, and the way his jeans fit.
"Looking for me, punk!" Ben called.
The young man spun around, bringing up the Uzi and letting loose a stream of lead in Ben's direction.
But Ben had moved, shifting positions as soon as the words had left his mouth. The slugs hit concrete and glass and nothing else. Ben leveled the old Thunder Lizard, set on full rock and roll, and gave the skinhead a burst of .308s. Ben was using a twenty-round magazine; the thirty-round mags were too heavy and clumsy when the M14 was fired from the shoulder. Ben used them when the M14 was bipoded. The .308s lifted the skinhead off his boots and dropped him to the parking lot.
Dan and Buddy were firing from Ben's left, so Ben did the only sensible thing under the circumstances: he went belly-down on the concrete until the firing had ceased.
"General!" Dan called.
"I'm all right. What'd you have over there?"
"A pile of dead bodies. No. Here's one left alive."
The area had filled with Rebels.
"Secure it," Ben told them, then walked over to stand with Dan and Buddy.
"They're all bald," Buddy said "What happened to their hair?"
"They shaved it off," Dan told him, kneeling down beside the badly wounded young man.
"Yeah, man," the badly wounded skinhead said. "Just like our daddies done. It's groovy. So if you don't like it, screw you!" He groaned, both hands holding his bullet-torn belly.
One of Ling's medics appeared, medical kit in hand. He looked at the young man, then looked up at Ben and shook his head.
Ben knelt down. "You have anything you'd like to say, boy. You're hard hit."
"Yeah," he gasped. "Death to all niggers and wops and spies and slopes and Jews and..."
Ben tuned him out. He'd heard it all before ... many times. He looked at Dan. The Englishman arched one eyebrow.
When the young man paused, gasping for breath, and sweating from the pain, Dan said, "Now that you have most profanely stated your opinion of what at one time comprised about ninety percent of the earth's population, perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten us as to what you and your ... cohorts were doing skulking about in the shadows?"
Dan sighed. "What the hell were you doing here?"
"We come to kill Ben Raines."
Ben did not change expression. At least half the population left on earth--at least in North America--wanted to kill him. All that had started years back, when civilization--for wont of a better word--was still flourishing, and Ben had been a popular writer of fiction. Ben had called it like he saw it, on a great many subjects, until finally he was receiving several hundred hate letters a year. His home had been shot into and he had been shot at several times.
His position was that anyone who kills another person while drinking and driving should be put to death. Honky-tonks should be burned to the ground. Poachers should be imprisoned ... for a long time. Domesticated animals have rights. Anyone who would poison a dog should be forced to eat the same poison. Most judges had shit for brains. You couldn't be a lawyer and be honest. And so on and so forth.
To say that Ben was opinioned was like saying an elephant was heavy; no need to dwell on the obvious.
"So what else is new?" Ben asked. "You're too young to have read any of my books--that can't be it. Besides, you're probably illiterate..." Ben looked down at the young man. He was wasting his breath. The man was dead.
Buddy was going through the pockets of the dead men.
"Find anything, son?" Ben asked.
Buddy put his flashlight beam on a piece of paper. The paper had been encased in plastic. He quickly scanned the typewritten words, holding it in a gloved hand. "They belong to some sort of survivalist group, Father. This was written by someone of very limited intelligence." He handed the paper to Ben.
Ben stood up. "Glove up and inspect these bodies," he ordered. "Then burn them." He walked back into the hotel and sat down, adjusting the light of the battery-powered lamp to better read.
It was a declaration of war from some group with the name of Help Americans Live, Fight, And Stay Strong.
Ben had to chuckle at first, then he burst out laughing when he shortened the title to the first letter of each word.
Tina and Dan looked at him, curious expressions on their faces.
The short document declared war on everybody not of the Aryan persuasion, and it did so profanely--with a number of misspelled words. But whoever had written it certainly managed to get their point across. Since the Rebels had people of all races and colors within its ranks, Ben Raines's Rebels were number one on the target list to be killed. Especially Ben Raines.
And Emil Hite and Thermopolis were also on the list.
"Tina?" Ben called. "Get on the horn and advise Base Camp to inform Emil that he and his followers are on a hit list from this bunch of nuts." He waved the paper. "And radio our people with Thermopolis that Therm and his bunch are also on the list. Advise them all to go to middle alert and stay there."
"What's the name of this bunch, Dad?" Tina asked.
Ben told her.
Tina looked startled. Dan said, "I beg your pardon, sir?"
Ben repeated it.
Dan walked away, muttering and shaking his head. Tina went to the communications truck to alert those on the hit list.
Buddy entered the lobby and walked to his father, sitting down. "They're well armed, Father. Uzis, and the weapons are in good shape. They might be a bunch of nuts, but they take good care of their arms."
"You find out anything else about them?"
"A Rebel patrol found their motorcycles." He paused. "And the women who came with them."
"Alive or dead?"
"Very much alive."
"Wonderful." Ben's reply was very drily offered. "Were they with the crash truck?"
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
Dan had returned, to stand by Ben's chair.
"I did a book on motorcycle gangs years back. The crash truck is a van or truck or sometimes a converted school bus that travels about a mile or so behind the main bunch of bikers. It's used to pick up broken-down bikes. It's also used to carry the weapons, ammo, supplies, and drugs. It's almost always driven by females. Send out patrols to locate it. It'll be around. Bet on it."
"Yes, sir. Sir?"
"We found identical tattoos on the men."
"A 1% symbol?"
"Yes, sir. How did you know that?"
"That's an old symbol. Years back, the American Motorcycle Association stated that ninety-nine percent of the nation's motorcyclists belonged to the AMA and were law-abiding. The 1% symbol became the mark of the outlaw bikers. If these are the people who took out our patrols in the Northwest, they're well organized, strong in number, and dangerous as hell."
"There is one woman with them who says she is not a part of this group. The other females corroborate her statements. They say she is something called a Cutie--whatever that means."
"That means, son, that she was kidnapped, taken against her will, and probably raped and beaten into submission."
Buddy thought about that for a moment. "Why, Father, back when law and order was supposed to have prevailed, didn't society do something about these gangs?"
"What would you have done, son?"
"I would have eliminated them, Father."
Ben smiled. "Yes. I also advocated that, too, Buddy. Which is another reason why I'm still on somebody's hit list."
"You goddamn right you are, you son of a bitch!" the female voice shouted at Ben from the doorway.
"Motorcycle Mamas," Ben said. "My, what an interesting trip this is going to be."