Vengeance in the Ashes, page 1
VENGEANCE IN THE ASHES
The Ashes Series: Book #16
William W. Johnstone
One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum.
–Sir Walter Scott
When neither their property nor their honor is touched, the majority of men live content.
After years of government waste, government lies, and the almost-total control of its citizens, the United States of America was teetering on the brink of collapse. But it was not alone. All the great nations of the world—the superpowers, as they were called back then—were in trouble. The reasons were many and varied.
War, it seemed, was the only way out. Thin the population. Once the war talk started, it could not be stopped. When the war came, and it erupted simultaneously all over the world, Russia blamed the United States, the United States blamed Russia. China blamed Europe. Israel blamed the Arab nations, England put the blame on Northern Ireland, Germany blamed Japan, and the French blamed everybody.
It didn’t make any difference who started the war, a limited nuclear and germ attack, for when it was over, there was not a functioning government left in the entire world.
In the United States, one man was picked to pull the nation out of the ashes of defeat and set it right again. Only problem was . . . he didn’t want the job.
Ben Raines was an unlikely candidate from the outset. He was a reclusive man, a loner. He had been both soldier and spy. He was a visionary, a philosopher, and a writer of books and articles. He was so controversial in his views that one group or the other had tried a dozen times over the years to kill him. But Ben Raines was a hard man to kill.
Ben Raines was a hard-liner on some issues and liberal to the core on others. Back when such things existed, he was a maverick when it came to voting in any type of election, for he never voted strict party lines.
It took months for a small group of survivors to convince Ben to lead their movement. But when he took the reins of controls, things began to happen. He immediately moved thousands of followers to the northwest and formed a country within a country, calling it the Tri-States. And life was good there. In the Tri-States, there was free medical care for all. There was no crime, for Ben Raines would not tolerate it. The life expectancy of a criminal was very short. Ben built schools and stressed education above all else. All students who were able had at least ten hours of hard physical exercise a week, including paramilitary training, for Ben knew that once the central government of the United States was once more functioning, the politicians would ask the military to move against the Tri-States. Already the struggling central government of the United States was calling those who followed Ben scum and malcontents and traitors. Others called them Rebels. The name stuck. Ben Raines’s Rebels.
While the central government of the United States, now located in Richmond, was ruling with typical inefficiency, the Rebels in the Tri-States were living happy and contented lives. The politicians couldn’t stand it. It infuriated the bureaucrats to see such a large group of people living with so few rules and regulations, and for heaven’s sake, they were actually shooting criminals out there! Everybody who was a permanent citizen of the Tri-States could carry a gun. Criminals had practically no rights at all. And the constitution and the laws of the Tri-States were written so simply that even a child could understand them.
The politicians and lawyers and professional bureaucrats shook their heads at that. That just wouldn’t do at all; they couldn’t have that. The lawyers especially were unhappy about it. If laws were spelled out so simply and plainly that anyone could understand them, there would not be much need for attorneys. Why, that was practically un-American!
It was pointed out to Ben that only about one in five could live under the laws of the Tri-States. Ben said, “Fine. The other four can keep their asses out or get them shot off.”
Actually, it wasn’t true that only one in five could live under the laws of the Rebels. The truth was, the other four wouldn’t live under those laws.
It was a common-sense sort of society. A spokesman for the old Tri-States explained it to a member of the press in this way: “A person who is respectful of another’s rights will rake his or her lawn and bag the leaves for proper disposal or turn them into mulch. A person who has no regard for a neighbor’s rights will burn the leaves and let the smoke drift into the neighbor’s house. Do you understand a common-sense society?”
The press didn’t.
But as Ben knew it would, the Tri-States fell under a massive government assault. Only a handful of Rebels escaped the killing fields. But a handful was enough, especially since Ben Raines was one of them. The Rebels re-grouped and re-formed and began their march against the central government of the United States. Then the rat-borne sickness struck the land and quickly spread worldwide. The Rebels kept their heads down and their wits about them and survived.
The world was plunged backward into medieval thinking. Chaos ruled. Outlaws and warlords took control. Slowly the ranks of the Rebels grew, and ever so slowly they began the job of clearing the United States of crap and crud. It would take them years to accomplish it, but accomplish it they did. The Rebels became the strongest, best-equipped, most highly motivated, disciplined, and most-feared army in all the world. They took back the land from thugs and gangs and returned it to law-abiding citizens.
Then came the day that the nation once known as America was declared a clean zone. It had taken the Rebels, under the leadership of Ben Raines, years to do it, but they did it. The Rebels had established outposts all around the nation. Each state had anywhere from a dozen to several dozen of them. These outposts were towns that had running water that was safe to drink, they had sewerage systems that worked, streetlights and schools and hospitals and churches and libraries. These towns were also places where crime did not exist. Contrary to what lawyers and liberals and sobbing hanky-stompers had maintained over decades of lawlessness, it was very easy to accomplish. Crime was not tolerated. When everyone was of a like mind concerning the criminal-justice system, crime was very easy to control and eliminate. When a citizen could safely shoot a burglar without fear of jail or lawsuits, those so disposed toward crime quickly learned that it was not only unprofitable, it was downright deadly. When every law-abiding citizen had access to a gun, and shooting a criminal was not only legal, it was encouraged, criminals, like rats and other creatures of the night, soon sought a safer clime.
In the Rebel system, everybody that was able worked. There were no free rides in the Rebel system. No police officer had to read anyone his rights, for an individual’s rights were taught in school, from kindergarten on up. Public schools taught young people to respect the rights of others and to respect the land and the animals who lived in the woods and forests. Kids were taught both at home and in the schools to respect warnings. They were taught that if they encountered a Keep Out or No Trespassing sign, they stopped and either turned around or found another way to get to where they were going. What few written laws the Rebels had on the books were not there to be broken; they were there to be obeyed.
What the Rebels had done, under the direction of Ben Raines, was to uncomplicate living. Their way of life in the outposts was, by the very nature of the times, harsh, but it didn’t have to be complicated. Any Rebel society was based on order and justice. Not law and order. Order and justice. A criminal convicted of any major felony was given a choice, however: a hangman’s noose or a firing squad.
As it had been in the old Tri-States, in any Rebel society medical care was free. So was education from kinde
The Rebel army was made up of everybody—male and female—who lived in a Rebel society. Everybody became a member automatically at age sixteen. By that time, a person had already completed hundreds of hours of paramilitary training. One either joined the Rebel army or was kicked out from under the umbrella of Rebel protection and put on his own, his ID card destroyed. Without an ID card, no one could receive medical aid or buy supplies from any Rebel outpost.
There were many thousands of people who lived outside the safety zones of Rebel-held territory, many thousands more than who lived in the towns controlled by Rebels. No one was forced to join the Rebels. But anyone with any common sense at all did.
The members of the ten battalions of the regular Rebel army were, to a person, trained to the cutting edge, honed down to hard muscle and gristle and bone. And they liked a good fight. They went out of their way to find one.
Ben Raines commanded One Battalion. General Ike McGowan, an ex-Navy SEAL commanded Two Battalion. Colonel Dan Gray, a former member of Her Majesty’s Special Air Service commanded Three Battalion. Colonel West and his mercenaries made up Four Battalion. General Georgi Striganov, a former Russian Spetsnaz commander was in charge of Five Battalion. Colonels Rebet and Danjou commanded Six and Seven Battalions, made up of Russian, French-Canadian, and Canadian troops. Thermopolis, the hippie turned warrior, commanded Eight Battalion. Ben’s daughter, Tina, commanded Nine Battalion. And the wild Irishman, Pat O’Shea, commanded Ten Battalion. There was Ben’s son, Buddy, and his group of young men and women called the Rat Pack. And there were the ex-outlaw bikers called the Wolf Pack. People of all nationalities and all walks of life and all religious beliefs made up the fighting battalions of Raines’s Rebels. And there were the support troops and the doctors. The chief of medicine was a crusty old bastard named Lamar Chase. He was the only person alive who could order Ben Raines out of the field and into a hospital bed, and Ben had to obey. There were the cooks and the truck drivers and the mechanics and the supply people and the pilots and hundreds of others. Raines’s Rebels, so far as they knew, made up the largest standing army on the face of the earth. They were also the most feared fighters in all the world They gave an enemy one chance to surrender. Only one. After that, they rarely took prisoners.
Ben and his Rebels had sailed to Ireland and then England, cleaning it out and handing a reasonably stable government back to the citizens of those nations. Then they set sail for Hawaii, going around the Horn, inspecting each inhabited island along the thousands of miles.
The islands that made up the Hawaiian chain were under the ruthless rule of thousands of pirates and various other assorted thugs.
All that was about to change.
After suffering defeats from the Rebels that came very swift and very hard, the pirates and outlaws and thugs on the islands began beefing up their positions and smartening up. They were, to a person, stunned when they realized that the Rebels now controlled much of the island of Molokai, including the main port and the airport. None of them could understand exactly how the Rebels had managed to land so many troops and go undetected.
“Because we got lax,” Jerry James said. Jerry was the leader of one of the largest gangs in the island chain. Jerry James was not his real name, but then, most of the outlaws had long since dropped their real names. “Me and Books here has been talking.”
Books Houseman, so called because of his love of reading, stood up. Like Jerry, he ramrodded a large gang and was looked upon for guidance because of his extremely high intelligence. Books was also one of the most vicious gang leaders operating anywhere in the islands. His ruthlessness more than made up for his small size. “What it comes down to is this,” Books said. “And you all better realize it. We are in a fight for survival. Unlike our counterparts on the mainland, we have no place to run. We either win, or we die. There is no middle ground. So, we’ve got to be smarter than Ben Raines. There is no way we can stand and slug it out with the Rebels. While we have many more personnel, they’ve got us outgunned. They’re organized, well-trained, and very highly motivated. We, sadly enough, are no more than rabble. But rabble helped defeat Burgundy in France, and we can do the same here. But we’ve got to plan carefully, and we’ve got to have one overall commander of all forces. You leaders think about that for a few minutes; talk it over. Then we’ll continue this meeting.”
Rabble was an apt choice of words. But it wasn’t quite strong enough. Slick Bowers looked across the large room at Susie Loo, who was sitting next to Vic Keeler. Susie ran a gang that was very nearly as large as his own and about twice as vicious. Vic was a pirate who enjoyed torturing his captives. He was very inventive. Mac Mackenzie sat alone, his back to a wall. Mac was stone crazy and just about as predictable as a Tasmanian devil. But his gang was large and he ran it with an iron fist. Leo Jones sat quietly smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. Leo was just about as smart as Books, but with a lot more common sense. Larry Perkins stood, leaning against a wall. He had a strange expression on his face, and Slick thought he knew what it was all about. Larry was facing reality. They all knew that the Rebels had never been whipped. The gangs had the finest of radio equipment and had spent years monitoring the movement of the Rebels.
John Dodge said, “So let’s talk. Hell, we’re wasting time.” John ran a cattle ranch on Kauai and had about two hundred men working for him, not counting the slaves. Every gang leader and most of those in the various gangs had slaves. They were worked until they could no longer work, then they were given to the Believers, the cannibalistic Night People, those whom the Rebels called Creepies.
Kip Burdette said, “I’m with Books. I think he’s our man. Me and my boys will take orders from Books.” Kip was a slaver whose ships roamed all over the Pacific, buying and selling human beings.
Rye Billings nodded his shaggy head. A huge bear of a man, the former mainland outlaw biker was known for his brutality. “I’ll take orders from Books. I don’t much like the bastard, but he’s smart, I got to give him that. We’re up against the wall, boys and girls. He’s right when he says we got no place to run. This is it.”
“The plane we sent out never come back,” Dean Sherman said glumly. “The last transmission we had was that it was hit and goin’ down.”
“And that the pilot was looking’ at the biggest damn armada he’d ever seen,” Polly Polyanna said. No one knew what her real name might have been. Nobody really cared. “My people will back Books. No problem there.”
“Same here,” a gang leader who called himself Wee Willie said. “We got too good of a thing goin’ here. I ain’t givin’ none of it up just ’cause some overage Boy Scout says to do it.”
“Ben Raines ain’t no Boy Scout,” Tucker said. “Don’t none of you ever think that. I fought that bastard from New York City to California. Or rather, I run from him all that way. Now I got no place left to run. If any of you people come out of this alive, and you find my body when Raines’s Rebels is done kickin’ our asses, bury me up in the mountains if you can. Mighty pretty country up there.”
“Aw, man!” a thug called Spit shouted. “Hell, you act like he’s done won this fight. We can whip the Rebels.”
“Maybe, just maybe,” Tucker said. “But we’re gonna have to be awful lucky. You folks don’t know Ben Raines. He hates punks and thieves and the likes of us. And in his own way, he’s just as mean as we are. Look at who the Rebels has whipped: Hartline, Khamsin, Sister Voleta, the Believers, all the L.A. street gangs, ever army that’s ever had the nerve to take them on . . . has lost. Been wiped clean off the map. And I don’t know how to fight Ben Raines and his Rebels.”
“I do,” Books said from the open doorway. “Oh, my, yes. I certainly do.”
“Get the general up here,” a Rebel sergeant radioed back to Ben’s CP. “Fast!”
“What’s the problem?” Ben asked, as he was stepping out of the vehicle Cooper had procured for him.
“The enemy is gone, sir. They started disappearing about five minutes ago. There isn’t a sign of them down the road.”
“Well, it’s about time,” Ben said, lifting his binoculars.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” the sergeant asked.
“I spoke at length with a local name of Jim Peters. He told me that probably the man who would be chosen to lead the thugs and crud would be a man called Books. Last name of Houseman. Highly intelligent fellow. He was an officer in the American service, a graduate of some military academy; Jim didn’t know which branch. Books was court-martialed after he was caught selling secrets to some East European country. Before he could be sentenced, the world blew up. He surfaced over here about five years ago. He’s respected if not liked by the other gang leaders. I think that this Books fellow has done something no other group we’ve ever faced had managed to do.” He smiled, noting the puzzled look on the sergeant’s face. “He’s figured out the only way they might stand a chance of beating us. Bet on it.”
A group of Rebels had gathered around, listening.
“If I’m right,” Ben said, “and I think I am, we’re in for some down-and-dirty guerrilla fighting. This campaign is going to be messy, people. Corrie, bump all batt comms. I want a meeting five minutes ago.” He looked at the Rebels gathered around him. “Heads up, people. We’re about to engage in a lot of hit-and-run fighting.”
“I think you’re right, Ben,” Georgi Striganov said. “This failure to attack, now that they have hundreds of new troops on this island, is . . . baffling. Or was.”
Ben looked at his son. The young man was so ruggedly handsome, half the women in the Rebel army were in love with the muscular young man . . . or thought they were. “I think the crud is breaking up into small teams, son. Take your Rat teams and start head-hunting. Each team take a local with them. Get moving.”
Other author's books:
- Bullets Don't ArgueFrontier AmericaSix Ways from SundayToo Soon to DieRiding ShotgunBloodthirstyHang Them SlowlyThe Black Hills
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