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Thunder in the East
By Mack Maloney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Mack Maloney
All rights reserved.
"They say the perfect football game is when neither team moves from the fifty-yard line," General Dave Jones, commander of the Western Forces, told the room full of military officers. "The offense perfectly offsets the defense and vice versa.
"That's the position we are still in today ..."
A winter had passed since the Western Forces defeated the Soviet-backed Circle Army at the battle of the Platte River. The battered enemy had withdrawn back across the radioactive no man's land called the Badlands and into the only city they controlled on the western side of the Mississippi. This was Football City, formerly known as St. Louis.
Now the Western Forces—an alliance of democratic armies and militias joined together to rid the American continent of the Circle Army—were preparing to take the offensive.
Jones walked to the front of the Planning Room and unveiled a huge map. At its center was Football City. Blue flags to the north, west and south indicated the positions of Western Forces deployed around the Circle stronghold.
"I'm happy to report that we've solidified our positions to the north," Jones said. "We're now anchored here at Spanish Lake, thanks to the arrival three days ago of the Free Canadian volunteers.
"Now to the south, the Fourth Texas Armored Brigade has dug in here at Tesson Ferry. And of course, our major deployment—the Pacific Americans and the Football City Army—hold the strong line between them in the west.
"So you can see, we've got them sewn in on three sides, with our line roughly paralleling the old Route Two-seventy ..."
"So when do we attack?" one of the newly-arrived Republic of Texas Army officers asked.
"Not any time soon," Jones answered.
"But why not?" the Texan followed up. "We've got them outnumbered at least two-to-one in manpower—and a lot of their guys are just hired hands, mercenaries or whatever. We've got more airlift than they have. Also we have four squadrons of fighters to their one and a half."
Jones shook his head. The Texan's unit had just arrived and the man wasn't totally up to date on the situation within Football City.
"All of this is true," Jones replied. "And I'm glad to see that nothing has diminished the fighting spirit of Texas. But any military training course will tell you that an offensive force attacking set defensive positions needs at least a four-to-one advantage for a successful outcome.
"We don't have those kinds of numbers and I can't risk the heavy loss of life that would result if we jumped off any time soon."
Jones looked around the room. All of the Western Forces' top representatives were there: Louie St. Louie, the man who transformed the moribund postwar city of St. Louis into the fabulously hedonistic Football City, only to see it nearly destroyed in two successive wars. Mike Fitzgerald, the former Air Force pilot who transformed the municipal airport at Syracuse, New York, into the wild and wooly aircraft repair stop known as the Aerodrome. His territory too was still under Circle control.
Also on hand was Marine Captain "Bull" Dozer, the commanding officer of the famous 7th Cavalry, a near-legendary group of free-lance democratic fighters. Seated next to him was Major Frost, the Free Canadian Air Force pilot who was the unofficial go-between for the large "neutral" free nation to the north. Ben Wa and J.T. Twomey, who like Jones were former US Air Force Thunderbird pilots, were also there, as were a host of other commanders of the many free-lance armies and militias who had joined forces with the Westerners.
"As you know, we spent the entire winter planning for this campaign," Jones told them. "We agreed that the only way we'll be able to accomplish our objective is to play it smart. Up to now The Circle has been the one always on the attack. They're an offensive-minded army. Now, we've got to trick them into playing defense, something they don't do very well.
"But this doesn't mean we ignore the fundamental strategies of war. It gets back to that perfect football game. If the offense and defense exactly complement each other, no one is going anywhere. We have to wait to build up our forces."
A silence descended upon the room. Jones knew they were all anxious to take their measure of the Circle Army. But there was one more reason that demanded they move cautiously.
"We have to remember another thing," Jones continued. "The enemy is holding nearly ten thousand POWs, both military and civilian, inside Football City. We have to consider these people as hostages. We have good reason to believe that if we attacked The Circle now, they would start slaughtering those prisoners. And I won't allow that to happen ..."
Yet the Texan persisted.
"But General," he said in a thick drawl. "Taking Football City is just one of many things we have to do, if we are going to solve our larger ... problem."
Even the feisty Texan couldn't bring himself to say it. Yet everyone in the room knew what he was talking about.
"The Problem" was that the Westerners had information that a large invasion force was being put together in Scandinavia by the Soviets. Once assembled, this force—which was made up of terrorist armies and mercenary forces—was to be put on ships and sent to invade the east coast of the American continent, linking up with the weakened Circle Army and cementing the Soviet hold on the eastern half of America. Thus the overall and very ambitious goal of the Western Forces was to gain control of certain key cities and strategic positions in the east, thereby hoping that the invaders-for-hire would reconsider before attempting a landing.
It was a desperate campaign for the Westerners, one that already had all the earmarks of a noble failure. Yet Jones knew that did not deter anyone sitting in the Planning Room.
They are brave Americans, one and all, he thought.
"True, we cannot solve the Big Problem until we deal with a host of smaller ones," Jones said. "But we also cannot let ourselves become over-anxious. Our overall war plan is risky as it is. We can't let our impatience hinder it.
"So we will continue our present strategy of siege against Football City. That includes our daily surgical air strikes and our regular shelling. Only when the rest of our reserves come in from the west coast and our further 'volunteers' from Free Canada arrive, will we start planning an all-out attack on Football City."
"And when will that be?" the Texan asked.
"Possibly another month," Jones answered. "In the meantime we are working on things inside the city. There is a small but effective underground that is helping us. As you all know, we also have a large group of fifth columnists working within the city even now as we speak."
The big Texan shook his head.
"But what good are these people doing, working inside?" he asked. "You said it yourself, General. The only way is to hit The Circle head-on. Attack 'em. Bomb the living crap out of them. Open up all our big guns, then go in. Invade the city and get it the hell over with ..."
Jones tried to stay calm, but he was quickly losing patience with the man.
"I said we have to stay smart," Jones replied sternly. "And I repeat that we have ten thousand prisoners being held inside that city. Those people will be massacred if we act harshly."
The Texan was up on his feet. "But by that line of reasoning, they're going to get killed no matter when we invade, so I say do it now!"
Once again, Jones took a deep breath and fought the temptation to lash out at the man. The Texans were good friends and superior soldiers. He didn't want to open up a rift with them now.
"My hope is," the small wiry general said in measured tones, "that by the time the rest of our troops arrive, our efforts inside the city will force the crackpot in charge of the Circle garrison there to see the light. Who knows? He may even pull out of the city altogether ..."
"But that's no better for us," The Texan shouted. "If we don't fight them here, we'll have to fight them somewhere along the way to the east coast."
That was it—the breaking point for Jones. "Don't you think I know that?" he angrily shouted back at the man. "But there are brave men of ours risking their lives right now in that city, while we sit back here and discuss the finer points of warfare. They're doing everything from organizing the underground to directing our air strikes ...
"We have to give these men time. Time to reconnoiter and identify strong points we'll have to destroy when we do invade. Time to come up with an escape route for the POWs when we do attack. These things are important to our larger goal. We just cannot risk being hasty at this very important juncture."
The Texan fell silent. A murmur went around the room. The majority of those assembled knew that these were tough decisions and that the burden of making them fell entirely on the shoulders of General Dave Jones.
But for his part, Jones just hoped that his fifth columnists were still alive and safe within the city ...CHAPTER 2
The two A-4 Skyhawks roared in without warning ...
They passed low over the downtown section of Football City, their engines unleashing an unearthly scream, which shook buildings and people alike. The sun had just set and the devil-may-care activity of the city was just starting to warm up. But now the bright lights and music of the gambling casinos and whorehouses were replaced by an immediate blackout and the wail of air raid sirens.
A scattering of anti-aircraft fire followed the A-4s as they pulled up and turned east, away from the heart of downtown. Major Tomm, the man in charge of the Circle's AA battalion, watched the two jets from the top of the circle headquarters, the former Federal Building just blocks from downtown.
"Goddamn Skyhawks are loaded with ECM," he cursed to his lieutenant as they watched two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles rise up from the city limits only to careen away from the streaking jets and fall harmlessly into the Mississippi. "It's like those bastards know where every one of our SAMs is located."
He would never know just how close he was to the truth ...
Tomm put his NightScope spyglasses back up to his eyes and zeroed in on the lead Skyhawk. Underneath its belly he could see a single bomb—a laser-guided AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile. On the front of the airplane was the unmistakable nub of a AAS-35 laser tracking pod, the electronic brains which would direct the Maverick to its target.
As Tomm watched, the first Skyhawk banked, then roared in on a gasoline truck farm down near the river dock works. When the airplane was about a mile away from the target, he saw a puff of smoke spit out from under its fuselage. The Maverick had launched.
"Damn, he's got a lock on the gas trucks," he said.
The missile uncannily went through a set of gyrations before finally slamming into the first of six gas trucks parked in a line. All the while AA fire and SAMs were being launched at the attackers, but to utterly no effect.
The gasoline trucks exploded in a frenzy of blue and green flames. Then the second Skyhawk swooped in, and mimicking its flight leader, unleashed another precision-guided Maverick, which impacted on the control house for the truck farm.
"Jesus, another direct hit!" Tomm's lieutenant cried out in dismay. "How the hell do these guys always hit their targets? I know they're good, but no one is that fucking good!"
"They are if they've got a laser target designator working somewhere in the city," Tomm said in disgust. He knew the enemy's Maverick strikes were so accurate because the missile was capable of following a laser beam being bounced off the prescribed target. This meant the pilots were getting inside help—someone within Football City, probably atop one of its highest buildings, was shooting the laser beam at the targets, allowing the Mavericks to home in exactly every time. The Circle Army had been searching for the "trigger man" for weeks, but whoever it was, was simply too smart for them and had evaded capture every time.
"Just one more of our problems ..." Tomm said to his subordinate as the Skyhawks streaked off to the west and disappeared unscathed over the horizon.CHAPTER 3
Navy Lieutenant Stan Yastrewski—known as "Yaz" to his friends—stopped shoveling just long enough to clean the dirt out of his bleeding hand calluses.
His back was aching and he was filthy from head to toe. His neck was stiff, he was thirsty and the last thing he had had to eat was a small bowl of soup the night before. Now, his hands were bleeding so badly the shovel was sticking to his fingers.
Suddenly, a Circle Army guard came up behind him and poked his ribs with the barrel of his AK-47 assault rifle.
"Get back to work," the soldier told him gruffly, jabbing him again with the snout of the Soviet-made weapon.
How the hell did I get here? Yaz asked himself for the umpteenth time. In an instant he replayed the series of rather incredible events that took him from a hospital on the Mediterranean island of Malta to digging in the goddamn "Hole" in the middle of Football City. Shit, the last time he had been in the states, this place was called St. Louis.
During the first battles of World War III, Yaz was an officer aboard the U.S. nuclear submarine, USS Albany. The boat went down off Ireland, but many of the hands were able to make it to shore. Eventually, he and some of the survivors got organized and went over to Britain after the war cooled down, finding work as technicians. Later on, they moved to Algiers where they were hired by some British RAF officers to help tow an aircraft carrier across the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal in order to thwart an attempt by the infamous world terrorist Viktor to invade the area and revive the World War.
The valiant adventure succeeded in delaying Viktor's armies at the Suez chokepoint long enough for the European democratic forces, known as the Modern Knights, to engage and destroy most of the enemy force. In the course of the early fighting, the carrier was sunk and Yaz, blown off its deck in an explosion, was later found by friendly forces and eventually taken to Malta where he spent three months recovering from his wounds.
Mixed up in all this was an American fighter pilot named Hawk Hunter. He was well-known, both in America and around the globe, as being the best fighter pilot in the post-war world. He had been convinced by the Brits to coordinate air operations off the carrier and he had led the air battle in the canal until taking off in pursuit of Viktor. While recovering in Malta, Yaz heard that Hunter had caught up with the super-terrorist shortly after the battle in the canal and that the terrorist wound up dead. Exactly what happened to Hunter was unclear. Many people in the Med claimed that he too was killed along with Viktor. Others said Hunter had returned to America, where it was rumored that another great war was brewing between the democratic Western Forces and the Soviet-backed Circle Army of the east.
Those rumors proved correct—much to Yaz's dismay ...
As soon as he recovered from his wounds, Yaz caught a flight from Malta to the near-abandoned airport at Casablanca. From there, he was given a seat on a free-lance Swedish C-130 gunship that was flying to America to look for work. But the gunship was jumped by MiGs near the coast of Cuba, and crash-landed off the beach at Guantanamo Bay. Captured by the communist Cubans, Yaz spent some time in jail and then was sold as a slave laborer to the Circle Army, who now had a tenuous hold on Football City.
It was a long, crazy story, unbelievable to him even though he had lived it. Ever since the end of the Big War, Yaz had dreamed of returning to America. Now that he was here, he longed for the hot, smelly days of Algiers ...
Now he was part of a work crew—some 2000 strong—that was digging The Hole. Nearby were the handful of bridges that had all but been destroyed in a massive war between Football City and the Soviet-backed Family Army, out of New Chicago. These spans had suddenly become very important to the Circle troops occupying the city and their engineers were in the process of rebuilding most of them. Some said the Circle wanted the bridges rebuilt in order to reenforce the city against attack from the Western Forces to the west. Others said the Circle needed the bridges intact so as to insure their own escape route out of the city.
Excerpted from Wingman by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 1988 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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