Battle Lines: The Last Good War, Book One

Battle Lines: The Last Good War, Book One

by James Reasoner

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Overview

Battle Lines: The Last Good War, Book One by James Reasoner

It is 1941, and friends Adam, Joe, Dale, and Catherine are similar to most young adults. College, dating, and fast cars are what they know and live for. And in Chicago, Illinois, the near center of America, world conflict seems merely a distant rumor.

But as turmoil in Europe develops into full-scale war, Chicago suddenly abounds with talk of America's entering the fight. Drawn by the promise of freedom and the allure of battle, Joe and Dale join the Army, Adam the Marines, and Catherine the Naval Nurse Service. Far away from home and facing the reality of war in all its horror, they find the world a frighteningly big and unforgiving place, and what began as a quest for freedom becomes a battle to stay alive in one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429979603
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 06/02/2001
Series: Last Good War , #1
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 600,955
File size: 430 KB

About the Author

James Reasoner is the author of more than twenty novels of action and adventure, including the previous World War II novels Battle Lines and Trial by Fire, and a series of Civil War novels focused around major battles, including Manassas and Antietam. He and his wife, suspense writer L. J. Washburn live with their family in Azle, Texas.


James Reasoner is the author of more than twenty novels of action and adventure, including the previous World War II novels Battle Lines and Trial by Fire, and a series of Civil War novels focused around major battles, including Manassas and Antietam. He and his wife, suspense writer L. J. Washburn live with their family in Azle, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

SIX MONTHS EARLIER

"Listen to this," Joe said. He read from the magazine with the garish cover that he held. "'We give you Bill Combat, a fighting man in the bloody skies of today! Death flies the Swastika across the ceiling, but Captain Combat knows the Nazis must be stopped. Here in living pages we tell his thrilling story, which you will long remember when the battle smoke has cleared!'"

From the other bed in the rear bedroom of the Greenwood Avenue house, where he lay in undershirt and shorts, Dale said, "The guy's name is Combat?"

"Yeah. Bill Combat."

"Who the hell is named Combat?"

"The guy in this story, for one."

Dale shook his head. "You can do better than that."

"Why do you think I became a pulp writer?"

Dale grinned and rubbed his thumb and fingers together and said, "Moolah, my friend, moolah."

"Oh, yeah, like I'm getting rich. Thrilling Adventures hasn't paid me yet for that last yarn of mine they published, and it came out two months ago."

"That headhunters of Borneo thing?"

"And it even got the cover!" Joe tossed the magazine aside and swung his legs out of bed. In his pajamas, he walked across the room to the small table where his typewriter was set up.

As Joe pulled back the chair, Dale said, "You start pecking on that thing, Pop's gonna bitch about the noise." He lowered his voice and went on in a growling tone, "Why do you have to do that this late at night? Don't you know that decent people with decent jobs are asleep by this hour? Oh, yeah, you don't have a decent job, do ya, ya bum?"

"Pop's never called me a bum," Joe said as he sat down in front of the typewriter and picked up the top sheet from the stack of paper beside it on the right. "And you're so funny you ought to be on the radio with Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Now go twiddle your thumbs or something, I'm busy."

He read over what was written on the page, then set it back on the stack. From the pile of blank pages on the left, he picked up a sheet and rolled it into the typewriter, adjusting it carefully. He frowned in thought, then began hitting the keys.

"What're you working on?" Dale asked after a moment.

"'Gun-Slammers of Cougar Basin.' I think I can peddle it to Ten Story Western."

"What's your hero's name, Bill Gunfighter?"

"Shut up." Joe continued typing. It wasn't easy to work with Dale in the room, but he knew that if he kept plugging away, eventually he would get caught up in the flow of the words and his shabby surroundings would fall away from him and he'd feel as if he was actually in the story, riding the dusty trails of Cougar Basin with Rance Jarrett, the drifting gunman who was going to wind up saving Peggy Dane's ranch from the villainous Arch Sundeen ...

A fist pounded on the door of the bedroom, and Sam Parker said loudly, "Hey! Don't you know what time it is?"

Joe stopped typing and looked around. Dale smirked at him. "Sorry, Pop," Joe called through the door. "Just a little more, and then I'll stop."

"It better not be long." Sam Parker's dragging footsteps receded down the hall.

Told you so, Dale mouthed.

Joe lifted the middle finger of his left hand at him and turned back to the typewriter. Where the hell was I?

Somebody rapped lightly on the window.

Joe's breath hissed between his teeth in frustration. He could reach the window from where he was sitting, so he pushed the curtains aside. The window was raised several inches already since it was a warm night. Joe grasped the bottom and pushed it up even more. Adam Bergman stuck his head in through the opening.

"Hi, fellas. What're you doing?"

"I was trying to work," Joe told him.

From the bed, Dale added, "And I was trying not to die of boredom."

"It's too nice a night to work," Adam said, "and I got a cure for your boredom, Dale. Catherine and I are going to Caskey's Pier. Why don't you come with us?"

"It's late, in case you didn't know," Joe began, but Dale was already getting out of bed.

"Sounds good to me. There a hot band there tonight?"

"Jasper Thorn's Melody Makers."

Dale let out a low whistle. He reached for his pants.

"Wait a minute," Joe said. "It's late. Do Catherine's parents know where she is?"

"What they don't know won't hurt 'em," Adam said. "C'mon, Joe, it'll be fun."

Joe shook his head. "I appreciate you thinking of us, but Dale and I both have to work in the morning."

"Speak for yourself," Dale said. "I hate that damn job. I'm gonna be quitting in a couple of weeks anyway when school starts. What's it matter if they fire me now?"

"Two weeks wages, that's what it matters," Joe said. He stopped himself from adding, Two weeks wages that I won't have to earn. He had been the family's chief breadwinner for two years now, ever since that damned bull had crushed Sam Parker's leg and ended his job at the stockyards. And he had never begrudged all the hard work he did to support himself and his brother and their parents. But Dale's cavalier attitude about money bothered him, always had. Things weren't as tight as they had been a few years earlier, in the depths of the Depression, but a fella was still lucky to have a job.

"And don't talk like that in the house," Joe added. "Ma might hear."

"Wouldn't want her to die of a damn heart attack because of her baby boy's damn language, would we?" Dale finished buttoning his shirt and tucked it in. "Where's Catherine?"

"Waiting in the car." Adam jerked a thumb toward Greenwood Avenue. He was still leaning in the window with his elbows hooked over the sill. Even though the bedroom was on the first floor, it was built up several feet from the ground to allow more room for the basement. Joe knew that Adam was standing on a box to reach the window. He and Dale kept an old orange crate behind the shrubs to make it easier for them to come and go through the window. Not that they snuck out a lot at night, Joe thought. Well, he didn't, anyway. Dale was a different story.

Dale finished tying his shoes. "Let's go." He looked at Joe, who was still in his pajamas. "You're not coming?"

"I want to write a little more, like I told Pop, and then I'm going to sleep."

Dale shrugged. "Your loss. See ya."

Adam hopped down from the window. Dale swung a leg over the sill and bent as low as he could. Because of his height, he had more trouble going in and out this way than Joe did. But a moment later he was gone, and Joe was left facing the typewriter.

The page had only eight lines on it. What with all the interruptions, he had barely gotten started. It wasn't like he was rolling or anything, so if he quit for the night, it wouldn't be any great loss....

He heard the roar of an engine from the street as a car powered away from the curb. That would be Catherine's Plymouth, Joe told himself. There was no longer any point in trying to talk himself out of working. He might as well get back to it, he thought with a sigh.

Rance saw the gunman reach for — No, not "reach for," "grab for." Rance saw the gunman grab for his pistol, and he flung himself to the side as he slapped leather. The Colt bucked in his hand and sent lead fanging at the killer. Lefty staggered back, crimson blooming on his shirt front as his revolver slipped from nerveless fingers. "Yuh ... yuh polecat!" he gasped. Should that be "damned polecat?" Joe asked himself, then shook his head. No, he'd leave it like it was. Now he needed to have Peggy witness the shooting, so she could see for herself for the first time just what a gunslick Rance really was, and she'd be drawn to him but sort of afraid of him at the same time....

The typewriter keys continued clicking into the night.

CHAPTER 2

Dale felt himself pushed back against the plush upholstery in the backseat of the Plymouth convertible as Catherine pressed down hard on the gas pedal. He grinned. The girl liked to drive fast.

He ought to ask Adam if she was fast in any other ways, he thought.

Nah, that was none of his business, Dale decided. Besides, if Adam was getting any, sooner or later he'd break down and tell Joe all about it. Joe and Adam had been best friends for a hell of a long time, ever since that business with the Harrigan boys. And Joe was his brother, Dale thought, so it was only reasonable to assume that they wouldn't have any secrets from each other. So eventually Adam would tell Joe if he was screwing Catherine, and then Joe would tell Dale all about it.

Dale wondered if Adam knew that Joe was still a little sweet on her himself.

On the Plymouth's radio, Glenn Miller and the boys were blasting out "Tuxedo Junction." Dale lit a Lucky and asked around it, "Where'd you say we were going? Caskey's Pier?"

Adam turned around in the front seat and nodded. "That's right."

"I feel like dancing," Catherine added.

"Sounds good to me." Dale leaned back and looked out the window as the Chicago landscape rolled past. In the distance he could see the lights of the Loop.

Riding in a car was a lot better than riding the Illinois Central or the El. Dale hated the crowded railroad cars and the stale air inside them. He liked to be out in the open where he could feel the wind in his face. That was why he always enjoyed riding in Catherine's car. But it was even more fun to drive, so that he could feel the engine responding to him.

Too bad she wouldn't let him crawl under the hood and modify it. A race was coming up down at Green Valley, and he bet that if he had a couple of weeks to work on the Plymouth he could get it to where it was fast enough to kick the tails of those bozos who raced down there. Man, wouldn't he grin when they were eating his dust!

But the convertible didn't really belong to Catherine, of course. It was one of her father's cars, and Dr. Tancred would know if somebody had been monkeying with it. That was a shame. He would just have to wait until he could afford to fix up the Ford he had bought earlier in the summer. He'd gotten it cheap because it was just a junker, but he'd done the deal on the q.t. anyway so that Joe wouldn't pitch a fit about the money. Since then, Dale had kept the car out back of a garage that belonged to a buddy of his, and he swung by there whenever he had a chance to work on it. Joe didn't know a thing about it, and Dale wanted to keep it that way.

Maybe Joe was right about not quitting his job just yet, Dale thought. He was supposed to be saving his wages for college, but the Ford really needed a new carburetor. The old one was shot.

Dale leaned forward and said, "Uh, I can't stay out too late...."

"That's all right," Adam said. "You can always catch a train back to Kenwood if you need to."

"Yeah, I suppose so." Dale took a deep drag on the cigarette and then snapped the butt out of the car. He didn't want to be a wet blanket. He would dance and drink as long as Adam and Catherine wanted to, and in the morning he'd just go to work sleepy and hungover if he had to. It wasn't as if it would be the first time.

God, she's beautiful! Adam thought as he watched the lights of the ballroom on Caskey's Pier sparkle on Catherine's golden hair. He lived in mortal fear that sooner or later she would realize what a big ugly brute he was and ask herself what she was doing wasting her time on him.

She turned her head, looked up at him, and smiled as she caught him watching her.

"Better look where you're going," she warned him teasingly. "You might run into something."

"It'd be worth it."

He meant it, too. Ever since he'd first seen her three years earlier, when he was a freshman at the University of Chicago, he had known that she was the girl for him. She'd been a junior in high school at the time, and the only reason she'd been at the university was because her father was giving a lecture about the political situation in Europe and she had come along with him. That was the luckiest night of his life, Adam had thought many times since then, not because he'd gotten to listen to Dr. Gerald Tancred talk about the Dangers of Foreign Entanglements for All Americans, but because he had seen the beautiful blond-haired girl who had left with the doctor afterward, and fallen in love at first sight.

Dr. Tancred was a popular speaker and had many friends on the faculty of the university, so he lectured there often. Adam made sure he attended each and every one of the talks, even after his mother asked him pointedly why he was going to see "that isolationist fascist." Adam couldn't very well explain that he didn't care about Dr. Tancred's political views; he just wanted to see Catherine. When she actually enrolled at the university as a premed student after graduating from an exclusive private high school on the North Side, that was the second-happiest day of Adam's life.

"What are you thinking about?" Catherine asked him.

"Oh, just remembering things."

"Good things?"

"Very good things."

"You." She squeezed his arm and started to blush, and he couldn't tell her he wasn't thinking about that. There were too many people around.

Not that those weren't very good memories, too....

Music swelled up from the bandstand, and Dale moved up alongside them, cigarette canted jauntily between his lips. "Listen to those hot notes," he said. "Think I'll go ask one of those cuties to cut a rug with me." He nodded toward a line of young women on the opposite wall of the dance hall that extended out over the waters of Lake Michigan on Caskey's Pier.

"Go ahead," Adam told him. "I've got the best dance partner in town right here." He held out his arms to Catherine, and she came into them.

The number was a fast one. Catherine kicked up her heels and shook a leg with the best of them, just as Adam had said. He was glad, though, when the music slowed down and she moved closer to him, sliding her arms around his neck as he wound his around her waist. Her breasts brushed lightly against his chest. "Baby ..." he murmured. He was getting sentimental over her, all right, just like the song said.

She leaned her head forward so that the fragrance of her hair sent his senses swirling. His arms tightened around her even more so that her belly bumped against his groin.

He was getting hard. Had she felt it? Even after the things they'd done together, he experienced a surge of embarrassment. Carefully, so as not to draw attention to what he was doing, he put a little more space between them.

Catherine closed the gap almost immediately, and Adam felt the warm pressure of her body against him once more.

He wanted to close his eyes and moan. Didn't she know what she was doing to him? She had to know. But she wasn't a tease. Adam was certain of that. Whatever she was doing, she wasn't doing it just to torment him.

That meant she wanted him, too, just like he wanted her. He knew logically that was true. She wouldn't have done some of the things she'd done in the past if she didn't. But he still had trouble making himself believe it in his heart.

The slow dance number came to a close, and Catherine tipped her head back and looked up at him with a softness around her mouth and blue fire in her eyes. She came up on her toes and brushed her lips across his. "Thanks for the dance, mister," she whispered.

Adam swallowed, wondering what the hell had happened to his ability to talk.

Catherine smiled. "I could use a beer."

He finally found his tongue again. "Yeah, so could I."

He slipped his arm through hers and led her toward the bar. It was crowded. Caskey's was one of the most popular spots in town on a warm summer night like this. A cool breeze was usually blowing in from the lake, the music was good, and the bartenders didn't check too closely to make sure all the customers were of age.

After a while, Adam was able to work his way through the press of people in front of the bar and snag a couple of bottles of beer. He shouldered a path back to Catherine and handed one of them to her. "Let's go outside," he suggested.

"Okay."

Sliding glass doors at one end of the dance floor led out onto a long terrace at the end of the pier. Lights winked far out on the lake, and they were pretty if you didn't stop to think that they were probably on garbage scows and coal barges. That was the way a lot of things in life were, Adam told himself: it was smarter just to accept the beauty and not think too much about what was underneath it.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Battle Lines"
by .
Copyright © 2001 James Reasoner and Tekno Books.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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