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WolfSinger Publications

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Operation Annihilation
- Rob Jackson

Recon  9, a group formed by veteran Air Force pilots who’d escaped a Russian  POW camp faces a world devastated by plague, a desultory world war, and a  widespread civic collapse.

Recon 9 follows a trail of bodies across Texas, discovering that west Texas put the wild in the wild west.  

To catch the Russian agent they have to deal with bandit gangs, groups of homicidal maniacs, and military holdouts.  

The agent is carrying out a program called Operation A or Operation Alpha.

To them, it seems to be: OPERATION ANNIHILATION


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Chapter 1

A man who’d just stepped out the door of a bar shouted, “Holy shit! Would you look at what just got off the boat.”

Reynaud  studied the man a moment. The Texan, a lean man with a hard, weathered  face wore, like most of the men they’d seen, jeans, cowboy boots and  hat, and a jeans jacket over a nondescript shirt. Most importantly, he  also wore a large, silvery revolver in an open holster.

“I told you we should have brought all the artillery instead of stashing the long arms outside town,” Logan muttered.

Steve grinned. “Logan, I think he’s picking on you because of that Hawaiian-print shirt you’re wearing.”

“What’s the matter with Hawaiian shirts?” Logan demanded.

The  stranger had apparently heard the question. “Not a single damn thing,  if you’re going to a pimp’s funeral, but we don’t have much use for them  around here. They scare the stock and keep hon­est folk awake at  night.”

Logan’s  grin seemed frozen on his face but all traces of humor had deserted his  eyes. “What’re you worried about then, asshole? You won’t lose a  minute’s sleep over it.”

The  group spread out with Logan, who’d been standing near­est the bar,  stepping forward, turning as he moved, so he directly faced the Texan.  Steve had moved from Logan’s left by three paces, and the Deacon had  backed up two paces, also facing the man. Reynaud had continued another  half dozen paces then he, too, turned to face the gunman.

“Hey,  furriner,” the Texan drawled. “We don’t much like damnyankees and we  really don’t like ’em when they got a big mouth on ’em.” The man stepped  out to the edge of the sidewalk facing Logan, his hand hovering over  the butt of his revolver.

Logan  had just swung his coat open and held it out of the way with his left  hand, reaching across his lower back. The movement displayed a  military-styled holster and, suspended by a sling, an Ingram MAC-10. “If  you reach for that hog-leg on your hip,” Logan said, “I’m going to  shoot enough holes in you my friends will be able the draw the Last  Supper on you just by connecting the dots.”

Suddenly  they heard another voice, behind Logan and to his right. “Hey,  bushwhackers, if you don’t like getting shot at, you’re in the wrong  line of work.”

Reynaud  spun. Two men with rifles or shotguns had moved into position behind  them and no more than twenty yards away, almost invisible in an alley.  The ambushers also pivoted to face the source of the voice then, at what  sounded like two shots only a split-second apart, they tumbled and were  flung to the street. Reynaud looked at where the shots had come and a  man stepped into the street, reloading a revolver. He stood six feet  tall in Navajo moccasins, with broad, strong features, deeply tanned  skin, black hair hanging past his shoulders. He wore a flat-brimmed,  flat-crowned black cowboy hat with a beaded hatband, dressed in black  and orange and wearing enough silver and turquoise to open a trading  post. The pistol he twirled back into its holster was one of a pair of  ivory-gripped single-action revolvers and the holsters were a crossbelt  rig. Apparently, the stranger was there to cover their backs.

Reynaud  turned to face the man who’d started the argument. “You didn’t say this  was an open party,” Reynaud said, as he loosened the flap of his  military holster.

The  man had, like Logan, reached across his back with his left hand  although he wore no coat but a short jeans jacket. “Maybe we’ll all just  call it a day,” the Texan said. “I’ll stand for the dri—” Suddenly, his  left hand swept out, clutching a small revolver.

Reynaud  had just begun to reach for his .45 automatic when the MAC roared and  spat flames. The man spun and jerked spasmodically, flapping his arms as  though he was try­ing to fly. The pistol in his left hand spun into the  air and flecks of blood were spattered across the whitewashed front of  the bar. With a final twitch, the corpse fell, a heap of bleed­ing meat.

Logan pulled the empty magazine out of the Ingram, shoved a fresh one in, and hauled back the bolt.

Seeing  Logan was more than ready to deal with anything in front of them,  Reynaud turned and walked back to where the stranger was bending over  the bodies. “What’re you doing there?”

“Putting  a shell in each of their mouths,” the stranger replied. “It’s sort of a  calling card. Less messy than taking ears or fingers.” He looked up at  Reynaud. “Slattery figured you might run into some trouble and he sent  me to keep an eye on you. My name is Hasteen O’Ryan.”

Hasteen  nodded at the bodies. “If any of their stuff appeals to you, take it.  Spoils of war.” He dug wallets out of hip pockets, glanced into them,  put them in his belt, and stood waiting.

One  of the would-be ambushers had carried a strange bullpup weapon and a  glance at the bore was enough to let Reynaud know it was twelve-gauge or  larger. It had two pistol grips, the one behind the trigger equipped  with a grip safety and the other on the forearm and had a perforated  jacket around part of the barrel. A carrying handle doubled as the  sights. He picked up the shotgun and pulled the bandolier of shells from  the body. As he removed the bandolier, he found the two bullet holes in  the man’s chest, near enough together they could be covered with an old  silver dollar.

The  dead man also wore a pistol, a double-action revolver in what looked  like a police holster. Reynaud had to fumble with the belt before he  finally figured out how to operate the dummy buckle and tug the belt  loose. Taking off his own military pistol belt with its .45 automatic,  he slung it over his left shoulder and strapped the dead man’s belt  around his hips. Pulling the corpse’s pockets inside out, he found  nothing until he felt something solid in the watch pocket. Digging the  objects out, he discovered one was a large silver coin and a smaller  gold one, about the size of a quarter.

“You  can stand drinks,” Steve said. He’d just strapped on the other body’s  high-ride fast-draw rig with a single-action revolver. Bending down, he  slipped the Beretta M-9 he carried out of its mili­tary holster and  shoved it into his waistband, pocketing the extra magazines. He groped  through the body’s pockets and flashed another gold coin. “I guess we  can both stand drinks for the crowd.”

“Christmas  came early this year,” Logan announced. He was grinning broadly and  tossed and caught something that flashed with a yellow light, and  Reynaud noticed he had two more pistols thrust into his belt.

“Hey,” Logan said, apparently noticing Hasteen for the first time, “it’s a faithful Indian companion.”

Hasteen  stared coldly at him. “I’m not in the market for a Caucasian sidekick  but you can submit an application if you think you can handle the comedy  relief.” He glanced at the others. “If you’re ready, I’ll take you to  see Slattery.”

“What about the bodies?” Steve asked.

“Leave  ’em. You aren’t cannibals, are you? We’ve got no use for them and,  sooner or later, somebody will get tired of walking around them and dump  them outside of town.”

Reynaud,  examining and experimenting with the bull­pup, had figured out it was a  pump-action shotgun. “It’s just that this is a little less formal than  we’re used to. Since we got out of a Russian prison camp we’ve spent  most of our time in Polish cities or in a sub.”

Hasteen  led them on a zig-zag route until he shoved open the door of a garage,  where several pickups, their hoods agape, stood in ranks, being  ministered to by four men in greasy coveralls. “Slattery has a decent  business, converting pickups to run on alcohol and replacing electronic  ignition systems when they burn out.”

Logan shook his head sadly. “Seems like a helluva waste of good booze.”

“Well,  they’re trying to get the oil patch producing again but it’s hard to  find enough people to help rebuild the oil-cracking plants, and  distribution is going to be shot for a long time.” Hasteen strode to the  office door, pulled it open, and waved them inside.

The  man sitting behind the desk looked as if the chair in which he sat had  been built around him. Sitting in a chair in front of the desk, a  Mexican with hard eyes stared at them.

The  man behind the desk stood and thrust out a mas­sive hand. “I’m  Buttercup, better known as Jim Slattery.” He reminded Reynaud of a  fifty-gallon drum with knees and topped with a head that had grown  through most of its hair.

Each  member of the group shook the hand and intro­duced themselves. After  they’d finished, Slattery nodded to their “guardian angel” and the  Mexican. “You’ve already met Hasteen, and this is Paco Morales.” The  Mexican nodded and seemed to be studying them.

Hasteen  shoved his hat back and let it hang by its latigo, mounted a chair  backward, and sat with his arms crossed on the back of the chair. “You  were right, Slattery. They managed to get themselves into a dust-up.”

Slattery sank back into his chair, which protested with a creak. “I thought I heard gunfire. What happened?”

“They  got paid for.” Hasteen dug the wallets out of his belt and tossed them  onto the desk. “It was a set-up, an ambush. All three of the ambushers  had gold. Someone wanted them dead badly enough to pay top dollar.”

“I was afraid that might happen,” Slattery said.

“What do you mean?” Reynaud demanded.

“I  mean we don’t have a secure radio here, so if the Russian you’re  chasing—Chernikov is his name, right? If he or some of his contacts had  been listening to the right band, they’d have known you were going to  hit town.” He turned to Hasteen. “Did you recognize any of them?”

“One  of them was Toby Wells.” Hasteen glanced at Logan. “That was the one  you killed. Wells got himself fired from Gorman’s a few days ago—at  least, that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Think you could find out who did the hiring for the jobs?” Slattery asked.

“Maybe.” Hasteen stood. “Paco, why don’t you come with me? We’ll make the rounds of the bars and see what we come up with.”

The  Mexican stood and picked up the straw hat on the desk, patted it into  place, then drew his .45 Colt automatic and checked the chamber. “I  could stand a drink.”

As  soon as the two men left the office, Slattery pulled a fifth of Bourbon  out of a drawer of his desk. “Sorry, boys, but I don’t have glasses.  We’ll just have to pass the jug around.” He took a drink, held out the  bottle to the Deacon, who scowled and shook his head, then to Logan, who  accepted it and took a long pull on the whiskey. “I know you boys are  just brimming with questions, so ask away.”

Steve  had just accepted the bottle from Logan and took a short drink then  handed the bottle to Reynaud. He pointed at the door the two men had  just done through. “Who are those guys?”

Slattery’s  predatory grin was broad enough it looked like a gash in his reddish  beard. “Just two of the best gunnies you boys are liable to run into for  a long ways around. Hasteen’s from Arizona. He’s half-Irish,  half-Dineh—what us whites call Navajo—and all hell-on-wheels. Paco, he  was originally from San Antone. He was visiting family down in Mexico  when the Russians popped the nuke over near Lackland. Neither of those  boys are real friendly or talkative, but they’ll both do to ride the  riv­er with. I hear you guys had sort of an interesting time of it,  too.”

Reynaud  had sniffed at the bottle. It smelled like very good Bourbon. Tipping  it back, he took a swallow, feeling the welcome burn in his throat and  belly.

Logan  wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Interesting if you consider  riding back from Europe in a leaky bucket that couldn’t dive more than  sixty feet interesting. And we got to worry about whether we’d have kids  or, if we do, whether they’d have all the standard equipment and  noth­ing optional—say, a spare head or tentacles instead of fingers,  yeah, it was pretty interesting.”

“What was the trouble with the boat?” Slattery asked.

Reynaud  watched the progress of the bottle around the circle. “It got hit by an  air-launched torpedo during the war and the crew only had time for  makeshift repairs, so they had a dive limit. They told us the reactor  hadn’t been damaged but it’s a little unsettling to have an officer run a  Geiger counter two or three times a day through the area where you  sleep.”

~ * ~

Slattery  passed the bottle on to Logan again, studying the men around his  office. He was the head of the Recon­structionists in Texas for several  reasons, but the most important of those: he was an excellent judge of  men.

Billy  Joe McCluskey, the teetotaler, looked to be the most military of them.  He was clean-shaven and wore the navy dungarees like a uniform. He was a  good six feet tall and he was lean and hard. He had the piercing eyes  of a hawk, even a hooked nose that suggested the beak of a bird of prey,  and a thin-lipped mouth set in a disapproving line above a lan­tern  jaw. He looked twice as tough as a tree stump and gave the impression of  having less mercy than one. He reminded Slattery of a Japanese lantern,  lit from within by a flame. He was a thoroughly dangerous man, a  sputtering fuse, but with too closed a mind to be a leader.

Steve  Villareal was, like McCluskey, thin, but whipcord lean and flexible,  less angular and craggy, and shorter, no more than five-eight. He wore a  fine moustache and had the air of a well-bred man who’d become used to  slumming. He moved with feline grace and the manner of a decisive man.

The  Cajun, Dechaine, was about five-ten with a medium build, maybe a  hundred seventy-five pounds, with a lush moustache and tightly-curled  hair that suggested, along with a very light chocolate complexion, that  some of his forebears were African. He had a watchful, calculating look  about him.

Logan  Reid was the shortest, no more than five-seven, and the heaviest, at  near a hundred eighty-five pounds, all of it rock-solid. He wore a short  beard, a sort of ginger color a couple of shades lighter than his hair.  He seemed to like to grin and laugh but Slattery sus­pected he wanted  to be far away when Logan stopped laughing. He was the only one wearing  anything other than the navy denims and plain black boots.

Slattery  had been given some information about these men, and he’d dug up a  little more. They’d all been fighter jocks except McCluskey, who’d flown  a bomber, and they were just about the last survivors of a Russian POW  camp that had once held over two hun­dred men. They’d escaped, along  with three or four others, and made their way to Krakow where they’d  learned the camp commandant and his lieutenant had also gotten out. The  lieutenant had remained in Krakow to assume command of the local FSB—the  new name for the KGB—apparatus, but the commandant had gone to Texas.

When  the escaped prisoners had learned what had happened, there’d been hell  to pay, and those boys had done a thorough job of collecting the bill.  With some Reconstructionists in Krakow they’d crippled, if not killed,  the FSB in Krakow. Now they were in Texas to track down Chernikov, the  commandant. It was a business trip as well as for pleasure. He’d heard  rumblings of an FSB plan, some­thing called Operation A or Operation  Alpha. It seemed to be time to take the bull by the tail and face the  situation.

“What’s this Operation A I’ve heard about?”

The  Cajun looked at the bottle before lowering the level a good half-inch.  “Damned if I know. I wish I did. About the only things I can tell you  about it for sure is that it’s what Chernikov came to Texas to work on,  and if he’s a party to anything it’s got to be dirty and dangerous.” He  handed the bottle to Slattery.

Slattery  took another good pull and held up the bottle. When all the men shook  their heads he screwed the cap back on and replaced the bottle in the  desk drawer. “That doesn’t narrow it down much. That sorta describes a  lot of Texas. I guess the first thing we gotta do is get some clothes  for you boys so you don’t look so much like pilgrims. The Wellington  boots will pass, I guess, but you’re gonna hafta chuck the navy  cast-offs. And, Logan, I’d advise you to lose that shirt unless you like  to fight.”

The  one named Steve laughed. “Hell, Logan would go three rounds with the  devil with a stick, and he’d give Old Scratch the stick. What we’d  really like, though, is some decent food. Since we broke out of the  p-camp we’ve only had half a dozen meals that weren’t military rations.  You ever eat freeze-dried peaches? And they were a delicacy. The worst  rations beat the hell out of the slop the Russians gave us in that  camp.”

“Let’s get the clothes first, and I’ll take you to a café. I’d also better bring you up to date on the doin’s here in Texas.”

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