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WolfSinger Publications

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The Steel Fist
- Rob Jackson

The  survivors of Recon 9 are needed in the Ozarks where some home-grown  autocrats have taken over parts of Arkansas and parts of Missouri.  They’ve looted National Guard armories and hoarded weapons, ammunition,  and vital supplies, just waiting for the opportunity to take over the  area. While most of their transport, armor, and aircraft are obsolete,  they face people with no protection against such deadly equipment.  And  they’re trying to get the local natural resources to gain control of  weapons even the military have no defense against.

Recon  9 has gained four new members and formed an alliance with locals, many  of them veterans, against a common enemy. The locals have some grasp of  tactics, an excellent knowledge of the hilly, forested countryside and a  burning desire to be rid of the terrorists, who  call themselves: THE STEEL FIST


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Chapter 1

“Don’t turn around—just drop the guns.”

The  voices came from only a few yards around the corner where Hasteen and  Logan should be waiting. Reynaud caught his Mossberg bullpup by the  foregrip and slung it to the ready posi­tion. His index finger tapped  the safety off with only the faintest click. With the shotgun at his  shoulder, he sprang to the side, clear of the corner. He pointed his  weapon at the nearest of the five men who’d gotten the drop on his  friends.

He  shouted as he pulled the trigger. His target, a man with a rifle, was  flung back, the rifle spinning through the air. A sound like a single,  rolling explosion roared in his ears and three more of the ambushers  tumbled backward, then Hasteen leapt after the leader’s pistol. The  fifth man’s rifle still pointed at the ground and before he could swing  the muzzle up, Logan whipped open his duster and touched off a burst  from his Ingram. The spray of .45 bullets took the man in the upper  chest and the body almost backflipped.

Hasteen  snatched up the leader’s pistol and sprawled among the bodies, scanning  the buildings facing them. Reynaud pumped the shotgun’s action and spun  to make sure no one was behind him, then pressed himself against the  wall and swung his weapon up as one of the sheets of plywood covering a  second floor win­dow swung open.

“You boys better get up here quick. I’m Norton.”

A man concealed from Reynaud by the plywood tossed down a rope ladder, which quivered and clattered against the wall.

Sure  he was safe for the moment, Hasteen thrust the dead man’s pistol into  his belt and reloaded his own weapon, a task his practiced hands  completed in mere seconds. He dropped a car­tridge case into the mouth  of each of the men he’d killed.

Logan grinned up at the hidden figure. “You sure took long enough to answer your door. We catch you on the crapper?”

“I saw those boys lurking around. I hoped they’d just move on, but this’ll work as well.”

Hasteen gestured to Logan. “Go on up. I’ll cover you.”

Logan  released the MAC-10 to let it hang by its makeshift sling and hauled  himself quickly up the ladder. Reynaud followed as soon as Logan’s body  disappeared into the opening then crouched beside the open window,  watching the streets as Hasteen clambered up. As soon as Hasteen was  inside Norton hauled up the ladder, slammed the plywood shut, and slid  shut a bolt. After glancing at the men, Norton turned and led the way  out of the room behind the window, down a corridor, to another, smaller  room. The second floor of the old OTASCO store had apparently been used  as a warehouse, with a few smaller areas partitioned off to serve as  offices.

Norton  laid down his M-4 and gestured at a small camp stove beside an alcohol  lamp. “T’isn’t really coffee, but it’s hot, black, and bitter. Help  yourselves.”

Finding  half a dozen enameled metal cups, Reynaud chose one of the cleaner  ones. After filling the mug with the fragrant liquid from the pot, he  sipped at it cautiously. It was too hot to drink, but he recognized it  as chicory. Sitting down on a box, he studied Norton while the others  helped themselves to the brew. Norton was a big, burly man and, from the  facial lines visible above a thicket of beard, a good-natured one.

“You  must be Hasteen O’Ryan,” Norton said, gesturing to the Colt  single-action revolver in the plain buscadero rig. “You’ve got a good  rep with that thing, but I’d heard you were rather dressier.” Like  everyone else in the room, Hasteen was wearing faded jeans. He also wore  a denim work shirt that’d seen better days and a gray-green cloth  around his head, on which he wore, Mexican-style, a black, flat-brimmed  hat with a beaded hatband. The only other distinctive items were the  ankle-length Navajo boots and a piece of leather tied around his left  wrist to hide his ketoh, the bracelet derived from the bow-guard.

“That was Rennie’s idea. He said that where we were going it might be better if I didn’t flash as much.”

“Good thinking.” The beard was split by a grin and a hand the size of a ham was thrust toward Reynaud.

Reynaud  took the hand and shook it. “Reynaud Dechaine. The other fellow is  Logan Reid. He’s an alumnus of the same Russ prison camp I graduated  from.”

“The  more the merrier,” Norton said, and shook hands with the other two.  “Slattery recommended you pretty highly—all of you—but I’ve decided  Reynaud will be running the show. I’ve got some other people you can use  if you want ‘em, so look ‘em over first chance you get and decide  whether to keep ‘em or not.”

Logan tipped back his charcoal-colored cowboy hat. “Were those gunnies outside part of the problem?”

“Them?  Nah, they’re just the usual third-rate scavengers who hang around the  fringes of a herd. The opposition is a helluva lot more dangerous than  that. Any of you ever hear of a group called The Steel Fist of the  Lord’s Righteous Fury?”

The others shook their heads.

“They’re  the usual fascist bastards that take names like that. The guy who  started it was an ex-state department thug. We think he was tied to the  CIA, but we can’t prove it. After he left Foggy Bottom he put his thumbs  into a lot of pies. He started out as a gunrunner and middleman, and  eventually built himself quite a pile in Latin America. He found a  friendly government down there and even started his own arms factories.  At one time, he was equipping two or three of the nastiest bastards in  the region.

“The  arms operation got shut down when the asshole he was backing got shot,  and he had to duck and run, but not before he’d shipped back a lot of  ordnance and cash. He used the money to buy into a lot of businesses and  prospered mightily, as the saying goes.”

Norton  poured chicory into a cup and watched the steam rise. “Benjamin  Rutledge might’ve been crazier than a pet skunk, but he wasn’t stupid.  He apparently either anticipated the collapse or was worried about the  possibility, and he set up cells in the Ozarks and on the left coast and  a few in other places. The plague killed about as many of his nuts as  it did anybody else, but they’d insulated themselves against the worst  of the other problems—the food riots, the disasters, the sudden collapse  of services—so they lost about fifty percent of their population  instead of eighty to eighty-five percent—or higher, as in the major  cities. And they were organized. They hit the National Guard armories  where they could reach them and caught a lot of guardsmen trying to hold  things together. When we and the Russians nuked each others’ and  everybody else’s petroleum processing centers, the Steel Fist was barely  touched, since they’d already squirrelled away massive fuel stocks.

“They’ve  got troops, they’ve got armor, and they’ve even got some air cover. All  their enclaves were situated for survival, but this base in the Ozarks  is also well located for raiding, and I think they’ve got something a  lot bigger planned.”

Norton  sipped at his chicory. “I hope to have more infor­mation for you in the  next day or so. For now, you have some time off. Meet the other group,  tell me who you like and who you don’t.”

Reynaud nodded. “By the way, we’ve got somebody else meeting us here. A fellow called ‘the Deacon.’”

“Billy Joe McCluskey? Are you sure that’s a good idea? I hear he’s a little—”

“Crazy? Yeah, but he got crazy in the same Russ POW camp Logan and I were in. We’ve watched each other’s backs before.”

“Okay,  you’ve got him. It’s just that setting a fundamentalist to catch  someone who talks the jargon seems a little dicey to me.”

“Who’ve you got?” Logan asked.

“There’s  three of them, maybe four. Mario Petricelli is a big-city boy. He’s  medium height, medium build, black haired, so he more or less blends in.  He was probably a ‘mechanic’ for some­body back east, but he’s a good  man at his specialties, and I think he can be trusted. Sally Thomas is a  local girl, blonde, kinda short, with a figure that won’t quit. She’s a  nurse, works for a traveling dentist named Charley O’Malley. He’s iffy.  He’s balding, wears a suit and tie most of the time. Sally’s got her  own reasons for want­ing to be in on this, and they’re good ones.”

“Personal, I presume.” Reynaud downed his now-lukewarm chicory in one swallow.

“The  biggest question-mark is a mean little dude who goes by Xuan or Deklay.  Slattery heard about him; says he’s supposed to be a fierce little  mutha. He hates Army, isn’t too crazy about Anglos, don’t know how he  feels about Cajuns.”

Reynaud answered Norton’s grin with one of his own. “Guess I’d better go find out. Where do we find these upstanding citizens?”

“They’ve  been hanging out in a place called The Emergency Room.” At the question  in their eyes he grinned again. “It was a warehouse set up as a field  hospital for the plague. Anybody can give you directions to the place.  It’s about five blocks north of here and two west.” He nodded to Hasteen  and Logan. “Why don’t you boys go see if the coast is clear? Rennie and  I will join you in a couple.”

Hasteen  had finished his chicory while Logan had sipped experimentally at his  then ignored it. Both men got up without a word and left the room.

“Slattery gave you a real strong recommendation. If you’re still alive after this is all over, how’d you like a permanent job?”

“Doing what?”

“The same thing I’m doing—helping rebuild. O’Ryan isn’t the type. You only have to look at him to know he lives for the wire, the challenge. I’ve heard he’s killed upwards of seventy men, but he doesn’t even notch his guns.”

Reynaud  laughed. “He quit awhile back. Said his stocks looked like they’d been  to a woodpecker convention and they were getting hard to hold onto. But  he still keeps track. You probably didn’t notice the string around his  neck, but it has eighty-two beads on it.”

“He  doesn’t care about the killing, Rennie; that’s not why he does it. He  keeps count because that’s how many times he’s been tested and passed  the test. Someday he’ll either fail or become an anachronism. Logan—I  guess he’s paying back for the time in the camp. When the fire in his  belly goes out and he’s built up some dinero he’ll retire, probably open  a bar or a whorehouse. But, according to Slattery, you’re a regular  crusader. You want to see things go well for people, and that’s why you  hate outfits like the Steel Fist.”

Reynaud  took out a twelve-gauge shell, checked to be sure it was 00 buck, and  very carefully loaded it into the gun. “I’ll talk to you about it after  the party’s over.”

“Sorry,  didn’t mean to embarrass you.” Norton stood, picked up his carbine.  “There’s a local, a fellow called ‘The Colonel,’ who’s working for the  Steel Fist. I’d like to have a chat with him; but wait until I give you  the word. He’s got a pistolero grafted to him and usually has four to  six other bodyguards around. He’s dangerous, and he’s the only lead we  have to the local chapter, so try not to attract his attention.”

Reynaud  stood and followed Norton back to the window. Logan was peering out  through a crack. “Nobody there,” he said. “The bodies outside were  stripped while we had our little chat. Looks like they even took the  clothes that weren’t all shot-up.”

“They probably even took the cartridge cases I left in the mouths of the ones I killed,” Hasteen grumbled.

Norton shot a look at Reynaud but opened the window without a comment and tossed down the rope ladder.

The three of them clambered down the ladder, then watched Norton draw it back inside and close the plywood.

“What was all that about?” Logan asked.

“Norton just wanted us to put the arm on someone, but that’s for later. Right now, let’s go find some friends.”

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