The patriot army of Ben Raines went toe-to-toe with the most powerful enemy in the world-the USA- and fought its way through hellish chaos and terrorism. But for the free and the brave there is no rest-not when USA leader Claire Osterman has been ousted from power. Her reaction: A plan for revenge that will plunge the North American continent into bloody war. The attack will come from the South, where Osterman has made a pact with the devil-a former Sandinista Rebel named Perro Loco. Ruching up through Costa Rica and Mexico, their unholy alliance is poised to strike at the heart of the SUSA. Ben Raines, however, will not wait until blood is spilled on his soil. He will lead his own strike force into the jungles of Mexico… to kill the enemy on his own ground
* * * *
Claire Osterman looked up into the inky blackness of the night sky as the plane she'd just jumped out of exploded in a fiery ball of flame. The cold air rushed past her face and she flailed her arms, falling at 120 miles an hour toward the Tennessee mountains below.
She opened her mouth and began to scream...
"Wake up, lady," a voice said, pulling her from the depths of the nightmare she'd had every night since her plane crash four weeks ago.
Claire Osterman looked up into Bettye Jean Holt's face, fighting to come fully awake and put the horrible dream behind her. She glanced around at the small bedroom where she'd been staying since hobbling through five miles of wooded Ozark mountain forest with a broken jaw, broken left arm, and severely sprained left ankle to finally find refuge in the Holts' small wooden shack a month before.
Bettye Jean Holt was carrying a bowl of what could only be described as gruel. She'd told Claire it was oatmeal, that being the only thing Claire could manage to eat as her broken jaw healed, but if there were any oats in it, they were few and far between.
"What time is it?" Claire mumbled sleepily, rubbing her eyes to erase the picture of General Willford Hall being blown to bits above her.
"Heck," Bettye Jean said in her thick backwoods accent, "h'it's almost five in the mornin'. Billy Bob's gone out to feed the chickens an' hog." She grinned, exposing yellowed teeth with several black gaps where malnutrition had caused them to fall out.
Claire reached for the oatmeal, wincing as pain shot down her left arm, restricted by the crude splint Bettye Jean had taped on it after setting the broken bones.
"He said to git yore lazy butt up an' fer me to git his breakfast 'fore he came back, Mary," Bettye Jean said, using the fake name Claire had given them when she found out they hated Claire Osterman and the entire government of the USA.
"He said it was about time you started earnin' yore keep around here, but"--and Bettye Jean's voice changed to a conspiratorial whisper as she continued--"I tole him yore arm weren't healed enough jest yet."
As Claire took the oatmeal from her, Bettye Jean pulled a folded-up newspaper out of her apron pocket. "I also brung you a paper Billy Bob got when he drove the ol' pickup into town yesterday. H'it's a couple'a weeks old, but I figgered you'd like to know what was goin' on in the world since you fell outta that tree."
"What ... oh, yeah," Claire said, remembering she'd told the Holts that she'd received her injuries when she climbed a tree to get her bearings after getting lost in the woods. Billy Bob had said he thought she looked like Claire Osterman and if she was, he was going to shoot her. Her cover story had been a quick attempt to save her life until the search party from USA headquarters could find her.
Claire took the spoon and bowl and began shoveling the soupy mixture into her mouth, wondering why they hadn't already come for her.
As she left the room, Bettye Jean lit a small kerosene lantern on a table next to the door. The cabin had no electricity or running water, and the bathroom was in a small shed fifty yards down the path.
Claire's face flushed and her heart pounded as she read the headlines of the two-week-old paper. "President Warner and President Jeffreys Make Progress toward Peace Agreement."
President Warner? Why that backstabbing son of a bitch, Claire thought. When I get back I'll show him who's President! I'll personally put a bullet in the bastard's mouth!
She finished the cereal and struggled out of the bed, hobbling on a still-sore left ankle toward the kitchen. She had to get to a phone so she could let them know at government headquarters she was still alive. She'd be damned if she was going to let this peace proposal go any further!
"Bettye Jean," she said from the door to the kitchen.
Bettye Jean looked over her shoulder from the sink where she was washing dishes. "Oh, you scared me, Mary."
"Bettye Jean," Claire said, handing her the bowl and spoon, "I've got to get to a phone. How far is it to the nearest one?"
Bettye Jean pursed her lips, thinking. "Oh, 'bout five mile down the road. There's a gas station there that has a phone on the wall." She shook her head. "Course, they don't often have any gas to sell, since that crazy Osterman lady done started this here war."
"But she had to," Claire said, exasperated that this simple country woman couldn't understand the dangers the country faced from Ben Raines and his Rebels. "She had to protect the country against the Rebel Army."
Bettye Jean put her finger to her lips. "Shhh, don't you let Billy Bob hear you takin' up fer that bitch. He's liable to take a switch to you, or worse," she said, naked fear in her eyes.
"Do you think he'll take me down to the gasoline station in your pickup?"
"I doubt it, Mary. He says we don't got no gas to waste on foolishness, what with it costin' five dollars a gallon now, when they got any."
Claire was getting awfully tired of the crap this hillbilly named Billy Bob was always spouting. She sighed. It was time to take matters into her own hands before it was too late and Otis Warner and his crowd screwed everything up beyond repair.
"Okay, Bettye Jean. You go on back to your dishwashing and I'll go out back and ask him myself."
"'Member now, don't go sayin' nothin' 'bout that Osterman woman, or you'll git a beatin'."
Claire's lips curled in a sneer. "Oh, I think Billy Bob's beating days are over."
She left the kitchen, Bettye Jean staring at her back with a worried look on her face. Claire went down the hallway to the Holts' bedroom and opened the closet door. Leaning in a corner was a double-barreled shotgun. Bettye Jean had told her Billy Bob always kept it loaded with 00-buckshot.
Claire picked it up, broke open the barrel, and checked the loads. Both barrels full. She clicked it shut, put it over her shoulder, and headed out back to where the hogs and chickens were.
"Here, chick, chick, chick," Billy Bob was saying as he scattered a few meager handfuls of grain for the hens. A bucket of slops was next to his feet, intended for the rather skinny hog in a makeshift pen a few yards away.
"Billy Bob," Claire called to his back. "I need a ride down the road to the gas station. I need to make a phone call."
Without turning around, he answered, "I ain't got gas to waste on you and yore foolishness, woman. Now git back to the house and hep Bettye Jean with her chores."
Claire's face flushed in anger. No one had talked like that to her in ten years, and she wasn't about to let this inbred idiot do it now.
"I don't think so, Billy Bob," she said in a low, dangerous voice.
"You sassin' me, woman?" he said as he turned around, eyes widening as he saw the long-barreled shotgun cradled in her arms.
"What you doin' with my scattergun?" he asked.
"Thanking you for your hospitality, you dumb son of a bitch," she said, her eyes sparkling with excitement as she pulled the trigger.
The shotgun exploded, twisting her half around as the heavy load blew Billy Bob backward to land half in the hog pen.
"You'll have something special to eat tonight, hog," she said as she turned and walked up the hill toward the house.
Bettye Jean came running out of the door, her hands to her mouth when she saw what Claire had done.
"Oh, Mary," she screamed, tears running down her cheeks. "What'd you do that, fer?"
"I'm sorry, Bettye Jean, but I can't let you tell anyone I'm here until my people have a chance to come get me. It would be too dangerous with the attitude you mountain people have towards the government."
"Huh?" Bettye Jean asked.
"I'm truly sorry, Bettye Jean. You were really nice to me, but you had the misfortune to become involved in things more important than your miserable life."
The shotgun exploded again, knocking Bettye Jean backward through the screened-in rear porch, dead before she hit the ground.
Claire took the keys to their battered pickup truck off a nail on the kitchen wall. She reloaded the shotgun, just in case, and started toward the gasoline station down the road. It was time to call in the troops.