Authors: Jerry Ahern
THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
#2 in the Survivalist series
ZEBRA BOOKS KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
are published by
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
Park Avenue South New York, N.Y.
Copyright © 1981 by Jerry Ahem
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be re-produced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
Printed in the United States of America
For Jack Ahern
my father, God bless his soul
Ihope he would have liked this. If there is a heaven, that's his address.
Any resemblance to characters living or dead, actual places, products, firms,
organizations or other entities is purely coincidental.
General Ishmael Varakov buttoned the collar of his greatcoat and pulled the sealskin chopka down lower on his balding head. "Chicago—another Moscow," he muttered to himself, shivering, standing in the doorway of his helicopter and staring across the sea of mud at the icy, wind-tossed Lake Michigan waters beyond. "Bahh!" he grunted, starting down the rubber-treaded three steps leading to the damp ground. He stared at the massive edifice less than twenty-five yards distant. He didn't bother to look for the name—it had been the Museum of Natural History, given to the city of Chicago for a world's fair decades earlier and bearing the name of a capitalist, Varakov thought he recalled.
"Put up a new name," he said, turning to his young female aide, watching her legs a moment as the wind whipped at the hem of her skirt. "You are freezing—come inside. But the new name I want should reflect that this is headquarters for the North American Army of Occupation of the Soviet Peoples' Republic—make a note of this when your hands stop trembling with the wind."
He walked ahead, spurning the blotchy red carpet waiting for him between the ranks of Kalashnikov-armed, blustery-faced troops, crossing the mud instead, his mirror-shined jackboots sinking at times several inches into the mire under the mass of his two hundred eighty-five pounds.
He stopped, standing at the base of the long low steps, scraping the mud from the soles of his footgear and staring up at the building.
"Comrade General Varakov!"
Varakov turned, staring at the major standing at rigid attention on his left. Varakov returned the salute, less than formally and grunted, "What is it, major?"
"General! I have the seventeen partisans ready."
Varakov just stared at the major, then somewhere at the back of his mind he remembered the radio dispatch given him when he had landed at Inter-national Airport, northwest of the city, before trans-ferring to his helicopter. He could recall it clearly enough—seventeen armed partisans had been cap-tured after attacking one of the first Soviet scout patrols sent into the city. The seventeen—three of them women—had killed twelve Soviet soldiers. The partisans had survived the neutron radiation when Chicago was bombed, having taken refuge in an underground shelter. They had been armed with American sporting guns.
"I will come, major," Varakov nodded, then stopped scraping the mud from his boots—looking in the direction the major pointed, Varakov could see there was more mud. The major walked beside him, Varakov's young female aide a respectable distance behind. As Varakov stepped into the mud again, he silently wondered what it had been like here on the lakefront when the waters had so suddenly risen. The planetarium less than a quarter mile away had been badly damaged, the museum—now headquarters— barely touched. The brunt of the force of the Seiche that had swamped much of the city, destroying every-thing in its path like a tidal wave, had hit the northern shoreline. The houses and apartments of the rich capitalists had been there and were now in ruins. Varakov did not smile at the thought. The rich, too, had a right to life.
Varakov stared up from the mud, noticing the major had stopped. Looking ahead, Varakov saw the seventeen—some of them little more than children, none of them over twenty, he judged. He transferred his stare from the wall where they stood—hands bound, eyes blindfolded—and looked to the squad of six men, submachine guns in their gloved hands.
"Would you care to give the order to fire, comrade general?" the major asked.
"No—no, they are your prisoners." Then, stifling his own emotions, he added, "It is your honor."
The major beamed, executed a salute which Varakov—again less than formally—returned.
The major executed an about-face and walked to a position beside the firing squad.
Varakov did not turn away as the six-man squad began their steady stream of automatic fire, the seventeen Americans in front of the wall starting to crumple. One tried running, his eyes still blind-folded, hands still tied, and he fell facedown into the mud as two of the soldiers fired at him at once. Varakov looked again. The one who had tried running had been a young girl, not a man. As the last body fell, Varakov stared at the wall—it was chipped with bullet pocks and there were a few dark stains— either from blood or from the mud that had splashed as the dead people had fallen.
Mechanically—still shivering—Varakov grunted, "Very good, comrade major," this time not saluting at all.
Varakov wiggled his toes in his white boot socks under the massive leather-covered desk at the far end of the central hall. He looked up, for what must have been, he felt, the hundredth time, at the Egyptian murals on the upper walls. "Catherine," he grunted, looking across the room at the young aide rising from her desk and starting across the azure-blue carpet toward him.
"Never mind walking here— order lights. This is too dark here. Go!"
She started a formal about-face and he waved her away, looking back to the reports littering his desk, Varakov glanced at the Swiss-movement watch on his left wrist and leaned back into his leather chair. There were ten minutes remaining before the intelli-gence meeting. He rubbed the tips of his fingers heavily across his eyelids and stood up—he hated intelligence meetings because he resented, distrusted and—secretly—feared and despised the vast power of the KGB. He recalled the "mysterious" crash of a plane carrying top-level Soviet naval officers not long before the war had begun—
it had been nothing more than a crash.
Varakov stood up, looked down to his open uniform blouse and stocking feet and shrugged his shoulders. As commanding general, he had some advantages, he reflected. He left the tunic unbut-toned and walked away from his desk. There were long, low, winding stairs at the rear of the hall leading up to the mezzanine that overlooked the central hall, and he took these, slowly under his ponderous overweight, clinging to the rail as he scaled to the top. There were low benches several feet from the mezzanine rail, and he sat on the nearest of these and stared down into the hall. A massive, life-size sculpture dominated the center, of two mastodons fighting to the death. A smile lifted the corner of Varakov's sagging cheeks. One of the mastodons appeared to be winning the struggle for supremacy. But to what avail—mastodon as a species was now extinct, vanished forever from the earth.
"I've been meaning to ask you," Rubenstein began, wiping his red bandana handkerchief across his high, sweat-dripping forehead. "Out of all those bikes back there at the crash site, why did you take that particular one?"
Rourke leaned forward on the handlebars of his motorcycle, squinting down at the road below them, the intense desert sun rising in waves, visible despite the dark-lensed aviator-framed glasses he wore. "Couple of reasons," Rourke answered, his voice low. "I like Harley Davidsons, I already have a Low Rider like this," and, almost affectionately, Rourke patted the fuel tank between his legs, "back at the survival retreat. It's about the best combination going for off-road and road use—good enough on gas, fast, handles well, lets you ride comfortably. I like it, I guess," he concluded.
"You've got reasons for everything, haven't you, John?"
"Yeah," Rourke said, his tone thoughtful, "I usually do. And I've got a very good reason why we should check out that truck trailer down there—see?" and Rourke pointed down the sloping hillside and along the road.
"Where?" Rubenstein said, leaning forward on his bike.
"That dark shape on the side of the road; I'll show you when we get there," Rourke said quietly, revving the Harley under him and starting off down the slope, Rubenstein settling himself on the motorcycle he rode and starting after, as Rourke glanced back over his shoulder at the smaller man.
Perspiration dripped from Rourke's face as well as he hauled the Harley up short and waited at the base of the slope for Rubenstein. Lower down, the air was even hotter. He glanced at the fuel gauge on the bike—just a little over half. As he automatically began calculating approximate mileage, Rubenstein skidded to a halt beside him. "You've gotta watch those hills, pal," Rourke said, the corners of his mouth raising in one of his rare smiles.
"Yeah—tell me about it. But I'm gettin' to control it better."
"All right—you are," Rourke said, then cranked his bike into gear and started across the narrow expanse of ground still separating them from the road. Rourke halted a moment as they reached the highway, stared down the road toward the west and started his motorcycle in the direction of his gaze. The sun was just below its zenith, and as far as Rourke was able to tell they were already into Texas and perhaps seventy-five miles or less from El Paso. The wind in his face and hair and across his body from the slipstream of the bike as it cruised along the highway was hot, but it still had some cooling effect on his skin—already he could feel his shirt, sticking to his back with sweat, starting to dry. He glanced into his rearview mirror and could see Paul Ruben-stein trying to catch up.
As he zeroed toward the ever-growing dark spot ahead of them on the highway, his mind flashed back to the beginning of the curious partnership between himself and the younger man. Though trained as a physician, Rourke had never practiced. After several years with the CIA in Latin American Covert Opera-tions, his interests in weapons and survival skills had qualified him as an "expert"—he wrote and taught on the subject around the world. Rubenstein had been a junior editor with a trade magazine publisher in New York City—he was an "expert" on pipe fittings and punctuation marks. But they had two important things in common. They had both survived the crash of the rerouted 747 which Rourke had been taking to Atlanta in order to rejoin his wife and children in northeastern Georgia. That night of the thermo-nuclear war with Russia had seemingly gone on forever. And now Rourke and Rubenstein shared another bond here in the west Texas desert. Both men had to reach the Atlantic southeast. For Paul Rubenstein, there was the chance that his aged parents might still be alive, that St. Petersburg, Florida, had not been a Soviet target and that the violence after the war had not claimed them. For Rourke—in his mind he could see the three faces before him—there was the hope that his wife and two children were alive. The farm where they had lived in northeast Georgia would have survived the bombs that had fallen on Atlanta. But there were the chances of radiation, food shortages, murderous brigands— all of these to contend with. Rourke swallowed hard as he wished again that his wife, Sarah, would have allowed him to teach her some of the skills that now might enable her to stay alive.
Rourke skidded the Harley into a tight left, realizing he was almost past the abandoned truck trailer. He took the bike in a tight circle around it as Rubenstein approached. As he completed the 360 degrees he stopped alongside the younger man's machine. "Common carrier," Rourke said softly. "Abandoned. After we run the Geiger counter over it we can check what's inside—might be something useful. Shut off your bike. I don't think we're gonna find any gas here."
Rourke gave the Geiger counter strapped to the back of his Harley to Rubenstein and watched as the smaller man carefully checked the truck trailer. The radiation level proved normal. Rourke walked up to the double doors at the rear of the trailer and visually inspected the lock.
"You gonna shoot it off?" Rubenstein was asking, suddenly beside him.
Rourke turned and looked at him. "You've gotten awful violent lately, haven't you? We got a prybar?"
"Nothin' big," the other man said.
"Well," Rourke said, drawing the Metalifed Colt Python from the holster on his right hip,
"then I guess I'm going to shoot it off. Stand over there," and Rourke gestured back toward the motorcycles. Once Rubenstein was clear, Rourke took a few steps back, and on angle to the lock, raised the Magn-Na-Ported six-inch barrel on line with the lock and thumbed back the hammer. He touched the first finger of his right hand to the trigger, his fist locked on the Colt Medallion Pachmayr grips, and the .357 Magnum 158-grain semijacketed soft point round slammed into the lock, visibly shattering the mechanism. Rourke holstered the revolver. As Rubenstein started for the lock, Rourke cautioned, "It might be hot," but Rubenstein was already reaching for it, pulling his hand away as his fingers contacted the metal.