Ian Slater: Payback

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Ian Slater Payback
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Payback: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Old soldiers never die. They just come back for more. Three terrorist missiles have struck three jetliners filled with innocent people. America knows this shock all too well. But unlike 9/11, the nation is already on a war footing. The White House and Pentagon are primed. All they need now is a target and someone bold — and expendable — enough to strike it. That someone is retired Gen. Douglas Freeman, the infamous warrior who has proved his courage, made his enemies, and built his legend from body-strewn battlegrounds to the snake pits of Washington. Using a team of “retired” Special Forces operatives and a top-secret, still-unproven stealth attack craft, Freeman sets off to obliterate the source of the missiles, a weapons stockpile in North Korea. Some desktop warriors expect Freeman to fail — especially when an unexpected foe meets his team on the Sea of Japan. But Freeman won’t turn back even as his plan explodes in his face and the Pacific Rim roils over — because this old soldier can taste his ultimate reward…

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Ian Slater



Fort Lewis, Washington State

“You tense, Doctor?” Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Lesand asked the chief scientist from DARPA, Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. A dozen military and civil VIPs had gathered in the open in the ice-cold, pine-scented fall morning for the final test of DARPA’s latest expensive and most secret equipment project. If the test was successful, it would save countless American lives and justify the American taxpayers’ unwitting subsidization of the multimillion-dollar program. If it failed, heads would roll.

“Of course I’m nervous,” said the DARPA man. “I don’t know why you people from the Pentagon don’t trust us. We could’ve done this back in the Seattle lab.”

I trust you,” said Michael Lesand, with an ill-concealed smirk. “It’s just that some of the Joint Chiefs and my other colleagues here have seen the difference between a controlled lab situation, where ideal windage, humidity, and a perfect dummy are used, and a dummy in typical outdoor battle conditions, like this morning, when you can’t jig with the variables. No offense.”

“None taken,” said the engineer, his forehead creased with worry lines as he looked around at the other VIPs and the small crowd of assistants and Humvee drivers who had congregated by a copse of Ponderosa pines, a group of four Fort Lewis infantrymen assembling, or at least wrestling with, what at the moment was still known only as Item A-10437-B/215 in DARPA’s inventory. The engineer did a double take when he saw General Douglas Freeman, immediately identifiable in his long Russian Army coat, amid the invited guests.

“What the hell’s Freeman doing here?”

“A mistake,” said Lesand. “Apparently some kid in Fort Lewis’s admin thought he was still on the active list and issued an invitation. While this equipment was his idea before he had to retire because of his age, someone in admin forgot that he’s no longer on the active or even the reserve roster. But it was too embarrassing, I guess, for Fort Lewis’s CO to send a ‘stay away’ letter, so they let it ride. When the young go-getters at the Pentagon heard about him being invited, the joke was that there must be a ‘has been’ list.”

“I’ll go with that,” said the engineer. “His day is done.”

“I agree,” concurred General Lesand. “Uh-oh, here he comes. Get ready for a lecture on how this item was all his idea or a lecture on the damned superiority of the Russian Army greatcoat.” Lesand was smiling at Freeman as he approached, but while the retired general was still out of earshot, Lesand said, “What an eccentric. Should have been put out to pasture long ago.”

“Morning, gentlemen,” said General Douglas Freeman, the man who had so often been mistaken on the street as a look-alike for the late actor George C. Scott, who had portrayed Patton, one of Freeman’s heroes, in the movie of the same name.

“Morning,” said Lesand, smiling. Freeman had already extended his right hand toward the civil engineer. “I’m Douglas Freeman. And you are—?”

“Dr. Klein,” responded the DARPA scientist, unsmiling. “We’ve met once before, I think. You were giving a lecture at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. ‘Soldiers on Water’ I believe was the title of your presentation.”

“You’ve got a damn good memory,” said Freeman, obviously pleased.

“What are you doing these days, General?” asked Lesand. “I seem to remember you used to put on the odd golf tournament for your old Third Army officers?”

Freeman ignored Lesand’s baiting tone in his use of “odd” and “old.” What was it Kipling had advised? “If you can fill the unforgiving moment with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…”

“Yes,” said Freeman, his breath turning to mist the moment it hit the cold air that had been sweeping down eastward from the majestic mountains of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. “I used to organize the occasional golf game. But as for the game itself, I was never really a big fan. I take the Scottish view, gentlemen, that golf is a good walk ruined.” Neither Lesand nor Klein would give him the courtesy of a laugh. In fact, Lesand was out to bait him further, to fill the time during which the restive invitees were stomping their feet to keep warm while the Army foursome continued to have some difficulty assembling DARPA’s dummy.

“Tell me, General,” said Lesand, as if the thought just happened by. “You still believe that George Washington stood in the prow of that boat while he crossed the Delaware? Someone mentioned it in the mess here this morning.”

“Mentioned what?” said Freeman. “The painting?”

“No, no — someone was chuckling about you still believing that, uh, Washington actually stood in the prow as that painter portrayed him. I was just wondering whether you still hold that view.” Lesand smiled condescendingly. “I mean, that Washington actually stood up in the prow with all those great chunks of ice floating around?”

“Yes,” answered Freeman decisively. “And I’ll tell you why, General Lesand. That artist, Emmanuel Leutze, painted the wrong damn boat, and everyone — including you, I presume — fell for it. Fact is that Washington used a Durham boat, which was sixty feet long, three times the size of that little boat in the painting. And besides, a Durham’s a damn sight heavier than that weensie rowboat Leutze depicted.”

Dr. Klein nodded with newfound respect, a scientist’s respect, for Freeman — if not for the man whom the Pentagon called a “loose cannon” then for the man’s encyclopedic grasp of myriad details.

Freeman, not usually one to turn the other cheek when a smart-ass had tried to set him up, nevertheless decided to move off before his blood pressure ignored Kipling’s poetic line to take a deep breath and walk away from needless argument. “I’ll see you after the demonstration,” he said, and walked away.

“Well,” said the Army Chief of Staff, who’d overheard his Air Force colleague’s baiting of Freeman. “He made a fool of you, Mike, about that painting.”

“The day’s young,” said Lesand petulantly. “He’ll trip over his ego — it’s as tall as that ankle-to-crown coat he hauls about. He looks ridiculous.”

Perhaps the general did look a mite quixotic in his long Russian coat, but Douglas Freeman, who had fought the so-called Soviet advisors in Vietnam, had learned a thing or two about coats and all manner of things during his now-legendary exploits overseas. He wasn’t a man who’d turn against the tradition of his own country, indeed he loved tradition, but he had a markedly objective mind when it came to evaluating tactics, strategy, and equipment. He’d learned that the Russian Army greatcoat was unique in its ability to keep a soldier warm in the worst of winters. A Russian soldier who knew how to wrap himself up properly in the ankle-to-crown greatcoat could spend a night outside in the normally killing subzero temperatures of the Russian taiga and survive to fight the next day. The general remembered how in the sixties, when a Soviet infantryman got hypothermia and died while on a winter maneuver and news of the man’s death filtered up to the Kremlin, a bemedaled Soviet marshal, a veteran of the great winter offensives against the German Wehrmacht, banged his fist on his desk, declaring, “Have Soviet soldiers forgotten how to sleep in their overcoats?” and summoned over 170 generals for an emergency meeting. The “meeting” was a refresher lecture by the marshal himself on how a soldier could sleep out in the bone-numbing Russian winter and survive if he knew how to use his greatcoat properly. To make sure his generals got the point, the marshal promptly issued each of the generals with a regular soldier’s greatcoat and ordered them out into a bitterly cold Moscow night. They would stay warm or die. For his own part, Freeman had once ordered his officers in the Third Army to spend a week in the Sonoran Desert, learning how to cope if, through either accident or faulty manufacture or failure or resupply, their boots were no longer useful. They were ordered by Freeman to negotiate an attack route in their bare feet. Freeman, also in bare feet, led from the point, which was precisely why he believed, contrary to “expert” opinion, that General George Washington had stood in the prow of the long Durham boat. It was just the kind of command stance, Freeman believed, that Washington’s men, who had been led out of near utter defeat to victory in that dreadful winter of 1776–77, had come to expect.

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