Freedom's Sons: Prologue
They were the men with a vision, the men with a cause,
The men who defied their oppressor’s laws,
The men who traded their chains for guns.
Born into slavery, they were Freedom’s Sons.
-Irish song from the Easter 1916 Rebellion
Remember, Remember, the First of November
(10 days after Longview)
At 7:30 sharp on the morning of November the first, an artillery shell from an eight-inch howitzer ripped through the air with a sound like tearing cardboard from the Washington side of the Columbia River. The shell crashed into the Union positions along the Oregon side, and vaporized a mobile home business office standing on a side street behind the scorched and crumpled ruins of the Portland Expo Center. The shell blasted dirt and shrapnel through the air, and drove a flying four-inch nail into the buttocks of United States Marine Corps lieutenant Abdul Malik Johnson.
“Muthafukka!” screamed Johnson in pain and rage. He turned to his fellow African-American lying in a prone position beside him, Sergeant Alvin Pettibone, who was wearing the blue-black uniform of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Police Organization. “Racist muthafukkas done shot me in de ass!” he howled. Then he saw that Pettibone’s head was gone. “Fuck! I tole you not to look up when you gots incoming, fool!”
The Washington side of the river began to flash and smoke, and thunder rolled across the water like a gigantic hollow drumroll as the rest of the Nationalist guns and rocket launchers opened up. Great geysers of concrete, asphalt, brick and wood leaped into the air all along Marine Drive, and projectiles plowed craters into the golf courses and parks where the Union artillery was dug in. The battle for Portland had begun.
* * *
On October 22nd, the Northwest American Republic officially came into existence as a homeland for all white people the world over. The Treaty had been signed five years to the day after the first open revolt in arms against the United States since 1861 occurred in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
The historic document was the culmination of ten weeks of increasingly strained negotiations at the peace conference in Longview, Washington. There had been a breakthrough at the last minute, when it had appeared that the talks were about to collapse, and the American delegation had signed the Treaty—some said at gunpoint by the delegation from the Northwest Volunteer Army. There had apparently been some kind of fracas prior to the signing, although the stories coming out of Longview were muddled. [See A Mighty Fortress by the same author.] Under the terms of the Longview Treaty, President Chelsea Clinton had ordered the withdrawal of all American legal, military, and governmental personnel from the territories in the Northwest designated by the treaty, specifically the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and the western third of Montana. Almost all of the American forces were now in the process of complying.
Here in Portland, though, USMC General Delmar Partman, a buzz-cut Alabamian and Christian fundamentalist of the Zionist and neoconservative 700 Club variety, had repudiated the Treaty. He refused to evacuate the City of Roses and hand it over to the new government. For the first time in the history of the Corps, a senior Marine officer mutinied against an order from his commander in chief. Partman delivered a long and meandering speech on live television just after the signing of the Longview Treaty, wherein he stated that his conscience would not allow him to hand over his command to “the forces of darkness and hatred.” He alone would stand up for “the conscience of history and the soul of America” by declining to deliver sovereign U.S. territory to “a gang of back-shooting white trash criminals.” Partman had then closed his TV address with an impromptu rendition of Jesus Loves the Little Children. The world was treated to the sight of a tall, leathery soldier in dress blues, his chest full of decorations, with tears streaming down his face as he sang
“Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world!”
No one in the media and no one in either the liberal or the neoconservative political élites seemed to find this behavior odd, nor did they see any irony in the fact that Partman was about to demonstrate Christ’s love for all the little children of the world by sending tens of thousands of men, women, and children of all races to their death in a brutal battle for a city that now legally belonged to someone else. Or if they did, they didn’t mention the fact. There was already a move afoot on the part of elements in both the Democrat and Republican parties to draft Partman as their nominee for President in the next national elections.
In the first official directive issued on behalf of the government of the new Northwest Republic, the Council of State—up until ten days ago the NVA Army Council—granted long-time Party activist and NVA veteran Carter Wingfield command of the new nation’s growing armed forces west of the Cascade mountains, then ordered him to dig Partman out of Portland and enforce the Treaty. The Council of State’s temporary chairman, Henry “Red” Morehouse, issued a brief public comment: “One hundred and fifty years or so ago there was another American military man out here in the Northwest who thought he would use a campaign against the natives as a springboard for the presidency. His name was Custer.”
At about 7:10 a.m. that morning, across the river from Portland on the Vancouver, Washington side, Carter Wingfield stood on the hood of a Humvee with a pair of field glasses, studying the American positions over in Oregon, or what he could see of them from the edge of the Interstate 5 bridge. The occasional bullet whined lazily over from the American side, followed by a chatter of automatic weapons as the Northwest Defense Force troopers on the I-5 bridge responded and tried to bag the sniper wherever he was hiding in the rubble from last night’s artillery barrage. Wingfield ignored the pot-shots. The morning was cold and crisp and bright, for which Wingfield was thankful. The Pacific Northwest is a paradise on earth at any season whenever the sky is clear. At least those of his men who had to die today would do so in the sunshine of their own Homeland.
Men were already dying. Below him and to his right across the river, Wingfield could see the still smoldering ruins of the Portland Expo Center and the burning buildings on Hayden Island, which had been destroyed by the Nationalist guns and mortars during the previous night’s barrage. Similar wreckage still burned and cast a pall of smoke into the air from behind him on the Washington side, the work of the American artillery. The Union troops hiding in the abandoned docks and warehouses and along the streets of the little island had all been driven off, the survivors scrambling across to the Oregon shore on motor launches and rubber rafts. Nationalist soldiers were now dug in all along the island shore firing at anything that moved in Oregon. Using his field glasses, through the smoke and the haze Wingfield could see the improvised barricades, sandbagged machine gun nests, and the concrete berms with which the enemy had blocked off the south ends of both twin suspension bridges. He could also see the federals dug in to the southeast, along Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard toward their primary base at Portland International Airport. In the further distance, across North Columbia Boulevard, the city proper began.
Wingfield was a lean, middle-aged man with a swept-back ducktail haircut who looked like an evil Elvis. Rank hath its privileges; in a newly formed army where most of the soldiers had so far been issued only bits and pieces of uniform items, and where many still wore the civilian clothes in which they had just fought a five-year guerrilla insurrection against the United States, he was dressed in one of the few complete Northwest Defense Force uniforms available so far. It was a fatigue outfit consisting of tiger-striped camouflage and a sharp-billed Alpine cap with brown laced boots. In his kit Wingfield also had an NDF garrison uniform in dark olive green, with tan trousers, high polished boots, and a billed cap. It looked remarkably like a British officer’s turnout from World War One, the pattern on which it had been based by an aesthetically minded design committee.
The camos bore a blue, white and green Northwest Tricolor flag patch on the right shoulder. Over the buttoned right shirt pocket and also on the headgear was a silver embroidered World War Two Wehrmacht eagle and swastika patch. The NDF’s Special Service élite units had been wearing the eagle on their tunics and also old Germanic SS runes on their collar tabs ever since the Party and the NVA had emerged from underground at the time of the ceasefire back in July, before the Longview Conference. Only yesterday, the Christian delegates to the Constitutional Convention now meeting in Olympia had been protesting against the eagle, wanting to substitute some kind of krinkeljammer that would not offend the sensibilities of paleoconservatives in their ranks who yearned for the 1950s. They could not break themselves of the habit of thinking of themselves as Americans, and they still mistakenly equated Hitler and National Socialism with Communism. Since many of the soldiers in the field and the bulk of the pre-Longview NVA veterans were outright National Socialists, or at least had NS tendencies, this was a hard sell.
Finally the Convention chairman, General Frank Barrow, newly arrived from the treaty conference at Longview, had worked out a compromise in which the Christians accepted a trade: the military got their eagle and swastika in exchange for adoption of a hymn by Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress, as the national anthem of the new Northwest American Republic. It was the song that had played on the loudspeakers as the first legal Tricolor flag had been raised over Longview ten days before.
Facing the NDF, and concentrated in the city of Portland itself and around the airport, was a motley crew of Unionists. The core group, Partman’s first line, was the United States Marine Corps Northwest Task Force, consisting of elements mostly from the Third Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton. But it also contained bits and pieces of everybody and everything else that the United States government had been able to scrape up back in January. The task force had first occupied the city after a single night’s running street battle between the NVA, the Portland police, and the Federal Anti-Terrorist Police Organization had destroyed sections of the city and left over a thousand cops, FBI and other secret police, and officers of the FATPO dead. [See The Brigade by the same author.] Now most of them were refusing to leave, following Partman’s mutinous lead, although there was a steady trickle of deserters slipping over the Columbia as white cops, soldiers and Marines went AWOL to join their racial brothers in the Nationalist army.
There were approximately 8,000 United States Marines and other active duty U.S. military presently under Partman’s command, from every branch of the service, including a U.S. Army Ranger battalion, part of a Stryker brigade, and several artillery batteries containing at least twenty-odd fieldpieces; NDF intelligence had confirmed 19, but there were almost certainly more deployed inside the city. In addition to the regular military personnel, Partman had under him about 12,000 members of FATPO, well armed and in theory highly trained, although of dubious personal quality and moral fiber, as well as about 4,000 Portland cops, Oregon State Police, and odds and sods of the Oregon National Guard, mostly non-whites of various kinds. Many of the white National Guard officers had deserted or had gone over to the new government.
Finally, Partman theoretically commanded an unknown number of ragbag, lightly armed and ill-disciplined “local militia” ranging from anti-NVA Christian and Unionist vigilante groups like the Loyal Americans’ League and the Oregon Watchmen, down to armed contingents of the Portland chapters of the Crips, the Bloods, the Salvadorean MS-13, and the Asian Ghost Shadows gang. Plus he had virtually every black, brown, yellow, and sodomitic person remaining in Portland, armed with whatever weapons they could lay hands on.
On paper at least, the NDF had the enemy outnumbered. Behind Wingfield on the Washington side of the river were 45,000 troops of what was officially designated the First Army, including tanks and artillery that had been captured or voluntarily handed over by defecting United States soldiers from Fort Lewis and other military installations. The Nationalist General Robert Gair had moved on Portland up Interstate 5 from Salem in the south, with 16,000 men of the Second Army, and his forces had pushed into the city as far as Highway 26, thus far meeting with little resistance. Gair’s men were now sheltering along the south side of Powell Boulevard, ready to begin the assault on Wingfield’s orders at 7:30. General Robert DiBella and his Third Army, mostly from Seattle, had crossed the newly repaired Longview Bridge on October 30th with 14,000 NDF, including 2,000 Special Service or SS men, the closest the emerging new Republic had to an élite force. At Clatskanie, Oregon, his force had joined with a smaller corps of 8,000 men under General Zack Hatfield, commander of the famous Wild Bunch guerrilla unit from the NVA days, bringing the Third Army up to around 22,000 troops assaulting Portland down Sunset Highway from the west, their major target being Partman’s headquarters at City Hall on Fifth Avenue in downtown Portland.
Those 83,000 men were a fair-sized army, but there were more. Inside the city itself there were the two small but lethal NVA Portland Brigades commanded by Commandants Billy Jackson and Tommy Coyle, the same men who had torn Portland to shreds and sent the Unionists running back to the shelter of their barracks in a panic-stricken rout back in January. The Portland brigades were the only Northwest rebel units that were still officially NVA instead of NDF, due to the underground nature of their operations in a city still heavily occupied by the Union. Nobody knew how they were deployed, including Wingfield, but he was in contact with both NVA brigade commanders and he knew they were ready to move on his signal at 7:30.
Some of the NDF’s troops were white soldiers who had deserted from the American forces, army and police, and sometimes even from FATPO itself. They were fairly young and fit, and passably trained. However, many more were either middle-aged Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran veterans who, while willing, were out of shape and out of practice, or else they were teenaged kids as young as 16. Some were even younger, having lied about their ages. The officers and some of the SS squads were Northwest Volunteers who had fought in the guerrilla war, but most of them were summer soldiers, volunteers of both genders who had joined the Northwest independence movement after the ceasefire in July when it emerged from underground and at last they could be located by those who wanted to enlist. Some had received only about three weeks of very basic training indeed, provided at impromptu camps set up around the Northwest in the weeks and months after the announcement of negotiations and the ceasefire.
The NDF also included a large and increasing number of foreign volunteers from all over what remained of the Western world, and some of them had military experience, but they were hard to integrate with the North American units due to language and other problems. They were formed into their own companies, battalions, and brigades of the International Division, including the St. George Brigade from England, the German Panzer Grenadiers, the Russian Archangel Michael Brigade, the Italian and Spanish Blue Brigade, the Viking Brigade from Scandinavia, the Scots Guards and the Irish Brigade, and the French and Quebecois Brigade Charlemagne.
Feeding this number of men was a problem; the NDF had been forced to confiscate stocks of canned goods and other foodstuffs from grocery store chains up and down the coast and from the shops of Koreans and Arabs whose owners had fled. Most Northwestern cities had only a week’s worth of food and other supplies if over-the-road transport and resupply were cut off. With elements of the American government already working to undermine President Clinton and the Treaty and talking sanctions, just feeding the Northwest military was already starting to cause hardship. The implications for the civilian population were even worse; there were reports of runs on grocery stores and food hoarding from all over the new Republic.
The NDF troops were armed with a miscellany of small arms and other weapons. The bulk of them carried M16 variations, mostly M16A4s captured from enemy armories or else taken off the dead bodies of FATPOs and cops during the guerrilla war, but many also carried Kalashnikovs from large arms shipments sent to the NVA and NDF by certain sympathetic parties in Russia and parts unknown. The Nationalists had an adequate amount of ammunition for the moment, but a pitched battle would gobble it up like popcorn, and their ammo resupply was by no means certain. Artillery shells and rockets were especially limited; the coming day would use up almost all the NDF’s reserves. The retreating American forces were taking all their weapons and supplies with them or else destroying them rather than hand them over to the NDF. One of the reasons the Nationalists needed to capture Portland so badly, aside from political and morale considerations, was to seize the enemy’s arms and supply dumps.
About 200 yards in front of Wingfield’s position stood the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. The twin I-5 bridge was about two thirds of a mile long, a pair of identical conjoined steel truss bridges, three northbound and three southbound lanes running side by side, that normally carried interstate traffic over the river between Vancouver and Portland. On the Oregon end the Americans had installed formidable barricades of concrete Bremer walls, behind which were unknown but significant numbers of Marines and U.S. Army Rangers. The Nationalist army had to cross the river on the bridges; there simply wasn’t enough aquatic transport to move all of them across, since the enemy’s artillery and mortars had swept the Washington shore of all boats.
Besides the I-5, there were other bridges across the Columbia River into Portland. There was the long and winding concrete I-205 bridge just upriver to the east, as well as a trestle railway bridge just downriver to the west. These were now the only way across for many miles; somehow Wingfield had to get a whole army over them and into the Union-occupied city, under fire, without them being massacred and without the bridges getting blown out from under them. He counted on the simultaneous assault of the Second and Third Armies and the NVA forces within the city to keep the bulk of Partman’s forces busy and tied down in place, but forcing these narrow bridges in the face of entrenched opposition could only be bloody.
Some days before, when it became obvious how the coming battle would shape up and what role the bridges would play, a special NVA commando team from within the city had captured and destroyed the diesel generator in the control house on the center of the I-5 bridge, in order to stop Partman from raising the midsection. The previous night, squads of NDF had occupied most of it almost to the very end on the Portland side, where they now crouched behind the steel stanchions, sandbagged emplacements, and anything concrete that could offer cover, exchanging desultory fire with the Americans behind their own sandbags and concrete Bremer walls. During the night teams of NDF had conducted an extended examination by flashlight, some of them swinging below the bridges on rappelling lines, and they had confirmed that the Union forces had wired the central load-bearing columns of all three bridges with heavy charges of explosives, set to blow with radio-controlled detonators. The entire night had been spent in locating the charges, disarming and removing them, rappelling men down under the columns to remove them where necessary, sometimes under fire. Why the supposedly experienced veteran commander General Partman had not given the order to detonate the explosives once he realized they had been discovered remained a mystery.
On the ground at Wingfield’s side stood a young man wearing an NDF captain’s uniform, his adjutant and former son-in-law, Shane Ryan. “I guess now we know why Partman didn’t blow the bridges before,” he said. “He wanted to catch us coming across and blow all our asses into the river.”
“Yeah. He was being too damned clever for his own good,” drawled Wingfield, sweeping the enemy shore with his field glasses. The South Carolina Low Country where
Wingfield had been born was still embedded in his speech despite all the years he had now spent in Washington state.
“Didn’t he think we’d be smart enough to check the bridges out for booby traps before we moved out?” wondered Ryan aloud.
Wingfield barked out a snarling and contemptuous laugh. “You heard him on TV, Shane. He thinks we’re just a bunch of dumb-ass rednecks. Even after the past five years, while we whipped everything the Americans could throw at us down into jelly, he still holds us in contempt. These assholes still can’t believe they’ve been beaten by ordinary working white folks who finally had enough of their bullshit.”
“But why the hell didn’t Partman order the bridges blown once he realized that we had found his explosives?” the young officer wondered. “What the hell is he up to?”
“He wants us to attack across the bridges,” replied Wingfield. “He’s daring us to do it. He’s got a strong defensive position and he thinks we can’t force it. Even if we do get all the charges, he thinks he can still just shoot us down like fish in a barrel when we try. It’s the same kind of hubris we’ve seen ever since this started. That ridge-running bush ape just can’t believe we have the guts to go up against him and his gyrenes head-on.”
“Is he right?” asked Shane. “I mean, can he hold us off? This looks like a death trap to me.”
“Maybe. Fact is we’ve got no choice. It’s our land now, and he’s on it. We gotta show him the door, and do it in front of the whole world. We have to prove we ain’t just a bunch of back-shooting peckerwood thugs like he called us, that the Northwest Republic is now a sovereign state, and we brook no insult or trespass from buzz-cut red-white-and-blue dummocks. We always knew that one day it would come to this. No more shoot and scoot. This time we throw down head on, face to face.”
“It would be a real bonus if we can take the airport intact,” said Ryan. “No holes in the tarmac.”
“Not sure how many people will be flying in and out, though, if those snakes in Congress renege on the Treaty and impose sanctions,” replied the older man.
“Do we have any word on whether or not the enemy satellite surveillance is active?” Ryan asked. “I really don’t like the idea of them being able to watch every move we make over here. Wish to hell we could find some way to take those goddamned spy satellites out.”
“I think after last night’s festivities, Partman definitely knows we’re here,” replied Wingfield. “He don’t need no Eye In The Sky to tell him that. And yes, they may be watching us now on laptops with satellite uplinks. If that’s the case then there’s not much we can do about it. Nor for that matter can Partman. He’s made a politically bad move here. For all his posturing on CNN and Fox News and all his cheering section in Congress, he can’t expect any backup from his former masters in Washington, D.C. They did everything they could to stall us and divert us at Longview, but they wouldn’t have buckled and signed the Treaty in the end if they didn’t understand that their whole ball of wax is about to go down, including their precious goddamned Israel, and they have to let us go if they want to survive with any of their power and privilege intact. The decision’s been made in the back rooms of power, whether Partman accepts it or not. The United States can’t afford the Northwest any more, and so they’re cutting us loose. Besides, all the intelligence in the world doesn’t do you any good if your soldiers are crap. You can’t drive a nail with a marshmallow. The human spirit is greater than any machine, Shane. We’ve already beaten these bastards just by being here, it’s just that buzz-cut jarhead over there is too stupid to get it.”
“Or he just wants to be president, and he doesn’t care how many more people have to die so he can look good in the primaries,” said the young officer bitterly.
“Well, let’s just make sure he doesn’t make it to the primaries,” replied Wingfield with a scowl. The wireless phone set in his ear buzzed.
“The last disposal team is coming in off the 205, sir,” said a voice from the phone in Wingfield’s ear. “Looks like one of our guys was hit. They’re heading your way to get to the MASH.”
“Did they get all the charges?” asked Wingfield. “Never mind, I’m coming down.” He jumped down and got into the Humvee, and the adjutant started the vehicle and headed for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital which had been established in an abandoned aircraft hangar at Pearson Field on the Vancouver side, as close to the I-5 bridge as they dared, in anticipation of the stream of casualties that would be coming from across the bridge later in the day.
When they got to Pearson Field, an NDF sergeant in tiger stripes was staggering off the back of a pickup truck, which had been re-painted flat gray with a blue, white and green roundel on the doors and with a bright red cross in a white circle on the hood. He was carrying a wounded comrade over his shoulders. An NDF paramedic and a young, pretty blonde nurse in camos and a Red Cross armband ran out the door of the hangar pushing a gurney. “Put him on here,” commanded the nurse.
“He’s a she,” said the soldier from the bridge, helping the nurse ease the unconscious body onto the gurney. “She was crawling to the edge of the bridge to toss one of the charges into the river and one of their snipers hit her. For Christ’s sake, help her!” he burst out.
“Do you know her blood type?” demanded the corpsman.
“A-positive,” came the reply.
“Yeah, check her arm.” The medic quickly rolled up the girl’s right sleeve and saw A+ written in black on the inside of her forearm, along with “Arnold, B.” The NDF hadn’t been able to make up dogtags for its soldiers yet, and so most of them wore their names and blood types inked on their bodies with Sharpies.
The paramedic said, “Kelly, start her on a plasma IV, then let’s get her in to your dad.” The nurse quickly raised the IV rig over the gurney and hooked a plastic bag over the hook.
Wingfield looked down at the wounded Volunteer while this was being done, and he saw a single long blonde braid coming out from under the woman’s cap. “Did this comrade not receive my order regarding no female personnel under direct fire?” he demanded in exasperation.
“Yes sir, she did,” responded the sergeant wearily, “She just ignored it. Don’t go too hard on her, sir. Brooke’s Mandingo.”
“Ah.” No one commented; they now knew that the bleeding woman on the gurney was wearing the Northwest uniform and she had been out on that bridge because she had been raped by blacks or Mexicans. No one knew how many female Northwest Volunteers were Mandingo, nor did anyone ever try to compile any statistics; it was something that was understood to be the case, but never discussed. There was blood running down the left side of the sergeant’s camos, and Wingfield saw that wasn’t all the girl’s, but was burbling out from beneath the male trooper’s arm. “Looks like you stopped one yourself, sarge,” said Wingfield. “What’s your name?”
“Art McBride, sir. It’s just a bee sting. A Dick Tracy special. Don’t worry about it.”
“Bullshit,” said the young nurse as her companion wheeled the wounded woman into the hangar. “Get your ass inside and let me look at that, troop. You’re lucky, you’re getting in before the rush.”
“Wait a minute, I need to talk to him a bit, Nurse …”
“Shipman, sir. Kelly Shipman. I’m not a real nurse, I just learned a lot from my dad. I guess I have a military rank, but nobody’s told me what it is. Take off your shirt while you’re talking,” she ordered McBride, helping him off with the bloodstained camo tunic.
“Did you get all the charges off the 205?” demanded Wingfield. “Which lane were you on?”
“Northbound, sir. Shit!” The nurse had just slapped an alcohol-and-iodine-soaked gauze pad over the bullet graze. “Brooke and I got three between the middle span and their first barricade. About twenty pounds of Semtex and a dozen sticks of C4 apiece. They had them packed into hollowed-out holes right over the section joins. They would have leveled the whole bridge, no question. Third Section told us that’s all there was on northbound. If that was good intel, then we got them all.” He held up three long, thin brass detonators with power bulbs attached. “Pulled the dets, cut the strapping with tin snips and dropped the charges in the drink.”
“How hot was it out on the bridge?” asked Wingfield.
“Not near as hot for us as it was in the southbound lanes. I think those are Rangers on the 205, but whatever they are, the SS guys covered us pretty good and made them keep their heads down. But one of them got Brooke, God damn him to hell!”
“I was there, sir,” spoke up the driver of the pickup truck, a young man wearing blue jeans and tiger-stripe camo shirt with SS tabs. “The sarge here carried that girl a good quarter mile to our first barricade on the 205.”
“Well, we’re sort of engaged,” explained McBride. “I figured it was the considerate thing to do for my bride-to-be.”
“He also went back for the last charge, and when the Rangers came up over the barricade to try and stop him he killed two of them with a pistol,” the driver added. “Captain Kannino said to tell you that if there’s any medals going for today, these guys deserve two of them. He’s right.”
“Good man,” said Wingfield with an approving nod. “Well done, both of you. How’s she looking?” The paramedic had come back out of the aircraft hangar.
“Not so good,” said the man. “Because she was in the prone position when she was hit, the bullet got past her vest and into her chest cavity. She’s going on the table now. Kelly, your dad wants you in there.”
“God, do we even have any real doctors yet in this so-called MASH?” wondered Wingfield.
“We have at least one, sir,” replied the blonde. “My father, Doctor Edward Shipman. I called him in Seattle and told him that we needed him, begged him to come, and he came down. The NVA did our family a favor a while back. A Jew did something real bad to me, and you guys took care of it. We’re grateful and we owe you, and I was able to make my dad see that. He still won’t wear the uniform, though. Can’t handle the eagle.” She escorted the wounded Sergeant McBride into the hangar.
Wingfield scowled after her. “I’m sorry if my order to keep our female comrades out of direct combat ruffled their feathers, and I know they’re all as brave as lions or they wouldn’t be here, but dammit, Shane, I’m just one of these old dinosaurs who doesn’t believe men should send women to do their fighting for ‘em!” he groused. “You of all people know I had two daughters in the Volunteers back when it was necessary, and one of them died. I saw what losing Rooney did to you, and I know what it did to me, what it still does to me every day. I’m sorry, but I won’t inflict that grief on any other father or husband if I can help it. [See A Distant Thunder by the author.] Now, I wonder if China is bothering to follow my order, or has she done crept off to the line somewhere as well?”
“China might well disobey a general, but don’t worry, sir, she wouldn’t disobey her father,” said Ryan. “You raised her too good a Christian to violate the commandment.”
Wingfield sighed. “Shane, I know this isn’t the time or the place, but once we get on top of things from the command post I intend to get my own ass over that bridge and lead from the front, and you’ll be with me. We don’t know how that’s going to play out, so I guess I better have a quick word I been meaning to have with you now. I just want to tell you that whatever you and China decide to do about your lives together in the future, if there is anything that’s gonna happen there, then it’s all right with Racine and me.”
“I don’t know, Carter,” said Ryan shaking his head. “Uh, you know, we’re …”
“Yeah, I know where my daughter spends her nights, and my wife damned sure knows,” said Wingfield with a sour grin. “You know how we feel about that, but we just got too much else to worry about right now.”
“Well, Chine and I have talked about the future, some,” Shane told him. “I feel like I want us to get married, but I have to be really sure I’m doing it for the right reasons, because I want her, not because in some creepy way I’m trying to raise Rooney from the dead.”
“We get that. Well, I hope it works out for the two of you, son. Racine and me both want to keep you in the family.”
Ryan looked at his watch. “Almost time, sir.”
“Right. Let’s get up in that control tower. That should give us a bird’s-eye view. I want to watch the first shell hit.”
* * *
Frederick the Great once said that “artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl,” and the pride of the fledgling NDF was their captured or surrendered artillery and armor. The First Army was the proud owner and operator of fourteen M198 155mm howitzers, twelve M110A1 self-propelled 203mm (8-inch) guns, three British 105mm light howitzers that no one had the slightest idea where they’d come from, and six M109A6 self propelled 155s. The M198s had a standard crew of nine men, but could make do with five in a pinch. The M109s were designed for a crew of four and needed all four bodies. Fortunately for the NDF, America’s endless wars in the Middle East had spat out enough disgruntled white veterans from the artillery to provide gun crews for the fieldpieces. It was a motley collection and scarcely equivalent to the standard TO&E of an American infantry brigade, but it was the only heavy artillery the NDF had. Gair’s Second and DiBella’s Third Army had nothing larger than mortars and RPGs.
Then there were the rockets, on which Wingfield was placing more hope for this particular mission, i.e. getting his 45,000 men across the river. By hook or crook the First Army accumulated sixteen M270A1 70mm 12-rocket launchers and eighteen M142 270mm HIMARS (High Mobility) launchers that only packed six rockets, but those six were larger and had a longer range. Added to those were a number of truck-mounted Katyusha rockets provided by the aforementioned mysterious Russian sympathizers, as well as homemade weapons the NVA had used during the guerrilla campaign, called whizz-bangs. Even the higher-tech rockets were not precision weapons, but used as an area weapon, they could be devastating, and one big heavy sustained blast was all Wingfield really needed—just enough to keep the enemy’s heads down and get his first wave alive across the bridges.
Then there were the NDF’s captured Stryker armored combat vehicles, M2 and M3 Bradleys with 25mm cannon, and even a few venerable Abrams M1 tanks. Each of these vehicles had been repainted in flat battleship gray, with blue, white and green roundels sprayed on them, or in some cases Iron Crosses in green or blue. Wingfield was confident his men and their equipment could defeat the Americans, if only he could get them across the river in one piece.
* * *
At 7:30 Wingfield stood in the airfield’s control tower and took a deep breath. “Right, let’s get this show on the road.” He spoke into his phone. “Let ‘er rip,” he said calmly. There was a long moment of silence, until a single M110 self-propelled gun in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park on the 6th Street side fired the shell that nailed Abdul Malik Johnson in the butt and took off Pettibone’s nappy head. Then all hell broke loose from along the Washington side of the river.
Cannon, mortar and rocket fire ripped and slashed through the air and slammed into the Oregon shore, flashing on impact and throwing up columns of smoke and dust and debris. Partman’s guns responded and a few shells began streaking overhead and crumping into Vancouver along 15th Street and McLoughlin Boulevard. Partman’s gunners apparently thought the bulk of the Nationalists were further back from the shoreline than they were, or else they were overshooting due to bad intel and a lack of spotters. Wingfield watched some of the shells hit far behind them. “If they got satellite surveillance it don’t seem to be doing ‘em much good,” he commented. At any rate, they were missing the bulk of the NDF troops who were dug into foxholes and hunkered down in buildings and behind cover along the northern edge of the river.
All along the Lewis and Clark Highway, and along the shore across from Hayden Island, a series of whistles blew loudly, piercing even the thunder of the cannon and rocket fire. Around 22,000 armed men of the first assault wave rose from their dugouts and from the cover of the buildings where they had sheltered, and started walking. With few words they formed into files, and began walking up the on-ramps and across the bridges at a steady pace.
The men on the I-5 bridge had the shortest walk, but it was long enough. The aging steel beams and columns of the suspension served as partial cover from indirect fire, but also had a nasty tendency to send ricochets down into the marching column. The men on the I-205 bridge had the longest walk, well over a mile, and they were the most exposed to enemy fire because their bridge was much more open, but the men on the railroad trestle bridge were at the greatest risk, almost completely exposed to enemy fire. From the Oregon shore, audible even over the crash of the artillery, came the popping of American small arms. Partman’s Marines were opening up on the men on the bridges.
The Northwest Republic’s new army marched only in the right lanes, leaving the left lanes clear for medevac vehicles that scooted up and down to pull wounded men out of line and rush them back to the MASH units. It had been decided that the first crossing had to be made almost entirely by the men themselves, because of the risk that demolished and burning vehicles might end up blocking the bridge just as effectively as a Bremer wall.
On the 205 and I-5 bridges, each column was headed by a single huge Caterpillar front end loader with crudely shaped armor plating bolted around the cab. The driver was able to see only through slits in the steel that covered his windshield. Both machines had large heavy steel plates welded and clamped to their blades to stop rifle and machine gun fire, RPGs, and 40mm grenades, and to give the men at least some protection from direct fire on their front. On the railroad bridge a special armored and motorized boxcar had been built for the same purpose. The right flank men on the southbound bridge and the left flank on the northbound carried captured police mantlets and homemade shields slapped together with miscellaneous pieces of Bakelite, Kevlar, or steel plating, anything that might stop a bullet. The long lines of men walked stolidly forward, steeling themselves for the artillery they were sure would come and possibly the explosion and collapse if the special squads had missed any of the explosive charges the Americans had planted on the bridges.
Back up in the control tower on Pearson Field, Wingfield put his field glasses back into the case. “And they’re off to the races. Come on, Shane. We can’t see shit from here, so let’s get to the command post.” They climbed down from the tower and got back into the Humvee and took off for a brief ride northward.
The NDF’s command post for the assault on Portland had been set up inside the Marshall House, on Officer’s Row in the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site just north of Pearson Field. What had once been General Marshall’s main dining room, where he had feasted blue-coated officers of the nineteenth-century United States Army, was now in the hands of white men who hoped to defeat the descendants of those officers. A mass of tables and electronic communications gear filled the room, with the biggest map of Portland anyone could find hanging on the wall. A huge blue, white and green Tricolor flag hung along another wall of the dining room, and a number of large-screen televisions had been set up along another wall, most showing split screens and taking feeds from a variety of videocams out in the field, some mounted in stationary positions and others held by cameramen advancing with the troops. Wingfield had a much better overall view of the action from this room than he could get from the river shoreline itself. A number of Nationalist soldiers wearing NDF tiger-stripes—mostly female, in view of Wingfield’s ban on women in direct combat for the operation—were manning the electronic gear and talking into microphones, wireless phones, and typing on laptops.
“All three assault columns are now moving onto the bridges, General,” said one of the women soldiers, former NVA Volunteer and now NDF Lieutenant Jennifer Campbell, who was in charge of channeling communications between the NDF columns. Jenny was 19 years old, a slim and feminine girl with dark brown hair, a pixie face and lustrous brown eyes, who looked way too sweet and virginal possibly to be a terrorist. It was a mistake that had cost a number of minorities, policemen, FATPOs and an FBI agent their lives. “General Gair and General DiBella are also beginning their advance inside the city, and Commandants Coyle and Jackson report their men are out in the streets and are moving to secure their objectives. They say it’s pretty heavy going. There are thousands of the enemy jammed into a fairly small area of the city center, and they’re coming up against mass fire from entrenched positions.”
Wingfield nodded. “Mmmm. Partman is smart enough to maintain a tight interior lines sitch and not spread his men out too thin and leave too many gaps we can work our way through, or bop our way through. I’ll want to talk to both field commanders in the city in a minute, so stand by. First things first. How bad is the enemy fire on the bridges?”
“It’s there, sir, but our artillery and mortars seem to be keeping most of their heads down. It’s getting over the barricades that will be the problem,” replied another staff officer, looking up from her monitor.
“None of the Union guns firing on the bridges yet?” asked Wingfield.
“Negative, sir. Not yet.”
There came a low thumping groan that shook the floor and was audible even above all the cannon and rocket fire. “What the hell was that?” demanded Wingfield.
“General McCann reports they’ve blown the railroad bridge, sir,” called out Lieutenant Campbell.
“Damn! Looks like we didn’t get all the charges, then. Is McCann on visual?” asked Wingfield.
“No, you said not, sir, too much chance of interception since the cell tower is in Portland.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Sorry, I forgot. Get him for me on the radio.”
Campbell spoke into a field phone. “Badbreaker, this is Sunray. Come in. Over.”
“Sunray, this is Badbreaker,” came Big Jim McCann’s voice. “I guess you heard that all the way back there? Over.”
Wingfield took the handset. “Badbreaker, this is Sunray. Yeah, we heard. Jim, can you read me? Over.” The noise of the artillery and rockets up and down on the river shoreline was deafening even over the radio.
“Yes, sir, just barely,” shouted back McCann. “It’s kind of loud out here. Over.”
“How’s it look? How many did we lose on the railroad bridge? Over.” asked Wingfield.
“Not too many,” replied James McCann. “They blew the bridge right when we started to move forward, and that shield car took a lot of the blast. Most of the men got off okay. Some damned fool over there across the way was too impatient, I guess, or maybe he thought the shield vehicle was full of explosives and we were trying to ram ‘em. Couldn’t wait for us to get out onto the middle, when they would have killed a lot more of us. We were lucky. Over.”
“Either that or our artillery freaked him out.” Wingfield responded. “Peckerwood white trash criminals ain’t supposed to pack fieldpieces. No getting across that way at all now? Over.”
“No, sir, it’s gone. A good forty feet in the middle is just splinters and stumps now. Over.”
“Right, listen up. Here’s what we gone do. Get your guys on the move and bring your whole division eastward. Follow the railroad tracks and try to stay under cover and out of sight from the Oregon side as best you can, and then cut over on Sixth Street. The reports I’m getting indicate that the shellfire isn’t too bad. It looks like they’re overshooting like hell, plus if they have any rockets they’re not cutting loose with them so far. Send your first brigade across the I-5 after my guys are all on the bridge, and send your second down to the 205 and have them follow Corby Morgan’s people across over there. Those bridges are still up and we’ve cleaned all the enemy demolition ordnance off them.” (“I hope,” Wingfield muttered under his breath.) “You copy all that? Over.”
“Copy that, Sunray. Wilco. Badbreaker out.”
“Okay, comrades, we’re going to have a major troop movement of about four thousand men crossing the enemy’s front, and we need to make sure they don’t get hammered by the heavy stuff,” called out Wingfield. “Who’s hooked up with artillery fire control?”
A woman soldier raised her hand. “I am, sir.”
“Tell our spotters keep an eagle eye on what’s left of the Expo Center and all those shelled-out buildings from last night along Marine and Swift. The Americans can still set up mortars in the rubble where they’ve got cover. At the first sign of any hostile activity or anything directed at McCann’s division or the I-5 bridge, tell the batteries to redirect and pound the hell out of it. We’ll give ‘em the Katyushas early if we have to.” An American shell crashed into one of the other houses on officer’s row, shaking the Marshall House and causing Wingfield to stagger a bit, and then a second shell hit even closer, the shrapnel breaking some of the windows. “Hellfire! Well, better they’re shelling us than our men on the bridges, damned fools! That reminds me, though, how are we doing on taking out those Union guns in the park and on the golf course?”
“Two of ‘em at least are gone, sir,” Lieutenant Campbell said. “We have a Threesec spotter doing a Tarzan act up on top of the I-5. She climbed up there onto a beam or something pretty high up, where she can see over what’s left of the buildings along the river. She’s got a set of field glasses, one of our radios she got from somewhere, and a wireless laptop. Apparently what she can’t see, she can get off Google and CNN. She has a bird’s eye view of Edgewater golf course, the Arboretum and Delta Park East. She’s calling in to C Battery, that’s the 155s on the corner of Maritime and Columbia, and also to the Sector Two mortar crews’ fire control officer. That’s about twenty-five pieces, eighty-one mils mostly. She’s dropping some heavy shit on those niggers along MLK and all the way down to Bridgeton.”
“She?” shouted Wingfield in exasperation. “Judas priest, did none of you ladies understand my order to stay out of direct contact with the enemy? I thought I was supposed to be a general or something? Army Council says so, anyway. Didn’t any of these mutinous gals get the memo?”
“This girl says she’s Third Section and she knows you, sir,” replied Campbell. “Anyway, she didn’t ask me or anybody else here. She just went out there on her own. First we heard of it was when she started calling in to C Battery a few minutes ago.”
“Pipe it up so I can hear whatever the hell she’s doing,” ordered Wingfield. Campbell turned a dial on a field radio set. Now he could hear the crackling voices on the air.
“Nightshade, this is Barnacle Bill,” came a male voice. “How were those last three on that one-ten on the golf course? Over.”
“Barnacle Bill is C Battery commander,” explained Lieutenant Campbell. “He’s a former Navy guy.”
“I never would have guessed,” muttered Wingfield.
“Barnacle Bill, this is Nightshade,” came the voice of a girl who sounded like she was about thirteen years old. Lieutenant Emily Pastras Brock was perched on a girder on the center span of the I-5 bridge, about 300 feet over the highway, leaning on a suspension cable so she didn’t fall while she used her binoculars. A thin girl who still sported teenaged acne, she was wearing a warm shepherd’s coat over her camos and a wool pea cap on her head. Her long brown hair hung stringily from beneath the pea cap in the standard braid NVA women had learned was best for action. Her hands were bare and freezing cold, since gloved fingers couldn’t work the laptop or the radio adequately. “All three of your shells boxed him, but you were all short or wide. Over.”
“How many clicks, Nightshade? Over.”
“Sorry, Bill, I don’t know what a click is. You were all about fifty yards short, one way or the other. Tighten the whole group up inward by that much and you’ll light him up, is all I can say. Does that make any sense?”
“Yeah, we’ll tweak it. Incoming in one minute. Don’t worry, Nightshade, you’re doing fine. Over.”
“Nightshade?” muttered Wingfield. “Wait a minute, I remember now. Yeah, I do know that girl. I think she’s about seventeen. Oh, this is beautiful.” He picked up the mike. “Nightshade, this is Sunray. Refresh my memory. You’re that skinny teeny-bopper from Threesec we pulled out of a mess in that Holy Roller church up in Seattle back in July before the conference, right? Over.”
“Affirmative, sir,” came Nightshade’s voice. “I remember you. You’re the SS guy who looks like Elvis. Over.”
“That’s General Elvis, and thank yuh very much. It was you and your boyfriend, as I recall. Over.”
“Lieutenant Brock, yes, sir. Over.”
“Yeah, you guys were up at the conference in Longview. I know because I saw you two on the front page of USA Today, having a slurp session out by the candy machine at that hotel. Over,” recalled Wingfield.
“That was in the line of duty, sir. Over,” came the girl’s prim response.
“Yeah, I bet it was. What happened to him? Over,” asked Wingfield.
“I decided I had to make an honest man of him, so we got married, sir. Over,” she replied.
“Is he out there with you? Over,” asked Wingfield.
“No, sir, he’s down below me somewhere. He’s with his company on the I-Five. Over.”
“Well, you know you’re disobeying orders and you’re not supposed to be swinging from the cables like a monkey or however you got up there, but now that you’re there you can make yourself useful. How’s it look from where you sit? Over.”
“I can see two self-propelled 203s and two 155s on the golf course that are still firing, plus two more one-fifty-fives that took hits. They’re smashed to shit,” the girl told him. “There’s two more two-oh-threes in Delta Park and there’s another two guns in the Arboretum. Can’t tell what they are. They’re all dug into bunkers with sandbags and Bremer walls all around them. The only way to take them out is if our guys can drop a shell right on top of their heads. Over.”
“They’re still not firing on the bridge? Over,” asked Wingfield incredulously.
“No, sir. Not yet. They’re gunning for you guys over the river, looks like. Over.”
“Partman must have more charges planted on the I-Five we didn’t find,” murmured Jenny Campbell grimly. Wingfield glanced down and saw her clenching her fists until the knuckles were white. Her man’s probably on the bridge too, he thought grimly.
“If they’re gunning for us, they’re not doing very well,” Wingfield told her. “They’re shelling Vancouver, either because they’re lousy shots or because they’re just incompetent. Any sign of anti-aircraft ordnance near those guns? Over.”
“Affirmative, sir, Some Humvees with mounted twin fifties and a couple more with some kind of missile launcher. Over.”
“Okay, Nightshade, keep on doing what you’re doing. In a minute or so I’m going to have Lieutenant Campbell here patch you into Luftwaffe Twelve as he and his boys come in and join the show, and I want you to see if you can give him a running commentary on what you see. You especially need to keep track of those anti-aircraft vehicles. Over.”
“Roger, sir. Nightshade out.”
* * *
At that moment Nightshade’s husband Lieutenant Cody Brock, aged 18, was marching at the head of his men across the southbound span of twin I-5 bridge. He was now in command of Company F, First Battalion, Fourth NDF Infantry Brigade, which consisted of about 80 men, or to be more precise, about 30 men and 50 or so boys Cody’s age or younger. His unit was one of the outfits that had been issued with AK-74s, and in addition to his weapon he carried a pack and a field radio. One of the other officers, an Iraq veteran, had advised him to do so. “Always carry your own radio. In case things get hot, you don’t want yourself going one way and your communications another.”
The first outfit in the marching column in the southbound lanes, right behind the front end loader, were the 400-odd Germans of the Panzer Grenadier Brigade, although their armor at the moment consisted purely of the Caterpillar that led the way. Their three tanks and several Strykers would follow them across the bridge later, once the obstacles were cleared away. The PGs were commanded by former Bundeswehr officer Conrad Baumgarten, one of the first Germans to find his way to the Northwest. For most of the guerrilla war he had been one of the NVA’s top snipers, with a kill score second only to that of the legendary Cat-Eyes Lockhart himself. He had specialized in Jewish targets; being deployed in New York City on the NVA’s Operation Applesmash had been Baumgarten’s slice of pure heaven. Once, on learning that a certain wealthy banker and financier of the Mosaic persuasion was to show up for a cocktail party in a luxury hotel, Baumgarten snuck in early to avoid the security sweeps before the affair, and then lay prone and concealed in a heating duct for two days waiting for the moment to take his shot.
Almost every man in the unit had done prison time in Germany, sometimes years of it, mostly for crimes of the mind: Holocaust denial, singing a forbidden song from the old days, peacefully protesting against the transformation of Germany into a province of Kurdistan, or simply for the crime of raising their outstretched palm higher than their shoulder in public. They had all found their way by hook or crook to the Northwest, seeking out a new Fatherland where they could be Germans once again. “Mein boys vant to be first over ze river,” Baumgarten had told Wingfield. “Ve owe zese American bastards a debt from nineteen forty-five.” From somewhere or other (rumor had it stolen from the prop stores of a major Hollywood movie studio) the NDF’s Quartermaster Corps had somehow obtained a sufficient number of World War Two style coal-scuttle helmets for the unit, only instead of black and white and red shield insignia on the left side of the helmets the shield was in blue, white, and green. The PGs’ assigned tanks and Strykers bore the old Third Reich Iron Cross symbol, but in green outlined in blue trim.
To the left, the Fourth Infantry men could just crane their necks and see the tops of the heads of a similar force to theirs, marching in the same direction although in the normally northbound lanes and led by a similar armored bulldozer. This was Colonel Mike Davis’s corps, attacking parallel with them on the other bridge. They faced the same kind of entrenched enemy barricades they would have to break through on the Oregon side.
Cody Brock’s company sergeant major was a summer soldier, another Iraq and Iran veteran. He was a chunky, bearded, middle-aged construction worker with a red boozer’s nose from Kelso, Washington, named Bernard Snow. Sergeant Snow maintained the old military tradition wherein Top actually ran the outfit for some kid officer, and so long as the kid didn’t meddle, Snowy graciously pretended that he was actually in charge. It helped that Cody had been a Northwest Volunteer and proven his mettle many times over during the guerrilla war, which the older man knew and respected. Today Foxtrot and Golf companies were mingled together in the column; Cody and the G Company commander marched at the head of the line while the two respective CSMs herded up the rear watching for stragglers and wounded.
Cody found himself walking beside the CO of G Company, a tall and muscular young man in his twenties, with longish auburn hair and a light thin moustache, packing an M16 slung over one shoulder. “I saw you at the briefing. I’m Cody Brock.”
“Jason Stockdale,” came the reply.
“You NVA?” asked Brock.
“Oh, yeah. Montana. Missoula Brigade. Before that I did a year with the Regulators, until that cock-up in Helena.”
“You knew Jack Smith?”
“I did. Good man. I was with the column that went into Helena that night. I made it back. A lot didn’t.” While they spoke bullets from the Oregon shore were whining overhead and ricocheting off the steel columns over their heads with a clang.
“How green are your guys?” asked Cody.
“All my NCOs are Volunteers, but most of my company is just out of the depot at Centralia,” replied Stockdale. “Got here two days ago. Got a few Middle East vets, but some of them aren’t even old enough to drive.” The bullets from the Oregon shore whipping and zinging over their heads began to increase in number, and more bullets could be heard slapping into the sides of the mantlets carried by the men along the right file of the column. Instinctively all the NDF men hunched down and leaned forward, as if they were walking into a driving rainstorm.
Stockdale turned back and yelled at his men, “Keep walking and pay no mind, boys! We’re just out for a stroll! Anybody gets hit, if they’re alive call for medevac, if they’re dead take their ammo and rations and leave them by the side of the bridge! Don’t worry, it will be our turn in a few minutes!” Somewhere ahead there was an explosion, shouting and screams; some kind of grenade had been lobbed or fired into the marching men. Yet the column moved forward. The NDF had been frankly worried that untried men and teenaged boys with three weeks of training, however strong in spirit, would break and run under fire. It wasn’t happening.
“You married?” asked Cody, desperately trying to sound casual and pass the time as if they weren’t being fired on. He looked down just in time to step over the dead bloody body of a young German who lay face down on the asphalt. To his left medevac trucks and SUVs scooted up and down the bridge, taking bullets and picking up wounded men and running them back to the medical units in the rear. Hitting and running during the guerrilla war had been one thing; marching headlong into the enemy guns was turning out to be another.
“Gonna be married, if we both make it through,” said Stockdale. “Jenny and I decided if one of us doesn’t, then the other one deserves a clean fresh start with no baggage. She’s back there in the ops center working a laptop or something. Soon as this bridge is safe and we’ve taken out the trash and moved those damned Bremer walls down there out of the way, she’ll be driving a truck across. You?”
“Yeah, my lady and I had an NVA military wedding on the night of the twenty-second up at Longview. We were in the delegation to the Treaty talks. Seemed like a good way to round off a great day. Emily’s supposed to be back at HQ now doing something on a computer as well, but if I know her she’s found some way to get across the river ahead of us.”
“I agree with Wingfield’s call on that,” said Stockdale. “Using women as guerrilla fighters during the revolt was a necessary evil. Sending them marching headlong into the enemy guns to be slaughtered like this was goddamned Verdun is something else. We have to start proving the Republic has better standards of moral decency than we’ve been living with for the past century. Jenny wasn’t happy about it, but she understands. She’s a soldier and she obeys orders.”
“You meet her in the Volunteers?” asked Brock.
“Oh, we knew each other from the sandbox back in Missoula. Well, she was in the sandbox anyway, when I first saw her. I’m seven years older.”
“Mine was a Third Section spook at age sixteen,” said Cody.
“How the hell did you hook up with some Threesec Mata Hari?” asked Stockdale.
“Out on a tickle with Bobby Bells’ crew up in Seattle,” explained Cody. “I pistol-whipped her and she tried to stick a switch-blade in my eye. That was our first date. Long story.” [See A Mighty Fortress.] Something snapped overhead and exploded with a flash, the concussion making them stagger. “What the fuck was that?”
“Forty-mil grenade, I imagine,” said Stockdale, shaking his head. “High. They’ll get the range better as we get closer. Well, at least we haven’t had the bridge blown out from under us yet.”
In the NDF command post in Marshall House, Wingfield heard the radio chatter of the incoming aircraft. “Sunray, this is Luftwaffe Twelve. We’re over Scappoose now, ETA three minutes, come back.” His voice was distinctly South in the mouth.
“CB lingo. Must be a trucker as well as a pilot,” said Wingfield. “Luftwaffe One-Two, this is Sunray. Our men are about halfway across the I-5. Luftwaffe Niner, where you at? Over.”
“Sunray, this is Lufwaffe Nine. We’re over Troutdale, incoming from the east, ETA also three minutes. Over.”
“Luftwaffe Niner, you take the 205. You know what to do. Over.”
“Roger, Sunray. Luftwaffe Nine out.”
“Luftwaffe One-Two, I’m going to patch you in to a young lady named Nightshade who’s doing a human fly act on the top span of the I-Five. She’s spotting for the boom-boom boys and she has her eye on some double A waiting for you guys. Meet her on Channel Six. Over.”
“Roger, Sunray. Switching to Six.” The pilot did so. “This is Luftwaffe Twelve. Boss man tells me I’m supposed to hook up with a chick called Nightshade on this channel, come back.”
“You got her, Twelve,” came Lieutenant Emily Brock’s voice.
“Where you at, honey? Come back.”
“I’m up on top of the I-Five bridge here checking out the spectacular view. You’ve got some Clintonista anti-aircraft weapons moving up the 99 on-ramp onto the interstate, couple of Humvees with twin fifties and one with some kind of missile weapon. Looks like they know you’re coming. Better get them before they get you. Over.”
“Gotcha, sweet thang.”
“Yewww, that’s gotta be a Texan,” said Nightshade.
“Broken Bow, Oklahoma, actually,” replied the pilot. “Little Dixie feller. Name’s Roy. What’s yours, besides Nightshade?”
“Back off, Cletus. I’m a newlywed. Just make sure you don’t drop anything nasty on the wrong side of those barricades,” demanded Emily. “My blushing groom is down there somewhere.”
“Sounds like he’s a lucky guy, Nightshade. We’ll give him a hand and see if we can’t get you two lovebirds back together.”
“This is Sunray,” interjected Wingfield. “I know NDF training isn’t up to speed yet, but didn’t anyone teach you guys proper RTO procedure? Over.”
“Sir, last time this month I was hauling plastic crap up from Mexico in an eighteen-wheeler for Houston Mighty Mart,” chuckled the pilot. “Don’t worry, we’ll get ‘er done. Luftwaffe Twelve out.”
“Here come the flyboys,” said Cody down on the bridge.
Over the noise of the shells and the small arms fire they could hear the rumble and thrum of engines. Looking to their right, the marching men could see a flight of several dozen small propeller-driven aircraft shooting upriver toward them at speed, some painted in camouflage with NDF roundels on their wings and fuselages and some still in their civilian colors. There were Cessnas, Beechcraft Bonanzas and Musketeers, Pipers, twin and single engines, anything the fledgling Northwest air force could convert into a bomber or strafer for ground support. They bore crudely clamped and spot-welded machine guns on their wings and all carried some kind of Semtex or gelignite bomb under their belly, sometimes a matched pair. These were home-made ordnance hastily turned out in improvised munitions factories in the Nationalist-held areas to the north, made of anything from steel and cast iron pipe to PVC to old aluminum beer kegs. Some of the bombs were so heavy that the small aircraft lugging them wobbled in flight; hopefully they would at least detonate on impact. The planes were flying low, whipping over the burning and smoking rubble of the railway bridge and heading straight toward the Oregon end of the I-5.
From her perch on the steel beam Emily Brock got on her radio. “Luftwaffe Twelve, this is Nightshade. You’ve got more problems, Roy. Here come the gunships. Looks like Apaches. Three of the bastards. Over.”
“I see ‘em, Nightshade,” answered the Oklahoman. “Keep your head down up there, honey. The shit is about to hit the fan.”
The USMC Apache helicopters swung slowly and lazily over the Oregon end of the bridge and opened fire with their 30-mm chain guns; several of the NDF planes simply melted into shards, and the pieces shot over the bridge and plummeted into the river. The Nationalist aircraft kept on coming, and in the blink of an eye a Cessna 177 detached itself from the flight and hurled itself headlong into one of the Apaches with a crash and a deafening roar. Both aircraft exploded like a second sun, and the whole inferno dropped like a stone onto the Union side of the interstate; from the bridge Cody and Stockdale saw a column of fire shoot up into the sky and even over all the other noise they could hear the screams of burning men.
The TV screens in the NDF command center showed it all clearly. “My God, sir, that was a suicide pilot!” cried Jenny Campbell in horror.
“Negatory, Lieutenant, that was a drone,” Wingfield told her with satisfaction. “There are thirty aircraft in Flight Twelve, but only twenty of them are manned. Ten of those planes are remote-controlled drones being flown by the co-pilot in one of the other aircraft, kind of like a giant kid’s toy. We didn’t fancy trying to take on gunships in a full on dogfight with nothing but civvie prop jobs, so we gave ourselves an edge. A brainchild of Doctor Joseph Cord and a young techie Volunteer type who uses the name Doctor Doom, I believe.”
The massed planes of Luftwaffe Twelve shot over the bridge and headed eastward following Nightshade’s directions, straight for the Union gun emplacements beneath the bridge. Some of their bombs released and dropped onto the golf course and the Arboretum, crumping and echoing as they exploded. Several more drone aircraft, including a Beechcraft Musketeer and an old Piper Cub, were hurtled into the earth and exploded in columns of fire. “How are we doing down there, sweet thang?” demanded Roy over the radio.
“It’s a mess, and it’s hard for me to see, but looks like you got two of them at least,” she told him, peering through her field glasses. “One in the Arboretum lit up like a Christmas tree, and one on the golf course looks like the barrel blew off.”
The two remaining Apaches whirled and gave chase as the Northwest flight continued heading east, their chain guns and rocket launchers spitting and hissing. “Bow to your partners, bow to your corners, now it’s time to do-see-doe!” yelled the Oklahoma flight commander into his radio. The remaining airplanes split into two smaller squadrons, shot up into the air on a sharp climb, and one after another performed an Immelman roll, leveling out and racing westward back downriver. They roared over the top of the I-5 and over the smoking wreck of the railway bridge, and then about a mile downriver they did the same thing, climbing and rolling, reversing direction and leveling back eastward to make their second run. “Hot damn, it worked!” yelled Roy into his radio with glee. “Those sheet metal guys back in Chehalis who beefed up our struts and wings knew their shit! Doesn’t look like we lost a single plane!”
The Apaches tried to follow, but their pilots were confused. They had never fought against massed fixed-wing aircraft before. One squadron of NDF planes attacked the helicopters with their wing-mounted machine guns, filling the sky with a curtain of bullets. The Apaches’ armor held up well against the round strikes, but even so, helicopters that are flying evasive maneuvers find it hard to fire their own weapons. The other wing zeroed in on the American positions behind the Bremer walls barring the bridge. A dozen bombs hurtled onto the enemy behind the barricade, and two more drone planes were crashed right into the moving anti-aircraft vehicles, the explosions hurtling fragments of men and equipment into the air. The Apaches whirled about and opened fire again with their thirties, and more Luftwaffe planes came apart or caught fire and spun out of control, but a second drone smashed into a gunship and the two flaming wrecks went spinning down into the river like a fireworks cartwheel. The last remaining Apache’s pilot apparently decided he’d had enough of this sudden hornet’s nest. He banked sharp left, turned on a dime, and ran.
Then up ahead at the end of the bridge, the armored bulldozer reached the Union barricade and slammed into it, revving its engine and trying to push the concrete Bremer wall aside. The driver did not succeed, but he did knock the berm over onto its back, and he came to rest perched on top of it at roughly a 30-degree angle. “Sunray, zis is Eisenkreuz!” shouted the Panzer Grenadiers’ Colonel Baumgarten into his radio. “Ve haf contact mit ze enemy position!”
“Right, then, let’s play Delmar Partman a tune on Stalin’s Organ!” snapped Wingfield back in the command center. “Tell the Katyusha batteries to open fire!”
Cody and Jason Stockdale could hear noise and shouting ahead, and the sound of more grenades going off. Then dozens of flaming rockets from the Washington side of the river screamed past them on both sides of the bridge and overhead. From somewhere up the line came the command, “Down! Everybody down!” The column of troops crouched down on their knees as rocket after rocket slammed into the Oregon side, all along Swift Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard, a curtain of fire and smoke and debris, shaking the bridge under their feet. “Holy shit!” yelled Jason Stockdale in awe. At the barricade, Conrad Baumgarten stood up at the head of his men and roared “Stürmabteilung vorwärts!”
The PGs had a company of Stormtroopers, in the old sense of the term. Even before the National Socialist Kampfzeit, during the First World War, there had been soldiers in special units of the German army, specially armed and trained, who had been first over the top and first into the enemy trenches. It was from these that Hitler had taken the name of his own SA. The Panzer Grenadiers had developed such a unit of almost 100 men especially to go over the top in this one crucial operation, and they now executed a maneuver they had been practicing for a week. Several Grenadiers leaped up on top of the stranded Caterpillar armed with RPGs and an M-60 machine gun, and began firing along the top of the Bremer walls at the Americans crouched on some kind of parapet behind them, while others hurled grenade after grenade over the walls. Six-man squads ran out forward carrying long rectangles of plywood and rubber matting they had lugged with them across the bridge, which they hooked together with steel brackets at each end, thus producing three long ramps. These they humped forward and mounted against the top of the Bremer walls. Then the rest of the Germans charged up the ramps and leaped over the barricades, shouting and shooting.
“Up! Up!” the shout came relayed up the line. “The PGs are over! Forward! Move out!” Cody Brock and Jason Stockdale stood up and signaled to their own men, moving back in among them to count heads and make sure they were all still together and on their feet. “Foxtrot!” shouted Cody, “Listen up! Our German comrades are over the wall! Let’s go give ‘em a hand!” The men yelled and cheered in excitement. He found his CSM. “Snowy, how are we doing?”
“We’re in pretty good shape, sir, all things considered,” said Snow. “That kid Kenny Burgess took a round in the head. He’s gone.”
Cody turned around and shook his fist at the smoking carnage on the Oregon side of the river. “You killed Kenny! You bastards!” he yelled. “Anybody else?
“Something fell on Robek, he’s gone too,” said Snow. “Landers and Potocki got hit, but they fell out and should be on a medevac by now.”
“Okay, when we get over the barricade and we cut through whatever they’ve got waiting for us, our battalion guides right and goes down the Pier Street off-ramp to the street, then east into Delta Park to take out any of those guns that are still firing, and after that we go with Donner’s corps to move on the airport,” Cody told him. “Bresler’s people are driving toward City Hall. If I go down you’ve got Foxtrot. You take my radio and report to Captain Hatcher. His handle is Redeye and we’re Tigger.”
“Got it,” said Snow.
“Let’s move out!”
“Papa Golfs are over, sir,” said Jenny Campbell back in the command center. “Colonel Davis has breached the northbound barricade. Their bulldozer pushed one of the Bremer walls over the side of the bridge and into the river, and they’re getting into it hand-to-hand now. Davis says there’s no actual military behind there, just those goddamned Loyal Leaguers and Oregon Watchmen.”
“No Marines or Rangers?” asked Wingfield in puzzlement. “Partman left an important position like that to half-assed amateur auxiliaries?”
“From what it sounds like just from the chatter, sir, he’s using most of his Marines along Sunset Boulevard,” said Jenny.
“Hmm, yeah, I guess that makes sense,” said Wingfield, ruminating. “Bobby Bells and the whole Third Army are going right for his throat at City Hall, and I guess he figured any old scumbags sitting behind those Bremers could just sweep the bridges, and in a narrow field of fire like that they could hold us. Like Thermopylae. Trouble is, those John Wayne wannabe yay-hoos ain’t no damned Spartans.”
On the southbound I-5 the column lurched forward again at a slow but steady walk. Cody caught up with Jason Stockdale again. “How’s Golf Company doing?” he asked.
“Three men dead and six wounded. You guys?”
“Two dead and two wounded. Is it just me or is the ground fire slacking off?”
“It’s slacking off,” replied Stockdale. “The planes and the rockets did a number on those jarheads.” The NDF planes were still buzzing and whirling overhead like a swarm of angry hornets, swooping in and strafing at unseen targets on the Oregon end of the I-5 and along the shore below them.
“Damn!” swore Cody, looking up. “More choppers!”
“Yeah, but look, they’re ours!”
The bridge barricades and enemy positions along the shoreline were now being attacked by the second Nationalist airwave, a mixed bag of helicopters sporting blue, white and green roundels, with M-60 gunners firing from the doors or from weapons mounted on the skids or the belly of the choppers. There were two commandeered American Blackhawks, with door gunners blasting away, and another two Seattle police helicopters, but most were civilian models, including Portland’s own Channel 7 news and traffic copter with its original TV logo.
The First of the Fourth reached the concrete and sandbag barricade, and Cody swore softly to himself as he saw at least a dozen dead German troopers in tiger-stripes and coal-scuttle helmets lying on the ground or sprawled on top of the Caterpillar and over the top of the Bremer walls. They mounted the ramps, and when they reached the top they saw that the Americans had built scaffolding parapets along the south side to use as firing positions. Before them stretched the elevated Interstate 5 going into Oregon, a hellish scene of burning vehicles and wrecked aircraft, oily black smoke, and on the asphalt a carpet of dead bodies. They clambered down from the parapets and kept on moving forward, stepping over the burned and mangled remains, sometimes slipping in the blood. “Wait a minute,” said Stockdale, staring down at the ragged enemy corpses. “These aren’t jarheads!”
In front of them was a dead black man, his head covered with a blue bandana and clenching a short pump shotgun. Stockdale kicked him over on his stomach. The corpse was also wearing a black hoodie with the iron-on letters P.O.C. “Portland Oregon Crips!” exclaimed Cody. “These are goddamned nigger gang-bangers!”
“Looks like the mighty United States of America is really scraping the bottom of the barrel,” said Stockdale with a sneer.
As they continued to move forward off the bridge, the two young officers looked over to their right, where they saw a platoon of 30 or 40 SS-tabbed men in tiger stripes hooking ropes into their waist harnesses, preparing to rappel off the guard rail of the interstate and down to the ground. A tall officer whose headgear was missing was shouting and gesticulating at his men. He bore an odd resemblance to former President Bill Clinton, although a much younger version. He seemed to be shouting in a mixture of Italian and pidgin English. “Avanti, ragazzi!” he yelled. “Lessa go, we no gotta alla day! Liberta!”
“Who the devil is that?” asked Cody curiously.
“Hell, who knows?” said Stockdale. “We got all kinds of white folks coming here looking for a homeland. Speaking of which,” he added, nodding to their left. There they saw Colonel Conrad Baumgarten of the Panzer Grenadiers, standing to attention in the middle of the bullet-and-bomb-shredded highway, the handset in one hand and a broom-handled Mauser pistol in the other. One side of his body was soaked with blood; they couldn’t tell if it was his own or someone else’s. Baumgarten was on the horn with the NDF command center in the Marshall House. His voice rang through the control room. “Sunray, zis is Eisenkreuz. I haf ze honor to report zat se First Army of ze Republic is now in Portland!”
Wild cheering and applause broke out in the command center, and then again when Lieutenant Jenny Campbell shouted out, “Sir! General Morgan reports his corps has stormed the barricades on the 205! They’re moving off the bridge and into the city!”
Wingfield spoke up when the noise finally died down. “Right, send this to all units, and make sure you use frequencies and online channels that all the goddamned news media can pick up on as well. Inform them that we have defeated and overrun the enemy on the bridges, and that we are advancing on all fronts into Portland. Remind them of my Operational Order Number Five issued at dawn today. White Unionists, military or otherwise, are to be given one chance, and one chance only, to throw down their weapons and surrender, if the tactical situation makes it possible to do so without endangering NDF personnel. Anyone, man, woman, or child with skin the color of shit is to be shot on sight. They had their chance to leave over the past five years, and it’s time the Northwest Republic made it clear that we goddamned well mean what we say. This land is now whites only.” Deafening cheers rang through the command center. He turned to his adjutant. “Come on, Shane. Let’s take ourselves a little constitutional over there in the City of Roses.”
* * *
By midnight that night it was effectively over, although the mopping up would take several more days. General Carter Wingfield and Captain Shane Ryan stood on the street in front of the blackened and bullet-shattered four-story Italian Renaissance façade of Portland’s City Hall. Around them stood most of the generals who had taken the city: Robert Gair and Billy Basquine from the Second Army, Robert “Bobby Bells” DiBella and Zack Hatfield from the Third Army, Big Jim McCann and John Corbett Morgan from the First. They were staring down at four dead U.S. Marines lying on the sidewalk in front of them.
“It happened about fifteen minutes ago,” said Zack Hatfield, who was wearing his famed and photogenic broad-brimmed hat and his long gray duster from his guerrilla days with the NVA out on the north Oregon coast, with his Winchester rifle of Sunset Beach fame slung over his shoulder. “I just missed it. Partman and these other guys, his staff officers I guess, must have known that Amurrica’s number was up, and so they did the old Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid trick. They came charging out the door with their weapons blazing, and our German comrades returned the favor.”
“Stupid damned jarhead,” muttered Wingfield, nudging the bullet-riddled corpse with his boot toe. “Now the Americans have a legend of their own out of all this mess. The only one they’ll be able to conjure up out of these last five sorry years of torture and tyranny, I think, but they’re a sorry bunch and they shouldn’t even have this one. They don’t deserve it.”
“How’s it looking for us casualty-wise, Carter?” asked DiBella.
Wingfield sighed. “Better than we had any right to expect, I suppose, but I can tell you this, Bobby. We’ve lost more of our comrades in this one day than we lost during the past five years of the NVA revolt.”
Someone had brought up a sound truck, and suddenly a blare of trumpets split through the black and freezing Northwest night. Around them the surviving German troopers leaped to their feet and began savagely to sing along.
“Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig, festem Schritt!
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit!”
“These boys damned sure sing better than Partman did,” said Corby Morgan with a grin.
* * *
Three days later Jason Stockdale and Jenny Campbell were finally able to break away from their duties and take some personal time. Stockdale was newly discharged from the NDF medical unit, which had taken over the Providence Medical Center. Along with the remaining staff there and in other hospitals around the city, the Republic’s military medical personnel were now treating thousands of wounded NDF troops, white civilian casualties, and wounded white Union fighters as well without differentiation. There were no non-white wounded; Wingfield’s orders had been carried out and a dark skin was now a death warrant in Portland. Stockdale’s G Company had been cleaning the last of the city’s Mexican gang-bangers out of a warehouse, and he had taken a 9-millimeter bullet on his Kevlar vest at close range, which had cracked a couple of ribs. He had to hold Jenny close to him very gingerly.
They stood on the roof of the City Hall which up until recently had been flying the last American flag in the Northwest. They were watching the sun rise in the cold morning air. “It’s over. I can’t believe it, it’s over,” whispered Jenny, crying softly. “All these years of fear and blood and death, and now it’s over. I want to go back to Montana, Jace. I want to go home.”
“You got it, babe,” he said, kissing her hair. “We did it, Jen. We did it, now it’s over, and we’re free. Now it’s time for us to begin.”