Preparing to unleash a series of attacks from the heart of America, dozens of al-Qaeda terrorists sneak into the United States under paper-thin disguises—refugees, shipwreck survivors, a team of soccer players—overcoming tight border security with help from treasonous US officials. One potential obstacle—the Superhawks—gets eliminated when the US government burns the entire team.
After narrowly escaping imprisonment or worse, the Superhawks are left to die out in the cold. But rather than rolling into their graves, the men of the Ocean Voyager become ghosts. Vengeful ghosts. Alongside the mysterious Bobby Murphy, the Superhawks team up with a group of American citizens to protect the country, save thousands of innocent lives, and purge the government of high-level traitors who threaten the very freedoms we hold most dear.
About the Author
Mack Maloney is the author of numerous fiction series, including Wingman, ChopperOps, Starhawk, and Pirate Hunters, as well as UFOs in Wartime – What They Didn’t Want You to Know. A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
Read an Excerpt
Strike Force Charlie
By Mack Maloney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Mack Maloney
All rights reserved.
Somewhere in the Pacific
Diego Suarez had been lost at sea for three days.
He had little memory of his fishing boat sinking. One moment the ocean was calm; the next, a strange darkness had enveloped everything. The huge wave had come out of nowhere, blotting out the sky. He'd been belowdecks when it happened, making himself a cup of coffee. The tsunami hit with such ferocity, the trawler disintegrated around him. Pieces of wood, pieces of metal and glass, pieces of fish from their recent catch, flying in all directions. Then came the mighty crash of water. And then, nothing....
When Diego woke up, the sun was reflecting off the ocean so brilliantly, it hurt his eyes. He was sure he'd died and gone to heaven. No one could have survived that catastrophe. But then he thought, People do not feel pain in heaven.
That's when he realized he was still alive.
But how? He'd been washed overboard when the wave hit. In the confusion that followed, he'd somehow climbed on top of a large wooden box. It looked like nothing less than a water logged coffin. He'd hung on to it so tightly that even when he was unconscious his fingernails dug deep into the soft pine. Where had the strange box come from? He had no idea. Certainly nothing like it had been aboard his cramped fishing boat. But it didn't matter. He was alive....
But he was also alone. The rest of the crew was long gone; he could see no wreckage from the boat. And because these fishing grounds were so far off the charts, he was nowhere near any shipping lanes, big or small. Diego knew the only soul he would meet out here would be just as lost as he.
Three days passed. The sun was brutal and the nights cold. His hunger and thirst grew mightily. But then, at the end of the third day, salvation! It came just as the sun was setting. Off in the distance Diego spotted not one ship but two. Both gleaming in the fading light. Both stopped dead in the water.
One ship was a freighter, old and rusty. Two very strange items were lashed to its deck: a pair of large vehicles, gray, silver, and white, partially hidden under tarpaulins. They weren't trucks. They were a bit too sleek for that. Both had lots of windows and chrome.
They were buses. Greyhound buses. Diego knew this because as a boy he'd journeyed from his hometown in Mexico to Los Angeles and his fondest memory of the trip was riding on the bright shiny Greyhound bus. But why did this ship have two of them on its deck? In the middle of the Pacific?
Even stranger was the vessel tied up next to the freighter. It had huge fins, a stout conning tower, and antennae bristling all over. It was not a surface ship at all. It was a submarine, riding not unlike a huge black whale just above the waves.
Diego began paddling madly, laughing and crying at the same time. He could see sailors in smart black uniforms on the submarine lifting boxes up to people on the freighter's deck. They were working very quickly. Diego could even hear shouting from one vessel to the other, a disagreement on how best to move the boxes from the sub to the steamer.
He was just 50 feet away when one of the men on the submarine spotted him. Diego actually saw the look of bewilderment on this man's face. The last thing he'd expected to find out here was a man floating on a big pine box. The sailor waved to Diego tentatively, checking to see if he was alive or not. Diego wildly waved back.
Now everyone on both vessels saw him—but no one was waving anymore. The transfer of boxes stopped. All attention became focused on Diego's approaching raft. He heard more shouting, more anger, on the wind. People on the freighter began scrambling about, but no one was making a move toward the ship's rescue boat. Instead, they were using searchlights to zero in on Diego.
And that's when he saw the guns.
Incredibly, the men on the freighter's deck started shooting at him. Rifles, pistols, even shotguns. Diego couldn't believe it. Why were these men doing this? Why didn't they want to rescue him? It didn't make any sense.
Bullets began ripping into the water all around him. Diego could hear them sizzle as they went by. He wet himself, he was so scared, so confused. The sailors in black uniforms were moving in great haste now, climbing down inside the conning tower. A whistle blew, three times. Then the submarine slowly began to sink into the choppy water, this even as the men on the freighter continued their fusillade.
Diego didn't want to drown out here or die of thirst or starvation or madness. But he didn't want to be shot to death, either. So he did the only thing he could do.
He stopped paddling.
And eventually, the men stopped shooting at him. Diego heard a great roar as the freighter's engines were engaged again and a telltale churning of water erupted from its stern. The ship lurched forward and began moving eastward, away from the setting sun.
Leaving Diego and his floating coffin behind.
Port of Los Angeles Two nights later
Georgie Mann hated this part of LA.
The mechanical loading docks. The rotting wooden piers. The jumble of railroad tracks. Dirty harbor water running around and underneath it all. The Port of Los Angeles. It sounded exotic. It was anything but.
As for coming down here at night—forget about it. Venturing around some of these docks after dark was more dangerous than driving the freeways. Crackheads, Latino gangs, drunken longshoremen could be lurking about anywhere. Yet this was where Mann found himself. Stumbling around the old fishing wharves, tripping over the Alimeda tracks, hopelessly lost, looking for a phantom.
He'd been at it for more than two hours; it was now close to midnight. A thick mist had begun to fall. Everything became cold and dank. The bare orange glow of halogen lights perched high overhead only added to the creepy noir. Mann could hear voices arguing, radios blaring foreign music, the baleful moan of a foghorn. And was that gunfire off in the distance? He shivered once.
This was no place for a sportswriter.
It was stupid, the reason he was down here. An amateur soccer team from Indonesia was touring the United States this summer. They'd arranged for pickup games across the country, their goal being to improve relations with the United States through the common love of soccer. True, soccer was big in LA. But Mann hated this kind of touchy-feely bullshit. He didn't even know where the fuck Indonesia was. Yet because his boss didn't have the beans to come down to the docks himself at night, he'd told Mann to do it. His assignment: hook up with this team of foreigners, interview them, then follow them to a couple "local" games, in quotes because the nearest one was almost a hundred miles away.
At 42, Mann was way too old for this. He'd been breaking his ass as assistant sports reporter for the tiny LA Weekly Sun for nearly 10 years now. He hated his job. He hated his boss. Hated every high school soccer practice he'd ever covered, every dikey coach he'd ever interviewed, every snotty pampered kid he'd been forced to write about. But he had to make his rent and keep gas in his car, and there was nothing else he really knew how to do. So here he was.
The name of the ship he was looking for was the Sea Conqueror, or at least that was its name when it left Manila, 11 days before. According to his boss, the ship was not a passenger liner, it was more of a cargo vessel. And no, he didn't have a pier number or even a guess where the Sea Conqueror might tie up at the huge, spread-up port facility.
But don't worry, the boss had told him. How hard could it be to find an entire ship?
By the stroke of twelve, Mann had reached a line of warehouses close to the southern edge of the port. Across a narrow, putrid inlet, two immense loading cranes hovered over everything like frozen mechanical monsters. The rows of warehouses seemed to go on forever. Staying in the shadows, Mann set out between two of the buildings, walking down an alleyway so dark and dreary, even the bravest mugger wouldn't dare venture into it.
Reaching the end of the alley, Mann found himself looking at yet another dilapidated docking area. They could have used some halogen lighting down here. There was a single street lamp, fading and blue, struggling to illuminate just a small part of the pier. The rest was absolutely black. Mann pulled up the collar of his jacket. Seagulls cried off in the distance. A ship was tied up to the dock. A cargo vessel no doubt, but it looked like something from World War II, it seemed that old. It was so rusty, in fact, Mann couldn't read the name on its hull. He crept forward a few feet, shaking off another chill. He was not a muscular person; roly-poly was a better description. And suddenly he felt very exposed.
I wish I was a smaller target, he thought grimly.
Three more steps forward and finally Mann was able to make out the letters on the ship's hull. This was indeed the Sea Conqueror. What's more, there was evidence of a recent arrival. A worn and rickety gangplank was still in place. Steam was still hissing out of the ship's stacks. And there were definitely voices coming out of the fog surrounding the pier. Mann couldn't believe it. He'd actually found the damned thing!
He allowed himself a small moment of triumph, a big mistake, as suddenly there came a great crashing sound off to his right, an explosion of combustion, followed by the merciless grinding of gears. Mann turned to see a Greyhound bus heading right for him.
Strange what things go through one's mind when one is about to be run over. Snapshots of the last few seconds of life. This was a very clean bus about to kill him, Mann thought queerly. Clean and brand spanking new. And the sign above the front windshield read: HELLO SOCCER TEAM, USA. The words seemed out of order. But it was the look on the driver's face that burned its way onto Mann's retinas. It was a grimace of absolute fear, not so much that Mann had suddenly stepped in his way but that he was driving such a huge vehicle in the first place.
Luckily, Mann was just able to get his head around the notion that a Greyhound bus traveling at high speed down these rotting wharves was about to flatten him if he didn't act quickly. So he jumped. Longer, higher, and faster than he ever had before. The bus went by him a second later, nipping the heel of his sneaker and dislodging it from his foot. Mann hit the ground hard, just avoiding what could have been a fatal dose of exhaust fumes pouring out of the rear of the bus. Even in midair, he'd seen a wall of dark faces staring out the dirty windows at him. Again, a strange thought: not one of them looked like a soccer player to him.
He picked himself up, his knees scratched and bloody. His knapsack, containing his cell phone and his notebook, had flown some twenty-five feet away from him. His sneaker had gone just about the same distance in the other direction.
Dazed and confused, he stumbled off to retrieve the sneaker first. He found it lodged between two railroad ties. He bent to pick it up. That's when he saw a second Greyhound bearing down on him.
Well, he was a pro at this now. He dived with the grace of an Olympian, landing back in the alley just before this bus, just as new, just as shiny, went by in a whoosh of night and fog. He hit hard again but was quick enough to turn around and see more very unlikely faces staring out of the dark bus windows at him. Older faces. Astonished faces. Strangely, angry faces, too.
Mann pushed himself to his feet, caught his breath, then stuck his head out of the alley just long enough to see the second bus leaving, as had the first, through a nearby side gate.
Only then did something dawn on him: HELLO SOCCER TEAM, USA? The people on those buses—were they the ones he was down here to meet? They had to be. He grew so mad so quickly, he thought every vein in his head was going to pop. Here he was, trying to do these assholes a favor by writing about their shitty little team, and they nearly killed him!
He collapsed to the ground, injuring his butt on a stray piece of rail.
I've got to get another job, he thought, shaking his head. This sports stuff is getting too dangerous.
Mujave Desert The next day
There was no shade in Shade Hill. No trees, no awnings, nothing to deflect the brutal heat of the day. The small town, 95 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was hot 24/7/365. Its residents, all 82 of them, usually stayed indoors during late morning and early afternoon; the combined whine of all those air conditioners could sometimes be heard a mile away. In fact, the only thing worse than the heat in Shade Hill was the duststorms.
It was now almost 11:30 A.M., beginning the hottest part of the day. The temperature was expected to top 104 degrees by noon, with no clouds and no wind.
Not the best weather for soccer.
The only playing field in Shade Hill was on the east end of town, next to the tiny Apache Regional High School. Built as a football field, neglect and the unrelenting heat had so hardened the surface, playing football on it was almost as crazy as playing, well ... soccer. The field was more dirt than grass, and what grass there was had long ago turned brown. There were two sets of bleachers, one on each side of the field. They were made of aluminum, another poor choice for the desert climate. In the past, people had fried turkey eggs on the metal seats to snack on during games.
There were about two dozen people sitting in the bleachers at the moment, a real crowd for Shade Hill. Most were parents of the eleven teenagers currently doing wind sprints up and down the field, torture by another word. The boys constituted the Apache School District Class C soccer team. This was their last day of school before the summer break. Many had already started working jobs as cattle feeders and wranglers. None of them wanted to be out here.
It was all their coach's fault. About two months ago, he'd accepted an invitation from a foreign soccer team to arrange this late-season match. The foreigners were barnstorming their way across the United States, playing local teams and spreading the good word about their native country of Malaysia. Or was it Indonesia? In any case, this was supposed to be a big deal for Shade Hill. The townspeople had been gabbing about it for weeks.
Jim Cook was Shade Hill's sheriff. His brother, Clancy, was the high school soccer coach. Jim was sitting in the top row of the white-hot bleachers now, looking down onto the blazing field. Things were not going well. The game was supposed to have started at 10:30. The opposing team was nearly an hour late. The Apache players were almost dead from their wind sprints, and the crowd, such as it was, had started growing restless. Cook wiped the sweat from his brow. He was beginning to think the foreigners weren't going to show up at all.
The original invitation from the barnstorming team had come by fax—and all along Cook had suspected it was actually sent by someone in town as a joke. The locals were always pulling Clancy's leg; such things served as entertainment in the sun-baked town. Plus Jim knew his brother hadn't heard from the opposing team since that one and only message two months before. He chuckled to himself now. If this was a gag, it would go down in Shade Hill history as one of the best ever. And his brother, Clancy? He would be remembered as the town's biggest goat.
But then a surprise. An engine noise, coming from the west. The top of the bleachers had the best view in town of Route 14A, the only way to get in and out of Shade Hill. Cook stood on the back bench and looked out on the highway. He was the first to see what was causing the commotion.
It was a bus. A Greyhound bus, new and sparkling—and approaching the town at approximately a hundred miles an hour. It was traveling so fast, while weaving all over the road, Cook thought it was a runaway, with a dead driver at the wheel. Yet it entered the town seconds later and, remarkably, slowed down, a little anyway, to make the turn at Elsie's Chicken Shack and onto Arrow Drive, at the end of which sat Apache Stadium.
Cook relaxed a bit; the bus was under control at least. But why was it here? There had not been a Greyhound bus—or any other kind of bus—through Shade Hill in decades. If anyone wanted to travel far out of town, he would have to get himself over to Sand Lizard Creek, 12 miles away. Trail-ways went through there once a week.
Excerpted from Strike Force Charlie by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 2004 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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