Am I crazy for looking forward to this?

John Ruffin told himself he should know better. He'd seen plenty of combat during his time with the US Marine Corps, and with his current employer, Shield International. Having bullets and grenades and rockets going off around you, watching friends and fellow warriors being wounded and killed, was not something anyone should crave. But he wanted this particular fight. Three times in the past two months the Venezuelan military had raided the small island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Their troops ransacked homes, businesses, schools and tourist sites. They caused millions in property damage. Forty Trinidadians had lost their lives, including over a dozen members of the nation's defense force. Venezuela's new leader, General Moscoso, said the raids were in response to Trinidad drilling for oil in their territorial waters. Everyone knew that to be a bogus claim. Ruffin had a simpler answer for the raids.

General Moscoso was a bully. He had the bigger military and felt he could do whatever he wanted to this small nation just off the Venezuelan coast.

Ruffin hated bullies. He'd dealt with plenty of them during his school days. When he joined the Marines, the bullies he faced carried assault rifles and rocket launchers and bomb vests and preferred to attack outdoor markets and nightclubs and schools. Teenager or terrorist, the mentality was the same. Pick on a target that won't fight back.

He shifted in his seat in the Hummer, feeling his heart hammer and his adrenaline surge. His grip tightened on the barrel of his German-made G36 rifle. He really wanted to show these bullies from Venezuela what happened someone did stand up to them.

"I have the latest from our link with Eclipse," reported Cheo See Choun, formerly of the Singapore Special Operations Force, as he stared at his laptop. "The Venezuelan naval squadron is ten miles from Port of Spain and closing."

Ruffin nodded and turned to the rest of his men in the Hummer. "Get ready, boys. It's almost showtime."


Lieutenant Gustavo Trillo's jaw clenched as he gazed out the cockpit of his Mi-17. He hated this mission. He hated himself for taking part in it. He was a soldier, not a crook.

But you won't be stealing anything.

That didn't matter. He was still aiding and abetting, transporting the 30 marines in the back to Port of Spain to loot the place.

We're supposed to defend the country, not act like some street gang.

Not that he could voice his misgivings. Well, he could. But then he'd land in jail. If he was lucky. Since General Moscoso assumed the presidency seven months ago, the man didn't hesitate to stand people in front of a firing squad who challenged his authority.

So he went from being a soldier to a crook, just so he could keep breathing.

"There's the fleet, dead ahead." Lieutenant Pineda, his co-pilot, pointed in front of them.

Trillo stared at the ocean below, made phosphorescent green from his night vision goggles. Five knife-like shapes sliced through the waves. The fleet.

No, not a fleet. A raiding party. And a rather formidable raiding party at that. Well, formidable compared to Trinidad and Tobago's small coast guard. The frigate General Urdaneta, with its array of guns, missiles and torpedoes, led the way. Two POVZEE-class patrol boats, Guaiqueri and Warao, protected the flanks, while a small Point-class patrol boat brought up the rear. In the center sailed the Goajira, a Capana-class amphibious ship that carried two armored personnel carriers, two armed jeeps and 100 marines.

One hundred criminals, Trillo thought bitterly.

"Almost there. No sign of any Trinidadian boats or aircraft." Excitement coated Pineda's voice. "I just hope those marines bring us something back from their raid. I don't think an iPod or some booze is too much to ask for. We did fly their asses here, after all."

"We shall see." Trillo forced the words out of his mouth. He had to concentrate on not shaking his head. Pineda could report him to their superiors if he felt he didn't fully support this raid.

Trillo kept his eyes focused ahead of him. The lights of Port of Spain blazed in the distance. He glanced down at his map of the Trinidadian capital, focusing on the red circle drawn around their landing zone.

"What the hell's that?" Pineda blurted.

Trillo followed the co-pilot's gaze to the left. Through his NVGs, he spotted a brilliant white flare flying over the waves. His chest seized when he realized what it was.


"Urdaneta! Urdaneta!" he shouted into the radio. "Missile inbound! Evade! Evade!"

The frigate made a sharp turn to the left. Trillo wondered if they saw it before he had. Tracers cut across the sky, spewed out by General Urdaneta's cannons. More yellow flashes streaked through the night sky as Guaiqueri opened up with its 35mm gun, trying to shoot down the missile.

A bright flash consumed the General Urdaneta.

"Holy shit!" Pineda gaped at the scene below.

Trillo tensed as he watched a pillar of fire rise from the frigate. Hundreds of sparks exploded from the deck as ammunition and warheads cooked off. Urdaneta carried a crew of more than 180. Would any of them get off before the ship went down?

More tracers blazed across the sky. Trillo lifted his head and looked in all directions.

More contrails flashed through the darkness. One of them connected with the Guaiqueri. A geyser of flame tore through the patrol boat.

"Who's shooting at us?" Pineda hollered. "The Trinidadians don't have anti-ship missiles."

Trillo said nothing. From the briefing they had back at base, only one group could be capable of launching missiles at them.


"Hot diggity damn, look at 'em burn!" Skrag wheeled his modified B-25 bomber, Sky Bitch, to the left. Flames engulfed the Venezuelan frigate. More Mavericks fired by the two F4U Corsairs in his flight struck the other patrol ship and the island of the landing ship.

"Hey, Z-Man!" he barked into the radio. "You gonna do something about that landing ship?"

"I'm starting my bomb run, so shut up. All right?"

Skrag just laughed and turned to his co-pilot, Dave Underwood. "So easy to piss him off, ain't it?"

Underwood, a chubby, graying man from Arkansas, shrugged in response. "I guess."

Skrag let out another laugh, his long gray hair shaking. He always loved giving the business to Zelaya, the Honduran who flew one of Shield International's little A-37 attack jets. That guy took himself way too seriously.

Two huge explosions ripped apart the landing ship. Skrag smiled. What Zelaya lacked in humor he made up for with his skills as a flier.

The A-37 rocketed over the burning Venezuelan ships. Yellow tracers shot into the sky from the Point-class patrol boat. They didn't come anywhere close to Zelaya's jet.

One of the Corsairs dove on the boat, flames flickering from its six wing-mounted .50 caliber machine guns. Dozens of water spouts shot up around the small patrol boat. The second Corsair also raked the boat, which began to belch smoke.

"Looks like you boys got your asses kicked by a bunch of museum pieces!" Skrag shouted at the window, then turned to Underwood. "I'm talkin' about the planes, not us, buddy." He howled with laughter.

"Thanks, I think," Underwood replied.

Skrag continued to laugh, stopping only when he noticed three large, cigar-shaped objects in the distance. "Ooh looky. Choppers." He clicked on the radio and alerted the rest of the flight. "Hey, gang. We got three choppers in the vicinity. Bearing one seven four. Big suckers. Troop transports. Probably those Ruski-built Mi-17s. How's about we give 'em all a little bath. A really hot bath, know what I mean?"

"I'm game," replied Bob Doyle, a former Marine Corps Harrier pilot who flew one of the Corsairs.

Skrag swung Sky Bitch around, coming up on the choppers' six. He'd been the one to put an RBS-15 anti-ship missile into that frigate. Now he was lining up on one of the Mi-17s. Two kills he could paint on the side of his bomber when he returned to Piarco International Airport.

Not a bad day's work. Not only that, but "The Chief" promised nice bonuses for every ship and aircraft they took out.

"You're lined up right on his tail," Underwood called out. "Seven hundred meters . . . six hundred . . . five hundred."

Skrag grinned and smashed the fire button on his controls. The B-25 vibrated as the two nose-mounted M230 Chain Guns opened fire. Armor-piercing 30mm rounds streaked across the night sky and tore into the Mi-17. Chunks of metal tumbled away from the helicopter as it shuddered. Flames blossomed from its rear doors. The Mi-17 lurched to the right and plummeted toward the water.

"Yippie, more bonus money for us!" Skrag banked away from the remaining two choppers. A minute later, Doyle dove on another Mi-17. It tried to jink and throw off the former Marine's fire, but the chopper was as maneuverable as a school bus. Doyle laced it with .50 cal rounds. The Mi-17 spewed flames and dropped into the Caribbean Sea.

Skrag searched for Zelaya or the other Corsair to finish off the last chopper when a French-accented voice came over the radio.

"Eclipse to Bengal Flight. Two bandits approaching your position from the east, forty miles and closing. Bandits IDed as Venezuelan F-16s. Withdraw immediately."

"You don't have to tell me twice, Eclipse," he replied to the operator in the 737 converted by Shield International into an Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. "We're outta here."

Skrag turned toward Trinidad, looking back to make sure the Corsairs and the Dragonfly were with him. A frowned flashed across his face. He didn't like to run from a fight. But no way his modified B-25 stood a chance against a high-performance fighter like the F-16. Plus, as an American, he didn't like the thought of being shot down by a jet built by his own country. Talk about a kick in the balls.

Aw well, now Tombstone can have some fun.


Captain Ruperto Verde shook his head as he saw the lines of bright red in the distance.

They are begging to be shot down.

The afterburner trails continued to climb higher into the night sky. Verde checked his AN/APG-66 radar. He had good returns on all four planes. They had to be from the mercenary group Shield International. The Trinidadians had no combat jets of their own. Not that the ones Shield had caused him concern. Most of their aircraft were relics from World War II or the Vietnam War. They could take on the stubby K-8 attack jets further back. But against his F-16, they were no match.

Verde heard a steady beeeep in his headphones. His AIM-7 Sparrow missiles had locked on to two of the four targets. His wingman, Lopez, radioed he had solid locks on the other two.

"Fire Sparrows!" Verde ordered.

He shut his eyes for a few seconds so as not to be blinded by the flash of the missiles. After opening his eyes, he kept the nose of his F-16 pointed at the enemy planes, using the radar to help guide the missiles to them. He could see the jets change course. They probably also dumped flares and chaff to try and throw off the missiles. No matter. Even if the Sparrows missed, he and Lopez would move in and use their Python heat-seeking missiles to –

The radar warning receiver blared in the cockpit.

"What?" Verde swung his head in all directions and checked his mirrors. He glimpsed a spot of red behind him. An enemy missile!

Where did that come from?

"Missile, six o'clock!" He shouted into his radio. "Evade! Evade!"

Verde jammed the control stick left. G-forces pressed down on his body, threatening to crush him. He grunted and banked the jet right, thumbing the HOTAS control to drop flares and chaff. He scanned left and right, trying to see if he sho-


"Yee-haa!" Willie "Tombstone" Trasch, formerly of the German Luftwaffe, smiled in satisfaction as he watched two fireballs in the distance.

"It looks like your plan worked," said Marko Eder, his weapons systems officer, from the backseat.

"Did you have any doubts?"


Tombstone's smile grew wider. He knew his F-4s and F-8s could never win a head-to-head engagement with an F-16. So they had to get sneaky. While the Venezuelans concentrated on Bronco Flight, who presented a tempting target with their afterburners lit, Tombstone's Rodeo Flight skirted the waves, then climbed and got behind the F-16s. After that, it was easy to put a couple Sidewinders in them.

Unfortunately, the Venezuelan threat was far from over.

"Eclipse. I need a vector on enemy attack squadron."

The French operator aboard Eclipse told Tombstone the four K-8s were 25 miles from Port of Spain and diving for the deck, likely hoping to make it difficult for his pilots to find them on radar.

Not that it mattered to planes equipped with Forward-Looking Infra-Red pods.

As Tombstone's F-4 closed with the K-8s, their heat signatures glowed bright white on the FLIR screen. Within seconds a steady beeping filled his headphones as the Sidewinder locked on to one of the Venezuelan jets.

"Good tone. Fox Two."

Tombstone pressed the fire button. The Sidewinder jumped off the rail under the F-4's right wing. More contrails streaked around him as other F-4 Phantoms and F-8 Crusaders launched their Sidewinders.

Large fountains of water rose beneath the K-8s. The little jets dumped their bombs and rockets and banked away from the incoming missiles. A white ball flared in Tombstone's FLIR screen. Another one formed. Another.

The surviving K-8 rocketed over the sea, heading south, back to Venezuela.

"Shall we pursue?" Eder asked.

"Negative. He has no more fight in him. Besides, when he lands, he can tell all his friends, there is a new sheriff in town."

"Ha-Ha. You need to stop watching so many American Westerns."

"That will never happen . . . pardner."

Tombstone swung his Phantom around and headed back toward Port of Spain with the rest of his flight. He checked in with Eclipse to see if there were any more targets. All enemy ships had been neutralized, and all enemy aircraft had been shot down or fled.

Except one Mi-17 that had just entered Port of Spain airspace.

Tombstone frowned. Even if they could catch up to that chopper, he didn't fancy shooting it down over a heavily populated city.

Oh well. Now Ruff and his groundpounders can get a piece of the action.