Mack Bolan had come to St. Paul on what seemed a simple mission.
To help a friend.
To relieve the pain of a suffering comrade-in-arms.
But the nature of the Executioner's mission in the Twin Cities was rapidly shaping up into something else, something vastly different from what he had come to expect. The campaign had all the makings of a unique experience for Bolan in his home-front wars, and the very difference of the mission was what made it so desperate, so dangerous for all concerned.
For openers, Bolan had less solid information about his enemy — or enemies — than he had ever carried into battle before. In his previous campaigns, whether against the Cong, the Mafia, or the new breed of terrorists that John Phoenix had been resurrected to fight, he had always gone into combat with at least a general understanding of the enemy's number and goals.
He had always known their name and their game, yeah.
But not in St. Paul.
So far, the Executioner knew only that he was searching for one deranged young man who raped and murdered women for reasons best known to himself. An animal who had to be found and very forcefully neutralized.
But along the way, he had already encountered five men who bore all the earmarks of syndicate hardmen, and they seemed to be intent on scuttling any search for the Twin Cities rapist-killer.
That was a new one on Bolan, and he was a long way from having thought it completely through.
One thing was clear enough for the moment. He had come into St. Paul operating on faulty perceptions, without all the necessary information. Clearly, the game was not to be a simple, deadly one-on-one between the headcase and the Executioner. It had already evolved into something more, something larger, more sinister.
Someone had called out the guns in St. Paul; whether in support of Bolan's intended prey or on behalf of some unknown, unrelated cause, he couldn't yet be certain. He knew only that the gunmen existed, and that he undoubtedly would have to deal with more of them before he was finished in the city.
The strong indications of organized crime activity — and possible police complicity, whatever its scope — indicated that there was more at stake in St. Paul than a relatively simple string of rapes and murders committed by some faceless madman.
The Twin Cities had never ranked high in the American Mafia hierarchy, even before Mack the Bastard Bolan had appeared out of nowhere, rattling cages and finally blowing their whole damned house down. The syndicate had representatives and outposts there, nevertheless, and it carried out the same time-honored game of rape and ruin. However, the local action had never rated an Executioner visitation, either during the main war, or during Bolan's savage week-long "second mile" through hell.
Never, that is, until now.
Now it looked as if it might be time to correct an earlier oversight.
Across the nation, the crime syndicate lay in smoking ruins. But just as the V.C. had managed to avoid massive sweeps in Vietnam, just as the Japanese diehards had held out on isolated Pacific islands for decades after Hiroshima, there were still outposts and pockets of resistance that had weathered or entirely escaped the Executioner's cleansing fire.
And St. Paul, apparently, was one of those holdouts.
Syndicate chieftains had been reduced by the long Bolan blitz to the status of feudal warlords during the Dark Ages. Stripped of the seemingly omnipotent Mafia umbrella that had sheltered them for decades in America, they were now more cautious, more isolated from one another, more interested in perpetuating their local scams than in grand delusions of national power and prestige.
But that did not indicate any lessening of virulence at the local level. Hell, no.
Even a dying snake was dangerous if you came within reach of its fangs. And the Mafia viper, though hacked to pieces and scattered to the four winds, was still showing grim, reflexive signs of life.
At bottom, the stakes were — and always would be — basically the same for Mack Bolan. Civilized Man vs. Animal Man. The builders vs. the predators of the world.
From youth, Bolan had cast his lot with the civilized, the builders. Not that he had ever had any real choice in the matter. Given his upbringing, his sense of morality and duty, there was, quite simply, no option.
There had been no choice when he went to Vietnam to face Animal Man in the jungles of the delta, or when he reenlisted for a second tour of duty.
And there had been, yeah, no choice at all when the deaths of his parents and sister were laid at the doorstep of the malignant Mafia outpost in Pittsfield, so many lifetimes ago.
No choice, finally, when on the eve of victory in his Mafia wars, Bolan had been called to another front in the same war everlasting, to fight against worldwide terrorism as the reborn Colonel John Phoenix.
When Pol Blancanales called, seeking Bolan's help, there had been, again, no options for the Executioner. He had come to St. Paul because he had to, and if the enemy's number and name had been changed behind the scenes, that didn't alter his duty or devotion one iota. On the contrary.
Bolan would see his task through to the end, whatever that end might be, and he would strike against Animal Man with his last breath of life, if necessary.
There could be — hell, would be — no turning back short of victory or death.
And yeah, it looked like war everlasting all right. Mack Bolan vs. the cannibals in whatever twisted shape they might assume.
The Executioner knew he couldn't have it any other way.