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The sleek Lear jet touched down lightly on the east-west runway of Holman Field in St. Paul. Wind-blown rain streaked the plexiglas window beside the single passenger, turning the world outside the aircraft into a dark blur speckled with runway lights. Interior lighting reflected his frown in the oval pane.

They had approached from the east, descending through one of those Minnesota thunderstorms that always seem to reserve themselves for summer and then invariably strike around midnight. It was after midnight now, and the big man was anxious to be about his business in St. Paul.

The Lear's pilot taxied his craft to a slow halt near a western terminal. Holman Field sits tucked into a hairpin curve of the Mississippi River, where it bites a half-moon slice out of south-central St. Paul and Ramsey County. The compact jet's position placed it on the far side of the airfield, well away from the busier avenues occupied by commercial airliners and most private traffic.

Mack Bolan snared a heavy flight bag from the reclining seat beside him and moved out down the center aisle. His plainclothes Air Force pilot met him at the exit port, throwing the door back on its runners to admit a blast of wind and stinging rain.

Somewhere across the looping river, lightning blotched the sky, and was followed instantly by the intestinal growl of distant thunder. Bolan nodded to the pilot, hunched his shoulders against the storm, and descended folding steps into the rainy darkness.

Beyond the concrete retaining wall, near a vacant-looking terminal building, a long, dark sedan sat with engine idling. Bolan took it in at a glance and angled in that direction, slowing his pace slightly in spite of the pouring rain.

As if on cue, the sedan's interior dome light was turned on, revealing the driver's solemn, familiar face, and was quickly extinguished. Bolan picked up his pace, jogging now until he reached the waiting car, and slid in on the passenger's side, flight bag between his feet.

"How is she, Pol?" he asked the man behind the wheel.

Rosario Blancanales shrugged listlessly. "She's in bad shape, Mack. And emotionally... who knows?" After brief hesitation, he added, "Thanks for coming, Sarge."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that, guy," Bolan told him.

Blancanales put the sedan in motion, away from the airport and onto Lafayette Freeway, heading north to cross the wide Mississippi into St. Paul proper. They spoke little as they drove, each man occupied with private thoughts on that stormy Minnesota night.

Mack Bolan was trying to remember when he had last seen his old friend look so harried, so drained. Not in Asia, certainly, where Rosario's vitality and savvy with the natives had quickly earned him the nickname "Politician." Nor later, when Pol joined the Executioner's domestic war against a common enemy. Not even at the bottom, the very worst of it, after the massacre at Balboa in the bad old days.

Bolan decided that his friend had never looked worse, or had better cause.

Perhaps — just maybe — there was something he could do to change all that.

Blancanales, meanwhile, for all the strain evident on his face and in his posture, seemed to draw some sort of solace from the mere presence of his best and oldest friend. Already he seemed to be regaining a touch of the old fire, as if Bolan's welcome arrival from his last mission in Turkey had sparked some internal mechanism and set the wheels turning again.

Bolan noted the subtle changes and was thankful for it.

Holman Field was twenty minutes behind them when Pol broke the silence with a clipped, curt warning.

"We've got a tail," he snapped.

Bolan glanced back over his shoulder through rain-streaked darkness.

"No question?"

Blancanales shook his head. "Negative. The last three turns were for his benefit. He's sticking tight."

A block behind them, headlights hung on their track at an even, measured pace. When Pol accelerated, the twin lights edged nearer; when he stroked the brake lightly, they fell back.

A tail, yeah. No question about that.

Bolan turned back to his friend in the driver's seat. "Okay, we'd better lose him."

"Roger that, buddy."

Pol instantly swung the sedan into a groaning turn, barely making the light and the corner as he swung across two lanes of traffic onto an intersecting street. The tail car never missed a beat, edging out two other vehicles as it slashed a course behind them in pursuit.

Blancanales was an expert wheelman, familiar with the streets and alleys of St. Paul. With Mack Bolan at his side, silently urging him on, he pulled out all the stops, using every trick to shake the tenacious pursuers dogging their tracks. Up and down one-way alleys, through red and amber lights, cutting corners across parking lots and filling stations. Nothing served to shake the dogged hunters.

Outside the car, the driving rain subsided to a drizzle, and the buildings rapidly transformed themselves from large commercial structures to small businesses, finally merging into dark and sleeping residential tracts. Pol's course took them north and east by stages, running serpentine, with the tail car close behind them all the way.

Two minutes into the winding chase, the pursuers gained speed and drew within two or three car lengths of Pol's speeding sedan. Dirty orange flame winked from the passenger side of the tail, followed by the hollow sound of a bullet striking the sedan's trunk lid. Bolan glanced backward in time to see a second muzzle flash, and this time the slug chipped window glass before whining off chrome and steel into darkness.

Bolan reached between his feet and opened the zippered flight bag. He hauled out an Ingram M-10 9mm machine pistol. He snapped a thirty-two-round magazine into the vertical pistol grip, then threaded a foot-long silencer onto the Ingram' s squat muzzle.

The weapon was a man-shredder, conceived during the riot-torn sixties as a lethal "room broom" for use in sweeping snipers out of the urban combat zones. It was designed to fire those 9mm manglers at a rate of twelve hundred rounds per minute, but Bolan had modified and tamed this particular model down to a more economical — and manageable — seven hundred rpm's.

It was more than enough, yeah, in any situation under a hundred yards. And Bolan planned to confront his present foe much closer than that.

He snapped back the cocking bolt, bringing a cartridge into the chamber and priming the lethal little weapon. Pol Blancanales shot a quick glance at the hardware, shaking his head grimly as he recognized the chopper and its capabilities.

"Give me some stretch, Pol," the Executioner said.

"You've got it, man," his driver replied.

Blancanales stomped hard on the accelerator to wring another five miles an hour out of the laboring engine. Behind them in darkness, the trailing headlights lurched, then drew closer, gaining.

"I need a face-off," Bolan said softly. "Choose your own time."

Blancanales snapped his friend a curt nod, craning forward over the wheel, his eyes scanning the dim street from side to side. He saw his opening, in the form of a midnight-dark side street racing toward them on their right.

Bolan saw it coming too, reading the scene and his comrade's tense body language behind the wheel. Both men braced themselves.

"Okay, buddy," Pol grated over the roar of the engine, "right... about... Now."

Prologue | The Violent Streets | cледующая глава