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2

Pol cranked hard on the steering wheel of the sedan, working the accelerator and brake pedals expertly to put the car into a tire-smoking turn at the mouth of the darkened side street. The headlights revealed a short cul-de-sac lined with silent, sleeping houses.

Blancanales floored the accelerator, and the sedan leaped forward, aimed directly at the sloping front lawn of a large house dead ahead. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes and twisted the wheel hard to the left, rewarded by the scream of tortured rubber as the car slid into a 180-degree bootlegger's turn. Pol instantly killed the headlights, making the half-spin in sudden darkness.

Bolan was out of the car and crouching, the Ingram poised, before the sedan rocked to a complete halt. His combat senses were pruned and alert, probing the hostile night.

In an instant the chase car roared into the cul-de-sac on two wheels, high-beam headlights knifing through blackness as the driver struggled to right his vehicle. For a split second the onrushing beams were blinding, then Pol Blancanales switched on his own lights, kicking them up into high beam and framing the hurtling attack car in the brilliant glare.

Bolan caught a brief glance of two hard-faced men inside, both bringing their arms up to shield their eyes against the sudden blinding light. The driver was hunched forward over the steering wheel, and the passenger on his right had an arm out the side window, his silencer-equipped pistol blindly seeking a target.

Bolan stroked the trigger of the Ingram, and the stubby machine pistol made a sound like canvas ripping. He tracked the flashing muzzle from left to right in a surgically precise twelve-round burst. A row of neat, even holes blossomed across the attack car's windshield, spider web cracks obscuring the suddenly terrified faces within.

Already dying, the driver tried to control his vehicle for another faltering heartbeat before he lost it all. Bolan helped him get there with another short burst to the driver's side, this time seeking flesh and finding it.

The windshield imploded, and at once the front wheels locked into a death slide, much too sharp, sending the big car into a wide, looping roll that ended with the vehicle upside down across the sidewalk, its nose amid the ruins of a white picket fence. One of the occupants was ejected during that wallowing roll, his rag doll body twisting and flopping across the pavement like a punctuation mark to the auto's emphatic death sentence.

There was little time to verify the hit. Already porch lights were coming on around the cul-de-sac, brightening the grim arena. The numbers were falling, fast.

But Bolan was willing to spend a few of those precious numbers, sure, to find a handle on this brief and lethal encounter. It would not do to quit the field of battle without some effort to identify the fallen enemy.

Bolan and the Politician crossed the street to stand above the limp, lifeless form. Bolan recognized the man as the passenger, out of character now as he lay on his back, one arm twisted awkwardly beneath him, his bloodied head cocked at an impossible angle. A dark ribbon of blood dripped from one ear, staining the asphalt.

"Do you make the face, Pol?" Bolan asked his comrade.

Blancanales shook his head firmly. "No. He's a stranger to me."

Bolan shot a swift glance toward the capsized auto, but another porch light clicked on just across the street, making the decision for him. Together, the surviving warriors trotted back to their vehicle and put that street of death behind them before sleepy residents could spill out onto lawns and sidewalks.

Pol tore out at speed, then slowed the sedan to a more sedate pace, avoiding the risk of a routine traffic stop by roving police. Beside him, in the passenger's seat, Bolan was dismantling the Ingram and stowing its warm components back inside the flight bag.

But the Executioner's mind was not on the mechanical functions of stripping his weapon. No way. His brain was already in overdrive, racing toward analysis and recognition of the real game in St. Paul.

They were stopped at a traffic light when Pol's voice intruded on those dark thoughts.

"I guess I'll have to lose this heap," he grumbled. Then, with a rueful grin, he added, "Just like the bad old days, eh?"

Bolan frowned. "The old days are supposed to be dead and buried, guy."

Blancanales nodded, losing the grin. "So are you, buddy, so are you."

"How do you read this action, Pol?" Bolan asked, changing the subject.

Blancanales shrugged. His face in the dim dashboard light was genuinely puzzled.

"No reading, Sarge. Not yet, anyway. It just won't compute. It's beyond me."

For another few moments they drove along in silence, each warrior preoccupied with his own private thoughts and concerns. Each sought some personal answer, some private point of recognition in the puzzle that ensnared them.

Neither found it.


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