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8

A rifle butt thumped against the door.

"They are almost here," the voice croaked. Hermann saw the car. It is about a kilometer away."

"Danke," Thomas Morganslicht said, throwing off the blanket and staggering out of bed.

He pulled on a thick turtleneck sweater, jeans, hiking boots. The cabins were without any heat, except for the flickering fireplaces.

He tugged the red knit cap over his shiny black hair, pulling it back on his head to allow the sharp point of his widow's peak to show. He liked the way its dagger appearance seemed to startle his men, almost intimidated them. As their leader, he desired every advantage over them he could get. Morganslicht snatched up his gun and shoulder holster, shrugging into them as he walked out of the cabin. Several of his men stood around outside his door, their weapons in hand as they waited for the approaching Saab. The cool sun was peering over the tops of the snowcovered mountain peaks. The men kept moving, rocking back and forth, their breath steaming from mouths and nostrils.

"What time is it, Hermann?"

"Almost six-thirty."

"They must be very tired after their escape, and then driving all night." His voice was more amused than sympathetic. "And how are the prisoners doing?"

"Cold, but otherwise functioning normally," replied Herimann. "They no longer bother to complain."

Thomas grinned. "Good. I thought Rudi would convince them to accept their situation."

The giant called Rudi Blau turned his sixfoot bulk toward them and chuckled damply through massive yellowing teeth. Bundled up in a long black tilde coat and fur-lined hat, he looked like a mutant bear that had inadvertently stumbled into civilization. His eyes were small, too small even to determine their exact color, but his head was a huge round melon. In his right hand he carried a hunk of firewood. He used it to persuade the prisoners, to keep quiet.

If need be he would persuade them into unconsciousness.

Thomas Morganslicht and his guards watched the car puffing up the snow-covered road, its exhaust billowing around it like a pocket of fog.

Hans Regens, who had driven all the way to Frankfurt to pick them up, was still driving.

Tanya was next to him in the front seat. In the back seat, another figure presumably the big American sergeant she had told him about in her communication. The unusual man who had helped her escape. A most independent being, by all accounts, Frightening. Morganslicht frowned. He did not know this American, and he did not like him. It was perhaps necessary to have dealings with such people to get what the group needed, but they were dangerous and should eventually be eliminated. Especially men of such a scale and skills as this one. He had killed Klaus.

Of course, Klaus had not been a very stable person. During the torturing of the two agents, he had not in fact been able to stop. Then it had been up to Thomas to show the proper way to mutilate the enemy, to extend the sport with skill, not lust.

But Klaus was dead and they were without enough weapons.

So they would use this dumb American as much as possible, then kill him. But slowly, maybe more slowly even than with those two damned agents. For demonstration purposes.

The car braked to a halt and the two front car doors opened at once. The driver, Hans, climbed out first, rubbing his neck to shake off the drowsiness of seven straight hours of driving. "The car needs a tune-up," he said, and walked off to get some hot coffee. Tanya slid out next, offering a lingering look at her twin brother.

"Sergeant Grendal," Tanya called out, "we are here."

No response.

"Sergeant Grendal," the woman repeated loudly. Still no response.

She pulled open the back door and ducked into the car, shaking Bolan by the shoulders. He appeared to open his eyes with a start, looking at hir with a confused expression, then he yawned in her face. "Pardon me," he smiled brazenly.

"We are here, Sergeant," she said.

Thomas Morganslicht watched anxiously as the big man in army uniform leaned out of the car and unfolded to his full height. It was a disturbing sight. The man seemed on the surface to be indolent, perhaps doltish, a typical problem for the army: he was a maverick, obviously with some flaw within him, some indecisiveness of character no doubt.

And yet.

And yet behind that veneer of easy confidence and untroubled directness lurked another force altogether.

He could feel it on this chill mountain morning.

It was a darkness. It was something disarmingly strong.

It was a visible danger emanating from this big man. Morganslicht did not like it at all.


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