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17

Rudi sat on the edge of his cot, the gnarled log balanced across his knees, his meaty hands wrapped around each end. He scowled across the room at Bolan, huge teeth glistening with saliva.

"We have to stop meeting like this," Bolan grinned.

Rudi tightened his grip on the log. "American humor," he sneered and spat on the dusty floor.

"Yeah, well, you don't exactly keep me in stitches, guy. Though I think you'd like to."

"Shut up!" spluttered Rudi, saliva spraying from his lips. He struggled to control his temper. It was what the twins would want him to do, but still it was so difficult at times, especially with this infuriating American. There was something about this man that made Rudi seriously nervous. Rudi had, to his knowledge, never been afraid of anything before in his life.

But with this American it was different. The U.S. Army sergeant goaded and pushed in such a way that Rudi wanted to crush him. Breaking his back would not be enough, he would have to use his thumbs to gouge out those taunting eyes, too. He hated those eyes. They were hard confident eyes that somehow drained Rudi of his own confidence. And that could not be tolerated. He would try to control his temper, for the sake of the twins, but there were limits beyond which even he could not be pushed.

"Enough talk," Rudi warned. "You talk too much, but say nothing."

"An American custom," Bolan nodded. "We call it small talk. It's supposed to make us good buddies."

"Buddies, hah!" Rudi snorted and spat on the floor.

"Is it true what they say about you?"

The muscles in Rudi's neck bulged like steel cables on a bridge. "What do they say?"

"That the difference between you and an ape is that the ape smells better."

Three hundred pounds of screaming flesh came hurtling across the small cabin, all of it aimed at Mack Bolan.

The Executioner dived to one side. Rudi went crashing into the cot, smashing it to splinters.

He arose like a maddened bull and lunged at his quarry, grabbing a new hunk of wood, in his hand as he did so. Bolan grabbed the man-mountain by the face, slowing his advance, and held back the club with all the strength of his left arm. Then he smashed his forehead into the thick wide nose of the giant terrorist. Rudi's cartilage cracked dully and a sticky spray of warm blood shot out of his nostrils as if from a garden hose. Rudi cried out, and Bolan snapped his head forward again, even harder. Rudi wailed and his grip loosened in every way. Rudi had had enough. He stood with his frying-pan hands covering his splintered nose and badly bloodied face, gulping air greedily through his mouth. But Bolan was just beginning.

He kicked the beast in the stomach. His lightning-fast right combat boot was propelled by a steel-spring complex of thigh and calf muscles that had the power to smash bricks and disintegrate doors.

The impact was the equivalent of a motor being thrown at human flesh. When the force connected with Rudi, it blasted the wind out of him, but he did not crumble.

Fine, thought Bolan. He wants humiliation and that is what he will get. Rudi's rage and shame will be my ally, it will turn against him and will destroy him. Bolan's next kick was higher, connecting with the chest. A blood-soaked Rudi, his sinuses open to the wind, grabbed the foot immediately, even as it sank into his gross pectorals like a cannonball into a listing ship.

He twisted the ankle in his grasp until Bolan was tossed over and facing the floor, head down, only his hands keeping his nose from being ground into the filth of the hovel floor. Rudi was dangling Mack Bolan upside down like some empty which elbarrow.

Bolan grabbed the vile creature's knees and took aim for his next shot. With the swiftness of a karate chop, he brought his head up with a jerk, aiming for the frontal pelvic bone, punching his speeding cranium into the — German's upper crotch with all the Zen overkill of one whose aim goes far beyond the actual target.

This effect was to bend Rudi over into a forward roll as his testicles continued on their new journey back up the bladder into a cave of endless pain. He exhaled hideously as his body tumbled toward the floor, Bolan rolling with him to come upright as Rudi groveled. Bolan was grinning. His head had now bounced three times off of bone, and each time the damage was so much greater than the impact might indicate. The nose hits had completely screwed up the workings of the bloated terrorist's face, meanwhile sending shudders of shock and pain waves of splinter-scrape all through the crazed Aryan's skull, as blood and mucous slime spewed forth unchecked from the facial wreckage. Then the pelvic shot had sent spasms through the beast's scrotum so severe that the solar plexus itself had gone numb with airless apoplexy. Rudi's fat viscera convulsed inside him. The Executioner's smile was not one of pleasure, nor amusement. It was a bitter one, adopted only to restrain his flaring anger. It was a smile of menace, repressing like a pressurized mask the thunderclap fury that could explode at any time.

Mack Bolan once more sent a foot flying into the body of Rudi, now lying doubled-over on the floor. The kick connected with Rudi's thick throat. Groaning turned to a bubbling choke.

"That one's for Munich," intoned the Executioner.

Another vicious kick found its home on the carcass of the writhing giant.

"That one's for Mountbatten."

Yet another kick buried Bolan's foot deep into Rudi's quivering flesh. The blows were a litany for the victim of terrorist outrages. If the victims could not fight back, the Executioner would do it for them. As he lashed out at Rudi to humiliate him, to shame him solely to set him up for the plans he had for Rudi in his unfolding strategy, the Executioner became grievously saddened. It hurt him to invoke the names of the dead and the maimed, the more so because of society's shameful reluctance to avenge their suffering.

Why does modern mankind allow the gutless warfare of terrorism to continue while the host countries whimper their toothless statements of official frowning? Why does the language itself betray basic decency, so that terrorists are said by newsreaders to have taken "responsibility" instead of "blame" for their cowardly and disgusting acts? Why don't we call it as it is?

"And that one's for the children." The last kick was to the kidney, its quick agility and direct force communicating very powerfully. Mack Bolan's position as regards the murder and the maiming of young kids who in their hundreds now strayed innocently into the death zone of maniacs.

It was then that Bolan saw the door ajar.

Tanya Morganslicht stood in the doorway, her hands on her hips, lips curled in cruel amusement. "It pleases me that you two have found some way to pass the time."

Rudi struggled to rise. He was in panic now and wheezed painfully as he breathed against the bruises that were luridly discoloring his upper body. "He forced me," Rudi gasped. He was standing now, but bent over from the white pain that was twisting into his groin. "He tried to escape... I stopped him," he burbled in phlegmsoaked German.

"Yes, so I see." She stooped over and picked up his club, handing it to him. "After you have cleaned yourself, pass the command among the men that there has been a change in plan. We proceed with our planned attack tomorrow. There will be a final run through in the morning and everyone had better do magnificently." Her voice crackled with electricity. Rudi left in agony. Tanya closed the door behind him.

"I told you he didn't like you," she said.

"I've always had trouble making friends," Bolan said. "Maybe I'm just too shy."

She shook her head. "Somehow I doubt that, Sergeant. Relax, please."

"It's why I joined the army, to meet people."

"Your lack of political commitment is disgusting," she said. "Sit down while I talk." The woman let her eyes roam over Bolan's face and body. "You remind me so much of my father. A fine man, well-liked in the community, an architect. Respected by everyone. He gave to charities, particularly a Zionist group in our town. My own father, donating large amounts of money for the theft of Palestine! We often asked him why he did it, my brother and I." She continued to gaze at Bolan's glistening neck and chest, but there was a faraway look in her eyes that indicated she was lost in her personal history.

"Then one day at the university, Thomas and I were approached by PLO recruiters. They were aware of our sentiments concerning Israel and the Zionists. And they showed us why our father was so "dedicated" to the Zionist cause. As an architect during the war, he had personally designed two concentration camps."

Mack Bolan was still catching his breath from his recent exertion. Tanya searched his face for a reaction. When he offered her none she continued. "It was such a freeing experience, that information. Now we felt free to be who we really were, to follow our own beliefs and let our father wallow in his guilt and self-pity with the hoodlum Jews." Her cheeks were flushed with emotion. "It wasn't too long after that that Thomas and I traveled to Libya for a summer's combat training in revolutionary methods."

"Terrorism," muttered a hard Mack Bolan.

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter what you call it. When we win, we'll be called revolutionary heroes. Until then, we'll be called terrorists." She unfastened the tight combat bun of her hair and shook it free. The shiny black mane splashed like dark waves over her shoulders. She walked slowly to the fireplace, removed the hurricane lamp from the mantel, tilted the glass bell and lit the wick, then placed the lamp on the table in the center of the room.

She switched off the overhead light. "I hope you don't mind being room-mates with Rudi," she said. "He's been so lonely since you killed his friend Klaus."

"What you mean is, you don't trust me and you want someone to stand guard. Especially now that tomorrow is D-Day."

Tanya ignored Bolan's words. Instead she turned to face him where he sat on the edge of his damaged cot, and she began to unbutton her blouse. The room was semidark, washed with swaying shadows from the flickering hurricane lamp.

It reminded Bolan of being at the bottom of a lighted swimming pool. He watched quietly as she unfastened each button, not hurriedly, but not with deliberate slowness either-methodically, as if she were field stripping a rifle. When she had finished with the last button of her green combat shirt, Bolan confirmed what he'd known all Mong, that she wore no bra despite her ample breasts. Tanya took a few steps closer to him, as if waiting for him to make the next move. Her shirt hung open, revealing smooth dark skin and the soft swell of firm breasts. "We've decided to let you live," she said suddenly, her voice all business. "And, after completing our mission tomorrow, we will give you a percentage of the profits."

"How big a percentage?" Bolan asked.

There was an edge of anger in her voice. "Big enough. You should learn to be happy with what you get, grateful even."

Bolan let his eyes drift down to her open shirt. "And how do you want me to show this gratitude?"

"However I decide," she said, taking and her step toward him. There was the sound of a rapid knock on the door. Without waiting for a reply, Hermann pushed into the room. "Say, Rudi, I wanted to know..." He looked up, surveyed the room, lingered an extra moment on Tanya's open blouse, began stammering. "I... uh... Rudi was supposed... I'll j-just...." He started to back out the door.

"Idiod!" Tanya barked. "Come here!"

Hermann nervously closed the door and marched toward her. The buxom commander made no attempt to rebutton her blouse. Somehow that was even more demeaning to the German, as if his opinion was too insignificant to care about.

"Don't you know any better than to enter a cabin without being invited in?"

"Yes, but I thought Rudi was, well, I thought..."

Her hand shot through the air and slapped Hermann across the cheek. His head snapped to one side.

"I don't care what you thought. This is not Rudi's cabin. It is my cabin. All the cabins are my cabin. You are permitted to stay in one of my cabins because I choose to suffer your presence. Do you understand?"

He looked at Bolan sheepishly.

"Don't look at him," she yelled, slapping him again with both a forehand and backhand.

Blood swelled on his lower lip and trickled down his chin. "Now answer me."

"Yes, Commander Morganslicht. I understand."

"Interesting training technique," Bolan said.

"There's a little of the storm trooper in you after all." Tanya spun around, her eyes black and blazing. "You think my troops aren't loyal to me because I am forced to discipline them occasionally? How little you understand us, Sergeant Grendal. It is not like your own decadent army. I am a parent to my followers, treating them as I would my own children. And sometimes, like any parent, I must punish them for their own good and that of their family."

"Yeah, sure."

"You doubt me?"

"Nope. Just wouldn't want to turn my back on them if I were you."

She walked over to the hurricane lamp and carefully removed the hot glass cover. The shadows in the room shifted slightly. "Hermann," she said and he walked over to where she stood. "Give me your left hand."

Without hesitation, he stuck out his left hand which she guided by the fingertips until it hovered less than two inches above the yellow flame.

Hermann winced, his face clenching into a tight sweating mask of endurance. She held the hand there, all the time staring into Bolan's eyes and smiling. The sickening sweet smell of burning flesh wafted through the air. Bolan could hear the skin sizzling and blistering.

"Enough," she said, turning the hand away from the hungry flame.

Sweat dripped down Hermann's face, pain knotted his brow. He stood still, without a sound. Tanya flipped the burned hand over and showed it to Bolan. The flesh was charred in the center, still smoking around the crisp circle. It looked as if a small comet had struck his palm. "That is loyalty, Sergeant Grendal. The type your kind will never fathom. That's because with us, loyalty is repaid." She lifted Hermann's damaged hand lovingly to her mouth and kissed the blistered wound. Then she lowered it again, slipping it under her open blouse and pressing it itgainst her firm breast. Despite his intense pain Hermann stared greedily at her open blouse. Tanya smiled at him and patted his cheek. "Now go get this bandaged."

He left quickly.

"Naturally I used his left hand so as not to jeopardize his fitness with a rifle for tomorrow's assault."

"How thoughtful."

She replaced the glass bell on the hurricane lamp and turned back to Bolan.

"Your sarcasm does not bother me, Sergeant. I have been very good to these men. I have slept with most of them at least once. Does that shock you?"

"No, it bores me."

She stood staring at Bolan for a full minute without moving. Her face was a fixed mask etched in ice.

Bolan returned her stare without blinking. He tried to penetrate the frosty exterior to understand what went on inside her head. From observation he had determined that both the twins were certifiably crazy.

Thomas Morganslicht was probably born that way, or at least acted as if he'd always been nuts. But Tanya Morganslicht seemed to have chosen craziness as a life-style. And that made her the more dangerous. Finally she broke off her stare, though Bolan figured she could have kept it up for hours had she wanted to. She buttoned the front of her blouse and walked to the door, pausing only to say. "You will need your rest for tomorrow." Then she closed the door behind her.

Bolan stretched out on the surviving cot he tried to formalize a plan to free the hostages, foil tomorrow's mission, and devastate the Zwilling Horde until they were nothing more than a smoking hole in the ground. Simple, sure. The situation was an arousing one for the Executioner.

Thomas Morganslicht had hated him from the start.

After his humiliating beating, Rudi Blau would probably try to kill him at first opportunity.

And now he had alienated Tanya Morganslicht until tonight his only ally. Yeah, things were heating up all right. And tomorrow they would boil over. The question was, who would be scalded most?


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