"Hit the dirt! Hit the dirt!" The two Zwilling Horde terrorists dived over the wall and landed face-down in the hard snowbank on the other side.
"Fine," Bolan said in English-accented German. "Now the next two. Go!"
Two more hardguys hefted their new Uzis and charged across the campground, leaping the short wooden wall near the cabin. Then each stood up and brushed the snow from his clothing.
"Forget your damned clothing!" Bolan yelled at them. "Protect your gun. Tuck it close to your body when you go over the wall, then cradle it when you roll. Next two!"
Thomas Morganslicht watched from the porch of his cabin, raking his thick black hair into place with his fingers, then absently chewing on his finger-nails again.
Something was not right. He didn't know what it was exactly, but he had this sour, dizzy feeling, almost like seasickness. Perhaps just the excitement, he wondered. After all, today was the day. The day when the Zwilling Horde would demonstrate to the world its brilliance and commitment. In a few hours they would have their deadly prize. Then, within a few days, hundreds would die. Perhaps even thousands. But still his stomach churned and twisted. Especially in the presence of this American. Last night had been particularly bad. He had not been able to relax more than a few minutes at a time, and when he did fall asleep the nightmare returned. A hooded figure, face of granite, fire shooting from his fingertips, horrible flames. Even thinking about it now caused his stomach to a chew and he could feel the slick film of sweat coating his skin. It was absurd to think that this hooded figure had anything to do with this American soldier. Dreams were only dreams, a shuffling of images and fears. He had learned about them in the university, though he had not done well in that course. Tanya had to do some of his homework so he would not fail.
Yes, Tanya. Sweet, ever-present Tanya. She had always been there to help him, to explain things, to protect him. Even when he hadn't wanted her help she was there.
He glanced around the camp at all the early morning activity. Men huffing and puffing in the chilly mountain air, their breath steaming like farm horses. The snow was hard and crusty from the constant melting and freezing process, but the roads remained clear and dry. There would be no trouble with transportation today.
"Tuck your headl" Bolan yelled at Hermann, who dived over the wall and flopped miserably on his stomach in an effort to protect his bandaged hand.
Thomas watched Tanya walking across the camp, her boots crunching through the snow. Her long black hair was knotted into a tight bun and tucked under her wool cap. Combat style, that's what she called it. Her face was its usual porcelain cold. He smiled. She was so proud of her self-control, her haughty distance. And it was true she was almost supernaturally cool during the most threatening crisis. But he knew, too, how that pale face would soon burn with blood lust when they were within range of their target. That was the only time she showed genuine passion.
"What's the American doing shouting orders at our men?" he rasped at her as she approached the porch.
"I told him to run the men through a few special drills. Don't worry, he knows what he's doing. We should take advantage of his knowledge."
"You haven't forgotten our decision to kill him after this is over, have you?" he whispered.
"On the contrary," she smiled. "I want you did your best work on him. Exceed yourself. I want what you did to those two agents to look like kindness. There should not be one square inch of his body left unexplored that might cause him excruciating pain. And not just pain, I want you to humiliate him however you can, physically, psychologically. Get Rudi to help you, I'm sure he'd appreciate the opportunity. And then when our Sergeant Grendal reaches that limbo beyond pain, I want you to chop his body into bits except for the head. That we want them to recognize. After they receive his remains the authorities will think twice about how they are to deal with us."
Thomas studied his sister's face with puzzlement.
In the past she had not minded his torturing and brutalizing certain people, but she had never encouraged him either. Now she was insisting on it. He could tell by the hard edges around her mouth that she meant it, too.
Whatever the American had done to earn her wrath, he would certainly be sorry by tonight. This would be Thomas's greatest achievement, perhaps making it last for days before death would end his pleasure... and the sergeant's life.
"What happened to Hermann's hand?" he said, nodding at the bandage.
Rudi came around the corner of one of the buildings and Thomas was startled at the man's appearance.
Dark purple bruises circled his eyes and spread across his cheeks. His nose was bandaged with white adhesive tape, but it still looked as if it had been flattened with a sledgehammer.
"My God," Thomas gasped. "What happened to Rudi, his face?"
"An argument with the American. No one's fault."
"No one's fault first Hermann has an 'accident, then Rudi is injured. We should kill this American right now, not take any chances of taking him along."
"There's no rush," she said quietly. "He's a man who will do anything for money. He won't harm our mission. If we had more like him we could pull this whole thing off with half the men."
"I don't like it." Thomas shook his head. "He's dangerous."
Tanya smiled. "So are we, brother. So are we."
Bolan grabbed one of the hardguys roughly by the shoulder and pitched him forward into the snow. "Pick up your feet! All of you. You'll never make it through this kind of snow if you use your legs like plows. You'll poop out after half a mile."
The terrorists grumbled but under the watchful eyes of Tanya and Thomas Morganslicht, dutifully picked up their feet and trudged forward. Bolan continued shouting automatic orders at them while he studied the situation around him. Tanya had "suggested" he warm the troops up with some special drills, so he'd been making it look legitimate and military. It had been a clever move on her part. This way he was out in the middle of the campground, unarmed, his voice could be heard anywhere in the camp, and he was surrounded by armed killers. It was tighter security than locking him up.
Without looking directly at them, he was aware of Thomas and Tanya conversing on the porch of their cabin. He did not need to overhear their conversation to know exactly what they were saying. They were a little shorthanded after last night's raid, so they would take advantage of having this trained soldier. They had already offered him money, and since that was what they thought he wanted most in the world, there would be no suspicion of betrayal. Nevertheless, they had probably decided to kill him immediately after the raid, to avoid paying him, and choking off any risk that he might sell them out for a better offer. That gave Bolan until the raid to free the hostages and figure a way to grind these people into the dirt.
"All right," Thomas yelled as he approached Bolan, his Luger tucked into the waist of his jeans. "I think that's enough warm-up, Sergeant. Nicely done." He slipped into his friendly mask again, tugging the coners of his mouth into a parody of a smile.
He waved at Rudi, who stood nearby scowling at Bolan. It was no longer hate in Rudi's eyes, but something more basic, an animal passion for revenge. With gun if possible, but with teeth and nails if necessary. Rudi pivoted, the morning sun glinting off his white bandaged nose, and hurried toward the cabin where the hostages were kept during the night.
Tanya joined her brother and Bolan. "It's too bad we didn't have you here earlier, Sergeant. You could have whipped these men into real shape for us."
"They'll do as is," Thomas protested.
Tanya sighed impatiently. "No one's questioning your ability as a trainer, Thomas. But Sergeant Grendal has had more experience in this sort of thing."
"Of course," Thomas acknowledged.
Bolan wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve. "Well, I still might be interested in training them after today. We could work out a price per head, or maybe I could make you a deal on the whole lot."
Tanya smiled. "You never quit, do you? If there's a dollar to be made, you're in there pitching."
"Yeah, well, I'm just a small businessman trying to make a living."
"Naturally," Thomas nodded. "But after today we will no longer require your services. Once our mission is successful, we will pay you a reasonable fee for your work and then drop you off in Mannheim."
"And after that," Tanya added, "you're on your own."
"Suits me," Bolan smiled. "Just one question. I'd like to have an idea what I'm risking my neck for."
Tanya nodded at her brother and he began to speak, pacing slightly as he did. "The key, of course, Sergeant Grendal, is to have the most possible impact for the least possible exertion. The best way to achieve this is to show the world we mean business in a big way."
"Such at killing several hundred people at once. A large bomb of some sort would be most effective, perhaps in a movie theater, or a hospital." He stopped, gnawed on a stubborn thumbnail, and continued. "But as terrifying as random bombings are, they don't have the impact that will make our Soviet and Arab friends sit up and take notice. So my sister came up with an even better idea." he said creepily. "We bought some interesting information two months ago, probably originally sold by someone not unlike yourself."
"Yes," Tanya added, "unscrupulous and money-grubbing."
"The information cost us dearly, most of what we'd saved after the last three robberies. But it was worth it." He paused to smile mysteriously. "We have learned that today, in just..." he looked at his watch "...six hours and twenty-seven minutes, your army will begin transporting a certain deadly shipment for delivery to a NATO research base in Hamburg. The cargo yellow rain."
Bolan's face tensed, his teeth clenched hard.
He could feel a chill working its way along his neck and through his scalp. "Are you crazy? That stuff's bad news. Unless you know exactly what you're doing, it will backfire on you."
"We aren't afraid," Tanya said.
"Then you're not too smart," Bolan shot back. "Maybe you don't know enough to be scared. Just ask some of the people in Laos and Afghanistan, where your Soviet mentors tried it out. Ask them about the choking, the blood vessels that burst inside you so that the whole body becomes a huge hemorrhage. It's one of the most agonizing deaths ever devised. And that's the stuff you want to fool around with?"
"We know all that, Sergeant," Tanya said. "And we are not so foolish as to not take precautions. We know how to handle the substance and we know how to administer it when the time comes. A simple aerosol device should spread enough to kill several hundred people at a playground, say."
"Children?" Bolan asked, quietly.
"Of course. There is nothing more terrifyirig than the loss of children. One need only look at the panic in your own Atlanta with the slaughter of the black children. The public outcry almost brought down the city government. Imagine how much power we will have once we've killed off a few hundred. After that, they will beg to meet our demands."
Bolan stared at the two of them, controlling his mounting urge to kill them right now. He could do it, too, before any of their followers even knew what had happened. His elbow crushing a windpipe, his palm shoving nose cartilage back into the brain. But that was not the way. Not yet.
Yeah, he knew all about "yellow rain." The Soviets had created it from wheat grains to form a weapon that kills whether you breathe it, eat it, or just touch it. One so deadly that there is no cure, no real prevention. That's why the army was taking it to the NATO compound for research. April had briefed him on the whole thing months ago when the first reports came in of the captured killer that some Afghan rebels had snagged away from the Soviets. The army hoped through research and analysis to find some way to combat it, some way to help those brave Afghan warriors fighting against all odds to free their homeland. They had no hope against such sophisticated murder. Besides, who knew how soon the Soviets might want to try using it elsewhere. But somehow, as it always does, word got out about the transport activity, and now these vultures were preparing to swoop down and steal it. Once they had it, there was no way to stop them from killing whoever they wanted, whenever they wanted. And right now they wanted to kill children.
"Move!" Rudi hollered, thumping his wooden club against the ground as he led the ragged athletes across the camp. "I said move!" he screamed again, cuffing Udo Ganz on the back of the head.
"Not so hard, Rudi," Tanya cautioned. "We need his head clear for the skiing."
In the bright sunlight they looked much worse than they had before. Bolan noticed the drawn pale look to the face, the dark circles under the eyes, the pasty skin, dirty oily hair, and general hopelessness in their dull eyes.
Babette Pavlovski squinted with one hand shading her eyes as she looked toward Bolan standing with the twins. Her mouth twisted into a sneer and she looked quickly away. Udo Ganz merely looked frightened and confused, anxious to please his tormentors.
Bolan didn't blame him his fear, he'd earned it. He had already proved his courage on the Olympic battlegrounds, and now he was completely out of his element. The slim Oriental, Mako Samata, looked wan but otherwise peaceful within himself. Despite the circumstances, he walked with a slight swagger as if he were in complete control of the situation, waiting only to exercise his power.
Bolan had to admire his style.
The last of the group was Clifford Barnes-Fenwick, the Welsh archer whose grief over his dead son might be the one thing to destroy everyone's chance of escape. The bruises around his swollen nose looked much less awesome when compared to the damage on Rudi's face.
As the hostages were lead out into the center of the camp, several of the troops hefted their Uzis and fanned out to form an armed perimeter. There would be no attempted escapes during today's rehearsal.
"All right, you've done it before, let's see it again. But this time it must be perfect." Thomas towered over the wiry Oriental, but Mako projected the impression that he was the much taller man. Bolan noticed that Thomas kept a respectable distance between himself and Mako, even as he lectured the man.
"Okay, now, Samata, you will be the first member of your team to operate. Do you understand?"
"I have understood from the beginning," he said with a contemptuous sigh.
"Then there will be no problem."
"Of course not. I am trained in the art of ninjutsu. Military bases are easier to penetrate than many private homes."
"Excellent," Thomas smiled. "But remember, we will have a hidden gun trained on you at all times. If you do manage to escape, we will immediately execute the rest of your friends."
"You have made yourself clear," Mako said.
"Fine. Now I want to see you demonstrate once again how quickly you can disable a man." He called over his shoulder at Rudi. "Clock him... now!"
Rudi clicked the stopwatch as Mako began his first move. It was obvious to Bolan this was the same course they'd had him working on for weeks. The goal was for him to knock out two guards that Thomas had planted in the far cabin.
Both guards were armed and expecting an attack from Mako, only they did not know how or when it would come. By Bolan's estimate, it had taken Mako less than thirty seconds to vault the small wooden wall and disappear entirely from sight.
Everyone looked around for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Thomas and Tanya exchanged nervous glances as if afraid he might have made a break for it.
Finally, Thomas looked at his watch, pulled out his Luger and walked briskly toward the cabin where the guards were waiting. He had taken no more than half a dozen steps when the front door of the cabin swung open and Mako stepped out with a bored expression on his face. "They should regain consciousness in about two hours," he said to Thomas, walking past him without looking at him. He rejoined the other athletes who stood in the middle of the campground.
"Time?" Thomas asked Rudi.
"Three minutes, thirty-eight seconds."
Thomas beamed a genuine smile.
"Excellent!" He turned to Clifford Barnes-Fenwick. "Now, Mr. Fenwick."
"Barnes-Fenwick," the Welshman corrected.
"Yes, of course. We have given you ample opportunity to prove your worth to us. Your particular skills are necessary, but not indispensable. We know that there are hidden metal detectors and X-ray machines at our military target, screening all personnel who enter for concealed weapons. Now, your little Oriental buddy here will knock out the two guards at the gatehouse and turn off the detectors. You will be able to pass through the metal detector with your wooden bow and cover Mako until he's deactivated the detectors. Because of the silent nature of your weapon, no one will hear anything. But you may be required to shoot several people with very little time in between." He snapped his fingers at one of his troops. "Now the only question that remains is whether you still are capable of making such precision shots."
The hardguy held snapped at brought a thick wooden bow with a plastic arrow rack attached to the bow's handle and handed them to Clifford. The Welshman hesitated a moment, his hand halfway outstretched but afraid to touch them, as if he feared they were charged with a fatal dose of electricity.
He looked over his shoulder at Bolan, looking deep into the big man's eyes. Bolan gave the slightest of nods with his eyes and Barnes-Fenwick suddenly snatched the bow and quiver out of the terrorists hands.
"I can make your bloody shots," he said with disgust. He studied the bow for a moment and shook his head unhappily. "This has only a fifty-pound pull. I should have preferred eighty to give me a little more distance."
"You won't need distance," Tanya said. "You have only a thirty-yard circumference to defend, and then only for a few minutes. After that the metal-detector alarm system will be off and our men will be there with their machine guns to take over." She placed her hands on her hips and addressed everyone around her. "I want to remind you all that this is our only opportunity to steal yellow rain. It is the only time the stuff will be outside the safety of high-security buildings. If you fail, the results will be tragic for all of us. Therefore, anyone who is not doing their best job today will'be shot immediately." She swung back to face the athletes, letting the threat hang in the air.
"Okay," Thomas said, clapping his hands as if to physically break his sister's spell. "Let's move on to the Pavlovski woman."
Babette stepped forward. Bolan was amazed at how startlingly attractive she was despite all the physical and mental hardships she had been through.
Her face had the hard expression of a survivor, yet with the soft edges of a beautiful woman. He noticed how carefully Tanya studied her as she leaped 'smoothly atop the narrow wooden wall and stood there balanced as gracefully as if she were on solid ground. An involuntary frown of jealousy tugged at Tanya's mouth.
"You will do just as you have practiced," Thomas said, picking up a green canvas knapsack; it reminded Bolan of the kind the boy scouts used to carry when he was a kid. "There are the same two bricks in here, approximating the weight of the cannister you will be carrying." He handed the knapsack to her, which she quickly slipped onto her back. "Now, there is a ten-foot-high wall that runs parallel to the surrounding fence for twenty feet before curving back around one of the buildings. Once the cannister has been handed to you by either my sister or myself, you are to climb that wall and run along it until you see Rudi waiting on the other side. When you spot him, you are to toss the entire pack over the fence to him. Clear?"
"Quite," Babette snapped.
"Good, now let me see you run this wall as fast as you can."
She glared at him with burning defiance, as if deciding whether or not to throw the knapsack in his face. But finally her shoulders sagged in acceptance and she nodded affirmatively.
"Go!" Thomas shouted.
Babette Pavlovski, once Czechoslovakia's prima donna gymnast, dashed across the rickety wooden wall like a sprinter. The fact that the wall was only four inches wide did not slow her in any way. She covered the distance in only a few seconds, her sneakered feet— slapping wood in a breathless rhythm. When she reached the end of the wall she leaped off and landed lightly on the ground.
"Yes," Thomas nodded happily. "Very good. I'm quite pleased."
"Well, that just makes my day,"" Babette said, shrugging off the knapsack and dropping it on the ground.
Thomas ignored her and turned to face his sister.
"That leaves only Mr. Barnes-Fenwick to display his ability," she reminded Thomas.
Tanya strolled up to the Welshman and stared into his battered face.
"This will be your final opportunity to live, Welshman. Your skills would give us the few extra seconds that could make a difference. But if you aren't there, we will just have to take our chances. You will never know how it all turns out, because you'll already be dead." She turned and walked away.
"It's up to Y." Clifford watched her with his sad, tired eyes, and Bolan feared that he might simply drop the bow and stroll away. If he did, Bolan had no doubt that Tanya would kill him right then and there. If he could not help in the assault, at least dead he would serve, as a warning to the others. But that was the Welshman's decision. Bolan could not help him if he chose to die. There were the others to consider. The archer took a deep breath and grasped the bow firmly in his left fist. He snapped the black wooden arrow from the plastic quiver and notched it into the string. It was a hunting arrow, with razor edges and barbs to keep the arrow from being pulled out once it penetrated flesh.
"We also have a glove for your right hand," Thomas said, "and rubber balls to silence the string when it's released."
"I don't need the glove," he said, tugging slightly on the string to get a feel for the tension. "As for the sound of the string, well, there'll be enough surface noise to cover that anyway. So let's get on with it. What are my targets?"
Thomas shot a self-satisfied grin at Tanya, who remained coolly aloof as she watched the proceedings.
"Those three cabin doors," he said, pointing at the cabins lined up on one side of the camp. The farthest was fifty yards, the closest twentyfive yards. "Let me see how quickly you can hit each door. If you can..."
But before he could finish his sentence, the Welsh archer was already moving. He pulled the string back to his cheek and released, sending the thin shaft whistling at the farthest door. It struck with a thud and twang. But by then he was already firing at the next target. And then the next. Each struck home, all within five seconds of the first shot.
"Amazing!" Thomas said. "Incredible." But while Thomas continued to praise the shot, Bolan noticed something else. A look in the Welshman's eye. It was a look not many people would recognize, it required a specialized kind of training and experience. It isn't everybody who can tell when a man is getting ready to kill. It's a flicker, really, a darkening of the iris, a grimness around the mouth that reveals that a heavy decision has been made, one that cannot be reversed. That was the look Bolan saw in Clifford as he watched the archer casually ease another arrow from the quiver as if to get ready for the next trick shot. Trick shot, yeah, one that would end up sticking out of Thomas Morganslicht's chest. And he would probably get another one into Tanya, too, before the surrounding hardguys pumped a couple hundred rounds into him. And into the rest of the athletes. And into Mack Bolan. The archer notched his arrow and tightened his three-fingered grip around the string. He started to raise the bow.
Bolan stepped forward and grabbed the bow. "Hey, I used to hunt a little with a bow. These arrows don't look long enough."
"Don't be an idiot, Sergeant," Thomas said angrily. "You can see for yourself they'll do just fine."
Clifford tried to pull the weapon free from Bolan's iron grip. "Leave me alone," he growled in a low whisper.
"I don't know," Bolan said loudly. "Arrows have to be measured according to each man's pull. These look a little short."
"Would you please shut up," Tanya said. "Mr. Barnes-Fenwick doesn't seem to mind. Rudi, take the bow and escort out guests back to their room. We want them to get plenty of rest before this afternoon."
Rudi elbowed Bolan aside and jerked the bow out of the Welshman's hand. Bolan smiled grimly with relief, but Clifford scowled at him in frustrated rage.
"What about the skier?" Thomas asked. "Shouldn't we run him through one more time?"
"I think not. He's done it perfectly every day, so there's no need to wear him out so soon before the real thing. He knows the route and he can make the jump off the mini-ramp that we have already constructed." She addressed Udo. "You can drop the knapsack in the truck as it passes under you?"
"Yes," Udo said nervously. "I have not missed once so far."
"Fine. Then once you've dropped it, you can keep skiing to freedom."
"With the army chasing after him instead of you," Bolan added.
She smiled smugly. "Yes, but it's still a chance for him to live. Now, you help Rudi lock our little Olympians back in their room. The cabin, not the garage. We want them ready. We have only hours to go."
Rudi pounded his club against the ground. "Let's go," he roared, and the four athletes began to shuffle away in a loose line.
They had not gone ten yards before Babette tripped and pitched face first into the snow. Bolan reached over, grabbing her elbow to help her up, but as she rose she whirled around and pushed him away.
"Don't touch me, you pig!" she yelled, pushing him away. But as she struggled against him, their faces only inches away, she looked up at him, and with the briefest of movements, winked at him. Then he knew for sure that she would be ready for the break, whenever it came. The slaps had been part of her act, an act so convincing he hadn't been sure himself.
"Get away!" she hollered, brushing the snow from her jacket and marching on.
Bolan looked over his shoulder at the terrorist twins. Thomas merely looked annoyed.
But Tanya, obviously pleased, was smiling her thin, evil smile.