"How much longer?" Bolan asked from the back of the van.
"Twenty more minutes, Sergeant," Tanya answered.
Once again Bolan found himself in the lead van with Tanya driving and Rudi riding shotgun, cradling the same 12-gauge Stevens shotgun he had used the night before on the Black Sunday raid. Bolan had the same H and K G-II balanced across his knees, and Tanva still had the remaining clips. The big difference was that instead of being filled with terrorists like it had been last night, the van was filled with four ex-Olympic champions; on their way to the hellgrounds of horrific death, the doomland of chemical fire.
The grotesque Rudi kept his shotgun leveled on them from the front of the bus, and another faceless hardguy kept his Uzi pointed at them from the back of the van.
Through the rear window, Bolan could see Thomas behind the wheel of the trailing van and Hermann sitting next to him. And crowded behind them in the back of their van were ten hardened killers stroking Uzis, sweating and dreaming and praying it would be their buddy and not them that gets killed.
Whatever was going to go wrong had to go wrong soon.
They were less than twenty minutes from the hardsite and Bolan could not wait until they arrived there.
First, he wanted these animals nowhere near striking range of that "yellow rain." Second, with all the excitement, he wanted to avoid soldiers firing innocently on the hostages. And third, he wanted to prevent Clifford from having to fire arrows into any unsuspecting guards... although he had an idea that the Welshman had no intention at all of killing anyone, at least anyone outside the Zwilling Horde. Bolan tried to catch Mako's eye, but the slim Oriental stared straight ahead as if in a self induced trance.
"That was quite a stunt you pulled back there at the camp," Bolan told him.
Mako glanced at the big American and nodded.
"Perhaps you just need a more challenging situation." Bolan let his stare penetrate Mako's eyes.
Mako shifted on his seat, seemed to understand the message beneath the words. "Perhaps."
"Shut up!" spat Rudi, waving his shotgun between Bolan and Mako. Bolan could not be sure that Mako had understood him, had caught the movement of the eyes that assigned the guy with the Uzi to him. But there was no more time to decide. If they were ever going to make their move it would be now.
And so it was.
Bolan lunged forward, using his left forearm to drive the barrel of the shotgun toward the floor, using the butt of the H and K to club Rudi's skull. Even as he was still grabbing at the shotgun he saw Mako leap across the van at the terrorist with the Uzi. The van wobbled from the shifting of weight, but it wobbled even more when the butt of Bolan's gun cracked Rudi's skull, causing the giant to emit a curdled cry as he impulsively pulled the trigger of his shotgun. The blast tore a hole in the floor. Tanya swerved the van, struggling to maintain control with one hand, reaching for her 9mm Firebird with the other.
Bolan was still grappling with Rudi when he saw Mako and Babette rush forward. Mako grabbed Tanya's wrist between his thumb and forefinger and applied enough pressure to snap the wrist. There was no mistaking that cracking sound coupled with her scream of pain. He yanked her out of the driver's seat while Babette deftly slid in behind the wheel, flooring the gas pedal. Rudi still clung to the shotgun, trying to wrench it out of Bolan's grip. His huge yellow horse teeth flashed in a grimace of pain and concentration, but he was already too weak from the blows to the head. With a sudden twisting movement, Bolan pulled the shotgun free and swung it around to face Rudi.
"I am unarmed," Rudi pleaded. "You would not shoot an unarmed man."
"You've been watching the wrong movies, guy," Bolan said, and fired into the giant's face a 12-gauge boxcar with death as the freight. Ragged chunks of flesh bloodied the inside of the windshield. Fringe pellets shattered the window of the passenger's door.
"God!" Babette shouted and the van swerved before she got it under control.
Bolan swung around to face the back of the van.
Mako hovered over Tanya, the 9mm Firebird pointed at her chest.
The terrorist toughguy lay sprawled on the floor, his eyes wide open, his neck floppily distorted from being broken by an expert.
Clifford Barnes-Fenwick gripped the dead man's Uzi with a stranglehold as if uncertain who to turn it on.
Udo Ganz remained seated where he'd been, staring blankly through the hole in the floor as the road rushed like rapids beneath the speeding van.
"All right, listen to me," Bolan said. "I'm going to tell you what to do and you're going to do it without question or argument. In about thirty seconds, Babette will stop the van. That will force the van behind us to stop too. I'll stall them long enough for you to tear the hell out of here. They will not be able to follow you."
"You against twelve of them?" Babette protested.
"I'll have her," he replied, nodding at Tanya.
"You fool," Tanya snarled. "We could have made you wealthy. A wealthy idiot."
"The only thing you were going to make me is deceased."
"Why can't we just shoot it out,", the Welshm an boomed. "We could shoot out their tires and keep going. We have guns too."
"Because they have more guns," Bolan said simply. He did not want to tell them that their safe escape was only a mirror corollary to his main mission, which was the total destruction of the Zwilling Horde. No, the Executioner didn't want to escape. "Now stop the van."
Babette hesitated, began pumping the brakes until the van slowed down. When the speedometer showed less than twenty kilometers an hour, she eased it off the road onto the icy shoulder.
Thomas's van followed suit, slowing and pulling off the road and parking twenty yards behind them.
Bolan could see their exhaust pumping into the chilly air.
"Cut the motor," he told Babette.
She turned the motor off but left the key in the ignition. "Udo, you'll have to drive. I'm too nervous. Udo!"
"Of course," he said and climbed forward to the driver's seat. "Okay, they've cut their engine," said Bolan. "Now, I'm going outside to talk. When you think you're ready to go, go! Start her up and drive like hell."
"I'm as handy with a gun as I am with my hands," Mako said quietly.
Bolan was touched by the slender man's subtle offer. He had proven himself a lion of a man already, but his skills would be better used helping the others escape. "I'll bet there's not a whole lot you aren't good at, guy. But this one's a solo."
Mako nodded understanding and gave a look of such sincerity that it expressed more friendship than a dozen speeches.
"Let's go, Sweet Pea," Bolan said, grabbed Tanya under the arm and hoisted her to her feet. "Toss me those clips."
Udo threw Bolan two clips for the H and K. Bolan slipped one into place over the nuzzle and looked back to the man. "You keep the Uzi, you may need it if I don't stop them." He slid open the VW side door and stepped out, pulling Tanya behind him. He looked back into the van at the brave band of athletes and smiled. "Good luck," he said, then slid the door closed with an echoing thud.
He dug the barrel of the H and K into the back of Tanya's skull while guiding her forward with his left hand. "Just stay cool, Commander," he whispered. "You wouldn't like what a couple rounds from this baby would do to your pretty little head."
"The only thing I don't like is your head," she hissed. "Maybe, but right now your head is mine. I have it." He took a careful step, used the corner of the van for cover. "Come on out, Morganslicht," Bolan called. "New deal."
"That's an American phrase, FDR'S New Deal?" Thomas was crazed with uncertainty.
"Yeah, this is going to be just like that."
The side door of the other van slid open and four armed hardguys jumped out, leveled their guns at Bolan. Then the front doors opened, Thomas and Hermann stepped out either side, and remained standing behind the metal doors.
"What happened, Tanya?" Thomas asked.
There was a slight taunting in his voice, like he was pleased to see his sister screw up.
Bolan pressed the gun harder against her skull. "I'll do the talking for now."
"What do you want?" Thomas called.
"A bigger cut for one thing. And a permanent position in your organization. I think Rudi's position might be open." What was taking Udo so long? Now was the time to pull out, while half of them were out of the van. The motor coughed once, caught, and the van lurched forward, squealing against the ice as it shot into the narrow road. Thomas leaped back to his seat to give chase.
"Forget them," Tanya ordered her brother.
"We will have another time. Now we must just regroup and replan." Thomas watched as the van roared down the road, glancing anxiously back and forth between his sister and the disappearing van.
Finally he climbed back out. "I am sorry, Tanya," he said, "but we are too close for that now." He pulled his Luger from his shoulder holster and fired three slugs into his sister's chest.
Bolan shoved her forward at Thomas's first movement, fired a full automatic burst into both tires of the van before diving over the embankment, tucking the H and K close to his chest as he rolled ten feet down the other side into the underbrush and the thick dark forest. "Get him!" Thomas screamed. Ten armed men jumped over the embankment, sliding after the American.
Bolan dodged out from behind a pine tree and caught two of the hardguys as they hit the bottom of the embankment. He sprayed a hailstorm of bullets across their groins, cutting them almost in half at the legs. They collapsed in heaps, their guts steaming as they were exposed to the cold air.
It was time to run, to weave back and forth behind trees, to lure them deeper into the forest. The deeper he went, the thicker the woods and the darker the atmosphere. He became the nightfighter once more, man of stealth and silence and cunning. The terrorists were spreading out farther and farther from one another, making Bolan's strategy inevitable.
He caught their point man all alone from behind, and using his garrote, choked the man until eyes and tongue bulged out of his head. The second man he surprised by silently leaping out from behind a tree, thrusting his stiletto into the startled man's stomach, twisting it until he found the spine. He quietened the dying victim with a suffocating grasp around the face.
Bolan headed deeper into the woods, deeper into the hellground, full tilt. The forest whipping by him stank of moist undergrowth. It was good here for the Executioner.
In some dark spot real soon, he would show the light. The light of the truth that to kill a terrorist is not vengeance or cruelty, it is just common sense.
The public truth.
For, of course, it is the public who is most exposed. He sprinted ahead, cradling the case less G-II in a relaxed midriff sweep.
Its plastic-molded housing was a bizarre even glorious feature among these trees, its loud modern streamlining a brave stab at circumstances already too far gone.
As Bolan soft soled it from pockets of dark places to even gloomier spaces in the steaming woods, the gun was soundless. Every tick and rattle of its engineering was completely baffled by the casing, itself almost weightless in the superb balance of Bolan's flying grip. Gun and man their noise lessness allowed the man the nice advantage of surprise. He heard clues to the positions of his pursuers. Glaring clues, for they were playing a different game. They were snapping a twig or two, calling out, cursing once or twice. Very precise for Bolan. And he was already a football field ahead of them, ready for a stadium performance, listening in as tight as he could get it reaching with the ear as far as a human can and them some to score a victory. That was Bolan's game. He knew the game was on, the minute he saw the hut. Right there in his path. Now victory was inevitable.
The hut was made of round pebbly rock. It was covered with a dense disguise of vine, thriving greenery, and sported a quaint but decaying Bavarian roof. Two windows, one on either side, one low entrance holes in the wall gaping square sockets. Perfect. And better yet, this helpful litle edifice blessed with that true and dramatic magic that we know as timeliness was further blessed by its position, now perfect after many years, a little woodman's storage hut lying neglected all these years in wait. In wait, slap bang in the middle of the advancing line of shooting clowns.
Hot brother, little architecture! Bolan tapped the top of the small doorway as he ducked into the hut. Its floor was thick with undergrowth.
Light from the windows on either side came through in a band between waist and head height. It was dank in the hut, but great. The ideal spot for the extraterrestrial action that Bolan had in mind.
The action that isn't there when you look at it.... The action that plays somewhere else. The kind of action that calls up the barrel of the Heckler and Koch assault weapon like an eagle on the wing, breathtaking in the easy way it rose, its only real weight aside from the magazine being its scope, which now beaded in on its first visible target.
Light as light waves, true as fate. Bolan shot the scum soldier who was in his sights at last. Swiveling around instantly in the cramped hideout, arriving at a proper aim within the crack of the first shot, Bolan fired another short round out of the opposite window. His second visible target fell. Bolan swung back to check the accuracy of his first shot. Empty woods showed where the target had been. But visible in the nearer view was a punk trooper taking aim, an anonymous shootist of the Zwilling Horde, a being with no love for life and therefore of no worth, a man prepared to waste his lousy existence on a dumb move. A really dumb last move.
The terrorist fired east across the distance that he guessed would end with the rifle that was doing the killing.
But the position was entirely wrong for that. The Executioner could have told him such data for a dime... if he had wanted a dime from the punk. And anyway, the guy never asked. Instead he fired that shot across the bows of the advancing Zwilling Horde, or damn near what remained of it, and he killed his brother soldier forty feet to the left of him. The shot scored a random neck hit. The throat of the soldier, who shrieked with shock through shattered vocal cords the sound of terror rebounding pulsed out blood in red waterfalls. He was dead by the time his body had fallen to its knees. His head flopped expressionless on his shoulder, the gaping throat-hole soon a silent scream, a mockery of communication in an army too sick from the start to deserve any right to speak. Bolan watched the action discreetly from the edge of the window, his own silence a mark of strategic superiority. The dead soldier had a companion next in line, a terrorist now exposed from the thick cover of trees, who was in panic. His reaction to the death at his side was to start shooting. He aimed his bulky automatic over the falling head, spewing in terror the gun's tumbling issue in all directions.
One of those directions included a motionless target, the terrorist who had fired that last killing shot, now frozen in his tracks from some profound horror at his own act, even as hot lead screamed about him. Three shredders immediately found his flesh and did their work. The bullets ripped apart the back of his combat clothing as they exited like hurtling meat grinders.
Bolan dived out through the doorway of his sanctuary, firing the H and K in its max-round mode to take out the remaining terrorist on the left wing and then, spinning round to repeat history, to hit the remaining guy far on the right wing. The two opposing punks each showed puffs of pink mist as their backs exploded from the intercepted lead. Six dead. Two killed by shots from their own side. A major encounter, yeah, made easy only by the bloody skills of an anguished man — by the Executioner unleashed. It had looked fast and furious. But in the deep inner Valhalla of his mind, where the numbers rose and fell, it had been a perilously slow killing for Mack Bolan. The plan had been spontaneous, dependent on the luck of the land and how it lay, and he was damn glad to get that witless help from the rattled killers who wiped each other out. Thanks guys.
Thanks little hut.
He began circling back to the road, to the crippled van. He ran fast again, fleet as a high wind, silent as a breeze, almost invisible in his khaki army garb.
He had to get away from the graveyard of these woods. Bursting sprays of blood had defiled the natural order here. Bolan needed the road, needed direction for his continuing tormented last mile.
He was halfway there when he heard a sudden exchange of automatic gunfire. So Thomas's and Hermann's wait at the van was proving eventful. Excellent. What could be happening there?
Hunched over his H and K, he ran silently through the German woods. Another chatter of gunfire and Bolan speeded up, ignoring the branches that lashed his eyes and the tangled underbrush that grabbed at his feet. Within minutes he was close enough to see who was shooting. Babette Pavlovski. Hermann and Thomas had her pinned down at the top of the embankment, just over the lip of the ridge. She was laid out flat against the incline, her feet dug into the snow to keep her from sliding down. At the rate her was spitting whizzers at the van, she'd be out of bullets before too long. Bolan swung around behind her and slipped up the embankment, flopping into the snow next to her.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded. She fired another burst toward the van before answering.
"I made them let me out about a half mile down the road. A quick jog and here I am."
"I told you to stay together and keep going." A line of bullets from Thomas's gun thudded into the ground a foot in front of them, kicking a powder of snow into their faces.
"I do what is right, not what I'm told."
Bolan liked this woman. Now he studied the situation with a quiet detachment. Hermann was standing behind the van, peeking out occasionally to fire at them.
Thomas was squatting behind the passenger's seat, popping up to fire through the open window, using the open door as a shield. "Okay, this time do exactly as I tell you. And I mean exactly, do you understand?" Bolan smiled.
"Yes," she answered.
"I want you to keep firing at them, but only in three-round bursts, and only at ten-second intervals." Now he was as serious as death.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Whatever it takes," he said, and slid back down the embankment.
He had to hurry. He had to kill them. There had been enough of them and it was over now. He gave a good one-eighth of a mile berth before rising up the embankment again, far behind the van. He crept closer, waiting for the good shot. Hermann stopped moving, long enough to change clips, and Bolan dropped to one knee and brought him into his crosshairs. Hermann fumbled with the new clip becajuse of his bandaged hand. Less than a second later he was dead, his face resculpted where three bullets had chiseled away his jaw and cheek.
"Hermann!" Thomas screamed from inside as Bolan covered the rest of the distance between him and the van. Thomas kept firing from the van, increasing the tempo now, his gun blazing blindly in Babette's direction. Nisely she did not panic, stuck to the three round, ten-second firing pattern. Behind the van, Bolan was stripping the shirt from Hermann's back, shredding it into long strips and shoving them down into the gas tank. He allowed just enough hanging out to give him a running headstart. When he heard Babette's next three-round blast, he ignited the cloth and high-stepped it away. Then Bolan gripped the H and K in both hands and fired a burst into the side of the van. Thomas swung around to face this new onslaught, his eyes wide with terror and despair. He lifted his Uzi to take aim at Bolan when a sound from hell ripped through his ears.
The van's gas tank exploded, shooting a tidal wave of roaring fire from one end of the van to the other.
Thomas's flaming body was hurtled through the windshield, where it snagged on the sharp glass, trapping his burning flesh in the flames.
"Babette!" Bolan called, and she pulled herself to her feet and ran to him, a sickened expression on her face.
"Oh, God. Oh, my God," she moaned as she watched Thomas's impaled and writhing body sizzle into something unrecognizable.
"Never mind him," Bolan snapped. "It's better than he deserved."
Bolan retrieved his holstered Beretta from the smoking corpse, then pulled Babette to her feet and led her down the road at a slow jog. Yeah, he thought, glancing over his shoulder at the flaming van and scattered bodies, at Tanya's limp and lifeless shape, sometimes the debts do get paid. In full. "And his enemies shall lick the dust," said Bolan to himself, quoting Psalm 72, the Psalm for Solomon. That is certainly true, he thought, turning to face the open road, in the drizzle just starting, the foul weather of Europe so full of the feeling of history, as he went on with his fate mile. Mission complete in full. Now back to Jack. And to America, thank God. A thick conspiracy had been unraveled in the space of a few heartbeats. That is all it took. Months of planning, and terror, and humiliation had preceded Mack Bolan's arrival, had unawares-awaited the tumbling of the numbers. For when the Executioner hit, he hit fast. The complications were reduced to threads of traumatized tissue in seconds. Hit and git.
The American way. Forget those goddamned complications.