April Rose hovered over the Diablo 1650 printer as it spat out information, printwheel clattering across the paper like a machine gun. She read each line twice, then shook her head grimly. She reached over and picked up a stack of the according paper and let it unfold to her feet as she scanned quickly for something encouraging. But all she could do was shake her head again. It was getting worse and worse.
Someone unfamiliar with operations at Stony Man Farm might take one look at her and wonder if some fancy glamour magazine was shooting a special fashion layout. Maybe a Hollywood film crew was shooting a scene for a high-class thriller? Why else would such a beautiful young woman be isolated out here in Shenandoah Country with her finger on the pulse of international terrorism.
But April Rose had her finger on a pulse much more important to her personally. The pulse of Mack Bolan.
At the other end of the communications room a door was flung open and Hal Brognola marched in.
"Any word yet from Striker?" April shook her head, continued reading.
"Damn," Brognola muttered. He patted his jacket for a cigar and finding none, looked over April's shoulder at the TeleCom data. The big fed laid a gentle hand on April's shoulder. "Don't worry, he'll call in."
She forced a smile. "He'd better. He absolutely needs this new information before he proceeds. The whole plan will have to be changed."
"The whole thing stinks," Brognola decided gruffly. He looked at his watch and felt a thin layer of sweat spreading across his forehead.
It was already ten minutes past Striker's contact time. There were a lot of reasons for Colonel John Phoenix to be late, including the one that neither of them would mention but both of them feared.
Brognola took a deep breath and patted his pockets again for a cigar, still coming up empty.
No, nothing could have happened to the big guy. Not now. Especially not now, after what they had just discovered about the Zwilling Horde. As the White House liaison on this project, Brognola had already been in touch with the president. Even the Man was worried, insisting that the ex-fed handle the situation as promptly as possible and as quietly as possible.
So Mack Bolan had better damn well be all right. Most of all because Brognola and Bolan were friends. One ex-FBI agent in a three-piece suit who looked like the vice-president of IBM, and one black-clad warrior reeking of sweat, cordite, combat. An uneasy friendship, sure, but powerful and deeply committed.
An electronic buzz sounded. Half a dozen bright colored lights flashed across the telephone console. April ran over, clamped the headset over her cars, began flipping switches. These feed lines were the same as used in the White House; once the caller connected with the console, the conversation could not be tapped through the lines. She gestured at the spare headset which Brognola donned immediately. "Striker?" Brognola growled.
"You copy?" Bolan's voice was clear. "You know, that's just what my high school teacher asked me when I got an on my history exam".
April Rose sighed with relief. "Where are you calling from, Mack?"
"General Wilson's office. This place has been swept for bugs every day for the past five years, so the line should be secure".
Brognola forced the issue. "What happened with Sergeant Grendal, Stony Man?"
"Out of business. Permanently. So too his partner, Corporal William Tomlin. Our informant is on ice."
"You... okay?" April asked quietly.
"Fine. Snagged my pants on a sharp bullet, that's all."
"I'll mend it for you," she offered.
"I didn't know you gals did that kind of work anymore," Bolan responded warmly.
"On special occasions. For special people."
"Knock it off, you two," Btognola growled. "I have to advise you, Striker, that the situation is a lot different than we first envisioned."
"Much bigger. All of this has all been hush-hush for the past two weeks, even from me, till the intelligence boys got the clue as to what was going on."
"What the hell's up, Hal? Spit it out."
"Kidnappings. All over Europe."
"Who's been snatched?"
"Well, that's the kooky part."
"Athletes," April said. "Professionals from all different countries. Babette Pavlovski..."
"The gymnast who defected from Czechoslovakia two years ago?" asked Bolan, his voice strong, direct.
"That's the one. She's been touring Europe coach with the American gymnastics team. It's not yet known by the press, but she disappeared one night two weeks ago."
"Retaliation maybe. Those guys don't much care for defectors. Bad public relations".
Brognola negated that. "She's not an isolated case, Stony Man. The Olympic skier Udo Ganz didn't show up last Tuesday at his job with a Munich insurance office. Hasn't been seen since. Mako Samata, a martial arts champion with a chain of studios across France, taught an akido class at his Paris studio two weeks ago, then disappeared without locking up. Clifford Barnes-Fenwick, a top archer from Wales, was supposed to meet last week with his estranged wife to discuss their impending divorce. He never showed up. When she went to his apartment, she found it torn apart."
"Keep spilling," Bolan's voice commanded.
"You're not going to like it," Brognola said.
"We've had two identifications. Witnesses positively identified from photographs a man seen at two of the kidnapping sites. Thomas Morganslicht."
There was three thousand miles of longdistance silence. Then Bolan spoke. Quietly. His mind was already locked onto the problem. "Thomas Morganslicht, number one creep of the Zwilling Horde. The same group coming tonight to buy our army's stolen weapons."
"Don't forget his twin sister, Tanya," April cut in. "Zwilling is German for gemini, twins, right? She's as much the leader as he is. And just as deadly. Some say deadlier."
"The assignment has changed," Bolan said simply.
"I guess," confirmed Hal Brognola. "Originally we expected you only to stop the arms sale, thus crippling the Zwilling Horde as much as we were able to at the time. But now the ante has gone up. We have to find out why they, kidnapped those sports people so many days ago, and we must free them if at all possible. But whether that is possible or not, you have to stop whatever the Zwilling Horde is planning. Stop them for good, Striker."
"There's only one way to get that far," he said casually.
"Means I'll be out of contact for a while. Don't know how long."
"Am aware," muttered Brognola.
"I'll have to get going," Bolan concluded in a low voice. "Company's coming in a couple hours.
"Anything you need, guy?"
"Just your good wishes, Hal."
"All the way to hell," Brognola growled.
Bolan laughed softly, then broke the connection.
"Good wishes," April Rose whispered into the empty line. Brognola nodded silently. The hellrains were due to fall once more, in Europe, tortured continent of oppression and endless centuries of war. Mack was in the pits of the earth again, back where hell reigned triumphant over failed politics and broken economies and badly divided societies. Back to where hell was real-daily, and endlessly. Back to where fie had to be, if the torrential terrors of our modern times were to be stemmed before the murky tide drowned reason again, as it had over there in the two big ones this century already.
Back to where things were supposedly so civilized.
Sophisticated weapons were being stolen from the U.S. Army in Germany. Some of these weapons were in the hands of terrorists. And now kidnappers. Evil creatures out to make an international reputation for themselves at the expense of thousands of lives, and at the expense of the reputation of the United States Army stationed overseas. Bolan would trace this rampaging wrong to its wretched source. And then there would truly be hell to pay.
In the shape of the Executioner.