Mack Bolan sat hunched over the scarred folding table, his eyes closed, his lips puffing loosely in a half-snore. The .44 AutoMag lay flung on the table with its clip empty and removed, the 240-gram bullets scattered across the tabletop like toppled toy soldiers. Next to his resting forehead was a cluster of empty brown bottles of Grolsch Dunkel Bier. A floorboard creaked outside his hotel door.
Bolan's hands, hidden beneath the table, tightened in anticipation. He snored a little louder.
A faint scratching noise at his door.
Come right in, yeah. The water's fine.
In a building this old, it was hard to move silently. The floorboards groaned in protest at every movement. They sagged from the slightest weight.
The thick oak door was probably more than a hundred years old. It would not take long for whoever was outside to pick its single-tumbler lock. Any second now.
Bolan's cold eyes made one final sweep around the room to make sure everything was in order. The table and chairs had been picked up, the window reglazed, the blood scrubbed from the walls and floor, the body hauled away. All disdone secretly, efficiently, by a special squad of General Wilson's men. The General had thought it was the least he could do. Bolan had agreed with him.
The U.S. Army was faced with potentially one of its most embarrassing moments. Bolan felt the hot stale air from the hallway as it rushed in. The air from the hallway smelled like fried haddock, while the air inside the room stank of cheap booze. He'd made sure of that. As the footsteps approached him, Mack Bolan decided he was ready. There were two of them. One set of footsteps belonged to someone who could afford to lose some weight, maybe twenty or thirty pounds. No matter how quiet he tried to be, Bolan could hear him like he was a charging tank. The other set of footsteps belonged to a woman. Of that he was certain. There was a lightness in the sound.
Then a shadow washed across his face and Bolan knew she was circling to face him. He had arranged the old goosenecked lamp in the corner to shine on his face for effect. He continued to snore like a passed-out drunk, waiting for them to make their move.
A large hand with huge stubby fingers grabbed his hair, jerked his head sharply back, and a small knife blade was pressed against his throat. Bolan felt the cool steel's pressure against his windpipe, but still he kept his hands hidden under the table.
"What the goddamn..." Bolan spluttered, his eyes blinking open and shut. His head bent back, he could see the woman standing in front of him, and the 9mm Firebird automatic in her hand. It was pointing directly at his forehead.
She was what the fashion houses called "classically" beautiful, except that she had an unusually deep cleft in her chin. She looked to be barely twenty-five, but stood calmly erect with the confidence of a much older person: someone who was used to controlling any situation and getting her own way. A tough lady. Her hair was long and black, with a sharp widow's peak that dipped low over her forehead. Bolan recognized her immediately from the photographs he had seen at Stony Man Farm. Tanya Morganslicht.
She was beautiful, yeah, but she was also one of the two leaders of West Germany's most notoriously brutal gang of terrorists, the Zwilling Horde. They were responsible for kneecap shootings, bank robberies, and the torture and mutilation of the daughter of a wealthy American film star. Beautiful, sure. Like a coiled cobra.
Bolan's hands twitched anxiously under the table.
Now was his chance to rid the world of one of its worst leeches.
A few silent, controlled breaths brought him under control. Timing was everything right now, and this was not the time. Not quite yet.
"Sergeant Grendat?" she said in a polite and educated English.
"Yeah? So?" Bolan mumbled.
She waved the gun scornfully at the empty bottles of Germaneabeer. "Is this how you conduct business of such importance?"
"You're half an hour early, doll," Bolan leered. "If you'd knocked, I could have splashed some water on my face. Climbed into my tux. Baked a cake." She smiled through thin lips.
The beefy hardman behind Bolan laughed, his whole belly shaking against Bolan's back.
But the knife remained firmly pressed against his throat.
"Say, honey," Bolan said, "can you tell Fatty here to take away the butter knife. I thought we were here to do business..."
She arched a long curving eyebrow in amusement. "This is the way Klaus and I do business, Sergeant. It ensures that we have your undivided attention. And cooperation." Klaus's belly jiggled against Bolan again.
Bolan snapped his hands up from under the table. One swift move. His right hand was wrapped around an apple-green RGD-5 antipersonnel grenade.
His left hand instantly plucked out the detonating pin. The knife at his throat pressed slightly harder.
"Now," Bolan said with cold menace, "this little baby holds a mere 110 grams of TNT. More than enough to shred all three of us into very lumpy dog food. If I so much as belch, my hand will slip off the safety lever and that would end the beautiful relationship we're building here. Your move, lady."
He could see she did not care one way or the other, that she thought the whole scene was ridiculous, but the knife at his throat twitched closer to puncturing the skin. Bolan knew what fat Klaus was thinking: could he make it to the door between the time he slit Bolan's throat, the subsequent and immediate release of the safety lever-and the explosion.
"Forget it, Klaus," Bolan snarled. "This pineapple has a three-point-two second delay. Your hand won't even reach the door. Not attached to the rest of you it won't." Bolan lifted the grenade higher. "Now back off, both of you." The Executioner stared icily into Tanya Morganslicht's smooth and untroubled face. Her expression was still calm, with perhaps a little curiosity in it now. But she showed no fear whatsoever.
"Klaus," she nodded slightly.
Klaus hesitated. He didn't like this at all. They were supposed to be here to intimidate the big American, all the better to negotiate business terms. But the Ami had tried a trick out of their own arsenal. It was an insult not to the cause, which Klaus cared nothing about, but to himself. And for that the American would pay. Perhaps not at this moment, as Klaus had no desire to die. And of course they had come here to buy weapons, therefore they needed the soldier. But later he would get even.
"Klaus," Tanya repeated. The knife was reluctantly withdrawn from Bolan's neck.
"Naechstes mal", Klaus mumbled.
"There won't be a next time, pal," Bolan said, standing up. "Not if you want to live to stuff your fat face with more bratwurst. Drop your weapons on the table in front of you, please. Do it now."
Tanya placed her pistol on the table. Klaus glared at Bolan as he surrendered his Swiss Army knife and a matching 9mm Firebird.
Tanya laughed as elegantly as if they'd been at a cocktail party at some embassy and Bolan had just propositioned her. Bolan shrugged. He replaced the pin in the grenade and quickly snatched up Klaus's Firebird. "Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk business. Money."
Tanya gestured at the metal chairs. "May we sit down?"
Bolan lowered himself into his chair.
"Very well then. Let us talk business. You seem to have how do you say it? ( set us up quite efficiently this time?"
"Efficiency," Bolan said, maintaining in his attitude the role of Sergeant Grendal.
"That's something we learned from you people. So is the old live-grenade trick that you popularized when hijacking piles. Like you, I'm a cautious person. I like to know the people I do business with. It saves me from a knife in the back or maybe a bullet from a military firing squad. This little scene has given me the chance to get to know you both better. And so far I'm not impressed." Klaus took a step forward and Bolan tilted the automatic toward him. "See what I mean. Tubby here is a hothead. This is business, and I don't like doing business with hotheads. Verstehe?"
"Yes, Sergeant," she smiled, placing a restraining hand on Klaus's arm. "Please not to worry, we are as anxious as you are to do business. May we proceed?"
Bolan looked at Klaus, saw a face contorted with hate. Lips were drawn tightly over teeth in a vicious sneer. Klaus had been humiliated and he would get even, that much Bolan knew. In fact, he was counting on it.
"What have you got?" Tanya asked.
"A bunch of stuff," Bolan said nonchalantly. "A few 7.62mm M219 machine guns with matching XMBLEACB tripods. Three 40mm M203 grenade launchers."
"They're the only ones who make those babies. I've also got a couple cases of these RGD-5 grenades and some .45 caliber M3AI submachine guns. And much more. Still interested?"
"Yes," Tanya said simply.
"I can get a variety of specialty items, too. Gas masks, flame throwers, a couple of RPG-7 portable rocket-launchers-that's with a 3.3 caliber."
"We might have a use for them."
"Well, like I said, I can get almost everything. You tell me what kind of operation you've got in mind and I'll see what I can come up with."
Tanya's eyes darkened from blue to black. Her lips curled into a sneer as she snarled at Bolan. "My operation is of no concern to you. You have no business asking."
Bolan lifted his hands in appeasement. The role of Grendal was beginning to sear his spirit. "Cool it, lady. Ever heard of a sales pitch before? I don't care what your operation is, I'm just trying to make a dishonest buck, okay?"
Tanya's cheeks remained flushed with blood.
Klaus listened to the conversation without hearing a single word. Instead he had spent the time concentrating on easing the flat throwing knife out of his forearm sheath. By barely rubbing it against his leg, he had pried it loose and could feel the cold Swedish 6C27 stainless steel against his fingers. As a child he had won a 20 DM bet by hitting a mouse with a knife at ten meters. This was even less. And he was no longer a child.
"Why don't you just tell me how much you can offer? That way we'll know if you're wasting my time. See, the army is going to be missing this stuff eventually, as I'm sure you can appreciate. And they tend to get really nasty about stolen armaments. Especially when it's their own soldiers doing the stealing. So I gotta watch my hide." The mimicry came naturally to Mack Bolan only from his years of observation of the world's true vermin.
Klaus eased the knife further into his palm.
Hi wrist felt the black micarta handle as it slid into place. He casually shifted his hand behind his thigh to hide the blade's emergence.
Soon, he thought, licking his lips. Very soon.
"I have a better idea, Sergeant Grendal," Tanya said. "Why don't you show us a few samples first as a display of what you call "good faith." Then we will talk money."
"And what kind of money are you talking about anyway?" continued Bolan. "Dollars, deutsche marks, Swiss francs?"
"Whatever you require." She had taken the hook, and now he had to make her swallow it.
Bolan stood up and strolled casually to the window, his back to Tanya and Klaus. "That can be arranged," he nodded, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
Now! Klaus screamed silently, swinging the knife over his head and throwing it with all his I might at Mack Bolan's exposed back.