8. A Meeting of the Tigers

Bolan left the van and the excess clothing at the south corner, and he came in with the smoke, over the fence and onto the grounds — a gas-masked, black-clad, striding apparition of doom with a single idea in mind.

It was another numbers game, and he would have to hit and git with no unnecessary messing around, or else he would have the law breathing down his withdrawal route.

He crossed the garden-patio and lobbed a fragmentation grenade into a choked and gasping babble of confused voices near the corner of the building; under the cover of that explosion he kicked the French doors open and moved inside with the Auto Mag at the ready. He left the doors open and the smoke came in with him, moving quickly ahead of him and spreading rapidly in an ever-extending blanket of cover.

Thudding feet and an almost hysterical panting signalled the approach of at least two defenders from the front reaches of the house. Someone nearby gasped, “Jeez, get over there and see if those doors are open! The fuckin’ place is filling up with smoke!”

Another voice cried, “Bullshit, what was that explosion? I ain’t going out there until I know what…”

Then Bolan loomed up from within the swirling smoke, and the two gawked at him in frozen immobility while the Auto Mag roared its throaty message of massive destruction. The two gunners died on their feet while considerable areas of their assaulted anatomy sought a place to settle from the explosively expanding push of the big 240 bullets.

Bolan stepped over the bodies and went on toward the grand stairway, a curving nineteenth century masterpiece of mahogany and marble.

Several someones up-above pumped a wild volley of shots along his path. Again he gave voice to the impressive Auto Mag, in rapid fire, splintering the vertical rungs of a railing up there and sending a fine cloud of powdered plaster drifting along that upstairs hallway.

Someone up there groaned, “Gee-Zus Christ!” and the sound of scurrying feet told Bolan that he had them on the run.

He was well along the stairs and feeding a new clip into the Auto Mag when another guy came running in from the foyer.

The guy yelled, “Hey what?..” And then he saw the thing in black on the stairway.

This one’s reflexes were working better than the others Bolan had encountered thus far, and a long-barreled .38 revolver was tracking up the stairs and suddenly making a mess of the polished mahagony.

At that distance the guy should not have been missing, but Bolan made allowances for an excited overeagerness, and he covered the guy’s embarrassment with 240 grains in the teeth. The gunner’s whole head seemed to cave in and fly away. Bolan continued his rush up the stairway.

Another revolver roared and a bullet buried itself into the wall behind his head as he reached the top. He saw a door rapidly open and close at the far end of the hall and — just beyond that — he spotted the window he was looking for.

The lower edge of a brooding layer of cloud strata — the condition they called fog in the bay city — was lying just above that window. Below it and trapped, there was a densely churning atmosphere of chemical smoke — a condition called personnel cover in the war zones — and Bolan meant to invite it in.

He sent a single shot crashing into the windowglass. It shattered. The Executioner held his position commanding the stairway and patiently waited for the friendly atmosphere to come inside.

An agitated voice down below was announcing to other cautious presences, “He’s upstairs I guess, yeah, with a fuckin’ cannon or something, I don’t know what. Lookit Joey there, just lookit ‘im.”

“Well where’s Mr. Rivoli?” asked another quivering voice.

“I think he’s upstairs covering Don DeMarco,” the other one obligingly revealed.

The Executioner smiled grimly behind his mask, and a two hundred pound package of sudden death merged with the atmosphere of doom and moved unhurriedly into the choking no-man’s-land of that upper hallway.

It would have been much simpler, sure, if he’d just taken the guy while he was down there at the gate. But simplicity was not the name of the game.

The idea was to show Big Daddy DeMarco how vulnerable, how utterly defenseless, how hollow he really was.

And once the idea had sunk in that he had no one else to lean against, then maybe. . .

Yeah, Bolan was betting his very blood on it. Don DeMarco would want to lean with Mr. King.

And the Executioner would be content with nothing less.

It was not his idea of fun to terrorize a tired old man of seventy-two. But Roman DeMarco, of course, was not any ordinary old man. With an iron hand he still commanded an empire built of terror and intimidation, savagery and murder — and he could yet turn out to be a formidable foe.

But Bolan would shake this whole damn town apart, if that was what it took.

And he meant to pin a marksman’s medal to Mr. King’s forehead, whoever and wherever he was. He meant to pin it there with a 240 grain Auto Mag express.

But first… he had to rattle the house on Russian Hill.

He had to bag himself a tiger, and at the very foot of the throne. He knew precisely where to look.

* * *

Sgt. Bill Phillips of the Brushfire Squad was speaking calmly into the radio hookup with his Command Central. “Mark it Hotel Eight on the grid and consider it a positive. It’s the DeMarco place on Russian Hill, and if it’s not a full assault, then it’s at least a probe of some type. He’s got them covered up with smoke and — belay that, it’s no probe, round one of the artillery war just started. Let’s make it a ringer-dinger. Better get some firefighting units up here also.”

The voice of the Captain snapped back in a clear staccato. “We’re deploying on the grid. Give this character plenty of room, Bill, don’t crowd him. Now that’s an order.”

“Yessir.” Phillips sighed and hung up the mike, then he smiled faintly at his white partner. “What he means is, don’t blow it,” he said quietly.

“He means don’t get your head blown off, eager beaver,” the other cop replied, chuckling.

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Phillips said. He drew his revolver and carefully checked it, then put it away. “They’ll be on grid in about two minutes.”

The patrolman nodded. “If they get lucky.”

“The guy could be halfway to the Golden Gate by then.”

A series of booming reports issued from the big house.

The Sergeant’s partner grinned and he said, “Not from the sound of that. I’d say he’s run into a slight delay.”

The black cop lifted a gas mask from the equipment rack. He opened his door and stepped into the street.

The other man said, “Now Bill… dammit…”

“I’m just going to cover the front,” the Sergeant assured his partner. “Stay with the vehicle.” He donned the mask, drew his revolver, and ran toward the booming sounds of open combat.

The black man from Brushfire was going to have himself at least a little piece of World War III.

* * *

Bolan opened the door and stepped quickly back, allowing the smoke to precede him into the anteroom of the master suite. Two gunners came staggering out almost immediately, choking, eyes streaming, and their hands clasped atop their heads.

“Keep moving,” Bolan advised them. “Down the stairs and down the street, and don’t even look back.”

One of the men was already bleeding from an arm wound. Both of them hurried down the hall, wheezing, gasping and totally out of the war.

Bolan entered the suite and shot two locks out of a door on the far wall, then he kicked it open.

The smoke puffed on through, and it was met by a spray of slugs that chewed up the door casing and nothing else.

Bolan reached through the opening and fired once at the opposing muzzle flashes.

A gun clattered to the floor and a guy yelled in a high-pitched squeal.

The man in black went on in and closed the door with his foot to keep the polluted atmosphere out.

The Capo was standing by the window, swaying slightly and dressed in pajamas and robe. He looked old and sick, and the small amount of smoke that had entered the room had been enough to upset the leathery old lungs.

The Tiger of the Hill stood at the foot of the bed, staring with glazed eyes at the smashed remains of his gun hand. The blood was gushing out and soaking into the bed, and Rivoli was just standing there watching it run.

Bolan removed his mask and told the tiger, “You forgot to sign for the delivery, guy.”

The house captain tried to say something in a voice that wasn’t working.

The old man croaked, “My God, my God,” and he staggered over to his nephew-once-removed-but-never-acknowledged.

DeMarco took the cloth belt from his robe and made a fumbling attempt to apply it as a tourniquet above the mutilated hand.

His eyes had not yet met Bolan’s gaze, and he seemed to be avoiding such a confrontation.

Bolan told the old man, “Save it, DeMarco, he won’t be needing that.”

Rivoli’s lips moved again and he whispered, “No mercy, I said. Shoot to kill. You hear me? Shoot to kill.”

Bolan said, “Okay.”

He snuggled the Auto Mag beneath the old man’s arm and squeezed off once. The big piece roared and bucked against the Capo’s chest.

DeMarco lurched forward, eyes wide and stricken with a mortal awareness, and his mouth formed the words, “Missed… you missed.”

Bolan told him, “I never miss,” and he walked to the window while he tucked away the Auto Mag and re-fitted the gas-mask to his face.

It was not until then that DeMarco became aware of the mess behind him. The Tiger of the Hill had lost his face plus a goodly portion of skull to the rear… and the big mean bastard in the black suit had been right about the uselessness of that tourniquet.

Ten thousand tourniquets wouldn’t put Little Tony back together again. Pieces of him were splattered all over the bed, even on the walls.

DeMarco yelled, “You bastard you, you bastard! What’re you doing this to me for?”

But the window was up, and the bastard was gone, and actually he’d done nothing whatever to Don DeMarco. Except shoot up his house, and fill it with smoke, and splatter Little Tony all over his bedroom, and kill off God only knew how many of the house boys.

The Don went over to the window and closed it. He got the hell away from it quick and staggered back to the bed to stare with fascination at what was left of his old friend Tony’s kid… little Tony.

His lip curled, and he said quietly, “Some tiger. The only tiger on this hill, kid, just climbed out that window.”

And then the Capo went to the liquor cabinet, poured himself a drink, then he sank wearily into a chair and waited for someone to come up and take care of him.