Chapter 3. Paradise

Bolan swung the warwagon off the Interstate and onto Central Avenue, powering smoothly along the thoroughfare toward the heart of Phoenix. He passed Union Station and the county office complex on his left, and soon spied the multimillion dollar bulk of the new Civic Plaza looming two blocks over to his right on the east flank.

The Executioner’s target of the moment was not downtown. Technically, it was not in Phoenix at all. He was homing on the elite suburb of Paradise Valley and had elected the Central route to save time wasted on a maze of residential streets. The sleek battle cruiser powered on, leaving behind the campus of Maricopa Tech and the Phoenix Art Center in its wake. Bolan left Central far from the heart of town, swinging east onto Camelback Road and homing on his target as common homes began to bloom and blossom into mansions.

Bolan was well versed on the peculiar pedigree of Paradise Valley. The exclusive “in” community boasted three private country clubs, yet another private golf course, and a theoretically public “tennis ranch,” and some years back the socialite inhabitants had cast their mayoral votes for gambler and stock swindler Gus Greenbaum. Old Gus hadn’t been a bad mayor really, since he spent most of his time visiting with co-investors in Las Vegas gaming ventures. The Nevada connections had proven hazardous for Gus, and he went the way of all flesh in 1958, when one of those dissatisfied partners slit his throat from ear to ear and left him leaking on the posh carpet of his palatial home in Paradise.

And Paradise had been truly a paradise for the Phoenix mob, a retreat and sanctuary, a home away from the daily details of corruption and murder, a breath of clean air amid the reek of the syndicate charnel house.

Mack Bolan came to Paradise one morning in early spring and found the Serpent already there … or, at least, the Serpent’s lair.

He drove on by and pulled up three blocks further on, beside the rolling greenery of a well-trimmed public park. Selecting a nondescript jumpsuit and blue hardhat from his wardrobe of disguises, the Executioner quickly transformed himself into a telephone lineman. A tool box, safety belts, and climbing spikes completed the outfit.

Bolan quit the warwagon, jangling off along the quiet lane toward his destination. He chose a phone pole at one corner of the walled estate he sought and began to climb with easy practiced movements. His crow’s nest at the terminal box provided him with an excellent vantage point for viewing the entire estate: scattered trees, gently rolling grounds, and a charmingly extravagant manor house at the end of the graveled drive.

A dragon lived within those walls, a corrupt old serpent in human form. Morris Kaufman — Moe to his old friends in Detroit and the new ones here in Paradise — had once been jokingly referred to as “the Yiddish Augie Marinello,” a reference to the Mafia’s late and unlamented Boss of Bosses. A joke, of course, but there was more truth than humor in the analogy, and the joke was on Phoenix society.

Like Mack Bolan, Moe Kaufman had come west in adversity, one propitious jump ahead of a crusading grand jury in Detroit. And he had built an empire in the desert, growing along with his adopted city in wealth and influence. He outranked Bonelli in seniority and sheer wealth. More importantly, he pulled the political strings for much of the Grand Canyon State from his de facto position as the mentor and financier of rising lights in government. Of late there had been speculation as to how far his influence might reach into the upper ranks of state government and beyond, but one investigative reporter had already “committed suicide” in recent months, and the rest was silence.

A dragon, yeah. A scabrous old parasite living to eat the bowels of the society that sheltered him. But maybe a dragon in trouble.

The Kaufman estate was one of those “marks” on Bolan’s captured battle map.

Bolan opened the terminal box and plugged in. He found a line in use on the second try, and what he heard instantly riveted his full attention. A man’s hard voice was growling in the earpiece. “else is here. She’s alone here with the houseman and a maid.”

“Shit!” An answering male voice, deep, with a hint of southern twang.

“We had to burn the houseman. So now what?”

“Dammit! He was supposed to be there!”

“Think we should wait?”

“No! No waiting! Did the maid get a look at you?”

“Sure she got a look.”

“Okay. Take care of that. And put a sack on Miss Boobs and drag her over here. We’ll bring the guy to us.”

“Ten-four, gotcha. We’re on our way.”

The line went dead.

Bolan hurriedly clipped in a miniature recorder-transceiver and tidied the tap with some quick camouflage, then quit that perch, descending immediately and shedding his lineman’s tools as he trotted toward the ironwork entrance to the Kaufman estate.

A car engine coughed to life somewhere within those grounds, and the squeal of tires along the drive signaled the coming confrontation. Bolan opened the jumpsuit and sprung the silent Beretta from its armpit sheath as he jogged into that meet. The iron gate was humming and rattling as it slowly withdrew along the remote-controlled pulley chain. A four-door sedan was approaching, slowing for the gate. In the split second before his brain impulses were translated into lethal action, Bolan ran a rapid sizing on that fated vehicle. Four heads were behind that glass — two guys in front, another guy and a young woman in the rear. With hardly a break in stride, Bolan swung into the confrontation with Beretta raised and steadied in classic combat crouch. The silenced weapon coughed four times in rapid succession, dispatching two parabellum manglers into the auto grillwork and two more at precise points through the windshield. Two heads snapped back, imparting a mingled spray of life forces into the compact atmosphere, splattering the other passengers with wet streamers of crimson and gray.

The sedan lurched to a stop, its punctured radiator spluttering its death rattle. The girl was going crazy, her mouth yawning in a soundless scream, but her companion in the rear seat retained more self-composure. A side door sprang open and ejected that hardman in a diving headlong roll, his frantic hands clawing for gun-leather. The Beretta chugged out a deadly double message, and the guy’s graceful dive suddenly became an awkward blood-drenched wallow of death.

Bolan moved swiftly to the car and leaned inside. The front seaters were both dead as hell, the backs of their skulls missing and replaced by sodden muck. The fourth passenger, however, was very much alive.

And, quite naturally, scared as hell.

Her screams were winding down to a breathless series of panting little gasps. At sight of Bolan and that ominous black blaster, she began screaming again, shrill, strangled sounds, eyes bulging and face reddening. She was dressed only in a wraparound bathrobe, and that was blotched with spreading Patches of blood.

The kid was lapsing into hysterics. It was no time for sophisticated handling. So he slapped her. Twice. Hard, stinging blows across each pale cheek. She sobered immediately, her wheezing cries dying to an injured murmur.

“You’re okay,” he said, the tone firm and reassuring. “Cool it. Who are you?”

The girl’s mouth worked for a couple of seconds before the sounds emerged. “I-I’m Sharon Kaufman.”

Oh yeah. Wonderful. Bolan’s cup fairly runneth over. He pulled the girl out, slung her across his shoulder, and without wasting a precious moment, hurried to the warwagon with his “prize.”

The going was not all that easy, though. She was no frail wisp of a girl but a substantial chunk of womanhood with long, flowing lines and plenty of nice womanflesh packed onto that feminine frame. Bolan sized her out at about 130 to 140 pounds and close to six feet in height. If she’d wanted to put up a fight, he would have had his hands full. But there was no fight in this one. She was still obviously terrified, confused, perhaps only partially conscious.

He deposited her on a bunk in the warwagon and peeled away the bloodied robe. She shrank from that invasion of personal privacy but made no move to interfere with the inspection. “Miss Boobs,” for sure. Not just big but big and firm, proud and — in most any other circumstances — tantalizing.

“Please!” she whispered. “Don’t … don’t …”

“Relax,” he said pleasantly. “I’m just looking for hurts.” He closed the robe and told her, “You pass. A-OK. None of the blood is yours. You’ll feel a lot better after you’ve scrubbed it off.” He pointed out the shower stall to her. “Don’t waste the water. It’s a small tank.”

He patted her hand and gave her a friendly smile, then went forward to send the battle cruiser to softer ground. Circling the streets of Paradise, Bolan drove with one portion of his mind while using the rest to probe the new dimensions of his problem.

Moe Kaufman had been the hit team’s primary target, no doubt about it. He wasn’t home, the voice on the phone had said — the girl would bring him to “us.” So far it played. But had the crew been looking to hit the Jewish capo or merely abduct him? And to what ultimate end?

Sharon Kaufman was yet another wild card in the game. The Serpent’s daughter, a pearl before swine. With the old man missing, her abduction had been the logical and inevitable move. If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed …

And where did Bolan’s new “prize” fall in the scheme of things? A healthy and apparently vibrant young woman, but a serpent’s daughter all the same. Where would she stand when the cut came?

Another imponderable in the Arizona game.

The players were multiplying like rabbits, and it was getting hard to tell them apart without a program. There was more than one serpent in Paradise now, and they were at war.

Bolan found himself joining the Arizona game late, already several moves behind. But he had captured a queen on his opening gambit, and it just might be enough. Enough to scatter the players, and maybe — just maybe enough, to upset the whole damn board.

The Executioner drove on deeper into Paradise, Searching for serpents.


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