Senator Abraham Weiss liked to describe himself in campaign speeches as a self-made man. It sounded good to the voters. Of course, there were always a few spiteful and politically motivated critics to dispute the claim. Weiss liked to describe those critics to the voting public as scavengers, with their stories of how he had inherited the family business from his late father, without investing either his own money or original creative ideas. That was nonsense. Hadn’t it been Abe who, mere days after his father’s funeral, had expanded into marketing and shipment, too, forging close ties with the local Teamster leadership? And wasn’t it Abe who had used his business and political connections to place brother David on the Board of directors of Greater Southwestern Savings and Loan, thereby broadening the Weiss empire into real estate investment?
The same bleeding hearts and sob-sisters who blasted Abe Weiss for his business investments were constantly harping about his political connections. They were always pointing to his friendship with Moe Kaufman as if there was something wrong with one lifelong pal contributing to the other’s campaign fund. They blamed Weiss for following Moe’s suggestion that he run for County Supervisor back in ’49 and blasted him for delivering a eulogy at old Gus Greenbaum’s funeral in ’58. But what the hell, hadn’t Gus been a fellow servant of the people and former mayor of Weiss’ own home town? The sniveling vultures especially loved to pick at Abe for accepting Kaufman’s financial support In three successful Senate campaigns, making wild charges about corruption and conflict of interest.
Weiss publicly dismissed those charges with the contempt they deserved, always ready to explain his swelling bank account as the result of life insurance dividends, and the resultant patronage to Kaufman’s handpicked men as mere coincidence. What could be more natural than for lifelong friends to see each other socially from time to time, whether at home in Phoenix or during an expense-paid visit to one of Moe’s hotels in Vegas? What really upset his opponents, Weiss told reporters, was his longtime stand against creeping socialism and his staunch defense of innocent businessmen facing criminal harassment by agents of the Justice Department’s task force on organized crime.
Mack Bolan was familiar with the accusations against Weiss, and with the senator’s protestations of innocence. More importantly, Bolan was familiar with the facts behind the charges and countercharges. Abraham Weiss was a “made man” from the word go, most lately the prime mover behind a Senate inquisition aimed at Hal Brognola and his fellow federal warriors against the Mafia. Bolan could discern the fine hand of puppet-master Moe Kaufman in those Star Chamber proceedings and in other Capitol Hill maneuvers which “coincidentally” served the interests of the Phoenix mob.
Ike Ruby’s dying words had been merely the confirmation of a certainty, yet they added sinister new dimensions to the Arizona game. For if Moe Kaufman felt it necessary to “tip Weiss off” about impending events, there might be much more at stake in Phoenix than an old-style street war between ethnic antagonists.
Bolan was well aware that Weiss had been mentioned by the press of late as a long-shot “dark horse” contender in the next presidential race. A tenuous lead, sure, no more than a pipe dream perhaps, but still food for thought. A “made man” in the White House? Sure. Why not?
Between them, Kaufman and Weiss surely had the savvy and political connections to insure “favorite son” backing for the candidate. And beyond that? If Kaufman remained in good standing with the national organization, the full weight and influence of the Mafia and its minions might be thrown behind the white knight from Arizona.
But how did Kaufman stand with his former amici in the Mafia? Was the latest thrust by Nick Bonelli and company merely a local power play or much more?
Sinister implications, Yeah, even without the full story.
Part of the answer lay with the captured battle map of Phoenix and the marks around the state capitol, where Weiss maintained an office. And it took the Executioner less than five minutes with a Phoenix phone directory to confirm the residence of Abraham Weiss as target number four on Bonelli’s campaign chart.
Abe Weiss was part of the Phoenix game plan whether or not he’d become aware of it. So was another whose dark face nagged at Bolan’s photographic memory, a ghost from the past — a wraith skillfully sidestepping efforts to catalog.
Even the game itself remained to be identified — and for that he would seek the help Of Honest Abe Weiss, the unconscious player. And perhaps, in the process, a serpent would be uncovered.
He punched the bell and waited while melodic chimes sounded patriotic notes deep within the rambling structure. Footsteps approached instantly and the door was opened a crack by a Chicano houseman. Bolan pushed the door fully open and stepped inside to the guy’s spluttering protests.
There was a cool entry foyer sporting potted cacti, a low-ceilinged hallway dividing the structure with heavy Spanish doors to the left and right, an atmosphere of solidity and wealth.
“Message from Kaufman,” Bolan snapped at the houseman. “Tell ‘im.”
The guy was torn with indecision. “The senator doesn’t like to-“
“Tell ‘im!” Bolan snarled, adding to the discomfort.
The houseman’s unhappy eyes gave it away, flashing uncertainty toward a closed door on the right.
Bolan shouldered the guy aside and let himself in. It was a large, plush den, decorated with antique guns and stuffed hunting trophies. An oval doorway at the far end led to a secluded dining area-breakfast room, maybe with double-doors opening onto a shaded patio.
The senator was having a late breakfast on the patio, newspapers from several major cities stacked neatly on the table at his left hand. His was a face known around the world — hard blue eyes glaring fiercely through steel-rimmed glasses, that stern jaw and prominent chin, the shock of iron-gray hair neatly adorning the handsome head. The guy did not look like a Jew.
He looked like a Nazi stormtrooper.
That famous chin thrust itself toward the intruder and those dissecting eyes crackled as the familiar voice demanded, “What the hell is this?”
The breathless houseman inserted himself between them. “He crashed in, sir. Do you know him?”
“He will,” Bolan said coldly. The gaze rested fully on the senator. “The message is urgent, Weiss. Tell the guy to get lost.”
A shifting of senatorial eyes was all it took. The Chicano disappeared. Bolan dropped into a chair and crossed his legs, casually settling in.
“It better be good,” Weiss growled.
Bolan lit a cigarette as he replied, “It’s not. Ike Ruby is dead. It’s a war. They hit Moe’s place, too. Luckily, he wasn’t there. But they took his kid.”
The unreadable face turned in famous profile as the eye contact was broken. There was no other readable reaction. After a moment, the eyes still averted, that voice known around the world inquired softly, “Why are you bringing this to me? I’m not a policeman.”
“Come off it,” Bolan replied quietly.
“Who the hell are you?” Weiss asked, still not looking at him.
Bolan introduced himself with a marksman’s medal, dropping it with a flat metallic ping on an egg-smeared plate.
Then the guy looked at him. Searchingly, coldly — more curiosity than anything else showing in that harsh gaze.
“So,” he said simply.
Bolan said, “I think you may be next on the hit list.”
“Let’s talk about it,” Weiss said, the voice coldly cautious but giving nothing. “Maybe we can come up with, uh, an accommodation.”
Bolan’s grin was pure ice. “Wrong reading,” he said. “It’s not my hit list. I think it’s Bonelli’s. And I think you need a friend.” The guy was quick. “Meaning you?” he asked, coming right back with it.
“Wouldn’t that be ironic?” the Executioner said quietly.
“I guess it would,” replied the senator who had been demanding Mack Bolan’s scalp for these many months in the hallowed halls of congress.
“Don’t let it worry you,” Bolan said. “I wouldn’t kiss you, Senator, with Augie Marinello’s dead lips.”
“So what are you doing here?” the guy asked tightly, cold hatred in his gaze.
“Looking for handles,” Bolan replied truthfully.
“You won’t find any on me.”
“Puppets don’t have handles,” Bolan said. “Strings are the usual controls, aren’t they?”
“You son of a bitch, you-get out of here! Who the hell do you think …”
The anger spluttered off into rigid self-control. Those sky-blue eyes receded behind slitted lids — and, for a moment, Bolan thought he caught a glimpse of the Arizona viper in its native lair. The guy took a deep breath and asked his visitor, “Okay, what’s your game? What do you want here?”
“I want you out of the game,” Bolan replied coldly.
“Fine. Be assured, I want the same. Now get out of here. I’ll give you a ten-minute head start before I call the police. But that’s my final offer.”
Bolan chuckled with ice on the teeth. “Here’s a matching offer. I’ll take Bonelli out if you’ll take Kaufman.”
“No more than you. Maybe I don’t fully understand the game yet, but I think I’m beginning to. And I believe that you are the prize.”
“I’m the what?” Weiss snapped.
“The name of the game is Puppeteer. And you, Mister Righteous, are the prize puppet. Bonelli will own you or he’ll take you out and put in one of his own. How does that sit?”
It was not sitting too well. “You say they tried to hit Moe?”
Bolan nodded. “Pure luck saved him. He was out at a time when he is usually always in. Like you, Weiss, he’s a man of vulnerable habit. They’ll get him. Bank on that.”
The guy had already banked it. “If what you say is true-“
Bolan made a disparaging sound and replied, “I didn’t risk walking in here to trade nothing but insults.”
“But my God! This Is ridiculous! It’s crazy!”
“Who ever called them sane?” Bolan said quietly, referring to the Bonellis of the world — a meaning not lost on his listener. “If they want you, they’ll have you. You signed it all away, yourself, Weiss, when you gave it to Kaufman. You’ve been fair game from that moment. You’re a piece of property, a chunk of meat to be owned and traded and sold on the open market. And Bonelli has decided to take you.”
“We’ll see about that,” the senator replied stubbornly.
“You see about it,” Bolan said, rising to leave. “But your only out is to go public. Ruin yourself politically. That would sever all the strings. Then you could call your soul your own. And I doubt that you’d draw more than a year in one of the federal country clubs. I hear life can be pretty nice there. You could write a book, make a fortune.”
He was moving off.
Weiss called after him, “Wait a minute-wait! Let’s scratch backs. I can be a good friend to have. I can make things a lot easier for you. Get that fucking wop off my back and you can write your own ticket with me.”
Bolan paused in the doorway to send a withering gaze along the backtrack. “I should live so long,” he said quietly and put that stench behind him.
He’d given the guy honest counsel — but then, of course, puppets were not particularly renown for standing alone. That one back there would not even contemplate the thought, nor had Bolan thought for a moment that he would.
He had the guy wired for sound, though, and he knew also that Honest Abe would lose no time seeking reassurance from the puppeteer.
Back in the warwagon, Bolan immediately summoned the wires on Abe Weiss, activating the surveillance system for simultaneous recording and live-monitoring. He got there in time to pick up and record for future reference several different telephone numbers as the senator searched via Ma Bell for his friend and political benefactor.
Weiss struck pay dirt on the fourth try. “I’ve been looking all over for you. What’s happening?”
It was Kaufman’s voice in the return. “Don’t use any names. Keep it cool.”
“Right, sure. God’s sake. What is It? Are you laying low?”
“Sort of, yes. Listen, you better do it, too. I’ve been thinking about calling you. It’s heat from the south, I think. I don’t know what the hell it’s all about, but you better cool it until I find out. Don’t-“
“Dammit that guy Bolan was just here!”
“Yeah! I’m afraid that-“
“Say nothing else! Hang up, hang up!”
“Wait! I think he’s on our side! It’s the wops he hates! We could use the guy!”
“Hang up, dammit. I’ll send you some comfort. Don’t call again!”
Kaufman’s voice was replaced by a loud hum.
Weiss swore softly into the line and also hung up.
Bolan was about to turn off the live monitor when another distinct click signaled the presence of a third party on that line.
So. Bolan’s wires were not the only ones in Phoenix. He thought he knew, now, where to find Moe Kaufman.
He sent the warwagon tracking toward Paradise, homing on the corrupt connection that bound the state of Arizona in political slavery. He would sever that connection by whatever means necessary. And — no, Sharon — no promises at all.