Chapter 11. The message

Hinshaw’s voice was tense, taut — dangerous. “From the top, Angel. What went sour?”

“It all went sour, Jim,” Morales replied with a disgusted gesture. “I think it started sour. It was a suck play straight from the jungle book.”

“You said a rocket attack?”

“Yeah. They sucked us into a horseshoe slot, then layed into us from the high ground. There was no way to save it. I’m damn lucky I got out. Poor Floyd …”

Hinshaw kicked the desk and raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Bastard!” he growled. “He must have tumbled to the telephone tap. How cute. Did you eyeball the bastard?”

The little Latin shook his head and said, “All I eyeballed was them damn rockets whooshing down from the heights. He’s got some kind of fancy firepower. Forget them fucking LAWS, this was big stuff. More like guided missiles.”

Hinshaw muttered, “So he’s teamed up with Kaufman.”

“Looks that way,” Morales quietly agreed. “You know what this means.”

“Yeah,” Morales said, sighing. “And we’re running about 70 percent casualties as of right now, man.”

“So what are you reading?” Hinshaw growled.

“I’m reading scratch,” the surviving lieutenant replied. “We can’t pull it now. Not without reinforcements anyway.”

“You ready to tuck your tail?” Hinshaw asked heavily, “and slink back to Tucson? You ready to face the old man with that?”

“You should’ve seen what I faced a little while ago, Jim. Listen. That guy deserves his reputation.”

“So does Bonelli,” Hinshaw said worriedly.

“Well, shit.” Morales threw up his hands and walked nervously about the room waving them as though seeking applause from some invisible audience. “This is crazy. I say we call out the hole card and tell them all to go to hell.”

“Not yet,” Hinshaw said. He gnawed on his lower lip for a moment, then added: “We can still pull it out, maybe.” His eyes gleamed with silent speculation, then: “There’s a million bucks on Bolan’s head. Right?”

“You know why the bounty is a million?” Morales inquired quietly. “It’s a million because the meanest guys in the mob haven’t been able to take the guy. That’s why. I wish you’d been out there with me awhile ago. I wish you had.”

“He’s just a soldier,” Hinshaw mused. “What the hell, Angel … he’s just another soldier.”

“Go tell that to Floyd and B Troop,” Morales replied bitterly. “With a cool million on his head.”

“Shit.”

The debate was interrupted by a knuckle rap at the door. A squad leader poked his head in to report, “We got company.” His gaze flicked to the window. “You better see.”

A big guy in Levi’s was standing outside the fence, jawing with a sentry.

Hinshaw turned from the window to scowl at the squad leader. “What is it?”

“He walked in. We spotted him about three minutes out. Walking the phone line. He says we got trouble. Do we have trouble?”

Hinshaw picked up the telephone, listened to it for a moment, then put it down and said, “Yeah. Sounds like eggs frying on there. Dammit! No wonder I got no-how long has it been out?”

The squad leader shrugged. “I didn’t know it was until the guy came along.”

“Okay, let him in,” Hinshaw growled. “Make sure somebody sticks with him. Give the guy a beer. He looks hot and bothered.”

“Shit, it’s about a hundred out there in the shade, if you can find shade,” the squad leader commented. He went out muttering, “I wouldn’t have that guy’s fucking job on a …”

Morales was standing at the window, silently gazing out, hands stuffed into his pockets. “What d’you suppose a job like that pays?” he said with quiet reflection. “Couple hundred a week? — maybe two-fifty?”

“You thinking of joining up?” Hinshaw asked heavily.

“Look at the guy. Probably been out there all day in that heat. For what? Tell me for what, Jim.”

“Maybe he lost his nerve,” Hinshaw pointedly replied. “Maybe he never had any. How ’bout you? Ready to trade it all for a timeclock and a pile of bills?”

“Hell no,” Morales said quietly.

But he remained at the window and watched “the telephone guy” go about his little duties. The guy went up the pole, carrying a bag of tools and crap with him.

“What a dummy,” Morales commented softly. “Can you beat it?”

“We’re doing it, aren’t we?” Hinshaw replied. “We’re beating it. Right?”

Morales turned around with a grin. “Sure, man. We’re beating it.”

“Go keep an eye on the guy, huh? Just for safe? I have to call old man Bonelli.”

“You’re forgetting the phone.”

Hinshaw chuckled. The tensions were gone. Angel was back and they’d pull it out together somehow. “We’re going to collect that million, Angel. Us. We’re going to bag a bonus baby. Go watch the dummy. Let me know as soon as the line is restored. I need a parley with our noble benefactor in south Arizona. I want him to get his bank ready.”

Angel laughed and repeated his little applause routine as he headed outside to keep an eye on “the dummy.”

But that dummy, be sure, was no dummy.

“The dummy” now stood on a little ridge far removed from, but overlooking the base camp. He’d gone down there and rubbed shoulders with the enemy, sampled their iced beer, played games with their telephones, traded a couple of tall stories while getting their numbers and reading their strengths and weaknesses — and closing the adventure on a note of a most ludicrous melodrama.

Angel Morales had tried to recruit him. It had been a deft try, full of veiled promises while devoid of job description — but certainly a recruiting pitch to anyone “in the know” and able to decipher the doubletalk. Bolan played dumb and, in the process, bought himself enough time to complete the mission in proper fashion — thanks entirely to Morales.

Of course, in all fairness to the guy, Angel Morales had never actually “known” Sergeant Mack Bolan. They had crossed gazes a couple of times in “Nam but that had been a long time ago; also, since then, Bolan had undergone surgical alterations to the facial structure to the point where a close friend from the old days would pass him by without recognition.

Still, it was quietly satisfying to Bolan that he could successfully penetrate a professional camp. There were no false illusions regarding the expertise and military capability of men such as Hinshaw and Morales. Renegades, right — but soldiers still, and they had trained in the same classrooms as Mack Bolan, had survived the same hazards of combat. And it was not contempt for the enemy which provided Bolan with confidence enough to successfully penetrate; it was a recognition and understanding of the complex mental processes which allow identification.

With that understanding, Bolan had early become a master at what he termed “role camouflage.” Often he had been totally isolated deep in VC territory, his freedom and survival dependent on wits alone. He had survived many such entrapments. Once he had donned a standard black poncho and an appropriated coolie hat to kneel for hours beside a narrow stream, “mending” abandoned fishermen’s nets in the midst of an occupied village. Somehow, even in such an alien environment, Bolan had always seemed to “belong” to any scene to which he lent himself.

Variations upon the same theme had served him well throughout his personal war against the Mafia, always to their disaster.

With a bit of luck, this time, renegade soldier James Hinshaw would fare no better from a walk-in visit by Mack Bolan.

His “tool kit” for that penetration was in reality a mobile munitions lab. And he’d gooped that joint for destruction from end to end, despite the watchful attentiveness of his hosts. Plastics with time-delay fuses were left at a critical Point on the outer wall of the communications hut, tamped to blow inward — hopefully to buckle the wall, drop the building, and topple the mast for the radio antenna. Another application would level the barracks; others were placed for strictly psychological effect.

And that was but one side of the “knockout” equation. The other side was psy-war all the way. Bolan was hoping to stage a master illusion which would confuse and divide the enemy toward their ultimate destruction. Not just here in Phoenix, but back at the heart of the operation as well.

The “psy-war” equipment was now being emplaced. And it hurt the warrior’s soul to contemplate the loss of such a fine weapon — but then, weapons were expendable. Human freedom and dignity were not.

Head weapon was the slick M2 .50-caliber heavy-barrel machine gun. He set it gently upon the sandy soil of the ridge and threw off the cover. Sixty-six inches of sleek death machine, the M2 was the most lethally impressive weapon in Bolan’s mobile arsenal. Tripod-mounted, the heavy gun would deliver at the rate of 650 rounds per minute from a muzzle velocity approaching 3,000 feet per second. No flesh — and few vehicles or buildings — could stand before that withering stream of big steel-jacketed slugs.

And this one came with a difference — one of armorer Bolan’s own devices.

He emplaced the big weapon with care, adjusting the tripod legs and sighting-in for maximum effect. Then he locked in the ammo box and fed the disintegrating-link belt into the weapon’s receiver. Two steel rods went into the earth, emplaced nine inches to each side — swing-stops, Positioned for a desired 45-degree arc. He rotated the weapon to verify the arc, then completed the sighting, making fine adjustments for range and azimuth.

Finally he affixed the “difference” — a boxlike device designed to fit over the butt and grips of the M2, a spring-loaded metal tongue meshing with the trigger assembly. A simple timer surmounted the metal box. Bolan consulted his watch, set and wound the timer, and activated it. Psy-war, yeah.

If all went well, those guys would think themselves involved in a very hot freight, precisely 150 minutes from that moment. The planted plastics and the robot gun would do their things together. In the heat and hysteria of the moment, who would know between timed-explosives and another “rocket attack.”

To complete the stage dressing, Bolan strewed throwaway fiberglass tubes from several expended LAW rockets about the emplacement. Anyone who’d ever handled an M2 would not be fooled for long by the little charade, but Bolan was not going for longs; he would be content with an early confusion among hot tempers and shaken combat instincts.

Somehow, he had to either equalize or destroy the warring factions in this state — and he had to do it damn quick. He was a sitting duck on the desert and he knew it. Plenty of combat stretch, sure, but damn little comfort in the “withdraw and retreat” department. Any concerted and determined reaction by the police community would be his undoing for sure.

“Damn quick” was the name of the game in more ways than one. He had to cover nearly 200 miles of desert highway between Phoenix and Tucson damn quick. He had to do it in the convincing neighborhood of 150 minutes. And by God he would. He summoned all the horses from the big Toronado power plant and headed for Inter state 10.

The Executioner had to deliver a message.

Not to Garcia, no.

It was a message that only a Mafia boss would understand … loud and clear.

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