Chapter 14. Links

“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you!” Moe Kaufman’s voice was angry, betraying signs of the inner strain which had dogged him throughout that day. “I need protection. Now!”

He sat in a richly panelled conference room upstairs in the Phoenix City Hall. Facing him across the broad table were two command-rank officers from the city police department and a captain from the county sheriff’s office. The lawmen looked unhappy, their faces wearing almost identical expressions of grim displeasure and embarrassment. Their eyes alternated between the tabletop and Kaufman’s face as the mobster continued his harangue.

“I put you guys where you are today, don’t forget. And I expect some return for my investment. I made you and I can unmake you just as easy.”

Frank Anderson of the Phoenix PD spread his big hands in a placating gesture. “C’mon, Mr. Kaufman. There’s no reason for these threats. We’re doing everything we can-“

“Bullshit!” Kaufman snapped, watching the officer redden. “You haven’t done a goddamned thing except haul a few stiffs to the cooler and stake out the places the guy’s already been!”

“It’s standard procedure, sir,” the sheriff’s captain interjected.

Kaufman turned to him with a glare. “This is not a standard situation, Joe. You’re not running some punk gamblers out of town to make the department look good at election time. This guy is after my ass! He could shake the whole damned thing apart!”

The officers were silent, waiting for the outburst to run its course. Kaufman slumped back in his padded chair and took several deep breaths, regaining his composure before speaking again. “I want some men with me day and night. Fix it.”

“Policemen?” Frank Anderson sounded uncomfortable.

“Why not? I’m an upstanding citizen whose life has been threatened by a known maniac. What better cause do you need? Log it as a Bolan stakeout.”

Anderson nodded slowly, clearly unhappy about the situation. Kaufman didn’t give him time to brood about it. “I want men on Weiss, too,” the mobster said.

Again the desultory nod.

“Okay.” Kaufman was partially placated. “Now fill me in on what you’ve accomplished toward bagging this psycho Bolan.”

“First off,” the sheriff’s captain said heavily, “we don’t read the guy as being a psycho. H-“

“Save it for the eulogy,” Kaufman snapped. “What are you doing to stop him?”

The police spokesman took over. “We have SWAT teams on standby alert around the clock. Roving patrols everywhere we feel he’s likely to surface — that is, around your places.” A glare from Kaufman killed the guy’s grin as it began. “Okay, uh, the chopper is up and in full communication with the ground patrols. On the federal level, we have liaison with the local FBI, and a planeload of U.S. Marshals due in any time. Some kind of special Bolan strike force.” Kaufman said, “Okay. Maybe it’s finally getting off the ground.” He paused, then continued, “I want all of you to remember above everything else that this guy is bad for business. My operations are at a standstill, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that your monthly take depends upon mine. The longer Bolan runs loose in this town, the worse it is for all of us. And if he gets me, you can all kiss those nice fat envelopes goodbye.”

Anderson sighed and said, “I can detail a pair of plain-clothes officers to you, and a couple for Weiss. Any more would bring the headhunters down on me from Internal Affairs.”

“How soon can I have them?”

“They’ll be waiting when you get downstairs.”

“Good.” Kaufman rose to leave, pausing as he turned from the table to reinforce his earlier message to the three men. “I want this Bolan, you understand? I want him dead! Pass the word that there’s a bounty of five G’s on the bum’s head. Maybe that’ll sharpen somebody’s shooting eye.”

The three officers rose to usher Kaufman out. Anderson offered his hand, but the mobster brushed past him, eating up the corridor with brisk, energetic strides.

Yeah, five grand should buy a little unaccustomed alertness from the boys in blue. Kaufman almost smiled as he felt the old familiar stirrings of power which had always exhilarated him. It made him feel good to have men indebted to him here, in the halls of government. Also, Bolan wouldn’t shoot back at cops — that much was well known — and if they could manage to corner the guy, he would be a sitting duck, as good as dead. And if they couldn’t trap him?

Well, the guy never stayed long in one place, and the extra heat would surely hasten his departure. He’d blow town before long, maybe heading south to mop up Bonelli and the Tucson crowd. So much the better. All Kaufman had to do was go underground, stay safely hidden behind his cops, and ride out the storm. Later, when all the clouds had blown away, he could surface again and resume business as usual. There might even be thoughts of a punitive excursion southward, if any foes remained alive there.

Kaufman was almost chuckling to himself as he reached the elevator — not that there was anything in particular to laugh about, but things sure looked a lot better than a few hours ago. Sharon was in good hands, now — safe and sound. A grin did tug the heavy features a bit as he thought again of that walloping at Echo Canyon. He had to give credit to that Young man — psycho or not, he carried a hell of a punch.

The Phoenix boss reached the elevator station and extended a hand toward the call button. Another appeared from nowhere to cover the button — a big, muscular hand with powerful fingers and a heavy wrist.

The man who had materialized behind him said quietly, “Not yet, Kaufman. You owe me a parley.”

God, it couldn’t be! Not right here in the damn police station of all places!

But it was, obviously, Mack Bolan. Psycho, no — indeed not. Those eyes were hard and full of ice, but they were the eyes of a man who knew himself.

“What a hell of a nerve,” Kaufman muttered. “One snap of the fingers and you’re up to your neck in blue-suits, mister.”

“I’m ready to die if you are,” the guy said in that curious warm-cold voice. “Snap away. But I’d rather parley.”

And parley they did. Right there in the damned police station.

Bolan was playing it straight, clad in a lightweight denim suit and soft shoes, unarmed, entirely vulnerable, gambling more on the happy fates than on any good faith on the part of Morris Kaufman. He steered the guy to an empty office, closed the door, and told him, “It’s out of hand now. Paul Bonelli and forty Tucson torpedoes hit town awhile ago. They came for blood and they’ll damn sure get it. So our deal is off. I wanted you to know. Figure I owe you that much, though I’m damned if I can say why.”

The guy’s eyes flared a bit at the news, but he was no sob-sister. “The deal was never on, was it?”

“I guess it wasn’t,” Bolan agreed soberly. “How’s the girl?”

“She touched your heart, eh?”

Bolan allowed a brief smile. “I still have one, yeah.”

“She’s okay, thank God. She told me how you balled her out this morning. I’m indebted. But only so far. You’ve decided to turn tail and run, huh?

Doesn’t sound like the things I’ve heard about you. I guess legends are like that.”

“I guess so,” Bolan replied. “But you misunderstood me. I’m hanging around. To pick up the pieces.”

Kaufman’s eyes again flared. “What does that mean?”

“It means I play the only option left. Bonelli will take you, that’s certain. But he’ll suffer a bit in the taking. Maybe enough that I can take him then.”

“That’s your option, eh?”

“That’s it.”

“You didn’t risk coming in here just to tell me that.”

Bolan smiled again. “No.”

“You tried to set me up at Echo Canyon, didn’t you? Then Sharon blundered in and your heart just wouldn’t allow it. You had to pull it out. I’ll have to say, it was a hell of a pull.” The guy shivered slightly. “I get goosebumps just remembering it. But okay — bygones are bygones. I have another option for you. Are you listening?”

“I’m listening,” Bolan assured him.

“You take Bonelli out. Then you write your own check and I’ll sign it.”

Bolan grinned and told him, “You’re offering coals to Newcastle, Kaufman. I shake the mob’s money tree any time I please. I don’t want your money.”

“What then? You name it.”

“I already named it,” Bolan replied casually.

The racketeer’s face darkened. “That’s unreasonable. Abe Weiss and me go back a long ways. Why’re you so upset about poor Abe? Hell, all those guys owe their souls to somebody. How the hell do you think they ever get the office? Don’t be naive. Politics Is just another form of business. It’s no better and no worse than any other business.”

“Stop,” Bolan said quietly, “I have a delicate stomach.”

“Do-gooders,” Kaufman sneered. “The world is weary of guys like you. Why don’t you open a church?”

“Why don’t you?” Bolan countered. “Take Sharon as your convert. Tell her all about the new nobility and baptize her in whoredom, heroin, and innocent blood. Then ask her to kneel down and worship you as much as she worships you right now.”

Surprisingly, to Bolan, it got to the guy. His eyes fell and he clawed for a cigar to cover the emotion.

“That was a low punch,” he muttered.

“Truth is like that,” Bolan replied quietly.

“Get outta here,” Kaufman said, just as quietly.

“A final word, first. Your only out is via Weiss. Cut your losses, guy. Cut that bastard loose and send him to Siberia or somewhere equally cool. Let him live out his days with memories of what he might have been — except for you.”

“I can’t do that,” Kaufman said in a barely audible voice. “Now get out of here before I suddenly lose my mind and start yelling for a cop.”

“He’s your Achilles heel,” Bolan said. “It’s better to lose the foot than the head.”

He walked out and left the guy standing there in contemplation of his feet. So much for the “Kosher Nostra.”

Bolan had already written the guy off. He was so much dead meat, no matter what course of action Bolan may follow now. But a stubborn sense of rightness had sent the Executioner into a pursuit of that “parley” — a certain “combat honor” which was as important to maintain as the mission itself. And Mack Bolan had become known throughout the underworld for the sanctity of his word In dispensing those rare battlefield agreements or “white flags” to his enemies.

And, yeah, maybe also the Bolan heart had been touched just a bit by a loyal young lady who would hear no evil concerning her father. Well, he’d tried. Now the whole thing was in cosmic hands.

He returned to his battle-cruiser and pointed her toward the next link in the chain. As he pulled away, another vehicle entered the late-afternoon traffic and fell in behind him. He caught the maneuver immediately in the rearview but lost interest when the possible tail-car fell back and turned away. There was too much to occupy the combat mind now, to cloud it with vague worries.

But, sometimes, a little cloud changes the perspective. Bolan should have worried more.

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