Flanked by Nark and Vang Ky, Bolan surveyed the hardsite from the ridge he and Nark had been on before. It was a little after 22.00 hours, and Bolan’s Montagnard army was ready for battle. But so was Tiger, and that was the problem. The camp had been reinforced. A quartet of newly arrived Apache helicopters sat on the landing zone, the parade ground was a sea of troop tents, and fresh gun emplacements were in evidence everywhere.
“We will be massacred,” said Vang Ky.
“If we follow our original plan, yes,” said Bolan.
“You have another?”
“The colonel is thinking of walking in,” said Nark.
“Walking in?” exclaimed Vang Ky.
“As Tiger,” said Bolan. “As victorious Tiger.” He looked at Nark. “Did you bring the uniforms?”
“Uniforms, weapons and bodies,” Nark replied.
By 23.00 hours the commandos were ready. He inspected them by moonlight as they stood in a forest clearing. There were two groups of men. The first was made up of forty Montagnards in uniforms of Tiger soldiers captured or killed in the battle of the train. They also carried Tiger weapons.
Bolan’s plan was to gain entry into the hardsite by impersonating the returning Tiger party. But forty men were not enough to hold back the enemy while keeping the gates open for the rest of the force. Bolan needed at least twice that number. So he had contrived the idea of doubling his force with prisoners.
They formed the second group of the commando, men in regular Montagnard dress with bound wrists and cords around their necks, both lightly tied so they could get free in a hurry. The armament for this group was in sacks on horses that would be led by the soldiers, ostensibly captured weapons. Some men were bandaged to look wounded.
The inspection over, Bolan signaled to the men to assemble around him. “You look very realistic,” he told them. “We should have no problem tricking Tiger. But once inside we must move very, very fast. Remember your targets and stick to them. May the spirits protect you.”
“And you,” they chorused.
They moved out of the clearing, taking a forest path, every fifth man a Chinese speaker. Luckily for Bolan there was no shortage of them in the force. Many of the Meo in the Triangle were from Yunnan, the province of southern China where most Meo still live.
The rest of the force lined the path to see them off. As Bolan passed, faces smiled, hands touched him, voices whispered encouragement. From commander he had become their hero, the man who had single-handedly saved the train from destruction. His unsmiling modesty only increased their admiration. He was a human hero.
The column descended the ridge and came onto the dirt road leading to the hardsite. Just before the last bend, Bolan was tied across a saddle. He would enter the hardsite as a corpse rather than a prisoner. A white prisoner would attract too much interest.
The gates loomed ahead. As the column neared, a searchlight came on from one of the flanking towers. Its beam swept the column up and down, lingering on the prisoners. A rider broke from the column and galloped up to the gates. He wore a bloodstained uniform with bullet tears and a bloodstained bandage on his head.
“Green frogs,” he shouted. “Captain Wong’s group returning.” Green frogs was the password. They got that from the prisoners.
“What happened?” asked a voice from a tower.
“Montagnards attacked us,” replied the rider. “We beat them but lost Captain Wong and four men.”
“And the wages?” another man asked.
“Open the gates!” the first voice called.
The gates swung open, the searchlight went out, and a smaller arc light came on, forming a spotlight by the entrance. The column filed under the flag-bedecked archway with the Chinese inscriptions. First came horses with the money, then horses with the bodies.
The prisoners appeared. “Look at those necks,” said a voice. “The colonel will be pleased. Lots of flesh to test his swords on.”
Guffaws greeted the remarks.
As the column entered the parade ground it formed ranks. From his upside-down position Bolan surveyed the lay of the land. The parade ground was in darkness, but beyond it were lots of streetlights and he could hear music.
A door opened from a barrack on the side. An officer and an assistant stepped out and walked briskly to the forming ranks.
“Where is Sergeant Tsepo?” the officer called.
“Here I am, sir,” replied the false sergeant.
“What’s this about an ambush?” asked the officer.
“We were jumped as we were getting off the train,” said the sergeant. “They were waiting for us at Py Fung.”
A flashlight shone in the sergeant’s face. “You’re not Tsepo,” said the assistant. The beam swept the column. “Sir, these are not Captain Wong’s men.”
Night turned into day. But almost immediately muzzles flashed. With a puff of smoke and the tinkle of glass the searchlight went out. A moment of stunned silence followed, then all hell broke loose.
“Attack! Attack!” Bolan shouted into the radio set given to him by the Montagnard who released him. “We’re inside!”
From up the ridge a green flare fired. A bugle sounded down the road. The radio blared. “Nark to Phoenix. The cavalry’s on its way!”
On the parade ground bedlam reigned. Colored tracers flew in all directions, men yelled, horses galloped in confusion. A tower flashed as an RPG hit its mark. Windows blew, and a barrack exploded in flames.
But the enemy was not sleeping, either. The inside of the parade ground lit up with a myriad of flashes, and Bolan’s commando force began to take casualties.
“Arty! Arty!” Bolan shouted into his set above the din. “Open fire on the parade ground! Willie Peter, all four tubes.”
The hills boomed, the sky crackled. Mortar bombs rained on the parade ground as fast as the men could load them. They exploded in showers of white phosphorus, setting trees and tents on fire. But the enemy kept shooting.
“Spread your fire!” Bolan shouted into the radio.
The battery widened the lateral angle. The shells began falling farther apart. Soon the entire area was illuminated.
“Perfect! Now give me Hotel Echo.”
The white showers gave way to orange flashes as the mortar crews switched to firing high explosive. By the light of the burning trees Bolan could see bodies cartwheel in the air and men fall, sliced by shrapnel.
Two groups of Tiger men were running toward the parade ground carrying machine guns. They dropped to the ground near the tree line and proceeded to set up their guns.
“Number three tube!” Bolan shouted. “Right thirty, down ten!”
The machine gun crews ducked as a bomb from number three mortar exploded near them. A moment later, however, both groups were firing their Browning .50-caliber guns, the famous battlefield broom, hosing the parade ground with 12.7mm slugs.
From the road came the blare of a bugle and the thunder of hooves. Gooseflesh broke out on Bolan’s arms. With the big .50s in action, the cavalry was riding to certain doom. It would be carnage.
“Arty, arty, all four tubes lock into number three! Number three down ten. All four go!”
A cluster of bombs warbled overhead. The inside of the tree line lit up with orange explosions. The machine gun positions disintegrated, arms and legs flying through the air.
A mass of black riders poured through the gates. They fanned out into the hardsite, heading for their assigned targets. Many horses carried two men apiece, miniature gun platforms flying through the night, the rider shooting to the right, the passenger to the left.
A group of riders with pack animals stopped by Bolan. Nark and Stressner were among them. They had brought a spare horse for Bolan with a pepesha attached to the saddle. Bolan mounted, and the group galloped off in the direction of the industrial sector.
Three abreast they thundered down an alley bordered by opium warehouses, the area dark and deserted. But not deserted enough. A squad of Tiger troops appeared, running for the parade ground. The three white riders rose in their saddles, and the perforated barrels of their pepeshas flickered flame. The squad scattered and the riders flew by.
They crossed a square, turned some corners, and the administration building came into view. Muzzles flashed from open windows. But there was no stopping Bolan now. He had neither the time nor the energy to work out some clever, safe way of taking the building. Horses tumbled, men died, but the charge continued.
One of the windows was closed and in darkness. Bolan steered his mount for it. At the last moment, still on the gallop, he jumped to the ground, bounced, and crashed through the window amid flying glass. The rest of the force followed in his wake, into the office, out into the corridor, some going left, others to the right, shooting up everything in sight.
Within minutes the building was secured. The Tiger communication center was theirs. So was the gold and, most important of all, so were Tiger’s international files.
* * *
It was a veritable Ali Baba’s cave. In the files were the names of every Tiger agent and contact around the world. There were names of shippers, importers, distributors, lists of companies that laundered the money, who invested what and where, the numbers of secret bank accounts, names of paid politicians, crooked cops, enforcers, and district managers. A wealth of data.
One filing cabinet contained all the smuggling networks and the methods used to smuggle heroin into the U.S. In Amsterdam the heroin was inserted into the rectums of airline flight attendants. From Marseilles it was imported inside blocks of marble. Hong Kong sent it in cans of litchi nuts. Colombia dropped it offshore in shallow waters.
“We really hit the jackpot,” said Bolan.
“About time,” said Nark.
“Got ’em!” shouted Stressner.
The room filled with the crackle of the Crypton as Stressner began transmitting material already penciled by Nark. Bolan’s and Nark’s eyes met, and Bolan gave him a thumbs-up. For both it was a triumphant moment. After all they had been through, the ups and downs, the nerves, the lack of sleep, and in Bolan’s case, the severe pain he still carried… finally, the payoff.
Bolan imagined the scene at the other end, the Stony Man Farm radio room triple-staffed for the occasion, April in command, the hustle and bustle as the incoming messages were decoded and passed on to the appropriate offices.
The radio blared, “Colonel, come quick!” It was Vang Ky. “We found the fish. In the refinery.”
“They’ve located the management!” Bolan shouted to Nark and ran out.
He came out of the building, mounted his horse, and galloped through the dark, deserted alleys. There had hardly been any fighting in the industrial sector. It was all taking place in the residential part. Bolan could hear mortar warble overhead as artillery gave support. The sky over the residential section glowed with fires.
The refinery milled with Montagnards wandering between rows of vats steaming with frothy liquids that workmen were stirring. Vang Ky ordered the night shift to carry on for the education of the troops. For most of them, it was their first opportunity to see what happened after they sold their harvest.
One of Vang Ky’s assistants led Bolan through the crowd past the steaming vats to the foot of a staircase. It was here that the action was taking place. The steps were littered with bodies of Montagnards shot by Tiger troops occupying the landing above. Now Bolan understood why the main body of the assault force was on R&R. There was no room in the stairway for more than a handful.
“They are on the third floor,” Vang Ky reported.
Bolan unslung his submachine gun and climbed the stairs cautiously, followed by Vang Ky and some Montagnards. He came to a corner, took a dead man’s beret, and placed it on the muzzle. He stuck the beret around the corner. A bullet sang past, and Bolan withdrew.
“We’ll have to try something else,” he said.
“I say we burn them,” said Vang Ky.
“I want them alive,” said Bolan.
A metal object bounced down the stairway. “Grenade!” shouted Vang Ky, and the recon party descended frantically to the ground floor. But it was only a metal cap.
From the landing above, a voice laughed. “Fooled you, eh? Next time it will be for real.”
A Montagnard ran up the stairs and let off an angry burst from his AK-47. From the landing an M-16 replied.
“Colonel, what are we going to do?” asked Vang Ky.
“I’m thinking, Major,” said Bolan, eyeing the elevator. The car was on the ground floor, the door open. Inside stood a wheelbarrow with a load of brown jelly, raw opium.
“Colonel, we cannot send men in the elevator,” said Vang Ky. “They will be killed before they open the gate.”
“I wasn’t thinking of sending men, Major.” Bolan pulled up the aerial on his radio. “Phoenix to Pincus.”
“Pincus,” replied the copilot of the Ilyushin. A former navy SEAL, Bolan had put him in charge of dynamiting.
“Where are you?”
“Mining the warehouses.”
“I got a target and I need some explosive. Send me a couple of kilo. I’m in the refinery.”
“Any particular sort?”
“Give me a mixture. And I’ll need caps, wire and a bravo mama.”
Bolan told Vang Ky his plan. “The explosive will be here in a few minutes.”
“You’re a man of imagination, Colonel,” said Vang Ky. In the same breath he added, “When can we have our gold?”
They lit up cigarettes and waited for the dynamite, watching the work around them. From where they stood Bolan could see several processes going on at once. In one section opium was being boiled with water and lime to extract the morphine. In another the morphine was being solidified with ammonia. Farther on, beyond drying and filtering machines, stood rows of vats with thermometers where morphine was being dissolved in acetic anhydride to bond chemically into diacetylmorphine, the chemical name for heroin.
“Very interesting,” said Vang Ky, nodding at the activity.
“Yeah,” said Bolan. “Deadly, too.”
“What happens in the laboratories behind the partition?”
“That’s where the heroin’s purified and solidified,” Bolan replied. “Before you get the final product there are four or five stages through which the crude heroin must go. You must treat the heroin with chloroform, sodium carbonate, charcoal, hydrochloric acid, ether. Then you have something that will destroy the body as surely as viper’s venom. But it looks harmless, just a white powder.”
“Complicated business,” said Vang Ky, sucking his teeth.
A stir by the door told Bolan his goodies had arrived. Two Montagnards appeared carrying sacks. Bolan emptied the contents. The explosive came in bricks that carried such names as Plastite and Nepolit, Pirkinsaure and Ammon Saltpeter, and Sprengmunition 02.
It was old East German stock, some dating from World War II, unloaded as part of fraternal aid to some Communist movement in the Sudan. The movement’s leader promptly sold it for some capitalist greenbacks.
Bolan called for the wheelbarrow from the elevator. He emptied it and stacked the bricks inside. He inserted detonator caps and attached firing wire to them. Then he covered the bricks with the raw opium.
A Chinese-speaking Meo who could write found a sheet of paper and wrote “ultimatum” in large Chinese characters. The paper was affixed to a stick, and the stick was stuck into the jelly.
They wheeled the barrow into the cage and positioned it so the wire would not show. Bolan passed the other end through a crack in the floor and out the elevator shaft. He attached that end to a small hand blasting machine, the bravo mama.
The assault unit assembled. A Montagnard called up the stairway to alert Tiger that an ultimatum was being sent. Another Montagnard pressed the second-floor button and closed the gate.
In the stairway, Bolan waited, machine in hand, fingers crossed. Old explosives tended to deteriorate and sometimes failed to go off. That’s why he had asked for a mixture.
The cage rose. Bolan heard it come to a stop on the landing above. There was a lot of chatter from the soldiers, then Bolan heard the gate being opened. He twisted the handle on the machine, and an ear-splitting roar shook the building. Bolan dropped the machine, grabbed his gun, and bounded up the stairs.
The landing was strewn with chunks of concrete and twisted girders. The air was full of dust, and flames flickered. On Bolan’s left came the sound of running, shouting men. Tiger soldiers were coming to see what had happened. Before they got to the landing, to be engaged by the Montagnards, Bolan had already slipped past.
He climbed to the third floor, colliding with a soldier coming down. The pepesha spat flame at point-blank range, and the man rolled down the stairs. As Bolan emerged onto the landing, he saw muzzles spitting flame from down a corridor. Bolan ducked and backed out. He primed a frag and rolled it down the corridor. A scurry of feet and shouts of alarm were lost in an explosion.
Bolan crossed the landing and entered a large storage area. The floor was full of crates marked with Chinese characters and piles of sacks marked Tiger Brand No. 4, the final product, ninety-nine percent pure heroin, ready for shipment to the States. The place was silent and dark, the only light coming from a distant bulb.
Bolan hesitated, wondering what to do. It was a perfect place to be ambushed. Why not try some psycho-warfare? Liu and company must be hoping for relief, otherwise they would not be making a stand. Why not fulfill their hopes?
Bolan cupped his mouth and called out, “Hey, guys, where are you? It’s me, Jack. Jack Fenster. I’ve brought relief. I’m with the Thais. Where are you?”
He crouched and listened. Perhaps the trick would work. After all, no one but Big Bottom, the mahout, and himself knew what happened to Jack Fenster. And why shouldn’t Fenster come back to help his colleagues if he survived the ambush?
Footsteps. Cautious footsteps. A voice called quietly, “Jack?”
Bolan tiptoed in the direction of the sound and went down behind a forklift. Steps approached.
“Jack, where are you?”
A roly-poly individual in a golfing shirt and slacks appeared. In his hand he held a handkerchief with which he constantly wiped his face. To Bolan it was obvious the man felt he was performing a feat of great courage by making the trip in the dark alone. Wrong! He was not alone. Behind him came a Tiger soldier, weapon at the ready. Bolan let them pass.
Bolan rose and moved like a cat. A knife stabbed the soldier, a hand covered the fat man’s mouth. “Jack is in hell,” he whispered into the man’s ear. “And he wants you to join him.”
The man’s eyes bulged and he began shaking. The smell of urine filled the air. As his bladder emptied, the shaking subsided.
Bolan pointed the knife at him. “Now, where is everyone? Use your hand.”
The man pointed behind him.
The man shook his head.
Bolan turned him. “Lead the way.”
They moved through the gloom past the crates and the stacks of Tiger Brand No. 4, Bolan keeping his ears wide open for any unusual sound. But there was none. The only sound was the muffled gunfire from the floor below as the Montagnards fought it out with Tiger troops.
They came to a partition with a door. An office of some sort. The door was closed, light came through the opaque glass, but no sound emanated from it.
“In there?” Bolan whispered.
The man nodded.
“Go inside and leave the door open behind you,” Bolan whispered. “Understood?”
The man nodded.
“Go,” said Bolan, releasing him.
The man walked to the door, opened it, and went inside. Through the doorway Bolan could see an office with an Oriental carpet and armchairs in which sat the directors. They watched their colleague enter with fear and expectation. But there was an additional expression on their faces, and it sent blood rushing to Bolan’s head. They resembled men left leaderless.
A moment later, as he stepped into the office after roly-poly, Bolan’s premonition was confirmed. The directors were there, but Colonel Liu was not among them.