From a window up in the refinery Bolan gazed on the scene of destruction.
The Tiger hardsite lay in ruins, the air swirling with smoke. By the light of dawn he could see groups of Montagnards going through the rubble.
In the residential section only the guest villa was left standing; everything else had burned or been blown up.
It was a picture of desolation, but desolation with a menace, for somewhere amid those ruins, Bolan’s enemy was hiding.
From the directors, Bolan had learned that Liu had left the conference shortly before the battle broke out. It was the last day of the annual meeting, and they were working late. But Liu’s servants said their master never showed up, which would indicate he was en route when the fighting started. What happened to him after that, no one knew. None of the soldiers questioned had seen him. All the other directors had stayed put, scared, unarmed, and pathetically easily taken.
To Bolan there could be only one explanation for Liu’s disappearance: he must have decided on the spot that the battle was lost. He would have had good reasons, not the least of which was that when the fighting began the enemy was already inside the camp. And having decided all was lost, what would an opium warlord do, lead his troops in a death-defying stand?
He would escape or hide.
Bolan was sure Liu did not escape. The camp had been surrounded from the start by his Montagnards, no helicopter took off, and no secret tunnels running under the perimeter had been discovered.
But he would find Liu. It was his mission.
He realized it was of no consequence where fate might lead a man. If there was evil there, it must be resisted, struggled against, fought to the end.
* * *
A place, any place, is only godforsaken if men do nothing — if they do not stand up for what is right. Wherever a man finds himself, all that counts is that he fight for the civilized values he believes in.
To profess principles but not be prepared to back them up is to be without principles.
What matter where you die, what matter if you die — when all that matters is that you fought for the right.
But there are occasions when, as every soldier knows, inaction itself is one’s fate. Today Mack Bolan knew better, in his dangerous and deceit-filled new world, the value of discretion, the valor of keeping his distance, of not jumping in before the true root of the atrocity had a chance to reveal itself. As The Executioner, and as Colonel John Phoenix, his heavy fate had become apparent: he must forever hit at the root, the core, of evil itself — go to the very heart of darkness itself, and react sanely to what he found there.
To be sane in a hideously distorted world, shock tilted, ringing with terror, was sanity indeed.
He would face the challenge once again, in his latest return to the ancient hellgrounds of Southeast Asia.
He knew that he was about to confront a revelation of his fate that would challenge his very sanity.
And his response would be inevitable: hit at the heart of the horror, strike the pumping source, even if the writhing heads of the Hydra commit atrocities all around, ignore them at last! Strike only at the heart, dig up the root, hit the final perpetrator.
Mack Samuel Bolan was an old-fashioned warrior, dedicated to his nation and his duty. He took his soldiering seriously. He had no other choice. So to go for the psychic heart every time required tireless energy and a unique skill.
It was in Vietnam that the warrior first honed his skills and found his mission.
As the leader of a deadly penetration team, he ranged at will across the DMZ, teaching Savage Man that any hope of sanctuary in Bolan’s kind of everlasting war was a contradiction in terms.
There was only so much that one man could do in Nam, but Bolan did it better and more often. He supremely left his mark upon the enemy and on the land.
In the process, he earned a label that would stick. Sergeant Bolan had become The Executioner, a legendary figure from the Mekong Delta to Hanoi.
There was another side of him, however, and another side to the legend. Even as his marksmanship and cunning built a lethal reputation, other stories circulated through the jungle that told of a different warrior. This warrior risked his life to carry wounded soldiers and civilians through the lines. He liberated captives, often jeopardized his mission to remain behind with stricken comrades.
Among the villagers, the Executioner became known as Sergeant Mercy.
It required a large and special man to carry both names well, and Bolan was equal to the task. He saw no contradiction in his roles; if anything, they were a natural combination, opposite sides of a single coin. Killing the enemy and caring for the innocent were not distinct and separate tasks for Bolan — they were part and parcel of his duty.
An old-fashioned warrior. Having recognized his duty, launched himself upon the long crusade, there could be no turning back.
If his road had developed a new direction, his enemy adopting new and ever more loathsome disguises on the way, Bolan never deviated from his course.
Against the Cong or mafiosi or the Hydra, it was the same crusade.
And his enemy was the same single enemy, unchanging.
His enemy was the heart of the Hydra, wherein resides pure evil.
In his Asian jungles he had cut a bloody swath through the arteries of that enemy, the ranks of Savage Man, mobs of cannibals who lived for the Hydra. And when his war had shifted to another front, application of the Bolan Effect to an urban combat zone had hugely stunned the Mafia, decimating family after family. Schooled in guerilla warfare, equipped with all the latest lethal hardware, Bolan astounded experts by pulling off a victory against syndicate forces that vastly, absurdly outnumbered him. In his wake, the mighty Mafia was shaken and dispirited, an easy mark for Hal Brognola and his
As for Bolan’s other global war, the John Phoenix campaign of justice by fire, there was only one word for it: blitzkrieg — lightning war. Mobility and firepower were the methods.
Now Bolan faced dramatic new focus as his life term of Executioner brought him closer and closer to the single hellheart of Savage Man.
Perilous territory, full of horror. At first he would be forced to be a helpless witness to it.
And then he would strike at the heart.
Meanwhile there was no rest, no surcease. All around flowed more arteries of the enemy; on this day Mack Bolan’s enemies were legion. But he had slaughtered thousands since the birthing of his war, and although a dozen more rose to take the place of every fallen savage, he had stood his ground and with grim determination fought against the tide. There was no question that he would prevail.
He had a tactic as powerful as any weapon. This weapon was one of perception and timing, not caliber or trajectory.
Once he had been an outlaw. Now, for a time at least, he was sanctioned in his work. The secret weapon was that Bolan was not a fixed object.
He did not sit like a landmark in one spot, waiting for the natural forces to find him and wear him down.
He would never become a testament to entropy, to the destructive power.
As a new day dawned, Bolan understood profoundly how much he was not like these tropical lands of the Far East, worn and worked on beyond recognition by time and war.
At the window in the refinery, Mack Bolan looked out and meditated on the gray mist rolling off the low surrounding hills, down toward the thicker trees of the flatlands.
Like the mist, he would prevail by adapting his form. He would roll over any obstacle in his path.
Like the mist, no jungle could stop him in his mission.
Mack Bolan would pursue Liu to the very end.
Liu’s directors, cowering in fear even before the refinery battle broke out, were now locked in the same office where Bolan had first found them, gathered together without weapons but deep in the mire of their propositions and dirty deals of killing and staying alive: vicious vermin, chewing at each others vitals in the face of death instead of uniting in the face of attack.
They would stay there, under lock and key, until Nark, representing the CIA, blew the place sky high.
Bolan descended to the ground floor where Heath and the copilot were finishing mining the refinery. It was the last installation to be mined on the hardsite.
“Everything is wired up to one bravo, mama,” said Heath. “That way when we leave, all it’ll take is one turn of the handle.”
“Have you done the vault yet?” asked Bolan. The door had to be blown. It was locked, and only Liu knew the combination.
“Thought we’d leave that to last,” said Heath. “The vault’s right next to the file room. Could damage the files.”
“Not if we do it properly,” said Bolan. “I promised the Meo the gold when the fighting was over. It’s over.”
They set out for the administration building. It was daylight, a cold, windy morning.
In the cloudy sky, birds of prey circled, waiting for the humans to leave so they could begin their feast.
“Colonel, when are we moving out?” asked Heath.
“Not before tonight,” Bolan replied. “Nark says it’ll take that long to transmit all the files. Why?”
“I was wondering. One of those helos on the LZ wouldn’t take too much to fix. A Texas Ranger. Big enough to carry all of us. We’d save ourselves a walk.”
“Try it,” said Bolan. “If we can fly out, so much the better. Only put a guard on it when you’re through. I wouldn’t like Liu to lay his hands on it.”
“You still think he’s in the camp, sir?” asked the copilot.
“I’m certain of it,” said Bolan. He pulled out the aerial on his radio. “Phoenix to Mr. Ly.” Ly was leading the search for Liu.
“This is Ly, Colonel.”
“Anything to report?” asked Bolan.
“Colonel, I tried to get you, but your radio did not answer,” said Ly. “A prisoner told us he saw Liu near the administration building when the fighting started. I think he is mistaken. We searched everywhere, but we found nothing.”
Blood rushed to Bolan’s head. “Mr. Ly, you must try again. I want the whole area turned upside down. The admin building, the power house, the tool sheds, the warehouses. Everything must be searched all over, do you understand?”
“Colonel, we did that. He is not in the area. If he is in the camp as you say, he must be hiding in the other section, but we must wait for the ruins to cool down. It is very hot there.”
“Mr. Ly, I insist. You must search the…”
The thunder of hooves interrupted him. From around a corner a group of Montagnard riders emerged going at full gallop. The first one rode Nark’s horse. It was Liu. The pepeshas in their hands flickered as they bore down on the whites.
Bolan dived to the ground to avoid the tracers. A moment later shapes flew past and over him amid a cacophony of hoofbeats and gunfire. A hoof kicked his head, sending stars dancing before his eyes. By the time the stars cleared, the riders had gone.
Bolan ran to the radio lying on the ground. “Mr. Ly! Mr. Ly! Liu is escaping! Order the gates closed!” But he was wasting his breath. The fall had broken the radio.
“Looks like someone else had the idea of switching uniforms,” said Heath. “Did you notice one of them rode Nark’s horse?”
Nark! Bolan raced for the administration building.
A crowd had gathered outside. He pushed his way through, his heart beating wildly at the thought of what he might find in the file room. He ran into the building and crossed the foyer where naked Montagnards were trying on uniforms left by Tiger. He descended the stairs two at a time, ran into the file room, and sighed with relief. Both were alive.
“Did you get him?” asked Nark, dabbing iodine on a gash in Stressner’s scalp.
“They got away,” said Bolan, panting. He looked at the open vault gleaming with yellow metal. “So that’s where they were.”
“We didn’t even hear them,” said Nark. “Our backs were turned and the radio was on.”
“To be KO’d with a gold brick,” said Stressner. “Who’ll ever believe it?”
Bolan inspected the vault. It had a door that could be opened from the inside. The racks were filled with enough gold bars to set up the Montagnards for life.
From the stairway came the sound of feet, and Vang Ky appeared followed by Heath and the copilot. “They took the northern trail,” the headman announced. “The gate guards took them for our men,” he added by way of an excuse.
“To be expected,” said Bolan.
“Must be heading for Burma,” said Nark.
Bolan walked to where two backpack radio sets stood against a wall. They were Russian Z-l0s, among the communication equipment parachuted the previous night. No one was using them because the small sets were handier, but these had a superior range.
“What are you doing?” asked Nark, seeing Bolan strap one on.
“Going after Liu,” said Bolan. “I’ll leave you to blow up the place. I’ll check in every hour on the hour, wherever you are.”
“John, don’t be foolish,” said Nark, going up to him. “Why risk your life for one man? The mission is over,”
“No, Nark,” Bolan replied. “Drug syndicates are like hydras. To destroy them you have to cut off
“Colonel, let me come with you,” said Heath.
“You fix that chopper,” said Bolan. “I may need it yet.” He turned to Vang Ky. “Well, Major, the gold is all yours. Our deal is complete.” He took off the watch and handed it to him. “Thanks for letting me use it.”
“And the other thing?” asked Vang Ky.
“You’ll be contacted,” Bolan replied. “Should something happen to me, Nark will handle it. He knows. You will provide security until Nark is through?”
“You have my word.”
He ran upstairs, picked up a Kalashnikov, and rode off. A quarter of an hour later he was galloping on the northern trail toward Burma, determined not to leave Southeast Asia until he had settled scores with Liu. He owed it to Janet.
Janet Wynn, dead at twenty-two.
A bright girl. A nice girl. In her second year of medical school at the University of Miami she met Bob, a handsome intern. He invited her to a party where, halfway through, people began “chasing the dragon,” as heroin smoking is called.
When Bob offered Janet some she refused, but they were such good talkers, he and his friends. Try it, they said, it expands consciousness, it gives new perception, leads to self-discovery. Peer pressure made her give in.
A week later Bob invited her again, and again she smoked.
Like most people, Janet found it a pleasant experience. There were no needles, it did not cost anything, and it gave a nice high. After a smoke she had a feeling of well-being, a warm glow, and she felt part of the crowd.
What Janet did not realize was that she was being set up as an addict so Bob could have another customer, which is how addiction spreads; the addict turns pusher to pay for his habit. There is even a name for such parties; a monkey bait party.
By her tenth party Janet had become an addict, which is when nice Bob turned not-so-nice and told her from now on she would have to pay for her heroin at seventy-five dollars a fix, the standard Tiger price. Bob was a Tiger man.
To raise cash Janet began selling or pawning everything she could. She also switched to the needle to get the maximum out of her purchases, smoking being wasteful. The maximum effect, in turn, increased her dependence on the drug.
Eventually she ran out of money and began stealing from her parents. Her mother caught her and talked to her brother, Rafael Encizo, a member of Bolan’s Phoenix Force. He asked Bolan to speak to his niece. Bolan was known to have a way with young people.
The meeting was held in a park, a neutral ground where there was less chance of being overheard. It was akin to a forced date, Bolan going at Rafael’s insistence, Janet at her mother’s. They were alone, just the two of them, no relatives, no parents.
To Janet’s surprise, Bolan was not a stuffed shirt.
If God Almighty ever invented anything better than heroin, he kept it to himself, said Janet.
Bolan said he could understand that.
And the memory of heroin’s pleasures! It overpowers the memory of the suffering that accompanied it, said Janet.
Bolan did not contradict her.
Janet could not get over it. She had expected a lecture and instead got understanding; she expected condemnation but got sympathy. Not only that, he was so knowledgeable and actually willing to discuss heroin. At home, she had but to mention heroin and her parents flew into a rage.
Toward the end of their walk she asked Bolan if he had ever taken drugs. He replied no and she asked why.
“For one thing, I can’t afford them,” he said with a self-deprecating smile. “And then,” he added, looking into her eyes, “they sort of cut you off from life, don’t they?”
Two days later she called him to ask if he knew a way of kicking the habit. He spoke to a doctor who recommended a methadone program. On the first day Bolan accompanied her to the clinic.
In the program with her were a number of former addicts. They formed a group that met once a week at someone’s home the way AA people do, a social gathering to keep one another company and give encouragement. Every week it was held in someone else’s home. Coffee and cake were served.
One day, however, in addition to coffee the host brought out heroin. He was no patient but a pusher masquerading as one in order to gain the confidence of former addicts with the object of getting them back on the drug. As the smell of heroin filtered through the room, one by one they succumbed.
Janet disappeared from her home, and her mother asked Bolan to find her. He looked for her for a month, eventually finding her in New York City. At first he did not recognize her. An attractive, healthy young woman had become a walking zombie. She was now a full-fledged junkie, mainlining four times a day and peddling the stuff herself to pay for her fix.
It was then that Bolan learned that ninety percent of heroin addicts suffer relapses because the pushers pursue them relentlessly. It was then, too, that he realized fighting dope in the streets with police and courts was a waste of time. One had to strike at the source, go for the head, keep drugs from entering the country.
Bolan asked Janet to help him penetrate Tiger, and she said she would think about it. She was torn between her loyalty to her fellow junkies and her affection for Bolan. Before she could decide, however, Tiger struck.
The ring was taking no chances. One morning, Janet was found dead of a supposed overdose. An autopsy showed her heroin had been cut with rat poison. That was when Bolan vowed to kill the head of Tiger.