Chapter 14

In a flash Bolan was out of the ring and running, the crowd on his heels. It was an undignified exit, but this was no time to stand on ceremony. All the right spirit in the world will not stop a bullet, and many in the audience were armed.

Bolan headed for the mansion. It was his only hope. In the mansion were his clothes as well as his radio and gun. Without them he was lost. He knew where gun and radio were, having spotted them that morning.

He streaked through the palms, sword in hand, outdistancing his pursuers. The fear of a man pursued by a mob ready to tear him apart lent him wings. In their eyes Bolan had read the righteous rage of men deprived of a livelihood. By killing Liu he had put an end to Tiger Enterprises, and a lot of people would be out of work.

Paradoxically, it was the mob’s hate that probably saved him. So intent were they on catching him alive, to make him suffer, that no one thought of shooting at him.

He ran into the mansion through the front entrance, sword ready to slash his way through. But the house was empty, as the guards and servants had been at the executions. He bounded up the main staircase.

On the second landing he turned into a corridor and ran past the changing room to the room with the radio and gun. The door was locked! He lunged at it, but it was useless. There was not enough space in the corridor to give him momentum. He tried kicking it down, but he only hurt his foot. A boot might have done it, but not a raffia sandal.

From the staircase came shouting as the mob poured into the house.

“This way!” said a woman’s voice.

Bolan spun around. In an open doorway stood Liu’s daughter. He ran inside, and she closed the door after him. It was a study full of medical books. She pulled him through it into a bedroom and opened a closet.

“In here!”

The door shut, plunging him into darkness. The only light came from the keyhole, and he noticed that there was no key. He crouched among clothes scented with her perfume, listening at the keyhole.

From the corridor came the sound of boots. Doors banged.

A knuckle rapped on the front door of her apartment, boots crossed the floor of the study, and a man’s voice spoke apologetically. The monologue lasted for a minute, the boots retreated, the front door closed.

Bolan waited for word from her. But there was no sound. Had she left too? Then he heard it, a muffled sob.

Bolan emerged from the closet. She was sitting by the dresser, sobbing into her hands.

Bolan’s insides tightened. Liu was evil, he had to die, but none of that changed the fact that a daughter had lost a father.

Bolan went up to her.

He stood in silence.

“I am sorry, but it had to be done,” he said after a while.

She nodded and went on weeping quietly. He remained by her side, immobile, in a gesture of sympathy. In the corridor the sound of slamming doors receded.

Suddenly there was another rap on the front door.

Bolan moved back into the closet and again crouched by the keyhole, this time looking through.

A man in the uniform of a captain entered the bedroom. Bolan recognized him from the executions. The captain had killed a Montagnard by splitting him in two with one stroke, one of the few clean kills of the day.

“Ty Ling,” the captain said. But she paid no attention.

The captain proceeded to speak. Bolan guessed he was presenting his condolences. When he finished he went up and put a hand on her shoulder.

Liu’s daughter jumped and backed away, eyes flashing.

The captain resumed speaking. The tone was conciliatory. He held out his arms and moved toward her. She grabbed a candlestick and raised it threateningly. The man shrugged and left the room.

As the front door closed, she put the candlestick down and went into the study. Bolan heard the key turn in the front door lock. She returned and opened the closet.

“You can come out,” she said. “They think you ran through the house. You are safe.”

“Where is your bathroom?” he asked.

She indicated the door and he went inside. He washed his sword and dried it. When he came out she was standing by the window.

“Put it in the closet,” she told him.

He put the sword away and turned to face her. “Why are you doing this?”

“I need your help,” she replied, staring out. “I thought if I helped you, you might take me with you. I must get away from here.”

“Why must you get away?” asked Bolan.

“So I can marry the man I love,” she replied, still staring. “I am a doctor. Until a month ago I was working in a hospital in Mandalay. I met a man there, a German doctor. He was on an exchange. We fell in love, and he asked me to marry him. I came here to ask my father permission to marry. My father refused, told me I had to marry a Chinese, told me he had promised me in marriage to an officer, Weng Shi. He is the second man who came here. Now that my father is dead, Weng Shi will force me to marry him. You are my last chance.”

”Are you a prisoner here?” asked Bolan.

She nodded. “The guards have orders not to allow me off the plantation. My father even refused to let me return to the hospital. He was afraid I would elope. When Gunther came here looking for me, my father told him I had left for America, that I had changed my mind.” She paused to look at Bolan in a way that reminded him of Liu, that scrutinizing look. “Have you ever been in love?”

“Yes, I’ve been in love,” said Bolan. “Where is it that you want to go, Mandalay?”

“Bangkok,” she replied. “Or Rangoon. Gunther is back in Germany. I will take the first plane out. But you don’t have to take me that far. I can take a train. I will not burden you, I promise. I am in good health and I can walk far. I can ride, too. I might even be useful to you. I know the trails around here.”

“There’s only one problem,” said Bolan. “I’m not fleeing from marriage, but from people who want to skin me alive. If someone should try to stop me I’ll shoot, no matter how many there are. And they’ll shoot back. By coming with me you risk being killed.”

“I’d rather be dead than spend the rest of my life with Weng Shi. I don’t want him and I don’t want this life. Hate, kill, hate, kill — that’s all they know around here.”

“So I’ve noticed.”

“My father started it,” she said with a sigh. “In the beginning it was a way of keeping them together, preventing the Ninety-third from disintegrating. The world was against them. To survive they had to hate back. Eventually it got into their blood; like a drug, they needed it to keep going. Ironic, isn’t it? While poisoning the world with one drug they became addicts of another.” She turned to took at Bolan. “If you wish I will pay you. I have money in Bangkok.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Bolan.

“You will take me?”

“I’ll take you, yes. And now let’s sit down and figure out how we’re going to do it.”

* * *

In darkened silence Bolan tiptoed down the corridor. Somewhere a clock chimed nine. Otherwise the house was still, everyone at the wake for Liu. The mistress of the house had made a special point of asking that everyone be in the pagoda at nine o’clock that evening for a special prayer: workers, servants, and soldiers united in a joint tribute to the memory of their master. The service was to last an hour… which was exactly how long Bolan had to organize their escape.

He came to a door and opened it with a key Ty Ling had obtained for him. He turned on a flashlight and swept the inside with its beam, half prepared to see his gun and radio gone. But the AK-74 still hung from the coat rack along with the gun belt, and the radio was on the floor by a water cooler.

Bolan collected the gear and went to another door. He opened it with a second key and went to a cupboard. The Montagnard suit hung where he had left it. Below were his boots. He changed back into his clothes, and when he emerged into the corridor a few minutes later, the sixteenth-century samurai was once again the twentieth-century warrior, the Kalashnikov in one hand, the silenced Makarov in the other, the radio on his back.

He left the corridor and tiptoed down the staircase.

From the front steps of the house came the murmur of voices. Guards! So not everyone was at the wake for the master. This did not surprise him. Bolan could not see an experienced commander like Weng Shi leaving the house unguarded when the long nose was stilt free, no matter how much Ty Ling insisted that every member of the plantation be at the service.

Luckily Bolan had planned for this. In the afternoon Ty Ling had drawn him a map of the house, so he knew the layout. When he reached the bottom of the staircase he simply retreated into the house until he got to the main sitting room. He crossed it and climbed out a window. For a minute he crouched in the shadows, listening. Judging that the coast was clear, he sprinted into the trees.

He made his way through the trees to the park and set out along the path, heading for the work yard, his ultimate goal the stables. To walk on the path was risky — he might run into guards — but it would be even more risky to walk off it. The ground was dry, twigs snapped easily, and anyone walking on the path would hear him. This way he had an equal chance, better in fact, for guards usually talked.

The work yard appeared. He crossed it, keeping to the shadow of the buildings. Suddenly he smelled cigarette smoke. He crouched and listened. From around a shed came the murmur of voices. A man coughed. Guards. Bolan slung the Kalashnikov over his back so he could use both hands.

He made his way to the end of the shed and peered. Ahead two cigarette ends glowed in the dark. Bolan worked his way closer, invisible in the shadows. The two guards, were also invisible, but after each man took a couple of drags Bolan knew where to shoot. Just as he raised his gun, however, the glows began moving and the men’s voices rose.

Bolan lowered the pistol and waited for the argument to finish. But the soldiers went on arguing, moving all the time. Seconds ticked by, and Bolan did not have seconds to spare. Somehow he had to get them out of the shadows. Then an idea occurred to him. He slipped the magazine clip out of the pistol and extracted a round.

The side of a shed clanged, and the glowing cigarettes stopped their ballet and fell to the ground. Weapons at the ready, the two guards emerged from the darkness. The Makarov hissed twice, and the soldiers crumpled. Bolan ran to make sure they were dead, then pulled the corpses back into the shadows. One man had a couple of offensive grenades attached to his belt, and Bolan took those. For a getaway at night, such goodies were very useful. They were much louder than defensive grenades.

On the other side of the work yard were the stables. Bolan entered the first barn and shone his flashlight. He selected two horses, made friends by feeding them sugar cubes given him by Ty Ling for the purpose, and saddled them. On a hook by the saddles hung a holster for a rifle, and Bolan strapped it on. He attached one horse to the other and led them out, closing the door behind him.

The moon shone peacefully in the sky. The night was still. Bolan mounted, and rider and animals disappeared into the trees. Now began the most nerve-racking part of the adventure: a mile-long trip along a footpath made at walking pace. But there was no other way. A gallop, even a trot, would alert the guards by the house. At night sounds carried far.

It took nearly a half hour to reach the pagoda. It stood in a clearing bordered by palms, a solitary building with a curled-up roof. The windows flickered with light, and from inside came chanting. Bolan observed it from the tree line to see if there were any guards. But there were none. Ty Ling had done her job. She had promised to have everyone inside praying, including the guards. Bolan dismounted, tied the horses, and ran for the entrance.

The inside of the pagoda was packed with humanity, the men on one side, women on the other. On a dais, under a statue of a peak-headed Buddha, lay a coffin draped in the flag of Nationalist China. It was surrounded by candles and flowers, paper money hung from rafters, and the air was heavy with incense.

“Maiouk!” Bolan shouted, stepping inside.

A woman screamed, faces turned, the chanting stopped.

“Anyone speak English?” he called out.

By the coffin, Ty Ling rose to her feet. “What is it you want?”

“Step this way, lady,” Bolan commanded. “And tell the people if anyone moves, I shoot. I don’t care how many I kill.”

Ty Ling addressed the congregation in Chinese, urging calm, then moved toward the entrance through the aisle separating the men and women. Bolan panned the crowd nervously with the Kalashnikov as if he were slightly mad. It was a trick he had learned way back. No professional soldier will try anything with a madman, because you cannot judge his reaction.

Ty Ling came up. “Outside,” Bolan ordered.

Ty Ling went out, and Bolan continued waving the gun back and forth. By the coffin he could see Weng Shi look at him, a puzzled expression on his face. Did he smell a rat, Bolan wondered. Was he trying to figure out how Bolan got the key to the room with his gun?

Sixteen… seventeen… eighteen. Bolan counted the seconds, giving Ty Ling time to reach the horses. “Outside” was a code word they had agreed on. It meant everything was going as planned, the horses would be by the path.

Twenty-five, Bolan counted. Ty Ling must be there. He stepped out and ran to join her. Halfway there, a gun opened up and colored tracers flew by. He spun, dropped to one knee, and sprayed the entrance. Figures fell, figures retreated, and he was back running.

He ran into the woods. Ty Ling was already on her horse, holding the reins of his mount. “Go!” he shouted and swung into the saddle as shooting broke out anew. Ty Ling spurred her mount and they galloped off, the shouting and shooting receding in the thunder of hooves and panting of horses.

They crashed through the undergrowth, keeping their heads down to avoid branches. He followed her easily, and soon they came out onto a plain and picked up speed. Now they could really fly. The terrain was flat and solid. But they were also more visible, and the mounted Tiger patrol that emerged from the tree line on the left, attracted by the gunfire, headed straight for them.

“Go right!” Bolan shouted.

“Too long!” Ty Ling shouted back.

Great! he thought. To avoid taking a longer way they were going to get themselves captured. No way could they get past that patrol… unless. Bolan dug his heels into the horse’s flanks and veered to meet the patrol. He holstered the Kalashnikov and armed the offensive grenades.

Fifty yards from the patrol he lobbed the grenades and fled. The grass flashed with ear-splitting explosions, panicking the Tiger horses, making them veer, slide and rear. By the time the riders got them under control, Bolan and Ty Ling were past and entering the tree line.

They crashed through another stretch of undergrowth, Ty Ling leading all the time. They came out onto a trail and galloped along it for a mile, then turned off. Here Ty Ling stopped. In the distance they could hear the sound of the pursuing patrol.

The hoofbeats neared, the patrol rode by, and Bolan and Ty Ling exchanged smiles. They resumed their journey, at a walking pace this time. They went crosscountry, up a stream, then crossed more savanna and eventually emerged on a logging road.

“I think we’re safe now,” said Ty Ling.

“You’re quite a pathfinder,” admitted Bolan.

“I told you I could be useful.”

“I need some high ground,” he said.

They rode to a ridge and dismounted. Bolan set up the radio and lit a cigarette.

From inside his shirt he brought out a cloth sack and gave it to her. It contained money and jewelry.

At the sight of her jewelry she gasped in surprise.

When she had given him the sack it contained only her money. He had told her not to take anything else, so they would not be encumbered, and she had taken him literally. But after she had gone to the wake it occurred to him that he had been a little harsh, so he added the contents of her jewel box.

“No point in arriving in Germany a refugee,” he said.

She held out a diamond bracelet. “For you.”

“I don’t wear jewelry, but thanks,” he replied with a smile.

“For your wife,” she said.

“I don’t have one.”

“You may some day.”

“I doubt it,” he said. “I believe in it, yeah. I’m told that love over the years makes you live longer. But I’m not made for marriage. Thanks all the same.”

Ty Ling handed him the sack. “Please keep it for me.” She had no pockets.

They waited for midnight. On these missions it was SOP that when a man failed to answer a radio check, his partner went on a twenty-four-hour standby, turning on the set at midnight for five minutes, three days running.

“What point is there in radioing now if they left this morning?” asked Ty Ling.

“They were supposed to leave this morning,” said Bolan. “That doesn’t mean they actually left. Often extract times are changed at the last moment. The weather interferes or some machinery breaks down. Things seldom work the way they’re planned.”

A lightning bolt zigzagged on the horizon. A storm was approaching. Already over the next range they could see a mass of dark clouds.

“It is midnight,” she said, looking up from her watch.

Bolan turned on the set, gave it a half minute to warm up, then pressed the talk button. “This is Phoenix calling Nark. Over.”

The radio hissed silently. Occasionally loud crackling broke in as lightning flashed. But there was no reply.

“This is Phoenix to Nark,” Bolan tried again. “Come in, Nark, or Heath or anyone else.”

The radio went on hissing and crackling.

“What will we do if they have left after all?” asked Ty Ling.

“I don’t know yet,” replied Bolan, “We could take a train as you suggested.”

“Or we could try leaving by river,” said Ty Ling. “It might be safer and quicker. The trains don’t run every day. We could go down the Tyak River. I know a village on it. It’s not far from here. They might sell us a sampan.”

“There’s an idea,” said Bolan. He tried calling again. No answer.

A bolt of lightning lit the sky, and this time they heard a rumble. The storm was approaching fast.

“We’ll have to find shelter,” said Ty Ling.

“Are there any villages in the area?” asked Bolan.

“Only the village I mentioned,” said Ty Ling. “On the other side of the next range.”

“Phoenix to Nark,” Bolan went on. To her he said, “We’ll have to get you some clothes.”

Ty Ling wore a white silk cheongsam. In the Orient, white is the color of mourning. Now it was shredded from their ride. But even in a torn dress she looked like a million dollars, Bolan observed. Not only was Ty Ling a beautiful woman, she had class. She told him her mother, who died when she was a child, was a Chinese princess.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Five past,” said Ty Ling.

Suddenly the radio blared. “Nark to Phoenix. Over.”

Bolan started in surprise. “What do you know?” he exclaimed. He pressed the talk button. “This is Phoenix.”

“Greetings,” said Nark. “Where are you?”

Bolan told him his story. “What about you?”

The extract from Thailand had been canceled due to Thai air activity. The attack on the Tiger hardsite had raised something of a hornets’ nest. Stony Man Farm had ordered them to cross the border into Burma where they would be safer.

“You still have the chopper?” asked Bolan.

“Negative,” said Nark. “Damage was more complicated than Heath thought. That’s why we couldn’t come looking for you. What is your present position?”

“The name of the village,” Bolan asked Ty Ling.

“Pegu,” she replied.

“We’re one range south of a village called Pegu,” Bolan told Nark.

There was a pause as Nark checked it on the map. “You’re only a day’s ride from our location,” said Nark.

“What time is extract?” asked Bolan.

“Control will advise this morning,” said Nark. “They’ll be sending helicopters this time. I doubt they’ll arrive before nightfall. Correct that — Heath says they could arrive during the day. Seems we have an overflight agreement with Burma. But if you’re not here we could pick you up. There’s a trail.”

“Okay,” said Bolan, “we’ll bed in Pegu for the night and head for your location in the morning. If the birds arrive before us, you’ll come to meet us. Fly along the trail. Agreed?”

“Ten-ten,” said Nark.

They arranged for radio checks and signed off.

Bolan dismantled the antenna. “The way things are going you’ll be in Dusseldorf by the weekend,” he told Ty Ling.

“And you, where will you be?” she asked.

“Home in bed sleeping,” he replied. “After this I’m taking a week off just to sleep.” He loaded the radio on his back and helped her to her feet. “How long will it take to get to Pegu?” he asked.

“Two or three hours,” she replied.

They mounted their horses and rode off. Everything was going perfectly… so far.

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