A trio of dots in the sky, the helicopters flew toward him. As they neared, Bolan recognized them as a Chinook cargo and two Huey gunships. They flew in pyramid formation, low and slow, following the trail, obviously looking for him.
He ran to the bonfire and lit it. At first there were only flames, but as the fire spread to the wet leaves inside, smoke rose. Immediately one of the gunships flew ahead to investigate. It passed over the clearing and circled.
Bolan took off his shirt and waved it, mainly so they could see the color of his skin, in Asia the surest id of all. But the crew was not waving back. Something was making them suspicious. The side gunner panned his weapons as if he were shooting it.
The second helicopter joined in, and the sky filled with the clatter of blades. The gunner of the second helicopter pointed out something in the clearing to a man inside.
Suddenly Bolan understood. It was the soldiers under the trees. To the gunners it must have appeared as if they were hiding and that Bolan was the bait for an ambush. Bolan ran to the corporal and brought him out in the open, pointing to his tied wrists.
That did it. The first gunner held out a thumbs-up, the Hueys widened their circle, and the Chinook approached. It had been sitting out the inspection in the sky at a safe distance.
The helicopter came to a hover above Bolan, the shadow of its huge shape filling the clearing. Treetops swayed from the rotorwash. From portholes gunners leaned out inspecting the ground.
Bolan waited for the message container that would tell him where to proceed for the pickup. The clearing was too small for the Chinook to land. Instead, Nark stepped out the side door and sailed down harnessed to a rope. The Chinook was equipped with a winch.
“I have passengers,” Bolan shouted over the din. He held up two fingers.
“There’s room,” Nark shouted back.
Nark took off his harness, then they cut the corporal’s bonds and harnessed him in. Nark waved to the crew chief in the doorway, and the corporal sailed up like a package. The soldier was next, then Bolan, and then finally Nark. The helicopter moved off.
“Where’s your lady friend?” asked Nark, taking a seat next to Bolan on the side canvas bench.
Bolan told him what had happened and what he proposed to do. “Who’s the flight chief?” Bolan asked.
“Our pilot,” said Nark, “Captain Opersdorf.” Nark spoke into Bolan’s ear. The din in the helicopter was overwhelming. “But I wouldn’t say anything about promises. I don’t think he’d understand. Better keep it pro. Say she’s an agent. We blew up the hardsite, by the way.”
Bolan gripped his arm and nodded his thanks. He went to see Opersdorf.
The flight commander listened to Bolan’s request with a decided lack of enthusiasm. Tonight was bridge night on the U.S.S.
“Colonel, this is highly irregular,” Opersdorf replied. “Our orders are to fly you directly to Kobe. Nothing in them says anything about additional extracts in route.”
“I realize that, Captain, but it’s imperative the agent be rescued.”
“No, Colonel, I can’t order my men into a shoot-out without proper authority. For that I need a written order and it has to be through channels.”
“There will be no need for a ‘shoot-out,” Bolan replied. “A show of force will do. And there’s no time to go through channels. I’m asking a favor of you, Captain.”
“Sorry, Colonel, but a combat mission is too much of a favor. What if one of the helos is downed? How will I explain that? I was doing you a favor?”
“Okay, Captain,” said Bolan. “I’ll go after the agent myself. Give me a minute to check, and I’ll tell you where you can let me off.”
Bolan left and returned by Nark’s side.
“Well?” said Nark.
“No dice,” said Bolan. He explained what he intended to do.
“You can’t go after her alone,” Nark protested. “You’ll get killed.”
“She saved my life, Nark,” Bolan replied. “A good enough reason for me to risk mine.” He glanced at the Shans.
The soldiers were huddled on the bench with the expression of Earthmen captured by Martians. Neither had been in a helicopter before. In their brown flight suits and helmets with huge black visors, the crew did indeed resemble spacemen.
“The crew chief says he can squeeze the information out of them,” said Nark.
“I’ll do my own dirty work,” said Bolan, rising.
But he still needed the crew chief’s help, so he went to talk to him. The other handed him a belt with a safety strap.
Bolan moved to the Shans and leaned over the corporal.
“The time has come for you to give me the information,” he said.
He led the corporal to the rear of the machine. “Stand here.”
Bolan put on the belt and attached the safety strap to the railing overhead. That way if there was a struggle he would not fall out with the corporal. “Where are they taking my woman?” he asked.
“I cannot tell you,” replied the corporal.
Bolan nodded to the crew chief. The other pressed a lever, machinery hummed, and the rear ramp opened revealing the void below. The corporal’s Adam’s apple did a jig, and his eyes widened in terror.
“If you don’t tell me,” said Bolan, “I will push you out. When your body hits the ground it will be like hamburger. A hyena will eat it in no time. Your spirit will be imprisoned in the hyena. And what for? You think your friend won’t talk when he sees what happened to you?”
The corporal looked at his comrade, but the other was not even looking. In that instant the corporal knew the soldier would talk. That was why he was looking away, so as not to reveal the truth in his eyes. The corporal looked at the void below, then back to his partner, then to the others.
The eyes of the long noses surveyed him with indifference. It was as if he were already dead. A yard away was death. Death! And for what? It occurred to him that he could always invent some story for Captain Yeu. Or he could quit the army. All kinds of possibilities lay open… as long as he lived.
“They took the Kohimo trail,” he blurted out.
“What is their final destination?” asked Bolan.
“The town of Bur.”
Bolan went to Nark who opened a map.
“What time did they leave?” asked Nark.
“About seven,” said Bolan.
Nark glanced at his watch. “They should be entering the Plain of Chuk.”
“About that,” said Bolan. “I’ll ask him to drop me on the other side.”
He went to see Opersdorf. “I’d like to be dropped off on the northern edge of the Plain of Chuk. Is that possible?”
The pilot considered the request in silence. “What will you do after we drop you off?” he asked finally.
“Wait, then follow them until they camp for the night,” said Bolan. “I’ll attempt a rescue during the night.”
Opersdorf considered this. “Taking you there will entail a half-hour detour,” he said.
“If that’s too long, you can drop me off right now,” said Bolan.
“I didn’t mean that,” said Opersdorf. “I meant if we’re going to make a detour we might as well go whole hog and make the attempt with you.”
“This is Lema one to Lema two and three,” Opersdorf drawled into his radio. “We’re changing course.” He gave the gunships the new headings. The flight turned north.
“How do you propose we go about this?” Opersdorf asked Bolan.
“We land ahead of the column and I talk to them.”
“What if they take you hostage?” said Opersdorf. “Then where will we be? I’d rather you negotiated from the air. We have a bullhorn on board.”
Opersdorf called the crew chief and told him to get the bullhorn out. Next he briefed the gunships and his own machine gunners. They flew on.
“The Shan soldiers in the back,” said Opersdorf. “What do we do with them?”
“Drop them off near some village,” said Bolan. “But after the rescue.”
The plain appeared, a vast stretch of grassland dotted with an occasional tree. Opersdorf gave Bolan a pair of field glasses. As Bolan brought them to his eyes, his heart sank. He and Nark had miscalculated the column’s speed. It was traveling much faster than they had figured. Instead of being on this side of the plain, it was nearing the other.
“Going to be touch and go,” said Opersdorf, observing the plain.
The plain would have been a perfect place to attempt a rescue had they arrived an hour or two earlier. They would have had time to reconnoiter the force and identify Ty Ling — and time in which to do some selective shooting in case the column did not comply with their demands.
At the approach of the helicopters, the foot soldiers scattered, throwing themselves into the grass while the horsemen broke into a gallop, heading for the safety of the tree line ahead. The tree line was only about three miles away. Too little time for a rescue.
“We’re out of luck, Colonel,” said Opersdorf.
“An eagle snatch, Captain,” Bolan said. “Let me try it!”
“Move fast, Colonel.”
A minute later Bolan emerged from the side of the Chinook wearing a harness. He sailed down at the end of a rope, coming to a halt ten feet above the heads of the galloping horsemen. He spotted Ty Ling right away. She was near the front, her horse attached by a long rope to the saddle of a horseman ahead of her.
“Agent is at eleven o’clock,” said Bolan into the side mike of his helmet. “The wide straw hat. A hundred yards from me.”
“We see her,” said Opersdorf. He was leaning out of a porthole coordinating the operation while the copilot flew the helicopter.
“Drop me five feet, left ten yards,” said Bolan.
Slowly Bolan flew over the heads of the galloping riders. On either side flew the gunships, their side gunners pointing their weapons down at the riders.
“Right two yards.”
Now he could hear the thunder of the hooves, could smell the horses’ sweat. Behind him he heard a shout of surprise. A burst of fire rent the sky as a Huey fired at a rider about to take a potshot at him.
“Slow down a little!”
Only two riders were left between him and Ty Ling. A tree passed him. The second Huey fired. Another tree passed him. Now he was directly behind Ty Ling, her back approaching him. Coming. Coming.
“Down two feet for pickup.”
Two yards, a yard. He bumped against the horse’s rump, a hoof kicked him in the leg, he bent his knees, the movement swung him out, he bumped the side of the rump.
Ty Ling turned. A frightened cry escaped her lips. Then she recognized him through his goggles.
“Let go of the stirrups!” he shouted.
The rope swayed. He came away, then swayed back to the horse. This time he threw his arms around her. The animal sidestepped, and she fell out of the saddle. But he had her.
“I got her, I got her,” he shouted into the mike. “Take me up!”
The galloping horsemen receded as he rose holding on to Ty Ling with all his might, fighting the sway, fighting gravity, his mind empty of all thought but one, to hold on!
The din from the Chinook overhead grew, he felt the air blast of its blade, heard his clothes flapping, and then he was bumping against its side. Hands reached out and pulled them in. He had done it!
The crew chief helped Ty Ling to a side bench while Bolan took off his helmet, harness, and goggles. Opers-dorf came up to him and shook his hand. The gunners shook his hands, everyone shook his hand.
A feat like his stirred the imagination, warmed the heart: a twentieth-century knight swooping out of the sky to save a lady in distress. Chivalry was not dead.
As for the lady, she stared at him with such emotion in her eyes that he lowered his. As he sat down beside her, Ty Ling gripped his hand with almost animal ferocity in a secret message he preferred not to decode.
And that’s how they flew out of Burma, and that’s how the mission ended, with the Executioner and his victim’s daughter holding hands.
* * *
The loudspeakers at the Frankfurt airport announced the final call for Lufthansa Flight 167 for Dusseldorf. Bolan touched Ty Ling’s arm and pointed upward. She hung up the pay phone, and they set out for the boarding gate.
“Gunther is meeting me at the airport,” she said. “We will marry next month. Will you come to the wedding?”
“I would like you to give me away. Would you?”
Bolan’s throat tightened. “Yes, it would be an honor to give you away,” he said, “I’ll come for certain.”
They arrived at the gate. Ty Ling got her boarding pass ready and turned to Bolan, eyes glistening.
Her arms went around his neck, and she pressed her mouth to his. Then, without a word, she was gone.
Bolan walked back to the bar to rejoin Hal Brognola. The U.S. president’s special assistant, who had been attending a conference in Berlin, had flown in to meet him.
“The lady left?” he asked as Bolan resumed his seat.
“Yes, she’s gone.”
“Yeah,” said Bolan. He toyed with a matchbook.
Brognola reached under the table for his briefcase. “Received a report on Galloping Horse this morning,” he said. “We’re picking them up like flies. We’ve won the battle, Mack.”
“I guess you’re right,” Brognola sighed. “A disturbing thought.”
“Not really,” Bolan reflected aloud. “In the process of fighting evil, a person also discovers good. That, too, is in all of us. And that’s what makes the fight worthwhile.”