Authors: Don Pendleton
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #det_action, #Non-Classifiable, #Men's Adventure, #Drug traffic, #Bolan; Mack (Fictitious character), #Opium trade
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.
The rider in black galloped in relentless pursuit of his enemy. It was late afternoon, and man and beast glistened with sweat. They had been on the go all day, winding their way through steamy jungles, climbing and descending hills, fording streams, and galloping on flat stretches to make up for time lost in picking up tracks on the other side of those streams.
Now he was once more on a flat stretch, galloping on a trail through a forest of sandalwood, eyes watering from the rush of air, face flushed from the heat, deaf to all sound but the rhythmic drumming of hooves as they carried him closer to his prey, his mind concentrating on what he would do to Janet's killer.
And that's what cost him, concentrating on the future instead of the present.
Too late did he realize that the birds no longer sang in the treetops. In the jungle this was a sure sign of an ambush, because while birds will sing when men go by, they clam up when the men stop. By the time he realized this and reined his mount, he was already in the ambush zone. Fate decreed that he undergo capture.
Ahead, a barrier of lianas blocked the trail. To the sides the undergrowth was too thick to pass. When he wheeled his mount to attempt a retreat he found himself staring into the muzzles of pepeshas held by Liu's Montagnard-suited soldiers.
They made him dismount and disarm. He complied; he had no choice. Then they tied him with lianas, one vine around his wrists, another around his neck. He was put back on his horse and they rode off, the soldiers laughing, enjoying their success, the prisoner acutely aware that he was allowing fate the upper hand.
Of all people to get caught like this,
he told himself angrily. He who was always lecturing men under his command to concentrate on the task at hand and not to let their minds wander.
If you must think of any moment but the present,
he would tell them, pause
in what you are doing.
It was little consolation to him that he had been five nights without sleep and that when a mind is tired it begins to wander. A commander was not supposed to let himself be carried away by a mission to the point where his faculties were impaired. Back at the refinery he had already had warning signs that he was overstretching himself when he hesitated on the third floor wondering what to do. Hesitation! The product of a sluggish mind deprived of sleep. But he chose to ignore the warning and play at being superman. Pride, the downfall of men. Fate was trying to tell him something.
A slap in the face from a branch brought his self-critique to an end. They had gone off the trail and were crossing a dense forest. Low hanging branches, pushed aside by the rider ahead, snapped back into his face, delivering powerful stings. The only thing he could do, since his hands were tied at his back, was try to duck in time.
They came to another trail and set off at a trot. They crossed some swampland and after about a half hour's ride entered a rubber plantation. They trotted past rows of palm trees with small cups attached to their trunks for the collection of the latex.
A mansion came into view, a magnificent white building with turrets, a relic from days when Burma was part of the British Empire. The architecture recalled the Taj Mahal. It was set in a park with fountains and beds of exotic flowers. A real palace.
The commander of the party dismounted and ran inside carrying Bolan's gear. While they waited for him on their mounts, a young woman appeared on the first-floor balcony. One look at her told Bolan she was Liu's daughter; the resemblance was striking. Their eyes met, and Bolan inclined his head. He did it unconsciously; she was that kind of a woman. She replied with a bow of her own, an expression of sympathy in her sad eyes. Why was she sad? Bolan wondered.
The officer returned and they rode off. They came to a work area, a large yard bordered by sheds with roofs but no walls. Bolan could see men pouring latex into huge tanks, and there was the smell of formic acid in the air, the acid used to solidify the rubber for shipment.
Beyond the work area were more sheds, these with walls. Bolan was led into one of them. The place stank to high heaven, being a storage shed for solid rubber blocks. In a space in the center was a post supporting the roof. One of the soldiers brought a chain, and they chained Bolan to the post like a dog.
The door closed behind them, plunging the shed into gloom. The only light came through cracks in the walls and roof. Bolan lowered himself to the beaten earth floor and propped his back against the pole. So this was Liu's hideaway.
On the last radio check Nark told him he had found out from a prisoner that Liu had a hideaway in Burma. Nark was looking for maps in the administration building that would give the coordinates.
Hopefully, Nark would find them. Hopefully, too, when he did not hear from Bolan on the next radio check he would put two and two together. And hopefully he would pay the plantation a visit.
An outside rescue was about the only way Bolan could see of getting out. After the caper he pulled the night he was tortured, he doubted Liu would leave much to chance. The chains he had on were a good example.
He was bound solid: cuffs around his wrists, cuffs around his ankles, a chain linking the two with the pole, everything joined by a padlock. No way out of that.
He stretched himself out on the ground, figuring he should rest while he had the chance. Through the cracks in the roof he watched night fall. Bolan began imagining food; he had not eaten since noon of the previous day. Bit by bit his eyelids grew heavy. What was his fate going to reveal to him?
* * *
The sting of a whip on his cheek brought him out of a dream. The light was on, he could feel blood oozing down the side of his face, and he could see a pair of highly polished riding boots. Before he could remember where he was, the whip lashed out a second time, catching him in the neck.
"Get up!" a voice barked.
It was Liu, dressed in a golf shirt and breeches, standing with his feet apart and a long whip in his hand in the pose of a circus animal trainer. And his eyes glared with anger.
But so did Bolan's. He sprang to his feet and charged his tormentor. The other stepped deftly aside, and Bolan was pulled back cruelly by the chain.
The whip flew at Bolan, catching him in the mouth and filling it with blood. "Get up!"
Once more Bolan went for him, and once more Liu stepped aside. But this time the whip moved constantly, forming red welts on Bolan's body, tearing strips from his shirt and trousers, the cracks of the whip mixing with the rattling of the chain as Bolan rolled on the ground to avoid the painful blows.
Finally the whipping stopped. "Better get it into your head, Colonel Phoenix, that here it is I who command. You might be commander at Stony Man Farm, but here you're just another white dog. A white dog, do you understand? Get up!"
Spitting blood, Bolan rose to his feet.
"That's better," said Liu. He wound the whip and went to take a seat on a rubber block. He leaned back in a relaxed manner against the blocks as if on a couch. "And so finally we meet, Stony Man One," he said, crossing his legs. "Don't look so surprised. You're not the only one with an intelligence service, though I must admit mine leaves a lot to be desired of late. You'll be pleased to hear that the man who interrogated you has had his head cut off. So has the man who interrogated Nark. They actually fell for that cock-and-bull story you fed them about a Russian-sponsored Montagnard uprising." He recrossed his legs. "I need some answers. What happened to my directors?"
"They're dead," said Bolan.
"You killed them?"
"It is part of the war against the drug rings," said Bolan. "The ringleaders will be executed."
"Is that why you were following me? To kill me as well?"
"You're a real St. George, aren't you?"
Bolan said nothing, observing his enemy in silence. Close up Liu looked even more the prince of darkness than when Bolan saw him the first time through field glasses, the day he and Nark reconnoitered the Tiger hardsite. Now, in addition to the handsome, satanic face and the muscular build, Bolan was conscious of Liu's charisma. He was also conscious of Liu's superior intelligence. A formidable enemy.
"When you killed my directors did you just bump them off or did you give them a speech first?" asked Liu.
"I read them the charge," Bolan lied.
"Crimes against humanity."
"How American," Liu mused. "You people are so moral... when it suits you. Did you know that in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when China was fighting to rid itself of the opium trade imposed on it by the Europeans, the U.S. sided with the Europeans? Righteous Americans like yourself went around slaughtering Chinese in the name of free trade. Today they are equally righteous about preventing free trade. How do you square that, Colonel Phoenix?"
Bolan said nothing. History was full of whores.
"The question is too profound for you, is it?" asked Liu, contempt in his voice. He stared at Bolan for a while as if studying him. "I understand you are an adept of
"I have studied
yes," Bolan replied.
"The reason I ask is that tomorrow we are holding our annual
I will be trying out swords on the necks of some criminals, and I propose to add yours to them. Since you are a swordsman, I will give the opportunity to die sword in hand. Unless you would prefer the block."
"Sword in hand will be fine," said Bolan.
Again Liu stared at Bolan as if studying him. Abruptly, he rose. "Very well, my adjutant will come for you in the morning so you can wash and dress. Sleep well."
Bolan watched him walk out.
A little later the door opened and two soldiers entered. One carried a bucket, the other a tray of food. They undid Bolan's hands and left him to eat.
The gladiator submits,
thought Bolan. Not that he had any complaints; he was starving and the food was excellent. There was noodle soup, a shrimp dish, vegetables and rice,
sauce — a Burmese specialty — mangoes, and Mandalay beer.
When he finished he called to the guards for a light for a cigarette. He pondered the passivity that commanded his actions, that cast a pall over his soul so deep that the flash of fate's vision would soon be inescapable in the darkness. What was he about to endure, about to see?
When he finished his cigarette, Bolan sat in the dark, his mind on the fight to come.
He must not be afraid, he told himself.
Fear was the greatest obstacle to concentration.
Then, too, it was selfish to worry about losing your life. He had been put on this earth to promote the good of man, not his own welfare.
Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of man.
One of the Four Oaths of Bushido, the way of the warrior.
From some recess of his memory Bolan recalled the words of Sensei Matsubara, his
master, on the side of a mountain in Virginia:
The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death.
This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death.
If you can accustom yourself to the idea of death you become one with the way of the warrior.
You can pass through life with no possibility of failure and perform your off ice properly.
The way is not technique.
The way is the right spirit.
God, give me the right spirit,
* * *
The sword was a blur, and the Yao bandit toppled, brains spilling from his severed skull.
Bolan, a spectator, bowed his head and the crowd applauded.
It was the fourteenth death of the morning and they had all been grisly, the main object of the executions being not so much to kill the man as to test the sword.
For this purpose various cutting techniques were used. They ranged from the simple across-the-waist-in-two, to the more sophisticated shoulder-to-opposite-nipple. The last one had been horizontally-above-the eyes.
Every technique required a special pose. The victims were made to lie sideways on blocks, hung from bars, were spread-eagled between bamboo poles or simply held by guards in a particular position.
The end result of these elaborate cuts and poses was that death was seldom instantaneous. To Bolan this was the worst example of Animal Man in his life to date. He did not fully realize it yet but the event was to be an inescapable exorcism for him.
About a hundred people were watching the executions, mainly Tiger soldiers with a few Burmese plantation workers. The mood was as festive as if it were a bullfight. The fact that men and not animals were being killed bothered no one but Bolan.
In Burma, as in Thailand, Montagnards were a slave class, considered no better than animals. Not even in death was any respect shown them. The bodies were not disposed of until they had been hacked some more to test other swords.
The grim business took place in a sandy enclosure red with blood. To the side were tables where the results were noted. After each execution the sword was brought to Liu who examined how the blade cut through bone, how the fat stuck to the blade and how the iron was discolored.
A scribe committed Liu's comments to paper. The observations would be included in the certificate that went with the sword as well as inscribed on the tang, the part of the blade that went inside the hilt.
Bolan watched the proceedings from the front row of the spectator benches. He was dressed in a white
— a divided skirt of the kind samurais wore — and raffia sandals. In his lap lay a beautiful sword. He prepared to execute Liu with it.
Earlier that morning the adjutant, who was sitting next to him, took him to the mansion to show him Liu's private collection of swords. Bolan was told he could have any weapon he wanted. He chose a sixteenth-century
a samurai long sword.