Authors: Don Pendleton
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #det_action, #Non-Classifiable, #Men's Adventure, #Drug traffic, #Bolan; Mack (Fictitious character), #Opium trade
"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.
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.
Bolts of lightning illuminated the village. Several hundred houses, some on the ground, others on stilts, lay astride a bend in the river. A wooden bridge linked the two sides. On horseback, dripping with water, Bolan and Ty Ling observed it from a nearby ridge. The storm continued unabated, sheets of rain sweeping the countryside, trees creaking in the wind.
"Who are they?" Bolan shouted above the noise.
"Kachin," Ty Ling shouted back. A tribe of Montagnards.
"Looks all right to me," said Bolan. If there were Tiger soldiers around, he would have seen horses.
"Please, let's go," said Ty Ling, her teeth chattering from the cold.
They descended the slope and rode into the village, sloshing through pools of water, hooves sinking in mud. Bolan reined by the first house that looked big enough to accommodate visitors. He dismounted, went up to Ty Ling, and she slid into his arms. No point in both of them getting their feet muddy.
He kicked the door open on the Montagnard principle of your home is my home and carried her in. Inside was a large room with a beaten earth floor on which glowed a fire. They threw logs on the fire and pulled up stools.
A pair of feet shuffled from behind a partition, and a man in a nightcap appeared. He and Bolan exchanged grunts, then the Montagnard pulled up a stool and joined them. A conversation got underway with Ty Ling translating from Burmese to English.
The gist of it was that they were welcome to stay, and the Montagnard would sell them food for their journey as well as feed for their horses. He also would sell Ty Ling a black pajama suit. Everything would cost five dollars, which Bolan gave him.
Bolan went outside and led the horses to the Montagnard's stable, a roof supported by poles. He unsaddled them, gave them hay and water, and walked back to the house. The storm was finally letting up. On the horizon Bolan could see clear sky. The helicopters could come.
When he got back Ty Ling already wore the black suit. Her dress was suspended from rafters over the fire. On the ground lay two sleeping mats with blankets, and by the fire was a low wicker table with a bottle of tieu and glasses. There was also a plate of dried pig intestines to nibble on, a Montagnard delicacy.
"Take off your suit," said Ty Ling. "You'll catch cold."
Bolan undressed in the shadows. He wrapped himself in a blanket and joined her by the fire. She took his suit and, using a pole, hung it from the rafters.
"What about your socks and underwear?" she asked.
"They're on the mat," he said.
"They have to dry, too," she said. She fetched them and hung them up in turn. She resumed her seat by the fire, poured a glass of tieu, and handed it to Bolan.
He took the glass. "What about you?" he said.
"I don't drink," she replied. She held out the plate of dried food.
Bolan took a handful and munched. It was delicious. He chased it down with the whiskey. "Who's our host? "he asked.
"His name is Alosak," said Ty Ling. "He's got three wives. Each has a house. He rotates a week with each wife." She took a piece of dried food. "What do you think of polygamy?"
Bolan smiled. "Never having been married I don't have an opinion."
"I once had a Montagnard patient who had four wives," said Ty Ling. "This was at the hospital in Mandalay. He said it worked out very well. The wives fought each other and left him in peace." Ty Ling gave Bolan one of her scrutinizing looks. "I'm surprised no woman has hooked you yet."
"I wouldn't be much of a husband," said Bolan. "Always away."
"I don't know," mused Ty Ling, surveying him. She was about to say something, then changed her mind. She refilled his empty glass. "Where will the helicopters take us?"
"Indian Ocean, probably," said Bolan. "We have an island base in the Bay of Bengal. From there we'll take a plane. Most likely it will stop in Frankfurt to refuel. You can fly on from there to Dusseldorf. Only a hundred and twenty miles from Frankfurt."
"I've never been to Germany," said Ty Ling. "Gunther says..." She stopped, seeing Bolan's raised hand.
From outside the door came the sound of feet and hooves sloshing through water and mud. They could also hear the sound of webbing, buckles and metal. It sounded like an army on the march.
The Montagnard appeared from behind the partition. All three listened to the column march by. The sound receded, and Bolan asked the Montagnard to find out who they were. While their host investigated, Bolan dressed.
The Montagnard returned a quarter of an hour later. Ty Ling translated for Bolan. The column was a unit of the Shans. They had stopped for the night in the village on the other side of the river. Some men were wounded.
"I'm going over," said Ty Ling.
"I'll come with you," said Bolan.
"No," said Ty Ling firmly. "Better if they don't see you. They could take you for an Englishman. The English have advisers helping the Burmese fight the Shans. Get some rest," she said, going out with the Montagnard.
Bolan went back to the fire. A bossy woman if ever there was one. But that was typical of Oriental women. Outwardly docile, behind the scenes they could be slave drivers. Gunther was going to have his life cut out from
to Z, he reflected.
Stretched out on a mat, he was dozing off when the Montagnard returned. But Ty Ling was not with him. Instead, there entered a tall, intelligent-looking individual in a camouflage uniform topped by a
the traditional Burmese head scarf.
Four soldiers crossed the threshold after him, all four armed with British Sterling submachine guns. Two carried lanterns, two had their weapons in hand, though the muzzles were pointed at the ground.
"Good evening," said the individual in Oxford-accented English. "I am Captain Yeu of the Shan Liberation Army. I understand you're an American."
"Yes, I am," said Bolan.
"John Phoenix. Colonel."
"I won't ask what you are doing here," the captain began. "I really don't care. I have come to tell you that Dr. Ty Ling will not be leaving with you in the morning. Our doctor has been killed, and we are requisitioning her services for the duration of the campaign."
"You can't do that," said Bolan.
"Really?" said the captain, amused.
"I promised to take Dr. Ty Ling with me," said Bolan.
"Too bad, isn't it?"
"I intend to keep my promise."
An annoyed expression crossed the captain's face. "Look, Colonel, I'm trying to be nice about this. You're an American and we have nothing against Americans. If you were English I would simply have you shot. Let's settle our differences in a civilized manner, shall we?" He held out his hand. "Your gun belt, please."
At that, the two muzzles rose.
There are times when discretion is the better part of valor, and Bolan chose this to be one of them. He unbuckled his belt and handed it over. The captain passed it to one of the soldiers and spoke in Shan. Another soldier held up a lantern and inspected the room. The AK-74 and the radio went the way of the gun belt.
"I need my radio to get out of the country," said Bolan.
"Or perhaps to tip off the Burmese," said the captain. "You should consider yourself lucky we're letting you go alive, Colonel."
Bolan smiled easily.
"Your protest is noted," the captain acknowledged sarcastically. "Meanwhile, I advise you not to try any heroics. There will be four men on guard outside. You'll be escorted out of the village at daybreak." He opened the door. "Good night."
Good night but not goodbye,
thought Bolan, watching him leave.
No way am I leaving Burma without Ty Ling. A promise is a promise.
* * *
In the morning he was awakened by the crowing of cocks. Light filtered through cracks in the mat walls. The household was already up. They served him pancakes and tea, which he took outside to eat. As soon as he stepped through the door, bolts snapped.
"Okay, okay," he gestured, calming the four guards. "Just came out to take some fresh air."
He squatted down and ate. It was sunrise, and the sun was streaking the sky red and violet. There wasn't a cloud in sight. The helicopters would come for sure.
A couple of soldiers appeared, walking from the river. They came up to the guards and had a conversation in Shan. It was about him, he could tell.
One of the soldiers, a corporal, motioned to him to come. "We go," he said in English.
Bolan downed his tea and returned the mug to the Montagnard. Pancake in hand he walked with them across the bridge. In a field of grazing land, beyond the houses on the other side, the Shan unit was undergoing morning inspection prior to marching out.
There were several hundred soldiers, including two or three hundred riders. The riders were being inspected by Yeu. Bolan caught sight of Ty Ling in the front row, a man's raincoat over her shoulders, a wide straw hat on her head.
Bolan's spirits rose. He would get a chance to talk to her, to tell her not to lose heart, that he would not abandon her, that no matter what, he would rescue her.
But he was deluding himself, for as he approached the riders, Yeu rode to meet him. The corporal stopped the procession, and his sidekick poked the muzzle of his gun in Bolan's back. It was clear they did not want him to go any farther.
"Good morning, Colonel," said Yeu cheerfully.
"Good morning, Captain," Bolan replied. "I wonder if you could ask my escort not to poke me with his gun. It could go off."
Yeu spoke to the man in Shan, and the other lowered the weapon. "Done," said Yeu. "Any other requests?"
"I would like to say goodbye to Dr. Ty Ling."
"That, I regret, is not possible."
"It is not possible, Colonel," Yeu repeated. "In which direction do you wish to go?"
"I am heading east," said Bolan. "But where is my horse?"
"Your horse has been requisitioned by the Shan Liberation Army," replied Yeu. Again he spoke to the man in Shan. "Have a nice trip." He touched the peak of his cap and rode off.
"We go," said the corporal.
But Bolan did not budge. He stood there with his eyes on Ty Ling, trying to decide how he could let her know he would return for her. He did not want to call out. It could antagonize the Shans who might decide she was going to cause trouble and have her beaten later.
The soldier behind him brought the muzzle of his gun up and pushed him with it.
So Bolan simply raised his hand.
In reply, Ty Ling gave him a wave, a sad, resigned wave, the gesture of someone who was not expecting to see him again.
Bolan's throat tightened. She did not expect to see him again, yet she did not ask for her money or jewels.
They set out on the trail in the direction of the rising sun. Walls of steam rose from the jungle. By noon the countryside would be completely dry, Bolan told himself.
So much the better, because with all that rising steam the helicopters could miss him.
Bolan was sure the helicopters would look for him. That was not the problem. The problem was that he still did not know in which direction the Shans were taking Ty Ling. He had hoped to engage the house guards in conversation that morning, but the arrival of the corporal spoiled his plan.
This pair was his last chance. He must not let it go by. He must get into conversation with them before they left him. Unfortunately, the speed at which they moved was not conducive to talking.
The two soldiers kept up a grueling pace, barreling up and down the hills like goats. The Montagnards can do this because they always walk on the balls of their feet to avoid jarring the nerve in the heel.
"Shoot me if you like, but I'm taking a rest," said Bolan. He sat down by a tree. "I'm not used to walking like Montagnards," he lied, wiping sweat from his face with his sleeve.
The soldier said something to the corporal. The other announced, "We take a rest. But not long."
"Agreed," said Bolan. He watched them squat down and light up cigarettes. "That was not nice of the captain to take my horse," he began.
"We need horses to fight," said the corporal.
"In Burma horses expensive," said the soldier. "Not like in America. In America plenty horses. Cowboys. Bang! Bang!"
Both men laughed.
"Have you been fighting long?"
"Me five years," said the corporal.
"Me three," said the soldier.
"A long time," said Bolan.
"Not so long," said the corporal. "Some men fight ten, twenty years. Shans fighting for independence since end of war against Japanese." He meant World War II.
"Where will you fight next?"
"What you mean?" asked the corporal.
"Where is your unit going to fight after the village?"
"We are not allowed to tell you," said the corporal.
"What about yourselves, where will you go when you leave me on the ridge?"
"We join unit."
So. They knew which route the unit was taking, Bolan realized. Now part two of the plan. He stretched himself on his back, hands clasped behind his head, and closed his eyes.
"No sleeping," said the corporal.
"Don't worry," said Bolan. "I won't. I just have a headache."
The soldiers went on smoking in silence. After a while the corporal called, "American."
Bolan ignored him, pretending to be sleeping.
"American, we must go."
Bolan did not budge.
The corporal finished his cigarette and came to Bolan. "Get up," he said, shaking him.
"Let me sleep," Bolan mumbled.
The soldier joined the corporal. Each took an arm and they pulled. "Get up!"
"Okay, okay," Bolan said sleepily.
Bolan's hands closed around their wrists as if to pull himself up. Suddenly he sprang to his feet, pushing and twisting their arms. The soldiers screamed in pain. It was
hold in jujitsu.
"On your knees!" Bolan snarled.
As they went down, he let go of the soldier and delivered a closed-fisted chop to the base of his neck. The soldier went out cold. Bolan disarmed the corporal and ordered him to lie on the ground, facedown.