Read Tiger War Online

Authors: Don Pendleton

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #det_action, #Non-Classifiable, #Men's Adventure, #Drug traffic, #Bolan; Mack (Fictitious character), #Opium trade

Tiger War (8 page)

BOOK: Tiger War
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"Not quite," said Bolan.

For the next quarter of an hour they haggled like a couple of fishmongers. It was a role Bolan did not relish, but he did not shirk it. As Bismarck once observed, three things are necessary to win a war: money, money, and money. And he who talks money by necessity talks like a fishmonger.

"Okay, Major," he said at last, "if that's how you feel, you can lead the attack yourself. Nark and I are pulling out."

The headman started, taken aback. A ruse or for real? He was well aware the Meo needed Bolan as much as Bolan needed the Meo. Without Bolan, the chances of them destroying Tiger were nil. Instead, Tiger would destroy the Meo. "Pull out?" he exclaimed. "You cannot do that!"

"You don't think so?" said Bolan. "Listen, Major, the whole point of attacking Tiger is to exploit their files. Without security they can't be transmitted. The attack becomes pointless."

Again Vang Ky lowered his eyes and sucked through his teeth. Again, his head began to shake. "No, Colonel, I still cannot agree."

"Sombaj,
Major," said Bolan and walked off.

"Wait!" Vang Ky called after him. He ran up to Bolan's side. "Let us say I agree. Could you obtain immigration visas for my sons?"

Bolan stared down at him in amazement.
You son of a gun,
he said to himself.
Talk about a horse trader.
All the while Vang Ky had been building up to this. "That could be arranged," he said.

"Then I agree. A defensive perimeter in return for the gold. And visas for my sons. Shake?"

They shook hands, and Bolan went back to Nark.

"Well? "asked Nark.

"We're back on the rails," said Bolan.

"I knew you'd do it."

"Romeo one to Phoenix!" The voice was frantic. "Low-flying aircraft closing in from the south. Unidentified."

"I thought those gizmos were supposed to blind their radar," said a voice in one of the planes.

"Goddamned Russian equipment," spat another.

From over the ridge came the sound of jets. Two F-86 Sabre fighters roared over the valley, and Bolan caught sight of red-white-and-blue rondelles: Royal Thai Air Force. The planes banked and went into a tight circle over the valley, effectively blocking any further drops.

"Romeo one to Phoenix. Fighters demanding we identify. What do we tell 'em?"

"Stall them," Bolan
replied.
"You don't understand.
Ne panimaiyu.
In the meantime, what is status of cargo? Romeo one?"

"Clear."

"Romeo two?"

"Clear."

"Romeo three?"

"We still have to drop the mortar," replied the pilot of the llyushin.

"Got to have that," said Nark to Bolan.

"Not if it's going to cost us a crew, we don't," Bolan told him. "The moment he tries to make an approach, they'll shoot." Bolan jabbed the talk button. "Okay, guys, we'll forego the mortar. Prepare to split."

"Romeo one to Phoenix!" The voice was frantic again. "We're ordered to proceed to Oudon."

"Keep saying you don't understand in Russian and standby."

Bolan slung the radio over his shoulder and ran for the woods. He grabbed a Degtyarev machine gun, inserted a drum of ammunition, and ran out. He climbed the slope to a rocky tower and took up a position in the entrance to a cave, gun at his hip.

The Sabres were curving toward him, coming from the left. They went out of sight, and he heard them fly past behind him. They reappeared on his right, exhaust glowing. They curved once more and straightened out over the opposite ridge.

Bolan pulled the trigger and a line of tracers arched over the valley. The rounds came nowhere near the planes, but Bolan was not interested in hitting them; he only wanted to attract their attention. And attract it he did. The fighters zoomed and peeled. Two Immelmann turns followed, and they came shrieking down at him.

"Split, Romeo!" Bolan shouted into the radio. "Split!"

The nose of one of the fighters winked, and colored tracers from its cannon flew at him. Bolan stepped into the cave. It was a trick he picked up from the VC though they, he had to admit, were much more sophisticated. The VC pulled the stunt using artillery.

The rocky tower thudded under the impact of the projectiles. The planes roared over, and a bomb exploded outside. The ground shook, the cave blurred. A section of the wall collapsed, and the cave filled with dust.

Bolan ran out, coughing. There was a crater ten yards from the tower. As for the planes, they were banking, coming out of their dive. One left the valley, heading after a plane, the other prepared to pay Bolan another visit.

Bolan teased it with a burst and stepped inside. Once again, the tower thudded. Another bomb exploded. As it did so, the entrance of the cave flashed white and a blast of hot air swept the inside. Close!

Bolan ran out and tumbled headfirst into a crater just outside the entrance. As he was scrambling from it, the radio came on. Over the crash of static a voice was shouting.

"Fighter on your tail! Fighter on your tail! Look out!"

"Oh, shit," a voice said calmly. In the northern sky something flashed.

"Fire! Fire! We're burning! We're hit!"

"Pipe down," the calm voice told him. "Damage report."

"Fire in number four engine. Fuel pressure dropping."

"Phoenix to aircraft on fire," said Bolan into his set. "Can you make it back to land here?"

"We'll try," the calm voice replied. "Thanks for the invitation."

The sound of cannon in the sky sent Bolan diving into the crater. The Sabre roared over, the rocky tower flashed as if hit by lightning, the ground shook, rocks and dirt rained on Bolan.

When he finally got up, the tower was no more. Nor was the cave. Had Bolan gone back into the cave for the third time, he would be climbing the ladder to heaven, as the Meo put it so poetically.

A drone filled the sky, the Ilyushin was returning. From its starboard wing trailed two tongues of flame. Both engines were now on fire. On the field, Nark was supervising the clearing of the drop zone. The last crates were being dragged off by teams of ponies. Bolan scanned the sky for the fighters, but they were gone. Gone to refuel, which meant others would be coming.

"Romeo three to Phoenix," said the voice in the sky. "We're coming in."

The Ilyushin approached, one of its two remaining engines coughing. Then both fell silent. The plane lost height rapidly. It flew over the first bonfire, and Bolan could hear the rush of air and the noise of flames sounding like flapping cloth. The silver fuselage gleamed red from the bonfires. The landing gear was not extended. The plane touched down and with a crunching noise slid on its belly, raising a cloud of dust. It plowed through the second bonfire, a wing tipped, and it spun to a halt.

The crew jumped out but instead of getting away proceeded to unload. Nark and Stressner ran to them with Montagnards coming after, leading ponies. Bolan followed. By the time he reached the plane, the mortar tubes and bombs had been unloaded. Everyone grabbed something and ran.

"Avion!"

From the south another pair of fighters was streaking toward them. This time the whole valley opened up. The air filled with the crash of automatic weapons and a panoply of tracers formed the sky. The planes peeled, avoiding the tracers.

"Cease fire!" Bolan shouted, running along the slope. "Cease fire!" The last thing he wanted was to shoot down a Thai plane. They were fighting Tiger Enterprises, not Thailand.

The shooting died down while the Thunderstreaks circled the valley by a wide margin. Nark came running to Bolan. "They'll have bombers with napalm here in a moment."

"And heliborne troops first thing in the morning," Bolan added. "Major Vang Ky!"

The headman ran to him up the slope.

"Move out," Bolan told him.

"For village?"

"No, we go directly to the Tiger camp."

He nodded and ran off.

Whistles blew, voices shouted. Bolan's Montagnard army was finally on the march.

Chapter 9

By noon they had covered a third of the way. They were in the La Kon forest, famed for its sandalwood and its herds of wild elephants. It was there that Bolan called a long halt, the first of their journey. The trees provided plenty of shade from the now broiling sun and there was, a stream. The Montagnards watered the horses, Bolan posted guards, and the men sat to eat. It was simple Montagnard fare, glutinous rice dipped in pimento, washed down with water from the stream, which they drank in cups made from banana leaves. Lunch over, everyone stretched out for some shut-eye except for the whites who were not used to siestas. They sat in a group talking. Nark was describing how the Thais fought the heroin trade.

"One day the district chief came to see me and said they had captured a ton of raw opium. He said they were going to burn it. Why didn't I get some American reporters to come up? I called the DBA office in Bangkok, and they sent a busload. The office liked the publicity. It shows Congress back home what a good job we're doing. The district chief put on a big party with girls and dancing, the reporters took pictures, and I paid out the reward money. In those days we paid reward money. Only later did I learn that what we burned was silage. The opium had been resold to a merchant in Bangkok. Clever, no?"

"Why are they like that?" asked Heath, the Ilyushin pilot. "Don't they care what that stuff does to the people in America?"

"America?" said Nark. "They don't give a damn about America. All those Thai politicians care about is themselves. Tiger pays protection money to Bangkok. Without it a lot of those government people wouldn't be able to afford their villas and their Mercedes. So they play ball.

"Mind you," Nark went on, "there's also economics. If Bangkok put Tiger out of business, the opium farmers wouldn't have anyone to sell to. How would they make a living? Bangkok's afraid they'd turn Communist. USAID suggested schemes for substitute crops. Trouble is there isn't much demand for substitute crops from the Triangle. The area's too far from the main markets. Anyway, the farmers prefer opium; it's more profitable."

A whistling hoot traveled from afar. Bolan's brow furrowed. "What's that?"

"A railroad runs through the forest," Nark explained. "Trains carry ore and lumber from mines and sawmills up north. The maps don't show it. The line was laid down only recently. Guess who owns the railroad?"

"Don't tell me," said Bolan.

"You guessed," said Nark.

"Who owns it?" asked Heath.

"Tiger, of course," said Nark. "In the Golden Triangle there's hardly anything they don't own. Which is why they've got so much clout with the Thais. They've got the money and they've got the troops. Some people call this a second Taiwan, another Nationalist Chinese republic. Unofficial, of course." He paused to listen to the distant whistling. "Must be a lot of elephants on the line."

"Avion!"

The shout sent Bolan and Nark to their feet. A rapidly approaching drone grew in the sky, and a small plane skimmed the treetops. "Thai army," said Nark, catching the Pali writing on the fuselage.

"And he's coming back," said Nark, ears registering a change in the pitch of the engine. "Everyone under the trees!" he shouted.

It was easier said than done. The noise of the Piper Cub had sent the horses galloping in confusion. The Montagnards were still chasing after them when the spotter made its second pass.

"Now he knows we're here for sure," said Nark.

Vang Ky ran to them. "Colonel, we've been discovered!" he cried. "What do we do?"

"Round up the horses for a start," Bolan replied, anger in his voice. "I told you to tie them."

"I'm sorry, Colonel. I tried to tell them."

Discipline was not one of the Montagnards' strong points. Everyone did what he wanted, individualism and personal freedom being enshrined traditions. There was not much Bolan could do about that, either. With irregular troops you could not play the disciplinarian; the troops simply went home.

"He must have glided down," said Heath, "or we'd have heard him earlier. It's almost as if he knew we were here."

"He probably did, too," said Bolan, eyes on the circling spotter.

"How could he know?"

"By the color of the trail."

"Sorry?"

"An unused trail's yellow," Bolan explained, "the ground bleached by the sun. When a lot of men march on a trail they churn the ground back to its original color, terra-cotta. A good spotter will look out for that."

The headman Ly appeared. "Colonel, we must do something," he said. "The Thais will send troops and will block the trail."

Bolan nodded, eyes still following the spotter. The plane was unarmed, but that was small consolation. "Nark! Bring the map."

They laid the map flat on the ground and Bolan studied it. There were two ways out of the forest: north by the trail and east by a dirt road.

"Does this road still exist?" asked Bolan.

"Yes," replied Vang Ky. "But we want to go north. Tiger is to the north."

"I know," said Bolan, "but I propose to give the Thais the idea we're changing directions. I want them to think we're going east. Then, while the Thais are looking for us in the east, we disappear to the north,"

"How can we do this?" asked Ly.

Bolan told him.

* * *

A little later fifty Montagnard riders slipped from the main force, heading east. They left in groups of five, keeping close to the trees — away from openings in the canopy — so the Piper would not spot them. All carried machetes in addition to their weapons.

At their head rode Bolan and Heath. The pilot came from New Mexico and was at home in the saddle. Bolan had taken a liking to him; the young man impressed him.
He brings back a burning plane, lands, and instead of running, starts unloading. Cool.

The forest was flat, so they made good time. They came to the dirt road and followed parallel to it, keeping inside the trees. The road crossed the rail line, and eventually they reached the eastern edge of the woods. Ahead was a stretch of open country before the road disappeared into another forest.

They all dismounted, and the Montagnards proceeded to cut down branches that they tied into large bunches using lianas. Bolan inspected the road. The soil was powder dry; there had been no rain since the night after he arrived in Thailand. Perfect.

When everything was ready, Bolan inspected the diversion force. They sat on their horses, rifles on their laps, handkerchiefs over their noses like bandits. Behind each horse was a large bundle of branches attached by a cord to the saddle.

"Remember," Bolan told them, "when you shoot, you shoot to miss. If we down that plane, the Thais will send a regiment and we'll never get out."

Grunts acknowledged this last point.

They checked their radios. Twenty handsets arrived with the arms. Communications always played a big part in Bolan's scheme of things. Then Bolan ran to a spot from which he could observe the entire road.

"Okay, Heath, let's go!" Bolan said into his radio.

A pair of riders galloped out of the forest, down the road and into the next forest, the branches behind them raising dust. The dust hung in midair, as there was hardly any wind.

"Next, "said Bolan.

A second pair galloped out, this one already partly obscured by the dust. As they went by, the cloud over the road thickened.

"Next."

On the fifth turn, Nark's voice came on the radio. "It's working," he said. "The Piper's heading your way."

The spotter flew overhead. A wing dipped as the pilot prepared to investigate this dust cloud to the east. A moment later he was zooming skyward, bracketed by tracers from riders on the road and in the forests. When he reached a safe height he began circling.

"Phoenix to Nark," Bolan said into the radio. "He's hooked. Start moving out."

"On the way," the other replied.

Now began a tense waiting game, the plane circling, the riders galloping. Occasionally the plane tried to come down for a closer look. And each time it was driven off by gunfire. A closer inspection might have revealed riders galloping both ways.

The radio came to life. It was Nark. "We hear choppers." A little later he added, "Eight helicopters. Heading your way."

The sky filled with the sound of rotor blades, and the helicopters passed over Bolan's head. They were Sikorskys. They flew far over the forest, the sound faded, and Bolan lost them from view. The plane went on circling, the riders galloped.

"Colonel," the radio whispered. "This is Ly in the other forest. I can hear the helicopters land. They are using the clearing. There is a big clearing in the middle." A little later, "The helicopters are leaving."

The Sikorskys reappeared over the forest, flying south this time. In due course the Piper flew off after them and a silence descended on the area. Bolan watched the Piper turn into a dot in the sky.

"Phoenix to Mr. Ly," said Bolan into the radio. "Return."

"Yes, sir."

"Phoenix to Nark. Where are you?"

"Couple of klicks from the northern edge," Nark replied. "But Major Vang Ky is already at the edge with the point team."

"Phoenix to Major Vang Ky. What's the terrain like?"

"Open land for five hundred yards, Colonel. And another forest. You want us to cross?"

"Wait until the main force reaches you," replied Bolan. "Then we all make a quick dash. The plane could return. Phoenix to Nark. When you cross, keep off the trail."

"Roger."

Bolan ran back to his riders. They presented quite a spectacle, men and horses covered in a thick layer of dust.

"Well done, brothers," said Bolan. "We tricked them."

Just then, however, the radio blared: "Nark to Phoenix. Urgent! Helicopters in the west. Flying north. Major Vang Ky, do you see them?"

"I see them, Mr. Nark, I see them. Many helicopters. One, two, three, four, five, six. And two more. Eight helicopter Mr. Nark. They are Hueys. They are flying for the next forest.... They are over the forest... I see ropes coming from them. Men are sliding down the ropes. Many men, Mr. Nark. Colonel, our way is blocked. What are we going to do?"

"Stand by," said Bolan. He took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one, then sat down by the foot of a tree.

"I guess we didn't trick them after all," said Heath.

"I guess not," said Bolan. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. "Now we're in a real fix," he said quietly.

* * *

The forest was bathed in a hot afternoon stillness. Butterflies flew about and somewhere an insect buzzed. By the foot of the tree, Bolan went on smoking, head tilted, eyes closed. The mounted Montagnards watched with sympathy. It is at such moments soldiers are glad they are not the officer.

"Suppose we backtracked," suggested Heath. He squatted by Bolan's side. "We could take another trail."

"There are no other trails for miles," said Bolan without opening his eyes.

"Couldn't we go cross-country?"

"Take too long. We have to attack tonight."

A hooting whistle sounded from afar. Another train.

"Perhaps we can bribe our way out," suggested Heath. "A guy I know did that in Nam. Took a whole platoon through VC lines. Cost him a hundred bucks."

"That's because he only had a platoon. We're too many."

"Then let's shoot our way through."

"Not allowed to shoot Thais. Thailand is part of SEATO."

"I give up."

Bolan smiled, his eyes still shut. "Don't. Two minds are better than one." How the hell was he going to get his men past the Thais? They fell silent, listening to the buzz of the insects. In the distance the train kept hooting.

Bolan knew there was a way; there was always a way if you were prepared to make the necessary mental effort. Who would have thought one man could ambush two hundred? Well, it happened. How? Because he had imagined ambushing them with an elephant.

Think, think,
he told himself.
Every riddle has an answer, every lock a key. All it takes is imagination
...

The train kept hooting and...."The train!" Bolan sprang to his feet and raced for his horse.
"Paj!"
he shouted to his men, swinging into the saddle.

They charged headlong through the forest, Bolan ignoring the thorns tearing at his clothes, the branches whipping his face. Eyes filled with water from the rush of air, he led them crashing through the undergrowth, all his being concentrated on one thought: he had to get the train.

The whistling neared. The train was coming from the south. Soon he could hear the puffing of a steam locomotive. Then, as the locomotive passed ahead of him on the other side of some trees, he could hear the rumble of wheels.

The trees thinned and he saw it: a long line of ore and flatcars. The cars were empty. Perfect.

They rode out of the trees and galloped single file along the side of the track, heading after the locomotive, overtaking the cars one by one. The train moved slowly, as there were many cars and only one locomotive.

A passenger car appeared, the fourth car behind the engine. As he galloped past it Bolan looked up and got a shock. The car was full of troops, and their fatigue caps told him the troops were Tiger. He saw them stare at him with surprise, and then he was past them.

But they quickly recovered; as he was nearing the engine he heard gunfire. The soldiers were engaging the Montagnards. Bolan turned in the saddle and waved to his men to disperse. They veered off and rode back into the trees. Now only Heath was with him.

Bolan passed a flatcar carrying Tiger horses and drew even with the locomotive. He took out his Makarov, grabbed the handrail, and swung himself into the cab. The pistol spat flame twice, and the two soldiers riding escort crumpled to the floor. The locomotive engineer backed against the controls in terror at the sight of this long nose in Montagnard dress, complete with silver collar.

"Stop the engines!" Bolan shouted above the noise of the wheels and the steam.

But the engineer did not react. He seemed paralyzed.

"I'll do it," said Heath. He shouted that he was the son of a railroad man and had ridden in locomotives. He shut the throttle, and the noise level in the cab fell by half. He took hold of the brake handle. "Hold tight!" he said, swinging the brake lever to Emergency.

BOOK: Tiger War
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