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Don Pendleton

Baltimore Trackdown

Then one of the judges of the city stood

forth and said, Speak to us of Crime and

Punishment.

And he answered, saying:

It is when your spirit goes wandering

upon the wind,

That you, alone and unguarded, commit

a wrong unto others and therefore unto

yourself.

And for that wrong committed must you

knock and wait a while unheeded at the

gate of the blessed.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I believe that for my enemies the wait may be forever. Perhaps in the end even I will have to defend my actions. And yet, with that knowledge, I cannot turn my back on the innocent victims of evil.

Mack Bolan

1

The tension was felt by every person around the poker table. Mack Bolan, wearing a dark-blue suit, contrasting silk tie and shiny black shoes, stood out of the circle of light where he could see everyone and not be too conspicuous. His right hand hovered near the Beretta in his waistband. There had been no way he could attach the silencer and still dress well enough to be admitted into this fancy casino.

The Executioner casually watched the three Mafia hardmen in the room, who were concentrating on the spectators rather than the game. Security was their job and Bolan had pegged them as Mafia enforcers the moment he had entered. About twenty people watched the game.

This was the “big money” back room of the Flamingo nightclub in downtown Baltimore, the newest, classiest club in town, where the moneyed set could dance and booze, and their elite gamble with the sky as limit. This was the Highball Room where only five-hundred-dollar chips were used. With a pair of hundred-dollar bills Bolan had persuaded two doormen to let him inside.

The stakes in the game of seven-card stud were climbing. The last bet, ten thousand dollars, had been matched and raised by an equal amount. Only two men were left in the game — a sunburned Texan with oil gushing out of his pockets and with a temper as hot as an oil-well fire, and the house man, Spur, small and dark with black inscrutable eyes, who could make the cards do magical things. But apparently not now.

The Texan leaned back in the padded swivel chair and yawned.

“God a’mighty, suh! You gonna make up your mind and call me or fold?”

Both hands lay face up on the table. The Texan, with a pair of aces and a pair of queens showing, could go full house easily. The house man had three sixes and a seven showing; it wasn’t much of a start on a straight, but there was a chance one of his three hole cards might be the fourth six.

The woman behind the oil man, pretty but not beautiful, patted her face with a lace handkerchief. She watched impassively as the oil man consulted his three hole cards.

She touched the handkerchief to her upper lip.

The timing was too perfect for Bolan’s suspicious mind. She could be totally innocent. Or she could be with the house, and the handkerchief could be concealing a small radio transmitter. She had seen the Texan’s hidden cards. Did she somehow reveal them?

The house player wore a hearing aid. He shook his head, reached to his stack of chips, called and raised another twenty thousand.

“Bluffing me, you cotton-pickin’ roadrunner!” the Texan growled. He shoveled the blue chips out. “Call you — let’s see them.”

The house man tapped his three sixes. “I’ve got you beaten on the board unless you can top three of a kind.”

The Texan shrugged. “So what the hell — it was a good try. I didn’t have my goddamned full house, not even three queens or aces. But how did you know that?”

Spur felt the tension rise. The Texan could afford to lose the seventy-five thousand he had dropped in that hand. But with more than a hundred fifty thousand on the table, the hardmen were going to be doubly watchful.

The Texan turned, grabbed the linen hankie from the girl behind him and opened it to find a transmitter smaller than a matchbook.

“Now how you-all gonna explain this?” the Texan shouted, his face red.

The house man froze. Two bouncer gorillas moved in beside the Texan. They were armed, Bolan was sure.

He saw the floor boss reaching down, and the Executioner knew the man was dipping toward a leg holster. Bolan drew the Beretta, tracking the two Mafia goons who had reached for hardware.

“Don’t try it!” Bolan snarled. The floor boss straightened up, and the hardmen stopped, hands motionless inside jackets. “Freeze,” Bolan shouted, “and no one will get hurt!” He pointed with the Beretta at the two hardmen and the house man at the table. “Three of you, hands in the air. The rest of you go out the back door. This place is closed. Now, move — no panic, just file out. My Texan friend can take the chips he was cheated of, if he wants to.”

The Texan divided the pot, pocketed one half and left with the others.

Bolan ordered the hoodlums to the far door. He placed a block of C-4 plastique on the poker table, set the timer-detonator for thirty seconds and escorted the hardmen down the steps into the alley. They were well away from the building when the C-4 exploded. The club’s top floor rose about six inches, then sagged. There was no fire. No one would cheat gamblers at the Flamingo for a while.

Bolan told his captives, “Dump your weapons on the ground, and be glad you’re still alive. Tell Carlo Nazarione he’s going to be seeing a lot of me in the next week. Tell him I’ll get around to him soon.”

Bolan signaled a dismissal, and the three men ran down the alley toward the front of the Flamingo, where a police car had just arrived, its siren whining.

* * *

In an expensive residential district several miles away, Jo Jo Albergetti arrived home. His wheelman drove the car into the garage, then went to his own car and left. Jo Jo entered the big house via the kitchen and found his wife, Angela, sprawled on the living-room rug. She wore only panties.

She sat up and shook her ample breasts and laughed. “Hey, big guy, want some of these?” She crawled toward him.

“You’re drunk,” Jo Jo said, smelling the alcohol.

“So what? I’m fantastic when I’m drunk. Just took on two of your little helpers. Told them I wouldn’t tell you their names so they wouldn’t get shot. Oops! Not supposed to talk about guns. The two guys were marvelous! Both at once. Wanna hear?”

The phone rang. Jo Jo glared at his wife, his face revealing the anger inside. The phone rang again. He grabbed it.

“Yeah?” He listened a minute. “No shit?” He listened again. “Yeah, right... Bastard! Get Nino down there

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