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Don Pendleton

Council of Kings

'It does life good to have the devil in it, so long as you keep your foot planted firmly on his neck.'

Quoted to Bolan by Buddy, victim of the Council of Kings

Dedicated to the dead of the Mekong.

1

Mack Bolan tensed as he sighted through the .460 Magnum Weatherby Mark V rifle's scope, tracking a man leaving a small store on West Burnside Street in Portland, Oregon. The man had entered ten minutes earlier, five minutes before the 5:30 P.M. closing time.

Bolan eased his fingers on the trigger guard. A soft misty rain fell. From the roof of the four-story building where he lay, the Executioner watched the man emerge from the store.

He waited for the two others he knew would follow. When the three were outside and the heavy door had been shut and locked, the Executioner fired on the man farthest from the wall. The firing-pin of his bolt-action, long-range hunting rifle ignited the primer in the .460 round, setting off the powder charge that shot a five- hundred-grain bullet through the twenty-six-inch, chrome-lined barrel at 2,700 feet per second. The weapon's roar shattered the soft evening. The bullet tore into the man in the brown suit above the heart and slammed him back into his companions. The Executioner ejected the used cartridge and chambered up another live round.

Sighting again, he adjusted his aim, considered the five hundred yards to the next target, and stroked the trigger.

The bullet hit the sky-blue-suited man beneath the left eye and bored into his skull, splattering his head against the building.

Bolan worked the bolt and kept his eye to the scope. The mist was turning to rain. The last man scrambled behind a heavy masonry planter. The Executioner had to shoot before the target vanished. The round thundered from the big-game rifle with more than 8,000 foot-pounds of energy and ripped into the belly of the crouching figure, spinning him around and spilling his bowels, killing him. Bolan retrieved the two spent shell casings, left the third in the chamber and moved to a door that led to the ground floor and a rear exit. He was a half-mile away when the first Portland police car whined up to the scene. The rain made it probable that no one had seen him. No windows looked directly onto the roof of the building, the tallest for two blocks each way. As Bolan drove the rented Thunderbird toward the waterfront, he thought how much this seemed like the first time — the time back at the beginning of the universe when he executed five members of a loan company because they had provoked his father, already upset over his daughter's forced prostitution, into an insane rage in which he killed his daughter and wife, injured his son Johnny, then turned the gun on himself. The shots today had come from the same kind of heavy- hunting weapon, a .460 Magnum Weatherby Mark V, a beast at ten and a half pounds and deadly as hell from half a mile away. The Executioner had been attracted to this northwest city by the loan racketing that, partly due to high unemployment in the logging and lumber industry, had become epidemic. Pacific Family was the first on Bolan's hit list. He had been in town two days, digging up sources, making lists, gathering all the intel he could find on the Gino Canzonari family.

Bolan returned to Burnside and passed the death scene. Four police cars blocked the far lane. Two cops directed traffic. The Executioner continued down Burnside to Front Avenue and turned north, traveling downstream along the Willamette River.

On Front Street near Seventeenth Avenue, across from the Port of Portland Terminal One, is a small bar that draws a lot of working stiffs, stevedores and truckers taking a break before heading home.

Bolan parked the Thunderbird and entered the bar. It smelled of stale beer, smoke and sweat. He signaled for a draft and looked around. There were numerous booths, a long stand-up bar, an electric shuffleboard, two video games.

For a long time Bolan studied a medium-sized man with a cloth cap, Hawaiian sport shirt and tan pants who was playing solitaire in the far booth. This was Leo the Fish. The Executioner slid in across from him, his blue poplin jacket covering the silenced Beretta 93-R nestled in shoulder leather.

Leo was about to play another hand when Bolan looked at him and cleared his throat. The an glanced up.

'Leo, hear you're the man around here to see for some quick money.'

Leo squinted as smoke from his cigarette curled into his eyes. He moved it and dumped the ashes. The squinting, pale-blue eyes took in the Executioner unblinkingly for seconds before he answered, 'Massachusetts, I'd say. I know accents. You from back there?'

'Close enough. How much can I get?'

'References. Who told you I dealt money?'

'My sister-in-law. She's married to this longshoreman. He said...'

Leo put up his hand. 'How much you need?'

Bolan held open the jacket to shield his action from onlookers, then drew the Beretta so Leo could see it. Bolan lowered it under the table and pushed the muzzle into Leo's belly.

'I want all you have, Leo. Right now.'

'Listen, I'm retired, this is just a little payday and a little fun. Keeping my hand in.'

'Let's have the cash, Leo.'

'I only got a thousand or so. Guys cleaned me out, lots of loans.'

'I want the loan cards, too.'

Slowly Leo reached in a shirt pocket and took out six, 3x5-inch white cards. He laid them on the table facedown. His hand moved toward his hip pocket.

'Real easy, Leo. You're about a three-pound trigger pull from finding out if there's life after death.'

'Hey, take it easy. I'm just getting the goods. I'm not dumb.' He eased a well-used leather billfold from his rear pocket and removed a sheaf of twenties and fifties.

The cash and cards vanished into a pocket of Bolan's jacket.

'Yeah, Leo the Fish, Chicago. You specialized in delivering a fish to the next of kin. That was your notice that the victim was now sleeping with the fish in Lake Michigan.'

'So sue me.'

'I will, exterminator. Move inside the booth. Against the wall.'

Leo's eyes searched the room for help, anything. A tinge of terror touched his closely shaven face.

'So long, scum. You just made your last transaction.' The Beretta coughed twice in the noisy bar. The rounds were aimed upward under the table, and one of them tore into Leo's heart. Leo sighed, closed his eyes and dropped his head against the wall as if sleeping.

Bolan replaced the Beretta under his jacket and stepped from the booth. He tossed a black metal marksman's badge beside the dead man.

Outside he crossed a name off a list. Then he wheeled the Thunderbird across the Willamette River to the east side of Portland. He was acting exactly as he had in Vietnam. Identify.

Infiltrate. Destroy. But the similarity, the necessity of war, grieved The Executioner.

* * *

The greater Brotherhood finance company was well out on Southeast Powell, past Mount Tabor Park and toward Powellhurst, but still within city limits.

The one-story building stood between a hi-karate school and a small grocery. The building was dark. Bolan parked in the back alley, slung a small supplies pack over his shoulder and left the car.

He picked the lock on the back door of the finance company and stole into the place.

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