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Don Pendleton

Hellfire Crusade

1

Mack Bolan snugged the customized Heckler and Koch tighter into his shoulder. The polished stock felt cool against his cheek. He activated the Hensoldt scope in a dry run, then glanced at his watch. He had thirty seconds to use the red LED spot for sighting on his target. He slowly tracked left, scanning the curve of the hairpin bend that was gouged in the steep flank of the hills overlooking Drakos. Bolan selected the precise place for the hit, mentally marking it by the position of an oddly shaped yellow rock; then he lowered the rifle and began to make a fine adjustment to the butt pad. Below his carefully chosen vantage point, Bolan observed that the lights of Drakos were already twinkling in the encroaching dusk.

A convoy of trucks leaving the docks looked like miniature toys from this elevation. The Executioner noticed that none of the traffic turned off at the intersection far below his aerie. He figured few drivers would willingly risk the mountainous shortcut after dark. This was the quickest and quietest route across to Katreus, and it was the road Gershen would use to get there. Satisfied with his preparations, Bolan rested his back against a boulder and worked the weapon's welloiled mechanism. Everything was ready, and he had time. He could wait for Gershen. Enveloped by the growing darkness, Bolan mentally reviewed the man's activities. Gershen's line of business was computer components, usually bought through dummy companies, but stolen if necessary. He then smuggled this high-tech hardware from the States into Canada, and from there they were sold to France under forged paperwork, then shipped on to Greece. A Black Sea freighter carried the precious cargo on the final leg from Katreus to Odessa. Gershen had engineered this pipeline and lived a good life on the profits of his illicit trade. His treacherous pursuits had finally attracted the attention of both the FBI and the CIA. However, the more immediate threat to his safety was posed by Thomas Loomis, a pipe-smoking investigator for Technilok Security who had cracked every case of industrial espionage he'd taken on. And Loomis was hot on Gershen's trail. But he had not counted on another kind of heat, in the form of hurtling lead, waiting to put him out of business permanently. Yes, Jago Gershen was very good at what he did. Very professional.

He deserved the Executioner.

And the coldly efficient H and K PSG 1.

When it came to termination, they, too, were state of the art.

* * *

Gershen's face creased into a thin smile as he congratulated himself on his timing. He had chosen the right moment to get out. The U.S. federal agents were tied up in red tape in Canada. And Loomis was still methodically checking out leads in Marseilles. The secret of Gershen's success so far lay in always staying one step ahead.

He swung the Mercedes to the left up the mountain road, then noted the time on the German luxury car's dashboard clock. Fifty minutes still remained before the Russian ship was due to sail.

He would make it with time to spare.

Gershen had served his Soviet masters well.

There was no way they would refuse him sanctuary now, not with the papers he carried in his aluminum briefcase: the parallel processor plans for the Supercyber 3000. The blueprints for this intricate maze of module arrays would more than cover his ass.

* * *

Bolan stowed the field glasses and took up his firing position. The off-white Mercedes appeared like a pale ghostly chariot in the scope. The Executioner heard the change in the engine's pitch as the driver shifted down coming out of the bend, then gunned the sedan up the next incline.

Bolan led by a fraction and squeezed the trigger.

The right front tire shredded.

There was no time for Gershen to regain control as the car skidded toward the unprotected shoulder. The Mercedes slithered sideways over the cliff edge.

The traitor was trapped behind the wheel, screaming as the vehicle plummeted all the way down until it hit an outcrop. The car exploded in a fireball of white-hot flame, oil-black smoke, splintered glass and myriad fragments of tom and twisted metal. Bolan watched impassively as the burning wreckage bounced off the rock face once more and rattled across the scree below. Jago Gershen was now one more careless tourist who had become a statistical fatality.

* * *

Jamil Hussein paused to light a cigarette. He fumbled the first two matches and only lit it on the third attempt. This seemingly clumsy pantomime bought time to check both sides of the boulevard behind him and across the broad square ahead.

He was being very cautious. Exactly the way he had been trained. And Hussein had proved an apt pupil in the Yemen and at Moscow. Hussein first tasted the high-voltage charge of radical power when he whipped up the fervor of the crowds outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Then, together with his fellow university students, he had stormed the gates on that fateful Sunday morning in November 1979. He would never forget the thrill of seizing control and jeering at the impotent Americans.

The streets were relatively clear at this time of night. Faint traces of steam wafted up from the air exhausts of the metro system beneath his feet. And the wet midnight pavements of Paris were smeared with the pastel reflections of the city lights.

Confident that no one was following him, Hussein strode purposefully toward the art nouveau entrance of the metro station. This was to be his biggest assignment yet, and he could not afford to get careless. Hussein had quickly attracted the interest of Soviet recruiters when he proved to be one of the most callous of the student captors who strutted around the embassy compound.

After several months of intensive training in terrorist techniques they had unleashed him with sufficient funds to form the Brigade Jihad.

He was to prove his worth when he personally transported the explosives to his Hezballah comrades, which they then used to bomb the U.S. embassy annex in East Beirut.

Now he was in Paris to round up a three-man suicide squad from among the malcontent Arabs in the Goute D'Or. These volunteers had no idea they were completely dispensable; and, anyway, the money put up by Hussein's Libyan contacts was more than they could refuse. The American Secretary of State was due to arrive next week for top-level talks in Paris. The lithe Iranian relished the idea of striking another blow against the hated imperialist warmongers. He walked down the entrance tunnel. The air was stale with garlic and Gauloises. A train was approaching. Hussein squeezed his way through the safety gate just in time. There were only two other people in the carriage. Hussein remained standing close to the door and exited at the next stop. Hussein waited till the very last moment before stepping out onto the platform. The olive-skinned assassin was taking every precaution. He turned back toward the exit and almost bumped into the one other passenger to get off from the car behind.

He was big for a Frenchman, the Iranian thought, taking in the stained raincoat and greasy beret. Must be drunk, Hussein deduced, as the odor of cheap wine wafted to his nostrils.

The tipsy traveler lurched across the deserted platform. He said something but it was too slurred for Hussein to catch his meaning. One feeble hand wavered uncertainly toward the Iranian killer. Hussein lifted his arms to push the fellow away. He was not giving anything to an alcoholic panhandler.

But the man's right hand suddenly snaked forward with piston force. It caught Hussein completely unaware. He had no chance to ward off the lightning thrust of cold steel held in an iron grip. Five and a half inches of Vorpal blade slid between his ribs. Hussein could only gasp as the man clasped him in a final, fatal embrace.

The 'drunkard' still held the skeleton handle that protruded from his target's coat, then he twisted it.

A burning sensation exploded in Hussein's throat. His heart was on fire.

Their faces were close enough to feel each other's breath. The last thing Hussein saw as a crimson supernova flared against black oblivion was the eyes of his executioner. They were icy blue.

Diamond hard.

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