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Don Pendleton

Bone Yard

Only the dead have seen the end of war.

Platon

I haven't seen the end of war. Not yet. Tomorrow, maybe, or an hour from now, but at the moment there's a need for action, right, instead of passive observation. And the war goes on.

Mack Bolan

Dedicated to those members of a thirty-five-man special operations force who were killed by Cuban and Grenadian troops after making a secret landing in Grenada prior to the U.S. invasion in October 1983.

Prologue

The action never stops in Vegas. There is always something riding on the line, always the chance to make or break a fortune with another card, another roll of heartless dice across the green felt battlefield.

In Vegas the hunger is never satisfied. With an appetite for money, sex, prestige or power, somewhere in the all-night town a hungry visitor can find it all. Or lose it all. Las Vegas is a jungle planted in the middle of a desert, and like any other jungle it is filled with predators.

The strong survive by cunning, force and savagery; the weak become their prey, are drained of sustenance and cast aside. The jungle hunters live within a private hierarchy, self-imposed and rigidly enforced. The strongest and best organized cooperate, divide the lion's share of plunder while the jackals forage for their leavings. Natural attrition thins the ranks and weeds out any predator unworthy of the competition for survival. Las Vegas is the town that Bugsy Siegel built, and it had been an early stop along Mack Bolan's hellfire trail. He had been tested there and, against the odds, had beat the house. The Executioner had gambled everything in Vegas and he'd won. But his victory was transient, totally devoid of any lasting guarantees. Now there were rumbles coming out of Vegas, louder than the shock waves from the Atomic Energy Commission's below-ground testing range located north of town. A sinister vibration underlay the omnipresent jangle of the action. It was time to play again in Vegas, right. Against a loaded deck, with every odd belonging to the opposition. Never mind that Bolan did not know the stakes precisely. There was only one rule in the game he played: you bet the limit every time, and never fold. It was a death game, sure, and going into it he held a dead man's hand. With luck and grim audacity, it just might be enough to see him through.

1

Mack Bolan hit a combat crouch in darkness, frozen into immobility among the shadows. His senses probed the desert night, reaching out for any sign of hostile life in the immediate vicinity, found nothing.

Still, he did not move for half a minute more, taking no chances. A cautious soldier never took anything on face value, and Mack Bolan was a very cautious warrior. Dressed for midnight action, he was virtually invisible among the shadows of the low retaining wall that he had scaled. The blacksuit fit him like a second skin, its snug fabric breathing with him, leaving no excess material to snag on undergrowth or rustle as he moved. His face and hands were blackened with camou cosmetics, leaving only the whites of his eyes to betray him if any foe should get that close.

But none who did would have a chance to sound the warning.

The Executioner was rigged for war. Beneath one arm, the sleek Beretta 93-R nestled in its shoulder harness, specially built to accommodate the silencer of Bolan's own design. Big Thunder, the .44 AutoMag cannon, rode military webbing at his hip, and extra magazines for both weapons ringed his waist in nylon pouches. The pockets of his skinsuit held stilettos and garrotes along with a variety of other tested killing gear. But the man in black was hoping he would not have to fire a shot this night.

His mission was supposed to be a soft probe, in and out, staying only long enough to gather some intelligence before he made his exit. In and out, right. Except that soft probes had a way of going hard when it was least expected, turning into firefights in the time it took to draw a breath or die.

Mack Bolan knew his job. And he was also painfully aware of how 'blind chance' could intervene and throw the best-laid plans into the dumpster without warning. So he hoped for soft and traveled hard, a portion of his mind alert for any danger signal on this unfamiliar turf. The outer wall had offered little opposition, but he knew Minotte would have other lines of personal defense between him and the house. The desert night was perilous, and Bolan was not taking anything for granted so early in the game.

Bobby Minotte was the Dixie Mafia's representative on station in Las Vegas.

Theoretically no one controlled the open city and the different families were free to come and go as long as they refrained from stepping on one another's toes. But Minotte's faction was at least as strong as any of the competition. And he was big enough, for sure, to have a handle on the rumbles Bolan had been picking up for weeks along the covert grapevine.

The Executioner knew Minotte could provide the necessary battlefield intelligence if he would talk, and Bolan had unending faith in his own powers of persuasion.

Minotte's private palace in the desert was a rambling ranch-style house surrounded by acres of lawn. The house itself was flanked by stables, where the mobster raised his breeding stock of prize Arabians, and by tennis courts, all dark and deserted now. Despite the hour, the house was still ablaze with lights, and Bolan counted half a dozen cars parked end to end along the curving driveway out front.

The Executioner moved out across the sloping lawn, a gliding shadow, every sense alert for sentries and security devices. He had covered thirty yards, with fifty left to go, before he saw the lookout. The guy was stretched out on the dewy grass, unmoving, one arm raised above his head, the other draped across his chest. He was either dead or sleeping very soundly.

Bolan knelt beside him feeling for a pulse and quickly ruled out the latter possibility. His fingers found no sign of life; instead they came back slick with blood.

A sharp piano-wire garrote had taken out the sentry. The steel strand was buried in the folds of flesh beneath his chin, so deeply that it might as well have been a knife blade drawn across his jugular. The man had died without a sound, if not without a struggle; his side arm was still snug inside its holster at his waist.

The Executioner felt a tremor race along his spine. Someone else had passed this way within the hour, judging from the body temperature, heading for the ranch Bolan had no way of knowing who the hunter was, nor his mission, but the final target had to be Minotte. No one with a working brain would brave the mafioso's fortress just to ice a soldier on the lawn and let it go at that. The capo was the mark, and Bolan was confronted with two equally unpleasant choices. He could forge ahead and take the risk of stumbling into a hit in progress, or he could scrub the mission for tonight and start all over again.

Unpleasant choices, right. But for Mack Bolan there was really no damn choice at all. No question of retreat while there was still a chance of getting what he came for. And if he had to save Minotte's life before he got the chance to question him, fine. It might make the mobster more talkative in the end.

Bolan slid the silenced Beretta from the shoulder rigging, easing off the safety as he moved out, leaving the dead man alone with the universe. Bolan's business here was with the living, and he hoped that he would find some waiting for him in the ranch house. As if in answer to his thoughts there came a muffled burst of gunfire from inside the house.

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