Dick Stivers

Five Rings of Fire


Tracy Shaw, a four-foot slip of a girl, stood erect on the balance beam. Chalk, a dusty reminder of an earlier workout on the bars, covered parts of her sky-blue body suit. The suit hugged her sinewy frame with the familiarity of a longtime friend. She stood with poise, her back slightly arched, in a sensual meeting of body and athletics.

She had blocked from her mind every dull inch of her surroundings — the women's gymnasium at the University of California at Los Angeles. Concentration gripped her youthful face. Over and over her mind repeated instructions that had been drilled into her head by her coach.

Over and over the eleven-year-old thought of her goal, the goal of every amateur athlete-Olympic gold. The Games were only five days away.

She was tired. A long day of workouts had zapped the energy she usually possessed. The diminutive gymnast turned her mind from the tired aching in her muscles. She concentrated.

Slowly, treading with the grace born of practice, she walked backward on the beam. Her face remained a mask of concentration, her head tilted slightly skyward. Suddenly, like a cat, the sinewy girl exploded into action.

Blasting off the beam, she arched her spine into a perfect backflip. She was halfway through it when her skull exploded, spewing shards of bone and mutilated brain, the pretty face collapsing into ruin.

And she struck the beam, a slithering, lifeless thing, devoid of grace. For half a heartbeat she was balanced there, then her rag-doll form surrendered to the draw of gravity and collapsed into a viscous, spreading pool of blood.

The shot had not uttered a sound. It had carried out its duty with deadly silence.

Babette Pavlovski, a Czechoslovakian defector and coach of the U.S. women's gymnastic team, gagged at the sight of the young girl being shot. Pavlovski and America's top hope for a gold medal, Ellie Kay King, had been spotting for the girl in the otherwise empty gym. King, nicknamed Kelly, threw up.

Just inside the gymnasium's main doors, two FBI guards — stationed to protect the defector — lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Bullet holes had left punctures in their faces.

Ten feet from the doors stood two gunmen. They wore ragged jeans and UCLA sweatshirts to blend in with the fashion at the school's main campus. Each carried a gym bag over his shoulder — a bag for carrying the tools of death, handguns with large cylinders planted on the ends of the barrels. Both handguns were pointed squarely at the face of Babette, the target for the first misplaced shot.

In the time it took Tracy Shaw to drop in a heap, Babette Pavlovski reacted. Shots rang out. The coach launched her long body under the beam, bowling Kelly over. The shots missed their mark by inches. Kelly and the coach rolled together, taking refuge behind a wooden vaulting horse.

Babette spoke rapidly to her star black gymnast.

'They're after me, but they'll kill every witness they find. I'll make them follow me away from here. Phone this number.' She handed Kelly a piece of paper. 'Tell whoever answers exactly what happened... and tell them to get some help for Tracy. I... I think it's too late.'

Babette sprang into a sprint, zigzagging toward another exit. Small, nearly silent coughs of gunfire followed her moves. None connected.

When she reached the junction of the corridor, she paused long enough to ensure that her pursuers saw her. As she turned the corner, a bullet chipped the wall just inches behind her.

Meanwhile Kelly made her way back to Tracy. Kelly was in shock. She took one look at her teammate and gagged again. She knew the young gymnast was dead. She dashed to the director's office to use the phone.

Brenda Gillium and JoJo Tate, two young gymnasts who had witnessed the carnage from a dressing-room window that faced the gymnasium, followed Kelly into the director's office.

'There's one outside,' Brenda hissed to Kelly. 'We saw him. There's one outside.'

'Sleepy' Sam Spanier stood nervously outside the gymnasium door. His hand sweated streams as he grasped the silenced Makarov inside his gym bag.

Sleepy was not new to the exterminating game. But this time around he was unsure of his client and his information. The Riding Devils had been doing muscle work, plus the occasional 'removal' for the Mafia since the Devils had lost most of its force about a year earlier. The mob was okay to work for, but this new client...

The new guy said he was German, but that was bullshit. Sleepy's old lady was German and she didn't talk like the client.

The door to the gymnasium swung open. Sleepy checked to make certain the hall was still clear. He saw a couple of kids but they were heading the opposite way.

He turned his head away for an instant and when he turned it back he saw one of the kids running at him faster than he thought a little girl could run. He started to pull his weapon from the bag.

Before he could get the gun free, Brenda Gillium was airborne, her body curled in a crouch. Sleepy watched in helpless horror as the young cannonball hurtled at his head.

At the last possible second, the girl's legs shot out and smashed him in the face. The back of his head hit the wall behind him. He felt bone crush. Blood sprayed. He felt his life leave his body.

Never again would he feel anything else.


Rosario 'Politician' Blancanales and Hermann 'Gadgets' Schwarz sprinted through the drizzle. They were headed for a black executive jet that was coming to a stop by a freight terminal at Holman Field, St. Paul. The logo on the side of the jet read: ABLE GROUP, Security Services.

The plane stopped, a door lifted and stairs were dropped to the ground. Blancanales and Schwarz boarded.

Carl Lyons, the third member of Able Team, stood just inside the entry. He greeted his teammates with rabbit punches to their shoulders.

The three justice warriors from Stony Man Farm had escaped a sacrificial slaughter in the lair of a smugglers' broker called The Dragon, tens of thousands of feet up in the Hindu Kush. It was one helluva close call. And it was a story that would stay buried, too tangled in bloodcurdling treachery to be retold.

Few words were exchanged between the men. They had fought together, nearly died together — words fell short of what they felt about one another. They convened around a small conference table as the plane taxied for runway space.

'Love that logo on this souped-up flybox,' Schwarz said. 'We sure didn't have trouble recognizing the right plane.''

'Where're the S.M. boys?' Blancanales asked.

'The big Stony Man guns are up to their asses in trouble. This one's our baby. We're on our own,' Lyons informed them.

'Sweet shit,' Blancanales said, a smile on his face. 'What's the action?'

'In less than two hours,' Lyons said, 'we'll be up to our butts in local and international politics. But don't worry — I've become a diplomat. I can handle politics like a pro.'

'What's this political crap?' Gadgets demanded. 'You're about as good at politics as I am at catching lead in my teeth.'

'Job still has to be done. Order came directly from the Oval Office.'

Lyons produced two eight-by-ten photographs.

'We've got some shapely compensation on this trip.' He handed them the pictures. 'The tall Caucasian is

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