Authors: Don Pendleton
Tags: #det_action, #Vietnam War; 1961-1975, #Mafia, #San Francisco (Calif.), #Bolan; Mack (Fictitious character)
The sunny Golden Gate city finds out what the Executioner is all about when he explodes into their midst, hot on the trail of the inner enemy and "Mr. King," the behind-the-scenes boss of all that moves and breathes in the western states.
Bolans assault blazes a wide swath, zeroing in on the kingpins home base. A deadly Chinese Communist cell, some misled ecology freaks and a group of militant leftists all find themselves in danger of being burned by the swiftly racing torch of the Executioner. No one is going to stop him this time. No way.
Mack Bolan had long entertained a bone feeling about San Francisco. His ground ear had been pulling him here ever since the nightmare in New York, the steady vibrations from that underculture of the national crime network telegraphing the insistent message that here was where the blood was at.
That certain feeling was intensified as the warwagon sped across the doubledecked engineering marvel known as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the fabulous skyline of that great old city came into view.
Down there was a population-density surpassed only in Manhattan, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere second to nowhere. It was more than a city; San Francisco was a way of life and a state of mind, an independence of the human spirit exuberantly expressed and often wildly exaggerated. There was the largest Chinatown outside the Orient, the most cohesive Italian community on the continent, and a general mixture of peoples and cultures more productive than any similar venture on the planet Earth.
It had started as the Spanish Presidio and Mission Dolores, in about the same year that the English colonies on the other American coast were proclaiming their independence. A scant fifteen years before the historic gold rush which put California on the continental map, the pueblo of Yerba Buena was established there, under the flag of Mexico, and in 1847 it was renamed San Francisco — a California Republic community of some eight hundred souls.
The discovery of gold at Sutler's Mill in 1848 produced a sprawling tent settlement of fortune hunters which was formally incorporated as the city and county of San Francisco in 1850. From this unlikely collection of miners, sailors, merchants, profiteers and prostitutes arose the queen city of the American West, cultural and financial center of the Pacific Coast, the grand old city beside the Golden Gate which now serves a metropolitan area of more than three million people, annually moving five billion tons of cargo through her seaport and fifteen million travelers through her airspace.
Most of the city's blueblooded families would prefer to forget the wild origins of the civic phenomena, once the port of entry for thousands of Chinese coolies who were imported as virtual slaves to mine the precious minerals and build the rail networks of the booming west; the bloody Barbary Coast where the iron men from wooden ships buried their months of ocean-going loneliness in a variety of pleasures. But hundreds of thousands of World War II servicemen would forever remember that same Barbary Coast with its roaring attractions of booze, broads, and brawls.
Less than a decade later, this same cultural spawning ground had become the womb of another original American creation, the Beat Generation — and the beatniks had hardly faded from view when a successive subculture, the hippies, appeared on the scene and established their unofficial headquarters in the big bawdy city at the Gate. And just across the bay, in Berkeley, the political revolution of American youth was born, to be spilled out and amplified in shock waves reaching throughout the nation.
And there was more to San Francisco. It was the city where the toughest cops in the world had been forced to barricade themselves inside their own police stations. It was the city where the most active hotbeds of Communism outside the Iron Curtains tensely coexisted with the western U.S. seat of Capitalism; the city where students wore crash helmets into classrooms; it was the western capital of homosexuality as well as the cradle of emancipated female eroticism — and it was still a city where a cabbie's first question was never "where to?" but always "wanta get laid, buddy?"
Yeah, Bolan knew San Francisco.
It was a city of natural beauty, sure — what was it the moviemakers called it? — the most photogenic city in the world? The fabulous hills and vertical streets and spectacular bay views were a cinematographer's dream come true. But there were "underground" views of equal interest to another rapidly emerging variety of moviemaker — San Francisco was also the porno movie capital of the country.
A city of interesting paradoxes, yes — and not the least of them was its newest ingredient: Mack Bolan.
Educated to kill and trained to survive the savageries of jungle combat, this American GI had returned from war to bury his own beloved dead — the victims of another sort of savagery at home — and to declare a war to the death upon "the greater enemy."
Bolan had earned fame in Southeast Asia as the Executioner. As a penetration team specialist and sniper, he had been officially credited with ninety-seven kills of enemy high-rankers, and he had been described by his commanding officer as "a self-propelled combat machine, and a formidable weapon of psychological warfare."
But in that same war zone, the young soldier was also known as "Sergeant Mercy" — the GI who could not turn away from orphaned kids and stricken villagers who were victims of the brutalities of warfare.
The homicide detective who investigated Bolan's initial "homefront battle" described the sergeant as "... an enigma. I don't know if I want to arrest the guy or pat him on the back. He's a killer, sure — but he's a killer with a difference."
That "difference" was the only thing that allowed Mack Bolan to tolerate himself and his new role in the world. He did not kill for personal gain, nor out of hatred or revenge. In his own view, he was simply a soldier doing his duty. His war was with the enemies of his society, enemies who had found protection from legal justice through a high degree of organization, political "clout" and financial power. By their own manipulations they had lifted themselves beyond the restrictions of the law.
In Bolan's understanding, they had also removed themselves from the protection of the law. Through their own actions and their own contempt for social justice, they had thrown themselves into the court of jungle law — and here were no judges, no juries — here was simply life and death, the survival of those fittest to survive, and here Mack Bolan was the Executioner. So long as he lived, those others would die. This was Bolan's "difference." He was in a state of war — with those who were unfit for survival.
His jungle knew no geographical boundaries. It existed only in the hearts and actions of certain men, in the territorial environs of a criminal conspiracy known variously as the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, the organization, the syndicate — or, collectively, the mob.
And, yes, in that exciting old city beside the Golden Gate, in that paradoxical town of human extremes, there existed a jungle of considerable dimensions.
And Death moved coolly upon the scene, and sniffed the air, and bent an ear to the ground, and knew that the time was right for the California hit.
The Executioner was on the scene.
And the golden city knew immediately that she had a hot war on her hands.
It was a time for war.
And Mack Bolan was not a negative warrior. His game was blitzkrieg — thunder and lightning, death and destruction, shock and panic and crawling fear — and once again his time for war had come.
For three nights he had held his peace and his patience, carefully reconnoitering and gathering intelligence, reading faces and comparing them with the indelible etchings of his mental mugfile, classifying them by family, function, and rank — and marking them for death.
On this third night, the tall man in night combat garb had been at his post for more than three hours in the late evening chill, quietly watching and biding his time outside the would-be swank nightclub at the edge of San Francisco's North Beach district. He was dressed all in black. From his right shoulder was suspended a "greasegun" machine pistol, riding muzzle-down at the hip. Clamped into the snap-away leather beneath his left arm was the black Beretta Brigadier — a nine millimeter autoloader with a muzzle silencer, his most trusted weapon. A number of extra clips for both weapons were carried in a web belt at his waist — also a light assortment of personal munitions, including a small fragmentation grenade and an incendiary flare. On the ground at his feet rested a flat canvas bag — a "satchel charge" of high explosives.
The place he watched occupied a chunk of high-rent ground completely isolated from the rest of the neighborhood by a couple of acres of asphalt parking area. At dead center was the joint itself, with access along a cozy little pathway winding through artificial shrubbery and plastic flowers. A man-made brook encircled the building, flowing beneath quaint footbridges and jogging around rustic benches emplaced in synthetic arbors.
The China Gardens, they called it, but most of it was bastard-American-Oriental with two wings of weathered stucco, painted-on dragons, and false eaves for the flat roofs. One of those wings housed a dining room, which featured a Chinese menu native only to America. The other provided a ballroom-lounge with pretty Chinese hostesses and cocktail waitresses — the only genuine Oriental touch to the entire place.
At front and center was a two-story structure that was supposed to look like a pagoda; apparently nobody had ever told the owners that a pagoda is a sacred place — a temple, not a saloon. No one seemed to mind but Bolan. Business had been good and the trade lively throughout its surveillance.
But Bolan had seen the joint in the daytime, and it had looked as seamy as most of these places are in honest sunlight. At night it was swankly glamorous and sure to catch the eye of the unwary tourists who couldn't spot a clip-joint until confronted with the bill. The China Gardens was more than a clip-joint, though. It was a bag-drop and a crossroads of many diverging trails in San Francisco's underworld, a favored meeting place and watering hole of the area's most secretive citizens. During the three long nights of patient stakeout, Bolan had identified several California mob captains — including a Peninsula gambling czar and the narcotics boss of Berkeley. He had also recognized a miscellany of muscle men and runners, plus a couple of black bagmen who were probably from the city's Fillmore District, the black neighborhood.
So, yeah, it seemed the perfect place to start a war.
The timing was about right. They'd closed the door an hour ago. All of the legitimate customers and employees were long gone — and everyone left in the joint now would be a valid target. There were plenty of those left.
Johnny Liano was in there. He'd made it big in Berkeley when the kids began turning on with drugs instead of politics. Pete Trazini was also present, the shylocker and numbers king of depressed Richmond who'd lately been boasting that he was getting bigger than Bank of America.
About a dozen lesser Mafiosi were inside, too, some of them with Liano and Trazini — hardmen; personal bodyguards who probably followed their bosses even to the bathroom.
The parking lot was deserted except for a cluster of vehicles parked near the rear entrance. The neon marquee out front was extinguished and both wings of the building were darkened; only the pagoda was showing lights, and these were all on the upper level. Wisps of fog drifted sullenly past the lone lamp which now tried to illuminate the parking area, a dull yellow blob of light which would have been worthless even without the dense atmosphere. This part of the city was eerily quiet and almost muffled in the characteristic black-gray wetness of early-morning San Francisco, the fog and the silence blending into an entirely new dimension of time and space. The world seemed to be wrapped tightly around this tiny oasis of sight and sound, the lighted coffee house in the next block and the occasional passing vehicle along the street belonging to an entirely different reality.
But the China Gardens was the only reality Bolan needed, for the moment.
It was to be a very direct tactic, sure — but it was the only one available. Bolan had to take what he could get, pull whatever handle happened to fit his hand, walk through the doors that opened to him.
And a war needed an opener.
The Executioner moved out of his surveillance position and crossed over to the combat zone, a gliding shadow upon the night, and came into no-man's-land via the parking lot, halting slightly uprange from the darkened rear entrance to the central building and directly opposite a lighted upstairs window.
Shadowy images were playing upon that rectangle of light. The "boys" were no doubt having a business meeting — posting records and splitting profits and laying plans for the next day's cannibalistic activities.
Bolan muttered into the night, "Well, for openers..." and swung the satchel charge one full revolution in a softball windup, then let it go in a high, arcing pitch.
The game plan was simple... hit and fade... and he was back-pedalling rapidly in the follow-through when he saw her in his corner vision.
She was a real live China doll, hurrying out of the darkness from the back side of the pagoda and heading directly across his path, and apparently she had not even seen him yet.
Consciousness froze for an agonizing instant — with that shipment of high explosives poised midway between Bolan's hand and the impact point — the girl rushing blindly into the blast zone.
She was a beauty, petite but fully proportioned, the Dragon Lady in the flesh, wearing a tight Mandarin style dress with a slit to the hip.
There was time for only a flashing glimpse of her — and then Bolan was reacting instinctively, like a killer linebacker hurling himself into a busted play-whirling and lunging to grab the girl and throw her to the pavement, falling with her and shielding her body with his own. She was struggling and grunting in alarm, her breath hot on his face, when all the sounds of the night became telescoped into the smashing of that upstairs window and the closely following explosion of the satchel charge.
The entire area received instant light, flying debris and whizzing chunks of deadly glass and mortar — and Bolan had another flashing glimpse of frightened eyes as the girl ceased struggling and suddenly lay very still, her head turned to the sound and sight of hell unleashed.
Flames were whooshing through a hole in the upper wall and unseen men were shrieking in panic. Then the wall bulged out and leaned forward, and Bolan was dragging the girl into deeper safety when the whole thing collapsed, spilling bricks, timber, flaming furniture and human bodies in an avalanche onto the parking lot.
He pulled the China doll to her feet and roughly shoved her toward the darkness — and his first words to her were an urgent command. "Run!" he growled. "Run like hell!"
She ran, and Bolan went the other way, into hell, knowing that his assault plan was busted wide open now, his greasegun thrust forward and ready for the inevitable reaction from the enemy.
It came quickly. Three men staggered from the rear door and into the light of the disaster, and immediately a strangled voice cried, "Jesus Christ, it's him!"
The Executioner acknowledged their presence and recognition with a sweeping welcome from the machine pistol, and they all lay down quickly, brothers of the blood for real, now.
Another man ran into the scene from the front of the building. He slid to a confused halt, then began a flatfooted, backwards dance, crouching and firing at the apparition in black with a snubnosed revolver.
Bolan calmly stood his ground and zipped the guy with a short burst from the greasegun, the firetrack sweeping up from ground level, splitting the target up the middle and punching him over onto his back.
The Executioner went on, advancing across the bloodied body, and he met another pair at the corner of the building with a blazing criss-cross burst that sent them rolling along the walkway. A third man from that same group scampered back through the main entrance, evidently preferring the inferno in there to die hell outside.
And then a new and familiar element was added to the chaotic environment — a police siren was screaming up from the Fisherman's Wharf area.
Bolan checked his impulse to follow the fleeing Mafioso into the pagoda and instead whirled about and returned to the parking lot. He paused there long enough to press a marksman's medal into the limp hand of a fallen gunner, then he fell back along the flagstoned walkway.
A secondary explosion occurred somewhere inside the joint. A portion of the roof fell in and the flames leapt higher.
More sirens now... coming in from every direction... and Bolan mentally tipped his hat to the quick reaction by the city — but his numbers had never been more critical, and he knew that a successful retreat was becoming less likely with every step he took.
A line of automobiles had come to a halt just up-range from the disaster area and a collection of people were standing around in tight little groups and gawking at the spectacular fire.
One of the onlookers spotted the armed man in black, and he reacted visibly. Bolan stepped back and went the other way.
A police cruiser flashed across the street down range, and the deep rumbling of fire trucks had now joined the sounds of the night.
Yeah... he had overplayed his numbers, all right.
The enemy had regrouped outside the flaming building, and a lot of arm-waving and signal-calling was happening down there now. They would be organized into a hot pursuit, very soon now.
Sirens were flying all around the area — and Bolan had known what to expect if he dallied too long at the scene of combat. The entire neighborhood would be sealed off — by police and fire equipment — and the Executioner would be contained within a painfully small hunting preserve, with irate Mafiosi turning every rock in a search for their most hated enemy.
Yeah. So what the hell. It was what a guy could expect when he opened with a wild card.
But it was the China doll who'd made the difference. Except for her, he would have been free and clear before anyone had realized exactly what happened.
Bolan was poised there, at the edge of hell, his senses flaring out through the night in an intuitive search for the best road back.
And then she was there again, moving out of the darkness precisely as she had done before, except that this time she seemed to be targeting directly on the man in black and she was showing him a tiny automatic which somehow managed to look large and menacing in that petite hand.
He allowed her to gaze into the bore of the greasegun for a second before he told her, "You're not the enemy."
"Worse than that," she replied in a voice that almost smiled. "I could be a friend."
He shrugged and said, "You've got about a second to decide which."
"That's your decision," she told him. "Will you follow me?"
Bolan hesitated for only an instant — to sample the atmospheric developments about him — and it was all there, all the elements that could spell entrapment, defeat, and the end of a highly important war.
It had been a good opener, sure. But only if the war remained open.
"Why not?" he said, in response to the girl's question. "Let's go."
She spun about and glided gracefully back through the synthetic gardens, keeping to the shadows and moving surely along an arcing path toward the far side.
Bolan kept her in sight, his weapon at the ready, and his instincts in quivering alertness.
Whatever and whomever the China doll was, she was at least an unknown factor, a variable. It was more than Bolan could say for anything else awaiting him in that mist-shrouded night.
Sure, he'd follow her. To his grave, maybe.
But, then, all of Bolan's roads led inevitably to that same point, anyway. Maybe this one would be a bit longer, a bit more scenic, than any of the others presently available.
A guy had to follow his stars.
And somehow, for openers, this one seemed right. A China doll leading him out of a synthetic Chinese hell.
But into where?
Bolan scowled, hugged his weapon, and followed his guide into the unknown.
At least one thing was certain. He had drawn blood at San Francisco, and soon it would be flowing in buckets — his own very probably included.
For good or for bad, another Executioner war was underway.