Read an Excerpt
Mack Bolan's Avianca flight was ninety minutes late on touchdown at El Dorado International Airport. It hadn't been the pilot's fault, but rather issues of "security" that slowed them. Bolan supposed that meant drugs or terrorism, possibly a mix of both.
For close to thirty years, throughout Colombia, it had been difficult to separate cocaine from politics. The major drug cartels bought politicians, judges, prosecutors, cops, reporters, and killed off the ones who weren't for sale. They backed right-wing militias that pretended to oppose crime while annihilating socialists and "liberals," occasionally using mercenary death squads as their front men to attack the government itself.
Colombian police had coined the term narcoterrorism, but they rarely spoke it out loud. To do so invited censure, demotion and transfer, perhaps an untimely death.
Back in the States, Bolan read stories all the time claiming that cocaine trafficking was up or down, strictly suppressed or thriving at an all-time high. He took it all with several hefty grains of salt and got his information from a handful of selected sources he could trust.
The traffic was continuing, and U.S. Customs seized approximately ten percent of the incoming coke on a good day. That figure had been static since the 1980s, with a few small fluctuations. Nothing that had happened in the interimfrom cartel wars and Panamanian invasions to the bloody death of Pablo Escobarhad altered the reality of narcopolitics.
Drugs paid too much, across the board, for any government to halt the traffic absolutely. Narcodollars funded terrorism and black ops conducted by sundry intelligence agencies,bankrolled political careers and made retirement comfy for respected statesmen, greased the wheels of international diplomacy and commerce.
The filth was everywhere, and Bolan wasn't Hercules.
But he could clean one stable at a time.
Or, maybe, burn it down.
His latest mission to Colombia involved cocaine, but only in a roundabout and somewhat convoluted way. His main target was equally malignant, but much older, an abiding evil beaten more than once on bloody battlefields around the world, which still refused to die.
As Evil always did.
In spite of its delays, his flight down from Miami had been pleasantor at least as pleasant as a flight could be when he was traveling unarmed toward mortal danger, with no clear idea of who might know that he was coming, or of how they might prepare to meet him on arrival.
First, there was the matter of his contact on the ground. The man came recommended by the CIA and DEA, which could spell trouble. Bolan knew those agencies were frequently at odds, despite the "War on Terror" and their separate oaths to operate within the law. One side was pledged to halt narcotics traffic by all legal means; the other frequently played fast and loose in murky realms where drugs were just another form of currency.
The fact that both sides found his contact useful raised a caution flag for Bolan, but it wouldn't make him drop out of the game. He'd worked with various informers, spooks and double agents in his time, and had outlived the great majority of them.
A few he'd killed himself.
So he would give this one a chance, but keep a sharp eye on him, every step along the way. One false step, and their partnership would be dissolved.
Their first stop in the capital would have to be a covert arms merchant, someone who could supply Bolan with the essential tools of his profession. That, he guessed, would be no problem in a nation whose homicide rate topped all the charts. That meant guns in abundance, and Bolan would soon have what he needed.
His bankroll would cover a week of high living, assuming the job took that long and he lived to complete it. The cash was a tax-free donation, furnished that morning by one of Miami's premier bolita bankers who'd decided, strictly from his heart and the desire to keep it beating, that he wouldn't miss $250,000 all that much.
Right now, Bolan supposed, the macho gambler's goons were scouring Dade County and environs for the man who'd dared to rob him, but they wouldn't find a trace. Bolan had played that game too often to leave tracks his enemies could followif, in fact, they had the stones to look him up in Bogotá.
And they would have to hurry, even then, because he didn't plan on spending much time in the capital. Some shopping, some discreet interrogation, and he would be on his way. His target was not found in Bogotá, in Cali or in Medellín.
That would've been too easy.
Bolan couldn't smell the jungle yet, riding in pressurized and air-conditioned semicomfort, but he'd smelled it many times before. Not only in Colombia, but on five continents where Evil went by different names, wore different faces, always seeking the same ends.
Evil sought power and control, the same things politicians spent their lives pursuing. Which was not to say all politicians were dishonest, prone to wicked compromises in pursuit of private gain. Bolan acknowledged that there might be various exceptions to the rule.
He simply hadn't met them yet.
And something told him that he wouldn't find one on this trip.
Jorge Guzman was smart enough to check the monitors, but waiting in the crowded airport terminal still made him nervous. El Dorado International's main terminal sprawled over 581,000 square feet and received more than nine million passengers per year. Toss in the families and friends who came to see them off or to meet them on arrival, thronging shops and restaurants and travel agencies, and visiting the airport was like strolling through a crowded town on market day.
Which made it difficult, if not impossible, for Guzman to detect if anyone was watching him, perhaps waiting to slip a knife between his ribs or to press a silenced, small-caliber pistol tight against his spine before they pulled the trigger.
Guzman had no special reason to believe that anyone would try to kill him here, this evening. He had been cautious in preparing for his new assignment, as he always was, informing no one of the covert jobs that came his way, but he had enemies.
It was inevitable, for a man who led a covert life. Guzman had been a thief and then a smuggler from his youngest days, but for the past eight years he'd also served the cloak-and-dagger lords of Washington, who paid so well for information if it brought results.
Guzman had started small, naming street dealers and some minor smugglers with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, first obtaining their assurance that his name would never be revealed to any native law-enforcement officer or prosecutor under any circumstances. Some of them were honest, to be sure, but Guzman saw them as a critically endangered species, with their numbers dwindling every day.
As time went by and he became more confident, Guzman had traded information on the larger drug cartels. It was a dicey game that guaranteed a slow and screaming death if he was found out by the men he had betrayed. From there, since drugs touched everything of consequence throughout Colombia, it was a relatively short step to cooperating with the Central Intelligence Agency on matters political, sometimes helping the famous Federal Bureau of Investigation find a fugitive from justice in America.
But Guzman's latest job was something new and different. In the past, he'd kept his eyes and ears open, asked some discreet questions and sold the information he obtained for top dollar. This time, he was supposed to serve as guide and translator, helping a gringo agent carry out his mission, which had not been well explained.
It smelled of danger, and Guzman had nearly told his contacts to find someone else, perhaps a mercenary, but the money they offered had changed his mind. He was a mercenary, after all, in his own way.
Because he was concerned about the greater risks of this particular assignment, Guzman had been doubly careful on his long drive to the airport, glancing at his rearview mirror every quarter mile or so, detouring incessantly to see if anyone stayed with him through his aimless twists and turns.
But no one had.
Still, he was nervous, sweating through his polo shirt, beneath the blazer that he wore for dual reasons. First, it made him look more formal, more respectable, than if he'd shown up in shirtsleeves. Second, it concealed the Brazilian IMBEL 9GC-MD1 semiautomatic pistol wedged beneath his belt, against the small of his back.
The pistol was a copy of the old Colt M1911A1 pistol carried by so many U.S. soldiers through the years, re-chambered for 9 mm Parabellum rounds. The magazine held seventeen, with one more in the chamber. Guzman wore it cocked and locked, prepared to fire when he released the safety with his thumb, instead of wasting precious microseconds when they mattered, pulling back the hammer.
He had a second pistol in his car, beneath the driver's seat. It was another IMBEL knock-off, this one chambered in the original .45ACP caliber. Guzman had considered carrying both guns into the terminal, but it had seemed excessive and he worried that his trousers might fall down.
A canned voice, sounding terminally bored, announced the long-delayed arrival of the Avianca flight Guzman had been awaiting for the past two hours. Since he did not have a ticket or a boarding pass, he would not be allowed to meet his party at the gatebut then, the pistol he was carrying made it impossible for him to clear security, in any case.
He found a place to watch and wait, between a café and a bookstore, lounging casually against the cool tile of the wall behind him. When the passengers began to straggle past securityignored because they were arriving, not departing on an aircraftGuzman studied faces, body types, seeking the man he was supposed to meet.
He had no photograph to guide him; it was too hush-hush for that. Instead he had been given a description of the gringo: six feet tall, around two hundred pounds, dark hair, olive complexion, military bearing. In case that wasn't good enough, the man would have a folded copy of that morning's USA Today in his left hand.
He watched a dozen gringos pass the gates, all businessmen of one sort or another. Guzman wondered how many had been aboard the aircraft, and was pondering a way to get that information if his man did not appear, when suddenly he saw an Anglo matching the description, carrying the proper newspaper.
The brief description from his contact had been accurate, but fell short in one respect. It made no mention of the gringo's air of confidence, said nothing of the chill that his blue eyes imparted when they made contact.
Guzman pushed off the wall and moved to intercept the stranger he'd been waiting for. Above all else, he hoped the gringo would not botch his job, whatever it turned out to be.
Guzman devoutly hoped the stranger would not get him killed.
Bolan had made his contact at a glance. Unlike the slim Colombian, he had been furnished with a photo of the stranger who would assist him in completion of his task.
He wasn't looking for a backup shooter when the job got hairy, just a navigator, translator and source of useful information on specific aspects of the local scene. If the informant Jorge Guzman could perform those tasks without jeopardizing Bolan's mission or his life, they ought to get along just fine.
If not, well, there were many ways to trim deadwood.
The man was coming at him, putting on a smile that didn't touch his wary eyes. He stuck a hand out, making Bolan switch his carry-on from right to left, crumpling the newspaper that was his recognition sign.
"Señor Cooper?" Guzman said, using Bolan's current alias.
Bolan accepted the handshake and said, "That's me. Mr. Guzman?"
"At your disposal. Shall we go retrieve your bags?"
A flex of Bolan's biceps raised the carry-on. "You're looking at them," he replied.
This time, the local's smile seemed more sincere. "Most excellent," he said. "This way for Immigration, then, and Customs. Have you any items to declare?"
"I travel light," Bolan replied.
The Immigration officer asked Bolan how long he was staying in Colombia and where he planned to travel, took his answers at face value and applied the necessary stamps to "Matthew Cooper's" passport. Customs saw his one small bag and didn't bother pawing through his socks and shaving gear.
They moved along the busy concourse toward a distant exit, Guzman asking questions. Bolan rejected offers of a meal, a drink, a currency exchangethe latter based upon his knowledge that one U.S. dollar equaled 2,172 Colombian pesos. He would've needed several steamer trunks to haul around the local equivalent of $250,000, and all for what?
The people he'd be meeting soon would either deal in dollars, or they wouldn't deal at all.
Those who refused the bribe, received the bulletor the bomb, the blade, the strangling garrote. Death came in many forms, but it was always ugly, violent and absolutely final.
"My car is in the visitors' garage," Guzman informed him. "This way, if you please."
Bolan observed his usual precautions as they moved along the concourse, watching for anyone who stared too long or looked away too suddenly, avoiding eye contact. He caught no one observing their reflections in shop windows, kneeling suddenly to tie a loose shoestring or search through pockets for some nonexistent missing item as they passed.
Of course, he didn't know the players here in Bogotá. Those who had tried to take him out the last time he was here were all long dead.
It would be easier when they got out of town, he thought. The open road made them more difficult to track, and once he reached the forest, started hiking toward his final target, it would be his game, played by his rules.
Or so he hoped, at least.
Each mission held surprises. Few, if any, ran exactly as the plans were drawn in quiet moments, prior to contact with the enemy. Whether you called it Chaos Theory or the human element, it all came down to the same thing: variables that could never be anticipated.
Even psychic powers wouldn't help, if they existed, since most people in a crisis situation acted without thinking, running off on tangents, never stopping to consider what might happen if they turned left instead of right, sped up or slowed, cried out or bit their tongues.
Bolan had stayed alive this long because he planned ahead and still retained the flexibility required to change his plans, adapt to any given situation that arose. Someday, he knew, the switch would be too fast for him, his enemy too deadly accurate, and that would be the end.
But, hopefully, it wouldn't be this night.