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The murder of several border patrol agents in a moonlight attack seems like an average Mexican cartel ambush?until the killers' weapons turn out to be U.S. military grade. There's a leak in the local army base, and it needs to be plugged before more ordnance trucks south?and more innocent lives are taken. Mack Bolan heads into the desert to investigate.
But when an old ally is killed in a second assault, Bolan realizes he's ...
The murder of several border patrol agents in a moonlight attack seems like an average Mexican cartel ambush until the killers' weapons turn out to be U.S. military grade. There's a leak in the local army base, and it needs to be plugged before more ordnance trucks south—and more innocent lives are taken. Mack Bolan heads into the desert to investigate.
But when an old ally is killed in a second assault, Bolan realizes he's underestimated the threat. Whoever is behind the attack is not only smuggling weapons into Mexico, but also building a private army. And the kingpin is intent on spreading his reign of terror into America. With an unofficial war about to break out on the border, he must plan a strategic strike to take down the empire and eliminate all its key players. And this time, for the Executioner, it's personal.
The borderlands were nothing more than long stretches of desert, patches of sage and prickly mesquite trees. Old wooden fences and faded barbwire strands, and from time to time, a decent fence that some desperate rancher put up only to have it torn down by the illegals crossing everywhere but at the actual checkpoints. During the heat of the day, the sun glanced off hills and rocks, filling the arid land with shimmering illusions in the rippling heat. But the night the night was altogether different. Under a full moon, the desert became a luminescent landscape filled with creatures on the hunt, no longer pinned down by the oppressive heat. Shadows pooled beneath rocky outcroppings and the hunting cries of owls echoed in the wind.
Colton Rivers, a field operations supervisor for the United States Border Patrol, stared out at the desert night, waiting to see if the intelligence they'd obtained was accurate. From California to Texas, some portions of the border were more porous than others. The Arizona border was Swiss cheese. He was based in Douglas, right across from Agua Prieta, Mexico, and every year the situation got worse. There was no explaining to the politicians that it wasn't the number of officers that mattered, but the fact that a night in one of their cells was still a trip to heaven for many of the people who crossed over. Mexico was all but an undeclared war zone, and the drug lords were running most of the countryside. Sadly, fewer and fewer families were actually crossing the border in search of a better life—many families were just trying to get away. Other immigrants were drug and weapon runners—mules—and the thugs who transported people into the United States for outrageous fees.
The working life of a Border Patrol agent was getting more dangerous, too. Fewer men and women were willing to take the risks, in spite of decent pay and benefits, and of those who did, many were injured or killed every year. It wasn't an easy job, and it was often damn thankless, but Rivers was proud to be doing it. Every time they made an arrest, it was one small step toward making the border more secure. Still, it was only a matter of time until the flood waters overwhelmed them, or worse, some terrorist found a way through the desert and into the United States with a dirty bomb. Rivers shook his head, bringing his mind back to the night's mission.
A runner arrested two days before had told them that a large arms shipment was coming in, but Rivers was having a hell of a time believing that was the case. The full moon was practically a spotlight. A large vehicle would be far too easy to spot moving across the barren landscape.
"What do you think?" the man standing next to him asked. His name was Craig Jennings, and he was so fresh from the academy that the shine still hadn't worn off his badge—or his face. He was surveying the desert floor through a pair of night vision goggles, a bundle of nervous energy. At thirty, Rivers felt like the old man of the group and was not as prone to get excited with every tip they were given. Too often, leads were nothing more than dead ends or even purposeful misinformation. The drug and weapon dealers on the other side of the border were many things, but the successful ones were far from stupid.
Rivers scanned the empty desert once more, and then shook his head. "I think we've been out here for over an hour and haven't seen shit. Even if it was going to happen, they probably called it off on account of the moon."
"Pack up?" Craig asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, let's pack it in for the night. This was overtime duty for all of us anyway. If we get our asses back to the station, we might actually get a few hours of sleep before the next shift. It might be nice to see my little girl, if she can remember what her dad looks like."
Rivers smiled at Jennings's crestfallen expression, but he really was ready to go home and see his family, and he knew the rest of his team was too. His squad was the best trained in the area and people vied for a position on it, but with the training came the hours, and with each passing day the hours felt longer. Field work was really best left to men without families—or social lives. Probably should include it in the official job description, he thought morosely as Jennings jumped down from the Ford Expedition's running boards.
Rivers lifted his binoculars for one last look. Just as he was ready to end the operation, he saw a faint gleam of light at the edge of a distant sand hill, only to watch it disappear. A flicker and it was gone.
"Hold on " he said, looking again. Nothing. "Give me your night vision, Jennings."
Jennings handed over the goggles. Rivers didn't bother slipping the straps over his head, just held them up to his eyes and adjusted the distance. Other than a few small heat signatures from random desert creatures, the landscape still looked quiet. He knew that in these situations, patience was a field agent's best friend, so he focused in on the hill where the light had briefly flickered and waited.
Beside him, Jennings started to speak, but Rivers shushed him and continued to watch. Finally, along the base of the mound, people began to appear, followed by a large truck. How the hell they'd gotten it into the hill was a mystery for later. Right now, the primary goal needed to be an arrest. "Hold on, guys," Rivers said after keying his mike. "We've got company."
Over several minutes, five trucks lined up, and more were emerging. The tunnel must have been huge and taken months to build. Headlights were now clearly visible. "Everyone stand by," Rivers added, continuing to watch the developing scene. This was a big group, sure, but they were brazen as hell.
"What's that?" Jennings asked, as the sound of heavy engines filled the air.
From a space somewhere between the squad's position and where the illegals were gathering, two massive spotlights burst to life. Rivers yanked the goggles away from his eyes but not before he was half-blinded. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision and almost panicked as two modified assault vehicles—ultralight and modeled after rock-crawling dune buggies—came tearing toward them. Rivers caught a quick glimpse of mounted guns a second or two before they opened fire.
The unforgettable sound of two .50 caliber machine guns cut through the night. "Get down!" Rivers yelled, jumping free from the Expedition as bullets pierced the armored vehicle and strafed the ground.
His men ran for cover as Rivers rolled, got to his feet and spun back to jump behind the wheel of the truck. He turned the motor over and threw the truck into gear. After serving four years in the Army Special Forces and nearly eight years in the field as a Border Patrol agent, he knew the illegals' expectation would be that they'd run like hell. He punched the accelerator and drove straight at the nearest buggy, even as rounds from the machine gun chewed holes in his hood. He yanked his Glock 17 free from the holster and began blasting through the window as he careened sideways.
Rivers's charge forced the buggy to turn, but that didn't stop the other one from taking its own shots at him. Rivers spun the wheel, and the Expedition's tires clawed for traction. He nearly rolled the truck before it slammed back onto the rocky ground. Jennings had somehow made it into the vehicle, but all he could do was hold on. His face was white as a sheet.
"Either get your ass down, or do something," Rivers snarled, wishing that spots on his team could be limited to men with at least a few years of field experience.
The new recruit grabbed the dash and ducked onto the floor as the second dune buggy closed in on them. Rivers dropped the transmission into reverse and slammed on the gas. The assault vehicle tried to adjust but hit a rock outcropping and flipped over twice before landing on its wheels and coming after them again. Hitting the brakes, Rivers jammed the transmission back into drive, then floored it, ramming the buggy at full speed. Men screamed as the two vehicles crunched together with the sound of tearing metal. One man flew forward and smashed into his windshield, leaving a smear of blood and brains on the bulletproof glass before sliding off the hood. With that buggy finally finished off, Rivers backed up and turned around, heading for where his other men were holed up.
He could see two agents on the ground by their vehicles. A jeep had joined the other dune buggy and had the remaining agents pinned down. Rivers swerved to hit a berm, which launched the Expedition into the fray and gave the agents cover. Gunfire from the automatic weapons on the dune buggy and the jeep knocked out two of the Expedition's tires, dropping the hulking three tons of steel into the desert sand and throwing him into the windshield.
A sharp spike of pain lanced through his skull as his nose broke and the skin of his forehead split on impact. He leaned back, wiping the blood out of his eyes with a pained grunt.
"Are we going to die?" Jennings asked from the floor.
"If we just sit here, we will," he replied. "It's move or die time."
Rivers reached into the backseat, the armor on the modified truck giving them at least a couple of moments before they'd be completely overwhelmed, and opened the lid for more weapons. He pulled out three grenades, giving one to Jennings, who was trying to pull himself together. Rivers tucked the other two grenades in his belt, then grabbed an FN SCAR assault rifle and two extra clips.
He'd been given the weapon to field test it and he sure hoped it proved to be reliable. Rivers popped two smoke grenades and chucked them out the window for cover, then burst out of the vehicle's passenger side with Jennings close on his heels. They worked their way along the side of the Expedition, joining the two agents that had been pinned down behind a cluster of boulders.
Rivers heard Jennings yelp and turned back, his Glock 17 in his hand. Jennings looked terrified as his captor wrenched his head backward.
"Drop it," the man said.
"I don't think so," Rivers replied.
The shot from the Glock was smooth and the look of surprise was etched on the captor's face for a small moment before the bullet in his skull killed the lights. Rivers barely broke stride as he grabbed Jennings and pulled him in his wake.
It looked like the illegals were assessing the situation, so Rivers took advantage of the delay and lobbed one grenade into the dune buggy and the second into the jeep. The explosions lit up the night—and the two vehicles—ensuring that, at least for the moment, everyone was on foot. The thugs who had been pressing closer ran for cover.
"Rivers," one of the other agents said after the echoes faded away. "I called for support before it all went to hell, but I don't know how long it will take to get here."
As if on cue, they heard a helicopter making its way toward them. Rivers popped a flare from his vest, the trailing orange smoke showing the agents' location. The gunship moved in for a strafing run, giving the agents time to fall back to one of the other vehicles. They piled inside as the chopper moved in sweeping patterns, keeping them safe. The rest of their assailants moved back into the desert, disappearing almost as quickly as they'd appeared.
The chopper landed and Rivers moved back in for a closer look. The paperwork on this would be tremendous, and he was still very uncertain how the hell they ended up in this mess in the first place. Where had the illegals all come from, and how had they gotten their hands on those kinds of weapons and vehicles?
He walked over to one of the wrecked dune buggies. There would be no questioning the mangled bodies that littered the area. He ran his flashlight beam across the wreckage, then paused as he came upon the .50 caliber machine gun. It was a Browning all right and carried U.S. Army serial numbers and badging. He ran his hands along the raised lettering.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered. "I don't believe it."
"What is it?" Jennings asked.
Rivers ran his light across the letters again. He nodded at Jennings's indrawn breath.
"Those are Army weapons," Jennings said. "Now what do we do?"
"Now we get some help," Rivers replied. "Because if this means what I think it does, we're going to need it."
From the top of Holtanna Peak in Antarctica, Mack Bolan took a deep, cleansing breath. The landscape was pure, white snow, broken only by jagged shards of brown rock. Here, there were no human enemies to fight, no wars to win. The cold, the wind, the challenges of climbing, skiing and BASE jumping in this region were daunting, but for a man known as the Executioner, this kind of activity was his idea of rest and relaxation.
The tall pillar of Holtanna topped out at almost nine thousand feet. Standing alone in the middle of the Antarctic, the "hollow tooth" was an obstacle meant to be conquered. Bolan and his climbing companion, Gerard Casias, led the way, setting ropes for the other two climbers. Even with his winter gear, the cold penetrated deep into his bones. Each time he pushed in with the ice spikes on the soles of his boots, sharp pins of pain radiated through his frozen skin and up his leg. He wiggled his toes to increase the circulation before he looked for his next foothold. The chimneys within the rock were choked with snow, making the climb slow and arduous. Bolan paused to look out over the pristine white landscape. The sheer beauty of the environment pushed him onward. He placed the next piton to hold the permanent rope for the rest of the crew to climb behind him.
At two a.m. in Antarctica, the sun was high, but the temperature was not. The light beard Bolan had grown to help protect his face was frozen. The trek had taken them twenty-four hours of straight climbing.
Standing now on top of the bottom of the world, Bolan saw an incoming aircraft and pulled out his field goggles to identify it. A P3-K Orion, which meant that his time off was about to be cut short. Someone was using U.S. Naval resources to find him.
He took one last look at the beautiful surroundings, then zipped the last of the closures on his wingsuit. The material created the illusion of wings and a tail.
"Who will count it off?" Gerard called out.
"I will," Bolan said.