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Mack Bolan stood on the runway at Diego Garcia.
The thirty-seven-mile long atoll sat in the Indian Ocean just over one thousand miles south of the southern coast of India. It formed a sort of geographical aircraft carrier for U.S. military forces, with a runway long enough to accommodate the heaviest planes in the Air Force.
Bolan closed his eyes to the warmth of the sun and turned his face toward the sea breeze coming through the lush tropical vegetation. He wore a flight suit devoid of identification and rank. It was splattered with blood.
Diego Garcia curved around a twelve-mile-long lagoon nearly five miles across. The atoll was a joint British and American venture and had become increasingly pivotal to U.S. strategic interests since its inception as a military base in 1971.
It had served as the launching pad for Marine Prepo-sitioning Squadron Two and similar units designated as logistical support of naval and army units. It had also been rumored to be a clandestine location site in the government's controversial Extraordinary Rendition program for terror detainees.
The base commanding officer hadn't batted an eye when presented with paperwork originating from the director of National Intelligence, instructing him to give the unidentified man before him every operational courtesy while maintaining complete indifference as to his purpose.
Bolan put a foot on the heavy pack at his feet. A slim wireless ear jack was set into his right ear, and it chirped. Bolan pressed a finger to the device.
"Go ahead," he said quietly, the sensitive microphone picking up his speech vibrations through the hard, prominent angle of his cheekbone.
"We're coming in now," Jack Grimaldi said.
"Copy, Jack," Bolan replied.
He turned his head toward the horizon and was able to immediately pick out the quickly growing shape of the C-12 Huron, the military version of the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air model airplane.
Grimaldi touched the aircraft down gently and braked along the runway, following instructions from military air traffic controllers. Bolan reached down and shouldered the heavy pack at his feet. An M-4 carbine was strapped to the outside. While waiting, he had spent some time disassembling and cleaning the weapon.
As Grimaldi taxied the plane toward him, the Executioner turned and threw a salute at the two officers of the British Indian Ocean Territory Police who had served as his escorts. They waved back as the rear door of the Huron was opened by Charlie Mott and Bolan headed for the lowered stairs.
Bolan nodded to Mott as he ducked inside the stripped-down cabin of the plane and threw his heavy bag on a seat.
"How'd Somalia go?" Mott asked. He buttoned up the aircraft hatch.
"About as well as could be expected," Bolan allowed. "Where did you guys fly out of?"
"SOCOM base in Djibouti. Were you aware the French Foreign Legion travels with its own brothel?" Mott asked.
"I had heard that," Bolan said.
"Go figure," Mott said, incredulous. "Anyway, let's get off the ground, then we'll hook you up with what Stony Man has cooking."
Bolan secured himself as Mott made his way back up the center aisle to join Grimaldi in the cockpit. He heard the engines rise as Grimaldi turned the nose of the Huron around he looked out the window beside his seat to watch the tarmac go sailing by.
He felt the thrust of the turboprops push him back into his seat, and he knew Grimaldi had put the nose of the plane in the air. He watched the serpentine twist of Diego Garcia disappear beneath him as they made a run toward open ocean.
With grim finality Mack Bolan put the bloody horrors of Somalia behind him.
After Grimaldi had reached his cruising altitude and engaged the autopilot, he left the cockpit and opened a safe set into the front wall of the passenger compartment. He removed a laptop Bolan knew would be outfitted with encrypted sat-com upgrades and brought it over to where Bolan was seated, absently picking through a spaghetti dinner MRE he had pulled from his bag.
Grimaldi grinned as he handed over the computer. "We're on course for Jakarta. It's about two thousand miles, so it'll take a few hours, plus the in-flight refueling operation. We'll have you over the LZ on time though."
"No rest for the weary," the Executioner said.
The pilot shook his head. "No, there's always some bushfire that needs pissing on. This one is more last minute than most. Charlie and I have been in air the whole way from the Farm, refueling in flight as needed except for the touchdown in Djibouti. They want you in Indonesia yesterday."
"Barb wants everything yesterday. It's why she's the best."
Grimaldi nodded. "True enough. I'll leave you to it." he stood and tapped an overhead compartment. "You'll find a cooler in there of a little microbrew lager I stumbled across. Help you wash some of the Somalia taste out of your mouth. I'll radio home and tell them you're booting up."
"Thanks," Bolan said and opened up the laptop.
The videoconferencing software fired up with a smooth hum. The LEDs blinked into life, and the digital camera rapidly focused its lens. Bolan saw Barbara Price, Hal Brognola and Aaron "The Bear" Kurtzman. He knew from long experience that his own face was being projected onto the big screen TV wall mounted in the Stony Man War Room. He greeted his old friends and close comrades.
"Hey, Striker," Brognola greeted. "You feeling okay?"
"I could use a nap, but I'll get one soon enough."
"You up for a jump?" Price asked from beside Brognola.
Bolan narrowed his eyes. "Sure. What's the LZ?"
"An old landing strip in the mountains outside of Jakarta," Kurtzman said. "Used to be part of a heroin smuggling operation the DEA shut down about a decade ago with the help of the Indonesian government. Too overgrown to land a plane, but should serve just fine to parachute onto."
"From how far up?" Bolan asked.
"Well, the Indonesian government has got army patrols all through there so, Jack's going to feign engine trouble on the approach into Jakarta and dip down to five hundred feet," Kurtzman answered.
"I take it the Man didn't run this one past our allies?" Bolan said.
"I think I'd better let Hal start from the beginning," Kurtzman replied.
"DEA has been very busy throughout the region Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, all of the South China Sea countries, really. Attacking those operations where there's cross connection between terrorist activities and narcotic traffickers," Brognola began.
"Plenty of that in Indochina," Bolan stated. "I thought the government was part of the problem."
"Typical Third World split personality. Some elements are working with us, taking our financing and aid while smiling to our faces. Then corrupt elements of the same regime climb into bed with the bad guys. Indonesia is especially bad when it comes to piracy through the Strait of Malacca, but they have opium problems as well."
"If you click on the tab to the left of your screen," Kurtzman interrupted, "you'll see a photo."
"That's Zamira Loebis," Price informed him.
Bolan clicked on the link and looked at the unsmiling image of a middle-aged Indonesian man in a military uniform. He was very thin.
"He's a particular thorn in our side." The Stony Man mission controller continued. "He's the assistant minister of defense. We have him tied into piracy and heroin smuggling, often using Muslim extremist groups as cutouts while keeping a death squad of government commandos as personal muscle and bodyguards."
"We also have him pegged as a traitor working as a stringer for both Chinese and Vietnamese intelligence agencies," Brognola added. "He's very well connected with a lot of resources and a strong network of criminal activity funding his villa in the Swiss Alps and plantations in Kenya."
"The DEA has a crucial informant in a safehouse in Jakarta," Price said. "We've arranged a flight back to the U.S. where the man will testify about Indonesian corruption and several worldwide networks linking Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyef with ex-Taliban opium growers in Afghanistan. It's a real intelligence coup, and it's just what we need to bring more political pressure to bear on some of the countries who've been dragging their feet on antiterror measures."
Bolan knew Jemaah Islamiyah, sometimes referred to as JI, had burst onto the world stage in 2002 with the Bali car-bombing incident that had claimed the lives of over two hundred innocent people on the second anniversary of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The group itself had been around since the 1970s in one incarnation or another. It was closely linked to Abu Sayyef in the Philippines and al Qaeda.
"What's the catch?" the Executioner asked.
"The usual," Brognola growled. "According to our intel, our very well connected defense minister doesn't want the informant to make it to trial. A Kopassus hit team has been assembled."
Bolan knew of the special forces unit by reputation. Kopassus had earned a grim reputation for its special operations in East Timor and against rebel separatists in the Achen province as well as covert activities in Jakarta itself.
"We didn't tell the good guys in the government?" he asked.
"The Man would like to use the opportunity to send those corrupt government elements a very pointed message about spilling American blood under the guise of being our ally. The Military Liaison Element in Jakarta has the location where the hit team is held up waiting for our guys to move the witness. The Oval Office holds the opinion that if that hit team goes belly up, it might just shake some sense into those rogue elements."
"Should be doable if the intelligence on the hit team is right," Bolan said.
"It is," Price said. "I'll give you the rundown on the specifics. We don't want a hint of your arrival or identity so you'll need to go in black. That's why the night jump instead of civilian cover insertion."
"I understand," Bolan said.
"We have a stringer ready to facilitate your actions," Price continued. "Arti Sukarnoputri. She is a midlevel clerk with the interior ministry. She began working with the DEA when her brother, a Jakarta police officer, was killed by corrupt government agents on a heroin investigation. She's what we were able to put together on short notice, but stay sharp around her for now. I know this is a little haphazard, Striker, but that hit squad is primed to go and something has to be done, immediately. "
"We'll get that government witness out safely," Bolan promised.
Quickly Price began to run down the fine points of the logistical factors.
Ten minutes later Bolan shut the laptop and put it back in the cabin safe. Grimaldi gave him a thumbs-up through the cockpit door and Bolan made his way back to his seat. He eased himself into his seat and settled back to fall asleep.
Outside the vast indigo waters of the Indian Ocean sped by.
Bolan came awake instantly as Charlie Mott touched his shoulder.
"We're fifteen minutes out," Mott informed him. "Jack's already reported engine difficulty to the control tower. We'll dip down to five hundred feet, equalize things back here and put you out the door."
"I'll be ready," Bolan said.
Mott handed him a thick envelope. "I just counted it out of the safe. That's for the stringer once you link up. The stringer knows nothing about what you're doing, or why. She's there to provide transportation and navigate the locals."
"That's what Barb said," Bolan replied, nodding.
"You want me to help you suit up?"
Bolan shook his head. "No. I'll do it. Give me a couple minutes, and then you can double-check my hook-up before you kick me out the door."
Mott laughed, then retreated up the center aisle.
Bolan slid the envelope into his blacksuit, then pulled his parachute from under a seat and began checking the harness and adjusting the straps for a good fit based on long experience.