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They had received the exact location from DEA Special Agent Rick Jessup's informant only minutes earlier. Which meant they had mere minutes to reach the site of the cocaine transaction before the deal would be over and the drug pushers gone.
Mack Bolan, aka the Executioner, continued to floor the accelerator of the civilian-market Hummer. It was not the kind of vehicle he'd expected to find waiting for him when he'd arrived in Guyman, Oklahoma, earlier that morning.
With its bright yellow paint job, the only advantage it might have was that it stood out so much that no one in his right mind would believe any police agency would have the audacity to use it as an undercover vehicle.
But Bolan knew that would be a short-lived advantage. The bright Hummer might work fine for inner-city surveillance, but as soon as any action started, that advantage would disappear in a cloud of smoke.
Then again, Bolan had learned to work within the limitations of the equipment he had on hand, and he did not intend to quit doing so now.
The stakes in this game were simply too high to fold now.
Ever since Jessup's informant indicated that a large cocaine deal was about to go down in the Oklahoma panhandle, Bolan had dressed and played the part of a wealthy Southwestern businessman. Both he and Agent Jessup wore exotic-skinned bootsJessup's were ostrich, Bolan's anteatercarefully pressed blue jeans and colorful Western shirts with bolo ties of silver and turquoise.
Bolan continued to press the Hummer to its maximum speed while Jessup studied the hand-drawn map he had made while talking to his informant over the phone. "I think it's the next turn," he told the Executioner. "Yeah, there's the motel my guy mentioned." He pointed at a small set of brick buildings on the right side of the road. "Out in the middle of nowhere just like he said. Almost exactly halfway between Guyman and Boise City. That means we turn right the next time we see dirt."
The Hummer flashed past the motel and sped on.
Oklahoma's panhandle was known for its flatness, and the eye could indeed see for miles. The terrain was mostly prairie, with a few occasional wheat fields.
Not the usual sort of place radical Islamic terrorists or mafiosi would pick to do a drug deal. Then again, they might be working off the same sort of psychology the Executioner was using with the Hummerpicking a place so bereft of privacy that no lawmen were likely to even consider it.
In other words, hiding in plain sight.
Bolan saw the quarter-section road ahead and felt his eyebrows lower in concentration as he slowed. Middle-Eastern terrorists doing business with old-school Phoenix mafiosi didn't constitute an average run-of-the-mill dope deal, either. But Bolan had seen stranger alliances form when there was a buck to be made.
Twelve-thirty p.m., which was what the Executioner's watch read at the moment, was also a strange time of day for a drug transaction. Both the terrorists and the mafiosi had to have figured that all of the local lawmen had met someplace for lunch.
Bolan twisted the steering wheel and kicked up reddish-brown dust clouds beneath the Hummer's tires. He leaned onto the accelerator again, driving along the packed-dirt county road only slightly slower than he had on the pavement. His eyes searched the horizon ahead, and he saw Jessup lift a pair of binoculars.
"This ground isn't as flat as it looks," the DEA man said. "It looks like you ought to be able to see all the way to Canada. But you can't."
"We're only a few miles south of the Kansas state line and we can't even see that," the Executioner replied. "The terrain rises and falls so slowly and gently that it just looks flat. It can still block the view."
Jessup nodded and dropped the binoculars to his lap. Bolan drove on.
Two and a half miles later, the Hummer topped one of the gentle rises the Executioner had mentioned and suddenly they could see a group of vehicles parked in the middle of a cow pasture. One Jeep and five pickups were parked in a circle roughly a half mile in front of them and a quarter mile or so off the road. Bolan hit the brakes and slowed to a speed that wouldn't draw so much attention.
After all, the bright yellow Hummer was enough.
"Don't you think we ought to hurry on in?" Jessup asked, turning toward the Executioner.
Bolan slowed even further and shook his head. "They've seen us," he said. "Right about now, they're all looking this way and speculating on who we are. Wealthy farmers with more money than good sense who bought a big yellow play toy? Or the law? The law would swoop in fast. But it wouldn't be fast enough to keep most of them from getting away across the prairie."
"Not to mention the fact that they're going to start shooting as soon as it's obvious the law is after them." Jessup paused for a low chuckle, deep in his chest. "At least I'm the law," he said. "I still haven't figured out exactly who or what you are."
The Executioner chuckled himself. All Jessup knew was that he had been assigned to work with Bolanwhom he knew as Matt Cooperfor a series of drug deals to which his snitch was privy. He had already seen Cooper bend conventional law so far as to break it. But it was always for a final good, and the end really did always justify the means.
"You're right about the shooting," Bolan finally said. "As soon as I turn this baby their way, it's going to start. So the longer I can stay on the county road, the more it'll appear that we're just headed for someplace past them." He paused and took in a breath. "That means I'm going to wait until we're right across from them and then cut a hard right their way."
"Short of bringing in air support, that's about as good a plan as I can think of," Jessup said. He leaned forward and slid an AR-15 from beneath the Hummer's passenger's seat. Pulling back the bolt of the semiautomatic version of the military's M-16, he chambered a round, all the time keeping the weapon below the windows of the vehicle.
The Executioner knew he would need both hands on the wheel for the breakneck turn he had planned in the next few seconds, so he left his 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine gun where it lay near his feet. Then, as soon as he was perpendicular to the cars parked out in the cow pasture, he whipped the Hummer their way.
The Hummer fishtailed slightly as it descended into a deep bar ditch. Then it straightened again as it climbed up the other side. The sturdy personnel vehicle punched through the barbed-wire fence between two wooden posts as if it were snapping a dry rubber band. The razor-sharp barbs on the strands dragged across the Hummer's sides, scratching deeply into the yellow paint job. A second later, they were creating another dust storm behind them. But this time, the clouds flying up through the air from the Hummer's tires included not only dirt but long blades of wild grass.
Bolan and Jessup had been right in their assessment of the drug dealers' reaction.
The shooting started immediately.
The Executioner heard several engines roar to life, and then the Jeep and two of the pickups fled from the oncoming Hummer. The loud, frightened mooing of several dozen cattle, who had gathered together deeper into the pasture, rose up between the other noises as the escaping vehicles headed toward them, forcing the animals to part, and causing them to stampede in opposite directions.
The men escaping, Bolan knew, had to be the sellers, who already had their money. The buyers of the cocaine were still loading cardboard boxes into the backs of their vehicles from piles on the ground. But now they were forced to postpone that task and turn toward Bolan and Jessup.
"We can go after the guys with the money," Bolan said. "Or we can get the guys with the dope right here." He paused for a second, then added, "But we may not be able to get them both."
"Let's go for the dope," Jessup said without hesitation. "At least we can keep it from getting onto the streets."
"You're right," Bolan agreed. Reaching inside his light jacket, he drew the sound-suppressed Beretta 93-R. In the corner of his eye, he saw Jessup kneel his right leg on the seat, then wrap the seat belt tightly around his calf. As Bolan extended the Beretta out the window with his left hand, Jessup leaned out with his entire torso.
Both men began firing simultaneously.
As the Hummer crested a short rise in the pasture, it went momentarily airborne. Both the Executioner and the DEA agent waited for it to settle on flatter ground, then pulled their respective triggers.
A trio of subsonic, nearly inaudible 9 mm hollowpoint rounds rocketed from Bolan's Beretta. One round struck the shoulder of a man wearing a charcoal-gray suit and striped tie. Bolan frowned slightly, then nodded. The pickups the Mafia gunners had chosen fit right in with the landscape, but their clothing made them stand out.
Next to him, the Executioner heard Jessup pop off three semiauto rounds from his AR-15. They were still at least an eighth of a mile away, and none of the .223-caliber rounds seemed to find a target.
By now, the mafiosi in the field had taken cover around their pickupsthree almost identical Toyota Tundras. One was burgundy colored, another green and the third one blue. All were parked with their beds facing the oncoming Hummer, the tailgates were down and the cargo areas roughly half-filled with cardboard boxes.
Cardboard boxes that, the Executioner knew, had to contain kilo after kilo of white powdered cocaine.
A rifle round struck the Hummer's windshield, then skimmed up off the bullet-resistant material. Only a tiny speck appeared on the glass to show where it had hit. Bolan drove on, squeezing the trigger of his Beretta yet again. This time all three rounds of automatic fire struck the right front fender of the green pickup as the same man he'd hit in the shoulder a little earlier ducked back behind the engine block.
Jessup fired again, and Bolan saw the rear windshield of the blue pickup shatter into thousands of tiny pieces.
"Dammit!" the DEA man shouted as he pulled his rifle back inside the Hummer.
Bolan glanced his way as he sped on toward the pickups. The still-smoking brass case from the last shot Jessup had fired stood straight up out of the breech of the weapon. Such a jam was called a stove pipe and it could come from a faulty magazine, a faulty round or a faulty gun.
Jamming the stock of his AR-15 back against the car seat, Jessup pulled back the bolt and brushed brass out of the weapon with a sweep of his left hand. His eyes stared down into the opening, and when he released the bolt again a fresh round was shoved into the chamber.
"I'm going to drive right through them," the Executioner said just as Jessup began to lean out of the window again. "This Hummer's the best cover we're going to get." His eyes narrowed as the brows above them furrowed. "And we may take out some of them in the crash." He paused for another quick glance over at Jessup. "Better stay in here and put your seat belt on right."
The DEA special agent understood. Taking a sitting position, he snapped his seat belt and shoulder harness into place, then rested his AR-15 across his lap with the barrel pointing at the door.
The mafiosi behind the pickups didn't realize what was going to happen until it was almost too late. They continued firing toward the Hummer, their rounds doing little more than make more specks on the windshield.
Then, suddenly, the fact that the huge civilianized military vehicle wasn't going to stop or even slow suddenly sank into them all at the same time. Six men suddenly emerged from behind the pickups and began running in different directions across the cow pasture.
The Hummer crashed into the tailgates of the burgundy and green Tundras, folded them up into a mangled mass of steel, then blew out all four of the rear tires. The burgundy truck was thrown out and to the left, directly atop one of the fleeing mafiosi.
The man's lone scream abruptly cut short as he was crushed to death. As soon as they were past the vehicles, the Executioner twisted the Hummer around in a breakneck U-turn and started back toward the crumpled green pickup. It had been knocked onto its side, and one of the mafiosi dived back behind the cab, not seeing any other possible escape.
But the overturned green pickup was no cover for the Hummer, either. Bolan turned the wheel slightly and a second later he and Jessup bumped up and over the wreck, squashing the Mafia soldier below their wheels and what remained of the green Toyota Tundra.
There had been a total of six mentwo to a pickup.
The Hummer had taken care of two of them.
Now it was time to pursue the other four running in opposite directions across the wide-open spaces of the pastureland.
Bolan whipped the wheel to the right and accelerated once more. The Hummer dived and jumped over the uneven surface beneath its tires. Ahead, Bolan could see two of the running mafiosione wearing a charcoal-gray business suit, the other dressed in a more comfortable track suitrunning as best they could. But regardless of the fact that he wore running clothes, the man inside them wasn' t a runner. He was at least fifty pounds overweight and doing more waddling than actual running.
As they closed the gap to roughly ten yards, the fat man pulled a bright nickel-plated revolver from somewhere inside his jacket and threw a wild shot back at the Hummer. Bolan pushed the pedal down harder, and a second later the big vehicle was rolling along right next to the man.
The overweight Mafia man was huffing and puffing like a freight train on its final run before being scrapped. And it looked to the Executioner as if it took all of his last strength to lift the brightly shining wheelgun in his hand toward the open window of the Hummer.
Bolan extended his left hand out the window and tapped the trigger yet again.
All three 9 mm hollowpoint rounds coughed out of the sound-suppressed weapon and into the face and throat of the fat man.
Bolan drew a bead on the other man heading in the direction of the highway. He was on the other side of the Hummer, and Bolan said, "Get ready."
Jessup nodded and extended his rifle barrel out the window. But for this shot there would be no need to kneel on the seat or strap himself in. He could do it from where he sat.
A lone, frightened and confused cow suddenly appeared in front of them as if out of nowhere. The Executioner twisted the wheel hard, barely brushing past her without hurting her. The mooing sounded more like a roar as they drove on.
Fifteen seconds later, they were next to the man in the charcoal-gray suit. It was the same man Bolan had hit in the shoulder, and he held that shoulder with his other hand as he ran, a grimace of severe pain covering his face. But that hand also held a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, and as the Hummer neared, he attempted to raise it just as his overweight friend had tried with his nickel-plated revolver.
Jessup changed his plans. For life.
The Executioner watched out of the corner of his eye as the DEA agent lifted the barrel of his rifle and carefully triggered a double-tap of 5.56 mm NATO rounds into the mafioso. The first one caught the man in the center of the back, causing him to suddenly halt his running. The second round exploded the back of his head as he fell, leaving no question in either the Executioner's or Jessup's mind that he was dead.
Bolan wasted no time.
Another quick U-turn and the Executioner was already flooring the accelerator across the pasture. Ahead, he could see two tiny moving specks that he knew were the final two Mafia soldiers. They were still moving, but they looked as if they were tired. One speck had even slowed to a walk.
Bolan glanced to his right as they passed the wreckage of the other two pickups again. Far in the distance, hustling deeper into the pasture, he could see the Jeep and two pickups that had darted away as soon as the Hummer had left the road. If he and Jessup could just take out these last two mafiosi quickly enough, there was still the chance that they'd have time to catch up to the men escaping with the drug money.
Rolling on across the prairie, Bolan drove up next to the walking man. Dressed like the others, he had taken time to light a cigarette and now huffed and puffed on the unfiltered smoke that was clenched between his teeth.
As the Hummer neared, the man turned and looked back at it.
Bolan wondered if he might be able to take this man alive. If he could, he would. Not out of any sympathy for such a parasite who fed off the misery of others' addictions, but in order to collect information.
The Mafia man gave him no such chance.
As they neared the man, he turned and raised a small Skorpion submachine pistol. A smattering of bullets hit the windshield but the small, low-velocity rounds barely even marked the windshield. As they drove on, however, nearing the man, his angle of fire changed.
A second before he had a shot at Bolan through the driver's window of the Hummer, the Executioner extended his hand once more and tapped another 3-round burst into the man's face. Not even his mother would have recognized him as he settled on the grassy ground of the cow pasture.
Kicking their speed yet another notch, the Executioner came to a man who looked to be much younger than the other mafioso. In his early twenties, Bolan guessed, he was definitely in better shape. But the uneven pastureland was no cinder track, and the ruts and holesnot to mention the mounds that often crumbled under the feetwere slowing him.
The Hummer was still twenty yards behind him when the younger man turned. Instead of a business or track suit, he wore khaki slacks, a blue blazer and a paisley tie around the collar of his white button-down shirt. He looked more like a young attorney than a Mafia soldier, the Executioner thought as he twisted the steering wheel, turning his side of the truck to face this last man, then skidding to a halt.
The young man reached under his left armpit with his right hand.
But that was as far as he got toward his weapon.
The final 3-round burst in the Beretta's 15-round magazine flew out of the barrel with three quiet burps. All three hit the center of the mafioso' s chest and exploded his heart. He fell straight back away from the Hummer, dead before he hit the ground.
The Executioner turned immediately for the vehicles still escaping across the pasture. They were at least a mile away now, and they'd be hard to intercept. Maybe impossible. It depended on whether they were just fleeing haphazardly or if they'd had some backup plan for a situation such as this.
Bolan frowned. They looked as if they knew what they were doing. And his gut instinct was that this escape route was part of a well-thought-out backup plan.
As he took his foot off the brake pedal and returned it to the accelerator, Jessup said, "You think there's a chance of catching them?"
The Hummer tore up more wild grass as it picked up speed. "I don't know," the Executioner said. "But it won't hurt to give it a shot."