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The soldier staggered down the wrong street in Honolulu's red-light district. He'd deliberately left behind the walled courtyards that had been converted into malls and the fading green clapboard storefronts of the merchants dealing in traditional herbs, teas and imported goods from China. Those establishments had all closed their doors hours ago. The soldier immersed himself in the narrow alleys that lead down toward the Nuuanu stream. These streets were crowded with pool halls, massage parlors and heavy-duty bars where people drank to get drunk and prostitutes and pushers plied their wares. He was far from the only military man indulging himself, but he was on a mission, and his mission had taken him to the bad part of town. The soldier was looking for a real party. He found it.
It was unseasonably hot in Honolulu and it hadn't rained in two days. Nonetheless when he stepped into the alley, his foot splashed in a puddle of mystery moisture. He pulled his foot out of the liquid and shook it. "Eew!"
A mountain of a man stepped out of the shadows. He was of Hawaiian or Samoan extraction. A ferret-faced individual whose aloha T-shirt was the most Hawaiian thing about him came into formation with the giant. "Hey, haole" the man-mountain rumbled. "You lost?"
"I was lost." The soldier smiled and spread his arms wide. "But now I'm found!"
The man-mountain guffawed against his will. "You know? They say the gods favor the dumb, and this haole? He's so dumb I almost like him."
Ferret-face glared daggers. "I don't like him at all."
"Bro, you don't even know me." The soldier belched. "That's messed up."
"You!" Ferret-face went livid. "You don't ever call anyone on this island broP"
The soldier registered two individuals stepping into the alley behind him to block his escape. "Bruddah?" he tried.
"You're dead, white-boy."
"That's white-man to you, />oi-boy," the soldier corrected.
Ferret-face's flinty eyes went cold. "This one we put in the ground. Bundle him." In a pinwheel of sharpened steel, he snick-snick-snacked open a butterfly knife. "Get his dog tags."
The soldier blinked. "Bundled?"
"Sorry, bruddah." The man-mountain kicked off his sandals and came on with deceptive grace for his bulk. "This gonna hurt."
The soldier shot out a one-knuckle jab for the big man's throat. Man-mountain's right hand intercepted the blow like a magic trick. Massive fingers enfolded the soldier's fist like a catcher's mitt and squeezed. White fire shot down the soldier's forearm as giant fingers burrowed into the nerve points in the top of his hand like cold chisels. The soldier threw a haymaker with his right hand for all he was worth.
The giant flicked his other hand up as though he was catching flies. "Ah, bruddah, you God!" The man-mountain groaned in shock as the slapjackwhich the soldier had palmed during the exchangebroke three metacarpal bones. The giant's grip weakened and the soldier ripped his throbbing hand free. The soldier stepped to his left, keeping the giant between him and Ferret-face's knife. The giant's broken left hand shot forward and he gasped in shock as the soldier flicked the sap into his injured hand again and broke a few phalanges. The man-mountain couldn't help but retract his hand. The soldier lunged and snapped the sap like a towel just behind the giant's ear.
Man-mountain collapsed like an avalanche.
Ferret-face moved in like a fencer. The soldier recognized an accomplished killer was coming to carve him up. However that was the knife-fighter's Achilles' heel. Most schools of blade fighting taught that your first target was the enemy's knife hand. Ferret-face had seen what the soldier had done to the giant. The soldier feinted with his slapjack toward the butterfly knife. Ferret-face's hand turned and ghosted away from the blow with the grace of a hula dancer.
The soldier stepped in and snapped the concealed steel toe of his dress shoe into the knife-fighter's lead shin.
Ferret-face gasped as his tibia fractured. He tottered and pulled his injured leg back, waving his knife to ward the soldier off. The soldier took the opportunity to give the assassin a second snap kick under the kneecap of his good leg. Ferret-face fell like a house of cards.
The soldier spun.
One of the two men hung back, but the second charged toward him, shouting some kind of Hawaiian war cry and wielding a short, paddle-shaped wooden club. The soldier flung his sap into the man's face. The war cry faltered as the man took the equivalent of a deep-sea fishing sinker between the eyes. His club sagged like a reed. The soldier's fist followed the sap about six inches lower to the point of the jaw.
The soldier's assailant dropped as if he'd been shot.
The soldier regarded the fourth man at the entrance to the alley and cracked his knuckles. The man broke and ran for the lights and people of the main drag. The soldier stood over Ferret-face. "Bundled?"
"Fuck you!" Ferret-face screamed. He was in the fetal position clutching his right shin and his left knee. "We will hunt you down, haole! We will bundle you and" The rant ended abruptly as the soldier flicked a steel-capped shoe into Ferret-face's jaw and unhinged it. The man sagged unconscious.
The soldier reached under his shirt and took out a syringe that looked more suitable for horses than people. He took a knee beside the unconscious man-mountain and examined the broken bunch of bananas he called a left hand. It was swelling as though he was holding a purple golf ball. The soldier sank the needle between the broken second and third metacarpals and had to press hard to express the contents. The syringe didn't contain drugs but a Radio Frequency Identification Device. The antenna, battery and transmitter were linked in a line like boxcars in a flexible glass sheath about as thick around as a grain of rice and twice as long. Any X-ray of the big man's hand would clearly show a foreign object, but the soldier was betting the giant wouldn't go to a hospital with his injury, and among the pain, swelling and broken bones he wouldn't notice the invader. All the soldier needed was a couple of days of tracking.
Mack Bolan, aka the Executioner, took out his cell. He touched an app and typed in his security code. "Bear, this is Striker. I've had contact. Very high target probability. I have an RFID embedded. Target is unconscious. Activate tracking."
Aaron "the Bear" Kurtzman was Stony Man Farm's resident computer wizard and head of the cyber team.
"Acknowledged, Striker," Kurtzman said from the clandestine base in Virginia. "Broadcasting activation signal now." His voice warmed with success. "We have a positive RFID activation and eyes on the target. Transmitting feed."
A window appeared in Bolan's phone and he saw a glowing pinprick blinking beneath an overlaid satellite grid of Chinatown. "Affirmative. I have eyes on."
"Battery is at full charge. Unless the target literally goes underground we should have a good ninety-six hours of telemetry, and I have Pentagon confirmation on continuous satellite windows for all four days. Tracking of target is go."
"Good work, Bear. Be advised I have three hostiles down." Bolan swiftly went through the three men's pockets. None was carrying ID. Bolan took pictures of his three unconscious assailants. "I don't think it's likely, but monitor local hospitals and clinics for descriptions of target A with broken left hand and concussion; target B with fractured tibia, broken knee and dislocated jaw; and target C with broken nose and possible concussion respectively. Run facial recognition software with local lawenforcement databases."
Bolan rose. It was time to vacate the scene. "Oh. And, Bear?"
"Look up 'bundling.'"
Kurtzman paused. "What? You mean like cable, internet and phone service?"
"No. As a cultural practice."
Kurtzman considered this weird and wonderful question. Strange requests were part and parcel of working with Mack Bolan. The soldier was at war with the worst evil that humanity could produce, and his adversaries ran the gamut from street-level thugs to those intent on changing the balance of world power and everything in between. Processing information streams and solving problems for Mack was one of the best parts of Aaron Kurtzman's job, and he was proud of it. Some of the most confounding joys were questions from Mack that came straight out of left field. Others, such as this one, arrived like visitors from Mars.
Kurtzman summoned up an answer from his own memory. "Last I heard 'bundling' was something Pennsylvania Dutch did when two adolescents were courting. They would be allowed to sleep in the same bed but were professionally straitjacketed in separate bedding, often with a bundling board between them. They could kiss, and if they worked at it hands could roam, but it curtailed any serious hanky-panky."
"Well, that's fascinating, Bear, but I'm looking at bundling from a Hawaiian cultural perspective. One of the perps used the word twice, directed at me, and I don't think he wanted to suck face over sleeping bags on the lanai. I don't know if it's slang, but I'm thinking it's something you don't want to be on the wrong end of."
"Right, bad Hawaiian bundling. On it."
"Do I have Koa?"
Luke Koa was Stony Man Farm's current and only resident Hawaiian blacksuit. He had been a Military Police officer in West Germany before the Wall had fallen, and at the frantic end of the Cold War, as the U.S.S.R. fell, he'd specialized in what could best be described as "extracurricular scouting activities" for Uncle Sam on both sides of the border. Being Hawaiian, he couldn't blend in with the native population, so Luke Koa had highly developed sneaking, peeking and, if it was called for, taking down skills. In essence he'd been a Special Forces border patrolman, and he had an unparalleled nose for trouble and things that did not belong.
When the current Hawaiian mission had come up, Koa had been an obvious choice as an asset. Bolan had brought up the mission parameters and Koa had volunteered. Kurtz-man had kicked it up the chain.
Kurtzman liked and respected Koa. Everyone at the Farm did, but the man was by training a soldier, a policeman and a scout, not an undercover operative, and all signs indicated he would be operating against his own people. A very violent and dangerous splinter group, but they were still his own. Nonetheless Koa was an ace card they could not afford to hold back. He'd volunteered for the job, and the powers that be had agreed. "We have permission."
"Then tell Koa I've had a serious contact in Chinatown.
Send him everything I've sent you to review. Tell him he's active, and I need him."
"He activated himself. When I told him you had gone undercover in Chinatown he took the initiative and got on a plane. He'll hit Honolulu International tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. Pickup not required. He'll arrive at the safehouse in a green Jeep."
"Copy that. Will rendezvous at safehouse. Tell him I'm going by Matt Cooper. Striker out." Bolan emerged like Orpheus out of Chinatown's darkest alleys. He shook his head at the physical carnage he'd left behind him and the questions it had raised. "Bundling " Bolan mused.
"Bundling sucks, Matt. You don't want any part of it." Luke Koa feigned a crouch. Bolan fell for it and jumped. The soldier hit his apogee as Koa grinned. Gravity pulled Bolan down and Koa made a jump shot. His three-pointer floated inches past Bolan's fingertips and caught nothing but net. Hawaii was Koa's turf, and the safehouse driveway and its basketball net were swiftly becoming his yard. "I thought you haoles were supposed to be the masters of the three-pointer." Koa was smiling. "You've been eating mine all morning."
There was no getting around the fact that Koa was taking Bolan to town. "Haven't seen you dunk yet."
"You keep your six-footer shit to yourself, and now it's nine." The Hawaiian soldier didn't smile often. He was built like a middleweight who spent a lot of time under a bench press. Koa shot Bolan a grin. "But we can go to twenty-one if you want."
The Hawaiian surged forward and pulled a Harlem-Globetrotter-worthy up-and-under. His layup was gorgeous to behold. He sighed at Bolan with immense false sympathy. "Eleven."
Bolan retrieved the ball and passed it back. "What do you know about Lua?"
Koa shot for fun and sank a basket from the curb cut that served as the top of the key. "You mean Kapu Ku'ialua??''
Bolan caught the ball and passed it back. "Yeah."
Koa dribbled to the corner of the driveway. "What do you know about it, Matt?"
"Lua means 'bone breaking.' It's the traditional martial art of the Islands."
"Well," Koa acknowledged, "that's the Wikipedia version."
"So it's kapu." Koa sank another basket.
The Hawaiian for Dummies definition of kapu was "taboo," but if you looked deeper into the language and culture the word was an intricate blend of "sacred,"
"restricted" or perhaps even "marked off." He shot the ball back. "There are three Lua schools within walking distance, Koa. I can sign up today."
"Where are you from again?"
"Okay, haole. You go down to your local strip mall. You pay your three hundred dollars, buy your American-flag harem pants and get your black belt in Rex Kwon Do in twelve easy lessons. Do you learn anything?"
"I take your point, but I think I met a Lua master last night and the only thing that saved me was the slapjack I'd palmed. I broke his hands while he was in midmonologue."
Koa shook his head sadly and sank his shot. "We were warriors once. Nothing's what it used to be."
"Yeah, and now there's a nativistic murder spree going on. Will you tell me about bundling?"
"Well, they say that back in the day, a Koaa Hawaiian warrior of the royal classstudied Lua. A true master could defeat an opponent, dislocate every joint in his body, and then reset them again. Though sometimes the victim died from shock."
"No. According to legend, there's another side to Lua. A
Koa might defeat an opponent in single combat, dislocate all his joints and then fold him up like a cricket."
"Then he'd be roasted and eaten. At least, that's the story." Koa sank another basket. "Why do you ask?"
"Last night a man told his three buddies to bundle me."
"That's messed up. You sure they weren't Amish or something?"
Bolan laughed. "They were not plain."
"Sounds like we have a problem. What's the plan? I infiltrate?"
"We both infiltrate. You're my ticket in." Koa looked Bolan up and down. "Good luck, Your Cau-casianess."
"I'm getting some help with that."
"Should be interesting."
Bolan lifted his chin at a red Jeep coming down the street. "You'll get to see it now."