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Mack Bolan slammed the steel hilt of his Cold Steel combat dagger against the back of the Chinese sentry's head. The guard crumpled without resistance, making a choked moan deep in his throat as he folded. His micro-Uzi fell to the asphalt.
The Executioner checked to make sure he was not merely playing possum, then secured the man's hands and feet with plastic restraints and dragged him out of sight.
The loading dock of Cheinjong Industrial Supply was located among a cluster of commercial buildings just off Mokauea Street, in the shadow of the Kapalama Military Reservation. Shifting the OD canvas messenger bag slung over his shoulder, Bolan pulled himself up onto the dock before sheathing his knife in the custom Kydex rig on the chest harness of his formfitting blacksuit. The black composite grips of the suppressed Beretta 93-R machine pistol filled his hand as he drew the trusted weapon from its shoulder holster and moved the selector to 3-round burst.
The instructions from Brognola and Stony Man Farm had been clear, the mission seemingly straightforward. Jimmy Han, a federal investigator nominally attached to Brognola's Justice Department, had been dispatched to investigate suspicious commercial shipments. Cheinjong Industrial Supply had, over the past eighteen months, received numerous shipments of machine parts, electronics and chemicals that could conceivably be used to build everything from bombs to EMP and jamming equipment. Taken separately, the shipments were not noteworthy. As a whole, they added up to a potential security risk.
Han was an experienced field agent, but three days ago he had disappeared. The local authorities had been alerted discreetly, but there was no sign of Han in the local hospitals or morgues, nor could he be located anywhere else in Honolulu. Worse, Aaron "The Bear" Kurtzman and his cyberteam at the Farm had turned up links between Cheinjong and a series of holding companies associated with the People's Republic of China. A new cold war was ratcheting up between the United States and the ChiComs, as Brognola put it. The big Fed's voice, when he finally contacted Bolan to put him on Han's trail, had been grim.
"The Man has ordered this information classified at the highest levels," Brognola had told the Executioner, "so I'm not telling you this. Seventy-two hours ago, a pair of Russian-made, Chinese-operated Sukhoi Su-30MK2 Flanker jets engaged a patrol of Navy Hornets in Taiwanese airspace."
"None," Brognola said, "but one of our pilots had to eject after his plane and one of the Flankers clipped each other. As far as we know, the Chinese plane landed safely."
"What's the fallout?"
"It's not good. The Chinese are calling it a deliberate act of provocation and talking about withdrawing their diplomatic personnel from American soil."
"So what's the connection?" Bolan asked him.
"The timing is suspicious," Brognola said. "Hours after the incident, Han missed his check-in. We lost touch with him and haven't been able to locate him since. Aaron and his people have found connections to the highest levels of the Chinese government's covert-ops groups. There's something China doesn't want foundand I think Han was in the right place at the wrong time. That's what makes this so delicate."
"So you want me to find out what happened."
"Barb is working with the locals on my authority," Brognola told him. "Once she settles down all the egos involved, we'll have a liaison assigned to you. In the meantime I'll have Aaron vet whomever the locals assign."
"That will work."
"Bring Han out, Striker," Brognola said, using Bolan's Stony Man code name. "We need to know what he's discovered."
Twelve hours after that phone call, Bolan was infiltrating the Cheinjong Industrial Supply building. Bolan crept through the loading dock and eased open the crash bar of a metal fire door. The access corridor beyond was dark. Unclipping a combat light from a pocket of his blacksuit, Bolan swept the corridor with the powerful light held below the Beretta in a supporting grip. At the end of the hallway, another fire door waited. The soldier paused and listened at the doorway.
There were voices beyond. Two men, speaking Chinese, were approaching his position. Bolan took a step back and leveled the Beretta at the doorway, ready to send bursts of 9 mm hollowpoint rounds through the opening. The crash bar on the opposite side of the door moved with a hollow metal creak. Bolan's finger tightened on the 93R's trigger.
The door stayed shut. The Executioner waited as the men on the other side continued their conversation. It was obvious from the tones of their voices that they were arguing. Finally, one of the two relented. Their conversation continued, rapid-fire, as the voices receded. Bolan gave them a ten-count before moving back to the door and easing it open.
The room beyond was a large machine shop of some kind. There were no personnel present that Bolan could see. Several tables bore electronic equipment, while boxes and wooden crates waited in stacks across the floor space. Metal housings, each the size of a thermos, were being turned out at one station. At an adjoining workbench, components were being fitted within each metal tube. As he moved quickly and fluidly across the floor, Bolan snagged one of the housings from the workbench and tucked it into his messenger bag. At the opposite end of the shop floor was a spiral metal staircase. He made for it and climbed quietly upward.
The second floor was divided into office space. Bolan stayed low to avoid the Plexiglas windows set within the walls. He could hear people moving about, so he duck-walked to the end of the corridor in which he stood, making for the wooden doorway opposite. He managed to open and shut the door just before someone walked quickly past.
The small office space was cluttered with cardboard boxes and dominated by a small desk and a smaller couch. Calendars, schedules and shipping documents were tacked and taped to the drywall.
Curled up on the couch was a slight Asian man in a white short-sleeved shirt and red tie.
Bolan whipped around the suppressed Beretta and prepared to silence the unlucky man as he stirred from his nap. The man muttered something, squinting in Bolan's direction, sounding more embarrassed than alarmed.
The soldier held his fire. A pair of thick-lensed, horn-rimmed glasses sat on the desktop. The Asian man reached for these, patting the desktop lightly as if he could not see them. The Executioner moved in quickly, sliding the glasses back out of reach and rapping the butt of the Beretta firmly against the side of the man's head. He squawked and fell back as Bolan followed him down, clamping one hand firmly over the man's mouth.
"Do you understand English?" Bolan demanded.
The man nodded and started to speak, but Bolan clamped his hand down harder.
"Quietly," Bolan cautioned. "If anyone hears us, you're dead. Try to call for help, you're dead. I need some answers." The man nodded quickly.
"What is your name?"
"Are you holding anyone here, Wu?" Bolan demanded. When Wu hesitated, Bolan pressed the muzzle of the Beretta's suppressor against the small man's forehead. "Last chance, Wu."
"We are," Wu admitted.
"Where is he?"
"Here," Wu said. "The office across from this one, in the opposite hall. Next to the conference room."
"Where is everyone else?"
"The conference room," Wu said gravely. "That is where they would be now. That is where I am supposed to be."
"Will they come looking for you?"
"I do not know. Probably not."
"Good," Bolan said. "What's going on here, Wu? Who are you? What are you building?"
"I cannot tell you."
Bolan pressed with the Beretta again. Wu merely squeezed his eyes shut.
"I cannot," Wu repeated. "You will have to kill me."
Bolan knew he didn't have time for a proper interrogation. He slammed the butt of the Beretta across Wu's head again, putting the man out, then gagged him with his own tie and cuffed his arms and legs. Finally, he rolled the man over onto the couch, where it would look at least at first glance as if he was still stealing a nap. Checking the hallway, Bolan emerged and circled around to get a view of the opposite corridor.
A single Asian man sat on a metal folding chair outside the conference room. The door had a window in it, but this was covered from inside in what appeared to be newspaper taped to the glass. Shadows of movement played across the newspaper, which did not conceal the light from within the room. The guard in the chair was reading a dog-eared paperback novel. Next to the conference room door was another, this one unmarked and bearing no window. If Han was inside, the guard outside the conference room was there to keep an eye on the Justice operative as much as to mind whoever was meeting in the room behind him.
Bolan flattened himself against the wall, around the corner and out of the guard's line of sight. Raising the combat light in the dim hallway, he started pressing the tailcap switch. The bright beam silently strobed the corridor. It easily overwhelmed the sparse overhead lights of the hallway, drawing the guard's curious attention. The Executioner could hear the man's metal chair slide across the plank flooring as he left his post to investigate.
The soldier waited for his prey to get within arm's length. As the sentry passed him, Bolan stepped past and behind the man, viciously driving the aluminum head of the compact light into the base of the guard's skull. Bolan struck twice more in rapid succession, hammering down the sentry. He hooked his arm around the man at the last second, easing him down as he folded. He wasted no time securing the sentry, instead heel-toeing back down the hallway to the conference room. The adjacent office door was unlocked. Bolan slipped silently inside, easing the door shut behind him.
With the combat light, he swept the dim, windowless room. There was no furniture. A few sheets of paper and some candy bar wrappers were scattered across the floor. A dirty bucket, obviously pressed into use as a toilet, sat in one corner. On the floor, sprawled against the far wall, was a body.
Bolan knelt by the battered form of Jimmy Han, his face all but unrecognizable from the beatings he'd taken. The soldier checked his pulse. Han was alive, but in very bad shape. Bolan lifted the man gently by the shoulders and spoke to him quietly.
"Jimmy. Jimmy Han. Can you hear me?"
Han's eyes fluttered open. He stared at Bolan blankly for a moment before drawing a ragged breath.
"Are you ?" he whispered.
"Brognola sent me," Bolan said. "I'm taking you out of here."
"Knew he wouldn't leave me."
"Can you stand, Jimmy?" Bolan was only too aware that they were running out of time. If he didn't get Han moving immediately, this soft probe was going to turn into a bloodbath.
"Wait " Han said weakly. He tried to free himself from Bolan's grip. "I need "
"What is it, Jimmy?" Bolan said.
"Outlet." Han pointed at the electrical outlet against the far wall.
Bolan eased Han to the floor and went to the outlet. Working a knife edge behind the plastic outlet cover, Bolan popped it off with a hard snap of his wrist. Inside the outlet was a white plastic square. The Executioner removed and examined it. He was holding a card key to a room at the Holiday Inn Waikiki.
"Hid it there," Han rasped from the floor, "when they first threw me in here ."
"Jimmy?" Bolan said, taking Han by the shoulders again and lifting him to a sitting position.
"James," Han managed to say. "James "
Bolan could barely hear the man. He leaned in close. "Jimmy," he said. "James. Talk to me. What is this key?"
"Five " Han said softly. "Five-nineteen. Five-nineteen "
Bolan watched as Han's bloody, swollen face went slack. One of his eyes was swollen shut; the other turned glassy as the light behind it faded. A death rattle passed through his split lips. Bolan lowered the operative to the floor one last time and closed his staring eye.
Pocketing the key, Bolan rose. His first priority was to escape Cheinjong. He had been too late to save Jimmy Han; he could not afford to let Han's message die with him. Beretta held before him, he slipped out the office door and back the way he'd come, stepping over the unconscious door guard as he went.
The conference room door opened. There was a pause, followed by alarmed voices shouting in Chinese.
Bolan kept walking, rounding the corner at the end of the corridor. He had almost made the stairway when the first gunshot rang out. The Executioner broke into a run, throwing himself down the stairs and across the machine shop, the floor above and behind him echoing with running footsteps. He caught a glimpse of his pursuers as he crashed through the fire doors to the loading dock. At least half a dozen men with pistols and subguns were chasing after him.
When the soldier's combat boots hit the loading dock, the fire alarm inside began to ring like a school bell. This was obviously a signal to the sentries outside, who began to converge on Bolan's position in response to the noise. One crossed Bolan's field of fire and received a 3-round burst from the suppressed 93-R. The Executioner headed straight for the body, stepping over it without breaking stride and hurling himself at the perimeter fence.
As he scaled the fence, two more sentries caught sight of him. Bullets burned past him as he rolled over the barbed wire topping the fence, hitting the ground on the other side with a grunt. He snapped another pair of bursts back at the sentries as automatic fire sprayed the ground where he'd been. Cheinjong's guards were willing to use overwhelming deadly force in broad daylight on American soil. As Bolan ran for the nearby commercial buildings, putting distance between himself and the shooters, he wondered why they'd been so quick to cross the line. Something big was going down, something Jimmy Han was trying to tell him.
Bolan's rented Dodge Charger sat where he'd left it, in the narrow alleyway between two neighboring warehouses. The 3.5-liter engine growled when he turned the key. Leaving black marks on the asphalt, he guided the car through the alley, shooting out into traffic as he watched the rearview mirror. When two minutes passed with no sign of pursuit, he concluded he was not being followed.
Steering with one hand, Bolan removed his secure wireless phone from an inner pocket of his blacksuit. The scrambled line buzzed as he connected to Stony Man Farm, cycling through a series of encrypted cutouts.