The last great kingpin of the East Coast, Augie Marinello walled himself up in a Long Island fortress protected by stone walls, guard towers, and a pack of Dobermans trained to kill on command. But no fence in the world is high enough to keep out Mack Bolan, the one-man army whose crusade against the Mafia has brought organized crime to its knees. When the Executioner decided it was time for Augie to die, he died, and now another man has stepped into his place: David Eritrea, who has the potential to be far more dangerous than Augie ever was.
Eritrea has dreams of rebuilding Augie’s empire bigger than before and reuniting the five families of New York under a single leader: himself. Unfortunately for the would-be don, the Executioner has other plans.
Command Strike is the 29th book in the Executioner series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Executioner, Book Twenty-nine
By Don Pendleton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1977 Don Pendleton
All rights reserved.
Marinello's old Long Island joint was an armed camp. The rock walls of the old fortress stood about five feet high, topped by high-voltage wires and further protected by an electronic alarm system. All that mattered lay within those walls. The gate was indented about fifty feet, equipped with heavy electric locks, bracketed by two small brick guard shacks—the "chute" effect, featuring sentries to either side behind bullet proof glass. Behind each of the gatehouses was a "dog run"—fenced enclosures about ten feet wide and maybe fifty feet in length, each sporting a matched pair of alert Dobermans trained to kill on command.
Bolan could only guess at other defensive sets within those walls. Marinello had been the king crazy in the demented world which he ruled from this old palace. Savages in a savage land lead savagely paranoid lives—their kings and chiefs in particular. But even that did not save them from their own kind. It had not saved Marinello, the King of Kings.
It was some kind of commentary on the American justice system that fortresses such as this were designed not to protect the lawless from the law but to protect them from one another. Any cop with a badge and a warrant would be passed through those gates without question. He would be received graciously and treated hospitably, while the clout machine waltzed the guy gently twice around the palace and back outside the walls with all the formal ceremony indigenous to palace visits. No—it was not the cops who scared people like Augie Marinello. It was people like Augie who scared people like Augie.
And now the king was dead.
In his place stood a shaky heir presumptive, one David Eritrea—never yet a boss but now hoping to take over as the Boss of all Bosses. He had been Augie's consiglieri and a good right arm through the old man's declining years—and, through all those years, David Eritrea had nursed a forlorn dream. Now, it seemed, the dream was becoming a reality—thanks chiefly to none other than Mack Bolan, the only natural enemy these people had beside themselves.
Ironic, yeah. Bolan had given the guy his legs. Now he had to take them back. That would be no easy task. The king was dead, sure, but the empire was secure—as secure, probably, as the palace itself. More so, maybe, than under Marinello. The old man's lingering illness had produced a quietive effect on the organized underworld, a "wait and see" attitude of caution and uncertainty. Now ...
Well, now, yeah—many things would be changing.
Mack Bolan's chief desire, at the moment, was to sponsor a few changes of his own. The king was dead. Bolan meant to see the entire damned empire dead. To do so, he knew that he must frustrate any thought of a smooth transition of power.
The Executioner smiled, then frowned at the same thought.
He would shake their house down. Yeah. From within.
The sun was rising and Digger Pinella knew that it had been the longest night of his life. He stretched tired muscles and smiled sourly through the laminated layers of protective glass, across the twenty feet of no-man's-land to Tommy Zip, who was smiling tiredly back at him from the other guard shack. "Another night, another fright," Tommy growled through the intercom.
Digger extinguished the night lights of the chute as he growled back. "Don't knock it, guy. Where would you be without all this?"
"In a soft bed with a warm broad," the other grumped, then stiffened attentively as a vehicle entered the chute. "Whatta we got here?"
What they had there was a flashy sports car with a foreign pedigree, fire-engine red and shrieking of luxury. The car fit the guy behind the wheel. Big guy, cool, macho—wearing a white suit that did not come from Sears or Robert Hall—flashing white teeth and wraparound shades. A class guy.
"Good morning, sir," Digger said politely.
"You bet it is," the guy replied in a strong voice that rattled the intercom. He held up a laminated card for Digger's inspection. "Roust Billy Gino and get him out here on the double."
There was no mistaking the quiet authority there.
Digger smiled and flicked a reassuring glance toward the other guard shack as he picked up the phone and passed the word inside.
"You want to go on in, sir?" he asked the distinguished visitor.
"You passing me through?" the guy asked, almost smiling.
It was a hell of a question. Would the Pope pass Jesus through to heaven? Digger laughed nervously as he punched the button that unlocked the gate. "Mr. Gino is on his way, sir," he reported. "He'll meet you on the drive."
The guy saluted casually, tossed a wink toward Tommy Zip, and eased the hot car on through the chute.
Digger closed the gate and said, "Shit," into the intercom.
"Who the hell is that?" Tommy wanted to know.
"Don't ask," Digger growled, inspecting his own reflection in the heavy glass. He hoped he looked okay, at the end of a long and nervous night.
"Really?" Tommy Zip asked tautly, guessing.
"That Ace of Spades he flashed on me didn't come from no poker deck," Digger assured his partner.
"What does he want with the Head Cock? What's he doing coming out here at this time of morning? What do we—?"
"Go back to your soft bed and warm broad," Digger growled. But he was worried, too. Something was brewing. Something unhappy. A Lord High Enforcer from La Commissione did not pay social calls at the crack of dawn—or at any other time, for that matter.
For damn sure. Something unhappy was brewing.
Billy Gino paused at the front door to pass hurried instructions to the house boss. "Get it clean. We got some brass coming. Make sure Mr. Eritrea is wide awake. Tell him I think it's Omega."
The house boss jerked his head in nervous understanding of that news and hurried away to prepare for the event. Gino went outside and yelled, "Look sharp, there!" then went on down the steps in lively descent. The two boys on the porch shifted uncomfortably to more alert postures and one of them inquired, "What's up, sir?"
"Time, maybe," Gino growled cryptically.
The watch chief, guard dog at the wrist, met him on the walkway. "Someone just passed through the gate, Billy," he reported, frowning. "Who're we expecting?"
"We're expecting anything," the Head Cock told his yard boss. "Get these boys on the balls of their feet, huh?"
"Who is it, Billy?"
"It's a wild card. Omega, probably."
"That's the guy that ..."
Billy Gino solemnly nodded his head. "That's the guy. Let's see he goes away with a good impression, huh? We weren't looking too hot last time he saw us."
The guy was reaching for his walkie-talkie when Gino spun away and hurried along the drive to greet the important visitor. It was a simple matter of protocol. With the joint "on hard," it would not be proper to allow a high ranker the indignities of being challenged at each checkpoint along the way. Besides all that, appearances could mean a lot at a time like this. There was going to be a lot of shit flying for a long time—Billy Gino was certain of that. Augie had been sick for a long time, sure—but he'd still been the boss, for as long as he remained alive. With Augie completely out of the picture now, things would be going to hell in a basket until someone moved into' the power vacuum at the top. This was no elected head of state who had passed away—with all machineries of government geared to a smooth succession to power. Nobody voted Augie Boss of all Bosses. He was the boss simply because nobody else could claim the job while he lived. He'd been the boss because he was the meanest and the smartest of them all. Now, sure, there would be a lot of shit on the fan until the next guy proved himself worthy of the job.
Billy Gino shivered with the thought and hurried on to meet the man who certainly would have some pronounced effect upon that selection process.
Omega was Billy Gino's kind of guy. Damned right. But the mere presence of the guy was enough to induce shivers, even in Billy Gino.
His kind of guy, yeah.
Maybe even the meanest and the smartest of them all.CHAPTER 2
Bolan had no illusions regarding the hazards of his position. It was a bad place at a tense time; he would rather be almost anywhere else, in almost any other situation. But the game was here—and the situation was practically unavoidable. Bolan was here simply because it was the best place to be, in the mission sense.
He had to be here.
But he did not have to enjoy it.
The security boss was no clown. Bolan knew the guy—had talked to him briefly just a day earlier, in Pittsfield, while employing the same masquerade. It could work again. Then again, maybe it wouldn't. So many intangibles went into a successful penetration.
The guy was approaching the vehicle with a cautious stride and uncommitted face. Bolan got out and leaned against the fender of the hot little car, gauging the guy's acceptance of the role camouflage while he lit a cigarette and peered at Billy Gino over the flame from the lighter.
The Head Cock did not extend a greeting hand, but rather hoisted a foot onto the front bumper and extended himself across the engine hood, supporting himself on his elbows, to stare intently at his visitor. It was a good sign.
"Ay," Billy Gino unemotionally greeted the Executioner.
Bolan showed him a tight grin. "Seems peaceful enough," he said quietly.
"Almost too peaceful," the guy said, just as quietly—adding, almost too quietly, "after all the shit at Pittsfield."
Bolan took a long pull at the cigarette and said, "Don't hold your breath, Billy."
"That's all I been doing since we got back," Gino admitted. "Guess you know about Augie, eh."
"I know," Bolan assured him. "It's why I'm here."
"I figured that." The guy's gaze dropped to his hands. "What happened up there, sir?"
Bolan flicked the cigarette away and watched it arc to the ground before he sighed and replied, "Hell happened up there, Billy."
"It was Bolan for sure, huh?"
The guy lifted his eyes to a direct confrontation with the cold gaze of his visitor. The gazes clashed for a moment; then Bolan told him, "For sure, yeah. And something else."
It was Billy Gino's turn to go for a cigarette. He lit up, exhaled noisily, stared at his hand, and said, "Uh huh. Some of us have been wondering."
Bolan took the plunge. "How tight are you with David Eritrea?"
The guy waggled his hand, still staring at his hand as though struggling to identify it.
Bolan allowed him a beat of contemplative silence before telling him, "Keep on wondering, Billy."
"Thanks," the guy muttered. He sighed in afterthought, smiled tautly, and added, "Thanks, too, for the Pittsfield nudge. All of us know what you did for us there."
"Saved your ass, maybe," Bolan said with a matching grin.
"That you did, for sure. What else did you do up there, sir?"
Bolan's grin faded. The guy was out of line. "I told you to keep on wondering, Billy. Wondering and asking is not the same."
The Head Cock's face flushed with embarrassment. "Yessir," he growled. "Sorry. It's a confusing time."
It will get worse before it gets better," Bolan said, his tone softening. "Just remember that it will get better. Can I count on you for that, amici?"
"What'd I tell you in Pittsfield?" Gino replied, still a bit red in the face.
"You told me to snap my fingers, Billy."
"It still goes, Mr. Omega. A guy needs a star to follow through troubled waters. Right? I don't know what else to—"
Bolan reached out and touched the guy's shoulder. "This time it could be a comet. Keep the eyes wide open. Right?"
The Head Cock flushed even brighter, obviously strongly affected by the open display of friendship from a man whom he believed to be a Lord High Enforcer. "I'm keeping them open, sir," he promised.
"That's all I can ask. For the moment."
The guy wouldn't give up, though. "What was Augie doing at Pittsfield, Mr. Omega? No offense. But I got to know."
Bolan's reply was immediate, delivered in a solemn, almost sad monotone. "Running," he said quietly. "Keep the eyes open, Billy. And keep on wondering."
"Bet on it," the guy said savagely. He looked around him in some mute, helpless frustration, took another pull at his cigarette, then said, "We're hard, sir. We're ready for anything."
"I can see that," Bolan told him.
"Is that guy in our territory now?"
The Head Cock was asking Bolan about Bolan. "Bet on that, too," he advised him.
"I already did," Billy Gino replied solemnly. He dropped the cigarette and stepped on it. "Mr. Eritrea knows you're here. I'll take you on to the house. Then I gotta come back out here and check my defenses. This sort of thing is tough on the nerves. You gotta watch these guys like a hawk. They're all good boys but—well, you know how it goes."
Bolan gave the guy the supreme compliment. "You run a hard palace, Billy," he said, and meant it.
Sure he meant it. It was no discredit to Billy Gino that he did not know his most feared enemy even while standing toe to toe and eyeballing him. Few men now living could positively identify that wraith of death called Mack Bolan. Even in their nightmares, the living enemy saw him only as a presence—a moving shadow which turned three-dimensional only when Death beckoned. Billy Gino knew this man only as Omega-one of those impressive and equally faceless wild cards from the Commissione's hardshed. Not even the bosses knew for sure who their wild cards were at any given moment. The guys took on new names and new faces in the same routine with which ordinary men changed their clothes.
So, no, it was no discredit to the Head Cock of the palace guard that he did not recognize his enemy. And Bolan saw enough during the brief ride down to the house to be glad that he had not come in hard himself. This would be a tough one to bust.
Bust it he must, though—and the sooner the better.
Eritrea stood at the library door and impatiently awaited the arrival of his distinguished guest. What the hell was the guy doing? Checking him out? Inspecting the defenses? Christ! —David could have walked from the gate in this time.
Suddenly there he was. The front door opened and the guy stepped inside—or maybe glided was a better word for what that guy did—all muscle and grace and restrained power. In a different situation, in kinder times, David Eritrea could easily hate him. Somehow he made David feel less of a man, less in command-almost clumsy; and David Eritrea was known as a class guy himself. No matter, though. That was small stuff now. Right now the only visible heir to the Marinello throne needed that Black Ace if he really intended to grasp the reins of power from Augie's dead hands. Omega could be the one to cinch the grip. As soon as David was home clean, of course, there would be some different calls from the huddle. Guys like Omega would never again have this kind of power. He'd never liked that setup, not ever. Too damn much autonomy, too much raw authority at their fingertips. King David would change all that, and with damn little loss of motion.
For now, though ...
He stepped into the hall with a smile and a ready hand. "Omega! Glad you came. I've been worried about you. God, isn't it awful what happened up there! I was worried that maybe you—well, you know, it was a lot of hell."
Omega grasped the outstretched hand and pressed it firmly, smiling solemnly for the occasion. "Close is good enough, isn't it?" he said quietly, revealing nothing whatever.
Eritrea steered the visitor into the library and saw him comfortably seated at a small table where orange juice, toast and marmalade awaited. Then he closed the doors and took a chair opposite his guest.
"I didn't wish that for Augie," Eritrea declared in a hushed voice.
"Course not—none of us did," the visitor replied.
"I didn't even know he'd gone up there. I'm totally mystified—I'm—he was getting senile, you know. Paranoid, too. Of course, who wouldn't—with all that's been going on these past months. But I believe sometimes he even mistrusted me." Eritrea sighed. "You can't watch them twenty-four hours a day, can you? I want you to understand something one hundred percent, Omega. I was trying to protect the old man. I was trying to hold the thing together, trying to make sure that he died with dignity. I was trying to protect the tradition. It's important that you understand that."
"I understand it," Omega said, still holding off, staring distastefully at the orange juice.
"Can I get you something more, uh—"
"It's okay," the wild card said quietly. "I didn't come to be entertained, David. I came to parley."
Eritrea nodded agreeably. "Okay. Fine. Let's parley."
"You know what you have to do now. But you'll have to move fast. It's started already, with Augie not even planted yet. What are you doing about funeral arrangements?"
"It's scheduled for tomorrow. What do you mean? What's started already?"
"The scramble, David, has started already. I thought you had things nailed down a bit tighter than that. It's only been a matter of hours since ..."
Excerpted from Command Strike by Don Pendleton. Copyright © 1977 Don Pendleton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Breathless action, with a hero who thinks as well as acts.