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* * *

Tommy Anders sat on the edge of his hotel bed, staring at the silent telephone. He tried to think of someone he could call, of something he could say — and every time it wound up in a ghastly gallows-humor parody.

Hello, Clark County Sheriff?

FBI? Whoever? This is Tommy Anders calling from the Sultan's Lounge. That's right.

Well, since you ask, I'm calling to report a gang war. Oh, you heard? Well, does the name Mack Bolan ring a bell?

He shook his head disgustedly. Brognola would do everything he could, the comic knew that, but it might not be enough. And he was rankled by the Fed's reluctance to assist a man who had done so much for the cause.

If there was only something... Of course there was.

Bolan had entrusted him with Lucy Bernstein and he could keep her safe and sound until the storm blew over. He could take that load off Bolan's shoulders, right — and in the process, he could try to get some information out of her.

Anders was not sure he followed Bolan's logic on that business with the old-boy network. Anything was possible, of course, but it was hard to visualize a bunch of grizzled old-timers taking on the new breed of the Mafia. At first glance it was like the plot of some peculiar cops-and-robbers sitcom — "The Revenge of the Over-the-Hill Gang," dammit.

Except that Bolan was not laughing when he spelled it out for Tommy Anders.

He was deadly serious and that was good enough to wipe the smile off Tommy's face for starters. Whether anybody else was buying it or not the comic was convinced that Bolan's theory merited a closer scrutiny.

And if his hunch was anywhere near being on the money.

Then what?

What if old Abe Bernstein and his cronies were committed to a course of putting heat on Frank Spinoza and the rest of them through media exposure?

Anders frowned. There would be more, much more to it than that, he knew.

The geriatric crowd had never hatched a single altruistic thought among themselves — and likely never would.

If they were going up against the Mafia now — in headlines, in the streets, whatever — they would have a motive more or less commensurate with risk. And he was back at the initial question once again. What motive?

Good old everyday revenge would do for openers. The Mafia had looted Bernstein's castle, relegated him to puppet status, and the same had happened to a number of his close confederates.

Revenge, if he read it right. Still, it was not enough.

The Mafia had made its move on Bernstein and the others nearly thirty years ago.

If they were going to make a move... He gave it up. The sterile exercise was getting him nowhere... and he was wasting time.

The woman with the answers — some of them at any rate — was waiting for him just beyond the bedroom door.

He had required some privacy for his communication with Brognola, but the time had come to see exactly what she knew.

If anything.

And Tommy Anders knew exactly how to go about it. He was an expert. Wit and charm would do the trick.

"Well, now..." He froze in the open bedroom doorway, instantly forgetting everything he planned to say. He would not need it now.

There was nobody left to say it to.

The woman had slipped out on him while he was on the line to Wonderland.

"Goddammit!"

He had kissed off his one and only chance to tend a hand in Bolan's desert war. His chance was gone, the woman was gone... and only open-ended questions lingered on.

Where had she gone?

And why?

If it was lack of trust in Anders, Lucy's urge to find a haven of her own, they had no problem. But if she had run to grandpa, say, or to Jack Goldblume, telling tales...

She knew who Bolan was; the comic felt it in his gut although no words had passed between them in his presence that would make it firm. He got it from the way she looked at Bolan, listened to him as if she was trying to remember every word for future reference.

She could be trouble, no doubt about it. Even if she went directly to the law or to her Wang terminal with the story, rather than to Grandpa Abe, she could be signing Bolan's death certificate."

"Dammit!" And again, with feeling. "Damn it!"

Tommy Anders did not like the helpless feeling, but he knew that he had played his only ace already.

If Hal Brognola and his troops could not help Bolan, there was nothing that a stand-up comic could accomplish on his own.

The greatest solitary player of them all was out there on the streets already, carrying the fire for all of those who had to stand by watching helplessly. With any luck at all, his martial skills and sheer audacity would be enough.

America's ethnician reached the bar in three long strides and found himself a fifth of rye. He had already called in "sick" for the remainder of the evening and his replacement would be well into the second show by now. As for Tommy Anders, he was settling down to have a drink or two — or ten — and keeping watch along the home front.

He only hoped it would not be a death watch for the Executioner.


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