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8

Bolan pushed his rental car along the Strip, northbound toward downtown and the press of Glitter Gulch. The midmorning traffic was already backing up along the boulevard, fully half of the license plates around him representing states outside Nevada.

Tourists, right.

The lifeblood of a state that lived on transients, milking them for every dime they could afford to throw away on gambling, lodging, restaurants and shows.

The pleasure-seekers burned up their two-week holidays in search of something — fortune, fame, a chance to be "somebody" for an hour or two. The warrior wished them well and prayed that none of them would be sucked into the coming cross fire.

Winds of war were rising on the desert, shaping up to blow a hellfire gale in Vegas, right. Between the Mafia and Yakuza, with their traditions of revenge, blood would flow everywhere, enough to drown some blameless souls along the way, for sure, if they did not find the high ground quick enough.

Bolan knew the players vaguely, but he still had only the most general outline of the game in Vegas. It was far more complicated than his former visit to that Monte Carlo in the wasteland. Then, he only had to worry about the hostiles on a single front.

This time he had stepped into a cross fire and he was not convinced that there were only two belligerents involved.

The Executioner knew the formula for an effective penetration strike against the enemy, had had it drilled into his heart and mind by years of grim experience in the field.

Identification.

Isolation.

Annihilation.

The three-step plan that turned the strongest enemy into a vulnerable target. And he was on his way toward nailing down step one. But the gut was softly telling him that something was amiss in Vegas. He had a general picture of the action from his talks with Captain Reese and Nino Tattaglia.

But now, without the necessary detail, he could only thrash out blindly, engaging random targets and perhaps only scratching the surface of the problem.

There was more to what was happening in Vegas than immediately met the eye, Bolan was sure of that much.

And perhaps he could narrow it down some more by rattling some cages — seeing how the savages scattered and watching where they take cover under fire.

The methodology had worked for him before — on other battlefields, in other wars. And he was certain it would pay off for him now.

In any case the soldier meant to try. It was his duty to the Universe. Warrior Bolan was not fighting this one on his own, had never walked alone along the hellfire trail from the first moment when he chambered up a round and dropped five men outside of Triangle Finance in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, all those many lives ago. The war, which had begun as pure revenge, had quickly metamorphosed into something vastly different, evolving over time, becoming something that controlled the soldier instead of the other way around.

It was a crusade, right. A holy war, in every highest sense of the term. Mack Bolan fought his enemies and wore his scars because he simply had no choice. He had to fight, because he could, and in a world afraid to get involved, that made all the goddamned difference. There was no turning back for Bolan. His war had grown, encompassing cannibals of every stripe, the battlefront expanding to devour the globe. But in his heart, Mack Bolan fought the same fight he had started on the streets of Pittsfield, when he stood beside the family funeral markers and pronounced an oath of vengeance.

He no longer fought for himself, but for all men — the builders and the civilizers who were busy getting on about their lives, too often unaware that it was still a jungle out there.

While the headlines warned them of a danger in the streets, bands of cannibals had organized for systematic plunder and were closing in around them, sometimes in disguise, but always hungry, grasping, never satisfied. Bolan pledged himself to stand between the cannibals and their intended victims. He had put his body on the line, a living sacrifice to honor, duty, decency.

The old words, right.

And he had freshened those old words with blood — his own and that of others, spilled in mortal combat, hand to hand. There would be more to spill before the desert sun went down on Vegas this day. A flash flood, to sweep the wasteland clean — if only momentarily.

The soldier drove with new determination now that the decision had been made. He was taking the offensive, carrying the fire into the enemy encampment, with a vengeance.

And he was starting at the top, damn right.


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