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Shock Waves

By:Mack Bolan




Prologue




The tall man moved through darkness, wrapping shadows about him like a cloak. Dark trees surrounded him and screened him from the traffic flowing even at this late hour on Fifth Avenue. A dozen strides from the curb, and he found himself in a different world.

It was a world habitually shunned by law-abiding locals once the sun set, a realm where predators held sway between dusk and dawn, but that did not intimidate the hunter. He was used to jungles, darker and more dangerous than this one in the heart of New York.

The Executioner had come to Central Park to keep a rendezvous, and he was early, taking his time along the footpath, making sure he had not been followed when he left the cab. He dawdled past the zoo, closed now, the night sounds of the animals inside completing the jungle atmosphere.

The predators in there, he knew, were under lock and key, secure. It was the human animal, outside the bars, who had transformed the once-majestic park into a place of dread, its name synonymous with mugging, rape and murder after nightfall.

He almost wished that one of them would find him, try lining up this mark — but he was on a different mission, and there was no time to spare. His contact, unaccountably, had picked the Chess and Checker House to be their meeting place. It was some fifty yards in front of him now, just visible between the trees.

At thirty yards. Mack Bolan spotted the waiting figure in the shadows, standing against the south wall, dragging at a cigarette held within his cupped palm. The glowing ember flared, disappeared, and flared again as Bolan started circling, a gliding shadow in the velvet black, diminishing the gap between them.

And he made the recognition ten yards out, despite the shadows. There was no mistaking that profile, the large but well-formed nose, dark hair swept back from the face in a modish style.

The men had never met, but Bolan knew his contact well enough from photographs — including mug shots taken over several years by agents of the FBI and the Baltimore Police Department. And he could have picked Nino Tattaglia out of a crowd any day of the week.

His contact gave a little start when Bolan showed himself, emerging from the shadows with a magician's slick timing. Hesitant, unsure if he was being set up for a fall, Tattaglia took his time about approaching, taking a last drag from the butt and flicking it away.

When they were close enough to speak in whispers, Nino glanced around self-consciously and said, "I'm Sticker."

Bolan took the hand he offered, pumped it once and gave the countersign.

"How's everything in Wonderland?"

Tattaglia relaxed — but only just. His eyes were constantly in motion, searching every shadow for a sign that they were being observed by enemies who might have followed either of them.

"You clean?" he asked.

"For now. We haven't got a lot of time."

"You called that right. I was afraid it might come down before you got here."

"So I'm here."

"Yeah, right. Well, anyway, the meeting's on as planned. Minelli's looking for a confirmation, as you suspected."

"And what about the opposition?"

"They'll be here, but rumor has it that Minelli's got a big surprise planned. Something that'll take the wind out of their sails and leave him sitting on top of the heap. I take it he's planning on a coronation."

"That must be some surprise."

Tattaglia's smile was devoid of mirth.

"Remember Dave Eritrea?"

A little graveyard chill swept along the Executioner's spine, and he nodded in silent affirmation.

"Well, according to the scuttlebutt, Minelli's got 'im, and his wife, to boot. He's sitting on 'em, waiting for the meet, so he can serve 'em with cocktails and take a few bows."

"How solid is your rumble?"

"I'm confirmed. My man in Wonderland reports their safehouse empty, recently abandoned. In a hurry, if you get my drift."

The Executioner was drifting with Tattaglia, sure, and he was damned unhappy with their mutual direction.

"What went sour?"

"No one knows for sure. They had some minor problems with the paperwork to start, but nothing recently. Could be they need a plumber down there."

Bolan read an understandable concern beneath the other's tone.

"You keeping dry so far?"

Tattaglia shrugged.

"I guess. Who knows? You do the best you can, and then one day some bastard pulls the plug."

And he was worried, sure, this man who had staked out a life along the razor's edge. For if the Mob could find Eritrea, despite his cover...

"How much time?"

Tattaglia did not have to check his watch before he answered. "It should be done this time tomorrow."

Right.

And time, as always, was an adversary to be faced and conquered with the rest, made hostile by its own unshakable neutrality. The clock ran down for friend and foe alike, and there was no escape once it had chimed the Armageddon hour.

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