Final Assault (The Executioner)

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9780373644452: Final Assault (The Executioner)
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Dead in the Water 

Not all publicity is good publicity. Especially when the fake hijacking of the world's first self-sustaining vessel turns into the real deal. With the ship and its cargo being auctioned off to terrorists, Mack Bolan must rescue the hostages and destroy the vessel before it falls into even more dangerous hands. 

Joining Somali pirates on a raid gets Bolan on board, but getting off alive won't be so easy. Mercenaries and criminal foot soldiers have taken over, transforming the vessel into a minefield. Bolan will need to act quickly to take control, and with the extraction window closing, the Executioner is ready to turn this ship into the Titanic.

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About the Author:

Phil Elmore is a freelance journalist, author, and technical writer who lives and works in Western New York State. He has contributed extensively to various trade magazines in the "tactical" gear and self-defense fields. He is also the senior editor of an IP development company based in Florida and the author of multiple commercially published scifi and action novels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Gulf of Aden

The inflatable rafts glided across the dark water toward the looming bulk of their target. Garrand crouched in the lead raft, eyes on the prize, finger on the trigger. He expected no complications—the plan was solid—but it was best to prepare for trouble.

Georges Garrand always had a plan. It was his compulsion and his pride, and it had seen him through his term of service in the French Foreign Legion in addition to other, less praiseworthy organizations. Be prepared for enemy action and the screwups of your friends, and seize opportunity wherever and whenever you find it.

That motto was the reason Garrand was out here now, riding one of three military surplus boats with twenty of the hardest bastards in his Rolodex, armed to the teeth and high on coffee and ephedrine tablets. That was why he was going to take the Demeter.

The world's first self-sustaining vessel, the Demeter was a super-yacht. The cargo holds had been converted into, among other things, two decks of passenger cabins, a five-star galley and hydroponic farms. An artificial cove had been built into the forward area of the hull, at the waterline, for fishing. The vessel had roughly 4,300 square feet of solar panels attached to it and an 860-foot skysail, which could be deployed at the touch of a button. A backup diesel engine was located on an engineering deck the size of a small village.

It was a floating city. A small city, true, but worth more money than Garrand had ever seen. And it was his for the taking if his plan went off without a hitch. Which it would, because it was his plan.

Two fingers tapped his shoulder, and he glanced back at his second-in-command, Yacoub. The Moroccan pulled down the edge of his keffiyeh and grinned. "What a way to earn a paycheck, eh, Georges?" Yacoub had served in the Legion with him, and when Garrand had decided to seek larger fortunes for less risk, the other man had come along.

"There are worse ways. And keep your cover on. There are too many cameras on that boat. No sense in giving the game away early." Garrand tugged on his own keffiyeh for emphasis. All of the men in the rafts wore them, along with stripped-down FELIN suits. The electronics had been removed from the flak jackets and they didn't have helmets, but all the men carried FAMAS rifles. The bullpup-style assault rifles were the service weapon of the French military, with a large trigger guard, a STANAG magazine and a handguard just below the muzzle. It was a compact, efficient weapon...two things Garrand prized.

Standardization of equipment was one of Gar-rand's keystones. If everyone was using the same type of weapon, ammo rationing would be easier. He'd gotten the equipment, and more besides, from a black market dealer who'd owed him a favor or six. An investment in mercy that had paid large dividends.

Their clothing had been dyed and artfully torn in places to give the impression of hard use. Yacoub and several of the others, those who could pass for locals at a distance, had stripped the sleeves from their shirts. Garrand, born and raised in Marseille, kept his sleeves pulled down. The deception wouldn't pass muster with anyone who was halfway knowledgeable about the region, but that wasn't Garrand's problem. It wouldn't matter in the long run, at any rate.

As they drew close to the Demeter, he caught the faint sounds of music and laughter from the upper decks, far above his head. Garrand smiled. It was the Demetefs world tour, and besides her crew, guests of every social stripe as well as their hangers-on and members of the press were on board. He had memorized the names and faces and the net worth of each just in case. It always pays to have a backup plan.

"What fool thought this was a good place for a party?" Yacoub asked, shaking his head. "It's like they're begging to be attacked."

"This tub has a security force of thirty, and it's reinforced to the point of ridiculousness. Even the most aggressive pirates couldn't take the Demeterf Garrand said. "It's the floating equivalent of a gated community. What better way to show how secure it is than to float right through pirate alley?"

Yacoub shook his head again. "Still seems like asking for trouble to me." He laughed and hefted his assault rifle. "But who am I to judge?"

"We've got a ten-minute window in the Maritime Security Patrol area, so when we have boots on the deck, move quick," Garrand said, looking at the others. "We need to hit them hard and fast before they know what's going on. Take over the control and engine rooms, and that's game, set and match. And keep your cover up. We're being paid to look like pirates, so play pirate. Don't kill anyone you don't have to."

"You sure about the timing?" one of the others grunted. A Serbian named Borjan. Garrand looked at him, and Borjan fell silent. Garrand was touchy about his plans. They all knew that, but it didn't stop some of them from pressing the issue.

"Yes," he said slowly, "I am quite sure." Garrand looked back toward the vessel. "Aim for the cove," he said to the man controlling the tiller. Until recently, he'd been part of the Demetefs security staff, just like everyone on Garrand's team. Garrand himself had been head of security before he and his men were very publicly fired. All part of their employer's plan. It was a good plan. His was better, though. More profitable, too.

The cove was shuttered, as he'd expected. The metal doors could be opened from within when the Demeter was anchored, allowing the artificial cove to flood. But it was standard procedure to keep the Demeter shuttered tight while in the designated hot spots—the Gulf of Aden, the Strait of Malacca, a few others. Garrand knew this because he'd come up with that policy himself. He also knew the strength of the shutters, having overseen their installation. They would resist most forms of explosive...unless it was attached at just the right point.

"Chuckles," Garrand said. The big American mercenary gave a grunt of acknowledgment and slid to the side of the raft, a shaped charge in his hands. He leaned out and gestured. Garrand nodded. "That's it. Hurry it up. We have a hijacking to get on with."

"Just call me D. B. Cooper," Chuckles said, as he attached the charge to the spot Garrand had indicated. When it exploded, it would disable the shutters' locking mechanism. Without that, the hull would ratchet open.

"I would, but we're not in a plane and you're terrible with parachutes," Garrand said. "Set the damn thing up. We're on a schedule." He signaled for the tillerman to pull the raft back. The explosion wouldn't be large, but no sense tempting fate. Garrand waved the other two rafts back, as well. "Wait... " he said as Chuckles readied the detonator.

"I know, I know," the mercenary replied. Garrand frowned at the edge in the other man's voice; Chuckles was good at his job, but he was testy. He didn't like being told what to do, a trait he shared with the others. As the raft reached a safe distance, Garrand chopped his hand through the air.

"Open sesame," Chuckles said, and the charge went off with a dull krump. Metal groaned and water slopped over the sides of the raft as the shutters opened like the petals of a flower.

"Hit it," Garrand barked. The motor growled and the raft shot forward through the widening gap. As they entered the Demetefs belly, he could hear alarms wailing. He lifted his assault rifle and was already leaping out of the raft as it thudded against the cove's fiberglass shore. The others followed suit and soon, all twenty of his men were moving up the slope.

Garrand saw a startled face peering out through the window of the shutter control booth—the night crew—and fired. The window rattled as the bulletproof glass absorbed his shots, as he'd known it would, but the face vanished. "Two men on duty," he said. "One armed, one not."

"Unless they changed the routine after we left," Yacoub said as they sprinted toward the booth. The others were spreading out, covering the entrance to the cove. They knew what to do and did it with the alacrity of trained professionals. Yacoub and two others would hit the engine room. The rest would follow Garrand to the upper decks and the control center. But first, they had to secure the cove.

"They didn't change anything," Garrand said.

Yacoub fired a burst at the closest set of speakers, mounted above the booth, and cut off one of the sirens in mid-wail. "Eight minutes until our window closes, by the way."

"Plenty of time," Garrand said. He hit the steel door with his boot. "Open up!" He kicked it again and then thumped it with the butt of his weapon.

Silence. That too was standard procedure. One member of the security team and a crewmember would be on duty. The booth was reinforced, and theoretically, the men inside could wait out most anything, up to and including an assault by armed invaders. Theoretically. Yacoub made a face. "Want to blow it open?"

Even as he spoke, a muffled sound came from within. "No need," Garrand said. He waved Yacoub back as the lock disengaged and the door swung open. A man wearing the gray fatigues of the Demetefs security forces stepped out of the booth holding a smoking pistol. "Hello, Sergei. How's tricks?" Garrand asked mildly.

"Better now," Sergei said. The big Russian was slab-faced, with eyes like polished stones. Beneath the plain uniform his broad torso was covered in elaborate tattoos. Sergei looked at Yacoub and nodded.

"Sergei," Yacoub replied. The two men eyed one another for a moment and then looked away. They didn't like each other, but they were professionals. They would work together. Failing that, he'd shoot one of them. He peered past Sergei into the control booth. He saw a body on the floor and blood. He looked at Sergei questioningly.

"I let him get off an alert, as you asked," Sergei said.

"Pirates?"

"I told him you were the most piratical Somalis to ever prowl these waters," Sergei said, holstering his weapon. He glanced toward the cove and then cocked an ear to the alarms. "Speaking of which, that hole in the hull is going to be a red flag to the bastards when they figure out we're dead in the water. Those alarms will carry for miles, and even the most pig-ignorant fisherman knows what that sound means by now."

"And that's why you're here, Sergei." Garrand smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "Make sure no one else tries to steal this boat before I do."

"I'm going to need more men," Sergei said doubtfully.

"I know," Garrand said. His smile turned wolfish. "Don't worry, Sergei—it's all part of the plan."

* * *

The Biggest Little City in the World

The Catania Hotel in Reno, Nevada, had seen better decades. The upper floors had been stripped to the plaster for everything and anything that could be sold, and the bottom floors weren't much better. It had been five years since a guest had stayed at the hotel. These days, the only resident was a certain representative of the Claricuzio family and his bodyguards.

Mack Bolan, aka the Executioner, gave a quiet grunt of effort as he inserted the crowbar between the doors of the elevator. The elevator hadn't gone higher than the sixth floor since the upper floors had been stripped, and the car was permanently stationed on the third for the exclusive use of Domingo Clari-cuzio and his bodyguards. Bracing his foot against the wall, Bolan forced the doors open and peered down into the shaft.

Bolan, clad in khaki fatigues and body armor, tossed the crowbar aside and swiftly slid a safety harness over the rest of his gear. A Heckler & Koch UMP-45 was strapped across his chest and his KA-BAR combat knife sat snugly in its sheath on his leg. After he'd gotten the harness on, he clipped several M-18 smoke grenades to lanyards for easy access.

It had been simple enough to get onto the Catania's roof from the casino next door; Domingo had neglected to post guards on the upper floors. Perhaps the elderly don thought he didn't need to bother with such measures.

Bolan hefted an ascender—the same device used by repair technicians—and attached it to the elevator cable and his harness. Then he clipped his harness to the cable and took a slow breath. His heart rate was steady. Instinctively, he checked his harness and his gear once more, and then, with a sound like tearing silk, he began to descend the length of the shaft.

Despite being semiretired and in hiding from his enemies, Claricuzio had his fingers in more than one greasy pie. He ran any number of businesses at a remove, including some profitable prostitution rings in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. But not for much longer.

At that thought, Bolan's sun-bronzed face split in a grim smile. In the earliest days of his long and bloody war, he'd gunned down men like Domingo by the dozen and had taken his own licks in turn. Bullets, blackjacks and blades had exacted a cruel toll from his flesh over the years, and he sometimes wondered if he were held together by nothing more than scar tissue and bone sutures. But it was all worth it, every moment of blood and pain. When beasts like Claricuzio were put down, lives were saved—the lives they would have ruined or tainted or ended.

The Executioner had needed only a few days to set everything up. He'd kept tabs on his target, and he knew the hotel's layout down to the unconnected light switch on the first floor. Five guards were posted at any one time: one in Claricuzio's suite, two on the hall doors and two more patrolling the floors above and below, respectively. If any of Claricuzio's brood were visiting, there might be more, but the don's family members weren't the visiting types. Even so, there was a chance Bolan would be facing more resistance than just five inattentive and relatively lazy punks in bad suits, which meant he would have to be quick and careful. Even a punk could get lucky.

On that grim note, the soles of his boots touched the top of the elevator. Swiftly he disengaged his harness and dropped to his haunches. With the tip of his combat knife, he pried up the hatch and dropped through. Bolan disabled the control panel and pulled a small wedge of thick rubber from his harness. Holding it between his teeth, he carefully pried open the elevator doors and slid the wedge into the gap to hold the doors open. Next, Bolan removed a small dental mirror from a pocket, unfolded it and slid it through the gap at the bottom of the doors.

Angling it one way and then the other, he pinpointed the two guards in the hall. Bolan retracted the mirror, placed it in his pocket and pulled a smoke grenade from his harness. He hauled the doors open with one hand and popped the pin on the grenade. Then he rolled the canister down the corridor, where it hissed and spewed smoke.

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