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«Appointment in Kabul», Don Pendleton

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"The scouts should have heard them," Bolan grunted, nodding toward the ambushers. "I should have heard them."

"You would have heard the Russians. We are being attacked by badmash. This valley is their home. They know it well enough to surprise anybody."

"With a little help from their friends," Bolan added, "and I don't just mean those Hinds."

The two men paused to stand and aim their rifles over the boulder to return bursts of automatic fire.

Bolan knew the Soviets had great success in bankrolling gangs of badmash, the bandits and drug smugglers along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier, who had lately stepped up brutal attacks not only on Afghan guerrillas but also on the Pakistani government and its agents.

Bolan and Alja Malikyar crouched back down behind the rock. "You mean their aim is too good?" the guerrilla chieftain asked. Bolan nodded. He had grown to like this feisty team leader during their short time together. Alja was relatively slight of physical stature but a damn tall walker through valleys of death like this one that had erupted around them so suddenly.

"I'd say the Russians have supplied these badmash with night vision devices." Alja's grim expression got new worry lines. "That is why they have us pinned down so easily. This is very bad. They already kill too many of my men. And Tarik Khan waits for us outside Kabul."

Bolan chuckled grimly.

"You sound more worried about Tarik Khan than about those badmash."

"Tarik Khan calls you a combat specialist, kuvii Bolan. What shall we do now? Alja will listen."

"Pray to Allah for luck and give me strong cover fire," Bolan growled, "not necessarily in that order."

Bolan tugged off the robe, beneath which he wore his combat blacksuit. The slit pockets of the garment carried all manner of garrotes, small knives and other silent killing devices. Designed to Bolan's specifications, the suit was skintight, with nothing to get snagged or impede movement.

Bolan checked the ride of the AutoMag in its fast-draw leather low on his right hip.

He slung the Ingram MAC-10 back over his shoulder, then applied a black camou cosmetic.

The cosmetic, applied evenly across all of Bolan's exposed flesh, combined with the blacksuit to make the Executioner almost invisible in the darkness even to Alja who had watched the transformation in awe from inches away. Alja could discern only a vague, inky shadow in the dark and the whites of Bolan's eyes. The mountain warrior chuckled appreciatively when Bolan produced a pair of night vision goggles. When those went over Bolan's eyes, the Executioner became but a specterlike quaver before Alja's eyes. The transformation took less than a minute.

"You are indeed a 'combat specialist," kuvii Bolan.

"And you are, as well, kuvii Malikyar." Bolan repaid the compliment as required by Afghan tribal etiquette, stressing the Pashto form of address for friend. He and this tough little hill soldier were more than friends. They had taken enemy fire together. "Tell your men to open up with everything they've got and keep it hot for at least a half minute, then cease firing for another two minutes unless the badmash start to advance."

"They will not," Alja assured Bolan. "Badmash are treacherous cowards."

"Then get your men ready, Alja. A sixty count from right... now."

"Yes, kuvii Bolan."

Bolan stood and delivered a blistering barrage from his M-16 at the ambush fire raining in on them. Alja took the opportunity to dash in a zigzag charge toward the nearest outcrop of rock behind which three of his men sought cover, trading shots with the enemy. Bolan crouched back down to feed a fresh clip into his rifle. Smoke curled from the M-16's snout; the strong scent of cordite burned his nostrils.

He scanned terrain given a surreal glow by his NVD goggles, charting his course in what would be one man's attempt to outflank the gunners who had them pinned down.

His line of attack set in his mind, he leaned around the boulder, pulled off a burst with the M-16 and thought he saw one of the red winks of enemy gunfire cease.

He prepared to move out the instant Alja's men opened fire. His heart hammered against his ribs but his combat consciousness was cool, taut, ready to strike.

Welcome to Afghanistan, where the rape of a nation is resisted today by scattered bands of these brave mountain men who had summoned Bolan to join them.

Bolan ranked this country as priority number one in the Executioner's new solo war against the KGB, the worldwide terror organization of the Soviet Union.

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