Bolan was conscious but he didn't dare open his eyes. He used his other senses to assess the danger, study his predicament. He was naked to the waist and could feel the fresh bandages taped to his body. Knife cut on left shoulder, puncture wounds from Rodeo's spiked knuckles on his left triceps, a chunk the size of a rat bite on his right shoulder, the slash across his shin.
A radio played in another room. A commercial for a popular wine. Faintly, Bolan heard a young woman's voice harmonizing with the jingle. She was pretty good.
Onions. He sniffed the tangy scent of cooked onions, his mouth watering involuntarily, his stomach churning from hunger. How long had he been out?
Beneath him, movement. He dug his fingertips into the bed he was lying on and felt the mattress shift like Jell-O. A water bed. "How long you gonna keep playing this game, Mack Bolan?" a woman's voice drawled. He pedigreed that sassy voice from a lifetime ago. Bolan opened his eyes and stared into the face of the same beautiful woman he'd seen earlier at the jail with Lyle Carrew.
"Hi, Shawnee," he said.
"Hi yourself." She walked over to the bedroom door, leaned her head out into the hallway and shouted, "He's awake." Footsteps pattered down the hallway.
Three other equally gorgeous women huddled anxiously around the doorway. A leggy blonde, a tall dark-haired woman, a petite Asian.
They stared at him as if he was a visitor from another galaxy.
"You all right, Mr. Bolan?" the one with the short blond hair asked. "I hope we didn't hurt y'all none."
Bolan lifted himself up to his elbows. His head was still a little cottony, which the rolling of the water bed didn't help. He nodded at her. "I'm fine."
"Of course he's fine," Shawnee said. "He was in expert hands."
"You stuck me with the needle, right?"
She smiled. "Of course, Mack. You deserve the very best." She turned to the other women. "Okay, you've seen him. Introductions later. Right now Mack and me got some catching up to do." The three women nodded and left. The blonde began singing along with the radio again. Bolan struggled to the edge of the shifting bed, waiting for the grogginess to clear. It didn't.
"I know what you need," Shawnee said. She sat next to Bolan and began rubbing his neck and shoulders. Her long fingers were hard as the prongs of a rake as they expertly worked his tired muscles, avoiding the bandaged areas. "How's that?"
"Haven't lost the touch, huh?"
"About the only thing I haven't lost." Bolan looked her up and down appreciatively. Her Jenim cutoffs and T-shirt didn't hide much.
"I noticed. Must be about forty pounds."
"Yep. I'd gained about thirty of them my first year in Nam. That's when we met. Took me years to get rid of them."
"You look good."
"Good? Hell, I look great." Bolan laughed. "I stand corrected."
"You didn't even recognize me, did you? Admit it. When you saw me at the jail today with Lyle, you didn't know who I was."
"You looked familiar. But it wasn't until I heard your voice just now that I placed a name with the face."
She gave him a serious look, her long black hair intensifying her expression. "It took me a while to place you, too. Had some alterations done to your face, huh?"
"A few. You know why."
"Yeah, I know. Who doesn't? Your name and escapades aren't exactly a national secret. But I heard you'd died."
"Came close enough."
She laughed. "I don't think I ever believed it, though. Not really. Any man who could survive what you did back in Nam — well, he wasn't about to get killed by mere cops or mobsters."
"Nam was a long time ago, Shawnee. We were both a lot younger."
"Dumber. Otherwise you and I wouldn't have lost touch." She paused. "I guess you know Billy died."
"I heard." Billy was Shawnee's brother, a medic who had served briefly with Bolan before getting wounded by a sniper.
Bolan had killed the sniper and carried Billy back to camp and a "dust-off" chopper. Billy had been transferred to a Saigon hospital and Bolan had looked him up on a three-day pass.
It was there the Executioner had met Billy's sister, Shawnee, an Army nurse with the 24th Evac Hospital in Tan Sa Nhut.
Plump, sassy, intelligent, she and Bolan had become pals, spending most of his three-day pass together, visiting Billy, dining out, just talking.
They'd corresponded whenever possible, maintaining their friendship, right up until the day Bolan had come home to bury his father, mother and teenage sister.
The day he stepped out of one war into another.
Shawnee stopped massaging his shoulders.
Bolan stood up. His body felt better now, his strength returning. "Why'd you bust me out?"
"Why?" She looked surprised. "Because, despite your little facial surgery, I recognized you. Your walk, your eyes, your, well, presence. Women sense these things. When I asked Lyle about you he told me your name was Damon Blue, so I figured the authorities didn't know who they had yet. But when they did, they'd throw you in the Atlanta penitentiary so fast you'd have bar burns on your palms. And once you were in there, you'd never come out alive. Lots of Mafia guys in the Big A would just love to get their hands on you."
"Since when do you know anything about breaking people out of jails? That the latest in nurses' training?"
"I'm not a nurse any longer, Mack. Oh, I do some volunteer work at the VA hospital — that's where I met Lyle a couple years ago — but that's all."
Bolan walked over to the window of the bedroom.
He pawed aside the curtain and looked out over Atlanta, submerged in darkness. Electric lights glittered as in every big city, though Atlanta had a small-town feeling to it. A fuzzy aura of light seeped up over the horizon. It would soon be dawn.
He faced Shawnee. "You made a mistake breaking me out of jail."
"I appreciate the motive, Shawnee, but I was in there for a reason, trying to keep someone alive. Now he's alone and exposed."
"Gee, Mack, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
He placed his rough hand on her cheek. "I know."
"Well, you can't just turn yourself in and claim you were kidnapped. They'd toss you in solitary."
"I wouldn't be much use there."
"So what are you going to do now?"
Bolan frowned. "Only thing I can do, I guess. Break him out, too."
"You'll need help."
"No." Bolan shook his head.
"We got you out, didn't we?" She went to the door and shouted, "Everybody. Come here." The other three women entered the room. "About time for introductions, Mack," Shawnee said. "This here is Belinda Hoyt."
Belinda stepped forward with a big smile. Her short blond hair framed her narrow face in a slight tomboy cut. But there was nothing else tomboyish about her. Her sleek body couldn't be hidden even under the gray sweatshirt and bib overalls.
"Howdy, Mr. Bolan."
"Belinda's from New Jersey," Shawnee explained, "so all that "howdy" and "shucks" stuff is just her rap. She wants to be a country singer."
Belinda's smile widened. "When in Rome, right?"
Shawnee continued. "This is Lynn Booker. Our legal adviser."
"Not much of a job since everything we do is illegal," Lynn said, looking straight at Bolan. Her Eurasian features were accented by the shadows in the dimly lit room. She was short, barely five feet, with straight, shiny black hair chopped off at the shoulders. The angled eyes and thin mouth only enhanced her beauty.
"Vietnamese?" Bolan asked.
"Half," Lynn said with no trace of accent. "GI father, Vietnamese mother. They knew each other for one night, if that long. My mother disappeared when I was thirteen. I was adopted by Gerald and Martha Booker of St. Petersburg, Florida. Got my law degree and passed the bar exam last year." Her tone was clipped, businesslike.
"Last and least," Shawnee said, "Rita St. Clair. Big-bucks Boston family. Banking or something."
"Insurance," Rita said.
"Whatever. Anyway, Rita chucks the whole debutantest Vassarst married-to-an-ambassador crap to become — get this — a cop."
Bolan's jaw flexed.
"Relax," Rita told Bolan, "I'm not a cop now. Not that I ever really was one. After all my Academy training in Boston, I get this job in Coolidge, Georgia. Five-person police department. In Boston I'd dragged bodies out of the river, been shot at, even stabbed by some junkie with a hunk of mirror. Here they make me a meter maid. Fine, I'm willing to pay my dues like anyone else. But every time there's a promotion, they give it to one of the men, guys with less experience, less seniority. I'd gone into police work because I wanted to make a difference, and I sought out a small town so I could at least see the difference. But it never happened. So I quit."
"Well, not completely quit," Shawnee said, a huge grin arcing her lips. "She joined with us."
"Us?" Bolan said. "Who's us?"
"Us," Shawnee said, gesturing with her hand to include the four women. "We're the Savannah Swingsaw. And we, Mack Bolan, are gonna help you bust your friend out of jail."