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9

"The kid's a murderer," Blancanales reported to his partners after interrogating the teenage guerrilla. "But he isn't a terrorist. Or a Communist."

Able Team crouched near the turn-off from the road. Lyons had carefully whisked away the tire marks of the captured jeeps. Now, from the cover of the brush and saplings that hid the narrow fold in the hillsides, they watched the dirt road and the storm-graying sky for patrols.

Soldiers passing in a truck would not spot the North Americans. The overhead cover of pines screened the jeeps from helicopter observation. Unless an army or guerrilla patrol searched every forested hillside and gully, the patrol would see only one more hillside of tangled brush.

Brilliant afternoon light alternated with cool shadow as storm clouds gathered. A wall of black thunderheads approached from the west. Above the North Americans, patterns of clouds allowed the tropical sun to flash through from time to time, the sunlight searing the cool high-altitude air.

Behind his blacklensed sunglasses, Lyons's eyes scanned the road, the hillsides, the panorama of mountains and forest. Blancanales waited for Lyons to comment on the captured boy. He watched the patterns of reflections on Lyons's sunglasses sliding over the black mirrors of the lenses. Lyons held the Atchisson, a round in the chamber and his thumb on the fire-selector. Flies wandered from the autoshotgun's steel to the drops of blood specking his hands. After the wild firefight with the guerrillas, Lyons had cleaned his weapons of residues and blood, but not his hands. He did not flick away the flies.

Blancanales considered how to present the information on the teenager. Could the fifteen-year-old guerrilla hope for mercy from the silent, brooding executioner that Carl Lyons had become? Finally Gadgets broke the silence.

"So what's his story?"

"He isn't political. His sister had a boyfriend who went to fight in the mountains. A neighbor said he'd tell the police about her guerrilla boyfriend if she didn't sleep with him. So Ricardo killed the man with a shovel. People saw him burying the body. Ricardo's family and his sister went to a camp near the coast. But the boy couldn't risk the checkpoints and police, so he had to go to the mountains."

"If it's nothing political," Gadgets asked, "why did he go to the Reds?"

"He didn't. They got him. It's called 'forced recruitment.' "

"What's all that got to do with us?" Lyons finally spoke. "Did he answer the questions or not?"

"He cooperated. Told me what he knew. Though it wasn't much."

"You believe him?" Gadgets asked Blancanales.

"Lying to us is not his number-one concern. He knows we're not official. We would've already killed him. All he wants is transportation to where there's no war."

"Doesn't want to fight for the revolution?" Gadgets asked. "Wait till theNew York Timeshears that."

Blancanales laughed bitterly. "The PLF's number-one assignment here is murdering farmers who buy their land. It's considered an anti-Soviet crime. The boy just wants to get away."

Gadgets turned to Lyons. "You got a problem with turning the kid loose, Ironman? You an ex-PD and him a fugitive from justice?"

Lyons's scans continued, only his lips moving as his eyes searched the distance. "To protect his sister, he killed a lowlife? First Salvadoran I've met who's murdered for a reason. Kid deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. What'd he say about the Reds?"

"We wiped out the hardcore unit. There are more guerrillas to the north, but if we double back, we're in the clear. Except for the army patrols. They stay on the roads. But the Quesadas' militia has helicopters and planes."

"Come sundown," Lyons looked to the west, to the onrushing storm front, "they'll need boats. You get names?"

"Lieutenant Lizco," Blancanales said, glancing to the jeeps where the Salvadoran commando monitored the radios, "doesn't know who it was that Quesada called on the radio. He doesn't know anything about the Verdes. But he said it's entirely possible that Quesada has bought the local army officers."

"You get names from the kid?" Lyons asked.

"Only a nickname. His leader's name is La Vibora, the Snake. He never knew the name of the regional commander. They talked about el comandante, but no names."

"And who was it that Quesada called?" Lyons continued.

Gadgets laughed. "Wow! Is that paranoia? The Ironman thinks el numero uno nazadoworks with the Reds?"

"Why not?"

Blancanales corrected Gadgets. "You mean Quesada? The Spanish word's 'Nazi,' just like English."

"I don't care. It rhymes, it's got rhythm. Sol-da-do, na-za-do. El numero uno soldado nazjado. That's Quesada. But a Nazi running a Commie kill squad? Extremo dien cai dau loco!"

Blancanales rocked back on his heels, amazed at Gadgets's linguistic butchery; he had chopped and distorted three European languages plus Vietnamese.

"It's not my conspiracy," Lyons replied, "We should talk to Quesada about it. Storm's coming. I say we move when it hits."

Gadgets shook his head no. "The lieutenant said the grab is set up for El Nazado on the road. We could be waiting for days, a week, he said."

"We don't have to wait a week," Lyons countered. "We know where he is."

"Oh, oh, the man's got a plan." Gadgets sighed. "You want to crash the plantation and take him?"

"Don't want to spend the next month in these mountains"

Gadgets got to his feet. "Great! Let's go. Get it done! Let's get out of here. I want to go home."

Blancanales looked directly into the black mirrors of Lyons's eyes. "What about the boy?"

"We take him with us." Then Lyons lay down in the brush that concealed them.

"Why you getting comfortable?" Gadgets asked him. "Thought you wanted to move."

Lyons pointed to the storm coming from the sunset. "When it's raining, when it's dark then."

In the silence of the hillside gully, they heard the sudden voice of Quesada speak again from the black radio. Blancanales and Gadgets rushed over to the jeep. Gadgets checked the voice-activated recorder. Blancanales listened as the fascist issued an order. A voice confirmed the instructions. Lieutenant Lizco unfolded a map and found the coordinates.

As they listened to the voices, the lieutenant showed Blancanales the map. He pointed to where they hid at that moment, then to the coordinates given by Quesada.

"The reporters will be killed here," he indicated, "as they return to Gotera."

Calculating the distances, Blancanales nodded.

"What's going on?" Gadgets whispered.

Blancanales held up a hand for patience. He waited until the transmissions between Quesada and the unknown voice ended.

"Whoever his men are," Blancanales told his partner, "soldiers or militia or death squad, they're talking assassination. There's two trucks full of reporters wandering around in the mountains, and Quesada wants them hit."

"Looking for news? They'll be it."

Blancanales turned to the lieutenant. "How can we warn them?"

"If the periodistashave a radio... But if we warn them, perhaps the others..." the lieutenant touched the black radio "...will hear."

Gadgets nodded. "Los Nazados most definitely got the cash for scanners. We warn the press corps, we warn the death corps."

Looking at his watch, then at the gathering storm, Blancanales considered the problem. He took the map to Lyons. He briefed Lyons quickly on the ambush. Pointing to the map, he explained, "We're here, the ambush on the soldiers was here, the ambush on the journalists will be here. Approximately where we ran into that secondary ambush. Quesada said the army will allow the journalists to follow them. Then the army will order them out of the area. They'll be coming back after dark. That's when they get hit. They're coming up into the mountains now. Gadgets doesn't want to risk warning them by radio. He thinks Quesada could have scanners monitoring the journalists' frequency."

Lyons, sitting up, studied the map. He glanced at the sky. "Can't move the jeeps until the storm comes. Need the storm to cover our movement."

"I want to try it, Carl," Blancanales told his partner. "Quesada will present this as a guerrilla atrocity. It could polarize public opinion in the United States and Europe against the liberals and progressives in El Salvador. It might kill the last chance for a negotiated peace."

The black lenses of the sunglasses turned to the mountain above Able Team's concealed position. Lyons pushed his sunglasses above his forehead, California style. He squinted through the pines to study the slopes. He pointed uphill.

"Ambush is on the other side of that mountain. We can't take the jeeps, so we'll hike." Lyons got to his feet. "Ready to go?"

"And the jeeps?"

"They stay here."

"Can't risk that. All our equipment's..."

"Then you and me go. Leave Gadgets here to watch the lieutenant and the boy. We pop the Nazis, signal the Wizard, they bring the jeeps. Or we hike back with the prisoners."

"Prisoners? We don't need to fight the death squad. Only to warn the journalists."

"Fuck the journalists. We want Quesada. If we take the leader of that squad, we're on our way to Quesada."

"Two of us? In unfamiliar territory? Against a death squad?"

Lyons yawned. "Two Americans against ten or twenty Salvadoran Nazis? We got them outnumbered." Looking up at the forested mountains, Lyons reconsidered his bravado. "Three of us. We need a guide."

Crossing to the jeeps, Lyons pulled a knife from his bandolier. Ricardo, sitting in the back of a jeep with plastic handcuffs on his wrists and ankles, saw the North American approach with the knife. His mouth opened to scream.

"It's okay, kid," Lyons told him as he cut the plastic loops. "It's okay. You're taking us sightseeing."


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