A line of tracers shot from a slit in the wall. Blancanales careened across the lawn, throwing muddy bluegrass behind the jeep's tires. Lyons fought G-force, one arm around the M-60's pedestal, his free hand grabbing for the pistol-grip of his Atchisson rifle.
But Ricardo was the first to strike back. He jerked the pin from one of the Italian MU-5OGs and threw it at his former guerrilla leader. Before the tiny frag hit, Ricardo pulled the pin on the second. He saw the army officer and La Vibora dropping flat beside the Dodge. He let the lever flip free as he braced for the throw. He turned in his seat and awkwardly, threw the second grenade.
The first grenade bounced off the security-office wall. A guard braced his M-16 on the roof of the Dodge and sighted on the jeep. Popping behind him, the grenade shattered the Dodge side windows and peppered the guard with hundreds of pinpoint wounds. Arching backward in shock, the guard fell, his M-16 spraying wild autofire straight up.
La Vibora dashed for the M-16. The second grenade skipped across the asphalt, then rolled under the Dodge. The army officer saw the tiny grenade and scrambled away on his hands and knees. La Vibora looked down at his feet and saw it.
Hundreds of tiny steel balls slashed his body like razors. Steel punched into his downturned face. The blast knocked his feet from under him. Blinded, his feet ripped to blood-spurting tangles of leather and flesh, he crawled for safety. Dying on the asphalt, his body released an immense blood pool that spread around him.
As Blancanales steered the jeep through a half circle, Lyons untangled his Atchisson from his yellow raincoat. He flipped the fire-selector down to full-auto. Patterns of high-velocity steel swept the guards and the army officer, silencing their weapons.
But the machine gun still fired from the slit in the compound's concrete wall. Lyons knew he had no hope of killing that gunner. From the top of the wall, other weapons flashed. His voice almost lost in the hammering of the machine guns and autorifles, Lyons screamed to Blancanales, "Make distance! Get us out of here!"
Ricardo saw a sentry running along the top of the wall. The young man pointed his M-16. In his panic, he sprayed the entire magazine in one burst. He missed the guard and the wall, and the last three slugs, red tracers, streaked high into the rain.
Slapping another magazine into his Atchisson, Lyons hit the bolt release to strip the first shell into the chamber, then set the safety. He tore off the bright yellow raincoat and let it flutter away. He slipped the Atchisson's sling over his neck so that the autoshotgun hung ready at his right side, then stood up behind the pedestal of the M-60.
The guard on the wall fired down at the jeep. Windshield glass shattered. Lyons sighted on a gray-uniformed militiaman and fired, the burst lifting the man off his feet, tracers passing through his body.
Blancanales skidded through a high-speed turn, and they left the Quesada family compound behind. Now on the plantation service road, Blancanales floored the accelerator. Lyons turned, saw headlights on the road.
"Ricardo!" Lyons shouted. He slapped the M-60.
The teenager understood and moved instantly. Slinging the M-16 as Lyons had slung his autoweapon, the boy stood and took the machine gun's pistol-grip.
Lyons stepped over the seat to the forward gun. He popped open the can of belted ammo, then threw open the machine gun's feed cover. He slapped down the belt of 7.62mm NATO cartridges, jerked back the operating lever and fired.
Under the blue white luminescence of the plantation's lights, the brass casings and belt links shot out in a cascade of glittering metal. Lyons held the sights on the headlights. The line of orange red tracers extended from the jeep to the approaching vehicle. One of the headlights went black. Ricocheting tracers sparked in all directions. Glass sprayed.
The driver died. His Chevy Silverado drifted off the lane of blacktop. Lyons sighted on the doors and put bursts through the body panels. The Silverado crashed into the chain link security fence. Lyons turned as the jeep raced past.
Ricardo fired a long burst into the Silverado. Gasoline flashed, and a fireball churned up into the black sky. No one escaped the burning hulk.
"On the right! A la derecha!" Blancanales shouted.
Only a hundred meters ahead, Lyons saw a gray-painted jeep emerging from the darkness of the coffee fields. A militiaman in a black rain slicker swiveled a pedestal-mounted M-60 as Lyons whipped up his Atchisson, thumbing down the fire-selector.
Firing from the hip, Lyons sprayed steel balls at the gunner. The Atchisson's twenty-inch barrel allowed the double-ought and number-two buckshot to disperse in extremely wide patterns. He saw the gunner jolt as one or two balls hit him.
But Blancanales closed the distance at one hundred fifty kilometers per hour. At ranges of fifty meters and thirty meters, Lyons triggered single shots and hit the gunner again, throwing him backward.
Muzzleblast slammed the back of his head. Reeling with the pain, Lyons sat down hard as Ricardo tore into the militia jeep with slugs from the rear M-60. A line of red tracers passed through the militia jeep's windshield, specks of phosphor spinning into the darkness of the coffee fields.
Ricardo saw Lyons holding his aching ears and realized he had fired the heavy-caliber machine gun only inches above the head of the North American. He leaned to Lyons and gripped his shoulder.
"Lo siento, senor! Esta usted okay?"
His ears ringing, Lyons looked back to Ricardo. "No problem! Kill them!"
They left the militia patrol behind. Ricardo swiveled the M-60, walking a circle around the machine gun's pedestal as he fired more bursts into the jeep. The dead driver allowed the jeep to lurch forward to stall in the roadway. Ricardo raised his aim to the headlights following them.
Tracers crisscrossed. In the lead vehicle pursuing them, an experienced gunner got their range. Slugs whined off the roadway beside them. A tracer sparked off a fender. A slug slammed into the jeep's spare tire.
Lyons sighted the Atchisson on the headlights two hundred meters behind them. Then he adjusted his aim upward to compensate for drop. He fired semiauto, once, twice, three times, emptying the Atchisson's box mag.
Behind them, a headlight went black. The lead jeep — with only one headlight — swerved from side to side. The other headlights wove. Though the steel buckshot at that extreme distance presented no lethal threat to their pursuers, the spent projectiles had shattered glass and perhaps wounded the standing machine gunner.
They approached the vehicle yard. Many pairs of headlights indicated a general mobilization of the militiamen.
A truck came from the gate and blocked the road. Letting the Atchisson hang at his side, Lyons put the butt of the forward-pointing M-60 to his shoulder. As Blancanales slowed to evade the roadblock, Lyons sighted carefully and put bursts through the rear tires. The next burst went through the passenger-side door.
Holding the trigger back, Lyons raked the cab, behind the door, under the door, hoping to find the fuel tanks. He scored. The tracers ignited a sea of gasoline. A flaming figure staggered from the inferno and stumbled into the coffee rows to burn. The sheet of flames blocked the vehicle-yard exit.
Lyons directed the line of 7.62mm at the gate, killing a sentry, shattering the windshield of a Silverado blocked by the burning truck. He swept the autofire across the other vehicles attempting to exit — trucks, cars, a bus. Tracers hit the chain link fencing and flew at wild angles. But the fragments and ricocheting heavy NATO slugs retained the velocity to punch through steel and flesh.
Militiamen evacuated their transports. Rifles and heavy weapons returned Lyons's fire as Blancanales left the asphalt road for the muddy coffee fields. Ricardo directed his fire straight back at the vehicle yard, sending a line of tracers through the flames and smoke to rake militiamen and trucks and cars.
Ricochets from wild autofire scratched against the black overcast. The orange glow of the gasoline flames tinted the clouds.
"How we going to get out the gate?" Blancanales shouted to Lyons.
"Only one way. Crash it."
Blancanales downshifted to power through mud and pools of rainwater. "We won't make it. It's steel beams and cables under the chain link."
"You don't think this jeep would do it?"
"If we try to crash that gate with this vehicle," Blancanales emphasized, "we will disable this vehicle. We will be on foot. And then very quickly dead."
"So the solution is obvious..."
Lyons looked back. Headlights followed them along the row of coffee. Ahead, their headlights illuminated a long corridor through endless coffee bushes. Standing in the front seat, he looked over the bushes but saw no roads or breaks in the green sea of the plantation.
Slugs tore past him as the militiamen sighted on their jeep's taillights. Ricardo returned the fire. But with the lurching and bumping of the jeeps and trucks over the earth and mud, no one hit anyone.
Lyons climbed into the back. As Ricardo watched for targets, Lyons pulled his Colt Python. He held the revolver by the barrel and leaned over the tailgate of the jeep. He smashed out the taillights.
Blancanales cut to the left. Crashing across rows, swerving, he zigzagged to confuse the pursuers. He maintained a course parallel to the road, then veered back for the blacktop. Lyons saw headlights in the rows continuing in the opposite direction.
But on the road, headlights waited for them. A truck's spotlight swept the rows of coffee. Lyons motioned Ricardo to the front machine gun. He leaned to Blancanales and explained.
"Here's the plan. Get as close to the road as you can while the kid puts out some rounds. Then turn parallel. Then cut for the road. Got it? Straight on, parallel, then straight on to the road and make it for the gate. I'll be right behind you."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm getting us a truck."
"You got any ideas?" Lyons touch-checked his equipment. Bandoliers. Pistols. Grenades. Knife.
As they neared the road, the spotlight found them. Autorifles fired. Blancanales switched off the headlights and swerved through bushes. Ricardo aimed the M-60 at the lights. Blancanales spoke to him quickly in Spanish. The teenager raised the barrel and fired a short burst over the truck.
Forms scattered. The searchlight went dark. Lyons tapped Blancanales.
The jeep slowed for a moment. Lyons stepped into the darkness, running for a few steps. He crashed into a bush and rolled through mud. The jeep accelerated away in the darkness, plunging through coffee rows.
Lyons moved fast. Mud sucked at his boots. Ahead, he heard voices. Rifles fired blindly into the coffee rows, the slugs cutting through leaves and branches. He moved closer. He saw militiamen bracing M-16 rifles on the hood of a gray Silverado. They watched the rows for the North Americans.
Lights appeared a hundred meters to his right as Blancanales switched on his headlights. The militiamen at the truck snapped bursts from their M-16s. The jeep's headlights wavered as Blancanales bounced up the shoulder of the service road and skidded through a hard right turn.
Three militiamen scrambled into the Silverado. Lyons, sprinting across the broken, muddy ground, stopped, pulled down a breath to steady his aim and lined up the Atchisson's tritium nightsight on the windows of the truck.
In the front seat, the militiamen died before they heard the shots that killed them. Blasts of steel smashed through the passenger-side window and punched through their skulls. In the back seat, a man's eyes whirled toward the flash in the darkness. Steel balls shattered his window and tore away his head.
Lyons sprinted to the passenger truck, the Atchisson ready in his hands. He fired blasts point-blank into the seats to kill any militiaman waiting to surprise him. But the Silverado contained only corpses. He shoved aside the driver's body and started the truck.
Racing after the jeep, he flicked the high beams again and again. He saw Ricardo aim the M-60 at the Silverado's windshield. Lyons flicked the high beams once more and waved a hand out the window. He accelerated to pass the jeep.
"Stop!" he shouted out to Blancanales.
Blancanales slowed. "What?"
The jeep and the Silverado coasted on the blacktop. Lyons saw the guard tower and gate three hundred meters ahead. He leaned across a gory militiaman to speak to Blancanales through the shattered passenger window.
"You two put out rounds. Get as close as you can risk, and then put out everything you got. Or they're going to chop me to shit before I hit that gate. There are heavy machine guns up there. Maybe rockets."
"Anything you say. This is your idea."
"You first, then I come up to speed."
Blancanales accelerated ahead. Looking in the rear-view mirror, Lyons saw headlights weaving through the smoke and the flames far behind him. Other headlights came from the coffee rows.
Tracers arced down from the tower. Blancanales swerved from side to side as Ricardo aimed the M-60's autofire at the gunner. Flame flashed from the tower and a rocket shrieked into the earth. Blancanales slammed to a stop. He snapped up his M-16/M-203 and fired.
A 40mm grenade popped against the tower. The frag did not silence the machine gun. Blancanales aimed the jeep's front M-60. Two streams of tracers found the tower. Lyons saw tracers going in one window and out the other side.
Lyons prepared to crash the gate. He shoved the corpses of the militiamen into the footwell. He kicked one dead man up against the firewall. Then he put the heavy passenger truck into gear and floored the accelerator.
Driving the truck like a missile, he aimed for where padlock and chains secured the gates. A heavy steel crossbar braced them.
The designers of the Quesada security perimeter had anticipated attack from the outside. Therefore they had installed speed bumps in front of the gates to stop vehicles from hurtling into them. But they had not protected the gates from vehicles crashing out.
Lyons flashed past the jeep.
The machine gunner in the tower directed his weapon at the racing truck. Tracers sparked off the road.
Two lines of tracers found the machine gunner.
In the Silverado, Lyons held the steering wheel until the last instant, then threw himself against the dead men in the footwell.
The flesh of corpses reduced the shock, but the impact stunned him. At one-hundred-plus kilometers per hour, the Silverado cut its way through the buckling gates, snapped chains, bent the steel crossbar around the truck, threw one gate into the air.
The Silverado survived the crash, but not the speed bumps.
The springs shattered. Wheels smashed into fenders and the axles snapped. When the frame hit the bumps, the Silverado flipped end over end.
Blancanales saw the hulk roll to a stop on its side. He sped to the gate, skidded almost to a stop to negotiate the bumps. Ricardo fired burst after burst, aiming upward through the floor of the tower. No fire answered. Blancanales braked behind the shelter of the mangled truck.
"You alive?" he shouted out.
Lyons struggled to climb out the window. Blancanales grabbed the Atchisson from Lyons's hands, then helped his partner from the wreck. The Ironman stared around him, his eyes unfocused. Gore covered him.
Running his hands over Lyons's arms and legs, Blancanales checked for broken bones. He found only blood and pieces of flesh. Lyons watched him.
"You're wasting time," Lyons said. "That's other people all over me. Check my gear. I got my pistols? Where's my Atchisson?"
"Colt .45. Revolver. Here's the shotgun..."
"Then get me out of here. I am all fucked up," Lyons intoned.
Blancanales half-carried him to the jeep and eased him into the seat. In seconds, they raced away from the finca.
Infinitely slowly, Lyons turned in the seat to look back. Flames and columns of black smoke rose from several fires. Gasoline fireballed as he watched.
Two pairs of headlights still pursued them. He slowly turned forward again. He closed his eyes and spoke.
"You know what this means, don't you..."
"Don't talk. You might be broken inside. I'll give you some morphine when we get back to the Wizard."
"It means we lost the element of surprise. But I'll get him."
"What're you talking about? I'm radioing Grimaldi for a medevac."
Lyons continued as if Blancanales had not spoken. "Now we know what's going on. We know Quesada's in there. But he knows we're out here. Now it's going to be a real drag."
The M-60 fired, Ricardo hammering the pursuing trucks with slugs. Autorifles sparked and slugs zipped past the jeep. A slug smashed into the tailgate.
Lyons sighed. "More nonsense."
Rising slowly from the seat, he gripped his Atchisson like a crutch.
"Don't move, don't," Blancanales told him. "The boy can handle them. They won't follow us into the mountains. We'll get away, no problem."
Flashes ripped apart the night. Points of flame from the muzzles of autorifles and squad automatic weapons slashed the darkness. Tracers streaked down at the jeep from the hillside above the road. Hundreds of slugs filled the air.