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2

Electric fans created a wind of humid, polluted air through the improvised dojo. In sweaty T-shirts and homemade karate pants, two lines of ghetto boys and one girl practiced the rising-block defense against a punch to the face. A line stepped forward in attack, and a second line stepped back as the individuals defended themselves. Isador "The Izz" Goldman, a New York Police Department detective, went from child to child, correcting stances, watching moves, demonstrating correct techniques. He spoke English, Spanish and French to the class of North American and Jamaican blacks, Eastern European whites and Central Americans.

Rosario Blancanales and Carl Lyons served as demonstration subjects. In their sweat-yellowed gis, the two Stony soldiers waited as Izz Goldman called the students together and explained the next technique.

"Now defense becomes attack. Use the same upward blocking motion, but instead of deflecting the punch up and away, break the arm. Like this..."

Goldman motioned Lyons forward. Goldman had invited his buddy Rosario to the karate class and Rosario had brought this ex-cop with the impassive face and expressionless eyes. Making the ritual bow to his opponent, Goldman then waited as the blond man stepped forward in an exaggerated and slow punch.

Snapping his left forearm up, Goldman hit Lyons's wrist hard with the bony edge of his forearm. The students asked to see the move again.

"Mr. Goldman. Do you hit only the wrist?"

"Is there a nerve there, Mr. Goldman?"

"If you hit it hard, will it really break?"

Repeating the same attack several times, Goldman struck the ex-LAPD officer's arm again and again. His eyes half-closed, expressionless, the blond man attacked on cue without flinching or holding back. Finally Goldman sent the students back to their practice. Lyons returned to tutoring a group of beginners.

Goldman went to his Puerto Rican friend, Rosario. "What's with lizard eyes? Doesn't your friend have any nerves?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like pain nerves. I must've hit him ten times in the same place and he doesn't even blink. Like looking a snake in the face."

"That's the way he is," Blancanales answered. He glanced over to Lyons. Lyons patiently demonstrated the technique of advancing in stance, knees flexed, feet sliding, eyes focused straight ahead. "That's the way he is now. Recently he lost a partner more than a partner. He's still in mourning."

"Oh, yeah. Know about that. Tough. But that's the job."

"She was more than a partner. Looked like love and marriage. And then she was gone."

"Yeah, can imagine that."

"Not really," Blancanales corrected his New York buddy. "You don't know how broken up he is. You see, it was his fault..."

"What?"

"In a way. She was hurt and he tried to stop her from making the bust. Left her behind while we went to take the bad guys. She got pissed and did something wrong and went straight into it. If he hadn't gotten protective, she'd be alive."

Across the converted basement, Lyons attempted to explain the principle of tension-nontension to a ten-year-old boy with the almond eyes and blue black hair of a Central American mestizo.

"All your strength must go outward" Lyons exaggerated his front stance to emphasize his words. "But the strength cannot stop you from moving, and you must move with your legs strong. Then if your leg is kicked as in an attack to your knee nothing happens."

The boy tried to hold his leg muscles tense while he slid through steps. His rigid legs moved in awkward jerks. Lyons shook his head. "Relax. You can't move like that..."

"You say I should keep my legs strong. But if I keep them strong, I can't walk."

"Practice it every day. Your legs will be strong and your stance will be strong. Then you'll understand what I'm saying."

"Hey, social workers!"

Lyons looked up to see Gadgets Schwarz, the Able Team electronics specialist, standing on the steps. Tanned, wearing slacks and open-collared sport shirt, the ex-Green Beret looked like an off-season tourist.

"Got a man who wants to talk to you" Gadgets motioned up the stairs behind him. "A man from Dee Cee."

Lyons answered with a nod. He turned to the mestizo boy. "Practice. In a year it will be easy."

"You will teach me? You come back for next class?"

Glancing to his waiting partners, Lyons shrugged. "Maybe."

The boy turned away, disappointed. Lyons crossed the varnished plywood of the basement dojo to the stairs.

"How's the Ironman?" Gadgets asked.

"Never better," he lied, his eyes hooded, revealing nothing of his grief.

"Ready to work?"

"Why not?"

"That's my man. Up there."

As they went up the stairs, Lyons looked back to see Izz Goldman dividing the students into advanced and beginner groups. Two advanced boys bowed, then sparred in awkward freestyle. The deep voice of Andrzej Konzaki turned Lyons's head.

"What you doing in this neighborhood, gringo?"

Lyons stepped up to the pavement. New Yorkers crowded the sidewalks. The unseasonably warm night throbbed with rhythm of Puerto Rican music blasting from a record store.

"I'm learning Spanish."

"Looks like you're training your own gang down there."

Blancanales answered the joke. "They're all honor students. A's and a's."

"And what do they get for it?" Lyons asked rhetorically. He sat on the concrete stoop of a tenement. In his white karate pants and clinging sweat-soaked shirt, with close-cut blond hair and golden tan, he stood out like neon against the old, soot-gray tenement. "I'll tell what they get, they get their heads kicked by the punks. So we're training them to er, present a credible threat of counterforce. There it is. Why are you here?"

"Want to use your Spanish?"

"Where?"

"El Salvador."

Lyons and Blancanales exchanged glances. The Puerto Rican ex-Green Beret sat beside Lyons on the stoop and said, "Here's a quick Spanish lesson for you. The word for asshole in Spanish is ano. Like, el ano del mundo. Asshole of the world. It's spelled S-a-l-v-a-d-o-r."

"Quit the lip," Konzaki told Blancanales. "A straight answer."

Lyons shook his head. No.

"Hey, Ironman," Gadgets jived. "You dig it down south. Forests, mountains, papayas, tropical showers. Just like a vacation in Hawaii, except in Spanish."

"Just like a vacation in Dachau," Lyons answered. "Except in Spanish."

"Gentlemen," Konzaki pronounced, switching from his Marine voice to the voice of a capital spokesman. "You are disparaging a democratically elected government attempting to reform a feudal nation while fighting a civil war."

"You believe that?" Lyons asked.

"No," Konzaki said, "but it sounds good."

"Then plug in your headphones when you talk that shit," Lyons countered bitterly. "I don't want to hear it."

"Then hear this, you limp-wristed bleeding-heart pinko liberal..." Konzaki swore.

"The Ironman? A pinko?" Gadgets asked incredulously.

"You want Quesada?" fumed Konzaki. "Remember Colonel Roberto Quesada, recently of Miami Beach, Florida? Wanted for the murder of David Holt and Alfred Lopez?"

"I remember the FBI went out with a warrant twenty-four hours after we gave them the information."

"Now we got information. Where he is. How he travels. Times, routes, security details."

Lyons looked to his partners. Blancanales nodded. Gadgets grinned.

"The Ironman's interested all of a sudden," Gadgets said.

"What's the op?" Lyons asked.

"There are federal and state warrants on him," Konzaki told them. "If Quesada were to return to the United States, he would be subject to the courts of the United States of America."

"And no questions asked about how he came back," Gadgets added.

"Who knows about the mission?" Lyons asked.

"No one knows but you three."

"Then where'd the information come from? A box of Cracker Jacks?"

"A Salvadoran national gathered the information," Konzaki replied. "He flew to San Francisco and offered it to a Senor Rivera. You know him. Senor Rivera called the Justice Department and said he had information on a fugitive. As soon as Rivera identified himself, the department forwarded his call to Brognola's office. Only the Salvadorans and Hal know what the information is. No one else."

"What about your friends in the Agency?" Lyons asked, his voice cold.

"I don't work there anymore, Mr. Lyons," Konzaki stated. "Why would you think that Stony Man shares sensitive information with questionable allies?"

"I got no objections to flying south for a look-see," Gadgets told his partners.

"Maybe Quesada comes back," Blancanales told Konzaki, "maybe not."

Finally Lyons nodded. "This is it standard equipment, civilian clothes and ten thousand dollars in hundreds."

"Why so much money?" Konzaki asked. "You'll have a liaison man to provide what you need."

"Maybe we'll have to buy our way out," Lyons told him. "I don't speak Spanish, but everybody understands hundred-dollar bills."

"I'll have to call Stony Man to confirm the cash," Konzaki answered.

"Call, don't call. I don't care. No cash, no go." Lyons left his partners without another word. He went down the stairs to the basement.

"What's with him?" Konzaki asked the other two men of Able Team.

"Since Flor got wasted," Gadgets started to explain, "that man is cold. I mean, cold."

Blancanales continued the explanation. "Since Flor got wasted by a gang of crew cuts in suits with Agency equipment in an Agency car who identified themselves as agents of the United States government..."

"Not same lovable guy anymore," Gadgets added, trying to joke. "Tends to be son of suspicious."

No one laughed.

In the basement dojo, Lyons returned to training the beginners in the basics of karate. The group of advanced students sparred under Goldman's supervision.

Two of the older boys demonstrated excellent freestyle technique, sparring with full-speed punches and kicks but maintaining a polite distance from each other's body. None of the kicks or punches actually struck flesh.

Throwing a flurry of punches, one of the boys drove his opponent back, then aimed a hard straight kick at his solar plexus to take the victory. But his opponent skipped back, making distance from the kick, and crashed backward into the beginners. Lyons saw one of the older boy's heels accidentally slam into the calf of a young boy. The young boy the student Lyons had spoken to earlier cried out in pain and fell clutching his leg. Lyons went to him instantly.

"Is he hurt?" Goldman asked.

Lyons pushed up the cloth of the boy's homemade gi. The boy cried out again when Lyons examined his calf.

"He'll have a bruise. Limp for a few days."

Goldman pushed the gathered students back to their places. The class resumed. Lyons took the boy aside and massaged the knot forming in the boy's calf muscle.

"Is it broken?" the boy asked.

"If it was broken, you couldn't even limp. What's your name?"

"Milton."

"After the English poet?"

"My father taught English. He said Milton was a great poet."

"I wondered why your English was so good. You're lucky your father can help you. You can make more money in the United States speaking English and Spanish."

"I won't live here when I am old. I go back to Salvador."

"Then when you go back, you'll make more money. Smart kids who can speak languages make money wherever they go."

"My father said there can be no understanding if we do not know the language of other people."

"He's right," Lyons agreed, conscious of his own ignorance.

Words came quickly from Milton. Though he had not cried with the pain of his injured leg, now his eyes filled with tears. "On Sundays, he took me where the tourists were. We talked with many people, so I could speak English. Sometimes, I was a guide. I went everywhere with Americans. I took them to the ruins. Where my people lived before the Spanish came."

"Good way to make money. Is your leg hurting more? What's wrong?"

"I don't want money. I don't want to speak English. I want to be with my father, to fight with my father. So don't talk about money, mister."

"Your father's fighting in El Salvador?" Lyons asked quietly, trying to calm the crying ten-year-old. "Where?"

"Chalatenango. Where our village was. Until the soldiers and the bombers came and massacred our village."

"What soldiers? The guerrillas?"

Milton looked at Lyons with disbelief. "We don't have airplanes. Only the rich have bombers."

"Your father's a guerrilla?"

"He fights the soldiers. When I go back, I fight, too. I will kill all the soldiers."

"Not all soldiers are the enemy. What if I was a soldier? What if he was a soldier?" Lyons nodded toward Blancanales.

"But you're helping us. In Salvador, the soldiers would kill you for helping us."

Lyons smiled. "I don't think so."

"You are not Salvadoran. You know nothing."

A whistle came from the stairs. Lyons saw Gadgets give him a thumbs-up sign. Lyons helped Milton to his feet. The boy wiped his tears away and started back to the beginners' group.

"Hey, Milton," Lyons called. "Quit for the night."

"No. I must learn fast. Then I go back. Until we kill them all, the soldiers, the rich, the Spanish, we will fight. They are all the enemy. If you were Salvadoran, you would know."

Lyons gave the young boy a salute. "Thanks for the advice." Then the North American ex-cop followed his partners into the New York City night.


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