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19

A lightshow of death red tracers, green tracers, the orange yellow flame slashes of RPG-7 rockets streaked from the night-black hillside. Amazed by the intensity of the one-way firefight that would end their lives, Blancanales and Lyons and Ricardo stared at the flashing autofire, reflexes locking their hands on their weapons, their reason abandoning all hope. But not a bullet hit them. Their heads pivoted as their jeep sped through the kill zone.

Behind them, the storm of full-metal-jacketed slugs tore the two pursuing trucks to bloody junk. The Quesada militiamen, who chased Lyons and Blancanales and the teenager knew only an instant of the high-velocity maelstrom headlights exploding, windshields shattering, windows dissolving into glitter, sheet-steel deforming before falling into the endless night of death.

Tires popped. The first truck went into a sideskid across the wet pavement, the steering wheel in the hands of a dead man. Ten lines of tracers focused on the truck. An RPG's warhead hit. Metallic points of flame sprayed into the night, then petroflame engulfed the rolling hulk.

A rocket flashed from the hillside to hit the second truck. Ragged sheet steel spun into the low brush beyond the road. A fireball churned into the darkness and rain.

Blancanales glanced in the rearview mirror and saw only flames. Then a wall of headlights appeared in front of him. The shadowy forms of cars blocked the road.

Stomping the brakes, Blancanales fought the fishtailing jeep. He danced the pedals, downshifting, braking, downshifting again. Desperate for an escape route, he steered for the hillside's muddy embankment. He would go above the roadblock.

Gadgets Schwarz stepped into the glare of the headlights and waved his arms.

"What's happening here?" Blancanales wondered as he stood on the brake.

In pain, Lyons laughed. "Ask Mr. Wizard."

The jeep slid to a stop. Gadgets ran to his partners. He slapped Lyons on the back.

"Saw that stunt show through binocs!" he exclaimed. "Don't ever ask to borrow my car." He leaned across and jabbed Blancanales in the shoulder. "Wait till you see who's here. Floyd Jefferson! And some people from the other side..." He glanced to the darkness of the hillside and whispered, "Just be cool. They're on our side, tonight. I explained what we're doing and it's cool. Be cool."

"What are you talking about?" Lyons's eyes scanned the darkness as he reached for his Atchisson.

Gadgets's hand closed around his partner's wrist and moved his hand away from the autoshotgun. "Be cool, Ironman, or you'll be scrap metal. You're standing in the wrecking yard"

Shadows came from the hillside. Against the flaming hulks of the militia trucks, they saw the silhouettes carrying an international collection of autoweapons. Israeli Galil rifles. M-60 machine guns. An M-14. Heckler & Koch G-3s. Two forms carried Soviet RPG launchers and slung CAR-15s.

"Hey specialists." Floyd Jefferson called out. The young reporter from San Francisco, California, ran from the silhouettes. A camera on a strap bounced against his side. A shotgun bandolier loaded with 35mm film cans crossed his rain-soaked camouflage shirt.

Lyons shoulder-slung his Atchisson and got out of the jeep. He swayed on his feet. Floyd ran up and hugged his ex-cop friend.

"Easy, kid." Lyons winced with pain. "I just totaled a truck."

"Oh, yeah! Saw it. All the muchachosthink you're fantastico. Ain't seen you since since"

"Since I carried you to that ambulance. How's your head?"

"Call me Fearless Fosdick. Thank God for my Irish skullbone. Had a concussion. But one in my ribs was the pits. Couldn't take a deep breath for nine weeks."

Blancanales walked around the jeep. He exchanged an abrazowith the Puerto Rican-Irish-Mexican-Indian-Anglo young man. Looking past Floyd, he asked quietly, "Who are they?"

Floyd turned. He saw the platoon of men in camou uniforms only steps away. He briefed Able Team quickly. "Democratic Liberation Front. Ex-Salvo soldiers and officers. They don't fight, they kill. You saw. They're specialists, just like you. Lizco will explain everything."

"The lieutenant's with them?" Lyons asked. "I thought so"

"The other Lizco," Gadgets corrected.

The Lieutenant Lizco whom Lyons knew came from the headlights. He had his M-16 slung over one shoulder. He joined the guerrillas crowding around Able Team.

"I introduce my brother, Captain Alfredo Lizco," he said.

His older brother extended a hand to Lyons and Blancanales. "Pleased to meet you. Enemies of Quesada are my friends."

"Mucho gusto, comrade," Blancanales said.

"Amigo," the captain corrected. "That other word is for other fighters."

"You're not Communists?" Lyons asked, shaking the captain's hand with enthusiasm.

"No!" The older Lizco spat out the denial. "Now come. We talk too much here."

Slowly, painfully, Lyons stepped back into the jeep. Captain Lizco caught his arm.

"Please," he said. "Come with us in truck. We talk in truck."

"Are we your prisoners?" Lyons asked.

"We do not take prisoners," the captain stated simply.

Gadgets laughed. "The man talks straight. In the truck, Ironman. We got to make out of here, muy rapido."

Two guerrillas got in the jeep. Pausing to find only empty Atchisson mags on the floor of the jeep, Lyons followed the others. He staggered a few steps to catch up with Guillermo Lizco, the lieutenant.

"Why didn't you say your big brother was up here?" he said. "Me and my partner and Ricardo just took the kamikaze tour of the Quesada estate. With two M-60s, we ripped that place apart. But with your brother's men, we could have taken Quesada and the plantation and all his people."

"Until an hour ago," the lieutenant answered, "I did not know my brother still lived."

"You just bumped into him? By coincidence?"

"No," the elder brother told him. Captain Lizco explained as they climbed into the back of a slat-side farm truck. "My commander send me here because my brother fights with Las Boinas Negras. I come to make contact with him. To stop the Stalinistas, those crazy Soviet rojoswho kill everyone. Farmers, soldiers, children."

Able Team, the Lizco brothers and several guerrillas crowded into the truck. They had only plastic tarps to shelter them from the rain and the wind. The convoy of the truck and the two jeeps sped away from the burning hulks.

Guerrillas stuck the barrels of their autorifles and M-60 machine guns out the slats. One machine gunner watched each side of the road. A rocketman slipped a projectile into his RPG launcher and straightened the wire on the rocket's safety cap.

"You killed the Stalinistas." Captain Lizco continued. "But still there are many questions. The people tell us of soldiers and Communist assassins together. Many strange stories. Now we will not know the truth about the Communists and what they did. But I thank you for doing our work."

Lyons looked to Blancanales and Ricardo, cautioning them to silence. "But the Communists are your allies. Why would you want them dead?"

"There are Communists, yes, in our alliance. There are Marxists, there are Socialists. Unionists, Christian Democrats, Indians, Jews, Buddhists, anarchists, Utopians. There are many ideologies. But they do not slaughter campesinos and their families. They do not kill every thing that lives. What the Stalinistas do is a crime against God. They are not our allies, they are not fighting for Salvador. They fight only to take. Like the Soviets. The Soviets are not Communists. They want only power. Communist, Soviet, Stalinist, fascist, Nazi. Only words. They are the same. They are terrormongers for power."

Lyons laughed. "That is the fact. You, sir, know an international truth. The kid there..." he pointed to Ricardo "...he was with the PLF. We wiped out the Commie unit, but we didn't get their officer. When we infiltrated the plantation, Ricardo spotted his officer with the fascists..."

"What?" the captain asked.

"We saw La Vibora," Blancanales repeated.

"Mr. Snake," Lyons continued. "With a Salvadoran army officer. On their way to meet with that Nazi Colonel Quesada."

"And I called you paranoid," Gadgets commented to Lyons. "Maybe I don't have the imagination for Salvadoran politics."

"Who could?" Lyons answered.

"This La Vibora," the captain asked, "he is still with Quesada?"

"He's dead. Ricardo killed him with a frag."

"That is a problem," the captain said. "Many questions will not be answered. We will not learn who else collaborates with the families."

"Ask Quesada," Lyons told him.

Blancanales shook his head. "The mission's over. Like you said, we lost the element of surprise. Now he knows we're here."

"He knew we were here..." Gadgets spoke up.

Lyons interrupted. "He thinks some mercenaries rescued a squad of soldiers. He still doesn't know who hit him and why."

"Ironman, Quesada Nazado knows!" insisted Gadgets. "That's why he canceled the ambush of the journalists. The death-squad officer wanted to go find the reporters. But Quesada told him there were, and I quote, 'North American agents sent to kidnap him.' He wanted the officer, a Lieutenant Kohl, to attend a meeting. I got that right, Lieutenant?"

The younger Lizco brother made a correction. "He said you were 'North American paramilitary agents.'"

"I knew it!" Lyons cursed. "I knew it. That's why I won't use Agency papers. That's why I didn't trust the lieutenant here. We can't even trust our own government."

"Not the government," Blancanales told him. "Individuals within the government. Or the administration. Or Congress. Or the Agency. Somewhere, there's someone working for the Salvadoran fascists. Someone with access to our mission information. Before the next mission, we'll have to deal with the informer."

Lyons shook his head no. "We're not going back without the Man. We'll ask him who the informer is. He'll know."

"I vote for a tactical withdrawal," Blancanales stated. "They know we're here. They know we're after Quesada. The fincawill be locked down so tight it'd take a battalion of Marines to seize him. And you, we have to get you to a hospital for a few days' observation."

"I'm all right!" Lyons said.

"You hit that gate at eighty or ninety miles an hour. You could have a subdural hematoma. You could have a ruptured spleen. You could have a hundred internal hemorrhages. You could fall over dead any minute. Soon as the Wizard can put out the signal, we're on our way back."

"Hard to argue with that," Gadgets told Lyons. "Second the motion. Don't want to lose our shock-trooper."

"Captain..." Lyons turned to the guerilla officer "...Quesada's in that plantation. He has the answers to your questions. You want to go get that Nazi, I'll go with you."

The captain smiled. He looked to his younger brother. "Who are these men you brought to our country? They kill the Stalinistas, they kill the fascists. Other North Americans talk of democracy, but they..." he pointed at the three warriors of Able Team "...they fight for democracy."

The brothers laughed. The captain turned to his men and translated what had been said. Some laughed. Others gave Lyons the clenched-fist salute. One man talked with his leader for a moment. The captain turned to Able Team again.

"That man says to remember the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain. When the Spanish people fought the Castilian fascists and the German Nazis, some North Americans joined the war. Perhaps if an Abraham Lincoln Brigade came to Salvador, we could make a democracy."

"Captain," Lyons told him, "what you want for your country is your business. I'm fighting for my country. To protect my country's democracy. There are Nazis threatening my country and Quesada knows who they are. I want to put the question to that fascist scum-hole. It is a personal mission. I'm out for revenge and he is the first step. So what is it? Do we go in?"

"Hey, Ironman," Gadgets broke in. "You are exceeding your authority."

Blancanales spoke in a low voice. "You are not for revenge. Our mission here is to return Quesada for trial."

"Okay!" Lyons snapped. "There it is. That's our mission. We'll do it. Stop this tactical retreat talk. So what if he knows we're coming?"

The truck's driver called back to his captain. "Aqui esta el carro de los norteamericanos."

"Your other jeep," Captain Lizco told them.

Two riflemen in black plastic ponchos left the cover of roadside brush when they saw their unit returning.

Blancanales called across the truck. "Floyd!" The young reporter had listened to the debate, quietly translating details for the Salvadorans. "You're college educated. You're in this. What do you say?" Blancanales asked him.

"Rick Marquez got me my first job. Without him, I'd still be a punk with a camera looking for work. And Quesada had him murdered. So don't expect me to say anything anything moderate. I say nuke Quesada."

Gadgets ran back to the waiting truck. "Political! Things have changed! I set my gear to monitor and record and what did I catch? Quesada's gone to someplace called Reitoca, in Honduras. To something called 'The School.' He ain't hiding inside the plantation, and he won't expect us to hit him in Honduras. What do you say?"

Lyons did not wait for Blancanales to answer Schwarz. The blond ex-cop turned to the Salvadorans.

"Where is Reitoca? How far? And can we get there tonight?"


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