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Bolan found the main casino of the Gold Rush shrouded in a pall of drifting battle smoke when he emerged out of the concourse into open view. The center of the room, along the line of vacant roulette tables, had become a lethal no-man's land. Fire teams were off to either side, intent on gaining ground and laying down a steady fusillade that ricocheted from slot machines and ceiling fixtures, gouging ragged chunks of plaster from the walls.

It seemed as if the hotel staff had risen up in arms against the tenants, with a line of bellhops and blue-uniformed security staked out on Bolan's left, the business suits and shirt-sleeves of the Mafia gunners on his right. And Bolan did not need a cast of characters to know that he was witnessing an overthrow of Frank Spinoza's hoodlum empire. To be replaced by what? Abe Bernstein and his good-old boys? A second-generation syndicate that Bernstein might have put together, waiting in the wings?

Bolan had no time for thinking futures. There was ample trouble in his present to keep him occupied.

And if he played his cards right it would matter little what the mafiosi or their opposition might be planning. The Executioner announced his entry to the battle with a pair of frag grenades among the hostile soldiers. He was already moving when the two eggs detonated into smoky thunder, less than a second apart, seeking cover from the answering fire that could not be far behind. They were still screaming out there, as he reached a bank of slots and hunkered down behind the one-armed bandits, waiting for the storm to break around him.

Downrange a Mafia gunner poked his head around the line of slots, angling for a shot when Bolan took his face off with a short burst from the Uzi. The guy's pistol went off aimlessly as he impacted with the carpet, one stray round careening off polished chrome above Bolan's head. The warrior moved, knowing that the surest way to die in combat was to make yourself a stationary target. He was virtually surrounded now, but neither side could be sure who he was or what his unexpected entry to the three-ring charnel circus might portend for their side. By the time they had an answer, Bolan planned to be on top of things, dealing from strength and calling the tune in their impromptu dance of death. He covered for himself with automatic fire and kept on moving, never pausing long enough for hostile guns to find him. More than one was silenced by the probing bursts from Bolan's stuttergun, and now the fire from one side to another had begun to falter, gunners hesitating as they tried a rapid battlefield assessment of the latest threat. Bolan could not give them time to think.

He plucked another frag can from his belt and yanked the pin, counting down the seconds to doomsday as he chose a target randomly and let the bomb fly. Across the narrow no-man's land, a crap table took flight, all four legs off the ground and levitating on a ball of flame before it settled back to earth in smoking ruins. In the wake of the explosion, Bolan heard the death screams mingling with the clash of small-arms fire and someone shouting for instructions from his crew chief.

He emptied the Uzi in one searing burst, saw two of the blue-uniformed security guards topple underneath the driving rain of parabellum hornets.

Swiftly he reloaded, moving out of there in search of other sanctuary before the hostiles could react.

He reached a blackjack table, overturned already in the heat of battle. He hurdled it, touching down behind the barricade in combat readiness. The warrior was prepared for anything — except, perhaps, to face the mafioso who already occupied that makeshift foxhole, gaping at him now from no more than three feet away, the pistol he extended in his right hand touching-close.

No time to think, and Bolan chopped at the extended wrist with his free hand, swinging the Uzi around like a club toward the other man's face, simultaneously squeezing off a ragged burst at skin-touch range. The chopper's stubby muzzle struck the gunner's skull... and then that skull was vaporized, with scalp and brain and all of it departing in a pink mist.

Bolan felt the man's life blood now as it trickled down his cheeks, befouled his hair and clothing. But the Executioner held the trigger down until the clip had spent its load and he was staring at the headless body of a onetime enemy stretched out on the blood-soaked carpet. Bolan wiped the mess off his face as he rose to a crouch. He was reaching for another magazine to feed the starving Uzi when he saw the little party coming down the escalator, right into the middle of the flagging action. More security, their sky-blues stained from battle on the upper floors, and there behind them, someone else.

The woman, right.

He knew the old man standing on her right and halfsupporting her would be Abe Bernstein. The old man was in charge of what had happened here tonight — or rather, had been, until fate had found a wild card named Mack Bolan in the deck.

No time now for the Uzi, as the mercenaries on the escalator opened fire upon their mafiosi targets. They were swift, professional and deadly with those silenced Ingrams, raking back and forth and blowing holes along the hostile ranks before their presence registered on shellshocked minds.

Another moment... less, and they could turn the tide to victory for their side.

Bolan ripped the AutoMag out of its military leather, thumbing back the hammer as he sighted quickly down the muzzle, making target acquisition at a range of something under forty yards.

Lucy Bernstein was in danger, but he could not afford to let her clear the danger zone. There were no havens here tonight as long as one last cannibal remained alive. The warrior's mission was to kill them all.

And failing that, to wound them savagely, to drive them undercover, bloodied, hurting, thinking twice before they dared to show their jackal faces in the sunlight one more time.

The Executioner was living out his mission, right, performing to the utmost of his duty. He would spare the woman if he could, but in the last analysis she had to take her chances with the rest of them. There were no house odds any more around the Gold Rush. Every rule was canceled now, with wild cards in the game, and it was down to one last hand-winner take all.

Mack Bolan braced the mighty AutoMag in both hands and placed his bet.

* * * | The Bone Yard | * * *