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Chapter One:
Swimming With The Sharks

Chapter Two:
Keep Your Enemies Closer

Chapter Three:
ShowTime

Chapter Four:
A Girl's Best Friend

Chapter Five:
In The Rough

Chapter Six:
Shadow Play

Chapter Seven:
Southern Hospitality

Chapter Eight:
Clear as Crystal

Chapter Nine:
The Home Stretch

Chapter Ten:
The Final Hurdle

Chapter Eleven:
The Last Dance

Chapter FOUR: A Girl's Best Friend

Loyle Crawford's eyes were storms. Gone was the handsome, roguish charmer of a few minutes before. In his place was the Empire State's ace pilot, the deadliest man in the Manhattan skies.

For more information see:
The Empire State

"Loyle...I never expected..." Justine stammered. She gazed up at him with a forlorn look that said she could never do anything to cause him pain.

For more information see:
Loyle Crawford

Crawford's grip relaxed—

—and Justine "Battleaxe" Perot, leader of the infamous Medusas, drove her knuckles into his nose with a resounding "crunch". His head snapped back and he growled at the shock, but he held fast to her arm.

For more information see:
Justine Perot

"I'd hate to hit a lady," he growled, "but you're no lady." He spun and flung her bodily at the bookcase. She ducked her head to take the impact on her shoulder and fell to the floor in a heap of half-released hair and black eveningwear. Crawford dashed toward her, but she was faster and not as badly hurt as he probably expected. After all, she thought bitterly, I'm just a 'helpless woman'.

As he closed in, Justine launched a brutal kick into his stomach. He groaned in pain and doubled over.

She sneered and stood up. "I'm more 'lady' than you can handle, flyboy." She brought her knee up into his face, which sent him stumbling back, but too late she recalled her own vulnerability—the not-quite-healed leg wound that she'd gotten in Hawai'i.

Lances of pain stabbed through her leg, eliciting a curse that widened Devoir's eyes. Justine took a quick sidestep on her good leg and snatched an iron poker from the fireplace mantle. She brought it up just as Crawford recovered and moved toward her. He hesitated, looking for an opening. She brandished the metal rod, flicking it back and forth, daring him to get closer.

Justine swung; he ducked back.

Crawford dashed behind the couch, and snapped up a fancy wrought iron standing lamp. He grasped it like a makeshift quarterstaff and jabbed at her. She deflected it with the poker, which ripped the shade off and left the bare bulb.

She swung again, but he deftly deflected the back end of the lamp around at her. The impromtu weapon barely missed her, but snagged the front of her dress. The rip exposed a bit more of her neckline than was decent, and Crawford paused—as if he was about to apologize. Justine almost laughed at the comical look of surprise on the pilot's face...then she took the opportunity to press her attack.

She brought the poker down in a two-handed overhead swing. Crawford threw the lamp up to shield himself in the nick of time. Shattered splinters of light bulb went flying.

The two of them pulled back on their weapons, but the poker's hook had snared in the lamp's curved iron. Crawford reacted first and yanked hard. Justine tumbled forward onto the couch.

She scrambled to get back on her feet, but Crawford was on top of her in a split second. Her limbs flailed wildly, trying to find a purchase on him to shove him away, but he managed to grab her wrists. Justine snarled like a wild animal, but didn't yell. He pinned her roughly, and solidly, to the couch.

"Nobody beats me on my own turf, Doll," he looked at their position, him atop her on the couch. "Of course I mean New York, not—"

His voice trailed off with that intensely smug grin he always wore. Then it instantly vanished as he looked down at her torn neckline. "Hey..." he stared down at the rip in her dress. Justine followed his gaze and realized her dress had torn enough to reveal the tattoo atop her left breast—the Gorgon's head crest of the Medusas. "Well, well—I have seen you; on wanted posters, 'Battlea—"

For more information see:
The Medusas

He never knew what hit him. Amanda tossed aside a small black statue of a bird she'd grabbed from its perch on a hallway table. She helped Justine to her feet. "Distracted by a man?"

Justine shot her a withering look and retrieved her pistol. "Never mind that. Is everything set?"

"Yeah...everything's jake."

"Then," Justine turned back to Devoir and her paramour, "without further ado..." She reached out and yanked the diamond necklace down with enough force to break the clasp. The Hope Diamond necklace fell into her fingers. It was that easy.

They dashed down the stairs at breakneck speed and plunged into the oblivious crowd. They pushed and shoved people aside, but it was slow going. Justine held up her pistol and fired two shots into the ceiling.

Screams erupted; everyone dropped to the floor. That was better. In a few more seconds they made their way across to the buffet table. The server looked at them with terror. A large spoon trembled in his white-knuckled grip. Justine pointed the pistol at him. He dropped the spoon into the soup with a plop.

"Get lost," she said simply, and he did. Justine fired off another round to keep the crowd down and grabbed the edge of the table. Amanda did the same. "One, two , three!" They pitched the table forward, dumping a mountain of food onto the exquisite tile.

Loyle Crawford's head hurt—a lot. He came to in the bedroom, awakened by the sound of gunfire from downstairs. He didn't have time to consider how he got there. He took the stairs three at a time and bounded to the main floor. The place was in chaos. People were trying to get out, and the buffet table had been overturned. He grabbed a passing waiter by the collar.

"Where'd they go?" he shouted.

The waiter pointed toward the large doors that led to the penthouse balcony. The white curtains billowed like gossamer into the room. Crawford ran toward the door, trying to figure out what was going on. Maybe they had an autogyro?

He reached the doorway and ripped the curtains back.

He stopped short. The two women were standing on the stone balcony wall flanking the mounted spotlight. Their formal dresses whipped against their legs in the cold wind. On their backs were bulky packs. Justine glanced over her shoulder and grinned wickedly at Crawford's expression. An escaped lock of hair dangled down over her face.

"Don't be sore, Pretty Boy. Thanks for the drink!"

They jumped.

Instinctively Crawford threw himself forward, but he only caught empty air. He hastily turned the spotlight downward and flipped the switch, just in time to see two white circles blossom open, emblazoned with enormous Medusa-head logos. The eyes of the giant gorgons stared back up at him mockingly, while the two Medusas drifted south down Broadway—and out of his grasp.

The grass felt good underfoot as Justine ran at top speed across Battery Park. She didn't have time to enjoy it though. If the rest of this plan didn't go just right, she and Amanda would be in a police lockup as soon as those sirens got a clue where they'd gone. The chutes were snarling traffic where they'd cut them loose—that'd slow down the cops—but dozens of people had seen them land. They were behind schedule and didn't have much time.

In one hand she carried a .32 pistol; in the other, the Hope Diamond necklace. They felt about the same weight.

She and Amanda dodged around a bum, sped past a romantically-inclined couple, and finally reached the docks. The moon had disappeared behind dark clouds, but the docks were well lit. They raced across the planks, past small fishing boats busy unloading the day's catch under large lights. The stench of the fish was like a wall. At the far end of the dock, they found a slip where a Ford Seahopper—an autogyro fitted with floating pontoons—bobbed on the water, right where they'd left it that morning.

Amanda stepped onto the port-side pontoon, opened the door and climbed into the pilot's seat. The cockpit panel illuminated her dimly as she powered up the controls. The motor started easily, and the rotors began to slowly gather speed.

Justine reached up and picked at the edge of the "Imperial Air Courier" logo on the nose of the autogyro. With a flourish, she ripped it off to reveal the gorgon's head logo of the Medusas Gang. Just at that moment the screech of tires reached her ears over the whine of the accelerating rotor. She turned just in time to see a half dozen of New York City's finest pouring out of their black and whites. A volley of gunfire whizzed past her tail as she dove behind a crate across from the Seahopper.

The sailors and fishermen scattered like ants into the boats and some into the water. Gunfire ripped at Justine's wood crate. She waited for the inevitable pause, then popped up to let them have some of their own medicine. A shouted curse let her know she'd scored a hit. The autogyro still needed more time to get up to speed. Until then it was a sitting duck.

More bullets flew over her head. The crate shielded her, but they were stuck good. By the time she could get in and airborne, the police would close in and make Swiss cheese of the cockpit.

The .32 kicked as she held it over her head and fired a few shots up the dock to keep the police at bay. When she brought it back down the slide was open.

"Damn," she growled. She fished under her dress for the extra clip strapped to her thigh and dropped the spent one on the ground as she reloaded. By the time she looked again, the police had moved halfway down the dock toward her. She fired a trio of shots to scatter them. Time was running out.

The breeze carried a fresh wave of fishiness across the dock. Justine wrinkled her nose, then her eyes widened. That was the way out. She only had a few shots left, though. Her aim would have to be right on. She held her breath and popped up to brace her pistol on the crate, aiming over the heads of the police. She squeezed the trigger in rapid succession, blasting away at the rope and pulley suspended over the dock.

The slide locked back. Nothing happened. We're dead, thought Justine with a grimace.

Then with a creaking groan, the rope began to break and unravel one twisted strand at a time. The huge crate suspended above the dock began an unsteady clockwise pirouette. All eyes rose involuntarily to the mammoth cargo as it spun ominously overhead. Nobody breathed.

Snap.

The crate smashed onto the dock and loosed a tidal wave of fresh fish across the planks. The police went down in a slippery tangle of mackrel and halibut.

Justine dove toward the autogyro and shoulder rolled off the dock. With one hand she caught the door of the Seahopper and swung around to plant her feet on the pontoon. She reached down and cast off the rope that anchored the gyro to the dock. The craft quickly autorotated against the whirl of its rotor, turning away from the dock. Amanda gunned the front prop and the gyro crawled forward. Justine scrambled into the cockpit; Amanda deftly climbed into the passenger's seat to give her the controls. They both knew how Amanda felt about autogyros.

The gyro needed a good distance to get up to speed on the water, but fortunately they had plenty of room. Justine held the stick steady while she glanced down at the photograph she always had clipped to the control panel. She placed a kiss on the little girl's forehead with her finger.

Finally the craft hopped off the water and stayed airborne. They gained height quickly. "Watch for interceptors," Justine growled, and turned the autogyro to make for the open ocean.

Amanda craned her neck to watch their tail. Huge spotlights swept across the sky from the land and from air defense barges offshore. Suddenly the inside of the gyro lit up like high noon and stayed that way—they'd been made. Justine jinked back and forth, trying in vain to evade the lights. Amanda looked hard to the rear. The lights made them an easy target, but there were no AA guns firing at them. That meant only one thing: Empire State Air Militia fighters were close.

Amanda caught sight of something in a spotlight's arc. "Four bogies, diamond formation at five o'clock high. Avengers, I think."

For more information see:
Grumman E-1C Avenger

"Damn. We're hardly clear of the shoreline!" Justine put the autogyro into a dive and evaded as best she could, but the Avengers had speed, angle of attack, and most of all, firepower. The gyro shuddered as .30-caliber rounds perforated the rear fuselage.

Justine held control of the gyro through the barrage. "Only thirty cals. Must be the old E-1 models."

The Avengers roared past and banked to port. Amanda watched them pass overhead and snorted at their markings. "That's the 5th Manhattan Militia. Government flyboys. Not as good as the Broadway Bombers."

For more information see:
Broadway Bombers

Static sputtered from the radio, then broke as a woman's voice came over the air: "Pirate autogyro, this is Lieutenant Heather Iverian of the Empire State Air Militia. Turn back toward Manhattan immediately or we will shoot you out of the sky."

Amanda looked over at Justine with a raised eyebrow. "I know that voice..." She keyed the radio. "Long time no see, Ivy. How'd you get busted down into the loser 5th Militia from the all-mighty Madison Venturers? Crawford tired of you?"

There was a static-filled pause. Then the voice returned, cold and sharp. "Amanda Hart."

"Hope you're not still sore about that field hockey thing," Amanda spat back into the radio.

A new voice cut in on the channel. "Hey, Ivy, she called us losers!"

"Shut up." Ivy's voice was thick with venom; she obviously had no great love for her squadmates. The sound cooled into ice as she issued commands to her wing. "Stay tight on me as we come around. Prepare to fire on my mark."

Justine looked questioningly at Amanda. "Pardon me for butting in on this friendly little reunion, but how the hell is this helping?"

Amanda sighed. "When I was at Simmons College she was Columbia U's best player. She tripped me, and after the match I gave her what she had coming."

Justine chuckled sarcastically. "That's very touching."

Amanda shrugged. "Sorry. I just really hate her."

Heather 'Ivy' Iverian was one of the best pilots in the Empire State's Air Militia. Justine could think of lots better places to be than right in her sights, especially in a lightly armored autogyro. She patted her thigh and felt the bulge of the Hope Diamond necklace tucked into her garter. It would bring a King's ransom...if they survived.

The roar of the diving planes rose above their own engine. Both of them cringed at the sound of the radio.

Ivy's voice dripped with satisfaction. "Fire."

 


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