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?"
"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 hurta 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!"
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 Broadwayand 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 loosethat'd slow down the copsbut 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 Seahopperan autogyro fitted with floating pontoonsbobbed 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.
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 waythey'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."