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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 Six: Shadow Play

The lock on the desk drawer popped open. Gertie "Two Guns" Puckett grinned and pulled her lock picks out of the keyhole. She stepped back carefully to let Justine at the desk drawer. The office was dark—it had a second-story window that faced the street, so they didn't dare risk the lights. Justine thumbed on her flashlight and opened the drawer. "Good work."

"Thank my Pa," Gertie whispered.

Amanda gave her a sideways look and whispered, "Your pop taught you to pick locks?"

"Kind of. He always locked up the Communion wine."

Justine rifled through the drawer quickly. The newspaper had quoted Sebastian Jacobs regarding Darlene Devoir's death. Jacobs was her attorney, they said. Naturally he thought her death was a great loss to the Empire State and to all her knew her, and so on. Justine wondered why the cops hadn't immediately pinched him, but that was a piece of the puzzle she didn't have yet. Lucky for her, the mouthpiece's office was in the phone book.

For more information see:
Justine "Battle-Axe" Perot

His drawer was a mess, as if he'd been in a hurry stuffing things into it. The flashlight illuminated unimportant papers and receipts. Halfway through the pile she hit pay dirt: a small notepad. She pulled the pad out onto the desk and reached into her pocket.

"Here," she handed the flashlight to Amanda, who held it steady on the paper. Justine pulled a tiny glass tube from her pocket and unscrewed its metal cap. With one finger she tapped fine black powder from the container onto the paper, covering the small pad with a fine layer of dark dust.

"What's that there?" asked Gertie.

Justine recapped the vial and pocketed it. She gently lifted the paper and rocked it back and forth, causing the black powder to move across the surface of the page. "Graphite, and a little charcoal."

She examined the paper closely under the flashlight and made a satisfied sound. With pursed lips, she gently blew the dust off the page and grinned. Settled in the impressions left by the writer scrawling on the previous page, the dust revealed a flowing script:

Imperial Air, 5 PM
No direct zeppelin service to Miami.
Transfer at Cape May.

"Where'd you learn a trick like that?" Amanda said, impressed.

"I get around."

As she stuffed the paper in her pocket, the door of the office burst in with a swift kick. Several men rushed in, guns drawn.

"Hold it right there! Imperial Bureau of—"

For more information see:
Empire State

His words were cut off as Justine threw the metal flashlight. The projectile crashed into the man's face, eliciting a yelp of pain.

He stumbled and fired blindly. The muzzle flash lit the office for an instant and revealed three men behind him. Justine ducked as the .38 slug whizzed past her ear and shattered the window behind her. Glass shards fell into the street below.

The Medusas jumped for cover. Justine ducked behind the oak desk and pulled her pistol from her coat.

For more information see:
The Medusas

"Okay, Medusas," a gruff male voice came from the doorway. "There's no way out of—"

Justine fired three quick shots under the desk toward the door. A shriek of pain answered.

"OW! DAMN IT! The crazy dame shot my toe off!"

Now you're really a flat-foot, pal, Justine thought, a savage grin plastered on her face. Enjoy the limp.

Gunfire erupted like a storm as Gertie leapt out of the closet. Her twin nickel-plated .357 magnum revolvers—"souvenirs" she'd taken from a dead Texas Ranger—boomed like artillery. The gunfire tore gaping holes in the walls around the doorway. Wood and plaster rained on the gunmen.

The men ducked back into the hallway in terror.

"Take that, coppers!" Gertie whooped, in a terrible imitation of a chapter play gangster. She charged the doorway, pistols blazing—but as she reached the door, her guns ran dry. She stopped short in surprise.

The blonde-haired man who appeared around the corner moved like a prizefighter. He stepped in and jabbed his right fist at her temple. The butt of his .45 knocked her cold as ice.

He stood over Gertie's prone form and calmly flicked on the light with his left hand. He swept the room with his pistol like a pro.

"That's enough, Battle-axe. You're boxed in."

Justine cursed. Of course the building was being watched.

She could leap out the window. The street was only ten feet below. She could probably get away...but not without abandoning Gertie and Amanda. And Athena will use it to turn the gang against me in a heartbeat. She had no choice.

Justine stood slowly, and placed her pistol on the desk between her and the blonde man. Now she recognized him. He'd been talking to Devoir at the party. I'll be a monkey's uncle—the Blonde Man.

The Blonde Man nudged Gertie with the toe of his patent leather shoe. "This must be 'Two Guns' Puckett," he said. "You should change her nickname to 'Can't Count'."

His tone changed as he spoke to his subordinate. "Take her to the car."

The agent protested. "But my foot is—"

"Stow the belly-aching. Take the prisoner to the car. Now."

The wounded Bureau agent lifted Gertie's limp form by the shoulders and dragged her backward down the hall. Her boots made a scraping noise on the wooden floor. He grimaced with pain, but kept going. The bloody-nosed agent remained. He regarded the women hatefully as he dabbed at his own face with a handkerchief.

"You too, Hart," the Blonde Man directed his order to Amanda, but his pistol stayed trained on Justine. After a moment Amanda stepped out, and slowly set her pistol on the floor in front of her. "Did you know the Atlantic Coalition has a very comprehensive file on you?" he said coolly. "There was even one Major who said you were the best—"

For more information see:
Atlantic Coalition

"Pig," Amanda interrupted him, seething.

He stopped, and seemed satisfied to have gotten a rise out of her. "Bring her over here."

The other agent ushered Amanda into the open, while the Blonde Man took a step toward Justine.

"Nice suit," Justine sneered. "You looked better in the tux."

"Charming of you to say." he said dryly. He scooped up Justine's gun from the desktop and tucked it in his waistband. The other agent covered them with his government-issue revolver. "Where's the item you stole?"

"I left it at home. It didn't really match this outfit."

He slapped her. Justine's shock mixed with rage as the stinging blow brought back a flood of unpleasant memories. Amanda twitched forward, but the other agent warned her back with his pistol. Justine rubbed the side of her face and regarded the Blonde Man with an icy gaze.

"Don't play dumb," he said coolly. "I've read your sheet. You passed up the real stuff to get my item. I want it back."

"You don't have to slap me—" Justine said.

"If you don't like being slapped, give me back the item." The Blonde Man's face was impassive.

"You didn't let me finish," she shot back. "You don't have to slap me...like some kind of milquetoast." Justine's voice was steady as a rock. "You can use your fist...if you know how, that is."

"Didn't mean to offend, Ma'am." He threw a left that spun her head.

She stood still for a moment and waited for the stars to clear. Salty blood welled up in her mouth.

"Not bad." She wiped her lip with the back of her hand, spat blood and grinned.

"Empire State Middleweight Champion in '34." His regarded her with unblinking eyes. "Feel better?"

"Yeah." She wagged her jaw side to side with her hand. "You're not exactly a white hat are you?"

"I'm sure Mother would be disappointed."

"That's a laugh...that you had a mother, I mean." She smiled wickedly. "Don't apologize—I think bad men are...interesting."

"I'm not apologizing. I'm explaining why you're going to get a bullet in the head if you don't give me what I want." He cocked the pistol and brought it up to Justine's eye level. "Right now."

Her smile disappeared.

Someone rapped on the doorframe of the office. The woman wore a blue utilitarian dress and carried a mop and bucket. She had stringy graying hair and a face of earned wrinkles. She rapped with the mop handle again.

"Cleaning," she called in a throaty rasp.

The bloody-nosed agent turned to her while the rest of the action stayed frozen. "Government business, lady." He held out a badge. "Scram."

"Eh?" She snatched it from his fingers with a scowl and a mutter. Her brow knitted as she squinted and scrutinized it.

The Blonde Man didn't take his eyes off Justine as he said, "Get rid of her."

"Ma'am. My badge, please."

She looked him up and down once more, and gave a dissatisfied harrumph before holding out the badge. It slipped from her fingers as he reached for it.

He leaned over to retrieve it, and finally noticed the jodhpurs and leather boots poking out from under her dress.

The sound of a body hitting the floor didn't make the Blonde Man shift his gaze; the cold steel of a gun muzzle against his neck did. He sighed and reversed the pistol in his grip. Justine accepted it with a nod.

"Pleasure doing business with you." She reached into his belt and slowly pulled out her own .32 automatic. She tucked his revolver in her own belt and motioned with her pistol. "Get in the closet."

"And if I refuse?"

"You'll end up in the closet anyway. Whether you're able to walk out again later is up to you."

"Touché"

He stepped toward the closet doorway while Mathilda "Hag" Hannigan shrugged out of the cleaning woman's dress. He shook his head ruefully at the unconscious agent in the doorway.

"It's so hard to find good help," he muttered.

Justine shrugged. "You hire women?"

"No."

"Tough break." She drew her fist back and landed a solid punch on his jaw. He stumbled back into the closet. Amanda slammed the door while Justine shoved a chair up under the doorknob.

Amanda looked at Hannigan. "Where's Gertie?"

"In the car," she said as she scooped up Gertie's fallen sidearms from the floor. "I got the other guy on his way down."

The sound of distant sirens drifted in from the broken window. Justine cut off the conversation. "Let's get out of here."

Justine's cabin aboard the Gorgon was dark, except for the small lamp that illuminated her rickety fold-down desk. She'd been going over the east coast charts for some time.

The best route south was a tough call. They'd have to be careful to avoid the main lanes, and that meant a wide swing over the Atlantic, or a risky flight over the Confederacy's northern border. Either way was dangerous. South Atlantic thunderstorms could come up suddenly, and were hellishly difficult to climb above.

For more information see:
Confederation of Dixie

The fake Hope Diamond sat on her desk in the upper corner of the navigational chart. It reflected the light brilliantly; the fake was good enough to fool a layman.

Devoir could have concealed the microdot on anything, but she chose to use the fake diamond. I suppose everyone has their eccentricities, she thought, and sighed.

Justine rubbed her sore jaw absently, lost in thought. Devoir had intended to give the microdot to the Blonde Man. That he worked for the Empire State's Bureau of Investigation was obvious, and from what she'd heard—and seen tonight—they were a tough-as-nails bunch. Blonde Man was willing to kill to get the microdot back.

With Devoir's killer, the Blonde Man, and Loyle Crawford all looking to plant the Medusas in the ground, getting out of the Empire State was a smart play. Devoir's lawyer, Sebastian Jacobs, had skipped out for Miami—a trip that seemed like a good idea to Justine, too. The Blonde Man was also looking for Jacobs, even though he knew the Medusas had his microdot.

For more information see:
Loyle "Show-stopper" Crawford

Justine rolled her shoulders and cracked her neck as she pondered the facts. There were definitely some missing pieces to the whole caper, but her gut told her she needed to find Jacobs. He was the key to finding the real Hope Diamond—and maybe the key to a whole lot more.

She had never been to Miami, though. That meant the Medusas would be flying blind, in hostile territory. One false move would have the Confederate Air Corps after them—and the Empire State at their backs. Not to mention the Texans, Justine thought bitterly. They're probably hopping mad about losing a Lone Star zeppelin. North America was getting to be an unhealthy place for the Medusas.

For more information see:
Confederate Air Corps; Republic of Texas

If they didn't find the diamond, they wouldn't be able to repay Joey the Scarab for his "generous" help. Welshing on the Scarab would buy them all one-way tickets to shallow graves. Even the Free Colorado pirate havens would be off-limits; every two-bit trigger man in Sky Haven would be looking to collect on the contract the shylock would inevitably put on them.

For more information see:
Free Colorado

Justine sighed. There wasn't any choice at all. Someone—the Empire State, freelance headhunters, or some straight—arrow like Paladin Blake-would take them down for Devoir's murder. And if the law or the bounty hunters didn't get them, "The Scarab" would punch all of their tickets.

For more information see:
Paladin Blake

She flipped the intercom switch. "Amanda, the Gorgon is changing course. We're heading south."

The Medusas had to find the real Hope Diamond. That meant they had to find Sebastian Jacobs...even if they had to tear down the entire city of Miami to do it.

 


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