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Chapter One:
Raiders from the Sky

Chapter Two:
In Enemy Hands

Chapter Three:
Old Debts

Chapter Four:
Under the Gun

Chapter Five:
Caught in the Act

Chapter Six:
Old Friends

Chapter Seven:
Making the Cut

Chapter Eight:
The Cut

Chapter Nine:
The Shell Game

Chapter Ten:
Serpents In Paradise

Chapter Eleven:
Into the Storm

Chapter Twelve:
Owning Up

Chapter Thirteen:
Interesting Times

"Genghis" Kahn & The

Manchurian Gambit

—A Tale of the Red Skull Legion—

By Mike Lee

Chapter Twelve: Owning Up

Jonathan Kahn let the Tommy gun fall from his hands as the soldiers closed in. One by one, the rest of the landing party followed suit. The Japanese soldiers charged across the sand and formed a firing line barely six feet away. Lighting flickered against the purple-black clouds overhead.

For more information see:
Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn

The pirate leader glared balefully at the architects of the ambush—Saburo Murasaki, the ruthless spymaster who had kidnapped Chiang Liu-Mei in Manhattan, and Artemus Hayes, the man who'd approached Kahn to rescue her in the first place.

"Long time no see, partner," Kahn snarled at Hayes. "You're looking pretty good for a dead man."

Hayes gave Kahn a roguish grin. A gust of wind plucked at his jodhpurs and ruffled his salt-and-pepper hair. "People see what they want to see, Johnny-boy. I thought I taught you that years ago."

"I saw the Japanese shoot at you, and I saw the blood on your hand when you told me to leave you behind."

"You saw them shoot, but you didn't actually see me get hit, did you?" Hayes said, clearly proud of himself. "The blood came from that scalp cut I got when you pulled that damnfool stunt in the Embassy basement." He shook his head ruefully. "You just about ruined the whole plan right then and there...but then, you always were something of a loose cannon."

Murasaki took a step forward. "Back away from the gold!" he ordered. His men advanced purposefully, bayonets at the ready.

Kahn and the landing party fell back. His crew looked calm; they'd been on the wrong end of a gun many times. Dane glared defiantly at the Japanese, but backed away with her arms held high. Rupert Gordon and his men—the "bureaucrats" sent by the British Embassy to recover the gold—backed away warily, like cornered wolves. Pete O'Neil stumbled and fell; one of the soldiers grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled the flailing pilot to his feet, then sent him stumbling along with the rest.

"How long have you been a patsy for the Japanese?" Kahn asked Hayes. He struggled to control his anger. Now that he thought about it, the clues had been there, but he'd missed them in the confusion.

"A long time, old son," the mustachioed smuggler replied. "Pretty much from the minute I left Hollywood. Murasaki-sama found me in Hong Kong, where I'd gotten into some...difficulties with the local authorities. He bailed me out, and we've been business associates ever since."

For more information see:
The Nation of Hollywood

"You mean he blackmailed you into spying on the Chinese—or whatever other dirty work he could think of," Kahn said coldly. "What I can't figure is why he'd involve a moth-eaten old dog like you in something this important." The pirate's eyes narrowed appraisingly. "Wait. Let me guess. He used you to intercept the gold shipment in the first place, only you screwed it up. The Japanese didn't put a bomb on your zep—you got it shot down tangling with the Chinese."

Hayes' grin faded. "Murasaki-sama didn't want to risk antagonizing the Brits by sending a Japanese airship, so he decided on a pirate attack instead." He shrugged. "The Chinese put up a hell of a fight. I had to break off, and lost my ship just off the coast of Hong Kong."

Kahn nodded thoughtfully. "You must've thought Murasaki was going to skin you alive after you'd botched the job. But then the Chinese airship failed to show up in Manhattan, and neither one of you knew why. So you grabbed Chiang Liu-Mei, hoping to shake loose some answers."

Deep, distant thunder rumbled to the west, and a warm, damp wind gusted through the trees. Murasaki suddenly barked a string of orders in Japanese, and half the troops shouldered their rifles. Most ran back to the tree line and pulled away crudely-made camouflage screens to reveal two medium-sized autogyros. The troops pulled them from cover and began preparing them for takeoff while the rest began wrestling with the crates of gold coin.

Murasaki paced around the crates, glaring officiously at his men. Hayes gave the officer a sidelong look. "He was sure Liu-Mei would break," the smuggler said with a sigh. "But I knew better." Then he looked at Kahn and winked. "And that's where you came in, Johnny-boy. I figured that if she were loose, she'd run right for the gold."

Kahn felt his cheeks burn. "And you needed a sucker to come along and 'rescue' her," he said, angrily biting out each word.

"Oh, don't be so hard on yourself, Johnny," Hayes said with a cruel smile. "You were the perfect choice. I knew you'd go to hell and back if it squared things between us, and that's exactly what you did." The smuggler let out a laugh. "I've gotta admit, though, you sure threw us some curve balls here and there. I had no idea you'd move so quick getting to the Empire State. You didn't give me any chance to warn Murasaki that we were coming. I had to send those soldiers we ran into in the basement to go find him so we wouldn't get killed on the way out!"

For more information see:
The Empire State

"And you had to make it look good enough, so that you could fake being shot in the confusion." Kahn gritted his teeth. "Not, bad, Hayes. Not bad at all. But how did you manage to follow us from Hawai'i?"

For more information see:
The Kingdom of Hawai'i

Hayes laughed. "Hell, Johnny-boy, we've been tracking you since you left Manhattan! That was all Murasaki's baby, though. When his fighters tangled with you on the way out of New York, they hit you with a couple of experimental rockets the boys in Tokyo came up with.

Hayes paused, clearly savoring his control of the situation...and Kahn's anger. "They work kind of like the beeper units we use for beeper-seeker rockets," he continued, "only they use the metal skeleton of a zeppelin like a big antenna to transmit a low-power radio signal in timed bursts. We were tracking you even when you were on the other side of the Rockies, Johnny-boy. You were out of your league from the get-go."

For more information see:
Beeper-Seeker Rockets

There was a cough and a rattle from across the beach, and the first autogyro's engine sputtered to life. Murasaki noted this, and smiled grimly. He turned to Hayes. "There is no time left. The weather is worsening. Finish things here and then get underway." The officer then faced Kahn and gave a deep, mocking bow. "I told you we would meet again, Mister Kahn," he said. "But now we part forever. You were an excellent tool, and it is a pity my country will not be able to make use of you again." He gave the pirate leader a brief, mocking smile, then turned and ran for the waiting autogryo. The troops handling the gold redoubled their efforts to haul the cargo over to the second machine.

Kahn shook his head. "You know he's never going to give you a cut of that gold," he said to Hayes. "You're just another pawn to him."

"Gold? Who said I was getting any of the gold?" Hayes smiled. He jerked a thumb at the Machiavelli. "That's my prize right there, and I've got enough troops on board to make sure the crew behave themselves. If they get me to Hong Kong without any trouble, I might even let them go."

"I'm not stupid, Hayes." Kahn snarled. "Your boss isn't going to be happy with any witnesses to what happened here. You're going to kill them—just like you're about to kill us."

Hayes paused. There was a bright flash of lightning, and then, distantly, a hammerblow of thunder. "You catch on quick, old son," he said, almost sadly. "It's not personal, you understand. None of this was. Not that it matters much, I suppose."

Murasaki's autogyro roared down the beach and hopped into the air, wavering momentarily in the crosswind. Dane suddenly stepped forward, hands thrust into the pockets of her flying jacket. "Hey! Hold on! I'm not with these guys, and you know it! Can't we come to some kind of arrangement?"

Hayes looked her over. "You know, normally I wouldn't be able to resist that kind of invitation," he said with a sly wink. "But Murasaki was very specific. Sorry doll...but this just ain't your lucky day."

Dane's face fell. "Yeah," she said with a sigh. "That's what I was afraid of." She started to turn away—then pulled Kahn's pistol from her pocket and fired wildly into the cluster of Japanese guards. Men screamed and fell. Hayes threw himself to the ground, firing a couple of wild shots of his own.

"Run!" Kahn bellowed.

Everyone scrambled, kicking up plumes of sand. "Kahn!" O'Neil yelled, and threw a small, dark object at his boss. Kahn plucked it out of the air. It was a grenade, lifted from the pocket of the guard who'd grabbed the wiry little thief when he made his phony stumble.

Kahn pulled the pin—and at the last second remembered to strike its base against the heel of his boot. The fuse sputtered, and he threw it. The grenade sailed over the heads of the troops and rolled under the remaining autogyro, almost twenty yards away. The troops carrying the gold scattered, and the little bomb went off with a flash and a sharp bang, blowing out the autogyro's tires and windows.

The pirate leader turned and sprinted after his men. Rifle shots rang out behind him, and a bullet hissed past his head. He plunged into the gloomy depths of the jungle and put as many trees as he could between himself and the surviving troops.

People seemed to materialize out of the shadows around him as he ran. "What do we do now?" Hetty asked, gasping for breath.

"For now, just keep running!" Kahn said, hardly slowing down. "If we get deep enough in here, they won't bother to follow us. They're running out of time to get underway before the storm hits...and they know it. They won't waste time chasing us."

O'Neil's voice came from the shadows to Kahn's left. "If you hadn't completely blown that grenade toss, we wouldn't have to run at all. I swear, you hardly dinged the paint on that bird!"

"I put it right where I wanted it, smart aleck," the pirate leader replied. "That autogyro can't taxi without wheels, so the gold isn't going back to Murasaki's airship. They're going to have to load it onto the Machiavelli...and fast."

"A fair lot of good that does us, old chap," came Gordon's cultured voice. The man didn't sound the least out of breath. "Either way, it's still going to wind up in Japan."

"Not if I've got anything to say about it," Kahn snarled.

"And how do you propose to catch them? Fly?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," the pirate replied.

They got back to the pirate base in record time. Kahn suspected that the storm brewing overhead helped encourage them to pick up the pace. Each flash of lightning felt like another tick of a bomb timer...and everyone knew that time was running out.

All ten of the pirates' planes were airworthy, and two of them were two-seaters, so no one had to be left behind. The British agents, it turned out, were competent—if not especially combat-worthy-pilots.

Once airborne, the ad hoc squadron conferred as to what direction the two zeppelins must have taken. The consensus was south by southwest, figuring that they would try to skirt the edge of the typhoon and head for Hong Kong. They opened the throttle and sped through the steadily darkening sky, knowing full well that they were gambling their lives on being right.

"Even if we catch them, then what?" Corbett asked him, once they were on their way. "We don't have any rockets, and even if we could knock down the Japanese zep, what about the Machiavelli?"

"We're going to have to take her back, of course." Kahn said.

"How? You don't think they'll just open the hangar and let us in, do you?"

"Don't worry, kid. I've got a plan..."

To Be Concluded...


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