Three of the soldiers fell, knocked from their feet by the heavy slugs, and the rest opened fire, spending shots wildly. Bullets cracked and whined down the corridor as they ricocheted off the concrete walls in the elevator room. Two more of the soldiers fell, possibly struck by their own bullets; another shot flattened against the steel fireman's helmet Kahn wore and knocked it from his head.
Kahn fired twice more and the remaining troops panicked, bolting for the relative safety of the elevator car, forcing their officer back along with them.
Kahn staggered into the room, followed closely by Hayes. His head felt like it had been kicked by a mule. There wasn't any other way out of the room, and it would only take a few moments before the troops got their courage back and tried again.
"Now what?" Hayes asked shakily. Blood flowed down his cheek from a cut above his eye.
A glint of metal on a dead guard caught Kahn's eye. He put away the pistol and crouched, plucking out a small, dark cylinder.
"Tell those goons to throw out their weapons and come out with their hands up or I'm throwing in a grenade," he said, hefting the small bomb in his hand.
Hayes blurted out an order in Japanese. Moments later, the remaining soldiers slid their rifles out onto the floor and emerged one at a time, their hands held high.
The Japanese officer came last, stalking into the room like an angry panther, sword in hand. He glared defiantly at Kahn. "You won't escape, Mr. Kahn," he said in flawless, unaccented English. "There are a dozen more men waiting in the lobby. Surrender now and I promise you a quick death."
"I think I'll hold out for a better offer," the pirate replied dryly, motioning Hayes towards the elevator. They circled around the guards and stepped into the car. Hayes grabbed the car's operating lever.
As the doors closed, the officer fixed them with a malevolent stare. "We will meet again, Genghis Kahn," he hissed.
Kahn glanced conspiratorially at Hayes. "He doesn't know me very well, does he?" The pirate pulled the pin on the grenade and tossed it into the officer's face as the elevator doors slid shut.
Hayes rolled his eyes. "Johnny, you big oaf, their grenades don't work like ours. The pin's just a safetyyou have to knock the end against something to strike the fuse!"
"Now you tell me," Kahn replied sourly. "Don't just stand there...get this crate moving!"
"He said there's a dozen men waiting in the lobby," Hayes protested.
"Who said we're going to the lobby?" Kahn pushed Hayes aside and grabbed the lever. The car started to move. "We're heading for the roof."
"The roof?" Hayes echoed. "The roof is probably on fire right about now."
"If we're lucky," Kahn agreed. "Keep your fingers crossed."
The air grew steadily hotter as the elevator rose towards the roof. Smoke seeped through the ventilators. Hayes stared worriedly at Kahn, but the pirate simply shrugged.
It seemed like an eternity before the car lurched to a stop. The doors opened, letting in a furnace-like blast of air, and Kahn dashed out into a scene straight from hell.
Flames writhed and roared from the embassy's fourth-floor windows and sent cyclones of heat and smoke curling up over the edges of the roof, washing back and forth like angry tides with every shift of the wind. Hayes snatched a handkerchief from his jacket and pressed it to his face; Kahn narrowed his eyes, coughing harshly, and tried to make out the embassy's taxipad.
"Find some way to jam those doors," he shouted to Hayes, and then staggered towards the center of the roof.
He couldn't find the taxipad in the smoke and the darkness, so he got as close to the center of the roof as he could and set the girl down. Kahn pulled the flare gun from his overcoat pocket and broke the pistol open to remove the spent shell inside. There were two spares in his left pocket; he quickly reloaded the gun.
Squinting through the dense smoke, he lifted the gun high and fired. A flare hissed up and vanished through the swirling haze; a moment later, there was a muffled report as the flare ignited.
Kahn pulled off the heavy overcoat. It was getting harder and harder to draw breath. Waves of heat beat at his face and hands. He wondered how long it would take for the Japanese officer to figure out where they'd gone, and whether he'd even bother to come after them; another few minutes and the fire would probably do his dirty work for him.
The smoke was getting thicker. Hayes ran over and joined him, shaking his head. "No way to jam the doors," he said, his voice muffled by the handkerchief. "What do we do now, jump?"
"No," Kahn answered. "We fly."
As if on cue, a loud drone cut through the roaring of the flames and an autogyro appeared out of the smoke, flying low and slow over the building. The autogyro, emblazoned with the insignia of the New York Fire Department, swept past and pulled into a sharp turn. A moment later it was bouncing across the rooftop towards them, its brakes squealing as it slowed to a stop a few yards away.
The autogyro was stripped down and fitted out for rescue work, little more than a frame, engine, rotor, and pusher prop, supporting a pilot and a passenger seat, plus a stretcher running lengthwise along each side of the vehicle. The fireman waved, and Kahn picked up the delegate's daughter and rushed her over to one of the stretcher mounts.
"Saw your flare and got here as fast as I could," the pilot yelled over the sound of the engine.
"You're a real lifesaver," Kahn replied. He finished strapping the girl down and pulled out his pistol. "Now get out of here."
The fireman's jaw dropped. "Are you nuts?" he exclaimed. "The fire"
A bullet ricocheted off the autogyro's frame, then another. The fireman leapt from his seat, and Kahn looked back to see the officer he'd left in the basement leading more troops from the elevator onto the roof.
Hayes was less than ten yards away, pistol in hand, firing slowly and deliberately at the oncoming troops. Kahn leapt into the pilot's seat and fired a few wild shots of his own. "Artemus!" he shouted. "Let's go!"
The pilot looked back and caught Kahn's eye, then fired another careful shot in the direction of the enemy officer. Instantly the soldiers fired back in a ragged volley and Hayes cried out as he fell to his knees, one hand pressed to his gut.
"Hayes!" Kahn cried. He fired another shot at the oncoming troops, and the pistol's slide locked back, its clip empty. "Hang on!"
"No!" Hayes shouted, waving him away with a blood-slicked hand. "Get the hell out of here! His soot-smeared face contorted in pain. "Just take the girl to Hawai'i, Kahn. Do that and you and I are square. Go!"
Another bullet zipped past Kahn's head, smashing into the autogyro. Sooner or later, he realized, they'd hit the engine...or something more vital.
Hayes crumpled onto his side, gamely raising his pistol and thumbing back the hammer as the Japanese troops drew nearer.
Cursing savagely, Kahn released the brake and turned the rescue bird around, then opened the throttle and didn't look back.
He could just make out the zeppelins against the overcast sky, their silvery undersides lit from below by the lights of La Guardia Airfield. He picked out the Machiavelli easilya prominent red cross had been hastily painted on her flank.
As far as the Empire State knew, the airship was on a mission of mercy, en route to deliver a load of medical supplies up north, into what was once Canada. Her gun mounts were covered with canvas tarps, disguising her true nature from distant observers, but the illusion wouldn't hold up to a daylight inspection.