Zachary smiled cryptically. "From what I know about most pirates, I'm afraid you might be right."
The light came on in the second floor room of the hotel.
Zachary tossed his cigarette onto the ground and ground it out with his foot. "It's showtime," he quipped.
"Cute," Crawford shot back.
A man's face appeared in the window, looking up and down the street. Behind him, Loyle could make out the figures of several other men, but he couldn't see their faces. After a few seconds, the man opened the window and then drew the curtains.
"Did you recognize him?" asked Loyle.
Zachary shook his head. "No one I've seen before." He glanced up and down the empty street. "Let's head across," he said, pointing to the shadows underneath the open window. "We're not going to hear anything from here."
"You think that's a good idea?" said Loyle, looking up at the window.
"Sure," said Zachary, heading for the curb. "We'll hear more than if we just stand here. There's nothing to see now anyway." He turned and looked at Loyle. "You coming?"
Loyle stubbed out his cigarette. "Right behind you."
The pair waited for a yellow cab to drive past then scurried across the road and into the anonymity of the darkness underneath the window.
"I'm givin' it to ya straight, Cap'n," said a voice from the window above them, "They's gave us the slip. The one bastard knocks us back across the table and Crawford does the runner before we can blink. By the time we got outside, they'd gone."
"You call yourself a professional?" snarled a second voice. "Taggart's ready to blow a gasket over this one. Crawford was supposed to be up the river nowor dead bynow. If we don't get this mess sorted out, you can kiss goodbye to your chances of getting that plane of yours back in the air."
"Taggart wouldn't dare!"
"You don't know Taggart," snapped the second voice. "He'd put his own grandmother on the slab if got him what he wanted."
Zachary looked across at Loyle. "You've obviously been busy making friends in high places," he whispered.
"Everyone loves me."
Loyle looked up at the open window. "We need to see these jokers. We should have stayed across the street."
"There's another way," said Zachary, looking up the street. "Let's go up. We should be able burst in and surprise them."
Loyle stared at him. "That's the craziest idea you've had yet."
Zachary grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him towards the front door of the hotel. "You scared of these two bit hoods, Crawford?"
Loyle yanked his arm free and straightened the sleeve on his coat. "No, dammit," he snapped. "But I'm also not in the mood to commit suicide. Are you planning to shoot them if they don't answer our questions?"
"That's not such a bad idea. At least we could get to the bottom of this mess instead of creeping around in the dark." He pushed open the door of the hotel. "Come on, before someone sees us."
The hotel's lobby was even more run down than the outside. The air was heavy with the smell of mildew, mothballs and stale cigarette smoke; the threadbare carpet had definitely seen better days. Some battered old leather armchairs were scattered around the room. The shutter on the desk was pulled down, but there was a dim light burning behind it.
Loyle leaned across to Zachary. "I thought I was staying in a dive," he whispered. "Can you believe this place?"
"I've been in worse."
Zachary crept over to the staircase and peered up, then looked back at Loyle and started creeping up. "Seems clear. Come on," he whispered.
Loyle sighed and started climbing. As he reached the second floor, Zachary was poking his head out into the hallway. "There's no one guarding the door. It would be a piece of cake for us to just kick the door down and take them by surprise."
"Right. A piece of cake," Loyle replied. "I can't remember the last time cake shot at me, Zachary."
"Oh come on, Crawford. Where's your sense of adventure?" Zachary pulled his pistol from the pocket of his coat. "What do you say? Are you in or out?"
Loyle pulled his revolver from his pocket and swung the cylinder open. Six brass bullets gleamed faintly in the dim light. With a flick of his wrist, he snapped the cylinder shut again. "I'm in," he muttered, moving into position to cover Zachary as he approached the door.
Zachary kicked the door near the handle and it flew open with a crash. Before Loyle could leap through, a hail of bullets splintered the doorframe next to him. The deafening roar of tommy gun fire in the enclosed room drowned out all other noise. Loyle dove to his left, hiding behind the wall. Zachary flung himself back against the wall on the other side of the door.
"Damn," said Loyle, looking across at Zachary. "Yeah, this is a piece of cake, all right. Have you got any more bright ideas?"
"So much for the element of surprise," Zachary conceded. "At least we have them pinned in the room. If they want to get out, they're going to have to come through us."
Zachary's words were punctuated by a burst of machinegun fire. Plaster sprayed out across the hallway as bullets burst through the wall next to where Zachary was standing.
"That's very comforting," said Loyle. He poked his head round the doorframe and snapped off a quick shot before pulling his head back into cover. He was answered by another burst from the tommy gun.
"Crawford!" shouted a voice inside the room. "You might as well give yourself up now. There's no way you're going to walk away from this otherwise!"
Loyle snapped around the corner again, taking another pot shot. His aim was better this timeone pirate was thrown back as Loyle's bullet struck him in the chest. Before he could take another shot, the wall next to him exploded as the machinegun opened up again, forcing Loyle back into the hallway.
"How many of them are in there?" whispered Zachary.
"Four, that I could see," hissed Loyle, breathing heavily. "Maybe more. I can't be sure. I nailed one though."
Zachary swung around and snapped off two rounds into the room. Loyle heard a thud before the staccato rattle of the machinegun forced him back into hiding. "They've got us pinned down. There's no way into the room without being cut in half," Zachary said.
"Give up, you two!" came the voice from inside. "You're outnumbered. Surrender now and we won't kill you!"
"What if we gave them some space to come after us?" whispered Loyle. "Do you think they'd go for it?"
Zachary shook his head. "Doubtful," he mouthed.
Loyle risked another glance into the room. The room was surprisingly large; several leather couches were arranged in a circle around a large coffee table. A door led off into another room in the far right corner, and the windows were behind the pirates on the other side of the room. He could make out the heads of two men peering at the doorway from behind the couches on the other side of the room.
"We've got to get in there and clear those guys out," said Loyle.
"Weren't you listening to what I just said?" snapped Zachary. "The tommy gun will cut us in half!"
"Where's the gunner?"
"Left hand side," said Zachary. "Brown hair and beard."
"Right," said Loyle, clenching his jaw. "Cover me!" He dove to the right through the open doorway and tucked into a roll, right behind a heavy leather couch. The rattle of the machinegun echoed loudly in the room and four bullets punched through the back of the couch only an inch from Loyle's head and slammed into the wall behind him.
Loyle came up into a crouch, his revolver leveled in both hands. Spotting the pirate with the tommy gun, Loyle snapped off two quick shots. The man screamed as the bullets hit him square in the chest. Crawford turned, looking for another target
and was slammed to the floor as Zachary landed on top of him.
Crawford heard two shots ring outone report from Zachary's gun, the other from the pirate's. Zachary grunted in pain, his pistol sliding across the floor underneath a sideboard. The pirate ducked out of sight.
Loyle turned to see him holding his upper left arm with his right hand. Blood was leaking from between the man's fingers. Crawford dragged him into the cover of the couch.
"Are you alright?"
"It's just a scratch," snapped Zachary, examining his wound. "But if I hadn't knocked you down, you would have caught that one in the head."
Loyle poked his head up over the top of the couch, only to see the feet of a pirate clambering out the window.
"Stop!" he yelled, leaping to his feet. He fired two shots in quick succession; the glass in the window shattered, throwing fragments out into the street below.
Loyle raced over to the window, only to see the pirate drop from the ledge to the ground below and then run off down the street in pursuit of his comrades. "They're getting away!" he said, throwing his now empty revolver down in disgust.
Zachary staggered to his feet, still clutching his wounded arm. "Then let's go get them," he said. "Grab one of those guns and let's get after them before they get out of our reach. Just keep your head down this time, will you?"
Loyle looked around. Three pirates lay sprawled on the ground. He picked up a pistol, then stepped over a body and headed for the door.
Zachary took one look at the carnage, then stepped out into the hallway. "Don't worry about me," he said. "I'll keep up. You just make sure that you get down there and catch them."
"You sure?" Loyle asked. Zachary just nodded.
"Right, I'll be waiting for you," said Loyle. He sprinted down the hallway and ducked into the stairwell. He bounded down the stairs two at a time, grabbing hold of the banister to take the corner at speed.
Loyle bolted across the hotel's lobby and burst through the doors into the street. In the distance, he could hear the wail of police sirens.
Looking down the street, he spotted the pirates running towards the aerotaxi depot. Loyle sucked in a deep breath and took off after him.
The pirate ducked into the entrance of the depot and vanished from view. Loyle's legs were already burning with the exertion, but he poured on another burst of speed and sprinted harder for the gate. Glancing around over his shoulder, he saw Zachary jump through the hotel doors and start running towards the depot.
"Go! Go!" his friend shouted, waving him on.
Loyle made it to the gate of the depot just as a pair of aerotaxis leapt into the air and shot over his head. They banked into the street and started to gain altitude. A pirate from the open doorway of one of them, firing a burst from his tommy gun. The bullets zinged off the concrete as Loyle skidded into the taxi yard.
He sprinted across the yard to the closest autogryo. "Lord, what I wouldn't give for the Madison Dawn," he muttered, as he pulled the door open and clambered into the pilot's seat.
He strapped himself in and jammed his thumb down on the autogyro's start button.
The taxi's engine roared to life, its rotor kicking up snow and dirt in a stinging cloud. Crawford cast his eyes across the instrument panel, then sent the autogyro roaring up into the cold Chicago night...