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Chapter One:
Thicker than Water...

Chapter Two:
White Knight / Black Knight...

Chapter Three:
In the Shadow of the Black Knight

Chapter Four:
Fire in the Hole

Chapter Five:
Midnight's Heart

Chapter Six:
Deadly Reunion

Chapter Seven:
Sugar and Spice and Everything Vice

Chapter Eight:
Cold Justice

Chapter Nine:
The Chicago Connection

Chapter Ten:
The Battle of Midnight's Heart

Chapter Eleven:
The Sky Dreadnought


Paladin Blake

And the Secret City

—From the files of Blake Aviation Security—

By Eric Nylund


Chapter Eight: Cold Justice

Paladin Blake stared down the barrel of the Judge's Tommy gun—there wasn't much else he could do with it pointed at his face. "You got me mistaken for my brother," Paladin said smoothly. "I'm Matthew Blake."

For more information see:
Paladin Blake

The tuxedoed men in the casino anxiously watched, but no one interfered. No one dared get in the Judge's line of fire. Flora, however, giggled and ordered a bottle of Black Knight Bourbon from the bartender.

Karina looked at Paladin, then at the Judge. "Well," she purred. "Which is it? Paladin or Matthew Blake?" Her blue eyes narrowed to slits.

The Judge wagged his gun at Paladin. "I've gotten drunk with Matthew Blake. I've been shot down by Paladin Blake. And I'm tellin' you: this ain't Matthew." He glared with his one good eye.

Flora sauntered across the room, holding her bottle by the neck and halted by the Judge's side. "He's right," she said and clutched onto the Judge's free arm to steady herself.

"Flora, no," Paladin whispered.

"That's my brother," she slurred, "...Pal'din. He told me he'd break my neck if I tattled."

"Indeed," Karina said and looked Paladin over. "It appears, Mr. Blake, that we have met before." She collected the cards on the table and squared them. "And it appears that our business is not concluded after all." She balled her white-gloved hand into a fist. "Judge, take him to the green room. Get the doctor. We will then have an extended conversation with our guest."

Paladin didn't like the sound of that.

He had to do something—but there weren't many options. He couldn't dodge the Judge's aim at this range, and he was too far away to grapple with him. He could grab Karina, use her as a shield...and get mobbed by every man in the casino.

Flora laughed hysterically. "Brother dearest, you are a pain in the ass, but I still adore you." She reeled back and swung her free arm—along with the bottle—and landed a blow on the back of the Judge's head. Glass and liquor sprayed across the Persian rugs on the casino floor.

The Judge stood still, staring at Paladin. The pirate took a step forward...then collapsed in a heap.

No one moved. Everyone fixed upon slender Flora, singularly elegant in her black satin dress and glimmering emeralds, the jagged bottle neck still grasped in her delicate her hand as she stood over the fallen giant.

Paladin broke the spell first; he stood, gabbed his chair and threw it at the windows on the western wall. They shattered, and razor sharp shards rained onto the ground below. Men and women scattered around the room. In the confusion, Paladin ran to the ledge—skidded and turned for Flora.

She backed away. "Go," she whispered and raised the serrated bottle. "You're not taking me anywhere. I belong here."

Paladin had come to Le Coeur du Minuit to get his sister out of the snake pit. That wasn't happening tonight. He no longer had the luxury of trying to "save" his sister. He had to save himself.

He jumped through the broken window.

Silvers of glass sliced through his tuxedo, his cheek, arms, and legs. Paladin flailed through the air—three stories—and landed on a rose hedge in the sunken garden below.

He pulled free of the thorns and got his bearings. From the broken windows of the colonial mansion people stared and pointed at him. On the rooftop he heard the racking of machine guns. He looked for cover: there were fountains, and a hedge maze. Behind him was the roar of a car engine. Paladin turned and saw a silver limousine mowing down topiary animals.

The car skidded to halt next to him. Tennyson popped open the driver's door and slid over. "Get in. Hurry!"

Paladin shouldered himself behind the wheel and stomped the gas pedal to the floor.

Bullets pinged off the trunk. The limo fishtailed over a fountain basin, knocked over marble planters with night blooming magnolias and crashed through plaster Greek statues. The wheels caught and the limo rocketed back over the topiary animals—bumped over a sidewalk, scattering pedestrians, and then screeched onto the cobblestone boulevard.

Paladin smoothly accelerated toward the hills and the airport on the other side of the island.

"What happened to Miss Flora?" Tennyson asked.

Paladin gritted his teeth. Flora took out the Judge by herself and bought him a split second to get away. She had saved him—when he'd come to save her. He owed her one for that. He was going to return the favor and get her out of her...even if he had to straightjacket her first.

"Flora has her own plans," Paladin said. "We'll be back for her soon enough."

He glanced in the rearview mirror. There were no cars behind them on the winding road. "We're home free. By the time they catch up to us, we'll be up in the air and halfway back to the mainland."

Lights flashed in the mirror—far away but directly behind them. Paladin had to slow as he took the corners, switchbacking up the hillside road. The light—no matter which way he turned—stayed on his tail, and was closing fast.

Paladin kept one hand on the wheel, turned and squinted into the darkness. Those lights were at the same level as their car, floating a half-mile out.

"What the hell?" Paladin muttered. "That's no car, its—"

Fifty-caliber bullets tore into the limo's trunk and top, ripped through the velvet-upholstered seat between Tennyson and Paladin, and then sprayed and sparked across the hood.

A Devastator thundered overhead, arced up, and banked.

For more information see:
Hughes Devastator

"He's setting up for another strafing run." Paladin looked for his pistols—useless against an armored plane flying at a hundred miles an hour. They were sitting ducks in the limousine.

Tennyson drew his sawed-off shotgun from his overcoat.

"Get out," Paladin said. "Make a run for it. That's not getting through the plane's armor,"

"Quite right," Tennyson calmly replied. "This, however, may." He removed from the folds of his coat what looked like a scaled model of a rocket, two feet long, with white shark teeth painted on its nose. "I developed it for our boys at the Dixie branch office. Remember they were drawing heavy ground fire at the Tallahassee Airport?" Tennyson slid the rocket into the truncated barrel of his shotgun.

For more information see:
The Confederation of Dixie

"What the hell are you doing?" Paladin asked incredulously. He recalled Tennyson's backwards-firing rocket had almost torn the wings off the plane he had fitted them to. "You've tested this?"

"Stop the car," Tennyson said and rolled down the passenger's window. He leaned outside.

The Devastator lined up on them. It dove. Over the drone of its engines Paladin heard the thunder of it's .50-calibers.

When it was three hundred feet distant—when the line of bullets were a heartbeat away—Tennyson fired.

A streak of smoke and fire cut through the darkness and impacted with the Devastator. A split-second of illumination outlined the plane. The left wing shattered and the fuselage spun off its collision course with the limousine. It tumbled to the ground, cartwheeled, and exploded.

Tennyson dropped the smoldering remains of his "shotgun"—now little more than twisted, smoking metal—and shook his blistered hands. "Tested," he announced. "A qualified success."

Paladin scrutinized his friend. "Tenny, I can't decide if you're crazy carrying three pounds of high explosive and launching it by hand...or if you're a genius."

"Genius, old chap."

Paladin looked up; there were twinkling stars and clouds obscuring the moon and no more planes. There had to be an airstrip near the casino...which was probably how that Devastator had found them so fast. He'd bet there were more on the way.

He stomped on the gas and the limo jumped. Steam poured from the hood, and the gearbox rattled and ground metal. It was another mile to the airport—this car had to hold together. Paladin raced over the summit, past the fences and barbed wire protecting the anti-aircraft guns, then down the other side of the hill, through the farms and tin shacks. Soon, the lights of the runway and the shadowy outlines of zeppelins appeared on the horizon.

Paladin aimed the car at the airport gate. The red- and yellow-striped arm of the gatehouse was down. He didn't slow.

The limo crashed through the arm and then through a chain link fence. The front tires blew, but Paladin didn't ease up on the accelerator. He struggled to steer the screeching car toward the hangars.

A glance in the rear view mirror: men ran after them, rifles drawn.

There was a clank in the gearbox and a rattling; the engine revved, but there was no power to the wheels. Paladin turned hard, and slid to a stop, slamming into the hangar wall. They jumped out of the battered car and ran inside. Tennyson climbed into the cockpit of his customized Hoplite, Bumblebee.

Paladin started toward his Hoplite—stopped. "Tennyson, wait. There's no armor on 'Bee, and it's full of bourbon. It's the last thing we want to fly out of here."

"What then?" Tennyson asked and his bushy white brows arched.

Paladin glanced quickly about the hanger at the three beat-up Devastators...then spotted the Warhawk bristling with rockets, "Cold Justice." The Judge's plane.

For more information see:
P2 Warhawk

Her hardpoints were laden with rockets and there were additional racks on the top of her wings, too. She also had a new modification since Paladin's last aerial encounter with the Judge: the cockpit had been extended forward and a rear gun turret had been welded on her tail.

"It would be justice to steal that plane." Paladin climbed into the cockpit and hot-wired the ignition.

Cold Justice's three engines sputtered and turned and roared to life. Tennyson crawled into the rear gunner's seat.

Paladin pushed the throttle from idle to one quarter and taxied out of the hangar. A small crowd of armed men were on the runway waiting; this Warhawk had no cannons—every inch of her frame carried rockets—but the mere sight of her turning toward them scattered the guards like leaves.

He eased the throttle to half, rolled onto the runway, gathered speed and rose into night. Paladin then banked and turned back toward the airport. He dialed the radio to the same frequency that Jacques had used on their approach to the island.

"This is the Judge," Paladin said in his best Texan drawl. "We got intruders on the ground, boys. Paladin Blake and his security thugs, thirty...maybe forty of 'em. Better watch yer backs."

A French-accented voice acknowledged.

Paladin kept one eye on the anti-aircraft guns; they remained silent. He pointed Cold Justice at the row of parked Hellhounds on the ground and fired. A dozen rockets whooshed from her wings, snaked through the air, and turned the expensive German planes into fireballs of fuel, bits of glittering shrapnel, and plumes of oily smoke.

That would gum up their runway for hours, and limit the number of planes they could get into the air.

He pushed the throttle to full, cut the running lights, and pulled back on the stick.

Like his "Lightning Girl," this Warhawk was just as clumsy, but she did have one advantage over the nimble Devastators and Furys that protected the island: her 37,000-foot ceiling. If he could climb high enough, fast enough, the smaller planes wouldn't be able to touch them.

For more information see:
J2 Fury

Cold Justice rose through layers of clouds and broke through. Paladin saw stars and the half moon, and as far as he could see, no other planes.

"Tennyson, get on the radio and raise the Texas Rangers. Ask them to get the Alamo and the Crockett into the air. Then call the relay station in Amarillo and patch through to Hollywood. Have them contact the Aegis in New Orleans and get them here. I want every plane we've got in the air and in Houston in twelve hours.

For more information see:
The Republic of Texas; The Nation of Hollywood

"I've got one last thing handle personally...then we're going to take care of Le Coeur du Minuit."

 


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