"I need to know where the Commerce is supposed to be now," Paladin told Eliot. "Any word about her on the news services?"
Eliot wrinkled his brow. "Is there something wrong with the Commerce?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Paladin replied.
Eliot picked up a phone and dialed. "Tower? This is Ness. Yeah. Can you guys, off the record, give me the flight plan filed by the Commerce? I can hold." He pulled a pad and pen from his pocket then jotted down notes. "Thanksowe you one." He hung up.
"She's on a run for 'Heartland, Inc.' They make farm equipmenttractors, fertilizer spreaders, things like that. They loaded the shipment from hangar 1056, and she's scheduled to deliver it to" Eliot checked his notes. "Oklahoma City." She's reported in and supposed to returning with a cargo of corn meal in three days."
"Checked in, huh?" Paladin rubbed his chin, thinking. "When?"
"Noon, yesterday." Eliot stared at his handwriting. "Funny thing is that Heartland doesn't own or lease hangar 1056. That's Anvil Manufacturing. They make guns, including a nice .45 by all accounts."
"And, by all accounts," Paladin muttered, "secretly running guns."
Eliot shrugged. "The bogus manifest adds up. They'd do that to protect themselves. A shipment of guns would be a tempting cargo for pirates to hijack."
It added up all right, Paladin thought. Anvil Manufacturing could have supplied Die Spinne with the arsenal it had protecting Le Coeur du Minuit. But what was Karina Von Gilder planning to do with another zeppelin full of guns? Two years ago, she had attempted to plunge North America into warher goal to unite the state nations by conquest. Was this a prelude to another war?
"Can you get me an appointment to see someone at Anvil Manufacturing?"
"You bet, Mr. Blake." Eliot picked up the phone. "What do you want me to tell them when they ask why?"
"Tell them I'd like to buy a gun," Paladin said.
Martin Heiselberg looked like a man who had lived the good life too long. By Paladin's reckoning he was nearly as wide as he was tall. He wore a conservative black suit and bow tie and sported a thin gold band on his pinkie (which Paladin suspected might have been his wedding ring). With considerable effort Heiselberg rose from his mahogany desk. He offered his limp, sweaty hand to Paladin.
"Mr. Blake, may I say it is an honor to have you visit Anvil Manufacturing."
"Thanks," Paladin replied.
The view from the nineteenth story office window caught Paladin's eyea panorama from Lincoln Heights to downtown to the I.S.A. Institute of Technologya conglomeration of skyscrapers and steaming factories, bridges and swarms of aerotaxis.
"Every time I look at it," Heiselberg said, "I know I'm in the best country in the world. Even more impressive than your Hollywood?" He sat back in his chair.
Paladin cleared his throat. "I try to think of myself as a citizen of the world. Blake Aviation Security can't afford to take political sides or show favoritism to any one country."
Heiselberg nodded appreciatively. "A wise business policy." He gestured for Paladin to sit. "What can Anvil Manufacturing do for you today?" A nervous laugh escaped him. "I trust we're not under investigation?"
"Not at all," Paladin lied. "I only wanted to discuss the possibility of you supplying Blake Aviation with sidearms. Your reputation for quality is known from coast to coast."
Heiselberg brightened. "Anvil Manufacturing can provide anything you require. We might even be able to work out a bulk discount. Let's say"
The phone rang. Heiselberg frowned and picked it up. "I said no calls." His face went blank. "Oh, yes, I see." He handed the receiver to Paladin. "For you. An emergency."
Right on time, Paladin thought.
He took the receiver. "Yes, Eliot? How many? Well get them to the hospital as quick as you can. I need you to" He looked up at Heiselberg. "Would it be possible to take this in private?"
"Of course. If you could just step into"
Paladin shouted into the mouthpiece: "No! I told you three, Eliot. I don't care if it is the Princess of Hawai'i. I want three." He shot Heiselberg a glare. "I appreciate this. It'll only take a few minutes."
Heiselberg sighed. He struggled to stand from his overstuffed chair. "I'll...just be outside then, Mr. Blake. Please, take your time." He flashed a disingenuous smile and left, closing the door quietly behind him.
"Okay, Eliot, it worked. Hang onand keep talking in case anyone picks up an extension." Paladin set the mouthpiece on the desk, got up and jammed his chair under the door's handle.
He could have tried to dance around the information he wanted from Heiselberg, played a game of verbal cat and mouse, and maybe stumbled upon the information he needed. Paladin knew his limitations, though. Being sneaking and sly were a stretch for him.
He opened the filing cabinet first. Their contents had been sorted by date. Good. There was only one shipment that left the same day as the Commerce. Paladin scanned the manifest: seven thousand repeating .30-caliber rifles, three hundred thousand rounds of ammunition plus reloading machines, five thousand .45-caliber sidearms, pieces to assemble five-inch field artillery, water-cooled .70-caliber antiaircraft gunsand Paladin had to reread the last entry twiceone hundred tanks.
This wouldn't make Le Coeur du Minuit a fortressit would make it unassailable. But why? They already had the silent approval of the Louisiana government to do business. What was so important about the island that they had to arm themselves to the teeth?
Unless this wasn't for the island. Maybe Le Coeur du Minuit was just a midway point for wherever Karina was really sending these arms.
Paladin shut the cabinet and went to Heiselberg's desk.
Under the gleaming mahogany top there was a large center drawer and three smaller ones stacked vertically. In the larger drawer sat five guns on a velvet pallet. Paladin hefted a .32 automatic. It was a little too light for his tastesever since Dashiell had gotten him to carry the .45s. He set it down and tried the small drawers.
The first contained stationary, pens and envelopes. The next drawer was empty save for a small bottle of syrupy brownish liquid that Paladin doubted was bourbon. He smelled it: sickeningly sweet and smoky. It made him gag.
The last drawer was locked. Paladin tried to jimmy it, considered busting the thing open, then thought better of it. Instead, he removed the first two drawers and got a hold of the wood panel beneath with his fingernails. He tugged and pulled and the wood splintered, crackedthen gave.
Inside this last compartment was a dagger; a pearl-handled .38; an envelope stuffed with I.S.A. C-notes; and a man's signet ring, heavy and gold with a green stone set flush in the center. Carved in the stone in relief was an eagle clutching an emblem.
For a split second Paladin thought he recognized it. The pale man had a ring almost exactly like this. Only that one had an eagle grasping a stara Unionist symbol for their "Brotherhood of America."
But this ring was different. The symbol in the eagle's talons wasn't a star; it was a strange, canted cross.
Maybe Paladin had seen it before, after all.
He retrieved the calling card Karina Von Gilder had given him in her casino, the one with the embossed with a spider-web, its strands kinked halfway from the center. It was a dead ringer for the cross in the ring.
Paladin didn't know what it meant, but staring at it made his stomach turn and the hackles on the back of his neck stand.
This had started as a personal quest to save Flora...but it was turning into much more. He had to put an end to the secret pirate cityand Karina Von Gilderfor good.
He removed the chair blocking the door, then picked up the receiver. "Eliot you still there? Good. I want as many men and planes as you can spare. We're all flying south a special mission. Volunteers onlynobody marriedand extra hazard pay.
"Wake up Tennyson, too, and tell him to get ready for a war."