The pirate leader shook his head. Can this get any worse? He reached inside his coat for his pistol. Then he remembered he'd given it to Dane and never got it back.
All he could hope for was to live long enough to be embarrassed about it later.
Kahn pushed the hatch open enough to slip through and ducked inside. There was plenty of cover as he moved among the parked planes and over to the portside bulkhead, where most of the tools were kept. He quietly picked up a large wrench, stuck it in a pocket, then carefully grabbed a heavy, five-gallon drum.
He crept aft, using the planes once more to conceal his approach, then dashed the final few feet to the other side of the large crate of parts. The troops paid little attention to their surroundings, speaking to one another in low, apprehensive tones. They never saw him come around the corner and bring the drum down on the first soldier's head.
The drum flew out of Kahn's handsand doused the other two men with five gallons of motor oil. They staggered and sputtered, the rifles slipping from their hands, and Kahn pulled out the wrench and dispatched them with a few quick, deliberate blows.
There was an emergency release latch for the hangar door on the aft bulkhead. Kahn tossed the wrench aside and limped over to the latch. He paused to catch his breath
and was spun around by the impact of a bullet, and a pain like a hot poker jabbed through his arm.
Kahn let out a yell and clapped his left hand over the wound. Echoes from the gunshot rang in the cavernous space. "Get away from that latch, Johnny-boy," he heard Hayes say.
Artemus Hayes stepped from the shadows of the parked planes and walked over to the downed guards, stepping carefully through the oil. He checked them quickly, and shook his head. "Murasaki ain't gonna be happy about this," he said. He looked at Kahn. "I gotta tell you, Johnny, I knew you'd show up. I didn't know how, but I just knew you would. And here you are. Now step away from that latch."
"Or what?" Kahn said, wincing in pain. "You'll shoot me again?"
"I surely will," he said evenly. "And the next one is going to be between the eyes." He watched Kahn for a moment, then he smiled. "You know, we could make an arrangement, you and I."
"Nobody but me knows you're alive right now. And we've got the gold right here...thanks to you," he indicated the crates with a nod. "We can wait 'til it gets dark, then slip away from Murasaki. Head south. Hell, maybe buy an island and live like kings. You sure wouldn't have to worry about DeCarlo any more." He winked. "Just like old times, eh, Johnny-boy? What do you say?"
Kahn took a deep breath. "I've got people still outside. What about them?"
Hayes laughed. "Don't worry about them. If the Japanese don't get them, the darkness will. Then we're home free."
The pirate thought it over, and nodded. "Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say. No dice, Hayes. No way in hell."
Hayes frowned. "I do believe you're getting soft, old son."
Kahn grinned. "Think so?" And he leapt for the latch.
The move caught Hayes by surprise. Kahn grabbed the handle and pulled down for all he was worth.
Behind them, the hangar doors fell open, letting in the howling wind. For a brief second, a wind filled the hangar deck. Invisible hands yanked at Hayes, and his feet slid out from under him in the oil. He hit the deckand slid over the edge.
Kahn could hear Hayes' screams even over the raging wind. He walked carefully to the edge of the hangar door. The con man clung to the lip of the door with one, white-knuckled hand. Hayes looked up at Kahn, his eyes pleading. He knew that look of helplessness well.
The burly pirate reached down and grabbed Hayes wrist with his good hand, then hauled upward. The con man scrambled back onto the deck, and struggled shakily to his feet.
"Now, finally, we're even," Kahn said gravely.
Hayes looked up at him and grinned. "Absolutely, Johnny-boy. No question." He took a deep, grateful breath. "It's lucky for me you have gone soft"
That was as far as he got before Kahn shoved him off the deck and sent Hayes plummeting into the ocean far below.
Kahn refused to let Gordon take the gold off his ship until Ambassador Carlyle revoked the $10,000 reward, and he stood over Carlyle's shoulder until the necessary telegram had been drafted and sent.
Rain fell in sheets along the Hilo docks. Kahn and Dane watched Chiang Liu-Mei take her farewell, hustled down the long gangway from the zeppelin and escorted into a Rolls-Royce by Chinese diplomats. She'd expressed the deepest gratitude of her father's government to Kahn and his crew, then wasted no time in getting off the Machiavelli and back to the Chinese embassy. In her wake went Gordon's men, lugging the heavy crates that were now His Majesty's property.
"It sure took you long enough to get that damn landing hook down," Dane groused, watching the British agents proceed slowly down the gangway.
"I had a bullet in my arm," Kahn said with a snort. "I'd love to see you try it, sister." He wore his right arm in a sling; Doc Adams said the bullet went right through the meat, and would heal up just fine in a couple of months. Until then he was going to have a hell of a time lighting his cigars.
The Japanese fighters had put up a fierce fight, but in the end, sheer numbers turned the tide. The Red Skulls and their British companions were circling the zeppelin and growing increasingly worried by the time Kahn had managed to run out the landing hook and start recovering planes. Once they were aboard, Gordon and his men proved remarkably talented at eliminating the remaining Japanese guards.
By the time the Red Skulls and their British allies had seized the Machiavelli, Murasaki had known something was wrong aboard the pirate airship, but it was too late; darkness had fallen like a curtain. After making sure none of Hayes' men were stowed away, Kahn ordered the Japanese beeper rocketsexperimental munitions that allowed Murasaki to track the Machiavelli across North Americafound.