Marella staggered as she reached The Shaggy Dog, and stopped to breathe. She wasn't supposed to leave the hospital, not yet, but what's the use of being a spy if you can't sneak out of a hospital when you want to? This was too important to wait while the doctors went on fussing over her.
Her heart pounding, she hesitated in the doorway, letting her eyes adjust to the dim, smoke-filled atmosphere of the crowded bar. What was Dr. Rudy Wells doing in this noisy little saloon in the middle of a work day? He was usually so conscientious that his aides had to force him to break for meals, but this was where Callahan said he was. It just didn't make sense.
She scanned the room slowly, oblivious to the admiring stares her slender white-clad form demanded. There--at a table in the back. One dark lock of hair had fallen into his brown eyes, and he was bent over a shotglass in a near-prayerful attitude, his hunched shoulders shutting out the raucous drinkers around him. Frowning, she threaded her way to his table, having to pause and lean against other tables to make it there. He glanced up slowly, disinterested, his familiar practical face cold.
"Dr. Wells, you're needed at The Firm. It's important."
He turned back to his bottle. "I don't work for the O.S.I. any more, Marella. Go away."
She slipped into the red-padded chair across from him, still a little unsteady. "Of course not. It was absorbed by The Firm. That's who you work for now."
Wells slammed down his glass and snorted. "Ah, yes: The Firm. Thought you were in the desert with its latest technological wonder."
"I was, a few weeks ago. Didn't you hear? Airwolf was stolen. Moffet blew up the command post right over our heads. Archangel was hurt." Wells looked up at that, still half-drunk, but apparently struck by the intensity she could hear straining her normally cool, controlled voice. "He's lost one eye, and one leg was badly crippled."
He shrugged. "Marella, I'm a scientist, not an emergency room doctor."
"That's not what he needs. He's stabilized. They've already patched him up. Now he needs your specialty." She lowered her voice, even though no one could hear them over the music. "Your bionics."
He cocked one dark eyebrow at her, his mustache twitching with a bemused, mocking grin. "You really think The Firm will waste the money--literally millions, and you know it--on Archangel? They need field agents like Steve, not a deskbound bionic wonder with a knack for asking difficult questions."
She leaned forward. "It's worth a try. He's too good to waste behind a desk. He wants to be out in the field, and he should be."
He chuckled humorlessly, refilling the shotglass. "At the very least, the Committee needs two destroyed legs. With one bionic leg, he'd only run in circles."
Marella slammed her white clutch purse onto the table. "Dammit, this isn't a joke! We're talking about a human life here!"
"Marella, it's no use. I've resigned, effective today. Steve and Jaime, too." With one trembling hand, he downed the contents of the glass. "And in case your `Committee' decides to declare us mad dogs, you can tell them we've got three letters each, in nine different places, with lots of damaging information, to be opened if any of us dies or disappears."
"If any of...I don't understand." She grabbed his elbow as he reached for the bottle. "Dr. Wells--Rudy--you're drunk. And more than a little paranoid, at this point."
"Not drunk enough," he said softly. Again he flashed that brief, utterly unhappy smile. "And just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." The smile gone, he wrenched free, and refilled the shotglass. "I intend to get drunker, then go home and pass out. If I don't do it here first."
Her lips thinned. "If you won't help me, I'll go to your surgical team. This is important."
"Don't bother. Half resigned with me. The rest don't have the knowledge to help you." He paused, then said slowly, enunciating the words with care, "I emptied the computer banks today. There is no Bionics program at The Firm, not any longer. There's only me...and I, as you say, am a drunken paranoid."
She felt rage start her stomach churning, and clenched her hands tight to control it, digging her nails into her palms. "You treat this like some sort of joke, but it's treason. That information belonged to the O.S.I., and now to The Firm. You have no right to--"
"I have every right! I designed those programs. I invented those surgical techniques. I have the right to say how my knowledge will be used." His somber eyes met hers squarely, the spark of anger fading. "And I don't trust the Committee. The head of the O.S.I. was a good man--a good friend--but Zeus and the Committee? They're cold. Inhuman."
"They gave you a promotion. They made you head of the Science Division, a member of the Committee--"
"They made me the head of shit!" Suddenly angry again, he slammed the glass down, spilling vodka all over the table and her purse. "It's all changed. We had to make hard decisions, but not like the Committee does!"
"Things are different now, yes. We do the best we can, you know that. It's a dirty world, and sometimes the only way to survive in it is--"
He held up the half-empty glass, peering into it. "You haven't asked what I'm celebrating, Marella."
"I don't give a damn! I care about Michael! Don't you understand? He threw himself over me and was nearly killed saving my life!" Frustrated, she leaned forward, trapping his hand in hers, as if by squeezing it she could force him to accept what she said. "He's a vital, intelligent, valuable man--the intelligence community can't afford to lose him. You can rebuild him. You have the technology. You could--you could set the bionic leg at normal strength, the way you did with that race car driver when he couldn't handle it. At least Michael wouldn't be a cripple!"
She could tell by his expression that she wasn't getting through to him. "Marella...." He grimaced, swirling the alcohol in the shotglass. "This is a wake, Marella. Steve and Jaime couldn't be here, so I'm holding it by myself. Do you want to share a drink with me? It's not polite to be sober at a wake."
"Are you listening to me?"
"Oscar Goldman is dead."
She froze. "What?"
"When they decided to terminate his position," Rudy said with that crooked, meaningless smile, "they did it literally."
After a moment, she said flatly, "I don't believe you."
Wells looked up at her with dead coal eyes, and she shivered. He looked like a man who'd just stared into his only brother's coffin. "It's true." He set the shotglass down and pushed it away. "So The Firm no longer has a bionics program. Steve wants to open up a mercenary operation, do free-lance work. Strictly U.S.-oriented, but not controlled by any covert agency, not ever again. Jaime thinks it's a good idea." A pause. "Me, I...don't know. I'm going fishing. Maybe the salt air can wash away the stench of The Firm. Maybe not."
She shook her head, denying it all. "This is insane. If Zeus really did that--Rudy, you have to confront him, see that he's punished."
"That won't bring Oscar back."
"If Zeus gets thrown out, another Zeus will step in, with the same selfish, paranoid reasoning. Nothing will change. This isn't the O.S.I., and it isn't my world. Not any more."
"Rudy, wait." Marella swallowed. "I--I understand your feelings about Mr. Goldman. That's how I feel about Archangel. He's a good man; he cares about his people, and he backs them to the hilt. He shouldn't be punished for the--the evils of the Committee." He closed his eyes wearily, leaning back in his chair, blocking her out, and she went on even more urgently. "Espionage has changed since the O.S.I. was formed, that's why it was outdated, why it had to be taken over. It's darker, more complex, now. But that doesn't mean--"
He pulled his hand free and rose. "I'm sorry about Archangel. He seems like a decent man." Wells paused, swaying slightly in the grip of vodka and strong emotion. "Oscar Goldman was a good man, too. It'll be hard to fill his shoes."
It was said with finality. He pushed the nearly-empty bottle toward Marella, then walked toward the door, weaving slightly, his shoulders set.
He was clearly drunk, but equally clearly, he meant every word he'd said. Marella's vision blurred with tears, and she shook her head angrily. "Damn! I'm sorry, Michael," she whispered, and reached for the bottle at last.
Halfway up the ladder-street district of Hong Kong, Dominic Santini took a deep breath of ginseng-scented air, a grin spreading across his bulldog-ugly face. Chickens pecked at the feet of a curbside barber sporting the pointed stray hat of a Cantonese farmer, while two small puppies shadow-boxed across the street, unaware that they might be destined for the table at a Cantonese meal. Lots of American and British tourists were jammed in this crowded, twisting maze with him, but threaded among them were occasional natives in loose cotton trousers and loose-fitting grey or black pajama coats.
Chuckling, Dom bought a caramelized banana from an enterprising urchin and squeezed his bulky frame through a gap in the crowd, aiming for an herbalist shop. Maybe he'd buy an aphrodisiac for his partner--powdered unicorn horn or something.
Stringfellow couldn't understand his determination to take a vacation here, but damn it, he'd been reading about exotic Hong Kong in books and studying it in old movies all his life, and in a few more years this could all be gone. The British title to the city would expire, and the Commies would finally take over. He might never get another chance to see the magic city he'd daydreamed about all those hours he spent on his back on the cold concrete, working on chopper engines. Well, Santini Air--and his secret missions for The Firm--had finally given Dom the money he needed, and here he was at last. Despite himself, he felt a silly grin plaster itself all over his ugly puss.
Somehow the push of the crowd steered him into the wrong doorway--he could swear that overweight Asian elbowed his stomach deliberately--and Santini found himself in the doorway of a little shop sporting a multi-colored diagram of a human skull pockmarked with mountains and craters. What the--? Oh, yeah, now he recognized the design. Somebody had stuffed a brochure advertising this place under his hotel room door. He hadn't even read it, he was in such a hurry to start sightseeing.
"Please, sir, come in!" A lithe young Eurasian woman opened the door and caught his arm. "We speak most fulsomely English here."
Embarrassed, Dom tried to pull away. "Uh, look, I'm sorry, I don't even know what sorta place this is. See, the crowd--"
"Phrenologist, honored sir." Somehow, still protesting, he found himself being ceremoniously ushered to a padded barber-style chair. The black-haired woman gently removed his red satin baseball cap, emblazoned with `SANTINI AIR.' "It is our delight to reveal the workings of the gods through the markings of the head."
"Huh? Oh, you mean like tell my fortune or something?" He chuckled, gesturing broadly. "This old noggin's taken too many knocks for that, honey. I remember the time I crashed this Cessna into the backlot at MGM--"
She ran skilled fingers through his thinning grey hair, probing the scalp. "Truly, sir, such false bumps do not mislead one such as I. You lead a dangerous life, but with great good humor...you possess a secret which men will pay muchly for, and that will bring misfortune to you...."
"Oh, yeah?" He squirmed uneasily in the chair, automatically thinking of the multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art helicopter he helped Hawke fly for ole Mr. Clean and his spy firm. But that was silly, of course. It was just coincidence that she came so close to reality. "Uh, when?"
"Now," she said coldly, and something slammed into the back of his head.
Sitting in his command headquarters, in the room his flock of cherubim and seraphim jokingly called the "Pearly Gates," Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III steepled his fingers and sighed. At the moment, the room was crammed with those lovely ladies he'd taken under his wing as his special assistants, and even though they were trying to keep the noise to a minimum, his head was beginning to throb. It was spring-cleaning time, and Zeus and the Committee were most insistent that he close out at least ten percent of his files, the inactive cases that were just taking up computer space. He had made so many decisions already this morning that he was ready to call it a day...and it wasn't even time for his first coffee break.
"Excuse me, sir. How about this one?"
Michael rubbed his one remaining eye, then slipped his glasses back on and wearily accepted the picture Rafaela was holding. Despite himself, he grinned. "Chuang Enlai. He was an ambitious agent for the Chinese with delusions of grandeur."
She glanced at the photo of a square-faced, slightly-overweight man in Western clothing. "Was, sir? You eliminated him?"
"No, no, nothing like that. Why use brute force, when humiliation is much more effective in destroying an opponent? I managed to convince him that one of their own top scientists had invented an anti-gravity device and was secretly negotiating with me. By the time his superiors proved the man was completely loyal, and there was no way anyone could build that weapon, his career was smashed." He sighed. "You can put that one with the ten-percenters, Rafaela."
The trim redhead nodded obediently, but caught Marella's eye as she turned away. That sigh was a dead giveaway; this was one of those mornings when Archangel's mutilated leg was killing him and he was brooding on his old days in the field. Marella shot her a grateful half-smile and descended on their boss with a Dresden china cup.
"Oh. Thanks. I believe you read my mind." He sipped the steaming brew, and his fair eyebrows shot up as he tasted the added brandy. "Thank you, Marella," he said warmly.
"Just a bribe to sweeten you up." She produced a thick folder from behind her back. "Another decision for you."
"The B Team file. I suppose Zeus wants me to work a real miracle."
"It's been six months since we've tried."
He grimaced. "And the last time, Austin took a swing at me. They've made it very clear that they're never coming back to work for any type of covert organization, and no amount of sweet-talking from anyone is going to change that. What kills me is that this is all the Committee's fault in the first place. If they hadn't sent that Zebra squad after the old head of the O.S.I., we wouldn't be in this mess. What should've been a routine takeover of an old organization turned into a mutiny, and we lost the most valuable people the O.S.I. ever had."
"Do you want me to try again?" She offered him a small gamine grin. "I doubt that Colonel Austin will take a swing at me, anyway."
He drained the cup and set it down a little too forcefully. "No. See if any of the old bionics surgical team will give it another try. Maybe they'll be more receptive if the offer comes from an old friend."
She closed the folder and licked her carmine lips in a rare gesture of apprehension. "There's...one more thing."
It didn't need two good eyes to read the strain in that elegantly sculptured cafe au lait face. Michael steeled himself. "Well?"
"Our operatives report Dominic Santini vanished in Hong Kong twenty-four hours ago."
Michael was on his feet before he realized it, and only a quick grab at the edge of his ivory-inlaid desk kept him from falling. "He what?"
She said in a rush, as if it might not hurt if she said it quickly, "And Stringfellow Hawke is outside, raising hell about it. Michelle is trying to stall him, but--"
The crash of the door being flung open clearly indicated how much success Michelle had had. All the operatives in the room froze, several with tiny guns or knives in hand, as the lean, darkly suntanned man strode into their midst.
"It's all right, ladies, go back to work," Michael said loudly. The weapons disappeared as smoothly as they had appeared. "Good morning, Hawke. I assume you're here about Dom."
"So you know. What the hell are you doing about it?"
He gestured discreetly to Marella, who began punching information requests into the main computer. "Nothing, just yet. We still haven't ascertained who took him, or why."
"You know damn well Dom hasn't got an enemy in the world," Hawke said flatly. "But he disappeared just a few miles from Red China. You know it's got to be Airwolf."
"Hawke, officially I'm not supposed to know where Airwolf is or who has her. Would you mind keeping your voice down? I don't want any of my `angels' to have to lie to the Committee."
"All right, Hawke. You could be right. But Dominic doesn't work for The Firm."
"He knows the Lady inside and out. There're a dozen countries that'd pay a fortune for that."
"I know." It really had been one of those mornings. Michael sat down again, heavily, his crippled leg held out stiffly. He accepted the print-out Marella silently passed to him, glanced at it, and cleared his throat. "That's why we may have to send a team in after him."
He exchanged a swift glance with Marella, who was waiting quietly by the door. "Hawke, you don't understand. Zeus and the Committee laid down the law a long time ago: we can't afford to let any other nation get hold of Airwolf or her design. If they can't rescue him--if there's even the slightest risk of failure--the team will have orders to kill him."
Hawke's smoldering Robert Mitchum eyes narrowed to slits. "You'd do that? Send in the Zebra Squad, after everything he's done for you and The Firm?"
"It's not my choice, Hawke! You've made such a scene, the word is bound to get back to Zeus. I can stall it for a little while, and I will, but once the Committee knows--"
"Understand this, Archangel." His long face taut, Stringfellow leveled a finger at his sometime ally's face. "Anything happens to Dom, and you're a dead man. You got that?"
He spun on his heel and stalked out of the room, letting the door slam behind him. Michael rubbed his neat gold-brown mustache with a thoughtful finger, then nodded to Marella.
She took the file on what he jokingly called the "B Team" with her.
"Hawke, wait!" When the pilot ignored her, Marella ran after him, cursing her white spiked heels, slinging her white shoulderbag over one slender shoulder. "Listen to me, please. It's important."
Hawke glanced back at her and grimaced. "Forget it, Marella. I don't have time for your excuses."
"No excuses, dammit! I want to help." He swung around, his face expressionless, waiting. She said quickly, "Officially, Michael has to follow The Firm's policy, you know that. But unofficially, he sent me to tell you about someone who can help. They're a three-person mercenary team--"
"I don't need mercenaries."
She drew herself up to her most imperial height, her eyes sparkling with indignation. "No? Isn't that what you and Dom are?"
"We work for you and you look for St. John. That's the deal," he said flatly.
She held his eyes. "These three are good. They have a strong U.S. bias, and an unbelievable success rate. They were top-security clearance ratings with the O.S.I.--"
Hawke cocked his head. "The what?"
"Office for Scientific Intelligence. It was absorbed by The Firm several years ago."
He shrugged bonelessly. "I can handle this one by myself. I don't need any of Archangel's hit teams."
"No! These guys are special." She swallowed. "I...went to them when Airwolf was stolen on her test run, but they turned me down."
"Mercenaries turning down The Firm?" Despite his anger, his curiosity was clearly piqued. "Why?"
Her eyes evaded his for the first time. "Partly a lack of money. Partly a...grudge...they hold against The Firm. But Zeus keeps trying to lure them back. The heart of the team is a technological genius, Dr. Rudy Wells. Zeus would sell his own children into slavery for a chance to get Wells back with The Firm."
"Never heard of him."
"He's made incredible breakthroughs in virtually every field of science. We offer him a fortune at least twice a year to come back, but he stays independent. Like you."
"Like me?" He raised one eyebrow. "Look, Marella, Airwolf's all the back-up I need."
"Moffet got some of his ideas for her from Rudy's original designs," she said softly, and knew she had him. She could see it in those dark eyes. "Hawke, you can't take the chance that Zeus's men won't get to Dominic first." She held out a sheet of paper from the folder. "Trust me, Hawke. You need them."
After a long pause, Stringfellow Hawke turned and walked away.
He took the paper with him.
Somehow he hadn't expected to find Archangel's mercenary team living in a sprawling white wood-frame house in the California hills near Ojai. It didn't look the least bit high-tech. Still, Stringfellow Hawke waited patiently while the woman who had answered the door studied the computer print-out he gave her.
"It's Archangel's computer, all right." She ran one hand through her tawny, shoulder-length hair, then brushed it back behind one ear, eyeing him doubtfully. He waited, not speaking. She shrugged. "Come on in."
He followed the woman through an ordinary hallway, noting the immense stack of scientific journals precariously balanced on a delicate cherrywood table. She led him into a sunlit kitchen, and slipped into a chair at the solid oak table there.
"I'm Jaime Sommers."
Her handshake was firm, but friendly. Suddenly he recognized her. "The tennis pro. You were top-ranked when you dropped out."
"I had a parachuting accident and couldn't go back to playing. Just a minute, Mr. Hawke, and I'll get my partner. When he starts puttering in the lab, he loses track of time. L.Q. will get you a cup of coffee while you're waiting, okay?"
L.Q. proved to be an immensely pregnant auburn-haired woman of perhaps forty-five. While she waited for the water to boil, she punched equations into a computer on the counter under the spice rack, muttering, "Damn adrenalizine!"
String stared beyond her, out the patio doors, watching a German shepherd chase a moth through the uncut and somewhat neglected lawn. So one-third of this much-vaunted mercenary team was a crippled ex-tennis-star. Great. Was this middle-aged pregnant woman the final third? What were they supposed to do, charm the bad guys to death? Beat them with Tupperware, maybe?
Maybe this was a mistake after all.
He blinked. Something made his eyes blur for an instant, somehow, because there was a brownish-black streak there, and then the lawn was empty. Where did the German shepherd go?
Sommers returned with a graying black-haired man in a spotless white lab coat. He peered over black-rimmed reading glasses, offering Hawke a confident handshake. "Good afternoon. I'm Rudy Wells, and this is my wife--"
She flicked the computer off and poured another cup of coffee, snapping, "Feh. Married, we're not."
Frowning, Wells removed his glasses. "We've been living together for five years, Lorelei. You're the one who won't--"
"Don't call me that, Rudy Jacob Wells!"
"Hey, come on, guys, can we finish this argument some other time?" Jaime stepped between them with good-natured exasperation. "This is Dr. L.Q. Resnicow, our resident biochemist and good friend. She specializes in getting everyone's adrenaline flowing. Our other partner is...on another assignment." The good humor dimmed.
Great. Hawke pushed his steaming cup aside. "Look, I think I've made a mistake here."
Jaime Sommers sighed. "You don't think we have the manpower to do your job, is that it? Fine. Let's try a little experiment. You beat me at arm-wrestling, and we pay you one hundred dollars for wasting your time, okay?"
She obviously had the muscles of a tennis pro in those deceptively slim arms, but that wouldn't be enough. String shrugged, bending his arm.
Shaking his head, Wells removed the cups from the oak table. Jaime pushed her tawny hair behind her ears and propped her right arm on the table. Her olive eyes met Hawke's steady gaze. His fingers locked with hers--and his knuckles were promptly slapped onto the table with tingling force.
"Best two out of three?" Jaime offered sweetly.
Grimly, he readjusted his position, eyeing her with new respect, but the end result was the same. Neither of her two friends seemed surprised. When she offered her hand a third time, he shook his head, and felt his face relax into a brief, unexpected grin.
"I know when I'm licked. I suppose Dr. Wells here is an Olympic track star or something?"
Wells chuckled. "I leave those surprises to my two younger partners. The biggest surprise I lay on our clients is our very sizeable bill."
"If you can help rescue my partner, the fee's no problem."
Wells' amiable smile faded. "I don't want to mislead you, Mr. Hawke. Archangel's not a bad man, but I don't like working with The Firm."
"Neither do I," Hawke said flatly.
"We have something in common, then." Sommers retrieved the coffee mugs. "What made Archangel, of all people, recommend us?"
"Dom and I work for him now and then, on special cases. Dom went to Hong Kong for a vacation, and disappeared. The Firm says he was taken to China."
Dr. Resnicow sat down with them, her freen eyes slightly glazed with thought. Wells absently patted her hand, still studying Hawke. "Why?"
He hesitated, eyeing them speculatively. Airwolf was top-secret. On the other hand, there had obviously already been leaks somewhere, or Dom wouldn't be missing now. This might look like a somewhat eccentric middle-class family, but Marella seemed to trust these people completely. After a moment, he said levelly, "They want information on Airwolf."
Wells frowned, rubbing his mustache with one finger, and looked away. Jaime glanced at him, then slowly lowered her half-empty mug. "Look, Mr. Hawke, I don't feel like doing the Committee any favors. In any case, right now we're one man short. We have to get Steve out of a jail cell in Taiwan before we can even think about taking on some assignment for--"
"This isn't an assignment for The Firm. This is personal. Dom is my best friend, not some cog in the covert machinery. But if I don't get him outta there myself, the Committee's death squad will take him out--permanently."
She winced. "That sounds like their usual modus operandi. I guess some things never change."
"Wait a minute," Wells cut in. "Airwolf? A high-tech helicopter with state-of-the-art computers and Sunburst missiles? Runs in a stealth mode?" String nodded, somehow managing not to show any surprise. Wells sighed. "Jaime, I'm familiar with bits of that design; it's the perfect war machine. With Airwolf's special capabilities, we could free Steve and reach any part of China without a problem--probably without even triggering their radar net. It's like an answer to our prayers." He rubbed his lip again. "Besides, I...owe Marella this one."
His young partner looked at him blankly. "But, Rudy--"
He met her gaze. "This time, we've got a a chance to save somebody from the Zebra Squad Zeus is so fond of."
She rubbed her forehead wearily. "Yeah. When you're right, Rudy, you're really right. Sorry."
"So how do you find this Santini person?" his mistress asked, suddenly in focus. "China's not exactly small, you know."
"The Firm has the best espionage network going; they should be able to narrow it down for us."
Sommers protested, "Oh, come on, Rudy, the only way they'd share information with us would be if you agreed to join up!"
String agreed. "Marella and Michael won't be able to give me any more information without running into trouble."
The older man smiled. "Billy Cole, out in Colorado Springs, is still their top numbers cruncher, and he owes us some favors, remember? When The Firm locates Santini, we'll know it."
"And Airwolf will take us in before The Firm's squad can off Dom."
Jaime said firmly, "First we have to get Steve out. Then we look for your partner."
Hawke stared at her, his lips thinning. "They could be torturing my friend."
"We'll need Steve to rescue him." She gave him a brief gamine grin. "If you think I'm strong, you should see him in action! So, Rudy will call Billy, while you get this `Airwolf' thing, and we'll see what we can do."
Steve Austin forced his eyes open and stared at the ceiling of his jail cell. The tiles seemed to spin around his head, like the rotors on a chopper. It made him feel queasy; he closed his eyes again.
How long had he been asleep? Damn. Oscar would be really mad this time. No. Wait. He's dead, isn't he? Damn. He felt his eyes begin to leak, and threw his arm over his face. Yeah. He remembered holding Jaime close while she sobbed, and wishing that test pilots with the Right Stuff were allowed to cry. Oscar was dead, and he was locked in a cell, and he didn't feel very good at all.
But that was okay. He could yank the bars right out of that door, and twist 'em into pretzels, and he would, too, just as soon as he stopped feeling so damn groggy.
'S okay. His partners would come for him. He could just hear Rudy now: "I've invested too much money and too many hours in you for you to get killed on me now, Steve!" He'd be as mad as Oscar woulda. Rudy'd like coming to the rescue, though. Deep down inside, he'd always wanted to be the hero, the one with the strength and adventures and things. Leaving The Firm made him try it, and it put new life into him. Then he up and put new life into L.Q., the sly dog.
Rudy would be coming for him any time now. Jaime, too. That's what this whole thing was about. Friends. They got you into danger, but they got you out of it, too.
Steve opened his eyes again. The tiles seemed to be settling into place. Good. Maybe this time they'd forget about that nasty little hypodermic syringe. Maybe they'd be just a few minutes late. Just a few minutes, and he'd rescue himself--save Jaime the trouble of coming after him.
Jaime. With his eyes closed, he could see her, her head cocked to one side, a half-smile on her face, daring him to try to keep her out of this one.
"Oh, God, Jaime, I love you," he moaned.
The cell door rattled. Damn! He sat up, swinging his legs down, ignoring the way his head ached, but the two guards grabbed his arms. If he hadn't been so doped up, that wouldn't have mattered, but it took him too long to start moving, and the prison doctor was already driving the needle into his neck.
Jaime and Rudy would have to be the heroes this time around....
Letting Airwolf rocket over the Ojai countryside, Stringfellow still entertained some doubts. The problem was, once he found Dom--if he found him--he'd have to land and go in after his jovial partner, and without Airwolf's special abilities, he wouldn't stand a chance. He had to have help, no matter how eccentric it might be. Airwolf worked best for a pair. He'd have to make do with these `mercenaries' until his partner was freed.
The Sommers woman met him as he landed, shading her eyes with one hand as the chopper's screaming engines tossed back her honey-blonde hair. She walked slowly around the gleaming, stream-lined black-and-white frame, then gave him an impish grin as he swung down from the cockpit.
"Not bad," she said lightly. "Does it include holographic projectors?"
She shrugged. "We ran into a chopper once that could project the image of a big red flying saucer, so everyone thought Rudy'd been kidnapped by Martians."
"Not a bad idea. I guess The Firm doesn't know about that."
"They should." The grin turned bitter. "It was in the O.S.I. files they took over."
"Marella says you have a grudge against The Firm."
She shrugged. "Archangel's not bad, actually, he just has a different mindset than we had in the O.S.I. But the Committee...let's just say they had some awfully harsh employee retirement plans." She shook her head once, as if throwing off unpleasant memories. "Listen, our friend Billy came up with a possible location in Paoan, just across the border from the New Territories of Hong Kong."
"Then let's go."
An outraged cry of "Schmontsus!" echoed across the unkempt backyard, and Jaime winced. "Our, uh, senior partner is having a business discussion with L.Q. Come on."
Reluctantly, he followed her through the tall grass, not really wanting to get involved in a family argument. Chris Cagney, a female cop he'd once known, told him domestic squabbles were more dangerous than most murder calls.
No one seemed to be outside, except for the dog he'd seen earlier. As he glanced toward it, it leaped toward a tree branch roughly six feet off the ground, gripped the branch in its jaws, and ripped it from the tree.
No. That just couldn't be.
The branch must be rotted through, that was it. But the German shepherd trotted toward them, proudly bearing the tree limb in its mouth, and it looked fresh and thick.
"Max! I told you not to do that any more. Besides, I can't play fetch. I'm going on a trip. You be a good dog, now."
She rubbed the dog's ears, not seeming to notice that it had done anything especially unusual, and glanced at him. "Things have been sort of tense around here. I mean, we're worried about Lorie's health--with the baby and all--and then for two days we were afraid Steve was dead--"
Dr. Wells emerged from the patio doors in a worn green hunting jacket, clutching an old black medical bag. The auburn-haired Dr. Resnicow followed him with an Uzi slung over her shoulder.
"Come on, Rudy, what makes you such a shtarker all of a sudden? I look like I swallowed an elephant, and all at once you're James Bond. Let's face it--as a mercenary, you make a great lab scientist." She rested one hand on her bulging belly. "Let Jaime handle this."
"If they were bringing Steve here, I wouldn't go," he said patiently, "but they need him in good shape to rescue Mr. Santini, and for that they need me." He half-smiled. "Don't worry, Lorelei, I won't set foot out of the chopper. I'm not that stupid."
She glared at him, but thrust the Uzi at Sommers, hesitated, then embraced Wells. "You be careful, old man," she whispered. Then, louder; "If you get yourself killed, you're going to be in such trouble!"
"I promise, I won't."
Hawke trotted back to Airwolf. Jaime Sommers climbed into the cockpit beside him and effortlessly lifted her older partner with one hand, helping him into the back. Hawke handed her a black crash helmet and touched a button, lowering a dark reflective faceplate.
Hemmed in by computer screens, speakers, electronic buttons and switches, and blinking red, white, and blue lights, most newcomers to sit in Airwolf would at least comment on the way the computer lights matched the U.S. colors. Wells didn't seem all that impressed. String saw him lean over for one last glimpse of L.Q., her fiery hair rippling out like a war banner in the helicopter's jetstream. Then he set the medical bag down and began looking for a helmet.
Hawke grunted and turned the Lady toward the ocean. It had been almost twenty-four hours since he learned of Dom's disappearance. Letting his fingers automatically punch in their destination, Stringfellow felt each minute tick by with increasing urgency. What was his partner enduring even now? He remembered rescuing Archangel from the KGB, half-paralyzed by electic shocks and drugs. Michael was twenty years Dom's junior, and a trained agent, yet he'd been broken.
Even if they got this mysterious `Steve' out, and even if The Firm's information about Dom's location was accurate, what would they find that Paoan cell? He'd come to rely on the jovial bear of a man for so much. Losing St. John was a nightmare. If he lost Dom, too--if he rescued only the shattered remnants of the vivacious Italian he'd loved like a father--
Jaime cleared her throat. "Okay. What do you guys think about `Chris'?"
"As a name. You know--for the baby. Christopher Oscar Wells."
Wells leaned over the computer banks. "A little red-haired girl is going to feel pretty silly with a name like that."
"Nonsense. It's going to be a dark-haired little boy with an I.Q. of 300 or so, just like its daddy."
"Trust me, Jaime. I'm the doctor. How about Jaime Callahan Wells?"
"Yuch. We need better names--not so unusual. What's your first name, Mr. Hawke?"
Behind the dark faceplate, he grinned. "Stringfellow."
"You could name it after my brother," he offered, deadpan. "St. John Hawke."
She said in a small voice, "Maybe we should wait until it's born to pick a name."
"Maybe you should be telling me just what this Steve did to wind up in jail."
"He was working undercover for the government, checking on reports we had a corrupt diplomat taking bribes from Hong Kong officials."
"So why doesn't our government get him out?"
Her voice soured the cockpit. "He found out that our man was taking bribes from an official with ties to Red China, and that makes it too hot, politically; Hong Kong doesn't want to get involved. And the mission was really hush-hush--it seems our diplomat is a personal friend of the President's. So now no one here wants to claim him. Everyone just wants Steve to disappear--even the agency that hired us is waiting to see if the Taiwan officials will succeed in burying him."
"I know. I was hoping that once we went free-lance, we wouldn't get dragged into cases like this. This is the sort of thing The Firm does all the time. They write off their agents without a twinge. Rudy and I just can't do that."
He could sympathize with that. Grunting, Stringfellow tuned her out, checking on Wells. Judging from the activity registering on the main control panel, Dr. Wells was playing with almost every switch in sight, but he seemed to know what he was doing--at least, he hadn't armed any missiles yet--so Hawke didn't object. The more familiar he was with Airwolf's controls, the better. So far he had activated the `Stealth' and `Infra-red Suppression' modes, making the Lady invisible to radar and to heat-seeking missiles, and now he was checking out the modified dipping sonar. It was in the passive mode: a quiet beeping noise pulsed through the cabin as the sonar pinpointed a submarine running two miles under the Pacific, then shut off as Airwolf sped out of range.
Jaime wrapped both arms around her gun, as if it were a teddy bear, and catnapped. Hawke cleared his throat.
"Uh, Dr. Wells. Do you have something to do with the way Jaime Sommers arm-wrestles? And the way your dog tears up trees to play fetch?"
The scientist paused, fingers on Dom's keyboards. "You could say that."
"Seems to me you could do a lot of good in a V.A. hospital, or a hospital for crippled children."
"I know. We've had plenty of arguments about that, believe me." He couldn't see Wells' face, but the man's voice was full of frustration. "I write papers, when I can slip them past L.Q., and I drop hints to other researchers to get them on the right track, but I can't go public. I thought that once I quit working for the government...but Steve and Jaime say the same things Oscar used to say."
A pause. "He was...the director of the O.S.I. He used to say it--what I can do--was too expensive to be of any real benefit to the ones who really need it, and once everyone knew what I could do, every nation on earth would be after me to build them a cyborg army. And I suppose it's true." Bitterly; "The only reason The Firm hasn't locked me in some top-secret lab for the rest of my life is that they know Steve and Jaime would tear them apart to get me out."
"I work with disabled kids in my spare time. If you--"
"I know. Believe me, I know. I do what I can. That's why L.Q. is trying to synthesize adrenalizine. We cooked it up by accident once, back at the O.S.I., but I could never repeat it. It'd answer a lot of prayers if she could figure out the formula. It would be less costly than surgery and implants, but give new strength to victims of muscular degeneration."
"What exactly did you do to Jaime? Some kind of surgery?"
"Where exactly do you keep Airwolf hidden?"
"Trade secret, huh?"
He glanced at his board, and said softly, "Taiwan."
Jaime was instantly awake, rubbing her grey eyes and leaning over to peer through the windscreen at the island below. In the rear, Wells called up a computerized image of the island, tilting his head back to peer through his half-glasses. After a moment's survey of the keyboard, he narrowed the map down to the right city.
"Tell you what," Jaime said casually. "You take us down to--oh, say, twenty feet, just inside the prison walls, and I'll jump out."
"That's too low for a parachute."
"Well, I'm not wearing one," she pointed out matter-of-factly. "As soon as I jump, you nip around to the other side and made a nice, loud diversion, okay? When you see me come out with Steve, just land and pick us up."
"Jaime, if I'm reading this correctly, from this end you should find him about midway through that building, on the ground floor."
Hawke checked his board. "Your man's carrying a tracer?"
"Uh, not exactly. Just some...unusual bits of hardware."
He let Airwolf swoop down on the concrete walls of the prison, but protested, "You can't jump from here, you'll be kill--"
Jaime Sommers opened the cockpit door and stepped out.
Apparently unconcerned by the way his attractive young partner had chosen to commit suicide, Dr. Wells leaned forward. "Shouldn't we be making that diversion now?"
"But--" He glanced down, and saw the woman begin to run across the courtyard, lithe and incredibly swift. In the loose overalls and polished black helmet, she was a unisex blur; one blink, and she was gone. "The diversion. Right. Coming up."
He took the Lady out of Stealth mode, and sirens below abruptly began to shriek. Airwolf's sleek killer whale form darted under the circling searchlights, and Hawke's callused fingers triggered the chain guns, stitching an even line of bullet-holes across the far wall. Panic-stricken guards rushed in that direction, firing blindly. He spun Airwolf in a half-circle, and caught a glimpse of Jaime Sommers smashing a locked metal door to the ground with one graceful kick. A bullet whined off the windshield, and he squinted, devoting himself to business.
"You got the Sunburst control located?"
"Hmm?" Wells sounded startled. "But that's designed to lure heat-seeking missiles off your trail. They have no--"
"The button just beside your right hand," Hawke said. "Launch. Now."
Wells touched the button. A miniature sun dropped from the war-machine's belly, flared scarlet and golden, then went nova. The prison guards screamed, blinded, falling to the ground as the world seemed to explode around them. Hawke whipped the chopper over their prone bodies and back across the compound, shooting out spotlights as he passed.
It had been a long time since she played on a tennis court, but Jaime hadn't lost her touch. Speed, agility, and stamina were big assets in the game, and thanks to Rudy's bionics, she was running at over thirty miles an hour when she entered the prison. (Let's see the last Wimbledon champ top this!) she thought grimly.
Men shouted at her in Chinese, and she swatted some aside like loud, irritating flies. A few fumbled with their guns, but she was moving so fast that she was gone before anyone could think to pull a trigger.
"Steve?" she shouted. "Steve, where are you?"
Outside, all hell seemed to break loose, making her bionic ear pulse a mild protest. Good. Stringfellow was keeping up his end.
She concentrated on the bionically-enhanced ear, using her training to block out all the other distracting noises, listening only for Steve's familiar baritone. Her ear beeped, and she picked it up then, a confused mumble coming from a cell on her right. Jaime braked fast.
"Steve! Are you all right?"
"Huh? Jaime? Wha'--?"
He was trying to sit up in his bunk, unshaven, half-asleep, and terribly confused--but he was alive, thank God. That was the only thing that mattered. She gripped the cell door with her right hand, and yanked hard. With a metallic screech, the metal snapped free of its hinges.
"I can do that," Steve mumbled, gesturing vaguely.
"Then why didn't you? Come on, Steve, we're getting you out of here."
Steve made feeble efforts to stand up, but it was hopeless. Her heart sank. Well, this would just slow them down a little, that's all.
She sprayed the hall with bullets, making sure no one would be stupid enough to come out, then grabbed Steve and started running.
The blinded guards were recovering by the time Stringfellow's infrared scanners picked up Jaime Sommer's running figure again, this time bent under the weight of a big man.
"We're going in," he warned Wells.
He brought Airwolf still lower, popping the door open, but didn't land. Incredibly, the woman hefted her limp partner in one hand and literally hurled him up into the hovering chopper. Then she bent her knees and jumped, making Airwolf rock violently under the force of her landing as bullets again began to slap against the frame. Hawke yanked Airwolf up, her engines howling.
Dr. Wells flicked back one eyelid on the lolling blond head. "He's been drugged, obviously. We'll have to risk a stimulant."
"I don't think he's been hurt." Jaime twisted around in her seat to stroke her partner's unresponsive face. "Come on, babe. You're okay now."
"Knew you'd come," the man muttered, sounding pleased.
Airwolf streaked out of the clouds to hover over the ocean, below radar range. String glanced back to find Wells rummaging through a bag that was half-lined with pills, bottles, and bandages, and half-filled with electrical and mechanical odds and ends. Grunting with satisfaction, the doctor emerged with a filled hypodermic needle.
"Roll up his sleeve, Jaime."
Hawke raised his faceplate. Sommers was unrolling the shirt sleeve on one arm, but Hawke's eyes were locked on the other wrist, where a bullet had nicked the skin open. Instead of fatty layers, veins, and blood, he saw circuits and wires. Sommers glanced up, meeting his eyes.
"You didn't see this," she said urgently. "We have enough worries, without people trying to kidnap Rudy for his bionics designs."
Hawke watched the doctor inject a colorless liquid into the other, presumably human, arm. "He gonna be able to help?"
"He'll be fine," Sommers said nervously. "Won't you, Steve?"
Steve yawned. "Ouch! That hurts!"
Hawke re-programmed Airwolf for the government center in Paoan, and kicked her into high gear.
With or without Steve Austin, he was going to free Dominic Santini.
It had been a long day, and Michael was tired, too tired to just turn off the computer and leave. Marella would keep him informed by phone if he went home. Staring at reports on a computer screen didn't bring him any closer to Hawke and Santini than he would be relaxing in the whirlpool, and the pool would be good for his bad leg. But still he sat here, absently rubbing the achining limb, checking satellite pictures, radar sweeps, intelligence reports from Hong Kong....
"Michael. What's this about Dominic Santini being in enemy hands?"
He sighed and switched off the computer, swinging his white swivel chair around. "Good evening, Zeus. Working late tonight?"
The head of the Committee grimaced. "Forget the pleasantries. Why wasn't I informed?"
"As you can see, I'm keeping abreast of the situation," Michael said evenly. "So far, I didn't see any need to alarm you."
They locked stares. "You're a valuable man, Archangel," Zeus said. Somehow it didn't sound like a compliment. "But don't presume too far." He moved closer, letting his bulk and greater height loom over his subordinate. A lesser man might have been intimidated, or might have stood up in response, but Michael smiled, forming a triangle with his hands, his single blue eye blandly unreadable. Zeus's frown darkened. "Have you ordered the Zebra Squad activated?"
"I don't see any need for it. I'm waiting to see if Hawke can get him out, without involving The Firm."
"That's a dangerous move, and you know it. Now you're not only risking Santini's knowledge of Airwolf, you're risking the only other pilot, and Airwolf itself!"
Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III came from a long line of civil servants; knowing when to compromise was bred into his bloodline. "I have an auxiliary team on standby alert in Hong Kong. They can be activated at a moment's notice, if something goes wrong. I think that's sufficient."
"I don't." The man code-named Zeus eyed him thoughtfully, with eyes like microchips. "Are you getting soft, Michael? This is no place for weak, sentimental--"
He was on his feet almost before he knew it, the weariness washed away in a flood of adrenaline. "Damn you, Zeus, I have personally ordered Zebra Squad hits on trapped personnel with too much valuable information, and you know that, but within reason! We're not Murder, Incorporated! Your predecessor thought he was the Godfather incarnate, rubbing out anyone who got in his way, but I thought you had a little more sense that."
Zeus's eyes narrowed. "And you got rid of him, didn't you? Is that a threat, Archangel?"
"Is it?" Their faces were very close. Michael's voice got even softer. "I did what had to be done--not because of some theoretical ethical standard, but for the good of The Firm, and the good of this country. Thanks to him, we lost the entire bionics program. I don't intend to see us lose what little hold we have on Airwolf because someone makes the same stupid mistake all over again."
"And personal reasons don't come into it? You're not protecting Santini because he's your friend?"
"If that's what you think, Zeus, maybe you'd better have the Committee review my appointment as deputy director."
"Maybe I should." They locked stares again, but Zeus looked away first. "You've got tonight, Archangel. No longer. If Santini isn't rescued by morning--"
"--I'll take the appropriate steps."
"See that you do."
Michael sank into his chair and spun it around before Zeus had reached the doorway, flicking the computer back on line.
Was this how it was all going to finally end, in a grungy cell in a third-rate government center in a Communist city? Scowling, Dom watched his smug captor brandish a hypodermic syringe, his square face beaming maleficently.
"Look, Chung, or whatever your name is, I--I don't think this is such a good idea. I'm allergic to a lot of drugs, you know," he said quickly, but the man ignored him, depressing the plunger on the syringe. Santini gritted his teeth, wincing. "It won't do you no good, mister. I'm not gonna talk. I don't even know anything about flying wolves. They don't do that in America."
"Outside of this room, no one in this country has ever heard of your Airwolf, Mr. Santini." Having administered whatever goofy truth serum that was, the louse was in the mood to brag. "I was fortunate enough to uncover your existence quite on my own, and I was too wise to tell anyone else about it. I knew they would never believe me, not this time. Delivering both a trained pilot and your Airwolf plans will be quite a coup."
Dominic strained uselessly against the metal cuffs pinning him to the wooden chair, muscles cording in his burly arms. Right now, he'd like nothing better than to smash in that toothy, self-satisfied smile.
Abruptly his mouth reeked of spoiled bananas, and he quit struggling, knowing the interrogation drug was flooding his body. Damn! He had no idea how long he'd been unconscious to begin with, but for several hours he'd managed to fake unconsciousness, and even after that failed, he'd stalled as long as he could. Bluffing was second nature to an old poker player like him, and he didn't mind getting slapped around a little, but he had no defense against drugs, and he knew it.
The thing was, he just had to hang on. If String knew about this--and Archangel had probably found out about the kidnapping even before Dom himself knew he was kidnapped; he'd pretend he didn't want to `break security,' but he'd tell Hawke where to look--he'd be on his way in now, and madder'n a hive of stirred up hornets. Now it was Dom's job to hang in there, and give String time to rescue him.
Screwing up just didn't bear thinking about. String had already lost his parents. Losing St. John had just about destroyed the kid. If Dom didn't make it out of this mess--well, he'd just have to make it, that's all, for Stringfellow's sake as much as for his own.
"It will take a few more minutes, then we can begin. Don't you wonder how I found out about you?"
"You're a movie stunt fan?" Dom hazarded.
"Still you make jokes." His captor didn't smile; either he didn't have a sense of humor, or he didn't like having his gloating interrupted. Probably both. "You see, I've had dealings with an agent for your country, one `Archangel,' a very crafty fellow. In fact, he humiliated me. Losing face, I lost my high position."
"Yeah, well, you probably deserved it, buddy."
The fat walrus belted him one in the face, but went on bragging, not acknowledging the interruption. "I ended up here, in disgrace. Supposedly, this Archangel had retired, but I knew better. I knew that if I kept careful--very careful--surveillance of him, something useful would emerge, and it has. It took years of piecing together odd, seemingly unconnected events, but finally I uncovered his so-called `Airwolf.' And you, you spent much time with him."
"We're poker buddies," Dom said. Hey, the truth drug must not be working yet, 'cause that was a lie if he ever said one. "And he hires my choppers for trips. That's what I do for a living. Santini Air. Don't expect a discount."
"Now you will tell me all about Airwolf, and I will recoup my losses, and he will be the one to lose face."
Mr. Clean already lost an eye and most of one leg; he couldn't afford to lose any more of his anatomy. Dom would've tried to point that out, only his tongue seemed sort of tangled at the moment.
The grinning interrogator began to blur, his face stretching like taffy.
Dom shook his head heavily and blinked. Funny; he could swear the door was falling in slow-motion behind the Chinese guy. In fact, there seemed to be a slender figure in a crash-helmet behind it, just lowering one leg.
As Chuang Enlai turned, the slim figure hurled him bodily against the far wall. He slid limply to the floor, his dark head wobbling forward. Then a famous ex-astronaut stepped inside, giggled, and ripped the metal cuffs apart as if they were ribbons, and he knew he was hallucinating now.
The ex-astronaut--what was his name? It was right on the tip of his tongue--swayed dizzily, and the slender figure cried, "Can you carry him?" That was funny, too; it sounded like a woman's voice, or a kid's.
"'Course I can," the ex-astronaut snorted, but when he bent over he bent too far, and banged his forehead on Dom's shoulder. That made them both chuckle, then the ex-astronaut lifted Dom from the chair with one hand, staggered a little, and started toward the door.
Dom gulped, the chuckles stopping. He knew damn well he was a long way from being a featherweight. Heck, String had been razzing him about the spare tires he was carrying, swearing the extra weight was too much for the Lady to handle, yet this guy was carrying him tucked under one arm like he was a library book or something. One of the thin books, even.
"How you do that?" he mumbled.
"Practice," the guy said, and started running.
Two uniformed guards rushed at them in the hallway. It was hard to focus, with everything upside down, but it looked to Dom like the woman put the palm of one hand on one guy's chest and gently pushed, only he ended up slamming back-first into a wall five yards away. Then she picked up his fallen rifle, crumpled it into a giant horseshoe, and hurled it, pinning the guy in place, with the rifle driven solidly into the wall on either side of him. His partner, terrified, dropped his own weapon and backed away, babbling in broken Cantonese.
What kinda truth drug gave you hallucinations like this, anyway?
Bouncing under the athletic man's elbow, Dom began to feel distinctly nauseous. When the cool night air hit his face, it helped, but now he was beset with more hallucinations: shouts, gunfire, and what seemed to be a nuclear explosion lighting up the sky. What kind of dumb drug was this, anyway? How would stuff like this make him betray Airwolf? Hell, it wouldn't make him betray Archangel even when he was in a particularly grumpy mood and the guy in the ice cream suit was getting on his nerves.
A strong, steady wind buffeted him. The ex-astronaut--not Armstrong, one of the less famous ones--simply flexed his knees and leaped up into the source of the wind.
Still clutching Dom under his arm, his rescuer thudded into a the far wall, and Dom blinked. Did he put a dent in the metal there?
"Dom? Dom, are you all right?"
"Huh?" Hey, he knew that low, urgent voice, and he knew this dark, womb-like place, too. Dom grinned happily. "Oh, hi, String!"
Someone hauled him unceremoniously into the rear, prying the astronaut's fingers off his ribs. Boy, it sure was crowded in here. In fact, there was no more room room inside.
The slim figure in the crash helmet settled on the landing gear, and they lifted into the night.
Oh, well. Dom snuggled down against whoever was sitting in his seat, and decided to take a nap.
So Mr. Talcum Powder deigned to bring him a basket of flowers and cookies, was that supposed to make him happy to be stuck here? Dom scowled, refusing to be bribed. There really was no reason to keep him in this stupid hospital bed--for crying out loud, he'd been banged up a lot worse just filming stunts for T.V. shows--but he couldn't seem to convince anybody of that, so he settled for describing his adventure for the seventh time that morning.
"I'm not kidding, String! It's not just the drugs. I recognized him right off from those old moon walks." He sat bolt upright in bed. "They threw a coupla guards around like they was rag dolls or something, then this astronaut--what was his name? Oskins? Austin?--anyway, he tucked me under one arm like I was a kid's football or something, and ran to the chopper faster'n Joe Perry in his prime runnin' for a touchdown. The woman even bent a rifle in her bare hands, for cryin' out loud!"
Stringfellow Hawke cocked his head to one side, an amused, knowing glint in those sleepy eyes. "Whatever you say, Dom. We're just glad to have you back."
He gestured wildly. "But it's the truth, String! Honest!" He turned to the white-clad Archangel, leaning on a silver-headed cane in the doorway. "They work for you, right?"
Michael shook his head. "No one who can run at super speed or crumple rifles in her bare hands works for The Firm, Dom. I give you my word." He seemed obscurely amused by his own words.
Dom let the scowl deepen. Dammit, now even Archangel had that patronizing half-grin on his face. Seemed like the two of them had some big secret they weren't about to share with anyone. Who was supposed to be Hawke's partner, anyway, him or Mike?
Hawke stood up, patting his leg affectionately. "Take it easy, partner. We're just glad to have you back in one piece, however it happened."
"Yeah, well, what if that Chang guy doesn't give up? He knows about us, and the Lady."
"Chuang Enlai, according to my sources, is in the hospital with a bad concussion and possible spinal damage. In any case, Dom, I can promise you that nobody will believe anything he says about an incredible super-powered helicopter. You might say he has a sort of credibility problem back home."
Hawke tucked a cardboard box under one arm. "Listen, I've got to get to the bank, and then mail this. I'll see you tonight, okay?"
"Ahhh," Dom muttered, punching his pillow. "I still say I don't need any `observation.'" He paused. "What've you got there, anyway?"
"This?" Stringfellow Hawke produced a black-and-white toy helicopter. "Just a present. Some. . .friends of mind are expecting a baby." He spun the rotor blades and grinned. "Who knows? Maybe we can convince 'em to name it after you!"
Lady, fly me back to Jane Leavell's Fan Fiction Page
The Committee has ordered me to review the home page; if I don't like the links, I'll dispatch the Zebra Squad.
Archangel says if I can't learn bionics, at least I can learn HOW TO WRITE ALMOST READABLE FAN FICTION.
I don't need bionics to e-mail the author at littlecalamity at hotmail.com with some feedback.