"The mission is deserted," Father Juan whispered. "You can come out now." He pulled aside the large tile in the floor, revealing the hidden space beneath it. Slowly, pistols first, the man with the black handkerchief emerged, looked around, then relaxed.
"Jackson’s asleep," Victor confided to his brother. "Considering how much blood he’s lost, I thought we should let him rest. How many of us are left?"
Father Juan shook his head. "Not many. Horowitz slipped away, and there has been no sign of the Sumner woman, but other than that..."
Victor grimaced. "All right. We’ll lay low until things cool down. Then we..."
"Have you heard about the madman?" Juan asked suddenly. Victor looked incredulous.
"No. What does that..."
Juan ignored his brother. "He calls himself Elijah and claims to have seen the end of the world. He preaches about it in that burnt-out church on the north end of town, with his followers playing the part of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s gaining followers, big brother. People are scared, and they’re turning to him for answers."
"And I say again, what does that have to do with us?"
"It means I have more to worry about than the two of you. I’ll keep you hidden, Victor, but I can’t do any more than that. Elijah has begun a battle for the soul of Gomorra. I owe it to God and His faithful to keep him from winning..."
The grave was fresh, the newest addition to Elephant Hill’s populace. Sheriff Hunter stood before it a long time, flowers in hand, trying to come to grips with its irrefutable truth.
"I’ll get them," he muttered at the tombstone. "I promise you, I’ll get them all."
His sojourn was broken by the sudden appearance of an Indian brave some ten feet from him. He had not noticed the man until he was practically alongside the grave.
"Your name’s Eagle Rock," he noted without looking up. "I’m busy, Indian. Come to my office if you want to talk to me."
"You mourn your dead, law man, as anyone should. But do not let grief prevent you from taking action."
"Action," he laughed harshly. "That’s something you know all about, isn’t it? You’ve sat there in your little fort since you got here, refusing to lift a finger while this town tears itself apart!"
The stern Pawnee looked at him. "Joseph is a wise man, but he is...cautious...at times. There are those of us who feel that the time for standing aside is over."
"Nevertheless" - he fixed the sheriff with a steely gaze - "it is not our duty to heal this town’s wounds. That is for you and those who follow you."
"No matter how much it might cost us?" Hunter couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice.
"The price is high, law man, but you must be willing to pay it. Believe me." Eagle Rock touched the tomahawk at his belt. "When the time is right, we’ll all have to ante up."
The Typhoon swung through the narrow passage of the Maze like a slingshot, leaving the shouts of her pursuers behind. Captain Sim squinted through his telescope to make sure they weren’t being followed.
"I think we’ve lost ‘em, men. Those thrice-damned bookworms can’t make that turn, not without destroying their precious creations." Nodding grimly, his crewmen lowered their weapons and went back to the business of steering the ship. The battle had been tight, but they had managed to escape - and destroy the targeted mine in the bargain. That must have stuck in their enemy’s craw.
Sim smiled and was about to give a new set of orders when another problem surfaced - literally. It appeared some two hundred yards in front of them, rising out of the Maze water like a monolith. The steel countenance of SUZY-309 screeched a challenge, her jagged claws snapping in the air like a crab’s. Clothed in a rebreather and shielded by SUZY’s steel head, Oswald Hardinger smiled fiercely as he guided the robot on a direct collision course with the pirate junk.
"Surrender now, Maze Rats, or I’ll tear your boat from under you!" he shouted.
Captain Sim looked at the incoming automaton and didn’t bat an eyelid. "Mr. Muscovich? Ramming speed..."
The Ghost strode purposefully through the halls of Sweetrock mining, leaving a trail of bruised security guards and protesting secretaries in his wake. He wasn’t in the mood for formalities. He kicked open the door to Howard Findley’s office with the force of a hurricane and staked up to the executive’s mahogany desk. The grinning businessman looked up at him expectantly.
"And how can I help the Agency today?" Howard snickered.
"I hear you’re filling your mines with desecrations. I want it to stop. Now."
"And if I don’t?" Howard retorted. "Will you fight through the war zone out there to shut them down? Something tells me you’re not that strong."
"I can make you uncomfortable in ways you can scarcely conceive of . You don’t have to be in the Maze to hurt this company."
The door flew open again and the sound of cocking six-guns filled the air.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Findley?" Jim MacNeil asked.
"Not at all," Howard said. "Our guest was just leaving."
The ghost contemplated for a moment, then turned and allowed MacNeil to lead him out. "One warning, Findley," he called back. "I won’t give another."
Howard Findley sat back down in this chair. For the first time, a hint of what might have been madness gleamed in his eyes.
"They’re my mines, Mr. Lane. They’re mine, and you can’t have them."
The well-dressed man approached the woman in gray jauntily, tipping his bowler derby in greeting.
"Good morning, Ms. Karl."
The sound of a pistol cocking beneath her coat returned his greeting. "Get away from me, Nicodemus," the Ranger hissed. "Slow and easy."
He smiled darkly. "Why madam, I had no idea that gentility was so out of fashion."
"Don’t play me the fool, huckster. We both know what you and your family are up to, and it has nothing to do with wishing a lady good morning." She leaned in close. "You’re playing with fire, Nicodemus. You and that twisted clan you hold allegiance to."
Nicodemus Whateley’s smile grew larger. "Then by all means, my dear, stop us, if you can."
"I will. Have no doubt of that. Meantime, if you come near me or any of my men again, I’ll shoot you and string your body up for the buzzards."
He laughed. "If that’s the case, then I haven’t a thing to worry about. The buzzards are some of my closest friends."
He tipped his hat again and continued sauntering down the street. She waited until he was out of sight before surreptitiously holstering her gun.
"Watch your back, huckster, or I’ll snap it in two."