Fiddlestix and her companions find themselves on a zeppelin bound for the Shine Clan territory in Tennessee. Although Blacksmith and Buzzard sleep, Fiddlestix stays up talking to Dirk. Soon, he tires and she takes over piloting the craft while he too rests.
Dirk tipped his cap over his eyes, kicking back against the gunwale, feet propped on her stool, arms behind his head like a pillow and went to sleep.
Hours drifted by and they neared the Tennessee border. Deacon had spotters and sensors covering his airspace. His headquarters were located in an decommissioned nuclear missile facility. The Shine Clan had converted the derelict structure into a nearly impregnable fortress.
An alarm sounded, waking Dirk and the other two men. Dirk sprang up, leaning around Fiddlestix to turn the alarm off. He took the wheel from her, banking the zeppelin hard to port, diving low, almost to treetop level.
“Shine Clan have expanded their perimeter,” he said angrily. “We shouldn’t have hit that barrier for another hour. I had a safe jump zone plotted, but I can’t reach it now. I’m afraid you’ll have to hike in, Hannah.”
“Not a problem, Dirk. The boys and I can handle that.”
The three of them went quickly over the side and down. With a saucy salute, the Harlich soldier turned his airship around and headed back to Florida.
Walking in silence, the small team climbed steadily toward the summit of Shine’s Peak. After an hour or so, they came to the first check point leading to Deacon’s domain. They approached it with weapons holstered, hands in plain sight. Fiddlestix recognized the guards, calling to them.
“Ho, Roy! Bob Earl!”
Weapons at the ready, the guards sauntered out of the guard hut. They seemed negligent and uninterested to the casual observer. Fiddlestix knew that was far from being the case, and carefully made no quick movements.
“Hey there,” Bob Earl saluted teasingly. “It’s Stix!” He had always shortened her name, claiming her real handle was too long. “What brings you here?”
Roy was friendly, but all business. He waited expectantly. Fiddlestix gave the appropriate, coded reply. Five minutes later, two heavily armed Jeeps pulled up beside the shack. Seven men leapt out, the foremost one was Deacon Scott. His long, blond hair fell in a braid down his back. A second, smaller braid, tied with red leather, dangled over his left shoulder.
Deacon and his men made Buzzard look scrawny and small. Each was well over seven feet tall, with a godlike physique. The Shine Clan leader pushed past his men, running up to her, his arms spread wide. Picking her up like a child, he swung her in a wide arc, kissing her passionately, then waited patiently as Fiddlestix introduced her companions.
They were given the full Southern Hospitality the Shine Clan had to offer; everything from fresh clothing to a huge meal. Deacon avoided questioning them until after the dishes had been cleared away.
“What brings you here, my beautiful Fiddlestix? Other than me, of course.” He winked teasingly, an impish look twinkling in his sapphire blue eyes.
“I’ve been asked to deliver a message to you. It’s really for Scarlet Varin. Do you know her?”
Deacon’s reaction was not as overt as Karl’s had been, but he sat up stiffly in his chair. “I have not met the lady personally, but she did a favor for our Clan a few years ago. She holds the same place in our home as you do, Hannah-Belle.” He used his pet name for her. “Who is the message from?”
She told him.
“Who’s she running from?”
“I don’t know, Deacon. Mr. Varin and these two gentlemen found me in Daytona. Varin paid me to contact you and Karl Fumler.”