They shot down a narrow street, the roar of their engines filling the dark street from tall building to tall building. They saw no one as they raced across town—but Bonner wasn't fooled. The Rich Man was around there somewhere, rounding up his forces, planning his counterattack. Bonner didn't have time to count the number of Sisters who had failed to come out of the pyramid, but there were fewer riders than there were before.
There was only one thing to do. Get the hell out of there before the Rich Man regrouped and struck.
Bonner avoided the steep, hilly roads that would slow them down. He charged his little force around the base of the hills, heading for an elevated highway that ran around the edge of the city, looking down on the waterfront. Once they were up there they could only be pursued, not cut off by a force intersecting the freeway.
Over the roar of the engine he thought he heard a sound, a sound that he had trouble fitting into the scheme of things. It wasn't gunfire, it wasn't the throbbing of another set of powerful engines. It was a bell.
Bonner looked to his right, up one of the steep hills. Thundering down the tracks were a pair of cable cars. But they weren't the picturesque tourist attractions of the old Bay City. These were armored, wheeled fortresses, the guns of a dozen men bristling through the shoot holes. A three-foot iron battering ram stuck out from the front of both death machines.
As they bore down on them, the guns in the front began to fire. The first bullets caught one of the Sisters and she flew off her bike, her screaming machine rearing up into the air. A dozen bullets peppered the motorcycle and the gas tank exploded with a flash, showering the pack with burning gas.
The cable car slammed into a knot of riders. Sisters fell to the track and the iron monster rolled over them. The broken body of a woman could be seen impaled on the razor sharp prow.
It was too much for Clara. "Goddam you!" she shrieked like a banshee and she spun her bike around, almost throwing Grace off the pillion. She charged back at the killing machine, charging it as if she was a bull.
"Clara!" yelled Bonner. The Sister leader was riding to certain death.
"Stop the car, man," said Seth.
Bonner slammed on the brakes. Seth jumped over the side, "Get on that big gun of yours and cover me, man."
Bonner leaped up and slammed a belt into the fifty caliber. He had no time to braid a couple of hundred rounds into the autofeed.
"Means!" he barked, "feed this."
A Mean Brother took the belt in his giant hands and kept bullets streaming into the double hammers. Bonner hung onto the gun and opened up, tracing a long, hot line across the side of the first cable car. Guns were pulled back from their portholes as the lead hail swept over them.
Seth darted back down the street, running low, keeping his head below the eye level of the gunners in the cable car. Two more cars had come over the hill and were hurtling down the slope, gaining speed with the passing of every foot and every second. Seth didn't have much time. He picked up the shotgun of a fallen Sister, dashed forward, and dropped himself down right under the steel battering ram of the tank on rails. The broken body of a Sister hung just above his head. Blood from her split body cascaded down from her chest, flowing over the metal prow like a river over rocks.
Clara had jumped off her bike, clambered up the side of car, jammed Miss Colt through a shoot hole, and fired. She heard screams from within and that pleased her. She hoisted herself up onto the roof, kicked open a trap door there, and started shooting down into the cramped interior. The hapless men within pressed themselves against the steel sides and tried to avoid the slugs that were ricocheting around inside of what threatened to become their tomb.
Seth jammed the barrel of a shotgun into the slot in the tracks that the cable car ran on. Using every ounce of strength he could summon up, he forced the gun down until it was rock steady. Then, under the cover of Bonner's fire he dashed back to the car.
The driver of the cable car wanted to get moving. He figured the other cars were right behind him. He slammed the control that operated the brake and got nothing. Seth had jammed the rails in front. He couldn't go forward and he figured that going backward was not healthy.
"Everybody out!" he screamed.
The driver of the cable car behind him saw that the car ahead was stuck on the track. But he couldn't slow down—he had picked up as much velocity as he could coming down that steep slope with the brake off. His prow slammed the car ahead, splitting it like a nut. The first car was skewered by the one behind it. The one behind the second hit both of them, tipping them over. Bonner harvested a lot of gunmen as they spilled out onto the road.
Clara fell off the roof of the cable car on impact.
"Fuck," she said as Grace helped her to her feet and onto their bike. "You drive, Gracie. I broke my arm."
Grace popped the clutch, the bike bucked up on its rear wheel and they zoomed off after Bonner and the few remaining Sisters.
The Rich Man's garrison had been completely aroused. The streets around (he center of the Bay City were full of men and machines. The Rich Man almost frothed at the mouth.
"I want them. I want them dead." He silently gave thanks that he had pulled men in from the interior recently. If the full garrison had been out looking for the remaining Snowmen, he would be a ruined man.
Sharpshooters were posted in the high buildings and when they caught a glimpse of Bonner and his crew they fired down on them. Another squad was sent to seal off the highway. The last thing the Rich Man wanted was for them to get up there. It was clear and open road out into the hills. If they managed to get up there, they were as good as home free.
"I want them on the bridge," he snarled at his captains. "Do you hear me? The bridge."
"Seth," Bonner yelled over his shoulder, "how many we got left?"
Seth braced himself on the rollbar and counted. "Looks like six Sisters. The Means, you, me. Ten."
"Can you see how may we got on our tail?" Bonner was careening through the streets, every muscle in his body concentrating on keeping up as much speed as possible and avoiding the debris in the streets.
Bombed-out buildings sped past in a blur.
"A lot," said Seth.
Bullets were whizzing through the air like gnats.
"I think I'll even things up a little."
Seth swung the big gun around again and started blasting back at their pursuers. The hot barrel spewed out death in a constant stream and brass casings back shot over the occupants of the car. They bounced off the Mean Brothers' thick skulls. They brushed the spent cartridges out of their hair and continued to feed the insatiable hunger of the heavy-caliber blaster.
Seth took down a few of them and the chasers dropped back to get out of range. The five or six riders he had cut down writhed in the roadway, torn apart by the big slugs that chewed up their bodies.
Bonner knew now that he was headed towards the bridge. That wasn't such a bad thing. All he had to do was get to the other side of the bridge and keep going. It wasn't too far beyond there that he would be able to find some wild country in which he could lose the Rich Man.
The bridge was about the biggest damn thing he had ever seen. The giant towers, leaning over slightly from the earthquake that the bomb had touched off, shot hundreds of feet up into the air. When Bonner had last seen it years before it was in bad shape. A giant section of it had fallen into the cold waters of the bay. But it had been passable. Bonner prayed that it still was.
Bonner shot onto the bridge and decided that they really had troubles now. There were giant holes in it. He looked across the span and saw that the whole thing was pockmarked with giant cavities. Without planning to, Bonner drove right over one of the gaps. The car sailed through the air and landed with a bone-shaking crash on a piece of bridge on the far side.
"Good trick," observed Seth.
A Sister—it was Sheila—was not so lucky. She had seen the hole too early. Her reflexes kicked in and she slammed on the brakes. For a second it looked like she would stop in time. The bike wheel hooked over the edge of the hole and they could see every one of Sheila's taut muscles straining to keep the bike from going over. But the momentum of the heavy bike won and it pulled her into the abyss and the swirling waters below.
Bonner drove between the giant holes as best he could. He was about mid-bridge now and looking ahead. The last quarter of the bridge looked pretty solid, but there was a huge, jagged piece missing and that had to be crossed before they were home free.
And they hadn't lost the wild band of maniacs gunning for them. They seemed to be quite used to the conditions on the bridge. They had gotten off their vehicles and were shimmying along the fat cables that were strung out along the sides of the bridge. It looked to Bonner as if they had been tied there deliberately. Suddenly it dawned on him that he had been herded towards the bridge. The Rich Man had planned this. It was on the bridge that he knew he could get them finally.
Except he had never met the Mean Brothers. They took in the situation in a glance and together they walked over to the cable that a dozen of the Rich Man's riders were crawling across. Their huge hands closed over it and they began swaying against it. The big men rocked back and forth, slowly at first, then faster. The men on the cable looked worried and embraced the cable as if it was a long lost love.
Grace, Belle, Clara and the remainder of the Sisters knelt and started firing across the great gap and sent the riders on the far side diving for cover. Seth was back up on the fifty caliber blasting away. But it was all short-lived. Like a car slowly running out of gas, they fired their last rounds. They were out of ammo.
"That would appear to be the old ball game," said Seth recalling something he had read once.
The Mean Brothers weren't quite finished yet. One of them was bouncing up and down on the cable, sending shock waves down its length. A rider slipped off, clawing the void as he fell. He was followed in quick succession by the the rest of them. They plummeted into space to be lost in the cold waters of the bay. Their bodies would be swept out to sea.
"We gotta keep going," said Bonner. "Means, get in the car."
Clara's broken arm hung twisted at her side. She was almost glad to have run out of ammunition. Shooting pained her bad. She swung a heavy thigh over the bike.
"Take me away from all this, Gracie."
The Rich Man's riders had come out of hiding now and were firing across the gap. Belle grunted as she took a slug in her back. Somehow she managed to get onto her bike.
"Goddam!" she yelled as she felt another pierce her flesh. She slipped off the bike and lay prone.
Bonner saw her fall. They had to get out there fast.
"Grade, take the bike over. Get going." It was a relatively simple matter for the bike to cross the thin piece of bridge that led the other side of the wide gap. Grace zoomed across the sliver of bridge, the Mean Brothers and Seth following her on foot.
Bullets ripped up the road around Bonner. He had ducked down behind a piece of tom-up bridge and the men knew where he was. They peppered the area with shot.
Ten extremely wide yards separated him from his machine. The rest of his gang were already enjoying the relative safety of the far side. The lack of return fire emboldened the attackers. They started swarming across the cables, sure that the Mean Brothers would not be venturing back to swing them off again.
Bonner was trapped. He had a loaded shotgun and his knives. He could kill a few up close but there wasn't much that even the Outrider could to do against the eighty or so men that were beginning to stream toward the island of steel in the middle of the bridge.
Bonner stood up straight and used what he honestly thought would be the last bullets he figured to fire in his lifetime. He placed them well. One barrel tore up three riders who were inching off the cable. The men behind them had to crawl over a length of steel rope slick with their brothers' gore.
The other barrel claimed the life of the first gunman to make it over the cable to Bonner's platform.
They were racing towards him now. Bonner figured he'd use the last weapon he had at his disposal,
his car. He slipped behind the seat and fired up. He pulled the car around in a tight turn and ploughed into a group of men who screamed as the car pushed them into the hole.
Out of the comer of his eye, Bonner saw a curious thing. A man inching across the cable suddenly reared up, grabbed his chest, and fell turning end over end into the ocean below. He had been shot. Others were falling. The gunmen, so intent on killing Bonner a moment before were now scuttling for cover.
Bonner looked across at the remnants of his force. But there were more of them. He could see dozens of muzzle flashes as the assembled fighters of Bullets for Jesus pumped slugs across the void at the Rich Man's battlers. Bonner slammed his car in reverse and backed up to the very edge of the crater in the bridge. He looked forward over his engine to the hole that separated him from his friends. He judged it twenty-five yards across and he had about a fifty-yard run up.
He gunned the engine, held his handbrake up and when his mammoth machine hit top revs he let go, the rear of the car fishtailing a little in the first ten feet.
"Oh man," said Seth. Bonner was never going to make it.
The entire chapter of Bullets for Jesus was praying. The Mean Brothers peered out from the huge hands they had slapped over their eyes.
"I must be out of my mind," thought Bonner as he left the edge of the bridge behind him. He seemed to be in the air for a very long time. He could look down at the gray frothy waves hundreds of feet below him. He looked forward and saw his friends staring, every mouth open.
Even the Rich Man's men were staring. They came up from behind their cover like gophers coming out of their holes.
For a second it looked like Bonner was going to make it. The front wheels of his faithful steed touched down on the bridge and the onlookers heaved a collective sigh of relief. But the rear set of wheels never made it. The car slipped back until only the part from the engine forward lay on the bridge. The driver's seat—the driver—the rear of the car, hung out in the wide open space.
The Mean Brothers read the situation. They swept a couple of Bullets for Jesus aside and seized the front axle of the car. Never before had they been called on to exert every ounce of their awesome strength. Silently, each Mean Brother swore that they would follow Bonner over the edge before they would let go of that car.
They dug in their heels and to the onlookers, it seemed as if the already gargantuan Mean Brothers grew in size as their incredibly powerful muscles swelled under their skin as they did battle with gravity.
The car pulled them an inch or two towards the void. The Means heaved and won the inch back and more. They were leaning back from the metal creature, the engine screaming.
No, the Mean Brothers swore to themselves, we will not let this happen . . .
They pulled another foot of car to safety. Then another. Until, finally, the whole machine had been pulled back from the brink.
"Bonner," said Seth, "that was awful close."
"You might say that," said Bonner.
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