just plain suicide stuff. “Ever been on one?” he asked.

Allison grinned widely. “Once. A cloud, plus eight Brownings and a lot of fool’s luck, brought me back with most of my ship. It beats hitting the glory trail every night.”

“Sounds interesting,” Stan agreed as he pulled his steaming cup of coffee to him and began dropping sugar lumps into it. “I aim to get a kick out of it.”

Allison laughed. “Hanged if I don’t believe you will. You’ll go if I do any of the picking.”

“And about this Yank business.” Stan looked Allison squarely in the eye. “It isn’t international. It isn’t a violation of any of the laws of Britain or any country. It’s a personal matter. If you keep on talking about it you’ll lose a flier, that’s certain.”

“I see,” Allison said, but he kept on grinning his superior grin. “I knew it wasn’t anything rotten. Sorry I was nosey. It won’t come up before anyone, Yank.” He lifted his cup. “Here’s to the glory trail!”

Stan joined him. Tommy came in and sprawled out on a bench with his feet against the wall. He looked over at Allison and Stan.

“The O.C. says Green Flight is taking over for the rest of the night, so you birds can go to bed.”

“Where are you going?” Allison asked.

Tommy uncoiled himself and stood up. He began humming a snatch of song, stopped abruptly and answered Allison.

“Too quiet around here for me.” Without any further explanation he strolled out.

“That nut can’t get action enough running the notch. He’s on his way over to a bombing squadron. He’ll talk the O.C. into letting him go on a bombing raid as a gunner.” Allison got to his feet. “Me, I’m going to bed.”

“Reckon I will, too,” Stan answered.



Stan entered the mess room the next morning and stood looking around. There was the same air of indifference, with that undercurrent of tension. A dozen men were eating breakfast at the tables in the far end. They were all talking and joking, but at any moment they might be called to face the grim specter of death high in the clouds. Stan spotted Allison sitting by himself at a small table near a window. He looked about for Tommy but the lanky flier wasn’t in the room. Probably sleeping in after an all-night party aboard a bomber, thought Stan.

He crossed the room and as he approached Allison he saw that the Flight Lieutenant’s breakfast lay untouched before him. His coffee looked cold and stale. But it was the grimness of his face that jolted Stan. Allison looked up and there were savage points of light in his eyes. His mouth twisted into a sardonic grin.

“Sit down, Stan,” he said, using Stan’s first name, something he hadn’t done before.

“What’s up?” Stan demanded quickly as he slid into a chair.

“We’re on day shift,” Allison said. “Sunshine all the way.”

“Where’s Tommy?” Stan drove at the thought that had leaped into his mind.

Allison looked at him and his lips pulled into a thin line. “The kid picked up a package last night. A Flak-88 laid a shell right up against the Bristol and cracked her open.”

Stan said nothing for a minute. He knew that the words of the Flight Lieutenant were likely the last he would say about Tommy Lane’s last ride. Then something like red fire surged up inside him.

“We’ll keep him in mind,” he said grimly.

“I’ll see that the score keeps even,” Allison said and savage lights flickered hot in his eyes.

The mess corporal appeared with a private at his heels. “We have some very fine waffles,” he said.

“Bring me black coffee,” Stan growled.

“And waffles?”

“Sure, sure.”

The corporal turned away. It worried him that his fliers were so temperamental they didn’t eat enough of his food.

Allison shoved aside his cold coffee. “We have a new man coming in. He ought to be here any minute now.”

Ten minutes later a tall man entered the mess. He stood looking around, then spoke to one of the privates. The soldier nodded toward Allison, and the tall youngster headed across the room.

“Here he comes,” Allison muttered sourly.

Stan saw a black-haired, hawk-faced young man of perhaps twenty. The new flier had a big mouth that was pulled into a loose frown as his dark eyes stabbed about the room, pausing to rest for a moment upon each face. He walked with a swagger and his uniform was neatly creased. At first glance Stan didn’t think much of him.

“Hello,” he greeted Allison. “Are you Flight Lieutenant Allison?”

“Sure. Sit down and have something.”

“I’m Arch Garret. The O.C. sent me over to plug a hole in Red Flight. I’ll take care of you boys.” He glanced at Allison’s sloppy uniform and then at Stan’s, which was little better.

“That’s nice of you, old man,” Allison said in a soft drawl.

Then Arch Garret began to tell how good he was, and how many Messerschmitt One-Tens he had knocked off in coast combat. He spoke loudly so that all in the room could hear. After listening for a few minutes, Allison yawned and got to his feet. Without a word he walked away.

Stan was sure Garret hadn’t had all the experience he claimed. One thing was certain: Stan knew the new flier would soon have the gang down on him. He listened silently to Arch Garret’s talk while he finished his waffles and coffee.

“I’m from the United States,” Garret said. “I was the best test pilot Lockheed ever had or ever will have. Spinning those Yank jobs was too slow for me. I had to have action.” Garret smoothed a closely cropped little mustache and swelled out his chest.

Stan pretended to be dumb, but he was looking Arch Garret over very closely. He knew every ace test pilot Lockheed had had in the past five years. He was sure Garret was lying.

He was about to ask some questions when the intersquadron speaker began snapping and clicking. A voice filled the room.

“Red Flight, all out! Red Flight, all out!”

“That’s us,” Stan said as he jumped to his feet. “Sorry, you’ll have to miss your coffee.”

Arch Garret’s manner changed at once. He quit bragging and seemed to be a little nervous as he got to his feet.

“Where are we headed?”

“I don’t know,” Stan snapped.

They barged out of the mess close upon Allison’s heels. Everything was rush, with parachutes to adjust and flying suits to climb into. Stan paid no more attention to Garret until they were outside.

The three Spitfires of Red Flight were throbbing with restrained power on the cab rank. Stan felt better about sliding into his cockpit because the sun was shining and he could see the silver wires attached to the hydrogen gorged balloons. This was better.

The flight sergeants had cleared the ships and Allison had gotten his orders from the recording officer. In another minute the lead Spitfire had cramped about and was sliding toward the line. Stan swung into place and watched Garret get set. The new flier slid his plane up to the line with showy flash, gunning and idling the big motor in a way that made Stan’s nerves rasp. To him a motor was a living thing and he hated to see one abused.

“Steady, Red Flight,” Allison was snapping into his flap mike. “Check your temperatures.”

Stan called back his O.K. Garret did not clear. Allison’s voice came in angry, cold.

“Are you set, Garret?”

“Sure, big boy, I’m always set,” Garret replied.

“Then sound off as you should,” Allison snapped.

A second later they were off, tails lifting, boring across the turf. With a wrenching lift, they bounced up and lifted into the blue where big clouds floated over the city of London. Allison’s voice came in. The crispness was gone

Вы читаете A Yankee Flier with the R.A.F.
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