by Al Avery

Illustrated by

Paul Laune






The Commanding Colonel stared at the big map with its red ribbons marking air trails to and from targets. He was spotting the exact point where his Third Fighter group would have to turn back and leave the big Fortresses and Liberators to go it alone into the concentrated defenses of Germany.

Weather Officer Miller looked glumly at the map as Colonel Holt placed his finger on a spot.

“6/10 cloud over station six.” Station six was a Luftwaffe fighter field.

The colonel scowled and shook his head. “Are the big boys going out?”

“Yes, sir. Conditions over target are very good.” Weather grinned when he said it.

“We won’t get much of a whack at the Jerries,” the colonel said rather testily.

“The Forts and Libs will make it through,” Weather said with a lot of cockiness. He was beginning to act like the rest of the gang around headquarters who believed that the Forts and the Libs could go it alone all the way and shoot down any number of fighters the Germans could send up. Colonel Holt was a strong supporter for fighter cover. He was battling for a flock of longer-range fighters that could accompany the big fellows all the way to Berlin. The way things were going he might not be escorting at all within a few weeks. His Third Fighter Command might be on scouting duty.

“We’ll see what can be done about it,” he said as he turned away.

The colonel walked out of the high-ceilinged room which was buried under thirty feet of steel reinforced concrete. He came up out of the building into a drab night. A raw wind stabbed at him, and sent light clouds scudding across the face of the moon. Overhead, a night fighter growled its way through the lonely sky. The country spread around the base was flat with only a few hills to break the sameness.

Out on the dispersal area Colonel Holt could see guards watching the shadowy forms of the Thunderbolts. A jeep came chugging up a muddy street and turned off toward the mess barracks. At one-five in the morning the base looked peaceful enough. Sheltered by darkness, its mud ruts and half-finished buildings were softened by the gloom. Still scowling, the colonel strode away.

Several hours later, in a tunnel-shaped hut with a corrugated iron roof and a cement floor, two fliers sat near a wood stove. Stan Wilson was poking wood into the stove.

“I wonder if anyone ever kept one of these gadgets burning all night,” he said sourly.

“Sure, an’ ’tis against the rules,” Lieutenant O’Malley said and grinned.

“I’m beginning to think Allison showed good sense in running out on us and joining a bomber outfit,” Stan growled. “Here we are sitting up all night keeping this stove poked full of wood.”

“That big bum,” O’Malley snorted. “Only today he said that he’s livin’ in a palace with a sure-enough butler to buttle.” O’Malley shook his head sadly. “The spalpeen says that butler can sure bake a foine pie.”

“On top of that we get to fly Thunderbolts for the fun of it.” Stan jabbed a slab of wood into the stove and slammed the door.

“We’ve jest been havin’ bad luck,” O’Malley said. “I can stand a Nissen hut jest to be flyin’ one o’ them babies. We’ll meet up with plenty o’ Jerries.” O’Malley grinned eagerly, his homely face lighting up. “Remember how we used to mix it with them Jerry bandits tryin’ to blitz London?”

“That was a long time ago, as wars count time,” Stan answered. “We’ve been away a long time. The Jerries don’t get near London any more, and I heard a rumor that the Forts and Libs are able to shoot down ten fighters for every one the Thunderbolts get.”

O’Malley snorted. “Bombers shoot down Me 109’s and FW 190’s! ’Tis jest propaganda put out by the brass hats to fool the Germans. I’ll have to see it done, me b’y.”

“From what I hear we’ll probably have a reserved seat for the show. We sit up there and watch.” Stan smiled. “But we can always elbow in and fly a Fortress or a Liberator.”

“Not me,” O’Malley declared. “I’m no good at flying a milk wagon. I’ll handle me own guns.”

“Tomorrow will tell the tale. We’re to get our first whack at Jerry in this new job,” Stan said.

“Sure, an’ I’d go to bed an’ forget it, but the minnit I get me eyes closed this stove goes out an’ I’m freezin’,” O’Malley growled. “I don’t think we’ll be goin’ any place. Them brass hats meet at Operation Headquarters an’ the generals call in Weather. Weather squints out through a porthole an’ says, ‘6/10 cloud over target.’ Then the generals up an’ go back to bed.”

“We sure miss a lot of missions because of bad weather,” Stan admitted. “One of these days some fellow will invent a seeing eye sight that will look right through the clouds.”

“You been readin’ the funny books too much lately,” O’Malley said.

“Missed any of yours?” Stan laughed as he glanced toward a pile of comic books stacked beside O’Malley’s cot.

“I think our dog robber’s been snitchin’ a few.” O’Malley yawned and stretched his arms over his head. They were long bony arms with huge hands attached to them.

“Weren’t you in Berlin before the war?” Stan asked.

“Sure,” O’Malley answered. “Bein’ a son of good auld Ireland, I was itchin’ to get into a fight an’ it looked like the Jerries were the only ones preparin’ to do anything.”

“Why didn’t you stay over there?” Stan grinned broadly as he spoke. “I hear there are pretty girls in Berlin and that their mammas can bake swell pies.”

O’Malley sighed deeply at the mention of pie. His big Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, then his wide mouth clamped shut.

“Sure, an’ I don’t like bein’ pushed around, an’ I don’t like to see other folks kicked an’ slugged by a lot of spalpeens dressed up in brown shirts.”

“You may get to wave to that girl when we fly over Berlin,” Stan said.

“I could go straight to her house, only she lives a ways out of Berlin. We used to go ridin’ in the country on our bikes. Ivery lane we’d ride down some guy in a storm trooper uniform would stop us. I kept pawin’ out me Luftwaffe card all o’ the time.” O’Malley grinned.

“So you got out and joined up with the British and then with us.” Stan poked another stick of wood into the stove.

O’Malley yawned again and eyed his cot. “If you insist on keepin’ the fire goin’, I’ll catch me a couple o’ winks o’ sleep.”

“I’ll keep the joint warm,” Stan agreed.

O’Malley went over to his cot. He kicked off his shoes and crawled under the blankets fully dressed.

The minutes dragged away and Stan nodded beside the stove. An hour passed and he roused himself to poke in more wood. He dozed off again and was roused by an orderly making the rounds calling the crews. The stove was cold and he fumbled with stiff fingers as he lighted it again. When it was cherry red in spots, O’Malley poked his

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