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´╗┐Title: A Yankee Flier with the R.A.F.
Author: Montgomery, Rutherford George, 1896-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Yankee Flier with the R.A.F." ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



A YANKEE FLIER WITH THE R.A.F.

[Illustration: THE HAWK DROPPED UPON THE BATTLE WAGON BELOW.

_A Yankee Flier with the R.A.F._

_Frontispiece (Page 120)_]



A YANKEE FLIER WITH THE R.A.F.

BY

AL AVERY

_ILLUSTRATED BY_

PAUL LAUNE

GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS    NEW YORK


COPYRIGHT, 1941, BY

GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC.

_All Rights Reserved_

_Printed in the United States of America_

[Transcriber's note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                PAGE

   I  GLORY TRAIL                         1

  II  CLOUD TAG                          19

 III  BILL O'MALLEY                      35

  IV  NEW QUARTERS                       60

   V  O'MALLEY BAGS A JERRY GUN          76

  VI  THE SEA DOGS GROWL                 91

 VII  SALT WATER SPRAY                  111

VIII  STAN'S PAST RISES                 131

  IX  SPECIAL MISSION                   149

   X  GROUND SLEUTHING                  173

  XI  PLENTY OF TROUBLE                 193

 XII  LUFTWAFFE IN REVERSE              200



A YANKEE FLIER WITH THE R.A.F.



CHAPTER I

GLORY TRAIL


Swing music was blaring from the radio set in the mess when Stan Wilson
entered. His blue eyes, which gleamed with a great zest for living,
gazed levelly around the room. There was a look in them which had been
born of penetrating the blue depths of Colorado canyons and, later on,
at the limitless spaces a flier sees. As usual, a half-smile, seemingly
directed at himself, played at the corners of his mouth. There was
seldom a moment so danger-filled that Stan Wilson could not laugh at
himself.

Here he was, really a fugitive from his distant homeland, standing in
the Royal Air Force mess while outside the closely curtained windows all
of London lay under an inky blackout, listening and waiting for the
whine of the bombers. Stan was to be a member of Red Flight, which had
been taking on replacements so fast that even the Flight Lieutenant
wasn't able to get chummy with his men before they left him.

Stan smiled as he looked over the group in the mess. He had met Judd, a
plump youth who was unofficially known as "jelly bean"; McCumber, a
silent Scot who seldom smiled; and Tommy Lane, who never ceased to
whistle tavern tunes. At a reading table scanning a paper sat Irish
Kelley whose dark face and hawklike features made him look like a real
lead slinger.

A man he did not know sat at a low table with a cup of black coffee
before him. He was slender and even though his uniform needed pressing
it seemed to fit him like a glove. His blond hair was closely clipped
and the cool, gray eyes he lifted to meet Stan's gaze held a hint of
insolent mockery. This was March Allison, Stan knew at once. A crazy
Flight Lieutenant who was fast making a name for himself by his savage
fighting heart and his dizzy flying ability. Stan stepped toward the
table.

Allison nodded to a vacant chair beside the table and Stan dropped into
it.

"I'm March Allison," he said and his cool eyes moved over Stan with
irritating boldness. The superior air of the Britisher provoked Stan,
but he refused to show it because he did not intend to lose his temper.

"I'm Stan Wilson," he said, "the new member of Red Flight."

"Stan Wilson, Canadian test pilot?" Allison clipped the words off in a
manner that was almost derisive.

"That's what my card shows," Stan said testily.

"You're a Yank," Allison snapped. Then he grinned and little wrinkles
crinkled the corners of his eyes. "I can smell a Yank," he added.

"If you don't mind suppose we leave it as the card reads?" Stan said
coldly.

"All right with me, old fellow," Allison answered. "Only I hope you're a
faster flier than the planes the Yanks have sent us so far."

That nettled Stan. A picture leaped into his mind--the picture of a trim
fighter plane with low wings, and two banks of Brownings on each side
of a 2,000-horse-power radial motor. Stan had nursed several of those
babies into the blue. He didn't have to close his eyes to remember the
test flight card he had filled out.

"Climbed to 20,000 feet in six minutes. Performed two barrel rolls,
three loops. Checked all controls in neutral. Fired all guns and checked
temperatures of gun-warming units. Did a series of sharp dives with
steady pull-outs." As Stan's thoughts wandered back he grinned into
Allison's face. He had put a number of Spitfires through their paces and
knew that they were mud hens compared to the new babies which would soon
be coming over from the United States.

"You'll soon get one with 2,000 horses up ahead and then you'll junk
your Spitfires and Hurricanes," he said.

Allison cocked an eye at him and grinned widely. "Do you suppose you and
I will be hitting the glory trail then?"

"I figure I'll be around doing something," Stan answered and matched the
Lieutenant's grin.

A mess corporal was standing near by hopefully fussing with Stan's chit
book which had just been issued to him. Stan gave the corporal a nod.

"Black coffee," he ordered.

At that moment Tommy Lane strolled over and flopped into a chair. He
winked at Stan as he elevated his lank legs to the top of the table,
almost upsetting Allison's coffee.

"If the notch don't get you the Messerschmitts must," he hummed softly.
He seemed to be trying to tease Allison. When the Flight Lieutenant
failed to show any interest, Tommy said, "Your treat, Allison. I'll have
black coffee with a big jug of cream on the side."

Allison ordered Tommy's drink and watched the corporal mark it up in his
chit book. He rolled an eye lazily toward the lanky youth.

"Stan Wilson from Canada," he drawled.

Stan grinned at Tommy Lane. His eyes bit into Allison. He did not like
the way Allison was acting about his past record. If he was to have his
chance to get a whack at the Jerries in this war, it was important that
he be considered a subject of the British Empire, and he had come a lot
of miles to get that chance.

All his plans would be ruined if the truth about him came out. Posing as
a Canadian he had a good chance to get by, but there would be
embarrassing questions about his past if his true nationality was found
out. Questions that Stan Wilson couldn't answer without having his new
officer's commission stripped from him. He waited breathlessly to see if
Tommy would notice the challenge in Allison's voice, but the tall youth
merely grinned cheerfully and said:

"We get darn good men from Canada."

Suddenly the intersquadron speaker rasped and began snapping orders.
Every man in the room stopped talking and listened. A sudden tenseness
filled the air of the room.

"Red Flight, all out! Red Flight, all out!"

"Well, well. Out for a breath of night air," Allison drawled. No one
else said anything and the men of Red Flight barged toward the door.

"Green Flight, stand by," rasped the speaker.

Stan moved out behind Tommy Lane with Allison striding ahead. In less
than three minutes they were bundled in flying suits, with parachutes
batting their legs. Like waddling Arctic explorers they shoved out into
the damp blackness of the night.

On the cab rank three Spitfires were shuddering under slow throttle.
Flight sergeants were clambering down after warming up the motors. The
ragged flare of exhausts whirled grotesque shadows across the ground,
and oil fumes mixed with raw gasoline sucked up into their faces.

Sidders, Recording Officer, waved a sheaf of papers at Allison as he
halted before the Flight Lieutenant. Sidders looked like a big bear with
his greatcoat muffled around him. "Take the notch at 2,500. Landing
signal, K. Good luck."

Allison grinned as he saluted. "Landing signal, K," he repeated
mechanically.

A moment later Allison was jerking his hatch cover back and pinching one
wheel brake. He rammed the throttle knob up and swung the Spitfire
around. It lurched away and his voice came through the earphones of
Tommy Lane and Stan Wilson.

"Slide up, Lane, Wilson." His voice was cold and impatient.

The three Spitfires shoved their noses into the black wall of the night,
their exhausts snarling flame. They hesitated, waiting for the take-off
signal.

"Check your temperatures," Allison droned into his flap mike.

Stan Wilson settled himself against his crash pad and got his chute
squared under him. He had taken up his belt a notch beyond what he
thought was possible. Tension gripped him. This was combat with a
flaming trail ahead. He wasn't test diving and stunting now, he was
hunting and would be hunted. And up there the night was as black as the
inside of a cellar.

They got the clearance signal and the tails of the Spitfires lifted with
a blast of prop pressure. They slid down the runway, gathering terrific
speed. A few seconds later they were screaming over the blacked-out
city.

"Close, close, tight in," Allison's voice droned.

Stan saw below the gray rectangle that was Hyde Park Square. He watched
the knifing flame that the searchlights stabbed into the black heavens
as they probed and searched for the black bellies of the bombers. The
dull rapping of anti-aircraft shells beating against the heavy dome
above smashed back the roar of his motor. The ground boys would soon
spread a muck of fire and bursting steel over London.

"Tight, tight, we're coming into the notch," Allison's voice warned.

Red Flight swept north now in a steep, battering turn. The notch was
dead ahead.

"Shove in, Tommy. Don't try slicing a cable," Allison snarled. "Come in!
Come in! Here we go!"

The Spitfires slid closer together, bunched like darting swallows, their
flaming breath licking into the night. In a few seconds they would be
out where they could spread and go into action. For the first time,
since rubbing elbows with a Spitfire, Stan wondered how you bailed out
of the roaring monster if it broke up going 350 miles per hour. He slid
his thumb across the black gun button as he set his windbreaker's edge
on a line with Allison's aileron slit.

Blood pounded in his ears and a chill eagerness laid hold upon him. He
leaned forward and would have shouted. Allison and Tommy and the whole
British Broadcasting System would likely get the benefit of it if he cut
loose with a cowboy yell. He closed his mouth firmly and fixed his eyes
on the aileron slit ahead. The 1,000-horsepower Merlin engine was
throbbing, hurtling him up and into the night. He could feel the
assuring Brownings in the wings, ready to spew a hail of lead at the
enemy. He did not realize it but beads of sweat stood on his forehead.

He was glad he was coming out of the narrow channel of terror which was
charted anew each week. The notch was guarded by unseen, steel cables,
slender knives of spun death, waiting to slice through the wing of a
plane like a knife cutting through hot cheese. Or to come coiling down
upon any ship that struck them squarely. The hydrogen bloated monsters
that held the cables aloft swayed and tugged, sometimes swinging the
steel lines far out into the notch.

Out of this avenue the three Spitfires bored. When they were clear
Allison's drawl came in clearly:

"Pick yourself a bandit."

Two blades of silver light knifed upward. They swept back and forth,
then stopped, remaining straight up. This was a signal Allison
understood perfectly.

"Four bandits, quarter left," he snapped.

Before Stan could lay over, Allison's Spitfire was hurtling across his
hatch cover, zooming up at the droning bombers. A second later he
sighted a big Dornier just as she lurched upward in a frantic effort to
avoid Allison's Brownings.

A half-smile came to the lips of Stan Wilson. Everything they had said
about March Allison was correct. He was a demon in the air. Stan shot
his Spitfire up at the belly of the floundering Dornier. He had no time
to play spectator. Pressing the gun button he felt the kick of his eight
Brownings as they drilled away. Pinkish flames spurted from the
mid-section of the bomber as it whirled about, sliding off on one wing
with flames, red now, belching out of it. It turned over and four men
tumbled out. Stan watched long enough to see their chutes blossom
against the red glow of gunfire from below. He was glad that the crew
had been able to bail out.

On his right Stan saw tracer bullets from Allison's guns. He made out a
dark hulk twisting and turning, then the hulk was lighted as the Nazi
craft went down in flames. He couldn't spot Tommy as he zoomed upward
and in a split second he lost Allison. Circling, he throttled down and
let the Spitfire cruise. A chill feeling gripped the pit of his stomach.
This was new stuff for him. He was out in the darkness roaring in a
steep circle, looking for another bomber, but mostly waiting to hear
Allison's voice. He knew the unseen cables were swaying and reaching,
eager to knife him or to snarl his plane. Losing a wing wouldn't be as
bad as having the cable come down on you. If you tangle in a cable you
can't bail out. Stan peered down at the muck of shellfire below. He knew
he wouldn't be able to hit the notch without help from at least one of
the veterans.

Then he saw a searchlight beam pick up a dark shape below. It was a
bomber going down to unload. Stan nosed over and sent the Spitfire down
in a screaming dive. The flaming field of muck leaped up to meet him and
shells burst close. As Stan closed in on the dive bomber it suddenly
seemed to explode in his face.

Instantly Stan knew the cables had gotten the bandit. Frantically, he
pulled the Spitfire up and sent her roaring toward the ceiling. He
sucked in his breath as he brushed past one of the bloated gas bags.
That was a score for the Ack-Ack gunners and the ground boys. Then he
heard Allison's voice, cool and cheerful.

"Come in close, Red Flight. Somebody got two bandits. Who got two
bandits?"

Stan slid over and down, sure now of his position. Ahead, he spotted
Tommy and then Allison. They rocketed down through the notch, as sure of
the narrow pathway as though the noonday sun was shining on the cables.
Stan ducked in on Tommy's tail and went home with them.

"Why ask silly questions," Tommy was shouting to Allison. "Allison got
one, Wilson got one, the Ack-Ack boys got one. Tommy got nothing except
Allison's Spitfire in his lap."

Allison's voice came back in a sarcastic drawl. "I just shut my eyes and
cut loose. When I opened them, there was a bandit minus one wing. How
about you, Wilson?"

Stan cuddled his flap mike and laughed. He was sure of himself now. He
had hit the glory trail and could laugh at its terrors. "I just did
potshooting. Later I'll clip off tails and wings for you."

"Later?" There was that mocking note in Allison's voice.

The recall signal was calling them in. They swung over the blacked-out
city and headed for home. Ten minutes later they did a parachute walk
into the briefing room. Brooks, Squadron Leader, eyed them wearily. He
acted as though he hadn't had any sleep for a good many nights, which
was about correct. The three pilots moved over to his high desk and
reached for report forms.

"Everybody all right?" the Squadron Leader asked as he began filling out
their time record.

"Fit as flying fish," Tommy answered, grinning broadly. "Me, I like
balloons." He winked at Stan.

"Shut up," Allison snapped.

"What did you spend on yours?" Brooks asked, looking at Allison.

"Six or eight seconds in one burst," Allison answered.

"Hundred rounds," the officer jotted down. Then he looked at Tommy.
Tommy nodded toward Stan.

"Eight or ten, I guess. I used a pretty long burst," Stan admitted.

"One hundred thirty rounds, eight seconds," the officer jotted down.

A few minutes later Stan strolled into the mess with Allison. He felt
tired and would have gone to his cubicle only he wanted to see what the
boys did when they came in.

"Black coffee, that's the thing for balloon nerves," Allison said and
looked sharply at Stan. "It's on me." He waved a hand to the mess
corporal and called. "Two, black." Facing Stan, with a glint of humor in
his eyes, he said. "Not bad, old man, but you're a Yank and you learned
to fly in a fighter. And I think you'd best break down and tell me about
it."

"Sorry, but I can't think of a story you'd believe," Stan said and
grinned to hide his uneasiness. Allison was sharp as a tack. He had it
in his head that Stan was a Yank, which would have been all right except
that no Yank needed to masquerade as a Canadian to get into the Royal
Air Force. Not a flier like Stan Wilson.

They sank into chairs and waited for the coffee. Tommy hadn't showed up
and they had the mess to themselves. Allison leaned forward.

"I think the old man has something special up his sleeve," he said.
"When he acts tough and gets hard he's about to cook up a messy job.
Want in on it if it comes?" He was grinning at Stan in his most derisive
manner. He might just as well have added, "Of course you won't want in."

"Check me in," Stan said stiffly.

"Fine." Allison leaned back and elevated his legs to the top of the
table. "Fine. I figure the old man is going to give us a one-way
ticket."

"A what?" Stan asked. The way Allison spoke made a chill run up his
spine.

Allison turned his head and looked at Stan. "In the last war when
fighters were sent out as scouts they had to come back to report. In
this man's war they radio back their reports. After that they play tag
with a swarm of Messerschmitt One-Tens."

"I see." Stan could well imagine what sort of tag three Spitfires would
play with a dozen or more ME's. It was 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.



CHAPTER II

CLOUD TAG


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 and the drawl was there again.

"Close formation, and keep it close all the way out. We're headed for
emergency work below the Thames estuary. Junkers Ju 87's for breakfast."

The Spitfires closed in and roared away, gaining altitude as they bored
into the early morning light. In a very short time the twisting streets,
the masses of little squares that were blocks of buildings faded away
below them. Allison took them up above the fleecy clouds and into the
great, high-piled formations.

"Ought to find them sneaking around up here," he drawled.

Stan looked out upon the mountains of clouds and the patches of blue
sky. The Junkers Ju 87's were dive bombers, popularly known as Stukas,
and their presence meant a raid upon shipping.

"Red Flight, keep west by south. Red Flight, keep west by south." It was
the control room at the field sending them directions from the big room
with the table which had a huge map spread on it. On that map were toy
planes which the watchers shoved about with wooden rakes.

Ahead, Allison broke out of the feathery edge of a cloud into a great
valley of clear blue. Stan sliced through the cloud close beside him.
Garret was trailing a little now.

"Three Stukas cruising, four points right," Allison grated. "Three
Stukas. Don't let one of them get away or he'll come back again."

Instantly the Spitfires broke formation and Allison went plummeting
down, his Merlin roaring wide open. His twisting flight was an amazing
show of cold skill. Stan peeled off and shot after him. He was sure
Allison had picked the Stuka on the right so he took the one on the
left, leaving the center bomber for Garret, who wasn't getting in as
fast as he should.

"Easy, a cinch!" Allison's voice roared out of Stan's headset. "Here's
one for Tommy."

Stan saw his Spitfire lay over on her side and slice down upon the
Stuka, her eight Brownings drilling flame and lead. The startled crew of
the bomber immediately came to life. They had been craning their necks,
looking for slow crawling freighters headed into port. They sent the
Stuka into a nose dive, spewing bombs to lighten their load, but they
were not fast enough. Stan saw the right wing of the big raider rise,
then whirl away. The Stuka spun out of the square space in his
windscreen doing grotesque loops.

Ahead lay Stan's target and his thumb pressed gently on his gun button
as he roared down. His Brownings opened up and he saw the Stuka stagger
and swerve as he thundered past in a hissing dive. Coming up he noticed
that Garret's Stuka was streaking away toward the south with Garret
making a feeble try at coming up under the big ship.

"Missed a dead target," Stan said grimly. "He hasn't fired a single
burst."

Then Allison's voice cracked in over the air. "Messerschmitts up above
in the big cloud. They're coming down. Seven in all." His words snapped
off in a sputter of crackling static. Stan nosed up and saw the seven
fighters diving upon Allison. Then he heard Allison's voice again.

"Better let me have them. Keep clear!"

Stan yelled into the flap mike. "Coming, Allison."

He gave the Spitfire all she had and the Merlin wound up beautifully,
lifting him up to meet the fighters diving out of the cloud above. As he
went up he looked for Garret. At that moment they sure needed all of Red
Flight. He spotted Garret diving for a great thunderhead.

"The scum," Stan snarled. He shot the words into the flap mike without
realizing it.

It did not seem possible that Allison could escape from the deathtrap.
The Stuka setup had been too easy after all. The Spitfires were twisting
upward, straight on to meet the seven diving Messerschmitts, any one of
which was near their match. Stan knew the boys at the controls of those
ships were good fliers.

Allison's ship rolled over suddenly and fell away, then hit a steep
spiral climb. For a few seconds it knifed along on its back. The
maneuver threw the seven fighters off for a moment, giving Stan time to
get more lift and more ceiling. Allison laid over in a vertical bank,
and, as he swung back his guns, cut a swath across the enemy craft. One
Messerschmitt went into a crazy whirl.

After that Stan was busy with his own end. He cut across the path of a
streaking fighter and sawed off his tail so neatly it seemed to have
vanished by itself. But the next second he had a brace of roaring guns
in his face and the hatch cover above his head shattered, showering him
with glass and pieces of metal. His engine did not falter as he stalled
and slid off after the Nazi, his Brownings ripping away. The fighter
dodged and twisted and got away, though it was plainly hit.

As he dived to shake off another red-hot gunner he saw Allison going
straight at another Messerschmitt, the only one in his field of vision.
He waited for the burst from Allison's guns that would send the Nazi
down, but it did not come and Allison thundered over the enemy ship,
taking a ripping hail of lead as he went.

"His guns are out," Stan groaned as he sent his ship over in a roll and
went down after the raider, who was banking to dive upon Allison's
defenseless tail. Stan's lightning drop carried him down just in time to
drive the Messerschmitt away from Allison. The crippled Spitfire ducked
into a cloud. Allison's voice came to Stan, mocking but with his old
drawl.

"Thanks, old man."

"Where's Garret?" Stan rasped back.

"I'm up here. Just finished off my second bandit."

"You don't say," Allison cut in. "Well, we're going in, boys, before we
meet all of Goering's gang. If they're all as active as those Messers we
just slipped away from, I don't care to tackle any more of them."

They settled into formation and dropped down upon London. The headset
began to sputter and a voice from the ground said.

"Red Flight, come in. Red Flight, are you all there?"

"All here," Allison called back cheerfully. He had recovered his
sardonic good humor.

They slid up the Thames and on over the city to their field. Sliding in,
Allison and Stan set down on an even glide. Garret slid in with a
grandstand flourish. Stan eased in close beside him, clambered out of
the cockpit and stepped across to Garret's Spitfire, giving it a
searching look. His lips were twisted with anger as he caught up with
Allison.

Allison gave him a wide grin. "Sweet going, Yank," he said softly.

"What got into your guns?" Stan asked in an effort to let his wrath
cool.

"Got a burst through the center section. Those Jerries are liberal with
their lead."

Stan saw that Allison was going to say nothing about Arch Garret's
cowardly trick in cloud-sneaking when his pals were in a tight spot. He
hitched along beside Allison, his parachute rapping him behind the
knees. Garret had paused to show off before the ground crews. They heard
him say, in a loud voice:

"I cut down on one Messer and then laid over just in time to take out
another one."

Stan looked at Allison. He was grinning at Brooks who was chewing on a
pencil and staring at him as if he had seen a ghost.

"Mead of Green Flight said seven Messers had you bottled, Allison," he
said.

"Mead needs his eyes fixed," Allison answered as he slid out of his
chute.

Squadron Leader Rainey came in. He had three rings of braid on his
sleeve and wished he had only two so that he could be out on flight duty
with the boys. In the last war Majors were flying men, but in this one
they were just ground officers. His grim face lighted in a thin smile
as he looked at Allison.

"Nice work, Red Flight," he said. "Like to have been up with you."

"We could have used you, sir," Allison said and laughed almost directly
into Garret's face.

Garret had strutted to the desk just inside the briefing room. He spoke
loudly, paying no attention to the Squadron Leader. He leaned on the
desk and fixed the briefing officer with a steady look.

"Chalk up a Stuka and two Messerschmitts for me. And add a note saying
it was lucky for two stiffs I was along."

Stan swung around facing Garret. The gall of the man made his anger
flare up and he forgot all about regulations. "Why lie about it," he
said, his lips a tight line. "You didn't fire a burst, you hid in a
cloud. Next time you better unlimber your guns while you're in the cloud
so you'll have an alibi."

Arch Garret's dark face twisted with rage. "So you play that way, lying
me out of credit."

"I checked your guns before I came in. You didn't fire a shot." Stan
turned upon Allison and the Squadron Commander. As he did so he realized
he had made a mistake. They were silently watching, their faces
expressionless.

"Well then, Canuck, if you've checked my guns I'll pull down those
credits," Garret snarled.

"You said something about my lying," Stan gritted as he swung around to
face the flier. His six feet and two hundred pounds of muscular body
made him look like a certain Colorado U. half-back who had once been
picked as All-American. Stan wouldn't have admitted it, he wouldn't have
dared, but he had once been a great blocking back.

Allison stepped forward. "You come with me, Wilson," he said. "I want to
tell you a few things you ought to know."

The Squadron Leader nodded to Allison. He turned upon his heel without
looking at Garret. Snarling, his lips twisted with anger, Garret made
off to his cubicle.

In the mess Allison sank into a chair. He grinned across at Stan, who
had seated himself. "Mind if I order tea? I've drunk a gallon of coffee
just to be polite to you."

Stan grunted, "You don't have to be polite to me."

"I don't intend to from now on, old man." Allison's eyes were twinkling.

"What's on your mind? Regulations and such rot, I suppose." Stan was
still hot under the collar.

"We don't do it that way here," Allison said. "A rotter like Garret is
always taken care of."

"You mean he's out?"

"No, I can't swing that, but we don't have to have him in Red Flight."
He reached for the cup of tea the corporal had set in front of him. "You
made an enemy who will go a long way to stymie you."

"He'd better stay out of my way," Stan growled.

Allison grinned. "Guess he had, at that," he admitted.



CHAPTER III

BILL O'MALLEY


Allison leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. Stan waited for the
Flight Lieutenant to explain his sudden mirth. Allison had just come
from the O.C.'s office. He turned to Stan.

"I put in a call for a new flier. After all, I can't have a couple of
prize fighters trailing me around. I got a very sweet fighting man. He
doesn't love the English so much, and he doesn't hate the Jerries so
much. He's an Irish boy whose ancestors haven't missed a war in a
thousand years. He just couldn't stay out of this one." Allison chuckled
and nodded his head.

Stan turned his gaze toward the door, which had swung inward revealing a
tall youth.

"There," said Allison, "comes Bill O'Malley."

Bill O'Malley was long and lank, with an Adam's apple that bobbed up and
down his throat. His bony shoulders were stooped in a most unmilitary
manner, and his head boasted a thatch of flaming red hair. He was about
the last person in the world Stan would have picked as a daredevil
flier. His homely face and his sloppy figure would not have inspired
fear or confidence in anyone. Allison waved to him.

"Hi, old fellow, come over and meet a pal."

Bill O'Malley grinned as he slouched across the room. As soon as his big
mouth cracked into a smile Stan knew he was going to like this big
Irisher.

Allison arose. He was acting with deliberate and mock politeness.
"O'Malley, meet Wilson," he said with a sweep of his arm. Then the
derisive mask slipped over his face and he seated himself again.

"Sure, 'tis a quiet an' homelike place ye have here, Commander,"
O'Malley said. "Wilson, me boy, I'm right glad to meet up with ye."

"Nothing ever happens around here," Allison agreed. "It's a peaceful
place."

"Snug as a clambake," O'Malley agreed. "But much more dead. Now when I
gave me word I'd come in with you boys the O.C. made quite a talk about
how tough the job was. Here we sit like auld friends at a picnic." He
scowled bleakly at Allison.

"I'll send over for a flight of Jerries," Allison said with a grin.

"'Twill be a pleasure, me foine fellow," O'Malley answered. "I came over
here to see some action."

Both Stan and Allison knew Bill O'Malley meant just what he said. He was
wild as any crazy hare, but he had a name that was already on the
tongues of ground men when spectacular stunts were talked about. Stan
guessed that Allison had not had much trouble in getting the Irisher
away from whatever flight he was with. Few Flight Lieutenants would have
cared to be responsible for him.

The loud-speaker began to blare. "Red Flight, all out! Green Flight, all
out! Yellow Flight, all out!"

"Sounds like the whole Jerry outfit is on the way," O'Malley said as he
unwound himself from a stool and made for the door.

There was no mistaking the fact that O'Malley was a first-class fighting
man. Stan knew it by the way he got into his Spitfire and rammed the
hatch cover home. By the time they had zoomed up and away, he was sure
of it. Allison was chuckling over the radio.

"Cuddle in, Red Flight. We pick up Bristols and Blenheims at 10,000."

"'Tis no wet nurse I'll be," came the Irish brogue of O'Malley. "I
resign this minnit."

"Headquarters says the Jerries have two dozen Messer One-Nines on a
reception committee," Allison droned back.

"The spalpeens! Why such a measly little bunch?" O'Malley demanded
indignantly.

Stan gave his attention to flying. The squadron droned into a thick bank
of clouds and was swallowed. Nine demons bored ahead to take a bombing
flight through.

"Rose Raid, take position. Rose Raid, take position," came a voice over
the air from the tactics group gathered around a big map at
headquarters.

Stan grinned. The British were odd in many ways. For no good reason,
they called this raid Rose Raid instead of B-7 or some other
businesslike tabulation. Then he sighted the bombers 1,000 feet below.
Three heavily loaded Bristols and three Blenheims. Stan remembered the
fast-flying Consolidateds and the B-19's of the United States Army.
Soon, if he was lucky enough to stay alive, he might be escorting
B-19's.

Up and up they went into the clouds, with the bombers droning steadily
southeast and the Spitfires cruising above and below and around.

The radios were all strangely silent now. There was no talk and Stan let
his ears fill with the pleasant roar of his Merlin. He bent forward and
stared at his instrument panel. That gauge couldn't be right, it must be
jammed or something. If the needle was reading right he had less than a
half tank of gas. He bent forward and rapped the panel. The needle did
not change, except to surge a bit further toward the empty side. Stan's
mouth drew into a grim line. He could believe that gauge and turn
tail--or he could figure it was wrong and go on.

If it was right, he was short of gas for the trip. A hard gleam shone in
his eyes. Regardless of the gauge, his tank should have been filled
full. If it hadn't been filled there was dirty work somewhere. He
thought of Garret. Allison had said Garret had been put on the ground.
Stan wondered what job Garret had been given.

Then he snorted. He was letting himself go. Just because he was sore at
Garret he was imagining things. He rapped the dial sharply and the
needle jumped, then settled back. If he went on he would run out of gas
over German territory and have to go down. In spite of himself, he
couldn't help muttering:

"That would be a nice way of getting rid of me."

He shrugged his shoulders. Allison was dipping his wings in a signal.
They were going down to have a look below. He couldn't use his flap
mike. If he cut and ran he would have to prove he hadn't drained his
tank to get out of a hot odds-on battle; he'd have to have proof that
the tank wasn't filled when he took off. But he had to decide at once.

A guarded voice spoke. It was Allison's. "Peel off and dive by position.
Come up after a check below clouds."

The Flight Lieutenant's Spitfire lanced over on its side and streaked
down like a rocket. O'Malley followed. Stan's lips pulled into a hard
line. He flipped the Spitfire over on its side and went roaring down the
chute. The air speed and altimeter were going insane. The shriek of the
dive shook every nerve in Stan's body, and set him back against the
crash pad, holding him there with a powerful grip. The three Spitfires
roared out of the clouds at the same instant. They streaked into the
clear blue for a moment, then shot upward and ducked back into the cloud
again.

They had seen nothing except a low and rocky coastline with white lines
of breakers beating against it. Not a plane in the world, except the
squadron, so it seemed.

And then the clouds broke away and a harbor was in the frame of their
windscreens. It looked like a toy harbor with its oblong breakwater. A
great hangar with a black painted roof looked out upon the gently
rolling waters. There were seaplanes in the picture somewhere. Stan
craned his neck and saw what was holding the eyes of the men in the
Blenheims and the Bristols. Three toy boats rode at anchor beside a
dock. Those were supply ships that had slipped through the blockade.
Headquarters was taking a last desperate chance of keeping that valuable
cargo from getting through.

Then the Rose Raid actually started. The radio began to crackle. "Rose
Raid at targets! Rose Raid over targets!" That was the squadron leader
telling headquarters they were going down.

The nine light Spitfires went down in a screaming dive to cover the
Blenheims and the Bristols. The big Bristols swung into line-astern
formation and bashed through the first upheaval of Flak-88 shells. Black
and white blooms of bursting shells bracketed them as their leader slid
into the curtain of fire. The next instant the big Bristol disappeared
in a mass of smoke and flame.

A Blenheim on Stan's right twisted upward, threw away a wing and went
down in a dizzy spin, ramming its nose into the roof of the black
hangar.

The remaining four bombers plunged down upon their objective with the
Spitfires doing dizzy stunts alongside them and the air seemingly filled
with Heinkel single-seaters which had slashed into the picture from
nowhere. A darting Heinkel dived upon Stan. Stan opened up and saw an
aileron flutter away from the plummeting fighter. The formation of
Spitfires had broken up now. It was everybody into the dogfight to keep
the Heinkels from getting at the four precious bombers.

The slashing, whirling Spitfires did the job. They tore into the
Heinkels and their deadly eight-gun combinations showed at once what
superior fire power they had. Stan watched O'Malley send a fighter down
and slide over on his back, out of the path of three more, to get
another before his first burst of fire had ceased smoking. O'Malley was
a demon of the sky. He was in and out and up and down and his trail was
a trail of death. Allison was up there, too, doing just about as well
but doing it with cold precision rather than by sheer recklessness.

Stan knifed into a wedge of Heinkels darting down to drop upon one of
the Bristols. The Heinkels scattered before his fire, twisting and
ducking and darting. Stan laid over and looked down. The bombers had
unloaded. Below him the three ships, big now, and dirty in their
streaked gray and black paint, were very close. Men were running wildly
about on their decks or leaping into the water. One of them burst into
flame amidship, another seemed to explode, the third listed far over and
her stern sank slowly down.

Stan's radio was shouting at him. "Rose Raid! Rose Raid! Ten bandits
down. Two bombers have left formation. Two fighters have left formation.
Rose Raid, come in. Rose Raid, come in!"

The Spitfires could not come in. While the bombers slipped away under
full throttle, free of their loads and faster than they had been, the
Spitfires slashed and blasted and ducked. Stan watched a Spitfire go
into the bay, twisting and spinning. He wondered if it could be Allison
or O'Malley.

"Red Flight, come in." That was Allison's voice.

"Comin' soon as I get me another spalpeen," O'Malley's brogue burred.

Stan glanced at his gas gauge. It showed empty, but the Merlin was still
hammering away. He nosed her up as he cuddled his flap mike.

"Wilson coming in."

Up and up the Spitfire roared, shaking the Heinkels off her tail as she
twisted and banked, her 1,000 horses tossing her toward the ceiling.
Stan held his breath as he headed her home. Was that gas gauge a liar?

He heard the Merlin cough and knew the gauge had not lied. Looking back
he saw the dim outline of the enemy shore. Back there he could cripple
down and they would not shoot him. They would be glad to get a sound
Spitfire and they would keep him locked up for the rest of the war.
Ahead lay the gray waters of the English channel, rough and sullen, cold
as ice.

"Wilson out of gas. Making a try for home," he shouted into his flap
mike.

Above him he saw that Messerschmitt One-Tens had joined the Heinkels in
trying to finish off the Spitfires. He leveled off as the Merlin gave
its last gasp of power and sent the ship gliding toward home.

For a time Stan thought the Jerries had missed him, they were so busy up
above. Eight thousand feet below his wings the rough waters of the
channel were moving up to meet him. The first warning Stan had that he
was not to escape without a fight was a terrific jolting and ripping
that almost shook him loose from his seat; the next was the staccato
rattle of a rapid-fire cannon that was ripping great chunks out of his
right wing.

The Spitfire writhed up on her side, then rolled over on her back and
shot seaward. Stan pulled the stick back against his stomach and kicked
the right rudder viciously. He looked up just as the Jerry loosed
another broadside which missed the ship. The Jerry zoomed back up,
satisfied he had finished the Spitfire that was trying to slip away.

Stan gave the Jerry but a glance. He was battling to pull the Spitfire
out of the spin he had jammed her into. He soon realized that there was
no control left in the ship, so he unbuckled his belt and rammed back
what was left of the hatch cover. He squirmed out of the cockpit and
dived. As he slid away from the ship he felt himself caught and held.
His chute bellied out and the shoulder straps wrenched at him. A second
later he was ripped loose and whirled away from the crumpled wreck. As
he leveled off he saw that he was about 3,000 feet from the water.

It appeared also that Stan had the channel to himself. Overhead he could
hear the faint drone of motors; otherwise there was no sound except the
cries of a half-dozen excited gulls that swooped down about him
curiously as the chute let him drift downward toward the gray sea.

An inshore wind whipped at his clothing, twisting him dizzily as he
dangled there in mid-air, and he had a brief, crazy hope that it might
carry him in to land before he went down. But that wild hope died at
once when he realized the shore was miles away.

There was nothing for it but to take his wetting and hope the R.A.F.
life jacket was as good as it was supposed to be. He stared downward at
the choppy surface that seemed to sweep upward to meet him, gritting his
teeth to drive fear away. This was a chance every channel flier took ...
and sometimes they were rescued.

He handled the chute controls skillfully, easing himself down with the
wind while he fought to loosen the buckles that held the straps tightly
about him. If he went into the water with that chute dragging him down
there wouldn't be any chance of eventual rescue.

As his numbed fingers tore at the buckles he wondered what it felt like
to drown. The sea was close now. A bleak gray expanse of waves that
reached hungry arms upward to receive another human sacrifice. One
buckle came free, then another. He ripped himself out of the harness and
plummeted down the last ten feet, his body driving deep into the icy
cold water.

He came to the surface sputtering and beating the water madly, then
remembered the life jacket he wore, and let its buoyancy support him
while he took stock of the situation.

It looked hopeless. He was a single tiny speck floating on a vast
expanse of sea where every surface craft was subject to attack and more
intent on making port than searching for downed fliers. The sky overhead
was clear of planes now. He wondered if anyone had seen him bailing out.
He had reported he was short of gas. If either Allison or O'Malley made
it back safely, he had a hunch they wouldn't rest until they returned to
search the sea for him or the wreckage of his plane.

That was his only hope. Any other rescue would be purely accidental. The
icy fingers of the water were eating into his flesh. The heavy flying
togs were becoming water-soaked, dragging him down. He didn't know how
long he could hold out. He tried to swim toward the dimly distant shore
line, but the waves battered him back and the numbing cold stole away
his strength.

He forced himself to relax, let the life jacket support him. It might be
hours before rescue came. It looked hopeless, but a man never gave up
hope while life remained in his body. If he could keep his head above
water, keep from swallowing too much of the salt sea, he could last a
few hours at least.

And he clung to the belief that Allison or O'Malley would return to look
for him. Though he didn't know just what either of them could do if they
did spot him from the sky. If one of them could get hold of a seaplane
he didn't doubt that they'd try to set it down on the rough surface to
rescue him. He tried to recall whether he'd seen any seaplanes since
arriving in England.

Things were getting hazy in his mind. He gave up trying to move his
limbs. The blood was congealing in his veins. He had a strange feeling
that his flesh was becoming brittle with cold, that he would break into
pieces if he tried to move an arm or leg.

A delightful sensation of helpless lethargy crept over him. This was the
sort of thing he had read happened to people when death was very close
and inevitable. It was Nature's kind way of drugging the perceptions
against the impact of death.

He began to hear a buzzing in his ears, and he decided that was the
beginning of the end. It didn't matter now. Nothing mattered. Not even
the war.

The buzzing grew louder and became a distinct annoyance. He tried to
shut it away from his consciousness, but it persisted. He felt himself
being dragged back from the coma into which he had sunk. The buzzing
became a loud drone, then smashed at his ear drums with a shattering
roar.

He came to life again, and fought to blink his salt-encrusted eyelids
open. He recognized that roar of a Spitfire motor. It was zooming over
him, flattening out in a crazy reckless pancake dangerously close to the
surface of the water.

He got one eye open and caught a flashing glimpse of a grinning Irish
face leaning over the side of the plane and shouting something to him.
The plane lifted swiftly and swept away and Stan found himself waving a
numbed hand after it.

The ice in his veins was transformed into tongues of flame that licked
through his body. O'Malley had come, just as he had known the Irishman
would. He would bring a rescue ship back. All Stan had to do was stay
alive a little longer.

He grinned happily as he watched the Spitfire become a dim speck in the
sky and then disappear. He began beating the water with his arms and
legs, and he jeered good-naturedly at the sea that had sought to engulf
him.

The plane was coming back, circling high overhead to spot the floating
pilot for a fishing boat that was putting out from shore. As the small
craft drew near Stan saw two men in oilskins waving to him. He waved
back, and then a strange thing happened. It was as though someone had
struck him on the head with a sledge hammer. He was unconscious when the
boat reached him, and he stayed unconscious for a full twenty-four
hours.

He woke up in a strange new world that was utterly different from
anything he had known before. A clean, white, antiseptic world with
narrow beds and pretty girls in white uniforms. He was tucked in one of
those beds, and one of the pretty girls in a white uniform was bending
over him solicitously.

"Where am I?" he demanded.

"This is a hospital. You are very sick," the nurse said soothingly.

"Hospital!" Stan sputtered. "I'm not staying in any hospital. I was
never in a hospital in my life!" He got to his feet as orderlies and a
head nurse came running.

"Lie down or I will report you," the head nurse said severely. "You are
sick."

"How long do you think it takes me to get over a bath?" Stan shot at the
nurse.

"You'll be here two weeks," the head nurse informed him.

Stan had visions of Allison sending out for another man to fill the trio
on Red Flight. He wrapped the blanket tighter around him.

"Get my clothes," he ordered.

"Get an officer," the head nurse snapped to an orderly.

Stan knew it was time for action. He swept the blanket ends off the
floor and dived down the hall with the nurses running after him. A
doctor came out of a room, looked at Stan, then ducked back quickly.
Stan bounded down a wide stairway and out through a pair of open doors.
People stared at him as he rushed up the street in his bare feet looking
for a cab.

On a corner he bumped into two bobbies. They closed in on both sides of
him.

"Easy, my man," one of them said. "Easy, now. We'll see you safe back to
your bed."

"Fine," Stan answered. "Get me over to Merry Flying Field as quick as
you can."

The bobbies looked at Stan then exchanged glances. He looked perfectly
healthy and very powerful, though he was a bit pale and had a wild look
in his eye. They nodded their heads.

"I'm from Red Flight over at Merry Field. Get me there and the Flight
Lieutenant will vouch for me," Stan urged as he looked down the street
and saw an ambulance rocking around a corner.

The bobbies were satisfied that this young giant was crazy and they had
better humor him. They shoved him through the curious crowd that had
formed on the corner. Within a few minutes he was seated in a cab
bowling across the city.

Allison was lounging at a table drinking tea with O'Malley when two
bobbies and a disheveled man wrapped in a wool blanket marched into the
mess. They both leaped to their feet and rushed across the room.

"Stan, old chap!" Allison shouted.

"By the scalp of St. Patrick!" O'Malley boomed. "An' I thought you would
drown sure before the boat got to you."

The bobbies nodded their heads and grinned broadly. They lifted their
sticks and moved out, well satisfied with their work. Stan called after
them:

"If you meet an ambulance wandering about tell the driver to go back to
the hospital and give my regards to the head nurse." He sank into a
chair and grinned up at his friends. "How about some clothes?"

"Coming right up. You can borrow my dress uniform," Allison said.
"O'Malley insisted we hold off replacements for another day. The
hospital said you'd be laid up for weeks, but O'Malley had a hunch you
wouldn't let them keep you."

Stan told what had happened. When he had finished O'Malley beat a bony
fist on the table.

"Faith, an' I think the gas business is a trick of that rotter, Garret.
What he's after needin' is a good taste of me fist," he bellowed.

"We have no proof. If one of you fellows beat him up we'd all be
grounded, you know," Allison cut in.

"If Garret was on the crew that handled the fueling that's enough for
me," Stan said grimly.

"He was put in charge of our hangar by the O.C. But you can bet he
covered his dirty work carefully. We'll just have to trap him." Allison
spoke grimly.

"And in the meantime we better check our ships before we go out each
time," Stan said. "If I'd done that this time I'd have brought my
Spitfire back whole and wouldn't have had to take a bath in the
channel."

"I'll bet the spalpeen will get a scare when you walk into that hangar,"
O'Malley said with a grin.

Stan got to his feet. "I'm going out there just as soon as I get some
clothes. I warn you, O'Malley, this is my fight. You stay out of it."

O'Malley's eyes glittered. "I niver could stay out of a good scrap, but
if you wade into him I'm thinkin' there won't be anything left for me to
do but pick up the pieces."

"You better keep a tight hand on your temper, old chap," Allison warned.

"I will. I'll have the low-down before I sock him," Stan promised.

A half-hour later, dressed in one of Allison's uniforms, and looking
little worse for his ducking, Stan strolled into the hangar. Garret was
not about so he went to the crew that had handled his ship. They were
really glad to see him, he was sure of that. He looked them over and had
a feeling none of them had had any part in the plot.

"Who gassed my Spitfire before she went out on the last raid?" His eyes
moved from man to man.

A corporal stepped forward. "I did, sir."

"Was the tank full when you rolled her out?"

"Yes, sir. I rechecked. She was full up." The corporal was positive.

"Did you gas her up immediately before the flight?"

"No, we always gas up as soon as the Spits come in, so they'll be ready
without delay. Sometimes they go right back up."

Stan nodded. He had known that. "Was the squad out for breakfast?"

A sergeant spoke up. "Yes, sir. Lieutenant Garret sent us all out
together. Squad Four was on duty down the line and could keep an eye on
things and shove out for us if a call came."

"He went with you?"

"Yes, he walked as far as his mess with us."

Stan smiled. "Thanks," he said. "My gas turned out a bit short and I got
a ducking in the channel."

He saw the men begin eying each other when he said that. He turned and
walked away. Garret had fixed himself a slick alibi. Stan was sure he
would have little luck cracking it. As he neared the door Arch Garret
entered.

"Hello, Garret," Stan said and grinned.

Garret stared at him for a minute, then his dark face flushed and his
eyes gleamed with smouldering anger. He stepped closer to Stan.

"You think you can railroad me clean out of this man's army, but you'll
get yours, and I'll be back in the air again."

"If any other funny things happen to my ship I'm going to take a poke at
that pretty face of yours," Stan said.

Garret quickly backed away and hurried into the hangar. Stan walked
across the square to his mess. Garret was a dangerous fellow, there was
no mistake about that, and he hated Stan Wilson. Stan had a feeling,
too, that Garret was going to make good on his threat.

He wasn't sure how Garret intended to do it, or how much the fellow
knew, but there was no doubt he was a dangerous antagonist. And Stan had
an uncomfortable feeling that Garret knew or at least suspected the
truth about a certain phase of Stan Wilson's past that Stan had hoped he
could leave behind him when he came across the sea to fight the Nazi war
machine.

But that, he grimly told himself, was too much to hope for. No man can
ever wholly escape his past. Fate has a way of stepping in and smashing
the best-laid plans of humans. And Stan had a premonition that Fate had
selected Arch Garret as its instrument to ruin his careful plans.



CHAPTER IV

NEW QUARTERS


O'Malley sat at a table with a whole pie before him. He sliced it neatly
across, then turned it half around and sliced it across again. Allison
snorted his contempt while Stan watched, a grin on his face.

"Niver be it said an O'Malley is hoggish. Will ye have a wee slab o'
pie, Mister Wilson or Mister Allison?"

"Thanks, no," Stan answered. "I'm carrying all the ballast I can handle
right now."

"I say, old chap, could that be the second or is it the third pie you've
had this afternoon?" Allison cocked an eye at O'Malley whose big mouth
was open to receive almost half of one piece of pie.

O'Malley munched the pie. "'Tis but the third, Commander, and niggardly
pies they make, too. Take the pies Mrs. O'Malley makes, now they are
pies." He grinned as he slid his hand under another quarter of pie.

At that moment an orderly appeared and handed Allison a slip of paper.
Allison read it and scribbled a notation on it, handing it back to the
orderly.

"Nothin' iver happens in this here spot," O'Malley was complaining as he
fell upon the third quarter of pie. "And this mess has no idea of a
proper pie. They have nothing but berry pie, which is little in the way
of pie."

"We'll be back on night flights up the glory trail by tomorrow night,
O'Malley," Allison said. "But right now the O.C. wants to talk to the
three of us in his office."

O'Malley gathered up the rest of the pie. Allison scowled.

"I say, Irisher, you can't go in on the O.C. with a platter of pie in
your hand."

"Sure, and that's a fact," O'Malley agreed. "Hold onto yerselves, boys,
and I'll fix it according to regulations." He shoved half the piece of
pie into his mouth.

Allison and Stan waited until he had finished. Then the three of them
headed for the O.C.'s office. Their rap at the door was answered by a
gruff voice and they entered.

The O.C. was a grizzled veteran of World War I. He looked at them with
grim satisfaction. They were three of the best men he had, flying fools,
ready to tackle any assignment.

"Sit down, gentlemen," he said gruffly.

They sat down, O'Malley slumping into his chair with his head thrust
forward. He looked lank and hungry as he sat there and anyone except
Stan and Allison would have said he hadn't had a square meal in a week.

The O.C. picked up a sheet of paper and stared at it, then he glowered
at the three fliers. He cleared his throat and tapped the sheet of
paper. His eyes were upon O'Malley. Suddenly he put the paper down.

"Something reminds me I have not had a bite to eat so far today," he
said. "Do you boys mind if I have something sent in while I'm talking
with you? I won't be able to get away later."

"Certainly not, sir," Allison said.

The O.C. was still looking at O'Malley. "Will you boys join me? A spot
of tea or something?"

Before Allison or Stan could politely refuse, O'Malley answered, "Well,
sir, I'm not partial to tea, but I could manage with a wee slab o' pie."

Allison glared at him while Stan struggled to smother a grin. The O.C.
looked at them. "Would you boys have some pie?"

"No, thanks," both spoke in unison.

The O.C. rang and an orderly appeared. He took the Commander's order and
hurried away. When the door closed the O.C. turned to Allison.

"I always get the bad part of every deal. Before me I have an order
transferring you three men to Croydon Field. As soon as I get a few
satisfactory men around me they are taken away." He looked sourly at
O'Malley as though blaming him. "Take this wild man, O'Malley. He has
begun to attract notice."

"It's been so quiet no man could attract notice," O'Malley said
gloomily.

The O.C. smiled and fished another paper out of a tray. "Twenty-four
hours in the air," he read. "Three Dornier bombers and two Messerschmitt
fighters shot down by Lieutenant O'Malley." He slid the report into a
file. "So this is quiet, eh?" He actually smiled as he said it.

The orderly returned with a tray which O'Malley eyed hopefully. The O.C.
lifted a cloth from his luncheon. The orderly carried a plate to
O'Malley and handed him a fork. O'Malley waved the fork aside and
scooped the pie off the plate. Sadly, he inspected it. It was blueberry,
the same as his mess was supplying. Out of the side of his mouth he
said:

"Ah well, it will do, but I thought it might be the O.C. ate at a
different mess."

"You boys will report to headquarters at Croydon at once." He looked at
O'Malley and a startled expression came over his face. The Irisher's pie
had disappeared.

"Yes, sir," Allison said and got to his feet.

The O.C. got to his feet and his wintry face cracked into a thin smile
as he shook hands with each of the boys.

"This is quite a war and we have to hit as hard as we can and all pull
together. They need you more at Croydon than I do here. Good luck to
you."

The three snapped salutes and faced about. They hurried out of the
building and across the square. Within a half-hour they were packed and
ready for the car that was to take them to their new home.

"I'm not sorry saying good-by to those bloated balloons," Allison said
as he looked up toward the south.

"I'm glad I'm leaving. It will save me punching a fellow officer in the
jaw," Stan said grimly.

"There won't be anything excitin' goin' on over there," O'Malley said
sourly.

"They may have some other kind of pie." Allison grinned.

An eager light came into O'Malley's eye. "Sure, and that's a thought
worth rememberin'," he muttered.

The mess at Croydon was a large room and had a phonograph as well as a
console radio. There was a nice assortment of old but comfortable chairs
and lounges, and there was a counter where food and drinks were served.
The three members of Red Flight arrived at the mess about the same time.

O'Malley saw the counter at once and his eyes lighted eagerly. Back of
the counter were shelves and on one of the shelves sat a half-dozen
pies. A Wing Commander and a Squadron Leader were leaning against the
center of the counter. Allison was for barging on past without
disturbing the superior officers, but O'Malley had his eyes on the pie
shelf.

"Shove in, me hearties, the treat's on Mrs. O'Malley's son."

O'Malley shoved in beside the Wing Commander with Stan and Allison
facing him.

"Tea," Allison ordered.

"Coffee, black," Stan said.

"Pie." O'Malley said it hungerly.

The corporal behind the pie counter fixed Allison's pot of tea and
poured Stan's coffee, then he turned to O'Malley.

"What kind of pie, sir?"

For a moment O'Malley was struck dumb over his great good luck. This
mess had a choice of pie.

"Apple," he said hopefully.

The corporal set a brown crusted pie on the counter and poised a knife
over it. O'Malley reached over and took the knife. He proceeded to cut
the pie four ways.

"But I say, sir, we don't cut pies that way. It's against regulations,
sir." The corporal was plainly flustered.

"Indaid?" O'Malley said. "An' could ye put down the whole pie in me chit
book?"

"Of course, sir, but really if you let me cut it, sir, it wouldn't be
ruined and you'll pay for only the portion you eat."

"Ah," O'Malley said and slid a quarter of the pie out of the tin and
into his big hand. The corporal watched with fascination as the slab
disappeared.

The Wing Commander was talking and the three junior officers could not
avoid overhearing him.

"The Messerschmitt One-Tens coming over lately have a new gun. We'd like
to get our hands on one of them, but so far we haven't salvaged
anything."

"How about Intelligence in France? They ought to be able to get us
something," said the Squadron Leader.

"No, if we get one it will be by pure accident," the Wing Commander
answered sourly.

O'Malley was starting on his third piece of pie. He had it in his hand
and halfway to his open mouth. He lowered it and swung around to face
the Wing Commander.

"The aisiest thing in the world, gettin' one of them guns," he said.

The Wing Commander turned toward O'Malley and looked from his face to
the big slab of pie and then back again. His manner dripped frost.
Allison got a glimpse of his insignia and kicked O'Malley on the shin.
O'Malley grinned at the Wing Commander, then took a big bite of pie. The
Wing Commander stiffened and snorted like a Merlin backfiring on a
sub-zero morning.

"Did you speak, sir?" he asked.

O'Malley was unabashed, even when the Wing Commander bent a frigid look
upon the wreck of the apple pie on the plate at his elbow.

"I said it would be aisy, gettin' one of them new guns," O'Malley
repeated.

"Perhaps you can bring one to my office not later than tomorrow night,"
the Wing Commander snapped.

"And may I ask who I'll deliver it to?" O'Malley opened his mouth and
the rest of the pie disappeared into it.

Signs of apoplexy began to show on the Wing Commander's face, but his
voice was steady.

"Just deliver it to Wing Commander Farrell."

"Sure, an' I'll hand it to ye personal," O'Malley promised.

The Wing Commander bowed stiffly and turned away. The Squadron Leader
wiped a smile off his lips and stared stonily at O'Malley. They marched
off together.

"Now you've done it, you Irisher," Allison growled. "That's the man we
have to fly under and I have to report to him within a half-hour."

"'Tis a lot too many brass hats this man's army has around and I don't
like them, but I'll do this Wing Commander a favor, bein' as he seemed a
bit worked up over that new Jerry gun." O'Malley looked at the pie
counter but shook his head. Five pies in one afternoon might spoil his
dinner and he planned to enjoy a real feed.

Allison shoved off to report to the O.C. while Stan and O'Malley went
over to the phonograph and turned it on. O'Malley lay on a divan with
his feet well above his head. Stan sat back in a deep chair. Before
dozing off he wanted to ask the Irisher a question.

"Whatever made you pull that crack to the Wing Commander?"

"Sure, an' I was just offerin' to do me bit of winnin' the war,"
O'Malley said and closed his eyes.

Stan stared at him. It suddenly dawned upon him that O'Malley hadn't
been fooling, he meant to deliver a Messerschmitt One-Ten to Wing
Commander Farrell. He began to laugh. O'Malley opened his eyes and a
grieved expression came over his face.

"You laughin' at me?" he demanded and there was a dangerous glint in his
dark eyes.

"No," Stan said slowly. "I was thinking about how Wing Commander Farrell
will look when you plump that gun down on his desk."

O'Malley grinned and closed his eyes again. "I'll let you go along with
me," he said.

Stan studied the wild Irishman. He knew enough about O'Malley to expect
anything from him. There could be no doubt but that Red Flight was in
for some real circus stuff the next day. He hoped they contacted a
flight of Messerschmitt One-Tens over the channel. He had no relish for
the idea of trailing O'Malley into Germany and covering him while he
filched a gun from one of Hitler's arsenals, but he was anxious to find
out what scheme the Irisher had up his sleeve.

Allison came back and plumped into a chair. "I was lucky. The Wing
Commander never suspected that I was with this wild Irishman. He thinks
our hungry friend here is a ground man escaped from a nut-house."

O'Malley made no comeback. He was sound asleep, his Adam's apple riding
up and down gently, his lips moving as he snored deeply. Stan said in a
low voice:

"He meant it when he offered to get a gun for the O.C."

"Now, now, you Yanks are gullible, everyone knows that, old man, but you
shouldn't be taken in so easy."

"You wait and see," Stan said. "We'll have to stick with him no matter
what fool stunt he pulls."

"Sure, old chap," Allison agreed, but the sardonic twist of his mouth
showed he thought Stan as crazy as O'Malley. He got to his feet. "Don't
let him miss dinner or we'll have trouble. We aren't on the call list
until tomorrow morning. I have a bid to a bit of a dinner outside
tonight."

"Gal?" Stan asked.

"Gal," Allison agreed.

"I'll wake the Irisher up," Stan promised.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Allison came barging into the breakfast room glowering
savagely. He dropped into a chair across from Stan and O'Malley and
snapped his order at the corporal. O'Malley gave him a brief look, then
returned to his job of spreading jam on a huge stack of hot cakes which
were flanked by a double order of sausages. The lank Irisher was not in
a talkative mood. Stan grinned at Allison.

"What's eating on you? Did some civilian steal your gal?"

Allison glared at him. "We have friends over here at Croydon. The way
they run a war! You'd think somebody would wake up to a few things!"

"What sort of an assignment did we get?" Stan was sure Allison was riled
over the assignment they had been given.

"Nursing a flock of coal barges through the channel. Just big, lumbering
boats not worth as much as the coal inside them. The Jerries won't waste
a pound of T.N.T. on any of them. The only chance we'll have will be if
they try to dive bomb a destroyer tagging along." Allison jerked a plate
of bacon and eggs to him and shot a hard look at the corporal. "Black
coffee," he snapped.

"We rate better than that," Stan said.

"My dear fellow," Allison spoke with elaborate politeness. "We have a
friend over in the flight office. He got himself transferred yesterday
so as to be helpful to us."

"He couldn't be anyone I know," Stan said.

"But of course he is. He is a dear friend of yours. In fact you offered
to punch his nose for him once."

"Not Garret?" Stan stared at Allison.

"Lieutenant Arch Garret."

"How did he do it with a blackball against him?" Stan demanded.

"Pull, my dear fellow, as the Americans say. A drag somewhere. Now he's
sitting where he can retire Red Flight to a peaceful life, and if we do
bag a bandit, we'll have to have an affidavit from the King to get
credit for it."

"How about a transfer?"

"No go, he'd have a finger in that too. In fact, my dear fellow, I
applied for a transfer and got turned down, all before breakfast."

Stan looked across at O'Malley who was on his last hot cake. He was
beaming pleasantly, his eyes looking out across the room. He had paid no
attention at all to the bad news.

"You seem to like it, O'Malley," Allison growled.

"Huh?" the Irisher said with a start. Then he grinned. "'Tis a poor spot
in the channel that has no Messerschmitt One-Tens poking about in the
clouds."

"And we'll sit around warming a chair waiting for a chance at a single
or a double," Allison snapped.

"Sure, an' I can't be worried this mornin'," O'Malley said and got to
his feet.

"What's got into him?" Allison asked sourly.

"You wouldn't believe it if I told you," Stan said with a wide grin.

Allison glared at him, and muttered, "You two make me tired."



CHAPTER V

O'MALLEY BAGS A JERRY GUN


No call came for Red Flight until late afternoon. Other flights roared
away to strafe the French coast, or to meet incoming bomber formations,
or to do scout duty; but Allison and his crew just sat around and
groused. O'Malley's good humor finally broke down and he began prowling
around hurling choice Irish words at the mess crew.

When the call did come, he was out of the room like a wild bushman. By
the time Allison and Stan reached the cab rank, he was jerking his hatch
cover into place and feeling out his Merlin.

"You'd think the boy was off to raid Berlin," Allison said sourly. "All
we have is a call from a few barges of coal."

Red Flight roared out and up, heading toward the channel. Stan had
checked his instruments carefully. Everything seemed to be in working
order, though he could not be sure of his wing guns until he opened them
up.

"Keep in close," Allison's voice droned.

They were up now and heading for the channel where a few big clouds hung
over the sea. So far as Stan could see they were kings of the air and
there might have been no war on at all. Not a wing was in sight except
their own.

"Red Flight, level off."

They leveled off and headed for a big cloud. That seemed the most likely
hunting ground. The three Spitfires were not up high because the clouds
were hanging over the sea. Below, Stan saw the cause of their call.
Seven of the foulest old tubs he had ever laid an eye on were churning
and wallowing in the choppy sea. Their propellers thrashed the water
into tawny foam. Their plates were scarred and patched with daubs of
vermillion. Red, rusty streams of water trickled down their sides. Seven
piles of rust, grime and junk belching smoke like so many volcanoes.
Coasters and not one of them over twelve hundred tons.

The boats rode high and Stan decided they were making the run from
Portsmouth to London under ballast to pick up coal. Running what was
supposed to be a death channel the old tubs would slide under the big
coastal guns of the Germans. In a few days they would plough back loaded
with coal. Their audacity made Stan grin. The British were certainly a
stubborn race of people and when they had a sea course marked out they
stayed with it. A sleek gray destroyer nosed the string of ancient boats
along like a nervous hound herding a flock of fat pigs.

"Two bandits coming out of a cloud, quarter right," Allison's drawl
announced.

Stan spotted the two Heinkel bombers as soon as Allison spoke. They were
slim-bodied, snaky-looking killers with long wings and widespread tail
structures. Their pilots hadn't seen the three Spitfires as yet, being
busy spotting the sleek destroyer.

When they did see the danger they zoomed up and laid over, plunging back
into the cloud. Stan drove straight after them because he was in the
best position. O'Malley swept around one side of the cloud and Allison
went around the other.

Stan had a chance to test his guns as his upward zoom rode him up on a
ghostly form ahead in the mist. The eight Brownings drilled furiously,
in perfect timing. The Heinkel nosed down and vanished into the wall of
fog. Stan went down to see if he had done any damage.

Breaking into the clear he saw blossoms of white silk dotting the green
of the sea. The bombers were gone but Stan knew from the number of
chutes floating down to the water that both Heinkels had been bagged.

Below them two motor launches were slicing across the channel getting
set to pick up the Jerries and make them prisoners. Then he heard
O'Malley's voice.

"Sure, an' I'm thinkin' I see four Messers off the port wing."

"Coming up with you," Allison called back. "Take them, Irisher."

"Wilson coming up," Stan shouted into his flap mike.

He went up and over a cloud and down on the other side. He saw O'Malley
drilling away to the south like an irate bumblebee. Close behind him
streaked Allison. Stan headed after them. Then Allison's voice came in
very softly:

"I think you're seeing things, Irisher."

Stan grinned as he shoved the nose of the Spitfire down a little.
O'Malley was duck hunting. He didn't aim to go back without some more
action if he could help it.

"Red Flight, come in. Red Flight, come in," droned a voice from the
field.

"Red Flight in contact with bandits!" O'Malley roared back.

"Red Flight, come in. Red Flight, come in," headquarters insisted.

"Red Flight going into defense," Allison cut in.

Stan's grin widened. Allison was going to see that O'Malley got his duck
hunt. They roared on, swinging in a wide circle, beating upward again.
O'Malley would have his way now. Allison couldn't argue with
headquarters listening in.

Stan began to think they were stymied when all Hades broke loose from
above. Out of nowhere five Messerschmitts came roaring down on them,
three One-Nines and two One-Tens.

"Prepare for attack. Peel off and take some altitude," Allison drawled.

"Start peelin', darlin'," O'Malley shouted.

They zoomed upward, spreading to let the attack slide past. The enemy
scattered out and swooped to meet them. Stan saw O'Malley drive straight
over a One-Nine almost ramming the Jerry, and missing him clean with a
burst of fire. That was not like O'Malley.

The Jerry banked and flipped over, thinking only of getting away before
O'Malley cut back across him and sawed him in two parts; but O'Malley
kept straight on. Stan picked up the One-Nine, scissoring off a wing tip
and sending him wavering away toward the east.

Stan watched O'Malley as the wild Irishman zoomed up over a One-Ten. The
Messerschmitt banked and tried to escape, but O'Malley was on him in a
reckless roaring dive. Stan shot over the two and saw the Jerry spray
O'Malley's ship with lead. Pieces of his hatch cover showered away like
feathers from a potted duck. Again O'Malley missed a perfect burst and
came up under the Jerry. He returned the compliment paid him by slicing
the top off the Messerschmitt's hatch cover. Stan knew the miss had been
deliberate. O'Malley never let one get away when he had a spot shot like
that.

Then light dawned upon Stan. O'Malley was after the Jerry's gun. Allison
was very busy himself and doing such a savage job that he was about to
clear the air without Stan's help. Stan dived down to make the game one
against one for Allison. When he came up, O'Malley was on the tail of
the Messerschmitt and bawling at Allison:

"By the shades of St. Patrick, you keep out of this!"

The Jerry was hurt, but not badly, and O'Malley had him on the run. When
the Jerry dived O'Malley was on his tail. He didn't shoot him down. When
he dropped off on one wing, peeling away under full throttle, O'Malley
had him covered. Then Stan heard the Irisher yelling at the Jerry pilot.

"Leave that gun like she is, you spalpeen, or I'll send you to the
fishes!"

Apparently the Jerry did not understand what O'Malley said, possibly his
radio wasn't set to pick up the transmitter of the Spitfire, but he did
understand the short bursts of fire that clipped pieces out of various
parts of his ship. He headed the way the lank Irishman pointed and drove
ahead.

Allison and Stan dropped in behind, letting O'Malley have his prize.
Stan called to Allison:

"Somebody ought to tip off the Ack-Ack boys or O'Malley may get a warm
reception."

"Let him show his stuff," Allison drawled and Stan thought he heard the
Flight Lieutenant chuckle.

The Messerschmitt ducked over the coast and down with O'Malley steering
him expertly to the field. Bursts of gunfire began to blossom below and
puffs of white smoke broke around the Jerry and his pursuer.

"They think O'Malley's Spitfire is a captured plane with a Jerry in it,"
Stan muttered.

O'Malley sent his catch down through the shellfire, twisting and
turning. The Nazi pilot was an expert and wiggled through until they got
close in, then the fire got so hot he and O'Malley had to hit for the
ceiling. They circled and were high up when Stan and Allison slid down
the field.

Undaunted, O'Malley came in again and this time he sent his prize
through the rain of exploding shells. The Messerschmitt rolled to a stop
with O'Malley close behind him. In a moment the flustered Jerry was
climbing out of his shattered hatch with his hands elevated above his
head.

Ground men closed in around him, shouting and doing a war dance.
O'Malley climbed out after removing part of the hatch cover from around
his neck. He strode to the Messerschmitt and bellowed at the ground men.

"Git ye a hump on yerselves an' pull out that fore gun!"

Four mechanics raced away to get tools while O'Malley stood guard over
his prize. He refused to let anyone touch the ship. A senior ground
officer came hurrying up and O'Malley gave him a sloppy salute. The
officer snapped:

"I'll take charge here now."

"Ye'll do nothing of the sort," O'Malley shouted. "And as I live and
breathe them's Wing Commander Farrell's very orders!"

The officer looked at the wild-eyed O'Malley and decided it would be
best to wait for reinforcements, possibly a Group Captain or an Air
Commodore.

"It's my job, you know, old man," he said but his tone had changed.

"'Tis my job, me hearty," O'Malley assured him.

The mechanics arrived and in a few minutes the fore gun was on the
ground at O'Malley's feet. It was so heavy he could not handle it. He
turned to the grinning Stan who was standing beside Allison.

"Lend a hand so we can deliver this gadget before sundown."

Stan and Allison stepped forward.

"This is positively against regulations," the senior officer sputtered.

"An' who, may I ask, bagged this here gun?" O'Malley demanded. "I may be
bold, but I suggest ye give some attention to that Jerry waitin' over
there to be captured accordin' to regulations."

The Jerry was standing with his arms still elevated. He was alone and
unguarded.

"And be lettin' O'Malley of Red Flight be knowin' where you put the bye.
I aim to see that he has cigarettes and a few of the common comforts."
O'Malley grinned at the Jerry. The youngster grinned back at him and
saluted stiffly.

Dragging the gun between them, the three members of Red Flight stamped
across the field and barged past a startled sentry who was walking post
outside headquarters.

Wing Commander Farrell was just finishing a flight report. His gray eyes
were hard and his mouth was drawn into a tight line. Coral Raid had
dropped two bombers and three fighters. The credit side showed only one
fighter and a Junkers. Farrell looked up and his eyes rested upon a lank
and hungry-looking Irish youth. He stared at O'Malley for a long minute,
then remembered him and his pie.

"What do you want, Lieutenant?" he snapped. "I suppose you have that new
enemy gun in your pocket."

His sarcasm was lost upon O'Malley. He grinned wolfishly as he stepped
aside.

"Indaid, an' I hope it's the latest model. I put a very good Jerry
flier to a lot of trouble to be after fetchin' it to you."

The Wing Commander's eyes popped out as he stared at the machine Allison
and Stan had dropped upon the floor. Suddenly he leaped out of his chair
and charged around the desk. Getting down on his knees, he bent over the
gun and examined it. When he straightened he was smiling.

"So you are the wild Irishman we have been hearing about," he said. "It
would seem some rumors are correct in this war."

"An' now, sor, I'll be running along," O'Malley said. "I'm feelin' a bit
o' the pinch of hunger."

"Have two pies on my chit book," the Wing Commander said and smiled
broadly.

"Indaid, that I will," O'Malley answered gravely.

The three coal barge nurses returned to the briefing room and checked
their chutes which had been discarded on the field. They found
Lieutenant Garret waiting for them. He drew his mouth into a triumphant
frown. Beside his desk lay the three chutes, neatly piled there by the
field crew.

"See those chutes?" he snapped.

"Sure, an' one of them gadgets is a personal friend o' mine," O'Malley
said and grinned broadly.

"I'm putting it down against you. You discarded them on the field
without properly caring for them. That is a violation of general
orders." Garret scowled at the Irish flier.

O'Malley leaned his elbows on the desk and regarded the officer
thoughtfully.

"Very remarkable, indaid," he said softly.

"Red Flight reports two Dorniers and three Messerschmitts down and one
captured," Allison said and his eyes locked with those of the briefing
officer.

"Red Flight gets credit for two Dorniers. The Royal Navy reported them.
And one Messerschmitt brought in." Garret's eyes gleamed triumphantly.

"Sure, an' are ye certain ye can give us one Messer?" O'Malley asked.
"Perhaps the poor bye got himself lost an' mistook this berg for
Berlin."

"There is no independent check on the other fighters," Garret snapped.

Stan said nothing. He could not trust himself to speak. What he wanted
to do was to lay a right on Garret's jaw.

"You fellows better walk pretty straight from now on. And keep yourself
looking like officers," Garret barked.

Without bothering to fill in a report, O'Malley shoved off to the mess
room. Allison filled out his report and Stan made his out. They reported
the exact action and the results. They left Garret scowling at their
cards.

"Wilson!" Garret called sharply as Stan started to walk away at
Allison's side. "I want a word with you, alone."

Stan turned back and stood at the desk. His gaze locked with Garret's.

"Have you ever flown stunts or test jobs in the United States?" He
leaned forward and his small eyes searched Stan's face.

Stan returned his stare. "You have my card where you can dig it out.
Suppose you take a look at it?" Stan turned on his heel and walked away.

Garret let him go without asking any more questions, but he was shaking
his head and frowning as though trying to remember something or
somebody that had slipped his mind.

"He's about got my number," Stan muttered to himself as he went into the
mess.



CHAPTER VI

THE SEA DOGS GROWL


Stan stepped out of the barracks and stood for a moment watching the
scene on the field before the hangars. A row of Defiants had been rolled
out. Men worked around them or scurried to and from the hangars. There
was an uneasy feel about the scene. Stan scented action and a feeling of
irritation filled him. Red Flight was on barge patrol when it should
have been on combat. It was fools like Garret who messed up battle
plans.

He was about to turn toward the mess division and had turned into the
narrow alley leading to the building, when he halted and stepped back,
close to the wall. Garret was coming out of the doorway of the mess and
beside him walked a tall man. The man had a lean, weathered face with a
scar across the right cheek. He wore a checked suit and a pearl-gray
hat with a broad brim. The hat could have come from no place but the
western part of the United States.

Stan recognized him at once as Charles L. Milton. He didn't have to
guess twice why Garret had him in hand and why he had taken him to the
squadron mess. Garret wanted Milton to see Stan. Quickly moving around a
corner, Stan headed for a hangar. He was sure they had not seen him.

As he strode swiftly along, Stan faced the ghost of his past. Milton was
an American aircraft engineer. He had designed at least two of the
newest models and knew everyone in the industry over in the United
States. He knew Stan Wilson very well. As he entered the hangar Stan
reflected bitterly that he should have known the British Isles would be
swarming with American experts and engineers, now that a great effort
was being made to help the besieged English nation. He had about as much
chance of hiding in a Royal Air Force squadron as Joe Louis would have
in not being recognized at Madison Square Garden.

He might be able to dodge Milton for a while. If he could only shake
Garret he might do it for quite a while. Not that his conscience wasn't
clear. He had been framed. Framed by Nazi saboteurs, Fifth Column
operators. That was the reason he was so eager to get in every lick he
could against the monster Hitler had built to swallow the world.

He stood inside the shaded doorway to the hangar and watched Milton step
into a car. When the car had rolled away he turned back toward
headquarters. Within an hour he had to be back where he could hear the
blare of the intersquadron speaker, to be on call for duty. He was
moving along, scowling at the busy scene upon the field. As he passed
the door of the O.C.'s office it opened and Wing Commander Farrell
stepped out. Stan saluted and the commander returned the salute. He
halted abruptly.

"Well, well," he said. "Just the man I'm looking for. Come in,
Lieutenant."

Stan's heart dropped with a thud. This likely meant a lot of questions
to be answered, questions put into the O.C.'s head by Garret.

"Yes, sir," he answered and followed the Commander inside.

Farrell seated himself behind his desk. He motioned toward a chair. "Sit
down, Wilson."

Stan sat down and waited. The Commander fished into his desk and took
out a cigar. He clipped the end off with a silver knife, then lighted
the weed and looked at Stan.

"Allison tells me you have had a lot of experience with various types of
fast planes. Testing over in Canada. Most of the American ships have
been going through trials up there. Did you have a chance at any of
them?"

Stan breathed more freely. "Yes, sir," he said.

"We have a new type American plane here." The Commander fished through
some papers, found a blue sheet and studied it for a minute. "They call
this one the Hendee Hawk. We have tested it and found it to be rather
fast but very tricky." The Commander frowned at the report, then looked
up at Stan.

Stan could hardly hold back a grin and a whoop. Did he know the Hendee
Hawk? He knew the Hawk from her prop to her tail assembly. The Wing
Commander was being very conservative when he said the Hawk was rather
fast. Stan had squinted at her air-speed indicator when it was jiggling
crazily at 600 miles per hour. He waited for the Wing Commander to go
on.

"Ordinarily we would train enough special men to handle these ships, but
we are pressed for fighting ships at the moment."

Stan's face did not reveal anything of what he was thinking. The
Britisher was talking calmly and appeared not to be worried. Stan knew
the need for Hendee Hawks was desperate, and he knew the ships would
deliver.

"Have you many of them, sir?" he asked.

"No. This ship is a test job." The Wing Commander dropped the blue
sheet. "Have you ever flown a Hendee Hawk?"

"Yes, sir."

The question Stan expected to follow did not come. Wing Commander
Farrell said nothing for more than a minute.

"Would you like to take this one? Into action?"

Stan restrained a smothering eagerness. He wanted to jump up and down
and shout, to slap the Commander on the back. A lot of experts had
turned thumbs down on the Hawk. But the saboteur boys had known she was
the super-plane and had done everything they could to get her junked,
including a nice frame-up on himself. He knew they had just about
succeeded if there was only one ship here in Britain.

"I'll fly her, sir," he said and added eagerly, "she is the greatest
combination of fighter and strafing plane ever built. She packs enough
bombs to do real damage, as well."

The Wing Commander smiled. "We shall see," he said.

The way he said it convinced Stan it was up to him to show both the
British and the Jerries just what the Hendee Hawk could do. If this ship
failed, there would be no more of the machines he had worked so hard to
help perfect.

"She carries two men," Stan said.

"I have been considering that." Suddenly the Wing Commander laughed
outright. "Do you suppose your friend, the pie-eating Irishman, would
care to work with you? I should like to have Allison become familiar
with the ship, too. In that way we would have three men able to
instruct others if we order more of these fighters."

"I don't know," Stan said honestly.

"I could assign them to you, but I prefer to let you ask them," Farrell
said. Then he got to his feet. "You will report to 7-B at once."

Stan grinned broadly. It would take him away from Garret, at least until
the snooping Lieutenant was able to locate him again. He saluted and
hurried out of the office.

Stan actually sneaked into the mess. He couldn't afford to have this
chance smashed by a cluck like Garret. The coast was clear. Only a few
fliers were lounging about, with Allison and O'Malley among them. Stan
crossed the room and sat down between his pals. He did not notice, in
his excitement, that they seemed to be expecting him. The clock over the
counter showed that in one minute Allison and O'Malley would go on duty.
He wondered who would fill in for him in Red Flight.

"Sure, an' you've been shunnin' us," O'Malley greeted him.

Stan came to the point at once. "How would you like to copilot a real
ship, an American ship?" he asked, looking from one to the other.

"I'd prefer a glider," Allison said with a wicked leer.

"How about you, Irisher?"

"I wouldn't mind if me pal didn't hog the controls all the blessed
time." O'Malley grinned.

"She's a stinger. You'll see something you never thought was in the bag.
She's tricky as a Navaho Indian."

"Is that a Canadian tribe of wild men?" Allison drawled.

"Sure," Stan came back. "Hudson's Bay."

Allison snorted.

"I'm with you," O'Malley cut in. "Anything to get off this deadhead beat
the muckle heads have us on. Mrs. O'Malley's boy came down to London to
see some action."

"Good. I'll get in touch with the O.C. at once." Stan got to his feet.

"Really, old chap, you're not going to rush off without my final answer.
I'm in on this if I have to fly a kite," Allison said with a wide
smile.

Stan put on a cold expression. Allison hadn't fooled him. He had known
the lank Britisher would come in. Allison had that look in his eye he
always got when something was up.

"Thanks, Allison."

"You should thank me. I'm giving up a flight lieutenant's job."

"You'll still be leader and we'll demand the Red Flight label. We'll
have three of the meanest brutes that ever rolled out on a line to make
the other boys jealous." Stan slapped Allison on the back. "Let's go."

They reported to the Wing Commander, then shifted their things to B-7.
Later they went over to the hangar to have a look at the Hawk. Allison
said very little, but O'Malley was as tickled as a kid with a new top.
He went over everything and the only thing he crabbed about was the
cramped quarters furnished for the copilot, who handled the bomb release
and the extra guns.

They checked in at their new mess and Stan felt better. He looked in at
the briefing room and found it presided over by a fat young man with a
broad smile. In the mess he met no one he knew. Everything looked fine
and he settled down to watch O'Malley devour a pie.

O'Malley finished his pie and looked hungerly across the room at the
counter in the corner. He shook his head sadly.

"If I eat one more me lunch will be spoilt sure."

Stan grinned as he glanced at his wrist watch. It lacked a half-hour
until official eating time.

After lunch they made further arrangements for their new job. Allison
was to fly with them in a Spitfire. O'Malley went along with Stan as a
gunner and student, with care of the bomb racks in his hands. With
everything set and ready to go, the revised and rehashed Red Flight
prepared to take a little outing. Being on test work gave them plenty of
freedom to choose their own jobs.

They slipped away without much notice being taken of the new ship.
Everyone was busy with his own job and paid no attention to the big
fighter sliding out on its tricycle landing gear with a Spitfire nosing
right after it.

Stan settled back to have some fun with Allison. Out of the corner of
his eyes he watched the vertical speed indicator and a wide grin spread
over his face. The Hendee Hawk was going up at a terrific pace. Already
the Spitfire was far behind. Stan knew Allison would fly the wings off
the Spitfire to keep him from getting away. He laughed softly.

He kicked her over and into a tight bank and she zoomed around, boring
away. He kicked her back and looped in a dizzy blur of speed. Allison
shot in below him and Stan came around to knife past his pal. He glanced
back and there was a happy, vacant grin on O'Malley's homely face, as he
absorbed the drone of the 2,000-horsepower, two-row, radial motor.

Allison dipped his wings as Stan went boring past him. It was really a
salute and it meant a lot, coming from Allison with his dislike of
radial motors.

They roared out over the channel at 15,000 feet. As the French coast
line began to show through a thin mist, Stan laid over and started to
climb again. Very soon they were nipping at their oxygen, flying at
26,000 feet. They saw no planes at all and the excursion seemed doomed
to be no more than a spring frolic.

O'Malley growled into his intercommunication phone. "The Jerries must o'
heard we were comin' out for a spin."

"There's a cloud or two down and to the east," Stan answered. "We'll
drop down and pick up Allison, then go have a look."

"That's where the bushwhackin' spalpeens will be lurking," O'Malley
agreed.

They knifed over on one wing, peeled off, and roared down. The
gyro-horizon did a lot of strange maneuvers and the altimeter was
unrolling like ticker tape off a Wall Street machine. They picked up
Allison and Stan decided to give the Irishman a lesson. He set the air
flaps, and before the startled O'Malley could save himself, he had lost
a couple of inches of skin off both shins. The Hendee Hawk seemed to
have decided to stop in mid-air. She was pointing her nose straight at
the ground, but she had slowed to a steady 350 miles per hour.

"Mother o' pearl!" O'Malley shouted. "What a nice day for dive bombing.
Show me how you do it."

"Just watch." Stan pulled the Hawk out of her dive and then sent her in
again with O'Malley watching him closely.

Then Allison's voice cut in. "You fellows better cut out the
grandstanding and have a look west."

Stan looked and saw that Allison was streaking away toward a formation
of nine Junkers Ju 87's. The Stukas were bent upon business and were
moving toward the English coast, undoubtedly bent upon intercepting a
ship they had received a spotter's report upon.

"Me bye, you may now show Mrs. O'Malley's son a few things," O'Malley
bellowed. Stan sent the Hawk sizzling away after the Stukas. The Jerries
had now sighted the two fighters, but they were keeping on their course,
which meant that up in the big clouds above lurked a fighter patrol of
Messerschmitts. The Junkers were slow and low-powered, not being able to
exceed 170 miles per hour. Stan zoomed up and passed Allison who was
also going up with the cloud ambush in mind.

Suddenly the Stukas broke formation and scattered, each diving for cover
and cutting loose their sticks of bombs. Stan banked and selected a
bomber as his victim. Through his windscreen he caught a glimpse of
Allison and his hand stiffened on the control. A cloud of Jerry fighters
had dropped out of the blue upon the Spitfire. Allison had gone wild as
he always did. His Spitfire was a whirling, twisting demon, its eight
wing guns flaming. But Allison hadn't a chance against that swarm of
Jerries.

Stan shot upward to get into the play. He cut loose the bombs from his
racks and gave the Hawk all she had. He had a wide space of blue to cut
through and as he bored in he saw Allison's ship lay over in a wabbly,
sickening lurch and then nose down.

"Guns out, motor stuttering. Have to go in," Allison's drawl came over
the radio.

The Hendee Hawk roared into the whirling mass of Jerry fighters and its
banks of guns roared. The Jerries slid away after they had tasted the
terrible gun power of this new ship.

Stan nosed down and plummeted after Allison who had two Messerschmitts
on his tail, but when the Hawk overtook them in one terrific spurt they
swerved aside, each sending a final spray of lead over Allison's ship.
Stan picked the one on the right and laid over to cut across the Messer
with all his Brownings drilling. A wing sheared away from the Messer and
shot up and out of sight. The Messerschmitt went rolling down.

Stan dived after Allison. He didn't like the way the Spitfire was
wobbling and turning. He had once seen a ship come in that way and when
the boys got to it the pilot was dead. All he could do was trail Allison
who failed to answer his frantic calls.

The Spitfire kept going until she was almost to the field. As she slid
out over the turf she wavered and her nose went down. She dived a few
hundred feet, straightened, then slid off on one wing. Again she
straightened and leveled out, close to the ground now. Suddenly she put
her nose down and plunged to earth, landing with a smash that made her
ground loop and pile up close to a hangar door.

Stan set the Hawk down and slid over to the wrecked Spitfire. He and
O'Malley leaped out and ran to the ship. The ground men had dragged
Allison out. He was slumped between two of them, his face bloodless,
his lips tight with pain. The old, mocking flicker was in his eyes as he
shoved aside the arms of the men and smiled at Stan.

"I take back everything I've said about Yank planes," he said, then he
slid gently into Stan's arms, a limp rag of a man.

Stan gathered him up and carried him toward a field ambulance which was
roaring toward them with its siren screaming, while O'Malley trudged
along behind muttering savagely to himself.

A white-coated ambulance surgeon leaped out to meet them as the
ambulance slithered to a stop. Stan laid his burden down gently and
stepped back out of the way, dragging O'Malley with him. The surgeon
knelt beside the unconscious man and made a swift examination, then
turned and snapped to a couple of internes hovering behind him:

"Get a stretcher down here. This man is badly wounded."

Stan surged forward and clutched his arm. "How badly?" he queried
through bloodless lips. "Not...?"

The surgeon smiled and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "No,"
he replied simply. "I promise you he won't die. England needs all her
fliers, and we'll pull him through to go into the air again. I can't
tell how soon," he ended briskly. "Not until I get him to the hospital
and make a complete examination." He turned away and leaped into the
ambulance behind the stretcher, and it sped away with its unconscious
burden.

"Glory be to God," breathed O'Malley fervently. "Come along with you
now, we'd best make our reports."

In the briefing room the flight officer met them with more eagerness
than was usual with such an official. Nodding toward the chutes, neatly
piled on the floor, he said:

"You usually take care of those things, don't you know."

Stan nodded grimly. He was thinking about Allison. O'Malley just grunted
and planked his bony elbows on the high desk. Thrusting his chin out, he
remarked:

"What you limeys need is more fire wagons like I just slid meself out
of. I want one for my own use."

"I heard the new ship was a bit of all right," the flight officer said.
"I'll take your report. The Wing Commander wants it rushed right over."

"We'll be after blushin' to give you the actual facts of what happened,"
O'Malley said slowly.

"One Messerschmitt to us and three to Allison," Stan answered.

The officer nodded and began scribbling. "Fill out one for me right
away." He shoved a blank across the desk.

"How about the varmint I dissected with me guns?" O'Malley asked.

"Did you hit one of those Stukas?" Stan asked.

"Sure, an' I did that," O'Malley said.

"One Stuka badly damaged," Stan added.

They went into the mess and for once O'Malley did not order a pie. He
sat down and stared at the ceiling, his big mouth clamped shut, his
Adam's apple sliding up and down. Finally he said:

"Next time I get to take her, I can fly her like she was me own wings."

"You might as well. This job is half yours," Stan said. "Until we find
out about Allison this flight will have only two men and one ship."

"Allison's going to be right back with us. The bye wouldn't kick off
until he had had a chance to wind up this new colleen we got." O'Malley
said it grimly, as though trying to make himself believe.

"Here comes Wing Commander Farrell and I think he's looking for us,"
Stan said.

"Sure, an' 'tis the big man himself and no other. An' comin' to see us
instead of us tramping over there. Me bye, the first thing we know, the
King will be dropping in to have a spot of tea with us two intrepid
fliers." O'Malley's big mouth was spread in a wide grin.

"Don't get up, men," the Wing Commander said as he came up. He seated
himself and started in briskly. "I hear the Hawk is better than anyone
thought."

"Not better than I thought," Stan said.

"Well, better than the inspectors and test men thought. They said she
wasn't reliable."

"She is sensitive and temperamental," Stan agreed.

"She chops up a Messerschmitt and spits out the pieces like me auld
granddaddy used to whack up a box for kindlin'," O'Malley broke in.

"Fine." The Wing Commander smiled broadly. "I just dropped by to ask
you boys to stay very close to quarters. We have reports of activity at
sea and there may be quite a bit of action. I'd like to find out if this
ship is really a dive bomber."

O'Malley grinned happily and saluted the Wing Commander. He had not
taken the trouble to get to his feet. Farrell returned the salute
without so much as the twitch of a facial muscle.

"We'll be ready, sir." Stan stood at attention.

The Wing Commander walked away and Stan scowled down at his pal. "A fine
officer you are."

"Naval action, and my turn comin' up," O'Malley gloated.

An orderly called Stan to the telephone. When he returned he was
smiling.

"Allison will make it. He won't be laid up very long."

"Hooray!" O'Malley shouted and leaped into the air. He headed straight
across the room toward the counter. The corporal saw him coming and slid
an apple pie off the shelf.



CHAPTER VII

SALT WATER SPRAY


The Wing Commander seemed bent upon saving the Hendee Hawk for some
special show. For two days no call came for Stan and O'Malley. They
lounged about, with O'Malley getting as restless as a panther and twice
as grouchy. They went over to see Allison and found him sitting up. He
would be out in a very short time.

Stan took the opportunity to give O'Malley a course of lessons dealing
with the fine points of the Hawk.

"She carries two sticks of bombs when she's out hunting. That's
something new. They put those sticks on just to pep you up. The other
day, when we were zipping through Messerschmitt bullets, I gave them a
thought or two. If a cannon ball or a bullet lands just right, off goes
the stick of bombs and out you go." Stan grinned at O'Malley as he
spoke.

"Sure, an' O'Malley will fix that," the Irishman said. "We pick a nice
spot and drop them firecrackers."

"I'm glad you suggested it. It would have been against regulations for
me to say anything about it."

"Sure, we might find a Jerry to pop them down on, but no matter, they
are no fit things to be kapin' tucked under your wings whilst you're sky
scrappin'." O'Malley shook his head.

"We'll try them out. This is the best dive bomber that was ever built.
You nose her straight down and pull the flaps. She settles herself to a
350 mile per hour pace and when you get your sights set you cut loose.
It's a dead cinch to pot a target that way."

"Sure," O'Malley agreed. "Only we aren't bomber boys."

They left O'Malley's room and went to the mess. Stan read the pictorial
while O'Malley took a nap. The blaring of the intersquadron speaker
roused them. The Irishman's feet hit the floor and he was awake at once.

"That's us," he mumbled.

"It's everybody else, but it's not us," Stan growled.

It seemed the Group Captain and his men gathered around the map in
headquarters had forgotten all about the Hendee Hawk.

"That's the trouble in being a one-ship flight," O'Malley muttered. "If
we had three Spitfires we'd be up there now."

An orderly entered and ran across to Stan. "Wing Commander Farrell's
instructions for Lieutenant Wilson," he said as he handed Stan the
paper.

Stan unfolded the paper and, with O'Malley reading the order out loud
over his shoulder, he scanned the paper. They were to join a flight of
Hurricanes and Spitfires setting out to contact enemy planes over the
channel. Orders would be broadcast later, but the action was in
connection with a naval attack. Their radio call would be Red Flight.

"Sure, an' we're still Red Flight," O'Malley said as he whirled and made
off.

They walked back to O'Malley's room. Over a battered desk hung a piece
of the tail of a Dornier showing a swastika and on the desk lay a heavy
German pistol, a grim memento of some duel with death he had won.

Surveying these enemy souvenirs, Stan grinned broadly and remarked, "If
this war keeps up you'll be able to furnish a museum."

O'Malley shook his head disconsolately. "'Tis little enough," he
complained. "This air fighting is bad for picking up such things. Every
time I down a plane it's me bad luck that it smashes to bits and leaves
nothing behind for me to remember it by."

"The ones that smash up feel worse about it than you do," Stan reminded
him.

The Irishman turned serious for one of the few times since Stan had
known him. "Faith, an' I think of them poor devils sometimes," he
muttered. "'Tis hard for them with nothing to believe in. Fighting
because they're told to fight. Crashing to flaming death because one man
orders them to. 'Tis a bad state of affairs this world is in, so help
me."

Stan nodded soberly. "The best we can do is to finish the whole show up
as fast as we can. And we'd better be getting back to the mess to be
ready for a call."

O'Malley yawned and nodded agreement. "Though it's not likely they'll be
sending us up again soon," he muttered pessimistically. "Always coddlin'
us, that's what they do."

A few minutes later they were waddling out on the field. The blast of
steel propellers sawed through the air as a Spitfire flight warmed up on
the cab rank. Cantilever wings vibrated and hummed and figures in
coveralls swarmed over and around the planes. Flight sergeants tested
throttle knobs and officers dashed about.

"Looks like an extra big show," Stan said as they moved toward the newly
daubed hawk. She looked freakish in her many-colored coat of sky paint.
Her motor was idling smoothly.

"Sure, an' she's a dainty colleen," O'Malley purred as he waited for the
sergeant to swing down.

"Remember this ship has to come back, so don't go wild," Stan warned.
"And let me have her when we get ready to unload those sticks of T.N.T.
If we crack her up and no record comes in, we won't get any more Hawks.
The brass hats over here aren't sold on her yet."

O'Malley was dreamily grinning at the big fighter and didn't seem to
hear him.

The Sergeant swung down and flipped a salute. "That motor is a bit of
all right, sir," he said.

"She is that," Stan agreed.

They climbed in and got set in their cramped quarters. Seated very close
together, with Stan a bit lower than O'Malley, who was at the controls,
they pulled up their belts. O'Malley jerked his hatch cover shut and
Stan closed his. The Irishman revved up, pinched one brake and gave the
throttle a kick. The Hawk spun around with a roar. Stan noted the look
of surprise on the Irishman's face. He hoped O'Malley didn't ground loop
her before they got off.

O'Malley didn't. He was a born flier and a lover of engines. Before they
got the starter's signal, he had the feel of the big Double-Wasp motor.
He took her off with a rush and a zoom, falling easily into place
between a flight of Spitfires and Hurricanes. Later a spread of Defiants
joined them and still later they overtook a squadron of Hampdens moving
steadily out toward the channel. The bombers were loaded heavily and
making no attempt to climb up.

"Don't ye forget we're pickin' a target and unloading the bombs."
O'Malley was speaking through the "intercom" telephone.

"Wait until we spot a good target. I want to see what we can do with our
sticks of bombs," Stan answered.

O'Malley began to hum a snatch of an Irish melody. He wasn't in the
least disturbed. For that matter the whole flight was slipping along as
smoothly as though on parade.

Then everything changed in a flash. "Naval battle! Naval battle!"
O'Malley was bellowing into his mike.

The Hampdens were moving into formation for action against something
below and the fighters were peeling off and going down to see them
through. Up ahead shells were bursting in the sky and the thunder of big
guns rolled up to them.

"Boom! Boom! Boom!"

The big fellows weren't tossing their shells aloft. They were lobbing
them at targets below. Stan shouted to O'Malley:

"Follow the Hampdens down so we can unload!"

"Sure, an' the quicker the better," O'Malley bellowed back. He depressed
the nose of the Hawk and they went screaming down the chute. In a moment
they had a good look at the sea below.

Four cruisers and a string of light destroyers were fighting a running
battle with several pocket battleships and a fleet of coastal torpedo
boats. An aircraft carrier wallowed alongside the formation of cruisers.

The scene below was a wild mixture of foaming water, smoke and flame
from belching guns, and the roll of thunder as the turret batteries
fired. The British Navy dogs were trying to get at the pocket
battleships. The carrier held her course well west of the line of
destroyers. The cruisers were pouring broadsides across the lashed
water, and the destroyers, like bull pups, were pounding away, holding
station splendidly, trying to reach the enemy. One got a hit squarely on
its foredeck and rolled half around, wallowing in the trough. A sheet
of flame spurted from a gun turret and rolled over the deck. For a
moment the little ship staggered on, then exploded.

"The poor fellers," grated O'Malley.

Stan said nothing but he felt cold all over. He looked down at the
carrier and saw torpedo bombers sliding off her deck like little
swallows. O'Malley's voice chopped off his thoughts.

"'Tis a pocket battle wagon we get, no less," he almost crooned.

"Thick weather down there," Stan warned.

The muck of anti-aircraft fire made the stratum above the sea look as
though it was on fire. The smoke was stabbed by blossoming shells
hurling ragged pieces of iron in every direction. There was a swarm of
Messerschmitts and Stukas and Heinkels all messed up with a crisscross
of darting, thrusting Hurricanes, Spitfires and Defiants. The Hampdens
were not having any better luck in getting through to their objectives
than were the Stukas.

"We better set the firecrackers off or we'll miss one foin scrap,"
O'Malley called.

He nosed the Hawk down and sent her into a screaming dive. The little
boats that Stan knew were pocket battleships began to grow in size, and
the muck swarmed up closer to them with Hades breaking loose around
their ears. None of the Messerschmitts tried to stop them. The Jerries
thought the odd plane was just another crazy fighter who didn't know
where he was going. The cockpit shuddered and the instruments on the
board seemed to dance.

"Set your wing flaps!" Stan screamed. "Set your flaps!"

The Hawk began to steady as O'Malley remembered the flaps and applied
them. Holding a plumb line at 350 miles per hour, she dropped upon the
battle wagon below. Stan could see the deck of the ship coming up toward
them as though a mighty hand were lifting it.

The wind screamed above the din of exploding shells. The gunners on
board the battleship were taking notice and frantically trying to swing
guns to bear upon the plummeting Hawk. Stan caught his breath and held
it. This was exhilarating, almost glorious. He didn't think about the
danger of meeting a bursting shell, all he thought about was the drop
and the mighty surge of power. The plane swayed and shuddered as big
shells burst close to her.

Then the field of blossoming shells was above them and the deck below
was big. They could see men scrambling about, their faces white blobs as
they looked upward.

"Left a point," Stan shouted as he set the bomb sight. "Now right a bit
... left more."

"Ready!" O'Malley bellowed.

"Ready! Hold her steady!"

O'Malley released the bomb selection levers, both of them.

All Stan had to do was to press the button and the sticks of bombs were
off. He pressed it hard and almost instantly the ship zoomed upward as
though tossed into the sky by a mortar. As they wound upward with the
Wasp engine roaring Stan looked back.

Where the deck of the battleship had been there was now a great burst of
smoke and flame.

"That card will make 'em watch their course, me bye!" O'Malley crowed.

Stan could not tell whether they had put the pocket battleship out or
not. She shifted her course and moved more slowly, but she kept going.
Now the Messerschmitts decided the crazy ship was a bomber and not a
fighter. They swarmed upon her, which was exactly what the wild Irishman
wanted.

Stan went to work with his guns, but he kept track of the doings of his
crazy pilot. O'Malley seemed to have gone stark mad. He plunged up into
the path of the oncoming fighters and his banks of Brownings opened up.
Lead spattered all over the Hawk and a lot of it came through. But two
Messerschmitt One-Tens went down before the flock discovered that this
new ship had more wicked fire power than a Spitfire. They zoomed and
dived and circled like angry hornets.

"They need a bit of educatin'," O'Malley shouted. "An if they'll be
swarmin' around I'll give it to them."

Stan didn't answer because at that moment his hatch cover splintered
into a million tiny cracks and a maze of ragged holes, the line of
bullets moving across not six inches above his head.

O'Malley decided the only thing was to select a Messerschmitt and run
him down. He picked one and roared after it. The ME, confident that he
had superior speed, darted away. But he soon discovered this strange
ship had plenty more engine than his One-Ten. He banked and shot down.
O'Malley dived and was on his tail, slicing away great chunks of the
Jerry's ship.

When they came up they were well inside the enemy lines and no Royal Air
Force ships were in sight, though the air was full of assorted Jerries.

"Get back on our side of the fence!" Stan shouted.

"Sure, an' it's nicer over here," O'Malley called back.

But a minute later he took Stan's advice. A Messerschmitt came up from
below and a Heinkel dived from above with another ME closing in from the
rear. The three fighters raked the Hawk as they closed upon her. Her
Double-Wasp coughed and sputtered. She kept on running but her zip was
gone and oil and air came sucking back inside her. Stan knew it was the
sea for him again.

"Mind getting wet?" O'Malley called back cheerfully as he sent the Hawk
down and away from the enemy.

"No, you wild man, but I do mind losing this ship," Stan shouted back.

"She isn't lost," O'Malley called back.

They were sliding down and away from the big fight. Even with a crippled
motor the Hawk could show her tail to a Messerschmitt. They saw the
Spitfires and the Hurricanes now, battling the Jerries up above, keeping
them from opening a path for the Stukas. The cruisers and the destroyers
were throwing shells into the sky recklessly and at the same time
pounding to pieces two floundering Nazi battleships.

"Sure, an' it's a fine show," O'Malley crowed.

He had hardly finished speaking, when the Wasp backfired savagely, shook
herself, then died completely.

"Now, you wild Irishman, slide her home if you can," Stan rasped.

"An' what do ye suppose they have carriers for?" O'Malley called back.

"This bus won't set down on a carrier!" Stan snapped.

He looked down and saw the carrier, her deck looking about the size of a
banana peeling. Stan figured the chances of landing on the carrier were
about one thousand to one, but he realized that would seem like
attractive odds to O'Malley.

The Irishman was circling down upon the carrier in a very businesslike
manner. So much so that the crew was running about like wild men. The
superstructure panel flashed signals neither Stan nor O'Malley could
understand. The little men on the deck fired warning rockets and a
couple of flares, and then potted at the Hawk with a pom-pom which
splattered the side of the ship.

"A nice welcome to be givin' the King's two best recruits," O'Malley
growled.

As Stan looked down, the things that could happen to them ticked through
his mind. They could run over the side and be chewed up by the screws,
coming up in the wake of the carrier as foam and grease spots. They
could top the bow and be smashed under by the monster plowing ahead at
thirty knots. They could slap up against the superstructure island and
burn there like a huge flare. Stan upped the chances. They were one in
a million, not one in a thousand.

He didn't kick or order O'Malley to bail out, which was the sane thing
to do. He didn't even think about his own chute.

The sailors were signaling again and there didn't seem to be any welcome
letters in the signals. But the deck was clear as O'Malley swung the
Hawk into line and set her for the crazy attempt. The panel flipped
black and white warnings frantically as they zipped in.

"The wing flaps!" Stan shouted as the idea struck him.

"Sure, an' I'm dumb," O'Malley came back.

He set the flaps and they nosed over dangerously, but they slowed a lot.
The carrier was rolling about, trying to take her proper position, which
she had deserted when she started fooling with this strange Royal Air
Force plane. She was now paying no attention to the Hawk at all.

Shells from the pocket battleship sent up huge columns of water
alongside. Stan squinted through a bullet hole in his hatch cover. The
forward plane lift was down, leaving a neat but restricted patch of
deck.

Four long, pen-shaped bombs whistled down from the sky. The sea
swallowed them and a second later belched an eruption of water.

The Hawk was settling fast now and it seemed the carrier would get away
from her. O'Malley cut the incidence. The Hawk lifted a bit, lunged
forward and slid over the edge. Then it squashed down, hit and plunged.
Stan could see the flying bridge and many staring, white faces.

O'Malley was showing a rare amount of knowledge of carrier landings. He
stalled the Hawk as the deck opened under her, then clamped her down
furiously. There was a thud, dull but solid. The Hawk wrenched around,
screamed complainingly, then set herself at landing position.

Stan tossed his arm over his face and set himself for the crash that
would tear him apart. The blow did not come. He slid his arm down, and
all around the ship a ring of red-faced sailors peered at him, some of
them grinning broadly. Then a cheer broke out.

O'Malley was first out of the ship. He plumped down on the deck and
faced an officer who came charging from somewhere. He saluted solemnly.
Standing there, with his flying suit hanging on his bony frame, his hawk
face peering at the officer, he looked more like a scarecrow than one of
His Majesty's crack pilots.

"Where did this come from and what is it?" the officer demanded.

"'Tis a dive bomber, the very colleen that smacked that pocket
battleship not so far back. An' 'tis a valuable specimen as must be
delivered to His Majesty's air forces," O'Malley said gravely.

"Go up on the bridge and report at once," the officer said and his voice
was not so harsh. He had seen the Hawk make a direct hit on the deck of
the Nazi battleship.

They clumped up to the bridge, Stan edging in ahead of O'Malley. There
ought to be a bit of diplomacy used and he was afraid O'Malley might not
use the proper approach to the skipper. The flag officer, who had
piloted them to the bridge, saluted smartly and retired. Stan faced a
grizzled man of about sixty. Steel-blue eyes regarded him frostily. Then
the commander smiled.

"My compliments, gentlemen," he said. "A mighty fine effort though a
bit risky."

"Thank you, sir," Stan answered. "This plane is a test job and we felt
she was so valuable she ought to be salvaged."

"I see, so you set that superdemon down on my deck." He gave Stan a
searching look. "Your navy training is good. How does it come that you
are not with the sea forces?"

"My friend, Lieutenant O'Malley, made the landing, sir," Stan said.

O'Malley grinned broadly at the commander. "Sure, an' it was pure luck,
the luck o' the Irish," he said.

"You will be cared for and your specimen plane will be landed," the
commander promised. "In fact, I watched you dive bomb that battleship
and I believe the navy could use some of this type of ship. I will make
a memorandum to that effect."

As they walked down from the bridge, Stan looked at O'Malley. "I never
asked you where you learned to fly," he said. "Could it have been the
Royal Navy?"

"It could have been," O'Malley answered and closed his big mouth tight.

Stan didn't ask any more questions. They went below and had a good
meal. Later they received word from the commander that the carrier was
headed across to the Norwegian coast, but they would be sent home by
motor launch. The Hendee Hawk would have to wait until the naval patrol
swung around their course and slipped into Portsmouth, or some other
port.

"How long will the swing take?" Stan asked.

The young officer who had delivered the message shook his head. "One
never knows."

They had to be satisfied with that. No one could tell what the squadron
would run into, or when their course would be changed. Nor, of course,
whether the carrier would ever see port again. In the meantime all they
could do was trust to luck that the Hawk would be delivered ashore
somehow. They were fortunate that they were being sent back by a motor
launch and wouldn't have to accompany the squadron across to the
Norwegian coast.



CHAPTER VIII

STAN'S PAST RISES


O'Malley and Stan climbed out of a Bentley roadster and hurried across
the street to the squadron gateway. The sentry let them pass after one
look at their soiled uniforms and a brief word.

"We'll be collectin' a bushel of medals in about a minute," O'Malley
said.

"We'll probably lose a strip of hide for not bringing the Hawk home,"
Stan replied grimly.

They entered the mess and found a large number of men about. The rousing
welcome O'Malley had forecast was lacking. A number of the boys looked
at them, then turned away. There was something in the air, a definite
tightness caused by their entering that Stan didn't like at all. The
Irishman barged cheerfully across the room and ordered a pie.

Stan sank into a chair. Without appearing to be interested, except in
the paper he had picked up, he watched the men in the room. They were
looking at him and there was hostility in the glances they shot his way.

Tossing aside the paper, he got to his feet. There was one quick way to
find out. He'd collar one of the boys and put it up to him, demanding a
straight answer. He was moving across the room, when an orderly spoke to
him. Stan swung around. The orderly was nervous and kept his eyes roving
everywhere but upon the Flight Lieutenant.

"Wing Commander Farrell wishes to speak to you, sir," he reported.

"Thanks, I'll be right over," Stan answered.

Stan guessed what had happened. Garret had tracked him down. Possibly
had seen him. Stan stepped over to O'Malley. The Irishman, his mouth
full of pie, turned around. He glanced at Stan, then shoved aside the
remainder of his pie.

"Sure, an' you been seein' a ghost." Then his big mouth clamped shut
tight. After a moment's thought, he added, "If they try givin' you a
ride for the job I did, I'm in on it."

"No, O'Malley." Stan shoved out his hand. "But if I don't see you again,
here's luck."

O'Malley looked at the hand, shook his red thatch and glared at Stan.
"By the bomb rack of a Stuka," he snarled, "I'm standing by. Let's go
get the spalpeen that's makin' the stink!"

Stan grinned in spite of himself. At that moment O'Malley would have
laid a bony fist on the jaw of an Air Marshal. He had never seen the
Irishman so wrought-up; he was twice as mad as he ever got when he went
into action.

"This is something only Stan Wilson can handle." Then he added more
softly, "It hasn't anything to do with the little show we put on. And
you can't help me. Thanks, just the same."

O'Malley stood glaring after him as he went out, then he faced the man
in the mess and his eyes were snapping dangerously.

Stan went straight to headquarters and an orderly let him into the Wing
Commander's office without delay. The instant he stepped into the room
Stan knew his whole world had blown up under him. Beside the O.C.'s
desk sat Charles L. Milton and across from him was Garret, smiling
triumphantly and smugly. He leaned forward as Stan hesitated at the
door.

"Come in, Wilson," Farrell said curtly.

"How are you, Stan?" Milton said. He was clearly upset over what he had
been listening to before Stan arrived.

"I am fine, thanks."

Garret said nothing. He just leaned back with a sneer on his lips.

"You wished to speak to me, sir?"

"Sit down, Wilson." Farrell straightened some papers on his desk,
cleared his throat, then looked at the young flier. "Lieutenant Garret
has laid your former record before me and Mr. Milton has confirmed it."
The Wing Commander paused and his eyes followed the lines of the report.
He looked up and his eyes bored into Stan. "You were charged with
selling plans of the Hendee Hawk to Nazi agents." Stan knew he was
supposed to answer.

"I was tried and acquitted."

"That is true, but no American firm would hire you and the Army refused
to allow you to enlist. Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir."

The Wing Commander cleared his throat. "Have you anything to say for
yourself that would clear up this angle?"

"I was the victim of Nazi agents who stole the plans. That was proved at
the trial. Later, they cleverly planted rumors and suspicions about me
so that no one wanted to have anything to do with me. In plain American,
I was framed." Stan spoke slowly, putting all the conviction he could
into his words. He didn't expect the O.C. to believe him any more than
the American firms or the army officers to whom he had applied for entry
into the service.

"You have done a splendid job here, for which the British people and His
Majesty's Government thank you; but, in these times of great danger, we
cannot take chances with anyone whose past record is in doubt. I am
sorry, Wilson, but I have orders to release you and send you back to the
United States."

Stan sat looking at the Wing Commander. Suddenly anger boiled up inside
him, a savage, cold anger.

"If you can show no more appreciation than this, I do not care to stay.
My record with the Royal Air Force should be proof that the charges
against me were phony."

The O.C. reddened. He looked at Garret. Scowling blackly, he said, "I
took that attitude, personally, but my superior officers have ordered
your release."

"Before you release him I suggest that you consider another angle,"
Garret said. "I have just learned that, though he and an Irish recruit
returned safely, the new plane did not return. The fighters of all
groups have been questioned and they did not see the Hawk in action
against the enemy at all. I think the plane was delivered to Nazi agents
on the coast." Garret's voice was little better than a snarl when he
finished.

Stan's gaze locked with that of the lieutenant. "The Hendee Hawk will be
delivered here at the field in a few days. Lieutenant O'Malley set her
down on a carrier in the channel after she was put out of action."

Garret laughed harshly. "That is a fine story, Wilson, but one that only
a fool would believe."

"It is an impossible story," the O.C. agreed.

"He should be locked up," Garret insisted.

"I hardly think that will be necessary," a voice from the doorway said.
The men turned and saw Allison standing just inside the room, supported
by the strong arm of O'Malley.

"Sure, an' did I hear someone say I didn't set that Hawk down on a
carrier?" O'Malley growled. His glare traveled from Farrell to Garrett
and fastened there. Garret shrank back in his chair.

The pair moved into the room. Allison's face was white and thin but his
eyes were snapping. The Wing Commander frowned.

"This is an intrusion. Remember, gentlemen, you are junior officers."
Farrell fixed O'Malley with a cold glare as the Irishman pulled forward
a chair for Allison.

"We felt it of great importance, sir," Allison said as he sank into the
chair. "I am sure you will agree when I explain." He took a thick
envelope from his pocket and laid it on the desk before the O.C. "These
papers will be of interest to you, sir, I am sure."

The Wing Commander opened the envelope and spread a sheaf of papers on
his desk. He bent over them, reading deliberately.

After laying aside the last report he looked up. His eyes were on
Garret.

"It seems, Lieutenant, that you have made a jackass out of yourself and
out of me. These reports are from the American Federal Bureau of
Investigation, and from the British Intelligence. Both departments give
Lieutenant Wilson a clean slate. Both report he was, as he says,
'framed.'" He turned to Stan.

"With these reports you could join the United States Army Air Corps any
time you wished. After the treatment you have received here I feel it my
duty to offer you a release so that you may do so."

The sudden turn of affairs had Stan groggy; however, the realization
that he was at last freed of the smear that had blackened his name
started a surge of warmth and elation through him. He turned to Allison.

"You knew it all the time," he accused.

Allison grinned. "Yes, that report came in with your credentials. I took
it out of the file to have a bit of sport with you. It was dumb of me to
forget to replace it. But you were so stubborn over the whole matter I
didn't feel you needed to know."

Garret got to his feet. His face was white and his voice was not very
steady. "I merely did my duty as I saw it, sir. I had no way of knowing
what was in the report Allison has laid before you. I ask leave to
retire."

"Stay where you are. I want to talk to you," the O.C. snapped.

Stan got to his feet. Milton was thumping him on the back and O'Malley
was grinning like a wolf. Milton rumbled in his deep voice:

"I said it all smelled fishy to me." He turned to the O.C. "Wilson is
the best test pilot that ever stepped into a plane."

"Allison's comin' back in a couple days an' Red Flight goes out in
Spitfires," O'Malley broke in eagerly. "Sure, an' there's no war on over
in America. 'Tis right here you'll be staying or I'll give you a fine
dusting when we get outside."

"I'm staying until the war is over. In a way I figure it's our fight,
too, sir. If you don't mind, I'll stay in Red Flight."

"Mind! I'll recommend you for top honors." The O.C. was beaming.

An orderly stepped into the room and laid a report on Farrell's desk. He
glanced at it, then picked it up. A minute later he pounded the desk
with his fist and began to laugh.

"This report says His Majesty's carrier, _Staunch_, has on board a new
type of dive bomber which put a pocket battleship out of action and
later landed upon the deck of the carrier. The commander considers the
plane so valuable he is putting in to deliver it."

"Until we can get three of those Hawks for you boys, you will fly
Spitfires as Red Flight," the O.C. said. "After that you will likely win
the war without any help."

"Sure, an' we'll do just that, sor, as a special favor to you," O'Malley
answered.

The O.C. looked at him and frowned. He wasn't sure whether O'Malley was
spoofing or meant it. Allison and Stan were sure O'Malley was in dead
earnest.

"Thank you, sir," Stan said. "We'll run along now."

When they were outside the office, Allison said in his slow drawl:

"That ought to be the last of Garret."

"Sure, an' he'll be brewin' trouble if he stays around, you can bank on
that," O'Malley said.

Stan had the same feeling. There was something about Garret he could not
understand. He had a feeling there was more than just a grudge against
him in Garret's acts. The lieutenant had certain connections that seemed
to reach very high up into official circles. Stan planned to do some
quiet checking, now that he didn't have to be so careful.

During the next three days Stan poked about asking a lot of questions.
He was very careful not to arouse suspicion. He learned very little.
Garret came in as a ferry pilot and later was given a chance in the air.
He was a Canadian who had lived most of his life in the United States.
Why he was not released from the Air Arm after Allison reported his
action in deserting Red Flight was not clear. And no one seemed to know
how he had managed to get himself placed in a responsible position close
to the O.C.

One thing looked good to Stan. Garret had left the squadron and no one
knew where he had been sent. He was out of the way, yet Stan had a
feeling he had not seen the last of him.

The day Allison returned to duty an order was posted creating a night
defense group of fighters. It consisted of twelve Spitfires and Red
Flight was included. O'Malley was so excited over the order that he
walked away from a half pie, forgetting it entirely.

"Sure, an' this is me dish," he crowed.

"Swatting Stukas in the dark?" Allison asked grimly. "Dodging balloon
cables and ducking through Ack-Ack muck?"

"This Moon Flight is the toughest job in the service," Stan admitted.
"But we should be swelled up. Look at the list of boys posted."

"Oh, yes," Allison admitted. "All aces." He laughed shortly.

"You've recovered all right," Stan said with a grin.

There was reason enough for setting aside twelve of the toughest, most
reckless, Spitfire pilots for night service. London had been smashed and
battered and set on fire night after night. The ground guns and the
balloons got a few of the bandits, but too many slipped through and sent
their cargoes of death down upon the city. It was up to the boys with
the eight-gun death in their wind edges to stop the invaders.

The first action came at eleven o'clock that evening. The call for the
new formation blasted into the mess while the men were gathered around
speculating on who would draw the job of being Squadron Leader. They
rushed out into the night after hurrying into their togs. On the cab
rank an even dozen Spitfires breathed flame from idling motors,
trembling like things alive, straining to be up and into the blackness
after the skulking killers.

Allison stumbled out after O'Malley, and Stan came behind the Britisher.
They got their flight orders, tested their throttles, then pinched wheel
brakes and slipped around and down upon the line. They would go up in
threes. Red Flight was third out and O'Malley fumed into his flap mike
over the delay.

The Recording Officer, looking massive in his greatcoat, backed away. A
mobile floodlight slid over the field and took position, its long, wide
beam slapping down the runway.

"Steady, Moon Flight, check your temperatures," ordered the Squadron
Leader.

Stan stiffened as the voice came in over his headset. He knew that
voice. It was the voice of Arch Garret!

Affirmative replies clicked in. Stan managed to answer, but his mind was
in a hard knot. This was all cockeyed. Garret leading a flight that
called for the toughest of flying. Stan groaned. This would be a lucky
night for the Jerries, and a tough break for the folks crouching in the
darkened streets. He heard the banshee wail of the alarm sirens as he
slid his hatch cover into place.

"East. Contact bandits at 8,000 feet. Moon Flight east," Garret's voice
gritted into Stan's ears.

The Spitfires roared up and away to the east. Every pilot was straining
to catch a glimpse of the incoming raiders. They spread out and bored
into the darkness, swooping and diving, but they made no contacts.
Behind them the searchlights stabbed and crisscrossed and wavered. Then
the ground guns began to blast, and tracer bullets arched upward like
rockets in a celebration. The muck over lower London was thick and the
searchlights began to pick out black shapes. Then came the bombs. They
smashed into roofs and went splintering on to blow houses to bits. They
rent and ripped mortar and stone and brick. People were buried under the
debris.

Stan banked steeply and shouted into his flap mike. "They've slipped in
behind us. Come on, Red Flight!"

"Sure, an' I'm way ahead of ye," came the voice of O'Malley.

Moon Flight wheeled and went thundering back. They could not stop the
raging fires below or do anything about the shattered buildings, but
they could make sure that few of the raiders ever made a return trip.

In the dull glow from the fires below Stan saw O'Malley's ship dive
down, like a streak of dark shadow, straight upon a Junkers that was
flying along in a manner that suggested it thought it was over
unprotected territory. O'Malley's guns drilled fire and the Junkers'
right wing flipped upward and faded into the night. Then the killer
nosed over and went down like a flaming torch.

Stan was into the battle before the wrecked Junkers had dropped 500
feet. He laid over and raked a big death ship with his Brownings. It
folded and slid off, spewing its crew into the night.

Having made contact Moon Flight really went to work. Their first savage
attack had broken up the spear-shaped Stuka formation. Now they gave
their attention to individual combat. There was no need for commands
from anyone. They swung about on invisible hairpins and screamed after
the big fellows.

It didn't take so very long. Stuka after Stuka went down. From the black
pit above the Jerry fighters were diving down to see what had happened
to their charges. The Messerschmitts twisted and ducked and dived,
clearing their guns for action.

Down at the 4,000-foot level the Spitfires were knocking down the last
of the raiders. This done, they nosed upward to meet the Messerschmitts
as eagerly as they had attacked the killers. They were overeager to
contact the fighters and one of them caught a crossfire as he roared in.
His ship went slithering off to the west, spinning madly. The Spits
darted through the flame filled sky. They flipped over and spun and
dived, always seeking targets to make their guns flame.

Stan sent his Spitfire into a screaming reversement, tipped out of it
with his guns hammering as he laid his sights on a leering swastika. It
was over quickly. The Messerschmitts had no stomach for such a deadly
game. After a gesture at rescuing their bombers, they fled into the
night.

"Moon Flight, come in. Moon Flight, come in."

Then O'Malley's brogue burred. "Begorra, 'tis a very fine avening."

Stan grinned. He was glad to hear the voice of the wild Irishman. After
a battle in the sky the voice of a pal always sounds good. He bent
forward.

"The same to you, Irisher."

"And to you, Yank," came Allison's voice.

They slid in like mottled ghosts and Stan counted them. Nine Spitfires.
There would be three new faces in Moon Flight tomorrow. Three new men
for the raider shift. He toyed with the idea of slipping by and checking
Garret's guns, but gave it up. Garret would be wise enough to fire a
burst or two. And, of course, he might have misjudged the lieutenant.

In the briefing room there was little talk. The boys were grim and sour.
London had been bombed. They got little comfort out of the impressive
score they had chalked up--ten Stukas and six Messerschmitts. They knew
that if they had headed west they would have stopped the raid.

No one challenged Garret when he claimed one Stuka and a Messerschmitt.
Nobody spoke to him. They went on into the mess and flopped down to wait
for the metallic voice of the intersquadron speaker.

O'Malley lay on a bench with his feet up against the wall. Allison lay
back, his eyes closed, his thin face colorless. Stan sat staring at the
floor. He was trying to get a lot of things straight in his mind. He
couldn't honestly say Garret had led them east purposely. The main
control room must have sent them in the wrong direction, but it all
bothered him, anyway. And he knew the other boys had the same feeling.



CHAPTER IX

SPECIAL MISSION


Stan was further mystified the next day when Garret came to him in the
mess. He was smiling and very friendly.

"I have been a rotter, Wilson," he said and held out his hand. "After
all, this is pretty serious business and there isn't much place for
personal grudges and gripes."

Stan hid his surprise. He could find no words to answer Garret. He shook
hands with the Squadron Leader. Garret slapped him on the back.

"I have the toughest gang of sky-busters in the whole Royal Air Force,"
Garret said. "We'll see that no more bombs land on London."

As he walked away Stan looked after him. Now that Garret had left him he
could think of several things he might have said. Allison came up and
there was a mocking leer on his face.

"So you are teacher's pet from now on?"

"Search me, but I still don't think he likes me," Stan said.

"He's about to collar O'Malley." Allison chuckled. "I'd give a new
shilling to hear what that Irishman tells him."

It happened they were near enough, because O'Malley bawled out what he
had to say so loudly it could have been heard out on the field. Garret
had halted and was smilingly giving O'Malley the glad hand. He stepped
back a pace and his face flushed as the Irisher cut loose.

"Sure, an' ye can save yer blarney!" O'Malley roared. "I'd as soon hang
one on that hooked beak of yours as to be after lookin' at ye!"

Garret backed up a step and lifted one hand. Stan and Allison could not
hear what he said, but the officers near the pair were openly grinning.
O'Malley loosed one more blast and his words brought chill, brittle
silence to the room.

"I'm a thinkin' you'd best head the Moon Flight in the right direction
when the spalpeens come over again."

The clicking of Garret's heels was the only sound in the room. He
marched out without a word. Everyone looked about uneasily. Such talk to
a Squadron Leader was unheard of. Any other commander would have had
O'Malley's hide off in a minute and draped all over the place. The very
fact that the Irishman had gotten away with it had a depressing effect
upon the fliers. Allison broke the spell. He barged over to O'Malley and
shoved out his hand.

"Shake, Irisher," he said.

Judd, McCumber, and Kelley, all men who had belonged to the first spread
Stan had been with, strolled over and a little group formed around
O'Malley. Judd squinted up at the lank Irishman. He was a short,
chubby-faced youngster of nineteen. His face was beaming happily.

"I'd never had the courage to talk like that to a Squadron Leader. I
just went into a funk when he soaped me."

O'Malley squinted down at Judd. "'Tis with me own eyes I saw you cut the
fire of three Messers, me bye. Don't you be blatherin' me about
courage."

Judd flushed. He was all right when he was up there by himself, but he
was bashful in a crowd. McCumber looked across at Allison.

"Red Flight should get a break after this," he said meaningly.

Allison grinned wolfishly. "Really, now, Mac, Garret knows every boy in
Moon Flight loves him."

Kelley had not spoken nor had he laughed with the others. "He'd better
stay out of my circle. I have folks living out beyond Kensington
Gardens."

No one said anything more about the raids. They all knew Kelley's home
had been smashed that night and that his father had been injured.
Allison changed the subject.

"We certainly should get rid of Garret for the good of the service. He's
no fit leader and the squadron will go into a funk under him."

"How will we do it?" Mac asked.

"I don't know, but it has to be done. A decent leader would have wiped
the floor with O'Malley and then grounded him for the rest of the war.
A yellow streak has no place in this outfit."

The men nodded their heads. What they could not understand was how
Garret had gotten the job. They felt helpless because they had always
depended upon the men at headquarters. Finally the group broke up
without anyone offering a workable plan.

Just after noon the next day the O.C. sent for Stan. He was alone in his
office and in very good spirits. Stan sat down beside his desk and
waited.

"We have a few Hendee Hawks coming in," Farrell beamed happily. "You are
the man to handle them and to show the boys their fine points. In fact,
you're the only man we have who can do it quickly. We need those
superfighters badly. Headquarters would like to do a little daylight
bombing. Do you think a flight of Hawks could take a squadron of
Liberators through?"

"They could," Stan assured him. "Give me nine Hawks and my pick of
pilots and well ride right in over Berlin."

"You won't get nine for a while, but we have three coming in." The Wing
Commander seemed interested in what Stan thought of that.

"Three will take a small flight through," Stan said.

"I have to depend on you, Wilson. Without you, it will take several
weeks to get them lined out and set for action."

"We need train only one man. Allison can learn quickly." Stan smiled
broadly. "O'Malley learned in a couple of flights."

The O.C. smiled, too. "Yes, your pie-eating friend will handle one, if
we can drill some sense into his head."

"O'Malley's crazy but it's the sort of lunacy we need," Stan answered
dryly.

Farrell nodded. He was already thinking about other things. "The Royal
Air Force considered this shipment so important they routed the
freighter north to avoid submarines and Stukas. It seems Nazi agents
found out when she left. She had quite a trip and was chased far north,
damaged by a sub and finally landed at our naval base in the Shetlands."

"We pick them up up there?"

"I'm sending you up there to service them and get them ready. When you
have them set up and ready to fly, I'll send Allison and O'Malley up
there to help you bring them back."

Stan waited but the O.C. had nothing more to say, so he got to his feet.

"When do I leave?"

"As soon as you can get away."

"Do I fly a Spitfire?"

The O.C. considered this for a long minute. At last he nodded. "You're
too valuable a man to be shot down by stray raiders."

"I'll be on my way in an hour," Stan said as he snapped a salute.

As Stan swung out of the office he almost collided with Garret.

"Whoa there, you're in a big rush, aren't you?" Garret asked with a
grin.

"Sorry," Stan grunted and was off.

As he strode across the field he got to wondering if Garret had been
listening at the door. It didn't seem possible. Eavesdropping in an
officer of Garret's standing would have laughed him out of the service
if he had been caught. He dismissed it from his mind.

He told Allison and O'Malley about his plans and warned them not to
mention his trip to anyone. Allison grinned lazily. O'Malley was
excited.

"Sure, an' the war's about over," he boasted. "With me coaxing one of
them sweet colleens through the skies there won't be a Jerry left in a
week."

"You lugs come a-rattling when I send in the call," Stan said as he
strode toward his quarters.

A half-hour later he was kicking his Spitfire into line. He was into the
air swiftly and laid his course across the serene green countryside to
pick up the shore of the North Sea at the nearest point.

At that height it was difficult to realize he was in the sky above a
war-torn nation. There were no evidences of destruction below, and the
blue sky was clear of enemy planes. The steady throbbing roar of the
Spitfire's motor was a pleasantly lulling sound, and he settled back
comfortably with his mind at ease, checking over the structural details
of the Hendee Hawks in his mind for use in putting the dismantled ships
together as fast as possible when he landed at the naval base where they
awaited him.

It was pleasant to be out of danger for this brief period. It gave him a
chance to examine his thoughts, do a little readjusting of his personal
concepts to the grim realities of war. He found he had been under such
terrific tension every instant since reporting to the Red Flight that
this was the first chance he had found to look back over what had
happened and realize how supremely lucky he had been thus far to escape
death.

Flying at 4,000 feet, he appeared to be merely creeping across the green
blanket of England beneath him. Ahead, he could faintly see a silver
line of mist marking the shore of the sea. Though the Spitfire was
tunneling through the blue at 350 miles an hour, he suddenly found he
was impatient for even more speed. Behind him men were even now fighting
and dying. He wanted to get back into it, start doing his part again.

An alien sound obtruded suddenly into the throbbing of his Spitfire. He
heard it almost without consciousness of what it portended, then was
abruptly aware that a stream of bullets was ripping through his
fuselage.

A Heinkel had slid up behind him from nowhere and its smoking guns were
streaming hot, leaden death at him. For a moment he was too amazed to
properly meet this unexpected danger. He had a curious feeling that it
was after _him_. That it wasn't merely a stray enemy plane making chance
contact. It was an absurd thought, but it gripped him strongly and he
couldn't shake it off.

Another burst of lead hosed from the Heinkel. Stan rolled the Spitfire
to the left, then pulled it up tight and hard. The Heinkel shot under
him, went into a loop, then faked a turnover. Stan smiled grimly.

"That won't fool me, son," he muttered. He leveled off fast and eased
over into a three hundred yard safety zone. Setting the Spit on her ear,
he faced the Heinkel, testing his Brownings as he slid into place.

The Jerry was a crack flier. The Heinkel came in with a roaring thrust,
her Madsen slugs drilling away at the Spitfire. Stan heard the stingers
zipping through his fuselage. A blue flame began playing up and down
over a hole in his fuel tank.

"Well," Stan muttered sourly. "I'll have to put a stop to this, or
else----"

He sent the Spitfire off to the right like a streak. The Heinkel zoomed
past, building altitude for a death thrust. Stan cracked the throttle
wide open and kicked in the emergency booster. The Merlin answered
splendidly.

Glancing into his mirror he took in the setup, then faked a steep climb.
Up he went, 500 feet, then sent the Spitfire into a screaming back-over
roll, holding his ship upside down until he was behind the Heinkel and
above it. Then he dropped the Spitfire as though she were crippled. This
placed him under the Heinkel and he went up. The Jerry was now trying to
make a run for it. Stan saw a spread of fuselage and a wing through his
windscreen and he pressed the gun button. The Brownings spat fire and
lead. The Jerry was trapped and knew it. He swayed and rocked and
twisted in an attempt to get away. The bullets drilled out again, a
four-second burst.

Fire and smoke rolled out of the port motor. The flames licked in around
the stricken ship. A rancid whiff came to Stan and reminded him that
his own fuel tank was on fire. It would be only a matter of seconds
until he would be in a flaming coffin himself.

The Merlin was still hitting beautifully. Stan squirmed about and jerked
loose a fire extinguisher. He turned the handle and pumped frantically.
The liquid spray feathered out and blanketed the fire. Stan sucked in a
deep breath and looked down at the plummeting Heinkel. The Jerry was
trying to bail out, but he wasn't making much headway. Stan nosed down
and watched the struggle.

He was sorry for the pilot but it was not pity that made him circle
lower and check the field toward which the Heinkel was spinning. Stan
wanted to ask that Jerry a few questions, and the Jerry had to be
rescued from his firetrap or he couldn't do it.

The Heinkel turned over, flattened and eased up, then plunged into a
tangle of bushes beside a road. Stan gauged the rolling field which
spread beside the road. He could have set a Hurricane down on that field
easily, but a Spitfire was different. Her landing gear was high and
narrow. He side-slipped and leveled off, then skimmed over the grass
and bumped down, jerking and swaying. The Spitfire rolled up to within a
safe distance from the burning plane and Stan leaped out.

The Jerry had almost made it out of the plane. He was draped over the
side with his parachute harness caught in the smashed hatch cover.
Risking an explosion which would have finished them both, Stan jerked
the pilot loose and dragged him a safe distance from his ship. They were
less than fifty feet from the Heinkel, when her tank cut loose and
billows of smoke and flame rolled up, licking at the grass and brush.

The Heinkel's pilot sat on the grass. He watched his ship vanish and his
face worked. If it had not been for the Royal Air Force pilot bending
over him, he would at that moment be frying to a crisp. He shuddered and
licked his lips.

Stan gave his attention to the fellow's wounds. He was badly hit in the
shoulder and bleeding freely. His face was white.

"Who tipped you off that I'd be flying solo along this route?" Stan
demanded.

The Nazi lifted blue eyes to Stan and shook his head grimly.

"Better talk, son, you are bleeding plenty."

"That would be revealing a military secret," the Nazi said in clipped
English.

"I suppose you think I followed regulations and war rules in ducking
down into this pile of rocks to drag you out of your crate?" Stan's eyes
were cold and hard.

The Jerry coughed and smiled weakly. "I am indebted to you," he said
slowly.

"If I don't get you to a doctor, you'll be as bad off as if you were
still in that bonfire," Stan snapped. "Talk and I'll see what I can do.
And hand me that Luger." He reached down and jerked the officer's gun
from him. The Nazi had been too weak to make fast use of it.

"I suppose you are right." The officer coughed again and his hand
slipped to his breast where his tunic was fast becoming soaked with
blood.

"I might as well talk." Fear was showing in his eyes.

"Good. Who tipped you off?"

"A man who has quite an inside position with you. His name is--" The
Jerry paused and coughed.

"Yes?" Stan bent and steadied him. He was afraid the Nazi would pass out
before he spoke again.

"Arch Garret," the Nazi said, then went limp in Stan's arms.

Stan stared down in the gray face for a moment. His lips were drawn into
a tight line and his eyes were blazing. Then he remembered his promise
to the unconscious Nazi. Picking the man up he carried him to the stone
fence which separated the field from the road.

An old car had halted and a man and a woman sat staring at the smoking
Nazi plane and the trim Spitfire. When Stan appeared they started to get
the old car into action.

"Wait!" Stan shouted.

The man recognized Stan's uniform and a broad smile came to his lips. He
halted the car and waited while Stan carried the wounded man to the
roadside.

"Can you get him to a doctor at once?" he asked.

"Verra easy," the man said.

"Take him to a doctor, then notify your authorities that you have a
Nazi prisoner. You should get a handsome reward for such a prize. He is
a pilot and pilots are valuable."

The man and the woman began to talk at the same time. Stan loaded the
wounded officer into the back seat and waved to the pair. Turning, he
headed for his Spitfire.

Stan plugged the hole in his gas tank and warmed the Spitfire a bit,
then rolled her to the far end of the field. There was some question as
to whether he could make off the rough field, but he was in a terrible
hurry and did not care to wait for help.

With a last careful survey of the grass runway he was off. The Spitfire
rocked and dipped her wings and swayed drunkenly, but she lifted and
cleared the stone fence. Now that he was in the air Stan had to decide
what he should do about Arch Garret. As he circled for altitude, he
tried to figure it out.

He had a hunch Garret was just a cog in a bad machine. He was the
logical man to shove into the middle of things and the British were
eagerly picking up overseas pilots. The Royal Air Force was well filled
with Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and others from the empire
at large. Garret was a Canadian citizen, even though he had spent his
last few years in the United States. Now it was very clear why Moon
Flight had missed the bombers until they had done their work of
destruction.

The question was whether he should fly back and report--or whether he
should call Wing Commander Farrell and have secret agents put on
Garret's trail. Garret would undoubtedly have an airtight alibi. And he
certainly had backing that went high up. Stan might just make a fool out
of himself. After all, the whole thing sounded like a tall story.

He finally decided to go on to the navy base and then send for Allison
and O'Malley at once. They would believe him and help him. He would have
a good crew of mechanics at the field to slap the Hawks together quickly
and might be able to get them off in one day. Then there was one other
thing that tipped the balance in favor of going on. This was pretty much
a personal matter between himself and Arch Garret. This was the second
time Garret had tried to wipe him out.

Heading north he drove along and did not see any more Heinkels. He was
hailed by a scouting squadron from the fleet arm.

"Where to, Spitfire?" called a very English voice over the radio.

"Navy base. Shetlands," Stan called back.

"Good luck and cheerio, Yank," came back the English voice.

Stan grinned broadly. His western accent sure marked him well. He bored
ahead, his eyes seeing far into the distance, his mind working upon the
crooked plotting of Arch Garret.

He spotted the naval base and circled around to give the boys at the
batteries a chance to see who he was, then set down and turned the
Spitfire over to a ground crew. Taking his file of papers he headed for
the commander's quarters.

The commander was an affable man, ruddy-faced and square-jawed. He had
heard about Stan and O'Malley's attack upon the pocket battleship.

"I was so inquisitive about those ships I had them unloaded and
uncovered. They are beauties, sir. But I can't see what you'll want
with so much motor."

"I'll show you," Stan promised. "Now I want to make a call back to
London and then I want a squad of your best mechanics. I have to get
these Hawks into action at once."

"You will get all the help you can use," the commander promised.

Stan got Wing Commander Farrell on the wire and talked to him. He did
not report the brush with the Heinkel, though he would have to mention
it in his written report. And he did not mention Arch Garret. When he
asked that Allison and O'Malley be sent up at once, the O.C. hesitated.

"We have been having poor luck keeping the bombers out," he said. "I'll
have to replace you three and add six more Spitfires, if I can get
them."

"I need them at once. The sooner you get them up here, the sooner we'll
be back to help you."

"I have an old Defiant they can both pile into," the O.C. finally said.
"I'll get them off tomorrow before daylight."

Stan waited a few minutes, then put in a call for Allison. Presently
the Britisher's drawl came in over the wire clearly:

"What's the matter, Yank, grounded in some cow pasture?"

"I landed in one but didn't like it," Stan said with a laugh. "I'm
calling from the navy base."

"What's up?"

"Just this. I'm sending for you fellows and you will get orders to leave
just before daylight. Look out for clouds. Fly that old Defiant low and
watch for Heinkels. And tonight, if there's a raid, just you duck in the
opposite direction from the way the Squadron Leader orders. I'll spin
you a yarn when you get up here. Keep mum but pass the word to the boys
to follow you if there's a raid."

"Well, really, old man, you know O'Malley and I can keep still and we
can get orders mixed up badly."

"See you tomorrow." Stan hung up.

That night Stan slept soundly. He was still snoring away when the bugler
outside his window blew first call. The moment his eyes opened he tossed
aside the blankets and jumped out of bed. He wolfed his breakfast and
was out on the field and headed for the hangar where the three Hawks
were taking flying shape.

Allison and O'Malley came in before nine o'clock. Allison was flying the
ship. He smiled thinly at Stan as he climbed out.

"I brought her up here. When you mentioned Heinkels, O'Malley was for
hunting in the clouds a bit."

"I hated to waste a good trip," O'Malley complained.

"The boys at the factory sent the Hawks out almost ready to fly. We'll
be in London tonight," Stan said.

O'Malley's eyes were on the three Hawks which had been rolled out into
the sunshine in front of the hangar.

"'Twill be swell flyin' a ship that hasn't been all daubed up and
smeared with messy paint," he said.

"We'll fly them in without camouflage," Stan agreed.

Five minutes later O'Malley and Allison were helping with the Hawks.
O'Malley was burning up to be off, but the fighters had to be carefully
checked. As they worked Allison told Stan how they had been chased by
three Messerschmitts.

"If you hadn't warned us, and if we hadn't decided to change our time of
departure, we might have had plenty of trouble," Allison said.

Stan came around from behind one of the Hawks. "I might as well tell you
the whole yarn while the boys are tuning up the motors," he said.

They sat on a bench in the sun while Stan told what had happened to him
on his trip over. When he came to the part about making the Jerry talk,
and name Garret, O'Malley leaped to his feet.

"Splinter me rudder!" he shouted. "I'm fer kitin' back this minnit. Wait
till I get me hands on that spalpeen!"

"No use to go off half-cocked," Stan warned. "We need to catch Garret
red-handed. I figure we'll get a few real spies along with him. But we
won't be on schedule. Garret has a way of finding out what's going on in
the O.C.'s office. He will tip off the Nazis and they'll be waiting to
gang up on us."

"Sure, an' that's just what we want," O'Malley broke in. "They gang up
an' we spatter the smithereens out of them."

Stan shook his head, but he had to laugh, O'Malley looked so wild.
"We'll be doing much better service trapping Garret and his rats."

"Stan is right, old fellow," Allison said grimly.

"I want to know what you fellows think of our handling this just among
ourselves? We can keep Garret from sidetracking Moon Flight when a raid
comes over. And we can round up the snakes he's working with at the same
time."

"How about tonight? Suppose the Jerries hit tonight?" Allison asked.

"We'll get off early and be there for any raid. I'll ask the naval
commander not to report us out until midnight. That will throw Garret
off," Stan said.

"How soon can we hit the trail?" O'Malley asked.

"Two or three hours will have them in shape. You come with me and I'll
show you all you need to know about a Hawk to make her do things," he
said to Allison.

Stan and Allison headed toward the nearest ship. O'Malley stretched
himself out in the sun and closed his eyes. He figured he already knew
more about a Hawk than the Hendee aeronautical officials.



CHAPTER X

GROUND SLEUTHING


Three Hendee Hawks nosed out across the navy field and roared south.
Stan's ship formed the spearhead of a sharp V. O'Malley refused to keep
still. He sang and talked about everything he could think of, which was
a wide range of subjects. Allison held the right hand slot and said
nothing. Stan held the big motor up ahead of him at a pace that would
have ripped the pistons out of any other ship. He felt at home with the
engine up in front of him instead of at his back.

The take-off had been later than he had planned, but with the terrific
cruising speed the Hawks could maintain, they would reach London early.
Dusk filled the earth below and the stars came out. Stan couldn't shake
off the feeling that there was need for speed. He could not drive that
uneasiness out of his mind or bury it under other thoughts. He was sure
Allison was as worried as he. O'Malley didn't appear to have a worry at
all.

Hours later they sighted London. They sighted it because of the thick
muck of flaming shells and the searchlights knifing back and forth
through the mass of bursting steel. The Jerries were at it again and
seemed to have slipped inside the balloons and the ring of Ack-Ack guns.

"Looks like more of Garret's dirty work," Allison snarled.

"That sneakin' spalpeen! Just let me cross his trail this night. He'll
find out what sixteen Brownings can do," O'Malley rumbled.

"Don't shoot him down," Stan ordered grimly. "And keep your mouth shut
about him."

The three Hendee Hawks came roaring down upon the nice party the Jerries
had planned. The Spitfires were up, but they were off their contact.
Though they were now roaring back to give battle, they were too late to
save the city from a terrible beating, unless the Hawks succeeded in
breaking up the formation. Stan imagined he could hear the Stuka
leader's voice crackling in over the radio.

"Left wheel, dive bombers 6, 8, 10 attack positions 27, 39, 49."

He knew such a command had been given because a mass of Stukas, marked
clearly by the searchlights and the fires below, were swooping down.
They were very low over the city, far below the Hawks.

"Peel off and go into action. Break the spearhead," Stan snapped into
his flap mike.

The Hawks peeled off and went down, O'Malley first, then Stan, and then
Allison. The drone of their motors was terrific and their pilots were
slapped back against their shock pads and held there. Down Stan went,
straight for the leading Stuka. The bombers had not started peeling off
so there was still time.

The leading Stuka never knew where the lightning came from. With a
swastika backed by a red field in his windscreen, Stan pressed the gun
button and sliced through the middle of the killer, breaking it into
almost two separate parts.

The Hawk faded to the right and another Stuka rolled past him, unaware
that death was dropping from the sky. Stan put her up 200 feet; and
then, his motor screaming, he laid over and was upon the Stuka, his guns
belching death. The bomber staggered and winged over, spilling men out
of her hull like sacks out of a van.

Savagely, Stan rolled and twisted seeking another target. O'Malley had
gotten into the formation first and he was taking it apart with a
display of aerial gymnastics that made the Jerries forget anything but
escape. Allison was cutting away far to the left and the carefully
planned blitz was already a fearful rout, with death as the lot of most
of the killers. Scattered, they zoomed and dived, seeking only to
escape. As they went twisting out of their formations, low over the
city, the cables of death claimed many victims.

Then the Spitfires of Moon Flight came roaring in from a wild chase to
the east and the rout was complete. Within a few minutes the astonished
gunners and the men at the lights below began to realize that somehow
what had seemed certain to be a terrible _luftwaffe_ had been turned
into a victory. The Ack-Ack boys laid off. Then Moon Flight plus Red
Flight bored upward to see how many Messerschmitts Herr Goering had sent
along as fighter planes. The ME's came cascading downward, eager to see
their charges safely home. There was a flight of forty and another of
fifty. They were met by three streaking silver planes that carried no
dull paint and looked like commercial craft out for a spree. The three
had out-climbed the Spitfires.

Stan swerved to the right to give O'Malley room. He had outflown the
Irishman and was grinning. O'Malley still had a few things to learn
about a Hawk before he could get everything out of his big engine. He
slashed into the formation with guns raking the descending ships. Past
them he flashed and bored on into the darkness. When he got back into
position again, the Spitfires had arrived and the Messerschmitts were
scattering and ducking into the night.

"Calling the Hawks. Calling the Hawks," Stan called.

"Sure, an' it was a poor show," O'Malley's voice came in. "This colleen
has the need of two big eyes to see where the spalpeens go when they
run away."

"This will be nice news for the Nazis to broadcast," Allison called.

"Moon Flight, come in. Moon Flight, come in. Enemy dispersed." The call
was from the field below.

Then Garret's voice broke in. "Squadron Leader of Moon Flight reporting.
Enemy dispersed with many casualties. Two of our fighters left
formation."

"Bah," Stan heard O'Malley growl.

They went down with the Spitfires and rolled into the floodlights. The
O.C. was there and very much excited. Before Stan could reach the door
of the briefing room Farrell had him.

"We watched the show, what we could see of it. Those Hawks were great.
But how did you come to disregard my orders as to the hour of your
leaving the naval base?"

Stan smiled. "Don't you think it lucky we did, sir?"

"It was more than lucky. Many lives would have been lost and much damage
done. I'm afraid we would have come in for some stiff criticism." He
shook his head. "Garret gets off slow, but this is the second time he
has cleaned up."

The O.C. hurried away, still shaking his head. Stan barged into the room
and reported as a part of Moon Flight. The briefing officer hesitated
about putting down the three Hawks.

"We have no planes of that type or name," he complained.

"Step yerself out to the field an' have a look," O'Malley suggested.

Stan was watching Garret narrowly. The Squadron Leader was scowling
bleakly as he moved up to the desk. He seemed in a great hurry. Stan
kicked O'Malley on the shin and left without filling out a report.
Allison stayed to make the regulation report in detail and to answer
questions fired at him about the new ship. O'Malley failed to take
Stan's hint and stayed to have his say about the Hawks.

Stan hurried to his quarters and got out of his flying togs. He wasn't
officially on duty and he had a few things he wanted to do. He headed
along the hallway, keeping out of sight. Garret came in and he was
almost running. He charged into his room and Stan heard him changing
clothes. Suddenly there was no sound at all from the room and Stan
slipped to the door. Garret was supposed to be on duty, ready to go up
again in case another raid came over. He listened carefully, then tried
the knob. The door was open and he looked into the room.

What Stan saw made him shove inside at once. Garret had vanished, but in
his haste he had left a trail. One window was open. Stan saw clothes
tossed about showing the haste with which he had changed. He leaped to
the window and slipped out, letting himself to the ground.

As he pushed aside a thick bush near the wall he saw the street dimly.
There was no one on it wearing a Royal Air Force uniform. The only
person on the dark street was a man in civilian clothes. Stan stared
hard for a moment, then sucked in his breath and started after the man,
who was sauntering swiftly into the darkness.

At the first shaded light Stan realized that the man he was trailing was
Garret, and that the officer was in a big hurry. He strode along,
pausing now and then to peer back and to listen. Stan used the tactics
he had learned in Colorado while hunting mule deer. He moved when
Garret moved and stopped when Garret stopped. Sliding along noiselessly
he shifted from one patch of black shadow to another.

Stan did not remember how many blocks they walked, but he knew where he
was in a general way. When Garret ducked down a flight of narrow steps,
Stan moved up and listened. The opening below was black dark. He heard a
door open but saw no light. Then he heard a guttural voice challenging
Garret. After that the door closed and there were no other sounds.

Stan listened for a full minute. As he stood there unmoving, a part of
the black shadow along the wall, he considered the situation. He had
left his gun in his room. He was unarmed and those below would have
guns. A burning desire glowed within him, a desire to have a look at the
men Garret was meeting. Carefully he felt his way down the stairs and
located the door.

The knob turned soundlessly under pressure but the door was locked.
Moving back up the stairs, Stan stood looking at the old house which
rose above the basement where Garret had entered. The house was one of
a row that had been hit by several demolition bombs. Most of the upper
and the first story had been wrecked and the debris had not yet been
cleared away. That was strange, because most of the other houses in the
row had been damaged, too, but had been repaired.

Stan moved up the front steps, picking his way through a litter of brick
and broken timbers. He saw a doorway ahead, with a door sagging open
upon smashed hinges. Moving slowly and carefully Stan entered the room.
A pile of plaster and brick lay on the floor with some broken furniture
stacked in a corner. He was about to turn away, knowing that anyone
below would hear footsteps above, when he saw a beam of light coming up
through the floor.

Moving very slowly he crossed to the center of the room and bent down. A
torn rug lay under a pile of bricks and the rug covered a broken board
in the floor. Stan got down on his hands and knees. With great care he
slid the rug back a little and more light shone through the hole in the
floor. Stan lay down and put his eye to the hole.

He could see very clearly everything in the basement below the wrecked
house. There was a table directly under him and on it stood a portable
short-wave radio sending and receiving set. A light, swung from the
ceiling, flooded the table and the room.

A little hunchbacked fellow sat before the radio with earphones clamped
over a shiny bald head. Three men sat across the table from the radio
operator. One of them held Stan's attention. He was a short,
thick-shouldered man with a bullethead that was covered with bristling,
cropped hair. His eyes bulged and his mouth was a grim slash across his
face. On the table at his elbow lay an English fire warden's hat. He was
tapping the table with a thick finger and talking to Garret.

Garret sat beside the radioman, his face black and dour. It was plain
the man had been giving Garret a tongue lashing. The other two men,
seated beside the speaker, looked to Stan like London wharf rats.

"Herr Kohle, you are a blundering fool. Seventeen bombers were lost
tonight, and because you failed to do your duty. The _Kommandant_ will
hear of this," the bullet-headed man snarled.

"But, Herr Naggel, I followed instructions. The O.C. ordered the three
to return in the morning and that order was sent to you by Mickle,"
Garret whined.

Stan made a note of the name Mickle. He had a hunch an orderly or a
mechanic would be put on the spot once that name was traced to its
owner.

"Now that the great blitzkrieg is set for an hour before daylight we
cannot afford to take chances. You must do your part as planned." Herr
Naggel spread a map on the table. "Here we have the concentrations of
planes in Belgium, in France and in Norway. One thousand planes will
come over London. There will be no city left tomorrow night. We will
walk out and join the refugees pouring out of London, and then make
contact with the parachute troops and the men from the gliders." He
smiled wolfishly and licked his lips. "Those gliders are ready. You
should see them. Three for each pilot plane and each will have its
squad of men. At 20,000 feet the pilot plane will cut them loose and
they will glide down upon England without a sound." He laughed softly.

"They say there will always be an England. Bah. England is done." He
glared at Garret. "When the decoy bombers come over, you will lead your
flight after them. Now that they have increased your squadron to twenty
Spitfires, and the three American planes, they could do much damage.
With early dawn light to fly by they might break up the whole plan."

"I will take them on a chase that will lead them so far away they won't
get back. Send a big flight of Messerschmitts in after my squadron
contacts the decoy bombers and have them start a dogfight. They never
quit as long as there is anything left to fight. But you better send
plenty of fighters."

"That is planned," Naggel said gruffly. "We cannot control the other
flights that will go up, but yours is the key defense unit, the best
they have, and it is most important in our plans."

Stan bent forward and strained his eyes to see the markings on the map.
He wanted to know where those three concentrations of invasion planes
were. He was able to spot them because they were marked upon the map
with red circles. He was pressing his face against the boards to see
better when one foot slipped a little. His right boot scraped across the
floor.

Naggel did not stop talking and none of the others seemed to have heard.
One of the men beside Naggel lighted a cigarette and leaned back. The
radioman turned a dial and began talking softly into the portable mike.
Stan could not hear what he said.

Slowly Stan got to his feet. He had the information he wanted. The thing
to do was to beat the Jerries to the punch. The Royal Air Force would
blast every one of those air fields and get the enemy on the ground. But
he had to get to headquarters at once, everything depended upon speed.
Only a few hours remained for the job.

Stan slipped through the wrecked door and paused for a moment. As he
started to move down the steps a dark shadow loomed behind him. Before
he could leap aside a hard object crashed down upon his head. Red and
white lights danced before his eyes and stabbing pains racked him. Then
he slid slowly forward and fell on his face.

When Stan opened his eyes he was sitting in a chair with his head
hanging on one side. He shook his head and groaned, then focused his
gaze upon the leering face of Herr Naggel.

"You would listen?" Herr Naggel said slowly.

Stan said nothing. He expected no mercy from the men who had taken him
prisoner. His head was splitting and he felt weak and sick. A thought
stabbed through the pain. They had heard him when his foot slipped. The
man at the radio had called to someone near by. His sky fighter training
had been poor preparation for ground sleuthing, Stan decided.

"We will be gone in a few minutes, and when we go, we will leave a
little comrade with you." Herr Naggel motioned to a large grenade
sitting on the table. As Stan fixed his gaze upon the grenade he
realized that the radioman had gone, and had taken the portable set with
him. Garret was gone, too, and he was alone with Naggel and his two
rats.

Stan made another discovery. He was not bound. Likely the spies had not
had rope or wire to make him fast, or they were sure their heavy Luger
pistols would keep him in his place. Herr Naggel tapped the iron case of
the grenade.

"The little one cannot be kept from exploding once the pin is removed. I
will pull the pin and lock the door." He smiled and his mouth twisted at
the corners.

Stan rose to his feet. He was not so bad off as he had thought. Dizzy,
but not out by any means. He staggered and swayed, putting on as good a
show of grogginess as he could. Herr Naggel seemed to relish watching
him struggle to remain on his feet.

The thing that was pounding away inside Stan's head was the question:
"How long was I out? How much time have I left?" He was not thinking
about the almost certain death that stared him in the face. Naggel
pulled out a big silver watch and looked at it.

"Two o'clock," he muttered. "We must wait fifteen minutes."

Stan almost showed his relief. There was still time! At that moment
someone in the street above began shouting and screaming. Car brakes
ground and there was a crashing noise. The blackout had claimed another
victim of blind driving. Involuntarily the eyes of Herr Naggel and his
men turned toward the door.

Lightning thought brought lightning action to Stan Wilson. It was no
planned or prepared action, just wild, whirlwind action that was
launched in the flicker of an eye-brow.

With one hand Stan clamped down upon Herr Naggel's Luger; he lunged in
close to the squat Nazi. In the same movement he sent a right smashing
across to the jaw of the spy. Herr Naggel let out a gusty grunt and
rocked back on his heels, then went down in a limp pile on the floor.

Jerking the Luger free, Stan swept it upon the two rats. "Down on your
faces," he gritted. "Flat on the floor or I'll shoot!"

Stark fear leaped into the eyes of the two men and they tumbled flat on
the floor, sprawling there with faces covered. Then Stan saw Herr Naggel
pulling himself slowly up to the table. A wild, crazy light flamed in
the eyes of the spy. Stan made a lightning decision.

It made his flesh creep to think of shooting these men, but he dared not
leave them in the cellar, and there was nothing to bind and gag them
with. If he left them, they might get away and send word through the
vanished radioman to the Jerry squadrons awaiting the zero hour.

He was saved from any solution of his own planning by Herr Naggel. The
spy reached over, after getting to his feet, and grasped the grenade.
Jerking out the pin he hurled the grenade at Stan's head. Stan ducked
and the bomb struck the wall and bounded back. It spun around and came
to rest a few feet from the door.

"We all die. The plan shall not fail!" Herr Naggel screamed hoarsely.

Stan leaped over the grenade and halted before the door. He jerked at it
but it was locked. There was no time to get a key from the men. Behind
him he heard Naggel's insane laugh. He brought the Luger down and
blasted away at the lock. It shattered and the door opened.

Stan dived into the blackness outside, kicking the door shut as he went
out. He had stumbled only one step when the whole wall of the basement
burst outward and he was hurled up the steps and sent sprawling out into
the street.

Stan swayed, sagged forward, then pitched on his face upon the hard
street. A trickle of blood ran from the corners of his mouth. His eyes
closed slowly, glassily. He lay still, a twisted, inert bundle of flesh.

A few minutes later car brakes screeched and a black roadster with
hooded lights came to a halt. Two police officers jumped out. The dim
lights were fixed upon the body of a man lying face down in the street.
They lifted Stan to his feet and revived him after a few minutes of
work.

Stan blinked his eyes and took one big gulp of air. He began talking in
jerky sentences, repeating over and over.

"Get me to M Section of the Royal Air Force."

"That's as close as any first aid station," one of the officers said as
he looked at Stan's uniform. "And I'm thinking he belongs there."

They helped Stan into the car and sped away. Stan wiggled his arms and
legs and decided he had been hit a hard jolt in the back which had
knocked the breath out of him and shocked him badly, but otherwise he
was all right.



CHAPTER XI

PLENTY OF TROUBLE


Stan Wilson followed by O'Malley and Allison barged into Wing Commander
Farrell's office. Before them marched Arch Garret with a Luger shoved
into the small of his back. The O.C. leaped to his feet. He had been
nodding in his chair and thought he must be dreaming. He quickly changed
his mind.

Stan told his story in brief, clipped sentences. Farrell did not
interrupt. When he had finished Garret broke in before the O.C. could
say anything. He was not the defiant and arrogant lieutenant he had
been. Fear showed in his eyes and his voice was shaking.

"I'll talk if it will save me from a firing squad," he begged.

"I may try but I do not think any power will save you," Farrell said
sternly. "But you had better talk for the sake of your own conscience."

"They had me where they wanted me. My father was in Germany, in a
concentration camp. I had to do what they ordered." Sweat was standing
out in big drops on Garret's forehead. "I was straight and did my job
until they got to me."

"That's why you got where you are and why you were not released after
your first bad report. Your past record was fine." The O.C. dropped back
into his chair. He jerked a phone from its cradle. He was looking
intently at Garret as he clicked the receiver. "Go on, talk. I'll do
what I can for you."

"The radioman is at 30 Elm Inn," Garret babbled. "He is to wait there
for word from Herr Naggel. When Naggel gives the word, all will be clear
for the attack."

"Naggel won't send any messages," Stan said grimly, remembering the
terrible explosion which had blown him clear out into the street.

The O.C. had gotten his man and was barking into the phone. He kept on
putting through calls and talking to Stan and Allison and O'Malley at
the same time.

"Get a guard, O'Malley, and turn Garret over to him. Wilson, stand by.
Allison, get back to the mess and see that all of the men stand by ready
for action."

Stan watched the O.C. with admiration. He was a demon for getting things
done in a speedy and effective manner. Stan handed his Luger to
O'Malley. The Irishman prodded Garret with it.

"Get a move on, ye skulkin' hyena," O'Malley growled.

They moved out of the room with O'Malley telling the wilted Garret what
he thought of him.

"We can get a crack at them before daylight, if headquarters will let us
pull an immediate raid." The O.C. held the receiver jammed to his ear
with one hand while he fished into a drawer with the other. He found a
cigar and bit the end off, then clamped the cigar between his teeth.
Speaking out of the side of his mouth, he went on.

"How did you come to bag Garret?"

"I found him in the mess, sir. He was sitting there waiting for the call
to action he was sure was coming. He had warned all of the boys against
loose flying. They had strict orders to stick close to him," Stan said.

"This is one raid they won't put over, thanks to you, Wilson."

"We can blast them at their bases," Stan said eagerly. "They'll be
grounded and waiting, saving their gas and getting ragged nerves while
they wait."

"Ragged nerves?" The O.C. had his man on the phone and began barking at
him, arguing furiously. He waved his cigar and pounded the desk and
bellowed. Five minutes later he clamped the receiver into place and
swung around to face Stan. Wiping the sweat from his face, he said:

"That was the Air Ministry."

Stan grinned. "I take it you convinced them, sir."

"Convinced them? I routed them!" Farrell found a match and lighted his
frayed cigar. Getting to his feet, he added. "We're off for those bases
and this time I fly myself. I have been wanting to see how this show
stacks up with the last one, and now I'm going to find out."

Stan followed him out into the night. After that things happened with
lightning speed. Stan lost track of all the things they did and the
places they went.

First of all, the radioman was caught with all of his equipment. The
hunchback cracked when faced with the grim prospect of facing a firing
squad within a half-hour. His code book revealed a complicated mass of
information which was deciphered at once, with some assistance from him.
Exact locations were charted and objectives laid out. All of it was done
on the run.

Before the officers were through with the radioman, a message was sent
out to the Nazis holding up the attack until further instructions were
given. The message was in code and properly sent so that it would be
received by the enemy as an order from their key man in London. Herr
Naggel's secret code number was signed to it.

Then there was a cold and clearheaded gathering around the big map in
the central control room. Four flights would go out. Not just four
ordinary flights, but four all-out invasion formations with all the
punch the Royal Air Force could put behind them.

Red Flight, with its three deadly Hawks, was assigned to go with the
long-range Consolidateds over France to the base from which the biggest
of the Jerry bombers would take off. This would be the first wave sent
over, because it had the longest route. It would be protected by the
Hawks and by Defiants equipped for long-range flying. At last Stan got
away from the O.C. and dashed to the mess.

He had secured three capable gunners to take along because he expected
an opportunity to do some ground strafing. The early morning sky was
cloudy with high fog and black clouds. If the weather held all the way
over, they would be able to stage a real surprise.

In the mess he found Judd and McCumber and Kelley talking with Allison
and O'Malley. Other men were gathered in small groups. The tension was
high in the room.

"When do we get the signal?" Judd asked. His detail was to a field in
Belgium.

"Any minute now," Stan said. He looked over Judd's head and saw that
O'Malley was munching a slab of apple pie.

"Sure, an' we'll all get to go on a long vacation after this is over,"
O'Malley said. "There won't be a Jerry left in the sky."

Stan smiled but back of the smile there was a feeling of grimness. A lot
of the eager youngsters gathered in that room would not come back.

"I'll see that you get your vacation in a pie factory," he promised.

Three sergeants came in and stood waiting. Stan went to them.

"Kent, Ames, and Martin, sir, reporting as gunners," one of the men
said.

"Fine. Come along and I'll give you a one minute lesson on the guns
you'll use, though you likely don't need it." He turned to Allison.
"Pack out my togs, will you?"

"I'll bring a helmet and a chute," Allison drawled. "The Nazis will make
it so hot for you, you won't need a fur suit."

Stan grinned in response to Allison's casual manner. Both knew this
would be the most important action they had yet been engaged in, that it
would be one of the most terrific and devastating raids staged during
the entire war, yet it was best to kid about it. That was the only way
to relieve the tension all of them were under, keep them cool and
collected until the shooting actually started.



CHAPTER XII

LUFTWAFFE IN REVERSE


The night was cloudy but there was little low fog. In a dozen scattered
flight centers men were busy. Coveralled ground squads swarmed around
fighter planes, medium bombers and long-range giants whose lettering B Y
3, painted there by Yank builders, had been smeared over with British
lacquer. Exhausts flamed, bomb trucks trundled in and out, while pilots
and gunners checked rigging and outfits. The big show was on, the
biggest the Royal Air Force had ever planned.

Stan and O'Malley and Allison waited with their gunners near them. They
had checked the Hendee Hawks so many times they could see every detail
of the ships if they closed their eyes. O'Malley had come near being
recommended for court-martial when he battled the O.C. over an order to
carry extra gasoline instead of racks of bombs.

"Didn't we blow up a pocket battleship?" he argued sourly.

"After Jerry serves us up a welcome reception we'll talk," Allison said.
"I'm expecting it to be hot."

At that moment the intersquadron speaker began to rattle off clipped
orders. Every man was on his feet instantly. The moment had come for
them to take off. Number 30 swarmed out on the field. Allison was in
command again, Stan had insisted upon that arrangement. Allison was cold
and calculating, Stan Wilson was a fighter and wanted action. Anyway,
Allison had earned that right to lead. He was the original flight
lieutenant of Red Flight.

Stan grinned eagerly as he swung himself into the cockpit and glanced
back to see that his gunner got set. He called back over his shoulder.
"Tight straps, Sergeant, we likely will be in a few tight spots."

"Yes, sir," the gunner answered. He settled back against his shock pad
and adjusted his belt.

Strange how a fellow can always take up another notch in his belt, Stan
thought. Then he jerked the throttle open and the Hawk roared and
strained on the cab rank. He pinched one brake and swung around, heading
down the field with a finger of light guiding them.

"Red Flight, check your temperatures. Red Flight, are you set?"
Allison's voice was crisp and metallic.

Stan and O'Malley cleared and the Hawks swung around. The recording
officer and the coveralled mechanics had slipped back into the darkness.
A mobile floodlight thumped over the black field ahead, took position,
and a yellow shaft of light slapped down the field. The adjustment was
made on the shadow bar and the three Hawks nosed into the band of black
and waited, trembling, ready.

The signal came from the recording officer's Aldis light and they were
off. Screeching into the night, twisting up the glory trail with the
hydrogen gorged balloons tugging at their cables, waiting like gloating
monsters for their victims, out of the notch and up they went.

"Tight formation," Allison droned. And Stan in the right-hand slot
shoved in closer to the roaring monster in the lead.

"Contacting Liberators," Allison drawled.

Stan looked out and saw the dull forms of the thirty ton battle cruisers
of the air sliding along below. The big fellows were cutting through the
night at a terrific pace considering their pay loads and their own
weight. Their 4,800 horsepower hurled them on at a pace that made the
Spitfires and the Defiants hustle.

Red Flight took its place high above the drifting Liberators. Below
would be the Defiants and on each side the Spitfires and Hurricanes. It
was a big show and would soon be on.

"St. Omer with the field at Astree Blanche as the objective," Stan
muttered to himself. This was a change in plans made after a careful
study of the hunchback's little book. It would not be so bad as flying
deep into Nazi country.

"Heather Raid," Stan muttered and grinned. The High Command was sending
a great flight of bombers and fighters to blast enemy positions and
they called it Heather Raid.

"Heather Raid--Heather Raid--rendezvous--zero hour." That was the
Squadron Leader. Stan watched and listened. Nothing more came in and
Allison kept flying straight ahead.

They were drifting along above the clouds. There was a moon and plenty
of stars. The pale light made the squadron look like a school of fishes
swimming through a blue-black sea. The clouds would be fine for everyone
but the Jerries. Down below the Hurricanes would be slipping in and out
of the clouds, watching, taking bearings, whispering up to the giants
above, telling them what they couldn't see.

"Red Flight, go down. Yellow Flight up." The Squadron Leader spoke
tersely as though he had sighted enemy planes coming up.

Stan peeled off and went down, with Allison and O'Malley trailing into
formation. They hit the clouds, punched through and saw lights winking
below. They were solitary lights and revealed little. Perhaps they were
ship's lights on the channel. Then they went back up through the clouds
and took a place below the Liberators. Stan glanced up at the big ships.
The British had changed the name of those Consolidated B Y 3's to
Liberator. It was a proper change, Stan thought.

Suddenly a bank of cloud on the right and above was lighted with a red
glow. A second later a Messerschmitt One-Ten came flaming down, tossing
away parts as it spun. A broken Defiant followed it down in a wide,
agonizing spiral.

"What goes on up there?" Stan called back to his gunner.

"Upper level defense units in contact, sir," the gunner answered. He had
been on thirty-six raids across the channel and knew what to expect.

"And they pulled us down to let the Defiants have the fun," Stan
muttered.

"Have a look, Red Flight," Allison's voice snapped.

Down the Hawks went for a look at the ground. They saw a band of light
swing across the ground, then steady.

"Landing field lights located, port a few points," Allison droned.

Almost at once the Liberators changed their tone. They began to growl
and roar. Positions were taken and the Hawks slid up to be above the
bombers, out of their way and into the path of diving Messerschmitts and
Heinkels. But the lone fighter seemed to be the only enemy ship in the
air.

As Stan watched the action he realized that bombing wasn't just
releasing a stick or two of bombs. Its complications were apparent. Far
below them the earth had suddenly begun to erupt fire and flame. They
were clear of the clouds and their objective was below, a circle inside
a ring of flaming guns all pointed at the bombers. And the Liberators
were going down with feathered propellers.

Twelve thousand feet below lay their objective. The bombers were in a
big hurry to catch the rows of black planes on the ground, to spot the
oil reserves and to smash the surface of the runways. They slipped away
in screaming dives and left Red Flight to watch from above.

Tracer bullets trailed threads of fire upward and the muck of bursting
shells was thick below. The Liberators were knifing straight into it.
Red Flight went down to 8,000, there to stay on the alert. Stan saw a
Liberator smack into a bursting shell that exploded against her
understructure. The Liberator slid off to the side and burst into
flames. Grimly Stan noted that no parachutes blossomed out below her as
she shot to earth. The other bombers were through the muck of fire and
down upon their targets.

"Red Flight, strafe ground planes," ordered the voice of the Squadron
Leader.

That was why they had been pulled down. The Hendee Hawks with their
sixteen-wing guns would deal terrible destruction to ships on the
ground.

"Sure, an' 'tis about time," O'Malley roared.

Down went the three Hawks, straight at the muck of flame below. The wind
whistled above the din of bursting shells. Stan took a deep breath. It
was great, if you didn't meet one of those shells on its way up.

The AA shells were bursting close under their noses. It seemed certain
death to dive any farther, but they kept on diving. The sea of flames
leaped up to smack them in the face. It roared around them, then
vanished lighting the sky above them. Stan saw rows of planes on the
ground. He saw them clearly. A hangar was blazing and a row of oil tanks
was sending up a pillar of smoke and flame thousands of feet into the
air.

As Stan looked toward the flaming tanks he saw a circle of them lift and
vanish into the air as a big bomb landed in their midst. Pulling the
nose of his ship up he reached for the gun button, and swooped upon the
lines of planes. On his left Allison and O'Malley were already raking
those bombers. Stan's Brownings drilled a swath of lead across the field
as he swept over.

Up went the Hawks and over and back again. They saw the destruction
their first dive had wrought and set about adding to it. The Liberators
had circled and were down again, the roar of their dive shaking the
earth and the air above it. The field where the rows of Junkers bombers
had stood was heaving and rolling and exploding.

"Up, Red Flight," came a command from Allison. "There's a real show
going on up there."

Up they went, nosing through the flaming muck. This time they had little
trouble in breaking through. Great holes and spaces in the barrage
showed where the bombers had spotted gun placements. O'Malley was on
Stan's left now and Stan was flying the center slot. There had been no
time to take regulation position. Stan saw O'Malley's Hawk lift and
shear away from a blasting burst of steel as a shell exploded under her.
An instant later he knew the Hawk had picked up a package of death. It
was twisting and wobbling, but going on up.

"Go in, O'Malley! Go in O'Malley," Allison was droning. "Get back
across. Get back across."

Before Stan could do anything at all, he was up through the muck, and
then through the clouds, into a real battle. The sky was full of
twisting, diving planes, all spitting at each other in deadly fashion.
He was so busy keeping Messerschmitts off his tail that he lost track of
Allison and O'Malley. He noted that there were only a few Spitfires and
Defiants near him, though the air was literally filled with Jerries. It
dawned on him that they might wish to force down this new plane so as
to have a look at it. And he wasn't able to get a single swastika inside
his sight circle. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice calling:

"Heather Raid, come in. Objective successfully attacked. Heather Raid,
come in."

"Good idea," Stan agreed. He laid over and sliced into a mass of
Messerschmitts ahead of him, opening his throttle wide and cutting in
his booster. As he bored into the formation it opened to let him go
through. Only one ME failed to give way. It roared straight at him as
though bent upon ramming him. Stan's lips pulled into a tight line and
he reached for his gun button.

"Sorry, feller," he muttered. "But you don't ram me."

He pressed the button but no burst answered. He was out of ammunition.
With a yank he pulled the Hawk up, then twisted her over. The hair at
the back of his neck lifted as his understructure raked across the hatch
cover of the Jerry. Lead streamed below him as he flashed past.

Stan kicked off his booster and headed for home. The Messerschmitts gave
chase but they slipped away from them as easily as a swallow would
outdistance a plover. Behind him he heard his gunner laughing.

"What's up?" he called back.

"I touched up that Jerry who tried to ram us, sir," the sergeant
answered. "Potted his rudder and you should see him do stunts."

Stan had completely forgotten he carried a gunner. The man had been
silent all of the time. Now Stan knew he must have been giving an
account of himself.

"How did you make out?" he asked.

"Fine, sir. I believe I made several hits."

A short while later they circled above their home field and came in.
Lights blazed on the field for the first time since Stan had been flying
from it. Number 30 would be lighted up for an hour at least, in spite of
raiders. This was by way of celebrating their victory.

Stan climbed out of his plane. He saw Allison coming across the field.
They met and Stan could think of nothing to say. O'Malley hadn't come
in.

"Tough, O'Malley missing that big fight after the raid," he finally
said.

Allison looked at him. A slow smile came to his lips. He pointed out
across the field. Stan looked and saw a mass of twisted wreckage. What
certainly was the tail assembly of a Hendee Hawk was sticking out of the
twisted mass.

"He parked that mess there, then climbed out and walked into the
briefing room," Allison said. "We'll find him in there grousing because
they called us in before we got all of those Messerschmitts."

Stan's laugh rang out and he made for the briefing room. Sure enough,
O'Malley was there and he was fuming.

"'Tis time I quit this job," he shouted at the briefing officer. "When a
man can't stay an' settle an argument like a gentleman, 'tis time to
quit."

The officer grinned at O'Malley. Stan slapped his pal on the back. "I'll
buy you a pie, and darned if I don't eat one myself."

O'Malley considered this for a moment, then said: "If a man can't fight,
then the next best thing is to consider a bit of food."

Arm in arm the three fliers of Red Flight walked into the mess.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Allison and O'Malley and Stan were eating breakfast at
a side table. Allison had been over to headquarters and he had learned
a few things. Over bacon and hot cakes he told them what he had heard.

"Garret was the man on the spot, but they got a fellow who was way up,
they wouldn't give his name. He kept Garret from getting tossed out of
the service and worked it so he was made a Squadron Leader. They planned
to get a man like Garret into every squadron if they could."

"'Tis black, the likes of such a man is," O'Malley said with a scowl.

"Garret admitted bleeding Stan's gas tank and leading Moon Flight off
the trail. I asked him how he found out Stan was a Yank and he said the
information was sent him from the Nazi secret service." Allison leaned
back and smiled. "I have an idea our Intelligence will do a lot more
snooping from now on."

"Sure an' 'tis a nice tale, but one we already had figured out,"
O'Malley said.

"I got a real raking for not turning over Stan's record to Farrell as
soon as we were transferred," Allison said with a grin. "I now tender my
apologies but, after the first spoofing I did, I clean forgot about
those reports. They didn't seem important. Stan is one of the best
pilots in the Royal Air Force, and what we need is fighters."

"It's all over now, and I accept your apology," Stan said.

O'Malley scowled suddenly. "Do you gents think we'll ever get to see any
more action? I bet we won't."

He was answered by the intersquadron speaker. It began rasping:

"Red Flight, all out. Red Flight, all out. Bandits sighted over the
Dover coast. Heavy fighter escort of Messerschmitt One-Tens."


THE END


_Watch for the next Air Combat story!_





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