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Pan Am 617 Heavy

by Sean Monaghan

Chapter 5: Pan Am Historic Flight

part 1 of 2

The blast threw Dominic to the ground. He rolled, scraping across the cinders. Winded, he lay on his back for a moment, listening to the crackling as fire devoured the truck.

He looked over. It hadn’t damaged the bridge, but the road was blocked. They’d need one of the big dozers to clear it away and it would take at least twenty minutes to even get the machine here.

Two of the planes were heading across the ocean, straight for him. The lead plane bucked and tipped, trying to evade the pursuer. They licked over the surface, only yards above the waves.

Dominic got to his feet, staggering away as the planes came up to the bridge. The first plane turned a little, and pulled up, almost right over the burning truck.

Keyshaa. He recognized the Messerschmitt, but even without that he recognized the manouver. She’d done it often enough, showing off, when she’d had time to get aloft at the aerodrome. She loved that; skimming in low, then pulling straight up over the shacks.

Dominic smiled. She was all right. For now. He wished that she would just get out of here.

At least she was providing another distraction.

The pursuing plane sped past the burning wreck and began pulling up. It didn’t have the power of the Messerschmitt, its incline much shallower. Keyshaa knew how to pick a plane.

He looked over the lagoon again, towards the moored flying boat. Definitely a Sunderland, he could tell from this close. Big and slow, but probably enough to get him off the island. If they took care of their planes properly, and he was sure they did, then the tanks would be full. Easily enough to get to Papeete.

Another two of Miterall’s planes sped over the fire. He needed to move.

Dominic ran along the cinder road, heading for the lagoon jetty. He had to count on them abandoning any guard they might have set to the big plane. Everyone would have been called back to the compound. On the other hand, the guard could have been doubled.

As he approached the side access road he slowed. The jetty had a small guard box where it met the shore, and a line of incandescent lights on posts along its length. He couldn’t see anyone. He ran for the jetty, past the empty guard post, then clattered along the wooden decking. He turned at the sound of shouts.

There, back on the bridge, they had buckets and were trying to douse the blaze. Some of them had skirted the flaming truck and were already running past, along the bridge. He needed a lot of prep to get the boat in the air and he didn’t have long.

He cast off the stern and bow ropes, then clambered up the ladder into the cockpit. This was a variant he knew about: the DS5. It had short main wings but extra swept-triangular wings at the nose and halfway down the fuselage for ground-effect takeoffs. One of the early ketches, it had a tall mast held by rigging, all of which folded back for flight into an upper-fuselage sail hatchbay.

The planes looped and rolled across the lagoon. He heard machine-gun fire, unsure if it came from the ground or the planes.

Reaching overhead he flicked on the red cockpit prep light. He sat and strapped himself in. He skipped pre-flight and started the aquaprop’s engine to propel the plane away from the jetty, using the hand lever to adjust the underwater rudder. He smiled at the faded Pan Am logo by the airspeed indicator. It was a second-hand plane.

Two planes moving at breakneck pace one after the other flew right overhead. The lead plane was flaming, fire gouting from its port wing and engine. The second plane pulled up and away, clearing itself from the smoke and flames. The lead plane tilted, slowing and shuddering.

Dominic knew he didn’t have long. He fired up two of the Sunderland’s outboard engines. The old propellers grabbed at the air.

The burning fighter dipped and smacked into the water.

He heard the sound of a shot and a pane of the Sunderland’s cockpit glass splintered. Dominic ducked. He forced the throttle up on both engines. He turned the ignition on both of the others. He heard another shot go wide. With the four wing propellers going, he shut down and shipped the aquaprop and rudder. Water sluiced along the hull. He tapped the speed indicator. He needed to hit ninety knots to become airborne.

He released the crank that held the mast up, and wound open the hatch, listening to the machine clank back in the fuselage as the cogs and gears angled the short mast into its flight housing.

The lagoon was black, but at least a couple of miles across. Plenty of space to get up to speed — assuming they didn’t try to shoot him down. He adjusted the flaps for takeoff and ran through the tailplane and rudder checks. He’d flown boats a couple of times before, but never one this big; he had only sat in a cockpit. He knew he should take a full hour to familiarize himself and check everything. As Keyshaa would say, time to improvise.

The plane jerked ahead as the outer propellers came up to speed. Dominic pictured the atoll in his head, as he remembered from the map, tried to line the plane up on the longer axis, imagined himself clipping the palms and flipping over, smashing down into the reef. Dominic wound the mast hatch closed. The radio light blipped and without thinking he flicked the switch, pulling on the headset.

“What do you think you’re doing?” a voice said.

Dominic picked up the hand mike. “Miterall?” With the pedals he pushed the rudder a little to the left. Stupid to fly over the burning wreck.

“Give it up. You won’t even get off the water.”

One of the big spotlights swung around as Miterall spoke, illuminating the lagoon and flaring through the cockpit.

“I don’t think it will go any better if I don’t try,” Dominic said.

Miterall laughed. “We’ve already shot down your girlfriend there.” As he spoke, the spotlight beam shifted, showing the smoking remains of the wreckage.

Dominic’s heart clenched. It was the Messerschmitt burning in the water. He reached to pull the throttles. If Keyshaa was dead, then what was the point? Miterall would probably shoot him anyway, for wrecking the atom smasher, and everything else.

Something glinted in the wreckage ahead, reflecting the spotlight. Dominic lifted his hand from the throttles. It was as if Keyshaa was signalling from the grave. She wouldn’t want him to give in.

“Dominic,” Miterall said. “I know you were just tagging along. I don’t blame you for any of this.”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Dominic said into the handmike.

“Honestly. I just want my flying boat back. There’s been enough collateral loss tonight. Give me the plane and we’ll fly you to Auckland in the morning.”

Dominic put his hand on the throttles again, began to ease back. It sounded reasonable. He was tired and aching.

“And, of course,” Miterall said. “You can leave me with the documents, as a sign of good faith. I really need my collider information returned.”

Dominic lifted his hand again. Miterall didn’t have the documents. Keyshaa must have kept them. She’d ... oh. Dominic swung his satchel around and opened it. Right away he could see it was stuffed with papers. The guns were gone, but she’d put all Miterall’s — her own — information into it. Trusted him with it.

Dominic tossed the satchel to the floor. “Okay,” he said. “Except she had the documents, and now they’re burned up or on the bottom of the lagoon.”

“Well,” Miterall said. “Be that as it may, we’ll still see you right.”

“What guarantees do I have?” Dominic searched the water ahead. The spotlight lit almost to the far end of the lagoon.

“Just my word.”

“Okay then,” Dominic said. “I’ll come back now.” He adjusted the rudder a little to the right and pushed the throttles up. Closer, closer. He unstrapped and stood up to the cockpit glass, peering down. He had seen her. He checked the speed indicator. Already at twenty-five knots. Much too fast.

“Dominic?” Miterall said. “You’ve throttled up?”

“Bringing it down.” Reaching, back he pushed the levers backwards.

“What are you up to?”

“Give me a minute,” he said. “I can see her bag in the water. Near the wreckage.”

“Really? We’ll send a boat.”

“I can grab it. It will have your documents.”

“No, we—”

Dominic tore the headset off. He tapped the pedal to move the rudder a little to the left. The speed was dropping towards twenty knots.

Dominic turned and kicked open the cockpit door. He ran through the short upper-level passage, then down the stairs and around the empty vertical trough of the mast’s sailing clamp. He kept running to the rear side door and yanked it open. Sticking his head out into the prop wash he looked ahead. The flying boat was going to pass almost right over the burning Messerschmitt.

“Keyshaa,” he yelled, knowing that his shout would be almost inaudible of the sound of the thrumming engines.

He looked back inside and saw tools and rope. He grabbed the rope, then leaned back out.

The spotlight from the compound lit everything.

Then he saw her, on her side, draped over a floatvest. “Keyshaa!” He tied a hammer to the end of the rope for weight and hurled it out past her. It splashed beyond her, almost within reach. “Grab the rope.” She didn’t move. Unconscious.

Or dead.

The Sunderland hit the submerged Messerschmitt and shuddered. The flames were nearly out, but the fighter scraped along the big plane’s hull with a screech.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2010 by Sean Monaghan

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