WINGS OVER DRACOVIA
Richard Paul Smyers
TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista/Walt Disney Co. and are used without permission. No profits are being made.
August 20, 1937, Downwood Island.
The chief radio operator at the airfield was an athletic young Felonian lady cat named Katrina Farrell, and Kit had to admit that she certainly knew everything there was to know about communications in airplanes. Kit and the seven other navigators were gathered for a final briefing, and Katrina was making them work at it.
“All right, let’s go through the list again,” she said, with a ‘listen up, or else!’ tone in her voice. “Foxlee, what’s the signal that each dam has been breached?”
“‘Smasher’ for the Moan Dam, ‘Puncher’ for the Eider Dam and ‘Tripper’ for the Zorp Dam,” the Aridian navigator replied.
“Clawson, what’s the signal for a weapon released and exploded in the right place?”
“‘Goner’…same as it was when you gave us the list a week ago,” answered Reggie’s navigator, who was also a cat, stretching lazily as he spoke.
“And the signal for a weapon that doesn’t work, or one that explodes in the wrong place?” Farrell crisply added.
“Good. Cloudkicker, suppose you have to signal base that ‘F for Freddie’ has put its weapon spot on target at the Eider Dam. What do you send?” Kit spit the answer back without thinking, for he knew all the messages by heart after a week’s practicing.
“I send ‘Goner 2 F.’ That means: ‘Bouncer worked, on target number two, from aircraft F.’”
“Right. You’ll all be using Morris code instead of voice, due to the range, so now we’ll have a finals test with the keys…”
While Kit and the other navigators continued practicing, in the next room Rick Sky, Baloo, and the other Squadron of Seven pilots were giving the models of the three dams a final examination. Reggie and Baloo stood gazing at the third model, and both were scowling.
“What’s wrong, Reggie? You and Baloo look like a night’s flight in bad weather,” Rick asked them.
“It’s getting down to the lake surface at the Zorp Dam, Skipper,” Reggie replied. “Dive in steep and you’ll be going too fast for the drop.”
“Yeah, an’ too slow means ya could stall out an’ go into the lake!” Baloo added. “These Mossie’s ain’t like my Sea Duck. They can’t float.”
While Baloo was talking, Rick looked at the model, which showed a lake shaped like the side view of a tooth, with the dam at the very top of the crown.
“To make a straight run at the target, we have to drop down this hill in the middle an’ get our speed and altitude just right. If ya fly up the lake on either side of the hill ya gotta turn sharp ta line up on the target. And if ya lose a few feet in the turn, an’ put a wingtip in the water…”
Baloo left the thought unfinished, but Reggie quietly observed, “Messy.”
“Well, it can be done, lads. That’s why we did all of those practice runs around Benny hill. And, while the Moan Dam is the most important target, we have to get all three dams to really do the job right,” Rick said. “Oh, final briefing is at three o’clock, remember.”
“We’ll be there,” said Baloo, absently, as he turned back to study the model again.
Later that day the pilots and navigators all received the final word on the mission. After Mike Foxlee had explained the route to be followed and how to avoid the known anti-aircraft batteries, Rick had a few words to add.
“Right, lads tomorrow night we go! Complete radio silence while we all stay right on the deck going in and they won’t know we’re coming. Since Marshal Hermann doesn’t believe in letting his planes fly at night, we aren’t likely to meet any fighters, as long as we’re out of Dracovia by dawn.” There were some chuckles at this, while Kit and Baloo exchanged grins. The commander of the Dracovian Air Force had often boasted that no enemy plane would ever fly over Dracovia.
“If you do see a Dracovian machine in the air,” Rick went on, “just stay low, bend your throttles and leave him behind! You’ve got a speed edge over anything you might meet.” He paused for a moment. “If you have engine trouble on the way in, and it looks as if you may have to ditch, remember to jettison the bouncer first! It will explode as soon as it gets forty feet deep in the water, or ninety seconds after release, whichever comes first.”
Rick looked sternly at each navigator in turn, ending with Kit. “You all know the drill. Take out the safety pin, grab the emergency release handle and pull it! You don’t want to be in the water with it when the beast goes off.”
“As planned, we fly in four waves of two aircraft each, ten minutes apart. The first wave takes off at dusk, and remember, if you have a crack-up, just fly the biggest piece
8:30 PM, August 21, 1937, Downwood Island
“Take a look, Kit,” said Baloo as he settled himself in the pilot’s seat. “There goes Rick!”
Kit stood up, looked through the cockpit window, and watched as the first two bombers went racing down the runway and lifted into the air. ‘C for Charlie’ and ‘D for David’ were already running up their engines, preparing for take-off in another ten minutes.
“We’d better get ready, Papa Bear,” Kit remarked, and ducked through the tunnel into the nose bubble, where he checked his maps and bombsight. In the cockpit Baloo performed his pre-flight check, made sure the flight lunch was carefully stowed away where he could reach it, and then started the Mossie’s engines.
As they taxied to the runway behind ‘E for Elmer,’ Baloo felt a thrill of excitement much like the one he’d had on the day when he first flew the Sea Duck. After all those years of reading about Rick Sky and the Squadron of Seven, and dreaming of being one of Rick’s pilots, he was actually going on a mission as part of the Squadron! Final checks…watch the ground control…green light! The twin engines thundered as Baloo pushed the throttles open and ‘F for Freddie’ took to the air.
Twenty minutes later, when the sound of the last pair of bombers had faded into silence, the Higher for Hire Sea Duck landed at the airfield. As soon as the plane had stopped the side door swung open and Rebecca and Louie hopped out, followed by Shere Khan. Thomas Rupert came to meet them, but Rebecca got in the first word.
“Where are Baloo and Kit? Have the planes left yet?”
“You may speak freely, Professor. They know about the operation tonight,” Shere Khan explained as he joined the group. When Tom said that the squadron had already taken off, Rebecca groaned and Louie gave a whistle.
“Better have somebody get on the horn an’ give ‘em the jive, Clyde,” Louie added.
“Professor, I have received a late report that Leader Kranns will personally inspect the Moan Dam on the day after tomorrow, and light anti-aircraft guns are being moved to the dam to provide security when he makes his visit,” Khan explained. “If you have any way to contact Captain Sky’s force, it might be wise to advise them of this fact.”
“We can receive messages from the squadron,” Tom answered carefully. “But if we transmit to them the Dracovians would pick up the transmission, and they might realize that Captain Sky and his squadron are coming…and why. The loss of surprise could mean heavy casualties, and even failure of the operation.”
“But you have to warn them about the guns!” Rebecca cried.
“Those boys are stickin’ their necks out for you! Cut ‘em some slack, Jack!” snapped Louie, glaring at Shere Khan.
“Professor Rupert is quite correct. Any radio message to Captain Sky might put the Dracovian defenses on the alert. Surprise is an important part of this operation, and crucial for its’ success, so we must not send a warning message now,” Shere Khan stated firmly. “Shall we wait with the Professor to hear the results of the mission?”
With a certain amount of grumbling from Louie and anxious looks from Rebecca, the group got into an automobile and was driven to the airfield headquarters building. The models of the three dams were there, and a wall map with the course of the squadron shown by a long strand of yarn pinned to its surface. Tom explained the target models and the course map to Shere Khan, who showed polite interest and asked a few questions, but Louie and Rebecca were silent. At times Rebecca looked at the course marked on the wall chart. Kit and Baloo were somewhere along that line, heading into more trouble than they expected, and there was no safe way to warn them!
* * *
“Dracovian coast ahead, Baloo.” Kit’s voice came crisply through Baloo’s earphones.
“I see it, Kit. How’s our course?”
“The mouth of the Moaning River should be just to your right,” was the reply.
Baloo studied the dark land ahead and then spotted the river mouth. “On the mark, Kit! First turn should be comin’ up, right?”
“When the railroad tracks cross the river.”
Baloo spotted the raised embankment and then saw ‘E for Elmer’ change course, slightly ahead of him.
“There goes Johnny,” the pilot remarked, and followed the other Mossie in its hedge-hopping course up the valley toward the Moan Dam. Ahead on the left several beams of light swung across the sky, like giant fingers feeling for the planes.
“Looks like Rick and the boys woke somebody up,” chuckled Baloo, as the searchlights fell behind the racing bomber.
“A canal comes into the river from the right, Baloo, in two minutes,” Kit said. “New course at that point: 85 degrees.”
* * *
“Miz Cunningham, I got a feelin’ that I never shoulda let Khan use my place for that meetin’ of his…the one that started this little dance!”
“Why did you, Louie? Was it just because Shere Khan wanted the use of your place?”
“No way, Khan can’t tell me what to do,” Louie protested. “But he did say if I rented him the place for one night, an’ invited you folks to come there, it would be really important. He said it would make ol’ Baloo real happy, too.”
“Well, Baloo has always dreamed of being a pilot in Rick’s squadron. You saw how happy he was that night, Louie. And you did get paid, didn’t you?” Rebecca asked.
“Yeah, cash up front. But money can’t buy a good friend like Baloo,” Louie muttered. “I kinda had my doubts from the first, but he was so glad to have a chance to fly with Rick Sky…” Louie’s voice faded as Shere Khan strolled over to the armchair beside the couch that Louie and Rebecca were sitting on, and sat down.
“I must apologize for the apprehension you are feeling for your friends,” said Khan. “It was not my intention to subject you to this strain. And please remember, I did advise you not to come along.”
Rebecca and Louie considered this statement. It was only by chance that the last-minute message from Dracovia had reached Khan, just as he was about to leave for the island base in order to be present during the operation. And the piece of driftwood that Khan’s plane had hit when it landed at Louie’s island to refuel was just a fluke.
But it was pure, dumb luck that pilot Baxter and the Sea Duck, on the way back to Cape Suzette with Rebecca on board, had arrived at Louie’s two hours before Khan did, so that where Khan needed another plane immediately to continue his flight, only the Sea Duck was available. Rebecca had refused to let Khan use her plane unless he told her why he needed it so badly, and Louie had insisted on hearing the reason too.
“Yes,” Rebecca said to Khan, “I know you told me I should just rent you the Sea Duck, ask no questions, and stay at Louie’s. But I’d just have sat there, wondering about what was going on and worrying about Baloo and Kit. I’d rather wait here, so I’ll know what’s happened right away.” She turned to Louie and added, “I’m sorry that you got involved, Louie.”
“Hey, I’m here ‘cause I wanna be,” he replied. “Say, where’s the kitchen? Maybe I can rustle up somethin’ while we wait,” he added to Thomas Rupert, who pointed absently toward a door as he studied the clock. Louie bustled out, and then Tom remarked to the room in general, “They should all be at the first target by now.”
* * *
“All aircraft, check in as I call you,” Rick Sky’s voice crackled in Baloo’s earphones. “’B for Baker,’ are you there?”
“Here, Leader,” Scott’s voice came in reply. Baloo listened as he guided the Mossie in a wide circle over the lake behind the Moan Dam, and reported when Rick call out ‘F for Freddie.’ When everyone had checked in, Rick went on.
“All right, lads, I’ll start the show. ‘B for Baker,’ stand by in case something goes wrong.”
From the nose bubble Kit could easily watch the surface of the vast lake, and he searched for the fast-moving Mossie. Then he spotted it, tracking toward the dam, so low it seemed to be on the water instead of just above it. Then came a flash of white spray just behind the bomber as the bouncer was dropped, and Rick’s plane climbed between the dam towers as the bouncer hit the water a second time…and a third…and a fourth time, just at the dam.
Time stretched out and Kit had the awful, sinking feeling that the bouncer hadn’t worked, when a glow appeared, deep in the water by the dam wall. The surface bulged upward like an iceberg in motion, then it split and a vast core of solid spray vaulted skyward, as if it was trying to blot out the moon in the night sky above!
The shock wave made ‘F for Freddie’ twitch and the sound thundered in Baloo’s ears! Water was sluicing over the crest of the dam, and for a wild moment Kit thought it had burst, but as the spray-plume collapsed he saw that the dam was still there.
“Good show, Leader!”
The various comments echoed over the radio until Rick called them to order.
“Looks as if it’ll need another nudge, lads. Hello, ‘B for Baker,” you can start your run now.” Scott acknowledged, and his aircraft fell out of the circle and turned to attack. As Scott lined up on the target, Baloo came close to one of the towers and was startled to see a twinkle of lights below, rising slowly and then flicking past his wing. A sharp Bok! Bok! Bok! Bok! could be heard, and then the plane shuddered while Kit gave a yelp over the interphone.
On the lake below, Scott’s Mossie neared the release point and the others watching from above could see the tracer shells from the suddenly revealed guns probing for the plane. Over the radio someone shouted, “He’s been hit!” while another cried, “He dropped it too late!”
There was single splash as Scott pulled up and away from the dam, something dark sailed over the crest, and then a massive flare of light appeared as the bouncer exploded in the valley, just below the dam. Baloo gulped in apprehension and called over the interphone.
“You all right, Kit? Are ya hurt?”
“I’m okay, Papa Bear, but something came up through the floor and went out the side, just behind me.”
“I had a feelin’ this was goin’ too smooth to be true,” Baloo muttered, as he switched to the radio. “Hey, Rick! There’s guns on those towers, an’ one of ‘em clipped me!”
“I see them, Baloo. Everybody, keep quiet for a minute! Hello, ‘B for Baker.’ Hello, Scott, are you there?” Baloo held his breath, but then Scott’s voice came over the radio, sounding somewhat frazzled, but healthy.
“Here, Leader. Those blasted guns nicked us! Hit the right wing, but it’s not serious.” The pilot’s voice became somewhat apologetic. “Sorry we made a mess of the drop.”
“That’s all right, we’ll get it yet. Hello, ‘C for Charlie,” start your attack. I’ll fly along the dam as you come in to draw their fire.”
Baloo chuckled to Kit, “What did I tell ya, ol’ Rick is one tough pilot, ain’t he?”
“There goes the next one,” Kit replied, as the third bomber ran in to attack.
* * *
There was a large blackboard on one wall of the room where Rebecca, Tom Rupert and Shere Khan waited, while Katrina Farrell sat at a radio set on a raised platform at the opposite side. When a light on the set glowed she pressed her earphones against her head and listened, then looked up and spoke to the room in general.
“Signal ‘Goner’ from ‘A for Albert’ at target number one. That’s all.” An airman chalked the time and information on the blackboard, which showed the call letters and crews of the eight bombers. Rebecca turned toward Thomas Rupert with an inquisitive look.
“That means that Captain Sky has released his weapon at the Moan Dam, and that it worked correctly,” Tom explained. “I had rather hoped that a single weapon would break the dam.”
“It probably weakened it,” Rebecca tried to comfort him. Then she walked over to look at the model of the Moan Dam. It was such a huge thing. Could Baloo and the others actually break something like that? she wondered. Louie came in with a platter of sandwiches and glasses of cider on a cart, and Rebecca took a glass, even though she wasn’t thirsty. The radio light glowed again.
“Signal ‘Basil’ from ‘B for Baker’ at target number one,” said Farrell. “That’s all,” she added, and Tom turned pale.
“Oh, my God,” he murmured, sat down suddenly and put his head in his hands. Khan remained seated in an armchair, his face impassive, without looking at anyone and saying nothing.
“I think that means somethin’ went wrong,” Louie mournfully remarked.
Rebecca looked at the blackboard again, and thought, If you get yourself killed, Baloo, don’t come crying to me about it!
The light glowed a third time. “’Goner’ from ‘C for Charlie’ at target number one. That’s all.”
* * *
“There he goes, Baloo!” Kit called, as he watched the fourth Mossie streak over the lake toward the dam. Two of the planes that had already dropped their weapons flew above and to either side of the attacker, while Rick’s plane swept along the length of the dam as well. The guns on the towers were shooting at everything in the air, and hitting nothing.
“Seems like those gunners are getting’ shook up, eh, Kit? They’re all over the place,” Baloo observed over the interphone. Kit didn’t answer him, but watched the attack run closely. As the fourth plane pulled up and away, and the tower of spray rose again, Kit had a perfect view of the face of the Moan Dam as a great piece of the center simply gave up trying and was pushed out into the valley, like a bit of wood being driven by the water from a fire hose!
“Baloo, it’s gone! It’s gone! Look at it, Papa Bear!” Kit shouted so loud that the earphones seemed to jump against Baloo’s ears. As he swung the Mossie in a turn Baloo dropped his left wing and looked down to see a staggering sight. Nearly a hundred yards of the dam’s crest had vanished, and the lake water was roaring out into the valley through the gap. Over the radio Baloo heard several of the other pilots shouting in astonishment, and then the voice of the pilot of the fifth bomber came in.
“Hello, Leader, ‘E for Elmer’ ready to attack.”
“It’s all right, Johnny! Skip it!” Rick replied in a voice that mixed relief and amazement. After a few minutes he added, “Right, lads, let’s get on to target number two.”
* * *
It seemed to Rebecca that a half-hour passed between each message that came over the radio on Katrina’s desk. With each report of an attack, without a result, Tom Rupert looked more and more like a very unhappy lion, and once she heard him mutter, “It isn’t working…all those fine young men at risk…what could be wrong?” Then the light glowed for a fifth time, and after listening for a moment Farrell gave a yell.
“’Smasher!’ It’s gone! They’ve done it!”
Tom gave a tremendous sigh and relaxed, as if a great weight had been lifted from his back, while Khan finally moved his head and looked at the scientist.
“Congratulations, Professor Rupert. Let us hope that the remainder of the operation is equally successful.” Khan then turned to Louie and added, “I would appreciate it if you would bring me that glass of cider, now.”
“Will some of them be coming home, now?” Rebecca asked Tom after a few minutes. “I mean, the planes that have already made an attack?”
“Oh, no, they will all go on to the second and third targets,” he explained. “The other two dams are harder to locate, so all eight aircraft need to be used to increase the area that they can search. Four weapons have been expended,” Tom continued, pointing at the blackboard, “so once they find it, the four that are left will be used to attack the Eider Dam. Once it has been breached the remaining weapons will be used at the Zorp Dam.” Rebecca had already learned that Baloo was flying the sixth plane, so she went to the model of the Eider Dam and studied it closely. As she did so, Khan remarked, “They should arrive at the second target in fifteen minutes.”
* * *
“That’s the lake all right, but where’s the blasted dam?” Baloo growled as he tried to pick up the target while avoiding the steep mountains that surrounded it. “Can ya see it, Kit?”
“There it is! On your right, Baloo,” Kit answered. “Beyond that point of land, see it?”
“Yep, that’s it,” he replied, and then called on the radio to the rest of the squadron.
“Hello, Rick? Anybody else here, yet? I see the target.”
“Nice job! I see it, now,” Reggie radioed, and in a few moments the rest of the squadron were gathering in a circle over the lake.
“All right, lads, I don’t see any guns, so let’s get on with it,” Rick announced. “O. K., ‘E for Elmer,’ make your run. Good luck.”
Three times Johnny dived his plane down to the lake surface and lined up on the target, but each time he was too slow, too fast or too high. After the third run Rick told him to hold off a bit while Baloo took a shot at the target, and ‘F for Freddie’ began its first run.
Over the mountain at the side of the lake, drop down to the surface, turn left, over the point of land and aim for the middle, Baloo thought. “Come on, Kit, let’s bust this thing and go home!” he muttered.
In the nose, Kit watched through his sight as he listened to Baloo report their speed and altitude. “Speed 265, altitude 200…260 and 100…260 and 80…260 and 70…”
“Too close, Baloo! Go around!” Kit shouted as they rushed at the target, and the Mossie’s engines howled with power as they shot over the dam’s crest! Kit had a chilling moment as they swept close to the canyon wall below the dam, and then the bomber climbed up and into the open sky above.
“Sorry, Rick, I made a mess of that one,” Baloo said into the mike. “I’ll try it again.” But ten minutes later Baloo had made three attack runs, and each time he was too fast, or too high, or too low to drop the bouncer correctly.
“O. K., ‘F for Freddie,’ you stand by. ‘E for Elmer,’ are you ready now?”
Johnny acknowledged Rick’s call and dove into the thin mist that was starting to form on the lake, picked up his speed and height, and put his weapon down right on target!
* * *
“Signal ‘Goner’ from ‘E for Elmer’ at target number two. That’s all.” Louie had joined Rebecca beside the model, and at Farrell’s words he looked up at the blackboard and gave a sigh.
“Oh, man, here we go again!”
“Baloo should be the next one,” said Rebecca, with a calmness in her voice that she didn’t feel inside. The next radio message was some time in coming, and when it arrived it surprised everyone in the room
“Signal ‘Goner’ from ‘G for George’ at target number two. That’s all.”
“But that’s airplane number seven,” Rebecca exclaimed. “What happened to number six? What about Baloo and Kit?” There was no answer.
* * *
After Johnny’s successful attack, Baloo was able to get the right altitude on his fourth run, but the Mossie was too slow until they were too close to drop the bouncer. As ‘F for Freddie’ dove into its fifth attack run, Baloo rumbled, “I’ll get this right if it takes all night!”
Speed and height were correct, and Kit watched the dam towers line up in the sight. At the exact moment he pressed the release button…but nothing happened!
“This just ain’t my night!” The Mossie climbed up and away from the Eider Dam for the fifth time, and Baloo switched on the radio to tell Rick the bad news.
“Rick, somethin’s wrong. Everything was on the money, but the release didn’t work.”
“See if you can find the fault, and stand by,” Rick answered. “All right, ‘G for George,’ you have a go at it.”
Kit unbuckled his seat belt, got out a small flashlight and began following the wires from the release button back toward the bomb bay, and found the problem almost at once. He plugged in his interphone again and reported the situation.
“When those guns hit us, Baloo, they cut the electric release wire, right where it goes into the bomb-bay.”
“Can we fix it, Kit?”
“No way! I can’t get at the cut off piece inside to splice it. Even Wildcat would have a hard time with it.”
At Kit’s words Baloo’s heart sank. He’d finally got his chance to fly with the Squadron of Seven on a really important mission, only to have it wind up like this! A flop!
“All right, Kit,” Baloo said gloomily, “I’ll tell Rick that we’re out of it.”
“What about the emergency release, Baloo?” Kit asked. “We could drop it that way.”
“Can ya let ‘er go at the right distance with that, Kit? You’ll need both hands ta pull the handle.” Kit’s reply had a snap to it that surprised the pilot.
“Papa Bear, you fly at the right speed and altitude, and I’ll drop this bouncer at the right range! Just see if I don’t!”
Baloo’s heart did a sharp turn at about seven Gs, and he began to grin again.
“All right, Li’l Britches! I’ll tell Rick we are op-O-rational again!” Baloo glanced down at the Eider Dam, where ‘G for George’ was pulling up after dropping its bouncer, and the pilot was just in time to see the face of the dam crumble and slump into the valley, ahead of the second flood that the squadron had unleashed that night. The cheers from the other pilots on the radio made it hard for Baloo to get through for a minute.
After Baloo had reported that he could drop his bouncer, Rick ordered the squadron on to the third target, with the comment, “It won’t do to leave the job half-done, lads. Let’s go finish earning our pay!”
* * *
When Farrell shouted, “Puncher! They’ve got the Eider Dam too!” Shere Khan actually smiled, and Thomas Rupert began to walk around the room as if he was so happy that he couldn’t hold still. For a minute or two Rebecca and Louie were left alone, and they just stared at the blackboard, which was marked with the reports from the different planes of the squadron. Five had made successful attacks, one plane had its weapon fail to work, and two targets had been destroyed. But the line of information for Baloo’s plane was grimly unchanged.
“Louie, suppose they don’t…I mean, what if they’re…?” Rebecca’s voice was low, but Louie understood her clearly.
“No sweat, Miz Cunningham,” he whispered. “Baloo won’t come back without Kit, an’ Baloo always comes back!”
Rebecca smiled weakly and nodded, but at the same time she wondered, If they don’t come back, how will I tell Wildcat…and Molly? Except for one day, about four months ago, she had never felt so alone in her whole life.
* * *
Looking down on the Zorp Dam, Baloo saw that a thin layer of mist around the lakeshore made it hard to see where the water surface began and the shoreline started. There was a point of land―almost an island―that stood just where the Mossies would have to come down to the surface for the attack run, and not much room from the point to the dam itself.
“Everybody’s here,” Rick’s voice crackled in the earphones. “’F for Freddie,’ are you ready to attack?”
“All set, Kit?” Baloo asked.
“Bouncer is spinning, and I’ve got the release ready,” Kit answered. “Let’s do it!”
“Hello, Rick, ‘F for Freddie,’ goin’ in.”
With the engines throttled back, Baloo let the bomber drop steeply down toward the surface, with the uneasy feeling that he was diving into a giant vanilla milkshake. Down…down…until the lake surface was suddenly, terribly, close! Baloo shoved the throttles open and slowly the Mossie rose to the right height.
“Speed 190, 50 feet…200 and 60…210 and 60…220―”
“Too late! We’re too close!” Kit called, and Baloo could see that the dam was almost in his lap as he pulled up and away. A second run was no more successful.
Then Reggie tried three times in ‘H for Harry,’ and almost hit the trees on the point on his third run.
“Skipper, this is bloody dangerous!” Reggie observed, sounding honestly surprised. “If we can’t see where the lake surface is until we hit it, we’re going to break our necks for sure.”
“Stand by for a bit, Reg. We have to crack this thing now…or never,” Rick said, grimly. “Anybody have any ideas?”
“If I could see that island and where the water is, we could do it,” Baloo muttered to himself. Then his eyes widened, and he called over the intercom.
“Kit! How many o’ those flame floats have we got left?”
“Six, Baloo. We had eight, but I used two to check for wind drift on the flight in.”
“Everybody else have the same?” An idea was growing inside Baloo’s brain.
“Sure,” came the answer. “Mr. Foxlee told me so.”
“That’ll do just fine,” Baloo chuckled, and keyed his radio. “Hey, Rick, listen! If we drop a bunch o’ flame floats on the water around that island, we can get in O. K. There’s no fog over the dam an’ the lake, so if we can see the island we’ll be able to drop the bouncers just right.”
“Sounds good, Baloo,” Rick replied. “We’ll try it. ‘B for Baker’ and ‘C for Charlie,’ you come in after me, and each of you put down at least two floats. ‘F for Freddy’ and ‘H for Harry,’ stand by. As soon as the floats are in place, whoever’s best set for a run, go in and get a hit!” Flame floats―special flares, made to float on the surface of the sea―were normally used to check wind drift on long flights. But now they would light up the surface of the lake and give a point to judge the dive by.
When the third pair of floats hit the lake surface and flared into life, Reggie was in a perfect position to dive into the attack run. Kit watched the Mossie slipping along over the lake surface, and then saw the first splash as the bouncer hit the water. If this one breaks it, Kit thought, they won’t need us… The now-familiar tower of water and spray reared up from the lake, but when it fell the dam wall was still intact.
Rick’s voice crackled in Baloo’s earphones. “It looks like the floats are going out, Baloo. Stand by, and we’ll put down some more for your run. They know what we’re up to by now, lads, so we’d better get this done soon.”
Five minutes later, Baloo shoved the nose of ‘F for Freddie’ into another dive, watching for the glowing lights that marked the surface of the lake. There they were, like half a dozen eyes, gleaming in the dark! Smoothly, Baloo brought the Mossie into line on the attack run.
“On the marks, Kit…250 and 60…steady…steady…”
Kit held the sight in his left hand while his right hand was on the emergency weapon release. As the target came closer the towers seemed to move apart, coming ever closer to the pins on the sight. When they had almost met he dropped the sight, slapped his left hand on his right and pulled the handle with all his strength. There was a sharp bang of the release gear and the Mossie jumped slightly.
Baloo didn’t need to hear Kit’s cry of “Bouncer away!” He knew the plane was lighter as it soared over the crest of the dam and into the night sky.
“Nice work, Baloo!”
“Right in the middle!” The radio crackled with comments as the tower of water and spray reared up from the lake, and the center section of the dam dissolved into a mass of shattered concrete and foaming water.
* * *
“Signal ‘Goner’ from ‘H for Harry’ at target number three. That’s all.”
At Katrina’s words Rebecca shivered slightly. Where are Baloo and Kit? She wondered. Thomas Rupert looked at the wall clock and remarked that the squadron would have to start their return flight in another fifteen minutes if they were to get out of Dracovia before sunrise.
“What difference would it make if they don’t?” Rebecca asked him.
“In daylight the Dracovian Air Force fighters might intercept them, and so save weight, Captain Sky’s planes have no defensive guns,” Tom explained, absently.
“In level flight a Mossberg 98 can outrun any fighter,” Khan commented, as he came over to stand beside Louie and Rebecca at the model of the Zorp Dam.
“You hope!” said Louie, sharply, but Khan took no notice of the remark.
The radio light glowed again. Everyone waited as the message came in, and then Farrell called out, “Signal ‘Goner’ from ‘F for Freddie’ at target number three.” Rebecca gave a gasp of relief and visibly relaxed, while Louie wiped his forehead and said, “Whew!”
“Wait,” said Katrina, “there’s more…’Tripper!’ They’ve got the Zorp Dam, too!” Tom threw his hands over his head and gave a wordless cry of joy, while Khan walked over to the scientist, and then shook his hand.
“Professor Rupert, when you first told me about this bouncing bomb of yours, I did have some doubts about it. But now,” Khan shook his head and chuckled, “I believe that you could sell me a pink elephant!”
* * *
When Baloo landed back at the base, taxied up to the hangar and shut down the engines of his plane, Rebecca and Louie were there to meet him. As he dropped to the ground from the entry hatch, Baloo couldn’t really tell if Rebecca was happy to see him or angry, but he paused to help Kit down before going to speak to his friends.
“Hi, Louie! Hello, Becky! Did you come out here this mornin’ just to meet li’l ol’ me?”
“Hey, Fuzzy, did you have a cool trip?” Louie spoke up when Rebecca remained silent, and then went on as Kit joined them. “Howdy, short stuff. Did you boys hit anything out there last night?”
“Baloo, I’ve got just one thing to say to you,” Rebecca said, in her ‘boss-lady’ voice. Louie, Kit and Baloo all braced themselves for some sharp words. “I- I’m glad you and Kit both came back in one piece!” Rebecca stepped forward and planted a kiss on Kit’s cheek, and then kissed Baloo in the same way. They were so surprised that neither one moved at all until she had kissed them both, stepped back, and assumed a stern expression.
“But, if you ever go off on this sort of a wild stunt again, Baloo, don’t expect a job with Higher for Hire to be waiting for you, if―I repeat, if―you come back. I have Molly to raise and a business to run, and I am not going to wonder for weeks whether or not I’ve got a reliable pilot on hand. Understand?” The corners of Rebecca’s mouth twitched as she spoke, and Baloo smiled to himself.
“Okay, Beckers, I won’t go off on any more long-time, special missions like this one,” Baloo promised. “Scout’s honor!”
“Oh, that’s too bad, Baloo,” said Rick Sky, who had come up behind the little group, unnoticed by any of them. “I was just going to ask if you and Kit would be willing to stay on with us. You see, the lads and I are going to keep working with Tom, testing new aircraft and equipment, with an occasional mission like this one every now and then, just to keep things lively.”
A look of alarm spread across Rebecca’s face, and Louie rolled his eyes, shaking his head in dismay, but Kit and Baloo paid no attention as they listened while Rick continued.
“After getting unfrozen we rather felt behind the times, don’t you know? There didn’t seem to be any need for seven leftover Great War pilots in this modern age. But thanks to Tom, and Mister Khan―and you, Baloo―we’ve found a job we can do, and take pride in doing it. The world still needs chaps like The Squadron of Seven,” Rick added thoughtfully. Then his tone became brisk.
“You see, we’ve got a lot of interesting ideas of Tom’s to test. He’s designing a big ship that’s all wing, and there’s this theory he has that if you sweep the wings of an airplane back, it can fly much faster. Sure you don’t want to stay here, and help us wring the bugs out of them?” Rick winked at Baloo with his right eye, which Rebecca could not see, since she stood on Rick’s left side.
Baloo rubbed his chin. “Well, it sounds great, Rick…but, shucks, I’d miss flyin’ the Sea Duck, an’ if I wasn’t around to show Kit how to be a great pilot, what would happen to him? Naw, I’ll stick to flyin’ for Becky.”
“Well, if you every change your mind, just let me know,” Frick said. “As I say, Tom has a lot of hot ideas on the drawing board, and by the time we’ve tested them all, the lads and I will probably wind up flying to the moon! Cheerio!”
For a long minute or two Kit, Baloo, Louie and Rebecca just gazed after Rick as he trotted across the field to where Thomas Rupert and several of The Squadron of Seven pilots were gathered. Finally, Kit spoke in a hushed voice.
“Fly to the moon! Do you think he really means that, Papa Bear?”
“Oh, he can’t be serious,” Rebecca said in a dazed voice. “Can he…?”
Baloo’s jaw had dropped at Rick’s last comment, but now he shook his head a little and grinned at his three friends.
“I dunno, but if Rick Sky says he’s gonna fly to the moon, he just might go and do it!”
“Well, he won’t go and do it today, Jose, and I see Baxter’s getting the Sea Duck ready to go back to Cape Suzette,” said Louie. “What say we continue this conversation at my place? I’ll buy everybody their choice of drink and eats.”
“Louie, I think I’ll take you up on that,” Baloo chuckled, as they strolled across the
field toward the Sea Duck.
August 28, 1937, Higher for Hire Office, Cape Suzette
“I tell ya, Kit, it just ain’t fair!” Baloo groaned, as he tossed the latest edition of the morning newspaper aside. “We go an’ bust those dams an’ flood all those factories without hurtin’ anybody, an’ what do the papers say about it? Nuthin’!”
“Well, they had a piece about it two days after we did it, Baloo,” Kit observed, looking up from the section of the paper that he was reading while stretched out on the floor.
“Yeah, an’ since then you wouldn’t know it happened,” the pilot grumbled, pacing back and forth. “All they print is stuff about this revolution in Dracovia.”
“Now, Baloo, it is big news when the people of a country overthrow a dictator like Leader Kranns,” said Rebecca, as she entered the office. “Putting the old government in jail, setting up a new one, reorganizing the whole country’s economy…that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, you know.”
“What Rick, his men, Kit an’ me did…that never happened before at all, Beckers! I’ll bet nobody remembers that raid, this time next year.” Baloo sat down in a chair like a falling sandbag, while Rebecca, smiling a little to herself, turned on the radio.
“Shhh, Baloo, I want to hear the news, if you don’t mind?”
The announcer’s voice came on in the middle of a bulletin: “…so it now appears that the surprise air-raid which broke the three dams in the Moaning River valley had a large part in making the revolution in Dracovia succeed. For the past three years, Leader Kranns had spent most of the country’s military budget on the new arms factories in the valley below the dams, and when The Leader announced that all of next year’s military budget would have to be spent on repairing the dams, the military staff refused to order the Dracovian Army to fight the rebels.”
As they heard the announcer’s speech, Kit and Rebecca looked at each other in surprise, while a broad grin of delight spread across Baloo’s face.
“The newly re-organized government of Dracovia has announced that they will seek the financial and industrial assistance of Shere Khan Industries in rebuilding the three broken dams, and in converting the factories to the production of civilian goods.” The announcer’s voice stopped as Rebecca switched off the radio.
“Hah! I thought Shere Khan would find a way to make money on this, and I was right! After all the danger you two went through, with Louie and me waiting and worrying- ” Rebecca stopped short as she noticed their expressions.
“Kit, did you hear what I just heard?” Baloo was craftily watching Rebecca out of the corner of his eye as he spoke.
“Well…I mean…” Rebecca stuttered.
“That’s okay, Becky, we understand.” Baloo’s grin seemed to go all the way around his head. Rebecca picked up a piece of paper from her desk and seemed to study it for a moment, and then looked up, with her ‘business face’ on again.
“Fine! But that was last week, and today there’s a cargo of Sessalian snakeskin shoes to be delivered to South Salumbria, so you both better get going, or a pilot and navigator I know just might be out of work! Shoo! Scat!”
As the door closed behind the grinning pair, Rebecca sat down at her desk and busied herself with some paperwork. After she heard the Sea Duck take off, Rebecca gave a sigh, and then began to smile. I really don’t know what I’d do without those two, she thought, and I hope I never find out!