Sandra looked around her and swore. She lit a fresh cigarette and muttered, "Even knowing the future doesn't make this one better."
She was standing on the edge of a rough airstrip along the coast of New Jersey. It was almost midnight, and fog hung like gloom across the field. Wartime blackout was in effect, and the stars' light was obscured by the clouds above her and the fog around her, so the only light visible was that of her cigarette and those of her companions'.
Behind her the King and Cosmo exchanged half-worried, half-amused glances. Sandra, sarcastic on the best of days, was in a historically foul mood, and the ride to the airstrip from the jail had been filled with sullen silences and, when another driver had had the misfortune to be in front of her, furious obscenities, some in combinations that even King and Cosmo, well-travelled men both, had never heard before. Behind them and to their right was Crusher Crock, who they'd brought straight from his cell. Crock coolly examined Sandra, King and Cosmo and finished his cigarette. He stubbed it out and said, mildly, "We gonna wait here all night?"
Sandra whirled and pointed at him. "One word, Crock, and I'll throw you in with the zoot suits. You think you're tough? They'll make you their girlfriend in a night."
The King and Cosmo, simultaneously amused and appalled, couldn't help but laugh, trying unsuccessfully to stifle their nervous laughter. It wasn't that they were afraid of Crock. Both were (mostly) sure that they could take him, even if he objected to their laughing at his expense. It was just that he was so big....
Crock smiled (although given his disfigurement it was hard to tell) and said, "Yeah, maybe. Jus' wonderin'." He stretched out on the ground, crossed his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. "Wake me when our ride gets here."
Time passed, counted in cigarettes and muttered curses from Sandra. The temperature dropped, and both the King and Cosmo huddled in their overcoatas, glad that Sandra had given them enough time to pack full kits. It Crock was bothered by the cold and the wet, he didn't show it.
Finally, around 3 am, a muffled sound could be heard from the East, far out over the water. The sound slowly grew louder, but even when it was almost overhead it was still softer than most planes' engines. Once it was, from the sound of it, circling over the field, a dim yellow light flickered on and off from it in long and short flashes. Sandra said, in a voice that could etch steel, "About time." She raised a flashlight and responded.
Almost immediately the field was bathed in bright white light, projected from the underside of the plane above the quartet. King and Cosmo rubbed their hands together and stamped their feet, trying to restore the circulation in their chilled, clammy bodies. Crock climbed to his feet in one smooth, fast motion.
The plane that finally landed seemed an ungainly and ugly agglomeration of tank, plane and boat. It was covered with rivets and looked like a pair of plane's wings had been welded to a tank's body, which had then been attached to a boat's hull. Worse, it was painted a gaudy blue, although its veneer was chipped and cracked from wind and bullets.
It landed with an ungainly, heavy thump not diminshed by the soft, wet earth of the runway, and skidded to a stop with a clacking and grinding of gears. It stood for a moment, reeking of ozone and burnt motor oil, and then a door on its top swung open. A plain-faced man in an American pilot's jacket emerged from the "plane" and hopped to the ground. He saluted Sandra and said, "Captain Dunn, reporting as ordered, ma'am."
She returned a hurried and annoyed salute and said, "You took your own sweet time getting here, Captain."
His smile momentarily faltered and a hint of something hard and cold crossed his face. "Sorry about that, ma'am. There were some Messerschmitts that took exception to my flight."
Sandra momentarily pouted, then said, "Right. Well." She looked at King, Cosmo and Crock, who had fallen in behind her, and said, "Get in. Captain Dunn here will be taking us to the drop site."
Cosmo raised an eyebrow at her words, and King politely laughed. "There's enough room in there?"
Dunn said, "Begging your pardon, sir, but we hollowed it out--that's Boomerang and me, he's my gunner. There's more than enough room for all of you."
Cosmo said, "Where are our manners? Captain, I'm Cosmo, and this is King. And he's--"
King said, "Wait. Is this the Blue Tracer?"
Dunn grinned. "The one and only."
Cosmo looked quizzically at King, who said, "You remember. He's the one who's been raising holy hell in North Africa--the Germans can't shoot him down no matter how hard they try. You heard about his attack on Rommel's positions?"
Cosmo nodded as recognition hit. "Oh, right. Pleasure to meet you, Captain."
"Likewise. So--Cosmo and King--your codenames?"
King blinked, clearly taken aback. Before he could respond, Sandra said, "Yes. Now, let's--"
Dunn offered his hand to Crock. "Since they aren't going to introduce you..."
Crock, obviously surprised, hesitated a moment, then shook. "Crusher Crock." His ordinarily hoarse growl was notably softened.
A pleased smile crossed Dunn's face. "Crusher Crock? The Crusher Crock? Oh, hey, I'm a big fan of yours. I saw you in Berlin in '36; the way you beat Woodruff in the 800 meter and Lovelock in the 1500 meter, that was really something."
Crock smiled in a way that on anyone else would have been described as bashful. "Thanks."
Sandra almost spat, "Time's wasting. Everyone on. Now."
Dunn glanced briefly at her, then raised his eyes at Crock. Crock quirked a smile and shrugged. As the King and Cosmo followed Sandra into the Tracer, Crock whispered to Dunn, "Gracie Allen, she ain't."
The long flight passed relatively quickly. After meeting Dunn's copilot, a typically extroverted Australian named "Boomerang Jones," and surreptitiously eyeing the strange machinery inside the Blue Tracer, King, Cosmo and Crock made their way to the back of the plane and almost immediately went to sleep. When they woke up, six hours later, the Tracer was passing over Austrian border into Czechoslovakia, flying just above the treetops. Sandra had been awake for the whole flight, poring over the site maps and peppering Dunn with questions about their departure site.
Crock was first to wake up, eyes snapping open. He looked around him without moving his head or altering his breathing, then stood up. The King and Cosmo woke up as he passed them, and in moments all three were in the cockpit of the plane.
Crock said, "Any breakfast in this rig?"
Sandra shot him a dirty look and shook her head, returning to her inspection of a pile of maps. The King theatrically sighed and said, "What I wouldn't do for some coffee..."
Boomerang poked his head into the cockpit and said, "No worries, friend, got some brewed up back in the galley." He then had to jump back to avoid being trampled in the rush.
Five minutes later, a much happier trio of men were back in the cockpit. The King, sipping from his third cup of coffee, looked at Sandra and said, "So. Will you tell us the plan now?"
Sandra said, "Not yet." She looked at the Tracer and said, "How long now?"
Without looking back he said, "Thirty seconds."
Sandra said to the King. "Wait."
The plane began to dip, heading towards the ground at a 45o angle, its speed only slightly diminished. King and Cosmo exchanged worried glances, not noticing Crock's departure for the rear of the plane. He returned with an unruffled expression and another full cup of coffee as the plane leveled out over a wide, long river. Dunn, still concentrating on keeping the plane steady, said, "Brace yourselves."
A few seconds later cut his speed and pushed the nose and then the body of the Tracer under the river's surface. Despite his warning King and Cosmo were caught offguard and were thrown from their feet. Crock, kneeling and his legs spread wide, shifted position and easily kept his balance, not even spilling a drop of his coffee.
Sandra helped King and Cosmo up and noisily exhaled several times. In a voice cracking with tension, she said, "That's done." She moved to the back of the Tracer and helped herself to coffee as King and Cosmo stared, amazed, through the Tracer's windshield. The river flowed by them at a good clip as Dunn flipped switches and began maneuvering the plane with the use of foot pedals, rather than his joystick. Sandra returned, ran a shaky hand through her long, blonde hair, and said, "Sorry to keep this a secret from you until now, but if we'd been shot down I didn't want you to know anything that you'd reveal under torture."
Crock said, "So where are we going? And who do you want us to kill?"
Sandra sighed heavily and bowed her head. After a moment, in a voice curiously full of regret and sadness, she said, "Der Henker, Crock. I want you to kill Reinhard Heydrich."
King and Cosmo's jaws dropped and eyebrows raised, and even Crock whistled with surprise.
See my notes at the end of this story arc.
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