The Mediterranean Caper
Just one reason why there are millions of Clive Cussler books in print.
Dirk Pitt rides a tidal wave of intrigue in this classic Cussler.
On an isolated Greek island, a World War I fighter plane attacks a modern U.S. Air Force base--a mysterious saboteur preys on an American scientific expedition--and Dirk Pitt plays a deadly game of hunter and hunted with the elusive head of an international smuggling ring.
It was oven hot, and it was Sunday. in the air traffic tower, the control operator at Brady Air Force Base lit a cigarette from a still-glowing butt, propped his stocking feet on top of a portable air conditioner and waited for something to happen.
He was totally bored, and for good reason. Air traffic was slow on Sundays. In fact, it was nearly nonexistent. Military pilots and their aircraft rarely flew on that day in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, particularly since no international political trouble was brewing at the moment. Occasionally a plane might set down or take off, but it was usually just a quick refueling stop for some VIP who was in a hurry to get to a conference somewhere in Europe or Africa.
The control operator scanned the large flight schedule blackboard for the tenth time since he came on duty. There were no departures, and the only estimated time of arrival was at 1630, almost five hours away.
He was young—in his early twenties—and strikingly refuted the myth that fair-haired people cannot tan well; wherever skin showed, it looked like dark walnut laced with strands of platinum blond hair. The four stripes on his sleeve denoted the rank of a Staff Sergeant, and although the temperature was touching ninety-eight degrees, the armpits of his khaki uniform displayed no damp sweat stains. The collar on his shirt was open and missing a tie; a custom normally allowed at Air Force facilities located in warm atmospheres.
He leaned forward and adjusted the louvers on the air conditioner so that the cool air ran up his legs. The new position seemed to satisfy him, and he smiled at the refreshing tingle. Then, clasping his hands behind his head, he relaxed backward, staring at the metal ceiling.
The everpresent thought of Minneapolis and the girls parading Nicollet Avenue crossed his mind. He counted again the fry-four days left to endure before he was rotated back to the States. When each day came it was ceremoniously marked off in a small black notebook he carried in his breast pocket.
Yawning for perhaps the twentieth time, he picked up a pair of binoculars that were sitting on the window ledge, and surveyed the parked aircraft that rested on the dark asphalt runway stretching beneath the elevated control tower.
The runway lay on the island of Thasos in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. The island was separated from the Greek Macedonia mainland by sixteen miles of water, appropriately called the Thasos Strait. The Thasos land mass consisted of one hundred and seventy square miles of rock, timber and remnants from classical history dating back to 1000 B.C.
Brady Field, as generally termed by the base personnel, was constructed under a treaty between the United States and the Greek government in the late nineteen sixties. Except for ten F-105 Starfire Jets, the only other permanently based aircraft were two monstrous C-133 Cargomaster transports that sat like a pair of fat silver whales, glistening in the blazing Aegean sun.
The sergeant pointed the binoculars at the dormant aircraft and searched for signs of life. The field was empty. Most of the men were either in the nearby town of Panaghia drinking beer, sunbathing on the beach or napping in the air-cooled barracks. Only a solitary MP guarding the main gate, and the constant rotation of the radar antennae atop its cement bunker offered any form of human presence. He slowly raised the lenses and peered over the azure sea. It was a bright, cloudless day, and he could easily recognize details on the distant Greek mainland. The glasses swung east and gathered in the horizon line where deep blue water met light blue sky. Through the shimmering haze of heat waves the white speck of a ship resting at anchor came into view. He squinted and adjusted the focus knob to clarify the ship’s name on the bow. He could just barely make out the tiny black words: First Attempt.
That’s a dumb name, he thought. The significance escaped him. Other markings also darkened the ship’s hull. In long, heavy, black lines across the center of the hull were the vertical letters NUMA, which he knew stood for the National Underwater Marine Agency.
A huge crooked crane stood on the stern of the ship and hung over the water, lifting a round ball-like object from the depths. The sergeant could see men laboring about the crane, and he felt inwardly glad that civilians had to work on a Sunday too.
Suddenly his visual exploration was cut short by a robot-like voice over the intercom.
“Hello, Control Tower, this is Radar . . . Over!”
The sergeant laid down the binoculars and flicked a microphone switch. “This is the Control Tower, Radar. What’s up?”
“I’ve got a contact about ten miles to the west.”
“Ten miles west?” boomed the sergeant. “That’s inland over the island. Your contact is practically on top of us.”
He turned and looked again at the big lettered blackboard, reassuring himself that no scheduled flights were due. “Next time, let me know sooner?”
“Beats me where it came from,” droned the voice from the radar bunker. “Nothing has shown on the scope in any direction under one hundred miles in the last six hours.”
“Well either stay awake down there or get your damn equipment checked,” snapped the sergeant. He released the mike button and grabbed the binoculars. Then he stood up and peered to the west.
It was there . . . a tiny dark dot, flying low over the hills at treetop level. It came slow; no more than ninety miles an hour. For a few moments it seemed to hang suspended over the ground, and then, almost all at once, it began to take on shape. The outlines of the wings and fuselage drew into sharp focus through the binoculars. It was so clear as to be unmistakable. The sergeant gaped in astonishment as the rattley-bang engine sound of an old single seat, biwing airplane complete with rigid, spoked wheel landing gear, tore the arid island air.
Except for the protruding in-line cylinder head, the fuselage followed a streamlined shape that tapered to straight sides at the open cockpit. The great wooden propeller beat the air like an old windmill, pulling the ancient craft over the landscape at a tortoise-like air speed. The fabric covered wings wavered in the wind and showed the early characteristic scalloped trailing edge. From the spinner enclosing the propeller hub to the rear tips of the elevators, the entire machine was painted a bright and flamboyant yellow. The sergeant lowered the glasses just as the plane displaying the familiar black Maltese Cross markings of World War I Germany flashed by the control tower.
In another circumstance the sergeant would have probably dropped to the floor if an airplane buzzed the control tower at no more than five feet. But his amazement at seeing a very real ghost from the dim skies of the Western Front was too much for his senses to grasp, and he stood stock-still. As the plane passed, the pilot brazenly waved from his cockpit. He was so close that the sergeant could see the features of his face under the faded leather helmet and goggles. The spectre from the past was grinning and patting the butts of the twin machine guns, mounted on the cowling.
Was this some sort of colossal joke? Is the pilot a nutty Greek with a circus? Where did he come from? The sergeant’s brain spun with questions but no answers.
Suddenly he became aware of twin, blinking spots of light, emitting behind the propeller of the plane. Then the glass of the control tower windows shattered and disappeared around him.
A moment in time stopped and war came to Brady Field. The pilot of the World War I fighter dipped around the control tower and strafed the sleek modern jets parked lazily on the runway. One by one the F-105 Starfires were raked and slashed by ancient eight millimeter bullets that tore into their thin aluminum skin. Three of them burst into flames as their full tanks of jet fuel ignited. They burned fiercely, melting the soft asphalt into smoking puddles of tar. Again and again, the bright yellow flying antique soared over the field, spitting a leaden stream of destruction. One of the C-133 Cargomasters went next. It erupted in a gigantic roar of flames that rose hundreds of feet into the air.
In the tower the sergeant lay on the floor, looking dazedly at a red trail of blood that oozed from his chest. He gently pulled the black notebook from his breast pocket and stared in fascinated surprise at a small, neat hole in the middle of the cover. A dark veil began to circle his eyes and he shook it off. Then he struggled to his knees and looked around the room.
Glittering fragments of broken glass blanketed the floor, the radio equipment, the furniture. In the center of the room, the air conditioner lay upside down like a dead mechanical animal, its legs thrown stiffly in the air and its coolant trickling onto the floor from several round punctures. The sergeant dully peered up at the radio. Miraculously it was untouched. Painfully, he crawled across the floor slicing his knees and hands on the crystal slivers. He reached the microphone and grasped it tightly, bloodying the black plastic handle.
Darkness crowded the sergeant’s thoughts. What is the proper procedure? he wondered. What does one say at a time like this? Say something, his mind shouted, say anything!
“To all who can hear my voice. MAYDAY! MAYDAY! This is Brady Field. We are under attack by an unidentified aircraft. This is not a drill. I repeat, Brady Field is under attack . . .”
Major Dirk Pitt adjusted the headset on his thick black hair and slowly turned the channel crank on the radio, trying to fine-tune the reception. He listened intently for a few moments, his dark, sea-green eyes reflecting a trace of bewilderment. A frown cut his forehead in a series of grooves and hung there in the tanned leathery skin.
It wasn’t that the words crackling over the receiver weren’t understandable. They were. He just didn’t believe them. He listened again, and listened hard over the droning roar of the PBY Catalina’s twin engines. The voice he heard was fading, when it should have been getting stronger. The volume control was turned to full-on, and Brady Field was only thirty miles away. Under those conditions, the air traffic operator’s voice should have blasted Pitt’s eardrums out. The operator is either losing power or he’s seriously injured, thought Pitt. He pondered a minute and then reached over to his right and shook the sleeping figure in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Come out of it, sleeping beauty.” He spoke in a tone that was soft and effortless, yet had a way of making itself heard in a throbbing airplane or a crowded room.
Captain Al Giordino wearily raised his head and yawned loudly. The fatigue of sitting in an old vibrating PBY flying boat for thirteen hours straight was evident in his dark, bloodshot eyes. He flung his arms upward, puffed out his barrel chest and stretched. Then he came erect and leaned forward, peering out in the distance beyond the cockpit windows.
“Are we over the First Attempt yet?” Giordino mumbled through another yawn.
“Almost,” replied Pitt. “There’s Thasos dead ahead.” “Oh hell,” Giordino grunted; then grinned. “I could have slept another ten minutes. Why’d you wake me?”
“I intercepted a message from Brady Control that said the field was under attack by an unidentified aircraft.”
“You can’t be serious,” Giordino said incredulously. “It must be some kind of a joke.”
“No, I don’t think so. The control operator’s voice didn’t sound like it was faking.” Pitt hesitated and kept an eye on the water only fifty feet away as it flashed under the PBY’s hull. Just for practice he had wave-hopped the last two hundred miles; a means of keeping his reflexes honed and sharp.
“It might be that Brady Control was telling the truth,” said Giordino, peering through the cockpit windshield. “Look over there toward the eastern part of the island.”
Both men stared at the approaching mound rising out of the sea. The beaches bordering the surf were yellow and barren, but the round sloping hills were green with trees. The colors danced in the heat waves and vividly contrasted against the encircling blue of the Aegean. On the eastern side of Thasos a large pillar of smoke rose into the windless sky and formed a giant, spiral-shaped, black cloud. The PBY’s bow soared closer to the island, and soon they could distinguish the orange movement of flames at the base of the smoke.
Pitt grabbed the mike and pressed the button on the side of the handgrip. “Brady Control, Brady Control, this is PBY-086, over.” There was no response. Pitt repeated the call twice more.
“No answer?” queried Giordino. “Nothing,” returned Pitt.
“You said an unidentified aircraft. I take it that means one?”
“That’s precisely what Brady Control said before they went off the air.”
“It doesn’t make sense. Why would one plane attack a
United States Air Force Base?”
“Who knows,” Pitt said, easing the control column back slightly. “Maybe it’s an irate Greek farmer who’s tired of our jets scaring his goats. Anyway, it can’t be a full-scale attack, or Washington would have notified us by now. We’ll have to wait and see.” He rubbed his eyes and blinked away the drowsiness. “Get ready. I’m going to take her up, circle in over those hills and come down out of the sun for a closer look.”
“Take it nice and easy.” Giordino’s eyebrows came together and he grinned a serious grin. “This old bus is way overmatched if that’s a rocket firing jet down there.”
“Don’t worry.” Pitt laughed. “My main goal in life is to stay healthy as long as possible.” He pushed the throttles forward, and the two Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines increased their beat. His large, brown hands moved efficiently, pulling back on the control column, and the plane aimed its flat snout at the sun. The big Catalina rose steadily, gaining altitude by the second, and circled above the Thasos mountains in the direction of the growing smoke cloud.
Suddenly, a voice broke in over Pitt’s headset. The unexpected sound nearly deafened his ears before he could lower the volume—the same voice he heard before, but stronger this time.
“This is Brady Control calling. We are under attack! I repeat, we are under attack! Come in . . . anybody, please reply!” The voice was near hysteria.
Pitt replied, “Brady Control, this is PBY-086. Over.” “Thank God, someone answered,” the voice gasped.
“I tried to raise you before, Brady Control, but you faded and went off the air.”
“I was hit in the first attack, I . . . I must have passed out. I’m all right now.” The words sounded broken, but coherent.
“We’re approximately ten miles west of you at six thousand feet.” Pitt spoke slowly and did not repeat his position. “What is your situation?”
“We have no defense. All our aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The nearest interceptor squadron is seven hundred miles away. They’ll never get here in time. Can you assist?”
Pitt shook his head from side to side from habit. “Negative Brady Control. My top speed is under one hundred ninety knots and I only have a couple of rifles on board. We’d be wasting our time engaging a jet.”
“Please assist,” the voice pleaded. “Our attacker is not a jet bomber but a World War I biplane. I repeat, our attacker is a World War I biplane. Please assist.”
Pitt and Giordino merely looked at each other, dumbfounded. It was a full ten seconds before Pitt could pull his senses back into reign.
“Okay, Brady Control, we’re coming in. But you’d better know your aircraft identification or you’re going to make a pair of little old silver-haired mothers damn sad if my copilot and I buy the farm. Over and out.” Pitt turned to Giordino and spoke quickly without facial expression, his tone confident and calculating. “Go aft and throw open the side hatches. Use one of the carbines and make like a sharpshooter.”
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Giordino said, stunned.
Pitt shook his head. “I can’t quite accept it either, but we’ve got to give those guys down there on the ground a helping hand. Now hurry it up.”
“I’ll do it,” Giordino muttered. “But I still don’t believe it.”
“Yours is not to reason why, my friend.” Pitt lightly punched Giordino on the arm and smiled briefly. “Good luck.”
“Save it for yourself, you bleed just as easily as I do,” Giordino said soberly. Then, muttering quietly under his breath, he rose from the co-pilot’s seat and made his way to the ship’s waist. Once there he pulled the thirty caliber carbine from an upright cabinet and shoved a fifteen shot clip into the receiver. A blast of warm air struck his face, filling the compartment when he opened the waist hatches. He checked the gun once more and sat down to wait; his thoughts drifting to the big man who was piloting the plane.
Giordino had known Pitt for a long time. They’d played together as boys, ran on the same high school track team and dated the same girls. He knew Pitt better than any man alive; any woman too, for that matter. Pitt was, in a sense, two men, neither of them directly related to the other. There was the coldly efficient Dirk Pitt who rarely made a mistake, and yet was humorous, unpretentious and easily made friends with everyone who came in contact with him; a rare combination. Then there was the other Pitt, the moody one, the one who often withdrew to himself for hours at a time and became remote and aloof, as though his mind were constantly churning over some distant dream. There had to be a key that unlocked and opened the door between the two Pitts, but Giordino had never found it. He did know, however, that the transition from one Dirk Pitt to the other took place more frequently in the past year—since Pitt lost a woman in the sea near Hawaii; a woman he had loved deeply.
Giordino remembered noticing Pitt’s eyes before coming back to the main cabin; how the deep green had transformed to a glinting brightness at the call of danger.
Giordino had never seen eyes quite like them, except once, and he shuddered slightly at the recollection as he glanced at the missing finger on his right hand. He jerked his thoughts back to the reality of the present and slid off the safety catch on the carbine. Then, strangely, he felt secure.
Back in the cockpit, Pitt’s tanned face was a study in masculinity. He was not handsome in the movie star sense: far from it. Women rarely, if ever, threw themselves at him. They were usually a little awed and uncomfortable in his presence. They somehow sensed that he was not a man who catered to feminine wiles or silly coquettish games. He loved women’s company and the feel of their soft bodies, but he disliked the subterfuge, the lies and all the other ridiculous little ploys it took to seduce the average female. Not that he lacked cleverness at getting a woman between the sheets; he was an expert. But he had to force himself to play the game. He preferred straightforward and honest women, but there were far too few to be found.
Pitt eased the control column forward, and the PBY nosed over in a shallow dive toward the inferno at Brady Field. The white altimeter needles slowly swung backward around the black dial, registering the descent. He steepened the angle, and the twenty-five-year-old aircraft began to vibrate. It was not built for high speed. It was designed for low-speed reconnaissance, dependability and long range, but that was about all.
Pitt had requested the purchase of the craft after he had transferred from the Air Force to the National Underwater Marine Agency at the request of the Agency Director, Admiral James Sandecker. Pitt still retained his rank of Major and, according to the paperwork, was assigned to an indefinite tour of duty with NUMA. His title was that of Surface Security Officer, which was nothing to him but a fancy term for troubleshooter. Whenever a project ran into unknown difficulties or unscientific problems, it was Pitt’s job to unravel the difficulty and get the operation back on the track. That was the purpose behind his request for the PBY Catalina flying boat. Slow as it was, it could comfortably carry passengers and cargo, and what was most important, land and take off in water; a prime factor since nearly ninety percent of NUMA’s operations were miles at sea.
Suddenly a glint of color against the black cloud caught Pitt’s attention. It was a bright yellow plane. It banked sharply, suggesting high maneuverability, and dived through the smoke. Pitt slipped the throttles backward to reduce the speed of his sharp angle of descent and prevent the PBY from overshooting his strange adversary. The other plane materialized out of the opposite side of the smoke and could clearly be seen strafing Brady Field.
“I’ll be damned,” Pitt boomed out loud. “It’s an old German Albatros.”
The Catalina came on straight from the eye of the sun, and the pilot of the Albatros, intent on the business of destruction, did not see it. A sardonic grin spread on Pitt’s face as the fight drew near. He cursed the fact that there were no guns waiting for his command to spout from the nose of the PBY. He applied pressure to the rudder pedals and sideslipped to give Giordino a better line of fire. The PBY thundered in, still unnoticed. Then, abruptly, he could hear the crack of Giordino’s carbine above the roar of the engines.
They were almost on top of the Albatros before the leather helmeted head in the open cockpit spun around. They were so close Pitt could see the other pilot’s mouth drop open in shocked surprise at the sight of the big flying boat, boring down from the sun—the hunter became the quarry. The pilot recovered quickly and the Albatros rolled sharply away, but not before Giordino drilled it with a fifteen shot clip from the carbine.
The grim, incongruous drama in the smoke-ridden sky over Brady Field reached a new stage as the World War II flying boat squared off against the World War I fighter plane. The PBY was faster, but the Albatros had the advantage of two machine guns and a vastly higher degree of maneuverability. The Albatros was lesser known than its famous counterpart, the Fokker, but it was an excellent fighter and the workhorse of the German Imperial Air Service from 1916 to 1918.
The Albatros twisted, turned and zeroed in on the PBY’s cockpit. Pitt acted quickly and yanked the controls back into his lap and prayed the wings would stay glued to the fuselage as the lumbering flying boat struggled into a loop. He forgot caution and the accepted rules of flying; the exhilaration of man-to-man combat surged in his blood. He could almost hear the rivets popping as the PBY twisted over on its back. The unorthodox evasive action caught his opponent off guard, and the twin streams of fire from the yellow plane went wide, missing the Catalina completely.
The Albatros then made a steep left-hand turn and came straight at the PBY, and they approached head-on. Pitt could see the other plane’s tracer bullets streaking about ten feet under his windshield. Lucky for us this guy’s a lousy shot, he thought. He had a weird feeling in his stomach as the two planes sped together on a collision course. Pitt waited until the last possible instant before he pushed the nose of the PBY down and swiftly banked around, gaining a brief, but favorable position over the Albatros. Again Giordino opened fire. But the yellow Albatros dived out of the spitting hail from the carbine and shot vertically toward the ground, and Pitt momentarily lost sight of it. He swung to the right in a steep turn and searched the sky. It was too late. He sensed, rather than felt, the thumping from a river of bullets that tore into the flying boat. Pitt threw his plane into a violent falling leaf maneuver and successfully dodged the smaller plane’s deadly sting. It was a narrow escape.
The uneven battle continued for a full eight minutes while the military spectators on the ground watched, spellbound. The strange aerial dogfight slowly drifted eastward over the shoreline, and the final round began.
Pitt was sweating now. Small glistening beads of the salty liquid were bursting from the pores on his forehead and trickling in snail-like trails down his face. His opponent was cunning, but Pitt was playing the strategy game too. With infinite patience, dredged up from some hidden reserve in his body, he waited for the right moment, and when it finally arrived he was ready.
The Albatros managed to get behind and slightly above the Catalina. Pitt held his speed steady and the other pilot, sensing victory, closed to within fifty yards of the flying boat’s towering tail section. But before the two machine guns could speak, Pitt pulled the throttle back and lowered the flaps, slowing the big craft into a near stall. The phantom pilot, taken by surprise, overshot and passed the PBY, receiving several well placed rounds in the Albatros’ engine as the carbine spat at near point-blank range. The vintage plane banked in front of Pitt’s bow, and he watched with the respect one brave man has for another when the occupant in the open cockpit pushed up his goggles and threw a curt salute. Then the yellow Albatros and its mysterious pilot turned away and headed west over the island, trailing a black streak of smoke that testified to the accuracy of Giordino’s marksmanship.
The Catalina was falling out of its stall into a dive now, and Pitt fought the controls for a few unnerving seconds before he regained stable flight. Then he began a sweeping, upward turn in the sky. At five thousand feet he leveled off and searched the island and seascape, but no trace of the bright yellow plane with the maltese cross markings was visible. It had vanished.
A cold, clammy feeling crept over Pitt. The yellow Albatros had somehow seemed familiar. It was as though an unremembered ghost from the past had returned to haunt him. But the eerie sensation passed as quickly as it had arrived, and he gave out a deep sigh as the tension faded away, and the welcome comfort of relief gently soothed his mind.
“Well, when do I get my sharpshooter’s medal?” said Giordino from the cabin doorway. He was grinning despite a nasty gash in his scalp. The blood streamed down the right side of his face, staining the collar of a loud, flowered print shirt.
“After we land I’ll buy you a drink instead,” replied Pitt without turning.
Giordino slipped into the co-pilot’s seat. “I feel like I’ve just ridden the roller coaster at the Long Beach Pike.” Pitt could not help grinning. He relaxed, leaning back against the backrest, saying nothing. Then he turned and looked at Giordino, and his eyes squinted. “What happened to you? Were you hit?”
Giordino gave Pitt a mocking, sorrowful look. “Whoever told you that you could loop a PBY?”
“It seemed like the thing to do at the time,” said Pitt, a twinkle in his eye.
“Next time, warn the passengers. I bounced around the main cabin like a basketball.”
“What did you hit your head on?” Pitt asked quizzically.
“Did you have to ask?” “Well?”
Giordino suddenly became embarrassed. “If you must know, it was the door handle on the john.”
Pitt looked startled for an instant. Then he flung back his head and roared with laughter. The mirth was contagious, and Giordino soon followed. The sound rang through the cockpit and replaced the noise of the engines. Nearly thirty seconds passed before their gaiety quieted, and the seriousness of the present situation returned.
Pitt’s mind was clear, but exhaustion was slowly seeping in. The long hours of flight and the strain of the recent combat fell on him heavily and soaked his body like a numbing, damp fog. He thought about the sweet smell of soap in a cold shower and the crispness of clean sheets, and somehow they became vitally important to him. He looked out the cockpit window at Brady Field and recalled that his original destination was the First Attempt, but a dim hunch, or call it a hindsight, made him change his mind.
“Instead of landing in the water and rendezvousing alongside of the First Attempt, I think we’d better set down at Brady Field. I have a foreboding feeling we may have taken a few bullets in our hull.”
“Good idea,” Giordino replied. “I’m not in the mood for bailing.”
The big flying boat made its final approach and lined up on the wreckage strewn runway. It settled on the heat baked asphalt, and the landing gear bumped and emitted an audible screech of rubber that signaled the touchdown.
Pitt angled clear of the flames and taxied to the far side of the apron. When the Catalina stopped rolling he clicked off the ignition switches, and the two silver bladed propellers gradually ceased their revolutions and came to rest, gleaming in the Aegean sun. All was quiet. He and Giordino sat stone still for a few moments and absorbed the first comfortable silence to penetrate the cockpit after thirteen hours of noise and vibration.
Pitt flipped the latch on his side window and pushed it open, watching with detached interest as the base firemen fought the inferno. Hoses were lying everywhere, like highways on a road map, and men scurried about shouting, adding to the stage of confusion. The flames on the F-105 jets were almost contained, but one of the C-133 Cargo-masters still burned fiercely.
“Take a look over here,” said Giordino pointing.
Pitt leaned over the instrument panel and stared out of Giordino’s window at a blue Air Force station wagon that careened across the runway in the direction of the PBY. The car contained several officers and was followed by thirty or forty wildly cheering enlisted men who chased after it like a pack of braying hounds.
“Now that’s what I call one hell of a reception committee,” Pitt said amused and broadly smiling.
Giordino mopped his bleeding cut with a handkerchief. When the cloth was soaked through with red ooze he wadded it up and threw it out of the window to the ground. His gaze turned toward the nearby coastline and became lost in the infinity of thought for a moment. Finally he turned to Pitt. “I guess you know we’re pretty damn lucky to be sitting here.”
“Yes, I know,” said Pitt woodenly. “There were a couple of times up there when I thought our ghost had us.”
“I wish I knew who the hell he was and what this destruction was all about?”
Pitt’s face was a study in speculative curiosity. “The only clue is the yellow Albatros.”
Giordino eyed his friend questioningly. “What possible meaning could the color of that old flying derelict have?”
“If you’d studied your aviation history,” Pitt said with a touch of good-natured sarcasm, “you’d remember that German pilots of the First World War painted their planes with personal, but sometimes outlandish, color schemes.” “Save the history lesson for later,” Giordino growled. “Right now all I want to do is get out of this sweatbox and collect that drink you owe me.” He rose from his seat and started for the exit hatch.
The blue station wagon skidded to a halt beside the big silver flying boat and all four doors burst open. The occupants leaped out shouting and began pounding on the plane’s aluminum hatch. The crowd of enlisted men soon engulfed the aircraft, cheering loudly and waving at the cockpit.
Pitt remained seated and waved back at the cheering men below the window. His body was tired and numb but his mind was still active and running at full throttle. A title kept running through his thoughts until finally he muttered it aloud. “The Hawk of Macedonia.”
Giordino turned from the doorway. “What did you say?”
“Oh nothing, nothing at all.” Pitt let his breath escape in a long audible sigh. “Come on—I’ll buy you that drink now.”
"Get-to-the-next-page excitement...Dirk Pitt is a combination James Bond and Jacques Cousteau." -New York Daily News
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