airborne, the Junkers was more of an eagle than it appeared, but the plane shuddered in rough air and the wing engines smoked and shot bluish-white sparks. "Drinking oil and fuel like a fiend!" Lazaris fretted as he sat in the copilot's seat and watched the gauges. "We'll be walking within two hours!"
"Just so we can reach our first fuel point," Chesna said calmly, her hands on the controls. Conversation was difficult, due to the hoarse roar of the engines. Michael, sitting at a cramped navigator's table behind the cockpit, checked the maps; their initial stop-a hidden airfield operated by the German Resistance-lay just south of Denmark. The second stop, tomorrow night, would be at a partisan field on the northern tip of Denmark, and their final fueling point lay within Norway. The distances looked huge.
"Never make it, Goldilocks," Lazaris said. The Junkers trembled in a sudden seizure, and loose bolts rattled like machine-gun fire. "I saw those parachutes back there." He jerked a thumb toward the cargo bay, where their packets of food, canteens, winter clothes, submachine guns, and ammunition were stored. "They're made for babies. If you expect me to jump out of this crate wearing one of those, you're insane." as he talked, his eyes scanned the darkness, searching for the telltale blue sputters of Nazi night-fighter engines. He knew, however, that they would be hard to see, and by the time you saw, one of the bullets would be on their way. He cringed at the thought of what heavy machine guns would do to this flimsy cockpit, and so he kept talking to hide his fear, though neither Chesna nor Michael was listening. "I'd have a better chance of surviving if I jumped for a haystack."
Little more than two hours later, the starboard engine began to miss. Chesna watched the needles of the fuel gauges settle toward zero. The Junkers's nose kept wanting to sink, as if even the plane itself was in a hurry to get back on the ground. Chesna's wrists ached with the effort of holding the Junkers steady, and before long she had to ask Lazaris to help with the controls. "She flies like a battleship," was the Russian's comment as he steered toward the map coordinates that Michael gave him.
an arrow of fire appeared on the ground: friendly flames, pointing toward their first landing strip. Lazaris took the Junkers in, circling down over the arrow, and when the wheels bit the earth, there was a collective sigh from the cockpit.
Over the next eighteen hours the Junkers was refueled and the engines oiled as Lazaris took charge of the ground crew-most of them farmers, who'd never been within a hundred yards of an airplane. Lazaris got hold of some tools and, under the protection of a camouflage net, he probed into the starboard engine with grimy relish. He made a dozen small corrections, muttering and cursing all the while.
When midnight came again they were in the air, crossing from Germany into Denmark. One's darkness was the same as the other's. Lazaris again took the controls when Chesna got tired, and blasted bawdy Russian drinking songs against the incessant rough music of the engines. Chesna hushed him by pointing to a streak of blue, passing about five thousand feet overhead. The night fighter-probably a new model Heinkel or Dornier, she told them, judging from its speed-was gone to the west within seconds, but the sighting of such a predator took away Lazaris's desire to sing.
On the ground in Denmark they were treated to a banquet of fresh potatoes and blood sausage, a meal that particularly satisfied Michael. Their hosts were again poor farmers, who had obviously been preparing the feast as if for the arrival of royalty. Lazaris's bald dome caught the attention of a little boy, who kept wanting to feel it. The family's dog sniffed nervously around Michael, and one of the women present was thrilled because she recognized Chesna from a picture in a dog-eared magazine about German film stars.
Stars of another kind greeted them as they flew over the North Sea on the following night. a meteor shower shot bolts of red and gold through the darkness, and Michael smiled as he listened to Lazaris laugh like a child.
When they landed, they stepped out of the plane into the chill of Norway. Chesna broke out their parkas, which they slipped on over their gray-green commando outfits. a British agent who introduced himself as Craddock was among the Norwegian partisans who met them, and they were escorted by reindeer sled to a stone cottage where another feast was laid out. Craddock-a sincere young man who smoked a pipe and whose right ear had been shot off by a German rifle bullet-told them the weather was closing in farther north, and they could expect snow before they reached Uskedahl. The broadest woman Michael had ever seen-obviously the older daughter of their host family-sat close beside Lazaris, watching him intently as he chewed on an offering of salt-dried caribou meat. She had tears in her eyes when they left the next night, on the final leg of their journey, and Lazaris clutched a white rabbit's foot that had somehow gotten into his parka.
These were only a small fraction of the millions of human beings whom Hitler had decided were not quite a step above beasts.
The Junkers's engines whined in the thin, cold air. The morning of May 16 came with snow that whirled out of the darkness against the cockpit windshield. The airplane pitched and yawed, buffeted by strong winds over the jagged mountain peaks. Both Lazaris and Chesna gripped the steering yokes as the Junkers rose and fell hundreds of feet. Michael could do nothing but strap himself in and hold on to the table, sweat trickling under his arms and his stomach lurching. The Junkers shuddered violently, and they all heard the frame creak like bass violin notes.
"Ice on the wings," Chesna said tersely as she scanned the gauges. "Oil pressure's dropping on the port-side engine. The temperature's coming up fast."
"Oil leak. We've ripped a seam." Lazaris's voice was all business. The Junkers vibrated again, as if they were running over a cobblestone road. He reached to the control panel and cut back the power on the left wing engine, but before he could get his fingers off the lever there was a heart-stopping boom and flames spat from around the engine cowling. The propeller seized up and froze.
"Now we'll find out what she's made of," Lazaris said, through gritted teeth, as the altimeter began to fall.
The Junkers's nose descended. Lazaris pulled it up again, his gloved hands clenched on the yoke. Chesna added her strength to his, but the plane had a mind of its own. "I can't hold it!" she said, and Lazaris told her, "You'll have to." She did, putting her back and shoulders into it. Michael unbuckled his seat straps and leaned over Chesna, gripping the yoke with her. He could feel the immense, trembling strain the aircraft was under, and as wind sideswiped the plane and slewed it to the left he was slammed up against the cockpit bulkhead.
"Strap in!" Lazaris shouted. "You'll break your neck!" Michael leaned forward again, helping Chesna hold the plane's nose as steady as they could. Lazaris glanced at the port wing engine, saw streamers of red fire flowing back from the blistered cowling. Burning fuel, he realized. If the wing's fuel tank blew...
The Junkers slewed to the side again, a violent twist that made the frame moan. Lazaris heard the sound of rending metal, and he realized with a start of pure horror that the cockpit floor had split open right under his legs.
"Let me have her!" he said, and he pushed the yoke forward and nosed the Junkers into a screaming dive.
Michael saw the altimeter needle spinning crazily. He couldn't see anything beyond the windshield and the snow, but he knew the mountains were there and so did Chesna. The aircraft fell, the fuselage moaning and straining like a body in torment. Lazaris watched the port wing engine. The fires were going out, extinguished by the wind. When the last flicker of flame had gone, he wrenched back on the yoke as the muscles in his shoulders popped. The Junkers was slow in responding. His wrists and forearms were in agony. Chesna grasped the yoke and pulled back on it, too. Then Michael added his power, and the Junkers vibrated and groaned but obeyed. The altimeter needle leveled off at just below two thousand feet.
"There!" Chesna pointed to the right, at a point of fire through the snow. She turned the plane toward it and continued to let the altitude slowly fall.
another point of fire sparked. Then a third. "That's the airstrip," Chesna said as the altimeter needle crawled down the gauge. a fourth fire began to burn. Oilcans, flaming on either side of the landing field. "We're going in." She pulled back on the throttles, her hand shaking, and Michael quickly strapped himself into his seat.
as they approached the flame-lit field, Chesna straightened the wings and cut the remaining two engines. The Junkers, an ungainly bird, glided in with the noise of snow hissing on the hot cowlings. The tires hit earth. Bounced. Hit again, a smaller bounce. and then Chesna was standing on the brake, and the Junkers was leaving a plume of snow and steam behind it as it rolled across the field.
The airplane slowed, and with a rush and gurgle of leaking hydraulic fluid the tires crunched to a halt.
Lazaris peered down between his legs, where he saw a crack of snow about six inches wide. He was the first out of the airplane. as Chesna and Michael emerged, Lazaris was walking in dazed circles, reacquainting his feet with solid earth. The Junkers's engines steamed and crackled, having the last words.
as Michael and Chesna were unloading the supplies, a battered, white-painted truck pulled up beside the Junkers. Several men got off and began to unroll a huge white tarpaulin. Their leader was a red-bearded man who gave his name as Hurks, and proceeded to help load the knapsacks, submachine guns, ammunition, and grenades into the truck. as Hurks worked, the other men labored to get the tarpaulin over the Junkers.
"We almost went down!" Lazaris told Hurks as he gripped his rabbit's foot. "That storm almost knocked our damned wings off!"
Hurks looked at him blankly. "What stormi This is springtime." Then he returned to work, and Lazaris stood there getting snow in his beard.
There was a groan and clatter of weakened bolts snapping. Michael and Chesna turned toward the airplane, and Lazaris gasped with horror. The flame-blackened port wing engine hung off its mount for a few seconds, then the last few bolts broke and the entire engine crashed to the ground.
"Welcome to Norway," Hurks told them. "Hurry it up!" he shouted to the men over the wind's shrill wall. "Get that thing covered!" The men worked fast, spreading the tarpaulin over the Junkers and staking it down with white ropes. Then, with the passengers and the other Norwegians in the truck, Hurks got behind the wheel and drove them away from the landing strip toward the seacoast, about twenty-five miles to the southwest.
The sun silvered the sky to the east as they drove through the narrow, muddy streets of Uskedahl. It was a fishing village, the houses made of gray wood and stones. Thin creepers of smoke curled from chimneys, and Michael smelled the aromas of strong coffee and bacon fat. Down where the rocks met the slate-colored sea, a small fleet of boats chugged out on the dawn tide, nets rigged up and ready. a pack of skinny dogs barked and yipped at the wheels of the truck, and here and there Michael noted a figure watching through half-drawn shutters.
Chesna elbowed him in the ribs and motioned out toward the harbor. a big Blohm und Voss flying boat, a swastika painted on its tall, was skimming the smooth surface about two hundred yards offshore. It made two slow circles of the fishing fleet, then gained altitude and vanished into the low-lying clouds. The message was understood: the Nazi masters were watching.
Hurks stopped the truck in front of a stone house. "You get off here," he told Michael, Chesna, and Lazaris. "We'll take care of your goodies."
Neither Chesna nor Michael liked the idea of leaving the guns and ammunition with a man they didn't know, but neither did they wish to risk the weapons being found if the village was inspected by the crewmen of that flying boat. Reluctantly they got off the truck. "You go in there." Hurks pointed toward the house. Its door glistened with a shellac of dried seal blubber. "Rest. Eat. Walt." He put the truck into gear and drove away through the mud.
Michael opened the door and entered. His hair brushed a little waterfall of silver bells nailed at the top of the threshold, and they jingled as merrily as Christmas Eve. The bells caught in Chesna's hair, too, and they dragged over Lazaris's stubbled scalp. The inside of the house was gloomy and smelled of fish and dried mud. Nets hung from the walls, and here and there a crooked picture clipped from a magazine was stuck on a nail. a small fire glowed at the center of a cast-iron stove.
"Helloi" Michael called. "anyone herei"
Springs squalled. On an old brown sofa was a large mound of dirty clothes. The mound had begun to quiver, and as the new arrivals watched they saw it sit up, the sofa's springs straining.
"Saint Peter's ghost!" Lazaris breathed. "What is thati"
Whatever it was, it reached for a bottle of vodka on the floor beside it. a large brown hand uncorked the bottle, lifted it, and there was the sound of liquid gurgling down a gullet. Then a belch. The mound struggled to stand, and rose up to well over six feet.
"Welcome!" The voice was husky and slurred. a woman's voice. "Welcome!" She came toward them, into the stove's ruddy light. The floorboards creaked under her, and Michael was surprised they didn't collapse altogether. The woman had to be two hundred and fifty pounds, if an ounce, and perhaps six feet two inches tall. She approached them, a wobbling mountain on legs. "Welcome!" she said once more, either deficient in sense or language. Her broad, wrinkled face grinned, displaying a mouth that held three teeth. She had the almond-shaped eyes of an Eskimo, yet her eyes-set in nests of wrinkles-were pale blue. Her skin was coppery brown, and her lank, straight hair-cropped as if beneath an oversized bowl-was a brassy orange: the commingling, Michael realized, of generations of Eskimo and Nordic genes, battling for dominance. She was quite an extraordinary-looking woman, standing there grinning and wrapped in folds of multicolored blankets. Michael judged her to be in her late forties or early fifties, given the wrinkles in her face and the gray amid the orange hair.
She offered the vodka bottle. "Welcomei" she asked, a gold pin stuck in one of her nostrils.
"Welcome!" Lazaris said as he snatched the bottle from her hand and swallowed the clear fire. He paused to make a respectful whistling noise, then went back to his guzzling. Michael pried the bottle out of his fingers and returned it to the woman, who licked the neck's rim and took another slug.
"What's your namei" Chesna asked, speaking German. The woman shook her head. "Your namei" Chesna tried her luck at Norwegian, though she knew very little of the language. She pressed a hand against her breastbone. "Chesna." Pointed at Michael. "Michael." Then at the happy Russian. "Lazaris."
"ah!" The woman nodded gleefully. She pointed between her massive thighs. "Kitty!" she said. "Welcome!"
"a man could get in a hell of a lot of trouble around here," Lazaris observed sagely.
The cabin, if not exactly clean, was at least warm. Michael took off his parka and hung it on a wall hook while Chesna tried to communicate with the huge, rather tipsy Eskinordic. The best she could do was understand that the woman lived here, and that there were plenty of bottles of vodka.
The door opened, and the bells chimed. Hurks closed the door behind him. "Well!" he said as he peeled off his heavy coat. "I see you've met Kitty!"
Kitty grinned at him, drank the rest of the bottle, and flopped down on the sofa with a splintering crash.
"She's a bit hard on the furniture," Hurks admitted, "but she's pleasant enough. Who's in charge among youi"
"I am," Chesna said.
"all right." Hurks spoke to Kitty in a singsong dialect that sounded to Michael like a mixture of grunts and clicks. Kitty nodded, her grin gone, and stared at Chesna. "I've told her who you are," Hurks said. "She's been expecting you."
"She hasi" Chesna shook her head. "I don't understand."
"Kitty's going to take you to Skarpa Island," Hurks explained. He went to a cupboard and brought out a box of shortbread biscuits.
"Whati" Chesna glanced at the woman, who was smiling with her eyes closed and the empty bottle clutched against her belly. "She's... she's a drunk!"
"Soi We're all drunks up here nowadays." He took a beat-up coffeepot from a table, shook it to slosh the liquid around, and then set it atop the stove. "Kitty knows the water, and she knows Skarpa Island, too. Me, I don't know a damned thing about boats. I can't even swim. Which would be beside the point, I suppose, if you bumped a mine."
"You're saying that if we want to get to Skarpa, we have to put our lives in her handsi"
"That's it," Hurks said.
"Skarpa!" Kitty's eyes opened. Her voice was a low, guttural growl. "Skarpa dirty bad! Patoo!" She spat on the floor. "Nazee boys! Patoo!" another wad of spit hit the stained planks.
"Besides," Hurks went on, "it's Kitty's boat. She used to be the best fisherman for a hundred miles around. She says she used to be able to hear the fish sing, and when she learned their songs and sang back, they swam into her nets by the ton."
"I'm not interested in singing fish," Chesna said coolly. "I'm interested in patrol boats, searchlights, and mines."
"Oh, Kitty knows where those are, too." He brought tin cups down from their hooks. "Kitty used to live on Skarpa Island, before the Nazis came. She and her husband and six sons."
There was a clink as the empty vodka bottle was tossed aside. It landed in the corner, near three others. Kitty dug into the folds of the sofa, and her hand emerged gripping a fresh bottle. She pulled the cork out with her remaining teeth, tipped the bottle, and drank.
"What happened to her familyi" Michael asked.
"The Nazis... shall we say... recruited them to help build that big son-of-a-bitch chemical plant. They also recruited every other able-bodied person from Kitty's village. and Kitty herself, of course, since she's strong as an ox. They also built an airfield and flew in slave labor. anyway, the Nazis executed everyone who did the work. Kitty's got two bullets in her. They hurt her sometimes when the weather turns really cold." He touched the pot. "Coffee will have to be black, I'm afraid. We're out of cream and sugar." He began to pour coffee for them; it came out thick and sludgy. "Kitty lay with the corpses for three or four days. She's not exactly sure how long it was. When she decided she wasn't going to die, she got up and found a rowboat. I met her in forty-two, when my ship went down with a torpedo in the guts. I was a merchant marine seaman, and thank God I got to a raft." He gave the first cup to Chesna, then offered her some shortbread.
"What did the Nazis do with the bodiesi" Chesna took the coffee and a biscuit.
Hurks asked Kitty, again using that grunt-click language. Kitty replied in a quiet, drunken voice. "They left them for the wolves," Hurks said. He offered the box to Michael. "Biscuiti"
along with the muscular coffee and the shortbread, Hurks produced a packet of dried, leathery mutton that Michael found tasty, but Chesna and Lazaris had difficulty swallowing. "We'll have a good pot of stew tonight," Hurks promised. "Squid, onions, and potatoes. Very tasty, with a lot of salt and pepper."
"I won't eat a squid!" Lazaris said as he shrugged off his parka and sat down at a table, his coffee cup before him. He shuddered. "Damn things look like a cock after a night in a Moscow whorehouse!" He reached for his cup. "No, I'll just eat the onions and pota-"
There was a movement, very fast, behind him. He saw the glint of a blade, and Kitty's huge bulk falling over him like an avalanche.
"Don't move!" Hurks shouted-and then the blade was thrust down, before either Michael or Chesna could get to the Russian's aid.
The knife, its wickedly hooked blade used for skinning seals, slammed into the scarred tabletop, between Lazari's outstretched second and third fingers. It missed the flesh, but Lazaris jerked his hand to his chest and squalled like a cat with a burning tail.
His scream was followed by another: a scream of hoarse, drunken laughter. Kitty wrenched the knife out of the table-top and did a merry dance around the room like a massive and deadly whirligig.
"She's mad!" Lazaris hollered, checking his fingers. "absolutely mad!"
"I'm sorry," Hurks apologized after Kitty had sheathed her knife and fallen onto the sofa again. "When she drinks... she has this little game she likes to play. But she always misses. Most of the time, that is." He held up his left hand; part of the third finger was severed up to the knuckle.
"Well, for God's sake get that knife away from her!" Lazaris shouted, but Kitty was already folded up around it, swigging down more vodka.
Michael and Chesna stuffed their hands into the pockets of their jumpsuits. "It's important we get to Skarpa as soon as possible," Michael said. "When can we goi"
Hurks posed the question to Kitty. She thought about it for a moment, her brow knitted. She got up and waddled outside. When she returned, her feet covered with mud, she grinned and answered.
"Tomorrow night," Hurks translated. "She says there'll be a blow tonight, and fog follows wind."
"By tomorrow night I might be down to the stumps!" Lazaris buried his hands in his pockets until Kitty returned to the sofa, then he dared to withdraw them and to finish his meal. "You know," he ventured after Kitty had begun to snore, "there's something we all ought to be thinking about. If we get on that island, do whatever it is you heroic types are supposed to do, and get off with all our body parts, then whati In case you haven't noticed, our Junkers has lived up to its name. I couldn't put that engine back on, even with a crane. and anyway, it's burned to a crisp. So how do we get out of herei"
The question was not one that Michael hadn't already considered. He looked at Chesna, and saw she had no answer for it either.
"That's what I thought," Lazaris muttered.
But Michael couldn't let that problem contaminate his mind right now. Skarpa had to be reached and Dr. Hildebrand dealt with first, then they'd find a way out. He hoped. Norway would not be a pleasant place to spend the summer with the Nazis hunting them down. Hurks got the vodka bottle away from Kitty and passed it around. Michael allowed himself one fiery sip, and then he stretched out on the floor-his hands wedged in his pockets-and was asleep in just over a minute.