Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 23

Lady Lansbury

It was good to be with Henry. He was the sanest person Liz knew. Moreover, it wasn’t necessary to confide in him. He already picked up everything of importance from the people around him without asking questions. Not only that, he could let it seem that he didn’t know what he knew. In this case, he made no comment about David’s sudden appearances and quick departures. Over time, they didn’t fit into any plausible naval timetable. The only explanation Liz could think of was that he had a voracious sexual appetite. It seemed that, whenever he could get off duty, he rushed from one mistress to another at maximum speed, using any available means of transport. Liz was very careful with the condoms which, for some reason, were called ‘French letters’ in England. Ironically, it seemed to Liz that, in that respect, she would have been safer with Jean Marie. That gentleman, as far as could be seen, was more inclined toward one woman at a time.

     It was at this time that one of their theories was confirmed. Liz was flying with Sheila near the coast when a particularly intense fog rolled in from the channel. They tried to beat it, but it had covered Bridport and vicinity by the time they got there. According to plan, they flew south southeast for twenty minutes before slowly descending. As it happened, they saw the water when they were some fifteen feet above it. There was enough room for a slow bank and turn into the wind before landing in the moderate chop. Liz noticed the cannon at her side getting a good dousing from the spray and groaned inwardly. But it could hardly be helped.

     On conferring, they guessed that they were some twenty miles from the coast, and turned in a northerly direction. The Walrus moved along nicely, like the boat that it was in large part, the only problem being that they would hardly see land before they hit it. That was not part of the plan.

     The other unexpected event was a near collision with a fishing boat. In fact, the port upper wing was almost over the boat’s bow before both parties turned away. The fishermen had probably seen the Walrii doing their exercises, but hadn’t expected to meet one so closely. They were also mightily surprised when a young woman stood up and started talking with them.

     Liz wasn’t sure whether to make light of the whole thing with a, ‘So nice to see you here’, sort of speech, but it didn’t make any difference. She couldn’t understand anything the men shouted to her in their West Country accent.

     After a while, communication was established. Liz was informed that, if she tried to enter Bridport, she would end up in surf at the base of the cliffs. Even if she tried to follow them in, she might well lose them in the fog. The only solution was to close down their engine and accept a towline.

     It was all a lark for Sheila in the co-pilot’s seat. She found some candy stashed in the cockpit, and was eating it when the boat towing them slowed and dropped a lead over the side. Liz realized that they were sounding to check their position, and remarked, “That must tell them more or less how near the coast we are, but they’ll still be dependent on a compass course to find the harbor entrance.”

“I wonder if they knew where they were to begin with.”

“Probably within a mile. If they didn’t get blown off while attending to us.”

In the end, the fog lifted a little at the right time, and they were towed into the harbor in something less than triumph.

     Immediately after securing their craft and the Walrus, the fishermen went to the pub. Liz was able to put through a call to Henry, and, for the next half hour, she and Sheila learned a good deal about the speech and customs of the fishing industry. When Henry appeared, the merriment was so pronounced that he sat down for a ‘bitter.’ Going back to the camp, the fog was so thick that it was hard to even stay on the road.

     Things happened in the middle of March. The Nazis took over the heart of nominally independent Czecho-Slovakia without resistance. The seriously ill President Hacha had been browbeaten by Hitler and Goering into ordering his army to surrender. Indeed, Hacha had passed out midway during the process, but came to long enough to sign the document. Ivan said that there could no longer be any illusions about a lasting peace, and the English agreed with him. Gas masks in cardboard boxes began appearing everywhere, hanging by string from peoples’ necks. It was an odd sight, but not as odd as that furnished by people experimentally putting on the masks.

     Children began to be evacuated from the cities in considerable numbers, and a contingent, together with their mothers, arrived in Bridport. Since there was already a refugee camp, it was simply expanded.

     Liz soon discovered that the more affluent mothers and children had gone to live with relatives scattered all over the countryside. Their bunch, from the east end of London, had a form of Cockney which puzzled the local people as much as it did herself. A few of the older children played in their soccer games, and the local schools coped as best they could. Henry, quite frankly, didn’t like children. As he said, “It’s important for children to be taught, as long as they’re taught by someone else.”

The older Jewish people, out of a sense of obligation, made overtures to the mothers, but they simply couldn’t understand one another. Liz, herself, tried to bring together some members of the two groups, and, used to languages, did some interpreting. However, the cultural differences were too great to be overcome, and Liz came away from the session only with the knowledge that there was such a thing as Cockney rhyming slang. It seemed to her a dramatically bad thing for an aviator to know or use.

     On the last day of March, the British and French finally guaranteed Poland, agreeing to go to war if she were invaded. On the one hand, it was expected. On the other, it was almost absurd. There was no way in which the British could do anything to save Poland. The French did have a large army which could, in theory, have invaded western Germany in support of the Poles. However, the more one knew about the French, the less likely that seemed. As Ivan said, “The upshot is that, if there is a war between the Germans and the Franco-British allies, and the allies win, they’ll think about giving the Poles back their country.”

    The very next day, there was the news that the Spanish Civil War had finally ended, with the Republicans surrendering. The Franco regime would be executing their enemies in a big way, and Liz wondered how Viv would be feeling about that. On the other hand, the end was no surprise and had been anticipated for months. Viv had recently remarked that almost everyone she had known in Spain would be dead by this time. In any case, Liz sent off a letter to Viv, expressing something approaching condolences. As she mailed it, she found herself thankful that Viv had gotten out in time.

     There was now a break in the weather, and it was easier to fly. Ivan was spending more time at Bridport, and he had some ideas to put to Liz, “The whole thing is to see the U-boat wake before he sees or hears us. But we can’t really expect to visually search the whole ocean for such a small object. Even if we could fit twenty observers with binoculars on a Walrus, the chances would be very slim. We need to concentrate on the fairly small area in which a sighting will lead to a kill.”

“What area is that?”

“We create it by getting up fairly high, and then gliding silently down, as close as possible to the angle of the sun’s rays to, say, a thousand feet. As we glide down, we search intensely the most brightly illuminated part of the ocean, which will be directly in front of us.”

“Okay, the sub won’t hear us in a glide, but what about the rest of the ocean?”

“Lower probability. However, subs in other areas would see us and be forced to dive. Which we want because it largely neutralizes them with their slow submerged speed.”

 “Well, Ivan, we’d better get hold of a fairly large motor boat which will create a wake, and then practice.”

With Ivan, things like that got done almost immediately.

     Since they wanted to observe the tactics from both ends, Liz went out in the boat while a half dozen Walrii searched, one by one. The boat belonged to one of Ivan’s rich friends, and, most particularly, to the beautiful young wife who was presently steering it. It was about forty feet long, had two big engines, and was capable of over thirty knots. There was an open cockpit, rather like the one on a Walrus, with two luxurious seats, rather unlike the Walrus seats, behind a wide windshield. Liz was in the right-hand seat, hanging on as the boat moved along at eighteen knots, about the speed of a surfaced U-boat.

     There was only one crew member, a young man who saw to the engines, but he remained below. As they moved out of sight of land, Liz was a little surprised that the glamorous young lady beside her was placed in total control of a very rich man’s plaything. However, she seemed entirely competent and full of confidence.

     Lady Lansbury wasn’t much like Lady Mary. Apart from the difference in age and looks, Lisa Lansbury was, not the only child of an earl, but the wife of a mere knight. However the knight was much richer than the earl had ever been.

     While Liz hadn’t met the husband and didn’t know how large a factor his wealth had been in acquiring his wife, Lisa obviously loved opulence. Her nautical costume, probably inspired by a naval uniform, had fanciful and extravagant touches, but was obviously the work of a good designer. It was not something that one would want to get dirty, but, after all, she only had to steer a motor boat. The crew member presumably did everything else.

      Liz had been told that Lisa was formerly a waitress in a tea shop. No one would have guessed that now, and it was gradually becoming clear she was quite intelligent and sensitive to other people. She would, under no circumstances, have remained a waitress for very long.

     There was also a euphoria that reminded Liz of the pilots. The good times might not last terribly long, but should be maximized as long as they did last. At the moment, she was doing figure-eights that almost knocked Liz out of her seat as she asked, with apparent innocence, “Are we behaving in the manner of a Nazi submarine?”

Liz replied, gently, “They’re about four times as long as this boat, and their turning radius would be proportional.”

Lisa then settled on something like a straight course, and they looked and listened for aircraft. The listening part was hard because Lisa talked a lot, but Liz moved back nearer the stern with her binoculars. It was impossible to cover the whole sky, but she looked in the danger zones, directly astern and as near the sun as she could.

     It was mostly by accident that she saw a Walrus gliding down, but well off to the left. The Walrus evidently hadn’t seen their wake, and, even if it saw them now, it would take it too long to get into attack position. Were they a submarine, they would have time to get down. As the Walrus finished its glide and powered up, Liz could hear it clearly at something like two miles.

     As the Walrus disappeared, Liz couldn’t hear any others. That was as it should be. Even when they were cruising at altitude in level flight, they would be using minimum power, which, with a Walrus, wasn’t very much.

     The next one took Liz by surprise. It was only some hundred yards away, headed right for them. Lisa screamed and did a hard turn to starboard which left Liz lying on the deck. The Walrus, now at full power, roared over them as the co-pilot stood up, waving triumphantly. Picking herself up, Liz said to Lisa, “Whatever evasive action you might have taken, that was a kill!”

As time passed, there were some more ineffectual glide-downs, but, also, another kill. The whole thing presaged a kind of war in which it was more important to see than shoot. As she said to Lisa, “If you don’t see, you can’t attack. But, if you see, then, even if you botch the attack, another plane or ship may be able to make the kill.”

     As they made their way back, Liz found herself quite pleased with the results. So was Lisa, and that was the problem. Lisa might not have noticed the cannon along the sides of the Walrii, and might have thought that the tactic was to depth charge a submerging submarine. However, they certainly didn’t want it known that Walrii were participating in this sort of training, and that they were to be used for anything apart from rescuing survivors in the ocean. Given what Lisa knew, more knowledgeable people might arrive at some conclusions. Moreover, Lisa might be primed to tell everyone she knew about her exciting adventure.  There were some people who could keep secrets, and others who took a special delight in spreading them.

     As Liz was considering the matter, a hatch opened up between her feet and those of Lisa, and a blonde head was thrust out. Lisa casually introduced them by their first names, and they started to chat. Liz, having previously caught sight of Peter only marginally, soon realized how handsome and personable he was.

     Peter might technically be a servant, but there was nothing servile about his manner, nor in the way that he teased the two young women. By the time that he popped back down out of sight, Liz was half convinced that he was having an affair with Lisa. After all, if she had married a much older man for money, how could she resist someone like Peter? And, of course, Lisa was the sort of woman young men might dream about. If Liz was correct, Peter didn’t have to dream.

     After Peter was gone, Liz looked over at Lisa. Lisa looked back and gave a little laugh. Liz said, “We’re certainly grateful to you for providing this training. I hope it isn’t too big an imposition.”

“Oh, no. I like things that get me out of the house. And it’s so pleasant on the water.”

Liz agreed readily, and then, somewhat to her surprise, Lisa said, “I was told that these exercises are to be kept secret.”

“Yes. We’d have to stop if word got out. Should we explain that to Peter?”

“I think he understands that very well.”

There was another little smile. When they got back, Lisa dropped Liz off at the dock as they planned the next week’s exercise. She then went out to help Peter moor the boat. She’d have to keep her outfit clean when getting in and out of the dingy, but Liz supposed that she would manage.

     Ivan was pleased at the results of the test. He said, “Germany won’t have that many U-boats, and it can be important to get even a few. It might save twenty or thirty ships.”

“Okay. Whether or not the navy organizes convoys, we hunt subs where they’re likely to be patrolling.”

Liz then filled Ivan in on the other aspects of the situation. He concluded, “It then seems that Lisa and her friend won’t be leaking our secrets. Her husband, Hugh, has been keeping secrets for decades. No worry there.”

“I suppose he wouldn’t be thrilled about the other aspect of things.”

“When a man his age marries someone like Lisa, he has to expect that. He just wants a piece of the action, which he presumably gets.”

“That would have to be part of the bargain, wouldn’t it?”

“In this case, I think so. Actually, the situation is nearly ideal. She presumably isn’t having an affair with someone in his circle, but with an isolated young man that no one knows.”

Liz replied, “You’ve been corrupted by the English, Ivan. They use the phrase, ‘a man whom no one knows’ to mean a man of no importance.”

Ivan had to laugh.

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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