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A rudimentary airfield fifty miles from Madrid, November 14, 1936.
"What the fuck! It works don't it? I told him it works. That fuckass, he dint say nuthin nohow. Ceptin I aint been paid. Who the fuck said it dont work? Them spics? That who? What the fuck. They caint wipe their asses."
The speaker was pointing at the ground and indicating what appeared to be a large manually operated fuel pump. After indulging in a loud braying laugh, he repeated some of his previous remarks and laughed again. He seemed to have his own rhythm of speech and laughter, and one sensed that he could go on almost indefinitely with only minor changes of topic.
Two men stood nearby observing the speaker, whose name was Radway. One, to whom the preceding remarks had been more or less addressed, was obviously British. His name was Collishaw-Smith. A tall middle-aged man with a gray moustache, he would have looked distinguished were it not for the appearance that he was too used to men like Radway. The second observer could only have been American. Muscular and generally undemonstrative, he pointed his finger at Radway and spoke as if he weren't within hearing distance.
"Where did you find him?"
Collishaw replied without hesitation,
"The pwince found him, ectually. I understand that, until wecently, he was a stokah aboard an Amewican twamp steamah."
"I wather suppose so. You, there, fellow! You deserted ship didn't you?"
"Fuckin desert! Who the fuck said that. Them spics. Asshole spics."
As the laugh broke out again in regular sequence, Collishaw raised his voice to be heard.
"Then he was in jail, of course. The Pwince seems to have employed a number of newly weleased pwisoners."
Captain Whitby took several steps away and, looking at the ridges surrounding the airfield, said,
"The worst thing is to be caught on the ground. If the attack is low level, the first we'll see or hear will be when it comes over one of these ridges and barrels in on us."
The captain then pointed directly overhead and continued,
"We'll always try to have one section of three planes in the air. Starting before first light. Then, all the ships of both squadrons will have to be gassed and armed all the time. Can you manage that?"
Collishaw-Smith had risen to be a major in the British Army before running into difficulty. Since he had been sacked without first being demoted, he, in one sense, outranked the other man, whose last rank had been that of Captain. There was no hint of this in his reply. He instead sounded like an officer of middle rank replying confidently when given a mission by a Colonel or General.
"Yes, I think so, sah."
"What if Radway here has a hangover one morning and doesn't feel like getting up and fuelling planes?"
"Perhaps it would be bettah to have them weady the night before."
"Ok. What happens if that pump that he claims works doesn't? Is the spare any better?"
"Ectually, I'm not certain that we have a spa-ah."
"I think you should get one yourself, and not trust it to anyone else."
"Mr. Conway said he was getting another one."
The air of automatic obedience had faded, to be replaced, not by insubordination, but by something more subtle. Collishaw's manner now suggested that it wasn't a military situation at all, and that he was a civilian assistant or associate in a rather vaguely run enterprise. Oddly enough, it was only now, when he showed signs of balking, that his voice took on a servile tone. Captain Whitby was having none of it.
"Good. You get one, too. Then we'll see which works better."
"I say, captain, thwee fuel pumps for those tanks is a bit much, isn't it?"
The younger man looked at Collishaw sharply, as if about to give a rebuke. He instead explained in a forceful but reasonable tone.
"In Spain, six wouldn't be too many. Besides, this field, pitiful as it is, is almost certain to be bombed. Once all the ships are in the air, I'm going to let them bomb it."
"You mean, you awen't going to twy to pwotect it at all?"
"No. You and your men can take to the hills over there until the attack is over. Then hare back and fill in enough craters so we can land."
"I suppose we'll need a good many of evewything, then."
"I also want at least some of the tanks dug real deep. So that even a direct hit on the ground above them won't set them off. The spare engines and other parts can be hidden in the woods over there."
"I'm afwaid, captain, that I don't have a lawge enough labah fawce for all that."
"Hire locals. I have some discretionary cash, and I'll supply it as needed, at least til it runs out."
"That waises a bit of a pwoblem, sah. My people are two weeks behind on their pay, and they're wather westless. The situation may wapidly detewiowate if they see Spaniards being paid cash."
"You yourself have been paid a month in advance, haven't you?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so. I wouldn't like that to be genewally known, though."
"All right. Here's what we'll tell the others. My understanding is that anywhere outside an actual battle zone, and off the main roads, small groups of men can cross the lines, even in daylight. Is that correct?"
"Yes. Sometimes we've even obtained supplies in nationalist tewitowy and bwought them back without intahfewence."
"Ok. Tell your men this. We'll pick a small city on the other side and send them over at night. They can lay up on the outskirts. Then, during business hours, we'll bomb the town and create panic. Above all, we'll bomb the bank. Then they can go in, loot it, blow up any vaults we haven't hit, and bring back the money. But that's only if they do everything we want for at least three months."
"You wemind me a little of the pwince, captain."
At this point, Mr. Conway appeared. Collishaw-Smith nodded to him and departed, taking Radway with him. After he was out of earshot, Captain Whitby asked,
"Can he be trusted at all?"
"To an extent. He's really not a bad sort. We were right to pay him in advance. He wants to do a good job."
"The way he talks drives me crazy."
"Wobert wuns wapidly down the wunway. That's an affectation that seems to be fashionable in Bwitain these days. I kind of enjoy it."
Whitby related to Conway the story he had given to Collishaw- Smith for consumption by his men. He then added,
"That's what I learned in Haiti. There must always be a myth, and everyone must always have his eyes firmly fixed on some pie in the sky."
Conway laughed boyishly, and then sobered.
"You know, that scheme might really work."
"Who knows in this place? Apart from a few hot spots, it isn't really war. It's just organized gangsterism. We could be the first people in the history of the world to use airplanes to rob a bank."
"How did old Collishaw respond to that?"
"I think he'll tell the men. Being cashiered from the British army does wonders for a man's flexibility."
"I think he was probably flexible to begin with. I rather like dealing with crooks. They don't keep telling you that what you want to do is against the rules, or that you need to fill out forms in triplicate. They only worry about getting paid."
"We do seem to have lots of money."
Conway nodded, and then threw his head back.
"That's an understatement. Cynthia can write a check that would buy this whole damned town. Too bad we're honest ourselves."
"I don't know that I am very honest. I've just never gotten involved in greed. If I ever knock over a bank myself, I'll probably give away the proceeds."
"There's hardly anything I want, really. I enjoy life as it is, at least as long as I don't have to fly in combat."
"Yes. I've never quite figured out what it is that's wrong with your flying, Bob, but there's no doubt that you'd be killed."
"It may be that I piss in my pants when I see someone like little Timmy on my tail."
"No, it's not that. Slow reflexes, I guess. Anyhow, you're much more valuable on the ground. Particularly with all these little killers we can put in the air."
As if to underscore the point, a Mureaux appeared over the ridge with a whine, and slowly lost altitude as it headed for the runway. It touched down, kicking up dust, bounced twice, and jolted over the many imperfections of the runway. Whitby didn't look pleased.
"One thing is for sure. We've got to get at least one runway paved. Otherwise, the first heavy rains, and we're out of business."
"Even as it is, it's hard on the ships. I've been trying to find a Spanish road crew, but no luck so far."
"You may as well put Collishaw on it, too."
"Ok. For someone who doesn't speak Spanish, he does remarkably well with these people."
"He does have that mangy looking character who interprets for him."
"An amazing man. His English isn't very good, and his Spanish is worse. He seems to have no native language at all."
"Is that possible?"
Conway laughed and waved at the landscape.
"I hadn't thought so, but Spain is a land of many miracles."
The airfield, November 16, 1936, dawn.
The fighter came right out of the sun. Instead of attacking the rows of parked aircraft, it dropped onto the runway. It then taxied over to the operations hut, and disgorged Captain Whitby.
"Bob, what in hell is going on over there?"
"It's a road crew beginning work on the runway, Moses."
"Where did you find it."
"I didn't. Collishaw did. He's over there directing both his own men and the Spaniards. I assured the latter that you'd pay them at one and a half times the local wage scale."
"Is that three cents an hour instead of two?"
"Something like that."
Already, at the end of the runway a quarter mile away, smoke was rising from a large wagon in which tar was apparently being heated. A half dozen other horse drawn wagons were moving slowly around and spreading gravel. Conway waved at them.
"I've never seen people work that efficiently in a Latin country."
"That Collishaw is amazing. I can't imagine why the British army threw him out."
"He was probably caught buggering his batman. Do you get the impression he's being blackmailed, Moses?"
"Something he said the other day. It seems he can't go back to England unless and until he gets a favorable report from us."
Whitby looked fixedly at the distant man, as if he thought he could divine Collishaw's secrets by staring at him hard enough. He then reported,
"He was after me to write to this Prince Tompkins to say he's doing a good job. You mean Tompkins has something on him, and is making him work for us?"
"I got the word from Cynthia that we didn't have to pay Collishaw at all. Just feed him and pay his men. But he claimed that Tompkins also wasn't paying either. I guess it must be Tompkins who's blackmailing him. Anyhow, I paid the poor devil for a month. Now, I'm glad I did."
"I can hardly believe that there really is a Prince Tompkins."
"I met him when he arrived here. Then I didn't see him for two weeks while he was rushing around doing things. The next thing I knew, he wanted another installment on his money. When I gave it to him, he went back to England and left Collishaw in charge."
Turning and heading for the shack, Whitby spoke over his left shoulder.
"Some things make it sound as if Tompkins has a sense of humor. Like claiming to be the ruler of the seabed. But he may be serious about it, and just be crazy."
"The English usually say "mad" instead of "crazy". It does sound better. More romantic. A mad quasi-mythic prince ought to be right up your alley, Moses. You didn't require all those voodoo johnies to have senses of humor."
Whitby waved away this objection as if it were irrelevant.
"Anyhow, what's even funnier is what some of these very serious international humanitarians would think if they knew that we represented the Seven Seas Empire."
"I didn't know we did. Tompkins isn't our boss. He and Collishaw are hired by us. By Cynthia, anyhow."
"Remember who Cynthia works for?"
"I see what you mean. Better the Seven Seas Empire than the United States Navy."
"Just to spice things up a little, it wouldn't hurt to tell people that Tompkins is an exiled Bulgarian gypsy who thinks he's the Flying Dutchman."
"Calm down, Moses. That Frenchman who runs the bomber squadron already questions your sanity. Incidentally, he called a while ago. He wants to fly over here to talk with you."
"I hope the boys don't shoot him down by mistake."
"I'll warn them. This fellow Malraux is a writer, you know. Fairly good. I've read a couple of his books."
"Is he a pilot, too?"
"No, but he goes along on missions in those awful heavy bombers they have. Can't even do a hundred miles an hour. Because it takes so many men to fly them, the type is known as the Collective Coffin."
The airfield, November 18, mid-morning.
The Martin twin-engined bomber seemed to take forever to gain speed over the bumpy ground. When it reached the beginning of the new black-topping, the wheels caught almost enough to flip it, but it then slid along smoothly. By the time that it had lifted and cleared the ridge, the road crew was swarming back onto the runway.
Whitby and Conway had watched the takeoff wordlessly, and the former remarked,
"The problem is just that we have a different mission, and can't tell him what it is."
"I had the feeling he wasn't exasperated so much as simply amazed. I think he doesn't often meet people he can't understand."
"It shouldn't be so hard to understand. Even if we wanted to, we don't have nearly enough fighters to give Madrid any real air defense. Particularly at night."
"He must realize that, but I think he wants you to emote more about it, Moses. If he hadn't happened to be in Madrid last night, he probably wouldn't have gotten so agitated. It can't be a pretty sight when bombs start falling in a slum."
"That's still no excuse to try to use airpower in a way that doesn't make any sense."
"It may have been what I said that bothered him."
"I don't think you said anything provocative, Bob."
"I said that, by bombing Madrid, the fascists aren't accomplishing anything, they're only turning the people against them."
"That's true isn't it?"
"Sure. But he may think we're deliberately letting them kill civilians so as to create mass anger against the enemy."
Whitby shook his head, apparently taking himself for a victim of injustice.
"Does he know that Sandy and I shot down a couple of their Junkers the other day?"
"Probably not, unless you told him."
"I didn't tell him. I never liked hearing pilots boast about all the planes they shot down."
"We should let him know somehow. Especially if he hears that we're planning to rob a bank."
"I must say, Malraux reminds me pretty much of the French officers I met in the war. From what I'd heard about him I expected something a good deal less military."
"I would have asked him about his novels if things had gone better. I bet we end up in his next one as bad guys."
"At the rate he's going, he'll get killed trying to bomb something."
Conway sighed expressively.
"Very likely something that has only symbolic value. They even bombed a cathedral in Saragossa. It's as if they thought they could bomb the Catholic Church as such."
Whitby shrugged and kicked a stone rather viciously. Both men then returned
to the operations hut.
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