ATTACK

The city of Rangoon lies east of the delta of the Irrawaddy River. A
hundred miles further east, the great, sluggish Salween River flows
into the ocean. Beyond the Salween lies Thailand. From Rangoon, a
railroad runs due north to Mandalay and then northeast to Lashio. Out
of Lashio runs the famous Burma Road. It swings north through a narrow
strip of Burma, then twists up and over wild mountain country belonging
to China. Making a wide circle which bends southward, it ends at
Chungking, capital of China.

The Flying Tigers were the guardians of Rangoon where the big ships
docked and unloaded supplies for the Chinese armies. They were roving
guards of the railroad and of the truck road over the mountains. With
their P–40’s, they wove a wall the Japanese could not see and one they
could not cross.

The three Royal Air Force pilots soon discovered that men of the Flying
Tigers had no real names. They were Big Moose or Jake or Sandy; any
name that happened to be tagged to them by the fancy of their fellow
fliers. They were lone wolves of the air, prowling in threes or in
pairs or alone.

To such a group, Nick Munson was poison. Within two days after he had
taken over instruction of the squadron, he had accomplished something
sinister. The Tigers were spitting at one another and were not doing
nearly so good a job of covering the vast area they had to protect.

Stan, Allison, and O’Malley were sitting in their little bunk room.
Their bodies were stripped to the waist and gleamed with moisture. The
air seemed to press down upon them, hot and suffocating. Outside, stars
gleamed and a pale moon shone through a cloudless sky.

“Somebody has to start a movement to get rid of Munson,” Stan said
grimly. “I never saw a tougher, more wild crew than we have, but
they’ll go to pieces if he keeps at them.”

“Sure, an’ we ought to punch him in the nose. We could throw him out o’
this outfit and chase him out o’ Burma,” O’Malley said.

“There ought to be a better way,” Allison said. “A way that would not
make an outlaw outfit out of the gang. The Chinese want to give us a
free hand, but if we get to staging riots, they’ll have to step in and
take control.”

“We each have to watch Munson and try to catch him at some trick or
another, then we’ll have him,” Stan said.

“’Tis a waste o’ good time,” O’Malley argued.

“Stan is right. We’ll keep an eye on him.” Allison smiled. “But just
remember this, he has the three of us spotted. He knows we became
suspicious of him on the trip up here. He’ll be doing a little watching
himself, or I miss my guess.”

Stan got to his feet. “It’s too hot in here for me,” he said. “I’m
going for a walk.”

“I’m takin’ me a nap,” O’Malley declared.

“I think I’ll try for a wink of sleep myself,” Allison said.

Stan walked out into the night. There was a breeze blowing that carried
pungent smells from the city and the harbor. The city was blacked out,
except for the lights along the dock. Stan headed in that direction and
finally reached a point where he could look down upon the scene below.

Floodlights revealed masses of trucks and cars loaded with boxed
supplies and piles of loose materials. Hundreds of new passenger cars
were lined up in the big yard. They were familiar cars, all American
made–Buicks, Chryslers, and Fords–and all destined for China’s
army. In a yard beyond the car lot stood hundreds of new trucks being
serviced by American and Chinese mechanics. Soon those trucks would be
heading for the Burma Road to haul freight over the towering mountains.

The noise and the activity attracted Stan. He sauntered toward the
car lot. Two guards stood at the gate of the yard. Stan was not in
uniform, except for his trousers, so he did not approach the gate. He
seated himself on a bank in the deep shadows under a spreading tree.

A car passed the guards and rolled away. It was a new Chrysler. A few
minutes later another car rolled out. With idle interest, Stan watched
the cars go by. He was wide awake and the busy scene fascinated him.
Another new Chrysler came out. It turned left and passed close to where
Stan sat.

Two fat men sat in the front seat. As the car rolled by, someone in the
back seat lighted a cigarette. The flare of the light revealed two men
in the rear. The cupped flame lighted a bony, hawklike set of features
which were not Oriental. Stan started and leaned forward when he saw
the figure beside the man who had lighted the match. He was wearing a
uniform and Stan got a glimpse of his face. He recognized Nick Munson.

Stan got to his feet and walked around the parking lots. Down the
street a number of men were working under a big light. He moved
down to them and saw that they all were Americans and that they were
assembling car parts.

The boss of the crew looked up. When he saw that Stan was an American,
he smiled in a friendly fashion.

“Hello,” he said. “Where did you come from?”

“I just wandered down from the flying field,” Stan replied. “Too hot to
sleep.”

The boss was instantly impressed. “You fellows are doing a swell job.
You have the toughest job there is out here. But I have my troubles,
too,” he added.

“What sort of troubles?” Stan asked.

“We have such a mixture of people that I can’t tell them
apart–Chinese, Burmans, and Malays. The Chinese on the whole are very
honest, but there are some who feel free to make off with anything they
can get hold of.” He grinned widely. “They steal the stuff and sell it
in places where there is no war at all.”

“What use would they have for car parts?” Stan asked.

“Oh, they don’t waste time stealing car parts. They steal cars and
trucks after we get them serviced and ready to roll.” The boss wiped
his forehead with the back of his hand. “This whole lower end of the
line is in Burma, not China. The Chinese just have transportation
rights. They got those rights through British pressure and some of the
Burmese don’t like it.”

“What do they do when they catch thieves stealing trucks and cars?”
Stan asked.

“It depends a lot on who they are. If they are wealthy owners of big
land grants, they just take the car and forget it. If they are poor
natives who make a business of thieving, they shoot them.” The boss
laughed. “Any way you look at it, we have a hard time delivering enough
supplies to keep the Chinese army going.”

Stan nodded. He was thinking about a number of things. “Well, I’ll run
along. I feel as though I could sleep now.”

“Drop down to the Teeka Hotel sometime,” the boss said. “I’m Matt
Willard. I’ll be glad to show you around.”

“I’m Stan Wilson,” Stan said. “I may do that soon.”

He walked up the road and headed out toward the flying field. A sentry
challenged him, and he advanced to be recognized and to give the
countersign. After he had done so, he asked:

“Many of the boys go out tonight?”

“No go out. Only two.” The Chinese sentry smiled broadly.

“Two besides me?” Stan asked.

“You and one who cooks. He is my friend.” The sentry’s white teeth
flashed.

Stan laughed and walked on toward the barracks. He found O’Malley and
Allison sleeping soundly. Slipping out of his trousers, he lay down.

Suddenly the sentry’s words, “You and one who cooks,” flashed through
his mind. He was puzzled. It was very strange. He was positive that
Nick Munson was in the automobile he had seen leaving the parking lot.
_Why_ was Munson so secretive about his movements? Stan decided to do
some sleuthing, perhaps…. Within a few minutes he was fast asleep.

The next morning the three fliers were called to Commander Fuller’s
office. Stan led the way with O’Malley trailing. Fuller looked them
over with a critical eye.

“I have a job for you fellows,” he said crisply.

The three members of Flight Five waited.

O’Malley returned the commander’s look with an insolent grin. He edged
close to the desk and leaned forward. Fuller ignored him. He spoke to
Allison.

“You are to take up a Martin bomber on a special assignment, Major. I
have a request from Colonel Munson to pick up a Chinese officer who has
been abandoned by his caravan.” Fuller pulled a map from his desk and
spread it out before him. “The Chinese general has two staff officers
with him. They were attacked by Thai guerilla forces under command of
Japanese spies. They escaped and are at a plantation just over the
border.” He placed the point of his pencil on the map. “Here is the
location of the plantation. You will spot the field to be used in
landing by an American flag planted at the edge of the woods.”

Allison picked up the map. “Will we be interned if we are caught in
Thailand?” He asked the question sharply.

“There will be no armed forces to stop you and no one will know you
landed. You will be only a few minutes on the field,” Fuller answered.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said as he turned away from the desk.

“You are in command, Major Allison,” Fuller called after him.

“Yes, sir,” Allison answered.

The three fliers walked out into the sunshine. O’Malley was the first
to speak.

“What’s the need for sendin’ three fighter pilots to herd a crate on a
passenger trip?”

“We may find that out later,” Stan said.

“We’ll make jolly well sure there is no army of Thai troops waiting for
us when we land,” Allison said.

“I can’t think of a better way of getting rid of us than having us
dumped into a native stockade where we could rot while the war goes
on,” Stan said.

They reported to the briefing room where the captain in charge gave
them their flying orders. Out on the field, a battered Martin attack
bomber sat with her propeller idling.

“The old gal looks like she has seen a hard winter,” O’Malley said. He
faced his two pals. “Suppose you boys let me take this hop. You could
sneak out on patrol and get some action. It won’t take three of us to
fly that crate.”

“We have our orders,” Allison reminded. “Besides, old man, I might need
a couple of good gunners.”

O’Malley grunted. “It’s goin’ to spoil the whole day for all three of
us.”

“I have a hunch we might meet a few Jap fighters on the way over or
back,” Stan remarked. “Just like we met them when we flew into this
jungle.”

“The best way to find out is to get going,” Allison said.

The ground men had climbed out of the bomber. O’Malley went up first
and began looking the guns over. Stan and Allison were up in front when
he came back from a prowl in the rear.

“’Tis nice equipment they furnish, these Chinese. I’m handling the rear
gun. There’s a couple o’ submachine guns in a rack back there. If I
bail out, I’ll grab one o’ them, then Mrs. O’Malley’s boy will pot any
Japs that try dirty tricks.”

Allison settled himself at the controls while Stan took over navigation
and the forward guns. The big ship rocked to the blast of its two
Pratt and Whitney motors. It spun around and headed down the field.
Hoicking its tail, the plane eased off the ground. It was designed to
fly as fast as most pursuit planes and to maneuver well in the air.
They had been up only a few minutes when Stan discovered that the
intercommunication phone was out of order and that they had no radio.

“This ship was never cleared for combat by the ground crew,” he called
to Allison.

Allison smiled back at him and opened the Martin up another notch. He
leaned toward Stan and shouted:

“You’re not in the R.A.F. now, son. You are back in the old
brush-hopping days.”

They bored along, spotting two P–40 patrols who eased down to look them
over. They saw no enemy planes at all as they knifed along above a
layer of clouds. Stan checked the map and charted their course. After a
time, he made a thumbs-down sign and Allison dropped under the clouds.

They drifted over the broad and muddy Salween River and Stan knew
they were over neutral territory. He kept a sharp watch for Jap
ships, knowing that they paid no attention to neutrality. They had an
understanding with Thailand that amounted to an alliance.

After crossing the river, Allison went down and swept low over the
jungle and land which plantation owners had cultivated. He was the
first to spot the flag planted at the edge of a rice paddy. The field
seemed smooth and the flag gave him the wind, but he did not go in. He
circled low over the jungle bordering the plantation.

As they came back over, much lower this time, they saw three men
dressed in uniform waving to them from the edge of the dense forest.
Allison came around and skimmed low over the field. As he went past, he
saw that the three men were dressed in Chinese uniforms.

“I’m setting her down,” he called to Stan. “I’ll roll in close to the
spot where those men are and then I’ll swing around so that we head
into the wind.”

Stan nodded. He had eased into position back of his gun controls. The
Martin went down lower and bumped across the rice field. It hit solidly
and rolled toward the three men. The Chinese remained at the edge of
the woods, waiting.

Allison heaved back his hatch and looked out. “They look like Chinese
officers,” he shouted above the rumble of the twin motors that he had
left idling.

With a flip, he spun the Martin around and set the brakes. Stan and
Allison swung down to the ground. They waited for O’Malley to come out
but he did not show up.

“It may be just as well to leave him to guard the ship,” Stan said.

“Good idea,” Allison agreed.

Stan called up to O’Malley. “Stick around and watch the ship. We’ll be
back with the general and his baggage in a few minutes.”

The rumbling of the motors drowned out any reply O’Malley might have
made. Stan turned to join Allison. They walked across the grass toward
the three officers advancing to meet them.

When they were a few yards away, Stan halted. “Those aren’t generals,”
he groaned. “They are Jap noncommissioned officers.”

Allison stopped and muttered softly, “Right you are.”

Before the two pilots could wheel, six men slid out of the jungle. They
were armed with rifles which were pointed at Stan and Allison. One of
the officers rasped in perfect English:

“You are our prisoners. Do not try to escape, please.”

“Stuck!” Stan gritted as he suddenly realized that neither he nor
Allison was armed.

The Japs closed in. The officer in command spoke to Stan.

“Your other man is in the ship?”

“What other man?” Stan came back.

“We know you have a crew of three,” the officer snarled.

“The best way to find out is to look there yourself,” Allison answered.

The officer spoke sharply in Japanese. He lifted his voice to almost
a shout. Instantly a company of soldiers came out of the woods and
began to spread out around the Martin. Stan waited for the blast of
O’Malley’s guns. The rear guns of the Martin could cover most of the
approaching men.

No sound came from the Martin. The Japs swarmed up into it. Stan
scowled as he waited for them to drag O’Malley out. The Irishman must
have gone to sleep. A few minutes later the soldiers came out of the
plane and moved toward the officer in charge. A rapid conversation took
place in their native tongue.

Suddenly the officer turned to Stan. “It is true that you have only two
men in your party. As you said, there is no one in the plane.”

Stan and Allison exchanged quick glances. Both managed to hide their
surprise at this news. Stan faced the officer. He had no idea what had
happened to O’Malley. What he wanted to find out was the fate awaiting
Allison and himself.

“You plan to intern us?” he asked.

“We do not intern mercenary fliers who hire out to the enemy.” The Jap
smiled sarcastically. “We are not so soft and so foolish. We shoot
them. That is the better way.”

Allison’s lips pulled into a sardonic smile. “So nice of you,” he said
softly.

“You will march over to the woods,” the officer ordered. “Before we
dispose of you, we have some questions to ask you.”

“Glad to oblige with any information you want,” Allison replied, hoping
to stall for time.

With bayonets at their backs, they walked to a shady spot under a
vine-choked tree.

“You may sit, please,” the officer said.

Stan and Allison sat down and waited for the questions. The former
planted himself with his back against a tree. That took the threat of a
bayonet thrust in the back out of the picture. Allison did the same.

“How many pilots do you have in your mercenary group?” the officer
demanded. He had a pad and pencil in hand, ready to jot down their
answers.

Stan looked at Allison. “We should have somewhere near a thousand.” He
grinned and added, “That is with the last bunch that arrived yesterday.”

The Jap looked at Stan and then jotted down the number. “Now, please,
how many planes do you have?”

“We don’t know. They are coming in so fast we can’t keep count of
them,” Allison answered.

“But some estimate, please,” the Japanese insisted.

“Oh, several thousand,” Stan answered airily.

This seemed to excite the officer greatly. He wrote the number down and
chattered to the noncom beside him. They talked for a few minutes among
themselves. When they had finished, Stan spoke up.

“Doesn’t that tally with the number Colonel Munson reported we had?”

The Jap stared at him. “Colonel Munson,” he repeated thoughtfully. He
shook his head. “I do not hear of him.”

Stan was convinced that the officer was telling the truth. He did not
seem to know Nick Munson. Before he could ask another question, a
shining, new Chrysler rolled out of the woods and a trim little man
stepped out. He was a ranking officer of the Japanese Air Force. Stan
recognized his outfit at once.

The noncommissioned officer bowed and bobbed and saluted. He talked
rapidly with the Japanese officer. The little man took the pad, looked
at it, then scowled at Stan and Allison.

“Liars,” he accused. “We waste no more time with you.”

He spoke in a smooth flow of Japanese to the noncoms, then turned about
and got into the car.

Stan stared at the new Chrysler. The Japs had not been able to import
any of that model of American cars. His mind was working fast. Allison
kicked him and mumbled:

“If we’re to make a try for it, we’ll have to do so as soon as that car
pulls out.”

Stan nodded. “We’ll dive for the brush.”

The car rolled away and was swallowed by the jungle. The Japanese
officer turned to them.

“Get up,” he commanded. “You may use your handkerchiefs to put over
your eyes. We waste no more time. My men are good shots, however.” He
sneered, exposing huge buckteeth.

Stan and Allison sprang to their feet, backing up on each side of the
tree.

“Step forward and place the blindfold,” the officer snapped.

“We don’t want any blindfolds. We can face you rats,” Stan retorted. He
shot a glance at Allison.

Allison was swaying just a little. Stan tensed himself to leap backward
and roll behind the tree. Suddenly, there was a blazing rattle of
machine gunfire from the green wall of the jungle close by. The Jap
officer spun around and tumbled to the ground. Two of his men went down
and the others scattered. They opened fire but Stan did not wait to
offer a target. He plunged behind the tree and brought up hard against
Allison.

Peering out, they saw a figure emerge from the woods. A high, wild yell
rose into the hot jungle air. Bill O’Malley was rushing upon the Japs
with a submachine gun spitting fire at them!

The charging O’Malley was too much for the Japanese. They broke and
plunged for the cover of the jungle. Stan leaped out and caught up a
rifle.

“Get to the ship! Don’t wait to fight! Run for it!” Allison shouted
behind him.

Gripping the gun, Stan sprinted for the ship. Allison was close behind
him. Stan went up and into the pilot’s seat. He rammed the throttle
knob up and the twin motors roared to life. The Martin shook and
strained at its brakes. Stan reached down and gave Allison a hand as he
kicked off one brake and wheeled the bomber around.

“Forward guns!” Stan shouted.

O’Malley was planted halfway between the plane and the jungle, potting
away and shouting. The Japs, hidden in the dense growth, had recovered
from their first panic and were sniping at him with their rifles.

Allison opened up with a blast from the forward guns of the Martin.
The shells screamed into the tops of the jungle trees. O’Malley tossed
aside his machine gun and ran to the plane. As he sprang into the
compartment, Stan headed the plane out into the field for a take-off.

The Martin lifted and Stan swung it around. With the bomber in the
air, he could nose down over the jungle and strafe the Japanese hiding
there. He was nosing in when he sighted a car moving swiftly along a
narrow road. It was the new Chrysler.

Stan laid over and went down after the car. As he roared down upon
it, he saw men spill out and tumble into the bushes beside the road.
Allison opened up, and, as they left, Stan saw that the car had been
smashed to a twisted mass of wreckage.

He went on up and headed for home. As they roared along, Allison poked
him and pointed up. Stan saw four Jap fighter planes coming down
at them. He cracked the throttle wide open. With a whoop, O’Malley
scrambled back to the rear gun turret.

The Japs came down the chute but they were not fast enough to make
contact. The Martin showed them a clean pair of heels and they gave up
the chase.

The Martin dropped in on the temporary field and slid up beside a
hangar. Ground men swarmed out to take over. The three pilots climbed
out and headed for the briefing room where they reported in.

“Let’s go report to the colonel,” O’Malley said. There was a savage
glint in his eye.

“First, you report how you happened to bail out with that tommy gun,”
Stan said to O’Malley.

“I spotted a squad o’ Japs near the woods. We had no phone an’ you
were comin’ in fast. I jest piled out and sailed down into a patch o’
timber. You were so low, the Japs didn’t see me bail out.” O’Malley ran
his fingers tenderly over a mass of scratches on his cheek. “I like to
niver got out o’ the mess o’ vines and bushes I landed in.”

“Aren’t you hungry?” Allison asked in mock surprise.

“I’m weak with hunger,” O’Malley declared solemnly. “But I’m mad, too.
I got to lay one on the beak o’ that Munson before I’ll get me full
appetite.”

“I think we’d better eat first,” Stan said. “We might be able to figure
out something while we watch you devour a couple of pies.”

O’Malley grinned widely. “Sure, an’ if I wasn’t so weak from hunger,
you couldn’t talk me out of it,” he said.

They headed toward the mess hall with O’Malley well in the lead.

The three fliers of Flight Five did not get time to argue. They were
only half through with their dinner when the loudspeaker over the mess
door began rasping and sputtering:

“Flight Three, all out! Flight Four, all out! Flight Five, all out!”

Before the speaker in the control room could repeat, there was a rush
of feet toward the briefing room. O’Malley galloped along with a
quarter of berry pie in his hand. He had bribed the Chinese cook into
making his favorite dessert daily.

They crowded into the small shack and began scrambling into their
fighting outfits.

“Munson found out we got back,” Stan said as he slid into his parachute
harness.

“Faith, an’ he’s a wise bird, that fellow,” O’Malley growled.

“This must be a real attack the way they are turning half the force
out,” Allison said as he shoved over to the desk to get his orders.

Men raced out on the field and dashed toward their idling planes. As
they ran, they looked up into the blue sky. They heard no bombers and
they could see no fighters, but they knew the Japs were up there.

Never had the enemy been able to bomb Rangoon. They had been smashed
with heavy losses on every attempt. The Flying Tigers were proud of
their record and eager to keep it clean.

As motors roared and hatch covers slammed shut, Stan heard Nick
Munson’s voice rasp in his headset:

“Instructor Munson taking command. Squadron, check your temperatures.”

Reports came crackling back.

Stan scowled as he bent forward. Nick Munson was going to lead the
attack. That was not good news.

“Up to eight thousand feet. Hold your formation for orders,” Munson
droned.

Stan jerked the throttle knob open, jammed down on one brake and
wheeled around in a tight circle. Nine other P–40’s were whipping into
line. There was less of the formality of an R.A.F. take-off. Each plane
blasted its tail up with a rush of exhaust pressure and headed down the
field. Stan saw O’Malley hop his ship off long before the others left
the field. Allison went straight out, wide open, with Stan at his right
wing.

With the ground swirling by in a blur, Stan heard Allison’s voice:

“Up, boys, and at them.”

He pulled the nose of the P–40 up and she zoomed with a lift that
fairly hurled her into the sky. Allison rode up close beside him. They
raised above O’Malley but he came on, leveling off to force his speed.

“Formation! Squadron, close in!” Munson was bellowing.

Stan grinned. This was the first flight the colonel had taken with
the Tigers and they were not acting the way he thought they should.
Finally, the nine fighters closed in and took up line formation.

“Up to twelve thousand,” Munson ordered.

The Tigers went on up, following their leader. Stan looked across
and saw O’Malley’s head bobbing back and forth. Suddenly, he heard
O’Malley’s voice:

“What kind o’ show is this?”

“We’re out for a bit of exercise,” Allison came back.

“We ought to be over in those clouds,” Stan cut in. “That’s the place
to look for trouble.”

Far to their right rose a high-piled bank of clouds. Stan kept watching
that bank and wondering when Munson would head that way. He also
wondered if the colonel had ever been in combat before. A man who would
lead his flight through the open sky with clouds on either side needed
some practical training.

Stan chuckled. The Japs would give him that training if he stayed in
this game very long and went upstairs every day. Stan was still looking
at the big cloud bank. He blinked his eyes. Around from the far side of
the cloud came a flight of Japanese planes.

“Off to the right! Jap planes on the right!” Stan shouted into his flap
mike. “Coming under the cloud.”

“Peel off and after them!” Allison chimed in.

“Sure, an’ I’m on me way!” O’Malley yelled back.

“Hold formation!” Munson bellowed. “I’m giving the orders here.” His
voice blurred out in a blast of static.

The three P–40’s on the right end of the line formation ducked and
darted away. The others stayed in formation, following orders.

It soon became evident what the Japs were after. They were diving
on the hangars and planes on the ground at the field. The three
P–40’s went in with Allison in charge. They cut across the neat enemy
formation and there was a scattering of ships. In and out, back and
forth roared the three members of Flight Five. The twenty Japanese
planes gave up the idea of strafing the field installations. They
turned to the task of smacking down the roaring demons that had hurtled
down on them. Three Japs went down in flames under the first dive.

Stan came back through with his thumb on the gun button. He twisted and
turned; but he could not get a Jap in his sights. As he went up, he
saw that O’Malley had learned his lesson. The Irishman was topping a
high-zoom and coming back over, belly to the sun. As he went in, Stan
saw him saw a wing off a Karigane and send it spinning to the ground.

The Japs seemed to be panicked by the savagery of the attack. They
whirled and fled back toward their bases. The three victorious P–40’s
roared up into the sky and circled. Allison’s voice came in with a slow
drawl:

“Does that formation headed for Rangoon look like bombers?”

“It does,” Stan called back.

At that instant, they saw the six P–40’s under Munson’s command. They
were high up above the clouds, too far up to intercept the low-flying
bombers headed for the city.

“After them!” Allison ordered.

The three ships streaked toward the bombers. Long before they had
overtaken the slow-flying 97’s, the enemy had sighted them and were
spreading out.

The three P–40’s went into the formation with a slashing dive. There
were twelve bombers and they scattered in twelve directions. Stan
rolled over and got on the tail of a killer. His Brownings spattered
lead and the bomber billowed smoke. Up he went and around and down on
another bomber.

The air above the rice fields outside the city was filled with the
scream of motors as the three fighters battled to keep a single bomber
from getting through. They were losing the fight, even though they
had shot down four bombers, when Munson and his ships came down in a
screaming dive to join them. That ended the fight. The Tigers did not
let a single 97 get away.

One by one, they drifted in and landed. Twelve of them came in. Not one
ship was missing. Stan crawled out and stood waiting for Allison and
O’Malley.

The lank Irishman waddled over to his pals. He was grinning broadly.
Allison jerked off his helmet. There was a cold, icy look in his eyes.
Stan knew Allison was finally jarred out of his half-amused attitude.

“Sure, an’ ’twas one grand party,” O’Malley beamed. “It fair gave me a
huge appetite.”

Allison turned toward the briefing shack and they walked in to report.
A sour group of pilots greeted them. The six fliers who had stayed with
Munson were thoroughly ruffled. One of them turned to Stan as the three
R.A.F. men reached the desk. He spoke so that everyone, even Munson,
who was making out his report at the end of the desk, could hear.

“Lucky for this outfit you birds put brains before orders.”

“We fly by feel, me bye,” O’Malley answered cheerfully as he barged in
to the desk and grabbed a report blank.

“I’m putting in for a transfer,” the pilot said with disgust. “This
outfit stinks.”

Stan grinned at the angry young man. The flier was four inches taller
than Stan and he had a bushy mop of black hair. His cheeks were soft
and pink. His black eyes blazed.

“You’re from Texas?” Stan asked.

“I’m from Texas and we don’t take anything from anyone in my country,”
the youth answered.

Nick Munson scowled but said nothing.

“I’m from Waco, Texas, myself,” Stan said to the pilot. “But I migrated
to Colorado and flew up there.”

The youngster stepped close to Stan. “I’m with you,” his voice had
dropped below the murmur of the other men, “when Munson opens up on you
like he will.”

“Thanks,” Stan said gratefully.

Nick Munson shoved over his report and his voice cracked out, brittle
and hard.

“I’ll see all of you men in the mess, right away.”

The fliers turned away and moved outside in a group. O’Malley growled
loudly as he walked with Stan and Allison toward the barracks.

“I need food, not jawbone. I hope he makes it snappy.”

“He will,” Allison said and smiled thinly.

“You better keep your shirt on,” Stan said to Allison. “I’d like to
have a couple of nights free to do a bit of snooping before you get us
all tossed into a guardhouse.”

“It all depends on what he says,” Allison answered coolly.

“You see, Munson is about to blow up the squadron. That’s just what he
wants to do. If we start trouble, he’ll wreck the flying strength of
this outfit. In that case, he’ll have us grounded and this sector will
be wide open.” Stan pressed his point home hard. “He has a reason. I
think he’s being paid off. I think his credentials are faked. It’s not
hard to get into an outfit like this. The Chinese need trained pilots
so bad they are not apt to go deep into their past records.”

Allison swung around. “You’re right, old man. Sorry I acted like a
silly goat. Let’s talk to the men.”

They entered the mess. The men stood around waiting restlessly for
Munson to appear. None of the fliers seemed to want to sit down. There
was a tenseness in the air and many faces showed grim anger.

Stan and Allison split up and began talking to the men. They had to
make it snappy and they did. The Flying Tigers were bright boys
and they were already suspicious of Munson. By the time the colonel
came stamping in, the group was silently waiting and there were no
mutterings.

Munson strode to the front of the room, clicked his heels and made a
turn to face them. Stan’s eyes narrowed as he watched the big fellow.
Munson looked the men over with a cold eye.

“You fellows put on a lousy show today,” he snapped. Pausing, he waited
for someone to contradict him or argue the point.

Silence filled the room. All eyes were fixed unwaveringly upon the
commander. Munson cleared his throat and went on.

“Three of you,” he glared at Stan, Allison, and O’Malley, “broke away
from formation and went off on a chase. You intercepted and broke up a
fighter attack on the field, but if that bomber squadron had been as
big as it was reported to me, the docks and the city of Rangoon would
have been blasted.” He paused and his gaze bored into Allison.

Allison stood staring at him without any expression on his face.

“You, Major Allison, ordered your flight off on that attack.” He
leveled a finger at Allison and shook it threateningly.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said. “Sorry, sir.”

Munson fairly jumped up and down. His face reddened and he bit off his
words savagely.

“You are insubordinate and–and–” He seemed unable to think of any
more words.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said and smiled insolently.

“Wipe that snicker off your face!” Munson bellowed.

Allison’s smile faded. His gaze moved over the colonel very
deliberately. O’Malley began to mutter and scowl at the commander.

“What are you mumbling about?” Munson turned on O’Malley.

“I’m after bein’ near to starved,” O’Malley said humbly.

Munson had his mouth open to shout at O’Malley. He closed it without
uttering a sound. Disgust was written on his beefy face.

“After this, orders are to be carried out,” he snapped. Then with a
shrug of his trimly tailored shoulders, he turned and marched out.

As soon as his footsteps died away, a laugh burst from the men. They
crowded around Allison and Stan. O’Malley stood back watching for a
minute, then headed for the cook’s galley.

“We got him going,” the tall boy from Texas crowed.

“I have some poking around to do and I’ll get it done as quickly as
I can. But, after this, we’ll fly an attack the way it should be
flown and let him ground us if he dares. I’m thinking he’ll not do
that because, if he did, the commander would investigate.” Stan spoke
eagerly.

“We’re with you,” a number of the men answered. The others nodded their
heads.

Allison and Stan walked to the cook’s galley after talking with the
boys for about fifteen minutes.

“What do you have on your mind?” Allison asked.

“I’m not right sure, so I’ll have to go it alone for awhile,” Stan
replied. “I guess I’ll just be snooping. But you fellows can cover up
for me. I don’t want Munson to know I’m prowling around after dark.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Allison promised.

They entered the squadron mess hall and found O’Malley enthroned behind
a huge dinner flanked by an apple pie.

“I showed the China boy how to cook that pie,” O’Malley said with
pride. “I got him to make two o’ them so you birds can have some, too.”

Allison inspected the pie with a forced look of scorn. “Heavy as a
Flying Fortress. Crust tough.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, old man,
but I have my health to protect.”

O’Malley scowled. “Go ahead, swill iced tea and eat mutton chops. An
Englishman niver could be expected to know decent food.”

Allison laughed as he dropped into a chair. “You sure knocked all the
words out of the colonel.” He mimicked O’Malley, “I’m after bein’ near
to starved.”

Stan joined their laughter. Munson certainly had been left speechless.

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