He got away

Stan halted before entering the dark archway. He had seen a movement in
the moonlight which filtered through the leaves of a big tree beyond
the wall. Slowly Stan moved forward and as he went his hands lifted
until his fists were pressed at each side of his head. Norfloxacino

He felt something soft strike his shoulder, something that looped
around his neck like the coils of a snake. There was a quick and
powerful jerk that lifted him off the ground. His fists were pressed
into his neck with terrific force. It required all of Stan’s strength
to keep the silken cord from cutting off his breath and choking him.
His feet touched the ground, then he was lifted again and held dangling
in the air.

Stan held the cord away from his throat and let his body go limp. He
did not struggle. The expert on the top of the wall was muttering in
guttural tones, repeating strange words in a low mumble. Stan realized
that the strangler had intended that his first terrific jerk and twist
should paralyze his victim. For what seemed a long time, Stan dangled
there.

Slowly he was lowered to the ground where he let himself collapse with
every muscle relaxed. As the cord slackened he spread it and removed
his fists, then tightened the cord again until it almost choked him.
After that he lay still and waited. From the wall above came a low bird
call. The call was answered from across the garden.

Out of the gloom appeared a man swathed in a black cape. Behind him
strode two squat, burly fellows. The man in the cape knelt and felt the
taut cord around Stan’s neck with icy fingers. Then he uttered a grunt
of satisfaction, removed the cord and stood up. He spoke softly to the
two fellows beside him, turned, and melted into the night.

The two men caught Stan by the arms and dragged him through the
archway. They passed near a large building, brightly lighted, and
entered a darkened shed with a low roof and open walls. A band of
moonlight played across an earthen floor.

The men dragged Stan to a low plank platform and dumped him there.
One of them kicked him in the side with a wooden sandal. Stan did not
stiffen his body. The man bent and searched Stan’s pockets, taking out
his knife, compass and a handful of silver coins.

The two then seated themselves in the band of moonlight to argue over
the division of their loot. They wrangled and snarled, coming near to
blows before the coins and articles had been divided. Stan smiled as
he thought about his wrist watch. It was the only thing of value he
carried and they had missed it.

Finally the two men settled their argument. One of them stepped to a
corner of the room and came back with a cotton cloth. He flipped this
over Stan. A moment later Stan heard their wooden sandals clicking over
the hard floor as they left the shed.

Pushing the cloth back from his face, Stan listened. He heard a
profusion of sounds, a woman’s laugh, men talking and a night bird
calling. None of the sounds were near the place where he lay. Stan felt
sure most of these natives feared the dead and would stay away from
this morgue. What he did not know was how soon grave diggers would come
to dispose of him.

He was about to sit up when he saw someone approaching. Stan got ready
for a fight. A lone figure wrapped in a white robe crossed the floor
and passed through the moonlight. Above the robe rose a turban of
white cloth. Bending down, the visitor pulled back the shroud and laid
something on Stan’s breast. Stan looked up into the face of Niva.

With a noiseless movement, he caught her wrist.

“Don’t scream,” he said softly.

The girl tried to wrench her hand free. She did not scream or make any
sound, but she fought fiercely. Suddenly, she dropped to her knees
beside Stan. He could feel her body tremble.

“You are not dead?” she whispered.

“No, I am not dead,” Stan answered. “Won’t you help me to get out of
here? I need a guide.”

She looked into his face for a long moment. Her voice was very low when
she spoke.

“I am glad you are not dead. I watched from outside the garden. The
shadow men never fail. They have great pride in their way of killing. I
was sure you were dead. I bought a prayer at the temple and brought it
here. I thought you would need it. You had no one to buy a prayer for
you.” She paused.

Stan released her hand. “That was kind of you. But I’ll really need a
prayer unless I get out of here.”

“They will not come until daylight to get you,” she said. “That is the
way it is done. There is a ceremony going on in a dark temple room
right now. When it is over, they will come.”

“Fine,” Stan said. “Now if I can just get away from here.”

“You could not get far in those clothes. I will bring you white robes
and a turban.”

“Good for you, Niva,” Stan whispered. “I’ll just lie here and wait.”

Niva got to her feet and vanished into the night. Stan sat on the
platform and listened. After a time he heard footsteps and lay down.
Niva slipped into the shed along the dark side. She knelt beside him.

“Put this on your hands and face. It will make you brown,” she
whispered.

She poured liquid into his cupped hands out of a bowl. Stan smeared his
face and hands. The stuff smelled bad and burned like fire.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It is polish for the harness of the sacred elephants,” she said and he
heard her giggle. “I could find no other brown stain.”

Stan stood up and let her help him into the white robe. He bent down
and she fixed his turban into place.

“You will do very well,” she said. “But it is best that you walk
stooped a little. You stand too straight, too much the soldier.”

“Will you get into trouble over this?” Stan asked anxiously.

“If I am caught, yes,” she admitted. “But no one would charge me with
making the dacoit strangler fail. No one can make a dacoit fail. Unless
we are seen and recognized, the dacoit and the priests will say the
body of the white man was stolen by thieves. They would not admit
failure.” She smiled up at him.

“But what will they do with you if you are caught?” Stan insisted upon
knowing.

“I will die,” she replied simply. Her smile did not fade as she said it.

“I’d take you with me, but I have to go through the jungle,” Stan said.
“I may be a long time getting back to my base.”

“You wish to go through the jungle?” she asked.

“That is the only way I can get out of here, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Te Nuwa has a flying machine. You are a flying man,” she laughed
softly. “Te Nuwa prizes his big bird greatly.”

“Can we get to his hangar?” Stan asked.

“We can go to the field where he keeps his flying machine and his
elephants. It is across the village from the Japanese field where they
keep their war machines. Te Nuwa and the general are always quarreling
about it. The general says he will make a field of his own out of it,”
Niva explained.

“I’d like to know where the Jap flying field is, too,” Stan said
eagerly. Even though he was in danger he was, first of all, a soldier
and alert for information.

“It is mostly in the jungle where the big machines can hide, but
there is a wide road for them to run on when they leave or come in.
I will show you.” Niva seemed willing enough to help, even to giving
information.

She led the way out of the shed and down a dark lane which ended in a
street lighted by a few lamps stuck on poles. The street was crowded
with people. The girl caught Stan’s arm.

“We must not hurry. We go slowly. I will answer if we are spoken to. I
am dressed as a low-caste boy and you may well pass as my father.” Niva
pulled her white robe around her with one hand. Her dark eyes peered
out at the passing people.

Stan pulled his robe around him and held it. They moved down the street
slowly. It teemed with dark-skinned people dressed in garments of
flaming colors. Dark-eyed women looked lazily down from tottering,
wooden balconies. Guttering tallow lamps and flaring torches half
illuminated the interiors of shops and dwellings, giving Stan a
fleeting glimpse of life in a Siamese village. The street was narrow
and crooked. They were jostled as they moved along, but no one gave
them even a second glance. Stan saw no soldiers and no police.

They followed the street for a quarter of a mile, then turned off into
a darkened lane shaded by big trees. Niva looked up at Stan. She had
let her robe fall back and he saw she was dressed in a modern gown.

“I took you through the native quarter of the town because it is not
open to the Japanese soldier yet,” she explained.

“Aren’t the Japanese your people?” Stan asked.

“No,” she answered. “I am Burmese. I would now get away from the
Japanese War Office if I could. I had a job which a woman could not get
in my homeland. I traveled and I was well paid. But now there is war
and Japan will destroy my country and my people. They plan to move into
Burma soon.”

“You’re dead right in quitting them,” Stan agreed.

Niva caught his arm and pulled him out of the road. They crouched
beside a bush while a squad of soldiers walked past. They were talking
and laughing as they went along. Stan was not sure, but he did not
think they were Japanese.

They came to a wide opening where there were a few lights. The moon
flooded a large field. Near the edge of the field stood a plane. One
glance at it was enough to tell Stan what it was. Te Nuwa’s prized
flying machine was an ancient Curtiss Robin. Stan doubted that the ship
could be in good flying condition, for it would be difficult to obtain
spare parts for a Robin out here. But it was a plane and one that Stan
knew how to handle. It had wings and wings were what he desired.

Several guards stood about near a shed. No one seemed to be guarding
the plane, but the men were close to it and they were armed with
rifles. Stan sat down and pulled off his turban. It bothered him
because he was not used to such a mass of cloth on his head. He looked
the field over carefully. The night was hot and the Robin’s motor
should start without much trouble, though that depended upon its
condition. But the engine would take a few minutes to warm up even if
it started at once. The problem was to get the needed time.

Niva seated herself beside him on the grass. He was wondering if Te
Nuwa ever made early morning hops. If he did, he would have the engine
warmed up and idling for some time. He turned to the girl.

“Does Te Nuwa ever make dawn flights?”

“He used to fly in the early morning, but now the Japanese will not let
him. He must fly in the afternoon. If he flies before there is good
light, they will shoot at him.” She laughed softly. “Te Nuwa is a very
smart man for one so fat. He has the markings of the United States on
his wings so he can fly to Rangoon and other places. The Japanese shoot
at such markings.”

Stan continued to study the Robin, but his thoughts were with the Jap
base near the temple. The Flying Tigers had never spotted this base in
the jungle. He turned to Niva.

“How many planes have they hidden in the jungle?” he asked.

“They have fifty big ones and many small, fast ones, so I have heard
the officers say. They are hidden in the trees beyond the big temple
with the red roof,” Niva answered.

“They are to be used to bomb and to kill your people,” Stan said. “If I
can get away I will come back and destroy them.”

“You must get away. But I cannot go. I will be safe here. I will go
back to my room and will be in bed when my maid comes. I have work yet
to do.” She smiled up at him. “When I take off this robe and turban I
will be a girl again.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be safe,” Stan said.

“I will be safe,” Niva assured him. “I can walk out and talk to those
men. Could you get the flying machine away if I got them to take me
across the street to that little shop? I am very thirsty and they could
buy me a drink.”

Stan looked at her for a long minute. “I think you’re taking a lot of
chances just to get me off.”

“I take some chances, but always I have taken chances. For a long time
I have been a hired spy. I do not think Te Nuwa will press me with many
questions. He will call in his dacoit and the dacoit will lie as will
the temple helpers who work with him. I will have many to help me.”

“But the men out there will recognize you. They’ll probably suspect you
of helping me and tell the police,” Stan argued.

“When you start the machine it will make much noise. The men will rush
out to stop you. I will come here into the shadows and put on the boy’s
outfit. I will go down to the street and mingle with the crowd. I am a
boy much of the time. I go about listening to what the people say about
the Japanese.” Niva laughed softly. “You love the danger of flying. I
love danger, too. Get ready to act as soon as I have drawn those silly
guards away from the shed.”

“I’ll come back and get you out of here,” Stan promised.

“You may do that. I will be looking for you.” She gave him a saucy
toss of her head. “Here I go.”

She slipped out of her white robe and laid aside her turban. Then she
faced Stan. Stan looked down at her and grinned.

“I am Stan Wilson. We’ll meet again. I won’t feel right until you are
out of here.”

“Perhaps you will come,” Niva said. “But a fighter who flies in the
sky and a spy who slips around helping her enemies cannot be sure of
anything.” She turned toward the shed.

Stan watched her saunter out toward the guards as though she had come
from the shop across the street. He moved close to the shed and waited.
Niva talked and laughed with the men. They crowded around her eagerly.
Stan noticed that Niva kept her face in the shadow, standing with her
back to the moon.

When she turned toward the shop across the street the soldiers followed
her, laughing loudly at something she had said. A single flare lighted
the shop across the road. It was about a hundred yards from the field
where the Robin stood. Stan waited until the men turned their backs
upon the field as they ordered drinks at a long table. Tossing aside
his white robe, he dashed across the field.

He reached the Robin without being seen and climbed into the cockpit.
The Robin was a high-wing, five-place passenger plane with a radial
motor. Stan snapped on a small light over the instrument panel. He
checked gas and oil and the controls. The engine would have to be
twisted a few times before he could try for a start.

Carefully, Stan worked his way out and around to the propeller. He
wound up the engine, then stood looking toward the shop. Laughter
floated over to him. Niva was playing her part well. With the motor
primed, he climbed back into the plane and seated himself at the
controls. He had a plan in mind for getting her warmed up, if she
fired as quickly as she should. He kicked the contact on and the Robin
backfired with an explosion that shattered the hot silence. Her prop
jerked, slapped back, then rolled over.

Stan looked toward the shop. Two of the soldiers had whirled and were
running for their rifles which they had propped against the shop. Two
more leaped after them firing pistols at the plane. The Robin’s motor
sputtered some more but kept on turning uncertainly. Stan’s trained ear
detected loose rods and bearings. The Robin’s engine was little better
than a wreck.

The men were at the edge of the field and charging out toward the
plane. Stan saw that all of them had left the shop across the street.
Niva was moving toward the shadows under the trees where she had left
her robe. He kicked off the brakes and the Robin stirred. Slowly she
rolled ahead at a pace that was little better than a crawl.

The Robin gained speed until she was outrunning the charging soldiers.
Stan headed her down the field and, as she moved away from the
soldiers, she gained speed. By the time she had reached the end of the
runway she was moving about as fast as a horse could gallop. Two guards
were coming down the field but they had emptied their guns. Stan was
glad Te Nuwa’s field was far away from the Jap base.

He cramped the Robin around and headed her back. She did not have speed
enough to take off and he would have to make another run up the field.
He charged upon the onrushing men at a brisk pace. The guards ducked
and leaped aside. The Robin galloped past them and up to the shed,
where Stan whipped her around again and headed down the field for the
second time. Then he spied a squad of machine gunners coming out of the
woods. It was up this time or be riddled.

Stan opened the throttle wide and the ancient motor rattled and pounded
as it broke into a surge of power. He let the ship roll as far as he
dared. Machine guns were rattling away but all the bullets were going
wild. Stan hoicked the Robin’s tail and eased back on the stick.

The Robin wobbled off the ground and went slithering between two tall
trees. Her nose was up, but she wasn’t gaining much altitude. Stan had
his directions well fixed in his mind. He was not sure where the town
lay or where the Jap base was located, but he did know which way led
home.

He laid over a little and scraped over the spires of a temple. The
roof of the building was red and Stan remembered what Niva had said
about the Japanese base being close to a red-roofed temple. He surged
out over the tops of a mass of trees and saw lights dotting the jungle
below. By those lights he could see the forms of bombers and fighter
planes parked in the woods.

As he roared low over the trees, the lights below began to wink out and
a fifty-caliber gun barked at him. The Robin was lifting now and as she
moved up from the jungle, a burst of shells rocketed past her, bursting
high above.

Stan laughed softly to himself. The Japs had been careful to hide all
planes. He had spotted the take-off area and there was not a plane on
it. It lay there in the moonlight empty and deserted. That was a break
for the slow-moving Robin.

The Robin’s motor started to get hot and some of the knocks died down.
She hammered along, but Stan knew she was not doing over one hundred
twenty miles per hour. Stan thinned her mixture and went on up into the
moonlit sky.

After a bit he began watching for the Salween River. He was sure he
was in the area where they had landed with the Martin. Of course he was
not flying a P–40 at three hundred miles an hour, but he was getting
along very nicely.

He was beginning to worry about his directions when he spotted a
band of moonlight on water. The Robin roared out over the wide river
and Stan eased back. He was not helping the speed of the old ship by
leaning forward.

As he flew along, he made plans. The Japs might try to get their planes
out of the jungle base, unless the Flying Tigers went after them at
daylight. He was thinking about the attack he would lead when he heard
the old motor begin to clank and pound.

A dull, hammering sound came to him from the cowling up ahead. Stan
knew he had pushed the motor too hard. He eased back on the throttle
but the hammering continued. As he left the river and headed out over
the jungle, the noise grew louder. Stan wondered when the crash would
come.

He listened and waited. There was nothing to do but keep going. He had
no parachute and he could not see any rice fields below. Every mile he
gained was one less to walk, that was all he was worrying about.

The altimeter showed he had only six thousand feet altitude.

That was about the Robin’s ceiling. Stan tinkered with the spark and
the gas but the loosened rod kept beating away. All he could do was
wait until it smashed out in his face.

One consolation was that no Jap night fighters had showed up. Probably
they had gone too high to sight him. He checked the ship’s compass
and altered his course a little. He was easing back, looking down for
an open spot, when a dark shape came roaring down out of the sky at
him. It hurtled past, leaving a trail of exhaust flame and smoke. Stan
frowned and eased the Robin over. He did not intend to be washed out
after getting this far.

That plane was not a Karigane. It was a P–40! Stan could tell by
the whine of its Allison motor. He was glad the pilot had saved his
ammunition. The Robin was plodding along so slowly that she was almost
a stationary target.

The night fighter was a Flying Tiger, but would he spare the old Robin?
The fighter came back and circled over the Robin. Its pilot seemed
puzzled and undecided, which was to be expected. No one would expect to
meet a Curtiss Robin sailing through the Burma sky.

The P–40 kept circling and diving as Stan bored along toward Rangoon.
He spotted the blind lights at the landing field, set wide and away
from the runways to fool the enemy. Easing over, he went on down. He
did not worry about ground fire. He could not fail so close to home.

No guns blazed and the field was clear of planes. The Robin jolted down
and rolled toward a hangar. Men came running toward the ship. Stan
climbed out and faced them. The first man to get to him was Allison.

“You old sinner! I said you’d come flying back in a borrowed crate!”
Allison shouted. “O’Malley called in from patrol that he had you
covered.”

“How did O’Malley know?” Stan asked amazed.

“Well,” he said, “you have the insignia of the United States on your
wings.”

“That Thai rascal is pretty smart, only this time it worked against
him,” Stan said.

At that moment a P–40 roared to life beside a hangar. It came across
the field wide open, hopped off and knifed up out of sight.

“Who was that?” Stan shouted to the ground crew who had wheeled the
P–40 out on the field.

“That was Colonel Munson going up for a bit of night air, sir,” a
corporal answered.

“He got away,” Stan snapped. “I have to get to division headquarters
right away. Get Commander Fuller there, will you, Allison?” Stan was
off at a lope.

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