GLORY TRAIL

Stan sat in his office looking out upon the field. He had just returned from a conference at headquarters. Things were moving fast in the South
Pacific war zone. Stan had orders to be ready to take action on a new sector at an hour’s notice. The move might not come, but if it did, he
and his Flying Tigers would be on their way to new fields of action. No one knew just what the orders would be, that was a secret the Chinese
High Command was guarding.

Stan hated the idea of leaving Rangoon without squaring matters with Nick Munson. None of his fliers had tangled with the Nazi spy, though
he had been sighted many times. He was never cornered, though he did lead Jap attacks over the area.

The loud-speaker rattled and began rasping: “Enemy bombers coming in from the southeast. Flight Four, all out. Flight Five, all out.”

Stan grabbed his outfit and hurried out to the field. He was too restless to stay on the ground. He saw Allison and O’Malley climbing
into their planes. They zoomed up along with four other P–40’s. Stan had to spend a few minutes getting ready. By the time he was in the air
Flight Four and Five had vanished into the clouds above.

Heading along under the cloud layer Stan watched for the bombers. They would not show up for another fifty miles, but he wanted to spot them
before they sighted him. He did not go above the cloud layer. His boys were up there and he would let them handle the attack. He would mix in
with any low-flying enemy that came along. He was moody and not on his flying mettle. For days he had been on the ground working on battle
plans and maps. The work irritated him.

He was jolted out of his daydream by a ripping sound. Bullets were smashing into his P–40. A glance in his mirror told him the reason. A
fighter was on his tail slamming lead into him. As Stan dived he caught a glimpse of a P–40 raging over his hatch cover, and saw, for a split
second, the grinning face of Nick Munson.

Nick was flying low intent on picking off any cripples. The way Stan had been flying, half-asleep, had made him the same as a cripple. He
gunned his motor and was glad it was still hitting. Up he went and over in a tight roll. Munson came down in a wicked dive. Stan blazed away
and missed. As he came on around he saw the reason Munson was staying to fight it out. Black smoke was rolling out of the cowling of his
motor.

“I’m spotting you the first round,” Stan said grimly. He eased over and slid off on one wing. Munson came on in for the kill. Stan zoomed
upward and Munson went racing past.

The P–40 went up like a comet trailing a tail of fire. She hung at the top of her climb, leveled and slid away. Stan let her spin, hoping to
shake the fire out of her. Munson knifed in, eager to knock the P–40 out. He came down with a rush.

Stan jerked his ship out of her spin and stood her on her tail. Heat was surging back at him and he was coughing from the smoke. He saw
Munson go past and nosed down after him. Munson had not expected that Stan would be able to maneuver his flaming ship. He was caught squarely
in the sights of Stan’s P–40. Stan saw the tail and the fuselage and the cowling of the hood as he pressed his gun button. His bullets
hammered home, ripping great holes in the fuselage and the engine cowling of his enemy’s ship. Then Munson pulled up and Stan shot past.

Flames were sucking back now and the smoke was choking, but Stan went up and over, seeking his antagonist. Munson was rising slowly and his
ship was on fire. Stan heard his rasping voice come in over the radio:
“Lay off, you fool, we’ll both be cooked.”

Stan cupped his mike as he went on up. “This is Stan Wilson, Von Ketch. I’m coming up after you. This time you won’t run out on me.”

Stan went up on the tail of the burning P–40. Munson made a desperate effort to bank and swing his guns into line. He fired two bursts that
came close, one slashing through a wing. Then Stan was tipping over and going down on him, his Brownings singing their last song. As he raked
across Munson’s hatch cover he saw the spy’s ship nose into a wild spin and go down in an uncontrolled dive.

Then he heard a familiar voice. It was Allison. “Bail out, you nut, bail out!”

“What’s going on down there? Be ye needin’ a hand?” O’Malley called in.

“I went to sleep and a friend dropped in to wake me up,” Stan called back.

He palmed the hatch cover back and tried to rise. Suddenly he realized that his legs did not seem to have any feeling in them at all. They
refused to move. Gripping the edge of the hatch he heaved himself upward. The smoke was a blinding, choking pall now and the heat was
searing his face and hands. Slowly he pulled himself upward. He hung on the edge of the cockpit for what seemed an eternity. His useless
legs would not give him the shove he needed.

Then the ship pitched over. It was as though his P–40 knew he needed a boost and was giving it to him. Stan tumbled free and went
somersaulting over and over in the air. Feebly he pawed for his rip cord. His fingers closed over it and he pulled.

For a long space nothing happened. He seemed to be tumbling miles without slowing his speed. Then he felt a gentle tug, followed by a
solid jerk. A moment later he was floating in the air. His lungs seemed to be on fire and when he lifted a hand to his face he saw that it was
seared and bleeding.

“I reckon Munson got in a hit all right,” he muttered.

His eyes were smarting and his vision had not cleared, but he saw a ship coming down at him and a twisted grin formed on his lips. Getting
shot up while hanging in the sky like a sausage on a butcher’s hook was
a fine way to wind up a fighting career with the greatest air force in the world. He refused to close his eyes. He scowled and struggled to
focus his gaze upon the diving plane.

The plane went past him and banked steeply. It circled slowly around in a tight maneuver. Suddenly Stan began to laugh. He recognized the ship
and its number. O’Malley was standing guard while he sailed to earth.

Stan waited for the ground to come up and meet him. He was filled with
a great weariness but he fought it off. He had to make a decent landing
and not pile up like a dead man. He was commander of Base Two and his
men were watching. The ground lifted and a tall tree reached for his
boot soles. He sailed over the tree and settled down on an open field.

In spite of his determination to make a good landing he piled up and
fell in a heap. His parachute settled gently to the grass. Stan rolled
over and tried to sit up. He saw O’Malley swoop down and tried to wave
at him.

After that he gave up to the great weariness inside him and collapsed.

Stan opened his eyes to find white walls and a bare room around him. He
moved his head and looked at two officers sitting beside the white bed
he was in. Allison and O’Malley grinned broadly.

“Hello,” Stan said.

“’Tis a foine mornin’,” O’Malley said.

“Feel up to another fight with Nick Munson?” Allison asked.

“Didn’t I get him?” Stan asked.

“You got him,” Allison said. “But you almost hung on too long. There’s
always a time to stay and a time to jump.”

Stan grinned. “How long am I in for?” he asked.

“Not for long,” Allison said. “You’ll be back in harness soon. The doc
says you are the toughest human he’s ever seen.”

Stan closed his eyes. “I’ll be seein’ you, fellows,” he said. “Right
now I feel like I needed weeks of sleep.”

You may also like