The feeling Willoughby was experiencing could hardly be described as religious. In Cairo, Algiers, Oran--anywhere on the North African coast--had he ever seen any belly dancer quite as fascinating as Jamila, sole attraction in an otherwise miserable Algerian village on the edge of the desert and the sea. He looked at Mike as though he were some kind of a nut or something but Mike was intently serious.
"I'm making a study of stuff like this," continued Mike as the belly undulated in rippling surges around a contemplative navel. "When I go back. I'm going to get my master's. I've got two crates full of notes for a book I'm going to write on sex."
Willoughby showed some interest. "Sex?"
"Yeah. Sex as a religious obligation."
Photo Captions: (1) Lee was successful in all his ventures--business and pleasure...(2) Brynie sensed that Elena feared talking to him in a public resturant.
Willoughby lost interest and began distributing coins to the ever-present swarms of Arab urchins, all of whom showed, in the way of lost arms, legs, or horrible scars, the effects of the war that the Nazi Afrika Korps had brought to their land. "Mutile de guerre! American mine! Grenade! Bomb! Give money! Back-sheesh! Hello, Yank! Want beautiful woman?" Their cries were as various and piteous as there were urchins, and Willoughby was not stingy with his coins. As an American bomber pilot, he had dropped his share of bombs on Rommet's forces holed up in Arab villages, and no doubt had wounded or killed his share of civilians. What was more, he could afford it. He and his co-pilot had struck it rich flying cargo from Africa to France for a wealthy import-export firm in Paris.
Mike was in no such fortunate position.
As vice president of North Africa Air Freight he was, along with
President Bryan MacKay, experiencing a little difficulty retaining
ownership of the beat-up old C-47 plane that represented their
entire freight service. At that they had done better than most.
Right after the war dozens of American pilots had tried to set
up air freight lines, taking advantage of the air fields and the
cheap war-surplus planes left all over North Africa, and most
of them had gone broke. He looked across the café at his
currently deeply engaged in a checker game with an old Arab. Brynie liked Africa and Arabs, but he wasn't much of a student of belly dancers. The old Arab was lost in thought, planning his master move.
A truck and a Mercedes paused in front
of the café, and Willoughby left with a casual wave, time
to go to work. The belly dancer left the small stage, and the
wailing Arabian music came to an agonizing stop. The old Arab
cleaned the board with six successive moves, stood up bowing politely
to his opponent, and then with an imperious wave of his hand,
summoned his four wives from the back room. Sheeted like ghosts
from head to foot, with only their eyes showing through narrow
slits, the four padded meekly after him and climbed into the open
jeep that he started with too much noise. That, Brynie explained
on joining Mike, was because Arabs were used to Arabian stallions
that started like the wind, and they wanted their cars to start
the same way. In their old pre-war French truck they drove less
impetuously back to the air strip. Another night in Africa was
coming to its usual end.
Not quite. A few miles down the coast road the old Arab, driving his jeep as though he were leading a cavalry charge, passed the truck and Mercedes in a cloud of dust, his wives looking like so much wind-whipped laundry. Two miles further, and concealed by a high dune, he swung off the road. Instantly the four wives sprang out, ripping off their fettering garments and now they were four grim young Algerian terrorists seeking money for the cause. Ten seconds to bury the land mine in the sand of the road, another ten seconds to brush sand over their tracks, and another ten seconds to get their automatic rifles from the jeep.
The explosion was not all they expected. The truck was still upright, and from the Mercedes some survivors started to run. These were shot down before they could take a dozen steps, Willoughby amongst them. They approached the truck more cautiously. No wonder it had not been blown to splinters. The body was as solid as a tank, and indeed a tank had supplied most of its armor. They shot the lock off the back door, but that was their last move. From inside Lee Harris, standing guard over his own cargo, turned loose his burp gun.
"Bastards!" he screamed as he sprang out. And then because he still had ammunition left in the magazine, he sprayed the twitching corpses again.
Two others survived the ambush with Lee. Hans Lang, his German agent, and Peter Pepper--"don't make jokes about my name"--his English agent. And he had saved his cargo, but with his pilot and co-pilot dead, the cargo wasn't going anywhere. And that brought him early the next morning to see Mike Brewer of North Africa Air Freight. As an honest and virtuous American, Mike turned him down cold, and reported his probity to Brynie with some pride.
"He offered two thousand cash in advance for one flight to Paris," said Mike in the abandoned Army trailer that served as their office.
"What's the cargo?" asked Brynie, perking up.
"Egyptian cotton, he said. But he's a black marketeer. He's got German, English and French all working for him."
"You want to tie in with something that stinks?" Mike looked incredulous.
"One trip won't tie us in," replied Brynie after a moment's consideration of the risk. "We need the money, Mike. I just made a deal with Jamila."
Brynie pointed out the window at the magnificent view of the beach and an even more magnificent view of Jamila in a scantier than scant bikini. For only a few hundred American dollars, Jamila would tell the story of her life and reveal all the significance of the erotic symbols in her dance. "I want to do this because I believe in you, kid," pursued Brynie earnestly. "I believe in that book you're going to write."
Put that way, true art had to be put ahead of a little crass blackmarketeering, especially since they would be only the pilots and not guilty of anything should they have been deceived about the nature of their cargo. Still, there were annoying thoughts as they headed across the Mediterranean toward the coast of France.
"Those are cigarettes back there," said Brynie, indicating the rear cabin. "U.S. Army--PX. We got a hundred thousand dollar cargo. We're getting two thousand, and he's getting a hundred thousand."
"Number Two head temperature gauge is stuck again," said Mike, unimpressed by Brynie's reasoning.
Brynie banged the instrument panel with his fist, and the needle came unstuck. It looked worse where it settled, indicating the motor was about to catch fire or melt. "I don't know why the hell we went through this war," he continued bitterly. "Did we flatten Hamburg so I could work for a black marketeer to get money to buy a belly dancer?"
Mike bridled. "What's wrong with a belly dancer? That's a symbol of the creative force of life trying to establish itself in the face of death. The trouble with you is that you don't worship life. You don't give a damn for life or death...you're the one that's been mutilated by the war."
"Sure I'm dead," agreed Brynie. "I like it."
Mike snorted. "You went through sixty missions and you came out dead. Me...I'm not! I still love life. Sun, sky, sea, belly dancers...anything that helps life grow."
Mike was hitting too close to the truth. Those sixty missions bombing German emplacements in Africa, bombing German rail centers in Normandy, bombing cities in Germany had not been exactly easy. Four times he had been shot down by German planes, with most of his crew killed or wounded. Twice he had crash-landed after being knocked out of the sky by anti-aircraft guns and still he had gone back for more. Why? Not for all the medals that had made him one of the most decorated heroes-of the war. Savagely he unsnapped his seat belt.
"Take over, will you? I m going back to talk to our passengers," he said. "The freight rates have just gone up."
Mike took over the wheel, just as he had done scores of times on those sixty missions. "The trouble with you," said Mike, "is that you've known a million broads and never loved one..."
"Oh, Mike, for crying out loud...These guys back here have got the right idea. Get in fast, get the loot, and to hell with anybody else." He stormed out.
Photo Captions: (3) Brynie agreed to fly contraband for Lee if he could keep the plane. (4) Col. Wilson's men searched the plane and confiscated its illegal cargo.
Lee Harris, despite his English name, was one of those Continentals of many nations, depending on which forged passport he carried. Smooth, easy with money, and iron hard. He took Brynie's demand for five thousand dollars quite calmly.
"What do you mean? You said you'd do it for two."
"That's the rate for Egyptian cotton. For American cigarettes it's five," said Brynie with matching calmness.
It was the Englishman, Pepper, who flared. "Steady, mate. You're pushing your ruddy luck."
But Lee laughed. "All right, have it your way, Major," he said. "But not for the reason you think. I've got a wife waiting for me. I'd hate to have to spend an extra hour getting to her, know what I mean?"
"No, I don't," snapped Brynie.
"Major, I've changed my mind about landing at Villacoublay," said Lee, explaining that because of his desire to see his wife, he wanted to land at the private field on his own country estate, just an hour's drive north of Villacoublay but only five minutes by air. When you see her, you'll understand," he added.
When Brynie saw her, he did understand. To buy something like that, a man would do many desperate things, of which blackmarketeering was low on the list. She rode up on a beautiful white horse that somehow looked more aristocratic for having her on its back, and when she leaned down to kiss Lee, she was like a queen bestowing knighthood on a serf. For the first time in his life, Brynie wished to be in another man's shoes.
"Good trip?" asked Elena in a voice that was magically tuned to two chords of music. But she was watching the men unloading cigarettes.
"A few complications," said
Lee evasively. "Just let me pay off these guys, and then
we'll go." And to Brynie he said, as he handed over American
dollars, "How would you like to stay on and work for me?"
Brynie Mackay..........Rod Taylor
Lee Harris..................Harry Guardino
Col. Wilson.................Kevin McCarthy
"No thanks. One trip," said Brynie. The horse reared and he looked off in admiration as Elena brought it swiftly under control.
"If I change my mind, where can I get in touch with you?"
Lee had not missed Brynie's admiring look. It happened to all men who saw Elena, and he could use the results to advantage.
"I don't give out my number," he said.
"Hang around Al Poland's bar."
Brynie knew Al Poland's bar, a favorite hang-out of American pilots after the war. He and Mike flew beck to Villacoublay to unload the Egyptian cotton, to gas up for the return flight and get the Number Two engine checked, along with the temperature gauge. Lee went to his chateau and talked first to Pierre, his business manager. "We got jumped in Oran," he said curtly. "Willoughby was killed. There must have been a leak. See if you can track it down." Pierre needed no further instructions. Next he called Colonel Wilson of the Counter-Intelligence Department in Paris.
"If you want to make a good pinch," he told the American officer, "call your French pals and get out to Villacoublay. A C-47 is coming in from Oran. American registry. License NX-4826. Narcotics aboard." He hang up smiling.
The last of the few bales of Egyptian cotton were being unloaded when the raiding party arrived. To Colonel Wilson they did not look to be worth the $5,000 fee Brynie claimed to have received for the delivery. Inspector Bouchard of the French Intelligence Office seemed to share Colonel Wilson's doubt.
"Such a little load, Major," protested the inspector. "You find it economical to fly all the way from Africa with such a little load?" He waved his men in to search the plane, and there was enough authority in his wave to indicate they were to take the whole crate apart if necessary. It wasn't. The dope was found behind the plate that served to cover the hydraulic system.
"Who hired you?" demanded Inspector Bouchard.
Brynie shrugged. "Some Algerian."
"You don't know his name?"
"No sir." And as long as he stuck to his ignorance, there was nothing the inspector could do to him beyond confiscating his plane, his fee, and taking up his pilot's license. Anybody could have concealed the dope behind the metal plate, using only a screwdriver, without the pilot's knowledge. Pending further investigation, Brynie and Mike were free to go, providing they made no attempt to go further than Paris. Well, Paris was not a bad place in which to be confined, and Mike could continue his education in sex with little restraint. They went to Al Poland's bar.
Al's place had changed some, though not for the better. The same four-piece orchestra, the same small dance floor, the same tables and bar, the same smoke, and the same Al, though looking slightly haggard, but the clientele had changed. Gone were most of the American pilots, to be replaced by a sort of international riff-raff. Not the jet set, nor yet the tourist crowd, but a polyglot assemblage neither young nor old that somehow conveyed the impression of being predatory.
"I look at these people," said Mike, leaning on the bar and looking at the people, "and two minutes after Paris was liberated, every operator in town was operating. Why bother to liberate them?"
"That's what we do every war," said Al philosophically. "Kill the heroes so the operators can live."
"You know a fellow named Lee Harris?" asked Brynie, keeping his voice low and casual.
"Drop it, Brynie. He's bad news," said Al. Brynie dropped that and took up another lead. "You know a fellow called Pol Guilbert? We were supposed to deliver some Egyptian cotton to him." He didn't mention the extra cargo in the plane.
"He comes in here," was all Al would admit. In the mirror behind the bar Brynie saw why. Colonel Wilson had come in quietly and was taking up a table by the far wall. Using the same mirror, Brynie glanced around the room. If that wasn't Elena, dining alone...As though summoned by a court order, he left Mike at the bar and moved to her table.
"Excuse me. Aren't you Mrs. Harris?" "No." In one tiny word she had all but frozen him to the bone.
"You weren't that beautiful woman on the Arabian horse?"
"No." Again the deep freeze, but Brynie had been shot down before, and again he rallied.
"And then didn't you ride off, your rhythm and the horses rhythm the most beautiful rhythms I've ever seen moving together?"
Elena permitted herself a smile, possibly because she couldn't prevent it. "The way you describe it, you almost make me wish I had been. Au revoir, m'sieur."
"I'm terribly sorry. Au revoir, madame." Brynie could only leave.
"Something is fishy in Denmark," he said as he rejoined Mike at the bar.
Mike's silent reply said more than words that the dead fish were not limited to Denmark. In continued silence they finished a couple of more drinks and drifted out into the night. Around the corner Elena was waiting in a cab.
"Go back to Al Poland's and wait for me," said Brynie to Mike as be climbed into the cab. Mike was willing. His interest in sex was purely intellectual, or mostly so, and there were a couple of tarts back there worthy of further observation. In the cab Brynie asked, "Why wouldn't you talk to me in there?"
"Colonel Wilson was watching." Her words made sense, but the tone of her voice was like something left hanging in the air after a gypsy guitar had been silenced.
Lee Harris, she told him, had heard about the surprise party at Villacoublay, and wanted to do something about his confiscated plane and funds. But that was all she would tell him, and on the long ride to the chateau she kept to her corner of the cab, and just as firmly kept him in his.
Lee was busy when they arrived but hoped Brynie wouldn't mind having a drink with Elena in the drawing room. It would only be for a few minutes. He hurried out to join Pierre, Hans and Peter in the wine cellar. There was a fifth man in the cavernous vault, a man on his knees praying loudly to the wine bottles stacked in racks around him.
"Sort of hate to do it while he's praying, you know," said Peter with a surprising show of squeamishness.
Lee laughed. "What difference does it make? If he's led a good life, God will welcome him. If he hasn't, it doesn't matter."
Pierre laughed, too. The praying man was Pol Guilbert, and Pol had committed the error of wanting more money than he was getting as their agent in Villacoublay. In his greed he had made the additional mistake of tipping off his friends in Oran to the truckload of cigarettes, the attempted hi-jacking of which had ended in eight deaths and seriously endangered the life of Lee Harris, himself. Lee nodded to his friends and left, closing the heavy door of the vault behind him. The three shots he heard as be climbed the stone steps were as muted by the thick door as the distant popping of champagne corks.
Photo Captions: (5)
Elena and Brynie saw how impossible it would be for their love
to be fully realized. (6) Col. Wilson received information from
Brynie's partner as to where the plane would land. (7) Lee had
killed Mike in cold blood and Brynie was determined to avenge
The scene in the drawing room was in distinct contrast to that in the wine cellar. Elena serving brandy made for Napoleon in delicate globes made for Louis XIV, while from the high walls great paintings basked in their own special lighting effects.
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Harris," said Brynie, saluting her with raised goblet.
She stared into her own glass somberly. "By the way, I'm not Mrs. Harris."
"No ?" Brynie considered the information and its implications. "Good," he decided. "You see, I'm a man of principles. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I am also a man of honesty. When I see a woman of compelling beauty, I don't fight it. I tell her right out."
"Tell her what?"
"Tell her I can't resist her compelling beauty. Especially when she serves brandy so delightfully."
"Thank you. I try to be nice to men who work for Mr. Harris," said Elena, but the music was gone from her voice. Suddenly she looked directly at him. "I was in Berlin during the war, Mr. MacKay. People are still screaming. Every night I hear your bombs falling. And whether I am married or not...it was a long war, and I have no strength or heart left. I simply do what I have to do to keep alive."
Brynie could hear the cries of his Arab urchins. "Mutile de guerre! Mutile de guerre!" Weren't they all?
Lee joined them smiling, his business disposed of. "You like paintings?" he asked, waving an expansive hand over his art gallery. "That's a genuine Rembrandt. That's Tintoretto. Goya... a fake Titian but a good fake. That's what I like about this racket. Gives you time to get cultured. Culture takes time. Ruebens, Holbein...Aristocratic as they come..."
"Yeah? Well first I'd like to know why you planted heroin on my plane," demanded Brynie.
Lee paused in his guided tour. "My intuition tells me you are about to sock me."
"Your intuition is good..."
Brynie got no further. Lee's fist flashed out without warning, and Brynie hit the floor. When he picked himself up, Peter and Hans were staring at him too eagerly, and Brynie got the distinct impression that he should drop the argument. He did, and won a smile of approval from Lee.
"Let's get our relationship clear, Major," said Lee. "I know you're a genuine hero. I had you checked out. Silver Star, British Military Cross...but now the war's over, Major. Now's no time for heroes. We gotta learn to settle down." He nodded toward Elena who was moving up the grand staircase. "The Germans are winning, she plays ball with a German general. The Russians are winning, she plays ball with a Russian general..."
Savagely Brynie cut in. "And now she's playing ball with another general."
Lee laughed loudly. "You said it, boy. General Lee Harris. Five Picassos." Abruptly his mood changed. "Okay, let's cut out the bull and get down to business."
Getting down to business with Lee was crude but enlightening. "Now you've lost your plane, you lost five grand, and you got nothing to your name because you tried to juice money from me. That don't pay, Brynie. It's better we should cooperate. Right?"
"I'm listening," said Brynie.
"Now, I'll get your plane back, and I'll get your money back."
"How can you do that?"
"I know a fat man with glasses. He controls everything that leaves or comes into France by air. I got everything locked up tight."
"I'm very impressed," said Brynie, nor did he have to lie to say it. The paintings alone would be worth a couple of millions. The chateau, the grounds and private airport, Elena...say five million more. No, Lee Harris was not a man who talked or dealt in pennies.
"I want an exclusive deal," continued Lee, satisfied that he had made his point. "Two thousand dollars a flight, two flights a week."
"Are we talking about flying cigarettes from Oran to Paris?"
Lee raised his shoulders in a French shrug. "Paris to anywhere. Cigarettes, beef, sugar, whiskey, drugs...whatever is in demand. And once a week I fly to Geneva. I own a small plane. Your buddy can fly me while you lay over."
The offer was tempting, but Brynie had a counter-proposal. For $35,000 he could get a real good plane. Let Lee put up the cash, and Brynie would pay him back at the rate of three thousand a trip. "After twelve flights, the airplane is mine."
As a sharp dealer, Lee could appreciate sharp dealing. "You had this whole thing worked out, didn't you?" he asked with some admiration, and Brynie was smart enough not to deny it. "Okay."
"And you promise absolute protection?"
"I own a fat man with glasses, remember?"
"Suppose your fat man with glasses loses his influence?"
Lee could laugh at that. "Major,
after four years of occupation, this country is loaded with fat
men with glasses."
Such proved to be the case, and the first six flights were without incident. Stockholm, Lisbon, Oran, London, Casablanca, and Naples. And each weekend Mike flew Lee to Geneva for whatever urgent business he had there. That did not mean Brynie was left alone with Elena. There did remain on the scene Hans, Peter and Pierre, and whatever their own feelings might be toward Lee's mistress, they had long since learned their own comfort was best served by serving Lee's. On the other hand, Brynie and Elena were not exactly without their own resources, and they did manage some conversations together from time to time. Strange conversations in which like two "mutiles de guerre," the more they were drawn together, the more they opened old wounds. At Brynie's offer to take her away from all this, she smiled wanly.
"I'm a jinx," she said seriously.
"Du bist a jinx ?" Brynie was incredulous.
"Ya. Near the end of the war in I drove for a Luftwaffe general. In a single week your bombers destroyed three of his cars. That's what he said to me. 'Du bist verhex.'"
Brynie had been on some of those raids, and it was his bombs that might have spread Elena over a few blocks of Berlin. That hurt, but he said, "And what did the Russian general say?"
"What Russian general?"
"The Russian general after the German general." Digging in the knife and twisting it.
"He said there was a war."
Yes, there had been. And why were now opening its old wounds? To let poison, and start the healing anew from a clean incision? They couldn't know. Like two whose life impulses had been numbed by the war, they could only torture each other, and in the pain feel a returning flow of life.
Luck turned at De Habet in Morocco where they had been sent to pick up a cargo of fresh beef. They landed on the desert strip just before dark and were met on schedule by two refrigerator trucks from Casablanca loaded with fresh sides of beef. An hour later, with several tons still to be loaded, a convoy of military trucks could be seen in the distance, coming up fast.
"Get the engines started," Brynie shouted to Mike. Hurriedly he pushed the cargo handlers out the door and slammed it shut, cursing himself for having loaded the tail section first. Then he lunged into his seat in the cockpit where Mike already had the motors roaring in a fast warm-up. "I'll take it."
It was close. Two jeeps had swung out from the convoy to race across the sand and come to a screaming halt in the middle of the runway. The well-trained occupants hurled themselves behind their vehicles and opened fire with automatic rifles.
The plane thundered down the strip toward the barrier. Full throttle, but still the tail heavy plane refused to respond.
"We won't make it," Mike screamed "Chop the throttles!"
"Dump the flaps!" shouted Brynie,
holding the throttles full on. The maneuver worked. Like a skipping
stone the plane lifted over the jeeps just as a burst of fire
shattered the window on Mike's side. Twice the plane slammed back
to the run-way, but on the
second bounce Brynie had enough speed to keep her airborne through the tail settled alarmingly.
"We'll dump the beef when we're over the water." Brynie hollered about the laboring motors. "You all right?"
Mike wiped blood from the side of his face, cut by the flying glass. "Is this the operation you said was so safe?" he asked mildly.
Yet Lee's organization was functioning well enough to see them through. A paid operator in the Casablanca control tower radioed the departure of a Trans-European plane, empty, at 23:30 hours, and empty the plane arrived at Villacoublay right on schedule. Colonel Wilson and Inspector Bouchard looked disappointed, especially when the control officer informed them that Casablanca did indeed confirm their 23:30 departure, empty.
"Okay, the gloves are off,"
said Colonel Wilson to Brynie and Mike. "When you see Lee
Harris, tell him for me I'm going to get him. By God I'm going
tot get him, and I'll get you, too."
Twenty thousand pounds of beef, worth
five dollars a pound on the black market, one hundred thousand
dollars, and now it was Lee who had some explaining to do. Who
had put the cops wise to the trip to De Habet? Where was the leak
this time? He called in Mike for a swift flight to Switzerland
to explain what he could.
Brynie went to Al Poland's bar to reflect on the quirks of fate, and was not too surprised when Elena sought the same source of meditation.
"Brynie, I'm scared for you," she said at between forced efforts to make light talk.
"I'm scared for me to," he said lightly. "Let's go to my place and you hold me tight."
With the same forced smile, she said, "I came to warn you because I thought there was something different about you. But all you want to do is make naughty boy passes at me. I don't need that. I've had that all my life."
"What do you need, Elena?" He was abruptly serious.
"That you just take my advice and you and Mike get out while you can."
"I'm sure you're right. My business relationship with Lee is delicate," he agreed. "I wouldn't want to jeopardize things." Then he looked deep into her eyes. "I imagine your relationship with Lee is delicate. You wouldn't want to jeopardize things."
She returned his look. Two trapped people
looking helplessly at each other from their respective snares.
"Please go now," she
It was Brynie who discovered he wasn't dead yes. Alone, yes, but with Elena..."For God's sake," he breathed intensely, and taking her arm almost brutally he led her out into the street. Elena was not resisting his intentions. But she knew Lee better than he did.
"They'll be watching," she gasped when she could wrench her lips away from his in the protective shadows of a plane tree. "Lee has your place watched all the time."
And Colonel Wilson and Inspector Bouchard had men watching all other likely places, and there were others watching, too. Men who envied Lee Harris and who aspired to take over what he had. Men like Pol Guilbert who would try and fail, to be replaced by others who might not fail. But not all places in Paris could be watched, and they found the dingy hotel and the room, sort of sad and hopeless, but once, maybe a century ago, it had been a new room, with luscious grapes in the pressed metal ceiling, and honeymooners could lie on their backs in the dawn and look up at these symbols of fertility, and go back to sleep again. It could be renewed just as life can be renewed again, and Brynie and Elena found it so.
"When are we going to be together again?" asked Brynie, lying on his back and looking at the grapes on the ceiling as revealed by the dawn.
Lee returned from Switzerland in a savage mood, nor was his anger relieved by the report that Elena had returned but an hour before him after an all-night absence.
"I drove to Chartres," she replied sweetly to his blunt accusation.
"Because I felt like it."
"Well, you won't for a while. He and Mike are taking off for Cairo as soon as I get a phone call." He did not add that he would be going along to see that the leaks were not coming from the plane crew, that suspicion having been raised by his superiors in Geneva.
Brynie got drunk in his own way, which was not small. "Never," he said to his glass. "So she says never. 'Never?' I says. 'Never,' she says. Only God can say, Never.'" Mike found him and hauled him home. They had to fly to Cairo in the morning, and Mike could make an excellent guess as to which one would have to do the flying. What hurt was that Al's place was filled with women of dubious morals who might have contributed much to his book on sex as a religious obligation.
Something else was bothering Mike, too. Peace. Law and order. One sort of lost track of it. After being called a hero for bombing troops and civilians and burying hundreds beneath their flattened cities, one could take a little blackmarket profiteering almost as a mild joke. But it was a joke that lost its humor after a while. Sure, there were people who would buy the stuff they brought in, and there were the people who paid them to bring in the stuff, but they just plain out and out were not Mike's kind of people. Now sex was something else again. Without sex, there would be no life, and that was fine and clean and necessary, but these other people...the blackmarketeers...that was death and destruction, and very unclean indeed. And if Brynie couldn't see that simple fact, then it was up to Mike to save him before it was too late. Mike went to Colonel Wilson with what he had, which was not much, but more than the colonel had been able to gather in two years.
In Cairo all went smoothly. While Brynie and Mike refueled the plane for the return flight, Lee turned over $250,000 in cash for a load of penicillin stolen from a Near East mercy ship. Then they were on their way back for a landing in Nemours where Lee's agents would be waiting to pick up the load. An hour from their destination, Mike turned suddenly to Brynie.
"Incidentally, Brynie," he said, "there might be a little trouble when we put down at Nemours. Colonel Wilson is going to be waiting."
"You stupid jerk!" Brynie looked at Mike aghast.
"Brynie, I did it for you. He's going to give us protection."
"There's no protection from him.
He's going to put us down." Brynie reached for the throttles
and began jiggling them. The motors began to cough and sputter.
"Crash landing," he shouted. "I'm not going to
come in at Nemours. This way he'll think
we've got engine trouble."
Lee had had too much flying time to be that easily fooled. He lurched forward from the cargo compartment, gun in hand, and with that persuader in his back, Brynie saw the wisdom of smoothing out the motors.
"What was the plan, fellows?" snarled Lee. "A little hi-jacking on your own?"
"One of you better started talking," warned Lee. "Someone is going to get shot in the back of the head. Now come on, who wants to save his pal?"
Lee fired, his gun pressed to the back of Mike's skull.
For a long second Brynie sat frozen, not believing it could have happened. Then as Mike's body fell against the controls, pitching the plane down, he swung at Lee's jaw. Caught off balance by the pitching plane, Lee lurched into the blow. His head snapped back against the corner of the radio set, and he went down.
Desperately Brynie grappled with the controls,
but with Mike's body wedged against the wheel, he couldn't budge
them. He hurled himself from his seat and pulled Mike's body into
the aisle. Then with the plane screaming earthward in a power
spin he fought once more to regain control. Ten seconds to come
out of the spin. Ten more seconds that seemed like years to pull
out of the dive. But already the trees were reaching for the undercarriage.
sheared through them to pancake hard in an open field.
Mike lay crumpled under the instrument panel. "Hey, Mike," he cried. "Hey Buster! Then in a wild wail of anguish.. "What can I do?"
The pistol Lee had dropped lay in the aisle, and he grabbed it up. Lee was sprawled on the floor, his body half-covered by cartons of penicillin. Brynie pressed the pistol to Lee's head, but suddenly all power to pull the trigger left him. So many dead...so many dead....He left the plane and started to run.
A half hour later, from a village inn, he called Colonel Wilson and told him where to find the plane. And late that night, from Al's place, he called again. The colonel had found Mike, and the plane, and all the evidence he needed, but Lee Harris had eluded him again.
"Look, give yourself up," continued Colonel Wilson. "I'll protect you from Harris."
"Thanks, pal. It's not just me,"
said Brynie into the phone. "I got someone else to worry
about. A little unfinished business." And he hung up.
Al found him a hide-out, and agreed to get in touch with Elena if he could. He even agreed to get a forged passport for Elena, but that would take more time, and time Brynie didn't have. But if he could get Elena to Oran, he knew where they would be safe until Al could mail the passport to him. And lack was with him. Lee Harris, knowing a raid on his chateau was only a matter of hours away, was stripping the place and moving his headquarters to Geneva. Elena was to leave for there immediately in her own car, and the rest would follow by devious routes. Instead, she drove off to join Brynie at the little hotel in which they had found refuge once before. The next day, in a rented plane, they were in Oran and temporarily safe in the old Army trailer that had once been the office of Brynie's and Mike's air freight service. The Arab urchins would keep them informed of the arrival of any suspicious strangers.
"How would you like to live in a little dump in northern Michigan?" asked Brynie. "Married to a high school teacher?"
"Is that what you want to be?" asked Elena.
"I think maybe now I know what I really want," said Brynie slowly. "You and teaching. Mike always wanted me to teach. He was the greatest kid I ever knew. And I really fixed him, didn't I?"
Elena used the only words of comfort she knew. "I love you."
The urchins were shouting.
"What are they saying?" asked Elena, turning pale.
"Lee is here. And the German fellow who works for him," replied Brynie, almost with relief. "Come on, go for a nice walk with the kids. It's a lovely night."
"You don't have to do this," pleaded Elena. "We can both go."
"And what? Keep running? No, I'm
doing it so we won't be hunted the rest of our lives."
The urchins led her off protesting. They would know how to keep her safe, and if worst came to worst, they would get her to the café where she could pick up the passport that would admit her to the United States. And with her safety off his mind, Brynie could prepare for the final showdown. That was why he had picked this place above all others. It was his grounds, and he knew his way around the graveyard of junked trucks and wrecked planes as did no other. He took his first position behind an old truck.
"Lee!" he called as he saw the two shadows stalking his trailer. "Drop the gun!"
The answer was a blast of a submachinegun, fired at the sound of his voice. He fired beck at the flashes and darted behind a mound of empty oil drums.
Lee squeezed off a burst from his burp
gun, the bullets banging like crazy drum-beats on the empty drums.
Hans came dashing around the other side to head him off. Brynie
cut him down with the last three shots in his pistol. Then he
hurled the empty weapon hard at the head of Lee coming up from the rear. Lee staggered back, dropping his gun. Brynie was on him like a pouncing beast, and now it was hand to hand in the dark. Murderous blows arriving unseen; murderous blows slammed back that were impossible to avoid. Brynie went down to his knees, doubled over by a knee to the gut, and fell forward, tackling Lee with both arms. Lee fell back, thudding against the steel treads of a half-track.
Then Brynie was on him, banging Lee's head against the solid treads. "This is for Mike! Mike! Mike! Mike!"
Heavy bands wrenched him away, throwing him on his back in the sand. Colonel Wilson and his aides were looking down at him.
"Well, Colonel," he managed to gasp. "I've stopped running."
That fact being fairly obvious, the Colonel permitted himself a wry smile. "Do you have any information for me?"
"Yes, sir. I've written it all down. Every contact I ever had. Stockholm, Lisbon, London...everything."
"Are you going to turn Harris over to me?"
"I had a deal with Mike. Give me the information and turn Lee Harris over, and I wouldn't press charges," said the Colonel. "Maybe you don't want to go through with it."
But Brynie had made his own deal with Mike, even though it had been too late for Mike to seal the pact. He got up slowly. "No. No. I think it's a fine deal."
"Then you are prepared to tell me where Lee Harris is?"
"Yes, sir. He's about six inches from your left foot."
An aide turned a flashlight on the heap in the sand.
"Oh," said Colonel Wilson. "So he is."
Brynie staggered off toward the beach. "Elena!" he called.
She caught him before he could fall again, and held him as though she would never let go. Slowly they sank to the sand together, with the surf breaking in white foam just beyond. The urchins gathered around. They had seen a lot of battered men arrested in their brief lives, but love like this was something new. Brynie remembered their presence just in time, and groaningly helped Elena to her feet. Friends in need were these little urchins, but on a night like this with Elena, who needed friends?
A UNIVERSAL RELEASE in TECHNICOLOR--Produced
by STANLEY CHASE-- Directed by JOSEPH SARGENT--Screenplay by HALSTED
WELLESStory by HAROLD LIVINGSTONadapted for SCREEN
STORIES by GEORGE SCULLIN.
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