The chirrup of the headphones went quiet. Petacchi got up from his seat and took a look at the radar screen. He watched it for some time, noting the occasional "blip'' of planes being overhauled below him. Would his own swift passage above the air corridor be noted by the planes as he passed above them? Unlikely. The radar on commercial planes has a limited field of vision in a forward cone. He would almost certainly not be spotted until he crossed the Defense Early Warning line, and DEW would probably put him down as a commercial jet that had strayed above its normal channel.
Petacchi went back to the pilot's seat and again minutely checked the dials. He weaved the plane gently to get the feel of the controls. Behind him, the bodies on the floor of the fuselage stirred uneasily. The plane answered perfectly. It was like driving a beautiful quiet motor car. Petacchi dreamed briefly of the Maserati. What color? Better not his usual white, or anything spectacular. Dark blue with a thin red line along the coachwork. Something quiet and respectable that would fit in with his new, quiet identity. It would be fun to run her in some of the trials and road races---even the Mexican "2000.'' But that would be too dangerous. Supposing he won and his picture got into the papers! No. He would have to cut out anything like that. He would only drive the car really fast when he wanted to get a girl. They melted in a fast car. Why was that? The sense of surrender to the machine, to the man whose strong, sunburned hands were on the wheel? But it was always so. You turned the car into a wood after ten minutes at 150 and you would almost have to lift the girl out and lay her down on the moss, her limbs would be so trembling and soft.
Petacchi pulled himself out of the daydream. He glanced at his watch. The Vindicator was already four hours out. At 600 m.p.h. one certainly covered the miles. The coastline of America should be on the screen by now. He got up and had a look. Yes, there, 500 miles away, was the coastline map already in high definition, the bulge that was Boston, and the silvery creek of the Hudson River. No need to check his position with weather ships Delta or Echo that would be somewhere below him. He was dead on course and it would soon be time to turn off the East-West channel.
Petacchi went back to his seat, munched another benezedrine tablet, and consulted his chart. He got his hands to the controls and watched the eerie glow of the gyro compass. Now! He eased the controls gently round in a fairly tight curve, then he flattened out again, edged the plane exactly on to its new course, and reset George. Now he was flying due south, now he was on the last lap, a bare three hours to go. It was time to start worrying about the landing.
Petacchi took out his little notebook. "Watch for the lights of Grand Bahama to port, and Palm Beach to starboard. Be ready to pick up the navigational aids from No. 1's yacht---dot-dot-dash; dot-dot-dash, jettison fuel, lose height to around 1000 feet for the last quarter of an hour, kill speed with the air brakes, and lose more height. Watch out for the flashing red beacon and prepare for the final approach. Flaps down only at the check altitude with about 140 knots indicated. Depth of water will be 40 feet. You will have plenty of time to get out of the escape hatch. You will be taken on board No. 1's yacht. There is a Bahamas Airways flight to Miami at 8:30 on the next morning and then Braniff or Real Airlines for the rest of the way. No. 1 will give you the money in 1000-dollar bills or in Travellers Cheques. He will have both available, also the passport in the name of Enrico Valli, Company Director.''
Petacchi checked his position, course, and speed. Only one more hour to go. It was three a.m. G.M.T., nine p.m. Nassau time. A full moon was coming up and the carpet of clouds 10,000 feet below was a snow-field. Petacchi dowsed the collision lights on his wingtips and fuselage. He checked the fuel: 2000 gallons including the reserve tanks. He would need 500 for the last four hundred miles. He pulled the release valve on the reserve tanks and lost 1000 gallons. With the loss of weight the plane began to climb slowly and he corrected back to 32,000. Now there was twenty minutes to go---time to begin the long descent. . . .
Down through the cloud base, the moments of blindness and then, far below, the sparse lights of North and South Bimini winked palely against the silver sheen of the moon on the quiet sea. There were no whitecaps. The met. report he had picked up from Vero Beach on the American mainland had been right: "Dead calm, light airs from the northeast, visibility good, no immediate likelihood of change,'' and a check on the fainter Nassau Radio had confirmed. The sea looked as smooth and as solid as steel. This was going to be all right. Petacchi dialed Channel 67 on the pilot's command set to pick up No. 1's navigational aid. He had a moment's panic when he didn't hit it at once, but then he got it, faint but clear---dot-dot-dash, dot-dot-dash. It was time to get right down. Petacchi began to kill his speed with the air brakes and cut down the four jets. The great plane began a shallow dive. The radio altimeter became vocal, threatening. Petacchi watched it and the sea of quicksilver below him. He had a moment when the horizon was lost. There was so much reflection off the moonlit water. Then he was on and over a small dark island. It gave him confidence in the 2000 feet indicated on the altimeter. He pulled out of the shallow dive and held the plane steady.
Now No. 1's beacon was coming in loud and clear. Soon he would see the red flashing light. And there it was, perhaps five miles dead ahead. Petacchi inched the great nose of the plane down. Any moment now! It was going to be easy! His fingers played with the controls as delicately as if they were the erotic trigger points on a woman. Five hundred feet, four hundred, three, two . . . There was the pale shape of the yacht, lights dowsed. He was dead on line with the red flash of the beacon. Would he hit it? Never mind. Inch her down, down, down. Be ready to switch off at once. The belly of the plane gave a jolt. Up with the nose! Crash! A leap in the air and then . . . crash again! Petacchi unhinged his cramped fingers from the controls, and gazed numbly out of the window at the foam and small waves. By God he had done it! He, Giuseppe Petacchi, had done it! Now for the applause! Now for the rewards! The plane was settling slowly and there was a hiss of steam from the submerging jets. From behind him came the rip and crack of tearing metal as the tail section gaped open where the back of the plane had broken. Petacchi went through into the fuselage. The water swirled around his feet. The filtering moonlight glittered white on the upturned face of one of the corpses now soggily awash at the rear of the plane. Petacchi broke the perspex cover to the handle of the port side emergency exit and jerked the handle down. The door fell outward and Petacchi stepped through and walked out along the wing.