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.

The big jolly-boat was almost up with the plane. There were six men in it. Petacchi waved and shouted delightedly. One man raised a hand in reply. The faces of the men, milk-white under the moon, looked up at him quietly, curiously. Petacchi thought: These men are very serious, very businesslike. It is right so. He swallowed his triumph and also looked grave.

The boat came alongside the wing, now almost awash, and one man climbed up on to the wing and walked toward him. He was a short, thick man with a very direct gaze. He walked carefully, his feet well apart and his knees flexed to keep his balance. His left hand was hooked in his belt.

Petacchi said happily, “Good evening. Good evening. I am delivering one plane in good condition.'' (He had thought the joke out long before.) ”Please sign here.'' He held out his hand.

The man from the jolly-boat took the hand in a strong grasp, braced himself, and pulled sharply. Petacchi's head was flung back by the quick jerk and he was looking full into the eyes of the moon as the stiletto flashed up and under the offered chin, through the roof of the mouth, into the brain. He knew nothing but a moment's surprise, a sear of pain, and an explosion of brilliant light.

The killer held in the knife for a moment, the back of hand feeling the stubble on Petacchi's chin, then lowered the body onto the wing and withdrew the knife. He carefully rinsed the knife in the sea water and wiped the blade on Petacchi's back and put the knife away. Then he hauled the body along the wing and thrust it under water beside the escape hatch.

The killer waded back along the wing to the waiting jolly-boat and laconically raised a thumb. By now four of the men had pulled on their aqualungs. One by one, with a last adjustment of their mouthpieces, they clumsily heaved themselves over the side of the rocking boat and sank in a foam of small bubbles. When the last man had gone, the mechanic at the engine carefully lowered a huge underwater searchlight over the side and paid out the cable. At a given moment he switched the light on and the sea and the great sinking hulk of the plane were lit up with a mist of luminescence. The mechanic slipped the idling motor into gear and backed away, paying out cable as he went. At twenty yards, out of range of the suction of the sinking plane, he stopped and switched off his engine. He reached into his overalls and took out a packet of Camels. He offered one to the killer, who took it, broke it carefully in half, put one half behind his ear, and lit the other half. The killer was a man who rigidly controlled his weaknesses.

10.

The Disco Volante

On board the yacht, No. 1 put down his night glasses, took a Charvet handerkerchief out of the breast pocket of his white sharkskin jacket and dabbed gently at his forehead and temples. The musky scent of Schiaparelli's Snuff was reassuring, reminding him of the easy side of life, of Dominetta who would now be sitting down to dinner---everyone kept Spanish hours in Nassau and cocktails would not have finished before ten---with the raffish but rather gay Saumurs and their equally frivolous guests, of the early game that would already be under way at the Casino, of the calypsos thudding into the night from the bars and night clubs on Bay Street. He put the handkerchief back in his pocket. But this also was good---this wonderful operation! Like clockwork! He glanced at his watch. Just ten-fifteen. The plane had been a bare thirty minutes late, a nasty half-hour to have to wait, but the landing had been perfect. Vargas had done a good quick job on the Italian pilot---what was his name?---so that now they were running only fifteen minutes late. If the recovery group didn't have to use oxyacetylene cutters to get out the bombs, they would soon make that up. But one mustn't expect no hitch at all. There was a good eight hours of darkness to go. Calm, method, efficiency, in that order. Calm, method, efficiency. No. 1 ducked down off the bridge and went into the radio cabin. It smelled of sweat and tension. Anything from the Nassau control tower? Any report of a low-flying plane? Of a possible crash into the sea off Bimini? Then keep watching and get me No. 2. Quick, please. It's just on the quarter.

No. 1 lit a cigarette and watched the yacht's big brain get to work, scanning the ether, listening, searching. The operator played the dials with insect fingers, pausing, verifying, hastening on through the sound waves of the world. Now he suddenly stopped, checked, minutely adjusted the volume. He raised his thumb. No 1 spoke into the sphere of wire mesh that rose before his mouth from the base of the headset. "No. 1 speaking.''

"No. 2 listening.'' The voice was hollow. The words waxed and waned. But it was Blofeld, all right. No. 1 knew that voice better than he remembered his father's.

"Successful. Ten-fifteen. Next phase ten-forty-five. Continuing. Over.''

"Thank you. Out.'' The sound waves went dead. The interchange had taken forty-five seconds. No conceivable fear of interception in that time, on that waveband.




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