Where Eagles Dare Online - Alistair MacLean

Alistair Maclean - Where Eagles Dare

The vibrating clangour from the four great piston engines set teeth on edge and made an intolerable assault on cringing eardrums. The decibel-level, Smith calculated, must have been about that found in a boiler factory, and one, moreover, that was working on overtime rates, while the shaking cold in that cramped, instrument-crowded flight-deck was positively Siberian. On balance, he reflected, he would have gone for the ®Siberian boiler factory any time because, whatever its drawbacks, it wasn't liable to fall out of the sky or crash into a mountain-side which, in his present circumstances, seemed a likely enough, if not imminent contingency for all that the pilot of their Lancaster bomber appeared to care to the contrary. Smith looked away from the darkly opaque world beyond the windscreens where the wipers fought a useless battle with the driving snow and looked again at the man in the left-hand captain's seat.

Wing Commander Cecil Carpenter was as completely at home in his environment as the most contented oyster in his shell in Whitstable Bay. Any comparison with a Siberian boiler factory he would have regarded as the ravings of an unhinged mind. Quite dearly, he found the shuddering vibration as soothing as the ministrations of the gentlest of masseurs, the roar of the-engines positively soporific and the ambient temperature just right for a man of his leisured literary tastes. Before him, at a comfortable reading distance, a book rested on a hinged contraption which he had swung out from the cabin's side. From what little Smith could occasionally see of the lurid cover, depicting a blood-stained knife plunged into the back of a girl who didn't seem to have any clothes on, the Wing Commander held the more serious contemporary novelists in a fine contempt. He turned a page.

'Magnificent,' he said admiringly. He puffed deeply on an ancient briar that smelt like a fumigating plant. 'By heavens, this feller can write. Banned, of course, young Tremayne this to the fresh-faced youngster in the co-pilot's seat -- 'so I can't let you have it till you grow up.' He broke off, fanned the smoke-laden air to improve the visibility, and peered accusingly at his co-pilot. 'Flying Officer Tremayne, you have that look of pained apprehension on your face again.'

'Yes, sir. That's to say, no, sir.'

'Part of the malaise of our time,' Carpenter said sorrowfully. "The young lack so many things, like appreciation of a fine pipe tobacco or faith in their commanding officers.' He sighed heavily, carefully marked the place in his book, folded the rest away and straightened in his seat. 'You'd think a man would be entitled to some peace and quiet on his own flight-deck.'

He slid open his side screen. An icy gust of snow-laden wind blew into the flight-deck, carrying with it the suddenly deepened roar from the engines. Carpenter grimaced and thrust his head outside, shielding his eyes with a gauntleted right hand. Five seconds later he shook his head dispiritedly, screwed his eyes shut as he winced in what appeared to be considerable pain, withdrew his head, closed the screen, brushed the snow away from his flaming red hair and magnificent handlebar moustache, and twisted round to look at Smith.

'It is no small thing, Major, to be lost in a blizzard in the night skies over war-torn Europe.'

'Not again, sir,' Tremayne said protestingly.

"No man is infallible, my son.'

Smith smiled politely. 'You mean you don't know where we are, sir?'

'How should I?' Carpenter slid down in his seat, half-dosed his eyes and yawned vastly. I'm only the driver. We have a navigator and the navigator has a radar set and I've no faith in either of them.'

'Well, well.' Smith shook his head. 'To think that they lied to me at the Air Ministry. They told me you'd flown some three hundred missions and knew the continent better than any taxi driver knows his London.'

'A foul canard put about by unfriendly elements who are trying to prevent me from getting a nice safe job behind a desk in London.' Carpenter glanced at his watch. 'I'll give you exactly thirty minutes' warning before we shove you out over the dropping zone.' A second glance at his watch and a heavy frown. 'Flying Officer Tremayne, your gross dereliction of duty is endangering the entire mission.'

'Sir?' An even deeper apprehension in Tremayne's face.

'I should have had my coffee exactly three minutes ago.'

'Yes, sir. Right away, sir.'

Smith smiled again, straightened from his cramped position behind the pilots' seats, left