FICTION

SYLVESTER, D.F.C.

Return bout!—Featuring Terrence O’Shea, Tiger Eye Appleby, Tom Sylvester, and R.C.A.F. submarine trouble

BRUCE WEST February 1 1943
FICTION

SYLVESTER, D.F.C.

Return bout!—Featuring Terrence O’Shea, Tiger Eye Appleby, Tom Sylvester, and R.C.A.F. submarine trouble

BRUCE WEST February 1 1943

IT IS unlikely that; anyone will ever know what strange mood or emotion caused Pilot Officer Terrence O’Shea to bring Sylvester home to No. 16 Operational Squadron. It’s possible the party in town had something to do with it, because he also carried a red lantern when he arrived at the gates of the station in the wee small hours of the morning.

Sylvester was a cat—a cat so ugly that he was almost attractive. One of his ears was missing and his left eyelid had a perpetual droop that gave him the appearance of an evil old man winking evil thoughts.

When Pilot Officer Terrence O’Shea awoke from his slumbers that morning Sylvester was sitting on the end of the bed, winking at him. Somewhat startled, Terrence O’Shea stared at Sylvester. He studied the many scars on Sylvester’s nose and noted that the missing ear made him look as though he were flying right wing low. He found himself admiring Sylvester’s evil wink. Terrence O’Shea grinned and winked back at him. Thus was born a beautiful friendship.

The battle-scarred ugliness of Sylvester soon endeared him to all the gay lads around No. 16 Squadron. At the same time Sylvester developed a deep love for the Air Force. He took to it, as a matter of fact, as though it were a sardine smothered in catnip. He strolled through the hangars and the mess and all over the place with that deep air of contentment which can only be exhibited by a veteran prowler who has at last bid farewell to the alleys and settled down to spend his declining years in the home of his dreams.

Sylvester had his choice of cuts in the kitchen and his fair portion from every plate when he visited the dining hall. After such meals he always curled up near the fireplace and purred like a well-oiled Rolls-Royce Merlin.

No. 16 Squadron was located out along the East Coast at a base from which the R.C.A.F. operated both bomber and fighter planes. The bombers ranged far out to sea in search of Hun submarines. Although he had built up a considerable number of hours in heavier machines since leaving Service Flying Training School, Terrence O’Shea spent most of his flying time in a fighter, and was so bored by the complete absence of German planes that all the sea gulls within miles of the station lived a life of constant dread.

The thing which brought about the crisis in the life of both Sylvester and Pilot Officer Terrence O’Shea was the arrival at No. 16 station of a new commanding officer in the person of Group Captain J. V. D. Appleby. It so happened that the Group Captain was by no means a new commanding officer to Terrence O’Shea. He was none other than the same Tiger Eye Appleby whose wrath had almost ended once and for all the flying career of Pilot Officer Terrence O’Shea just before his graduation from No. 60 Service Flying Training School.

Although he had only recently been elevated to the rank of Group Captain, Tiger Eye Appleby wasn’t a bad egg as Group Captains go. When he gave the station personnel a pep talk after the ceremonies of turning over the command they soon realized that he was a man who knew that two and two made four. It was also quite obvious that he was not the kind of man who could be talked into admitting that two and two made three or five. His bristling square mustache and shaggy eyebrows were vaguely suggestive of pine groves growing on the Rock of Gibraltar, and when he spoke his voice had the commanding quality of a ten-gun salvo.

“Gentlemen," he roared, “the dirty German — ah—swine are making it mighty tough for our shipping up and down this Atlantic coast. We, as a coastal squadron, have a big job cut out for us. Inland, folks don’t think much about us. They’re too interested in what’s going on across the sea, where the rest of our lads are busting up Germany into so many pieces that they’re going to have a hard time putting it together again. But I want you to remember that this is also a front line job and that the sailor boys of the merchant marine are mighty glad to see us over their heads."

When Tiger Eye Appleby had finished his address most of the station personnel were ready to swim out to sea at once and tear apart a couple of U-boats with their bare hands. They knew that they had at their head a doughty fighting man.

Yet, in the mess that night, unnoticed by anyone, a fateful event took place. Group Captain Appleby, stout fellow that he was, got severely scuffed in the Achilles heel. It was the sight of Sylvester that did it. In that moment Group Captain J. V. D. Appleby preserved his fingerprints for posterity in the arm of his chair.

Unaware of the effect he was having on Tiger Eye Appleby, Sylvester strolled across the floor with a casual air and even rubbed his sides a couple of times against the Group Captain’s quaking leg. Tiger Eye winced like a man being bitten by rattlesnakes. Then he rose to his feet and swiftly departed from the room.

He went straight to his office and sat down to brood. It wasn’t that he was allergic to cats. Neither had a cat ever scratched, bitten or otherwise used direct violence upon him in any way. It was just that they spelled bad luck for Group Captain J. V. D. Appleby in letters four feet wide and six feet high.

If another squadron cat hadn’t chosen a spot directly in the centre of the runway to have his sun bath at Camp Borden that day back in 1915, Cadet Appleby wouldn’t have had to swerve to miss him when he landed from his first solo. If he hadn’t swerved he wouldn’t have taken the wing off the shiny new job which was at that very moment being inspected by half the bigwigs of Canada.

On that occasion Cadet Appleby dismissed the cat from his mind as an innocent bystander during a piece of vicious horseplay on the part of the gods. But when the German who sent Lieutenant Appleby down to a crash landing in the foulest corner of a French barnyard had a black cat painted on the side of his Fokker’s fuselage Lieutenant Appleby became suspicious.

It wasn’t until some time after the war, however, that bush pilot Appleby had his suspicions confirmed beyond all shadow of doubt. The Bellanca that let him down in the badlands of northern Manitoba, where he spent the entire Christmas season to the tune of wolves howling Yuletide carols, had very peculiar registration letters. They were CF-CAT.

UNDER SUCH circumstances, it is only natural that Group Captain Appleby was considering ways and means of getting rid of Sylvester five minutes after he spotted him in the station mess.

The simple thing, of course, would have been to order Sylvester’s removal. But Tiger Eye soon realized that Sylvester was too firmly established in the affections of the station personnel to be polished off by the mere stroke of a pen.

He couldn’t be ordered off the premises without good reason, and rather than reveal the reason Group Captain Appleby would gladly have cut off his right arm, rank stripes and all.

He resolved from the start that Sylvester would have to be removed by sheer cunning and perhaps even a little dirty work. One night, for the lack of any better plan, Group Captain Appleby craftily lured Sylvester into his car, drove him into town and left him there. He wasn’t at all surprised when he had a flat tire and got fenders nicked twice. On the contrary, he was happy and relieved that the journey had been completed without more serious misfortune. When he drove home he felt that a great cloud had been removed from the horizon of his life.

On the following morning Group Captain Appleby whistled while he shaved. Once he thought he heard a robin singing in the boughs for the first time since his arrival at No. 16 base. He would have broken out into a small jog on his way downstairs had he not realized that this was no fashion for a commanding officer to express his feelings.

On his way to the dining hall he met Pilot Officer O’Shea, who saluted smartly. Group Captain Appleby gave him a warm smile.

“Fine morning, O’Shea. Brisk, that’s what it is. There’s a tang in the air!”

“Yes sir,” said Terrence, wondering if the Old Man had taken to drinking before breakfast.

It was when Group Captain Appleby turned the corner to the dining hall that the song in his heart slithered off to an anguished moan. There sat Sylvester, winking at him. He’d evidently stopped off long enough on the journey home to take part in a small battle, because his nose sported a new scratch. But, beyond this minor detail, he was clearly in fine fettle.

Group Captain Appleby, on the other hand, was suffering a severe relapse. Forsaking all thought of breakfast he staggered into his office and slumped down to his desk in a daze that was broken only by the discovery that he had chewed the end off his fountain pen.

From then on Sylvester played heavier and heavier on the mind of Group Captain Appleby. To make matters worse, the U-boats grew extraordinarily frisky on the beat of Operational No. 16. Normally, Group Captain Appleby would have blamed the weather, the shortage of flying crew at No. 16 base, and a general increase in the number of enemy submarines in that part of the world. But in this case he included the presence of Sylvester as being at least a contributing factor if not the complete cause of these new woes.

In four days the Germans bagged seven merchant ships in the waters patrolled by ships of No. 16. It was shortly after receiving the news of the sinking of the seventh that Tiger Eye Appleby began pacing his office like a man in a padded cell.

“It’s a blasted disgrace!” he roared over his shoulder in the general direction of Wing Commander Hicks, second in command. Hicks coughed politely.

“The Navy says it’s doing all it can but isn’t getting enough support from us. The damned, barnacle-ridden. . .If they had to take their tubs through pea soup fog at 200 miles an hour looking for needles in haystacks—-!”

Hicks coughed politely.

“Tomorrow morning at dawn,” said Group Captain Appleby in the tone of a man passing the death sentence on the whole German Navy, “I want every bomber on this station in the air. Every bomber, even if it has to fly on one motor— or no motors !”

“The aircraft are all right, sir, but we’ll Le short one bomber pilot. Fensom hasn’t been replaced yet.”

“Then use a fighter pilot! Use O’Shea, he’s had time in heavy stuff! That freckle-faced Irish halfwit may have trouble lacing up his shoes but he can fly, Hicks, he can fly, by gad!”

“Yes sir,” said Hicks.

“If we don’t get one of those slinking, slimy pig-boats I’ll resign my commission and get a job peddling coffee to the troops!”

Group Captain Appleby was now circling the desk in what could best be described as a full lope. Suddenly he halted and banged his fist on the desk so hard that three scratchpads leaped into the air, peeled off in a Prince of Wales feather and made perfect landings in three different corners of the room.

“I’d like to take one of those dirty, sauerkraut-eating squareheads and fill his conning tower so full of bombs that his eyes would pop out like grapes,” he bellowed, too wrapped up in the thought of slaughtering Germans to bother about this incidental murder of the King’s English.

LATE THAT afternoon Pilot Officer J Terrence O’Shea sat on the side of his bed discussing current events with Sylvester.

“What do you think of that, my lop-eared friend?” said he. “I work my mind to the bone learning how to be a fighter pilot so I can go overseas and fight Germans and instead I spend the rest of my days waiting for them to fly over here. Now they’ve got me booked to fly a blinking bomber again. What we need, Sylvester, is more planning at the top. If we had more planning at the top we wouldn’t be wasting first-class material like me.”

Sylvester yawned and gazed up toward him patiently.

“Please forgive me if I’m keeping you up,” said Terrence. “You know, Sylvester, it’s people like you that keep us in the rut. You’re not interested in where the country’s going. If I ever get to be chief of the air staff there’ll be some changes made, my good fellow. I think that even you will agree that there could be certain improvements.”

Sylvester winked a knowing wink.

“By the way, old growler, have you ever flown in a bomber? It’s really quite exciting, mooching along over the sea for four or five hours at a stretch. The scenery is enough to

one the big ships thundered down the Cansos, being amphibians which never looked quite at home on an airport, trundled along like gigantic beetles before lifting their fat hulls into the air. Steadily gaining altitude the Canso reached a point where the crew got a sun gradually where the sea Curved to meet the sky. While the world below remained dark, the first rays of the sun glinted against show.” “It’s very spectacular, sir,” agreed scanning the cold grey surface of the Atlantic. The intense gaze of Tiger Eye Appleby seemed capable of Lost in his study of the Atlantic, Group Captain Appleby thought for a moment that the fur collar of his flying suit was moving up and down against the back of his neck. Then he realized that this was ridiculous. through all manner of strange contortions. When Tiger Eye finally turned to look at him the impact of his glance felt like a cuff on the ear. Terrence O’Shea’s headphones began to rattle with static as though they were under the influence of some strange electrical Terrence O’Shea. An hour later it was bright daylight and all responsible for this— this animal being in this aircraft?” shrieked Tiger Eye Appleby. like it. As a matter of fact, I think you would. Yes sir, if you promise

glad when he saw land,” said Terrence O’Shea. Tiger Eye of their mighty propellers almost bowled within the control cockpit that Terrence O’Shea almost welcomed the diversion when the port motor started coughing like a cow that finding it a trifle difficult to accustom over the instrument panel, glowing faintly in the darkness. Suddenly he felt a pat “I knew it !”he roared. “I knew it !” and Standing at his elbow, the navigator guess he’s going to look over the territory in person.” Terrence O’Shea scanned the ocean anxiously. Luckily, it was comparatively calm. The Canso was a husky machine, but the best aircraft couldn’t live for long in a heavy sea. stays calm.” Captain Appleby. penetrating several fathoms into the deep. To he exact, there was one presence of Sylvester, Terrencelooked straight ahead, as though searching for a gold mine in the sky. Well before dawn on the following morning the exhaust ports of more than a dozen Cansos and Hudsons were spurting blue flame on the smooth tarmac of No. 16. As though impatient to be away, the over the shadowy figures that scurried behind them in the darkness. So strained was the atmosphere swallowed a bee. Split seconds later, however, the starboard motor developed the same disorder. Then both motors sighed in harmony and died was Pilot Officer Terrence O’Shea. Wandering around the cabin in aboard one while it bellowed and chafed at the blocks. Mustache bristling like the hackle:; on a wolf, Group Captain Appleby stiffened in his seat. worried young man, Terrence O’Shea could not help wondering how Tiger Eye Appleby could possibly

briskly gave him the aircraft’s position as it hummed down on the long glide to the sea. “None other than the Old Man himself. They say he’s pretty worked up about things so I have known it. After all, thought Terrence, the old boy was laying it on pretty thick. “Hold everything; we’ve got some company coming aboard,” he yelled. With tense face the wireless man APPLEBY SLID out a call for help. “Rowdy dow ¡’’exclaimed Terrence. “How’s my tie?” The wireless man squeezed into the control cockpit. A few moments later Tiger Eye APPLEBY SLID into the co-pilot’s seat beside Terrence. “I believe I’ve contacted one of the other aircraft,” he reported. “Do you wish to take over sir?” asked Terrence. “Good!” said Tiger Eye Appleby. “We’ll be safe for a while if the sea “Carry on, O’Shea,” said Group pair of eyes not concentrated upon the ocean. They belonged to Sylvester who was gingerly picking his way toward the control cockpit. Lights blinked from the control tower and one by runway and up into the night. The Hudsons skimmed along the runway gracefully. The preview of the dawn as the rose far down below

the line in the east the smooth hull of the big aircraft. Tiger Eye Appleby seemed to be enjoying it all. In fact, he actually started to hum a little. “Never get tired of seeing dawn from the air,” he remarked to Terrence. “Watched it many the time in France in the last But he wasn’t really conscious of what was happening until Sylvester skidded down his chest and landed in his lap. TERRENCE O’SHEA, who had forgotten all about Sylvester, flinched, and gripped hard on the control wheel. From the corner of his eye he watched the face of Tiger Eye Appleby go eyes in the Canso were waves. take your breath away. I think you'd “Are you along tomorrow for the ride. Do you think you could behave yourself?” “I—I’m afraid so, sir,” stuttered Terrence. Sylvester winked. “You nincompoop! You rattlebrained, needle-headed idiot! You— you—!” “Right! Tomorrow you will get some idea of why Christopher Columbus was so groped frantically for some further epithet that would adequately express his opinion of the mental make-up of Terrence O’Shea, but words failed him. Somewhat startled at such violent reaction to the big ships roared and snorted fretfully and the combined backwash had completely. Seated in the “office” of one Canso bewildered fashion among the rest of the crew was Sylvester. Although aircraft were old stuff to him he seemed to be himself to being Terrence O’Shea ran his eyes on his shoulder. Travers, the bombardier, was shouting into his ear. Despite the fact that he had suddenly become a very busy and leaned over his equipment

With steady hand Terrence O’Shea straightened out the big Canso’s glide for a dead-stick landing. His morale would have been higher had it not been for the withering glances which Tiger Eye Appleby occasionally shot in his direction. At last the hull of the Canso spanked the sea. A few moments later she was at rest on the surface, bobbing like a tired duck in the light breeze. Immediately the flight engineer clambered through the hatchway and out to the wing to examine the port motor.

Tiger Eye Appleby rose from his seat.

“If we ever reach land,” he vowed, “I intend to make it my personal job, O’Shea, to see that you are removed at once to some isolated spot where you can no longer be a menace to humanity.”

“But sir—” said Terrence O’Shea in bewilderment.

“Don’t ‘but sir’ me, you imbecile!”

“Yes sir,” said Terrence.

At this point Sylvester, displaying mild curiosity, leisurely wandered between their legs and started sniffing under the instrument panel.

“Get that blasted four-footed hoodoo out of my sight before I completely lose my self-control!” bellowed Tiger Eye Appleby in a voice that shook the Canso from nose to tail.

It was while this was going on that something sliced through the gentle swells a few hundred yards behind the Canso. The periscope of a submarine, trailing its thin white feather of spray, focused upon the helpless aircraft. It wasn’t until the U-boat broke water and came wallowing to the surface that the flight engineer, intent upon his work, spotted it.

“Sub!” he yelled, sliding down through the hatch. “There’s a sub just surfaced astern of us!”

“Good lord!” exclaimed Tiger Eye Appleby. “This completes the picture!” He turned to O’Shea as he charged up the hatch.“I knew it, you thick-skulled half-wit, I knew it!”

One of the crew raced for his gun in the rear blister. Seconds later it was chattering, but a gust of wind swung the aircraft around into a position where he could no longer bring the gun to bear on the sub effectively. At the same time a shell from the U-boat’s deck gun whistled over the Canso.

“Hold your fire,” ordered Tiger Eye Appleby. “They’ve got us outranged fifty to one and if we keep peppering them with that peashooter they’ll blow us to kingdom come with their deck gun.”

THE SUB appeared to be one of the large, long-range craft. The Germans were launching a fair-sized boat from what seemed to be a well in the deck. One man took his place in the bow and another started to row. When they had approached within hailing distance the German in the bow, an officer, raised a megaphone and shouted to them in English.

“If you open fire,” he warned, “my gunners will destroy you.”

Terrence O’Shea observed that the sub was covering them with a gun in the conning tower as well as the gun on the forward deck.

When the boat had come alongside the Canso the officer arose, smiling broadly. He was a rotund individual. The only clashing notes in his genial appearance were a pair of cold eyes set close to his nose, and an even colder-looking automatic held in his right hand.

“This,” he said in slow and precise English, “is a rare pleasure, my friends. Many times we have dodged you while you were in the air but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity of meeting you personally. You will please assemble at the forward hatch. I warn you not to try tricks.”

Tiger Eye was already out of the machine.

“You, I presume, are in charge of this aircraft,” said the German.

“You can presume any damned thing you want to presume,” growled Tiger Eye.

“Allow me, then, to introduce myself,” said the officer, waving the muzzle of his automatic in the general direction of Tiger Eye’s mustache. “I am Commander Rudolf Essing. I assure you that I don’t generally join my boarding parties and that I am paying you a very special courtesy. You see, I am very interested in airplanes—especially the enemy’s airplanes. Do you not think it peculiar that a submarine man should be so interested in airplanes?”

“You can be sure,” said Tiger Eye, “that our coastal patrols wall be making it a lot more interesting for you in this part of the world.”

Herr Essing shrugged.

“Such hospitality is very disappointing,” he said. “After all, my friends, you must please remember that you will be my guests for some weeks before we return to the Fatherland. As a host you are setting me a bad example. I was hoping that you might invite me aboard your aircraft.”

Once more Herr Essing waved his automatic meaningly.

“After all, you must admit that I have the proper calling card for the occasion,” he said. “Step aside, please.”

Tiger Eye Appleby began to mutter and shove out his chin as Herr Essing prepared to come aboard ! the Canso. But before the U-boat j skipper could transfer his bulky form from the boat to the plane he was j interrupted by a sound that electrified every one. It was the even beat of aircraft motors.

Herr Essing jerked a thumb in the I direction of the boat. No longer was he confident and smiling.

“Get in!” he ordered. “Quick!”

One by one the Canso’s crew started 1 to slide from the aircraft into the boat.

“Faster,” said Herr Easing, “or I leave you here dead men!”

Third to come aboard was Terrence O’Shea, who had emerged from the j hatchway carrying a small duffle j bag. The sound of the approaching aircraft w7as still far off. Although the boat was large compared to the kind carried by the smaller subs, it was being crowded to a point where the gunwales were dangerously close to the water line.

“You—the three of you—that will be enough,” said the sub commander.

“I warn you against trying to upset this boat. The first man to try it I will shoot.”

Responding to a torrent of German, the sailor began to row vigorously. Aboard the sub, which now lay some distance away, there was a flurry of activity. Glancing toward Terrence O’Shea, Herr Essing saw for the first time the bag he carefully nursed in his lap.

‘I will take that!” he snapped suspiciously.

Seizing the bag, he opened it and peered inside.

It was then that things began to happen with startling speed. Out from the bag like a streak of chain lightning came a large and terrified tomcat. With a blood-curdling yowl Sylvester hit Herr Essing just below the collar line.

“Gott im Himmel!” cried Herr Essing, throwing up his hands and promptly overturning the boat.

From the U-boat came a chorus of frenzied yells and shouts. While Herr Essing, his boarding party and his prisoners floundered about in the water, the rest of the U-boat’s crew hopped around in wild confusion. When they finally decided to dive for safety, it was plain that they had waited too long. Before the U-boat’s decks were awash a second Canso was whistling in for the kill. There was a terrific explosion as the aircraft dumped a load of bombs close to the submarine. When the spray had cleared the sub was rolling on the surface, its conning tower tilted at a crazy angle. The hatches flew open again and the Germans came scrambling out.

A few hundred yards away, clustered around the overturned boat, Herr Essing and his former prisoners watched the sub crew abandon their craft.

“Du lieber Gott!” moaned Herr Essing.

Straddling the keel of the capsized boat, looking very wet and very bored, was Sylvester. Herr Essing eyed him balefully.

Sylvester looked at Herr Essing and winked. He then ignored him and began to lick his paws.

AS THE rescuing Canso winged u\homeward, Terrence O’Shea sat in the cabin with both eyes on Herr Essing. With his left hand he scratched the ear of Sylvester. In his right hand he held a service revolver which was pointed in the direction of the U-boat commander’s midriff. Seated a short distance along the cabin was Group Captain J. V. D. Appleby, examining with great interest some papers removed from Herr Essing.

Tired of having his ear scratched, Sylvester stretched, yawned and proceeded to pick his way carefully down the cabin in the direction of Tiger Eye Appleby. Terrence motioned him back with frantic gestures. Ignoring him, Sylvester hopped into Tiger Eye’s lap, landing squarely in the centre of his pile of papers.

He then looked full into Group Captain Appleby’s face and winked. Group Captain Appleby returned his gaze for a moment and then winked back at him.

Thus was born a beautiful friendship.