FICTION

A Name for the Baby

"Peel-Off" Johnson didn't want to be a hero, thought he'd play it smart . . . but that fateful Berlin raid taught him a lot about living

ARCH WHITEHOUSE April 15 1944
FICTION

A Name for the Baby

"Peel-Off" Johnson didn't want to be a hero, thought he'd play it smart . . . but that fateful Berlin raid taught him a lot about living

ARCH WHITEHOUSE April 15 1944

A Name for the Baby

ARCH WHITEHOUSE

FIFTEEN of our machines are missing,” the BBC announcer was saying from the little radio set that had a Mickey Mouse spread-eagled across the grill of the speaker. It was the third time he had said it and Flight Lieutenant Johnson wished he’d never bought the radio in the first place.

“That means at least 300 took part,” Bill Davis said, thoughtfully, as he collected his navigation gear and stuffed it in the big leather and canvas valise that had someone else’s name on it. “That is, if we lost the usual five per cent the military experts talk about.” “Fires were seen burning from 200 miles away, after our bombers had started home,” the announcer went on until Peel-Off Johnson turned the knob.

“What I can never understand,” Davis said, checking his cigarette supply, “is why these distances art always in round numbers. Why is it always 200 miles?”

“Same guy computes it who figures up the number of ships the Japs have sunk in the last five days,” Peel-Off explained, studying a large hole in his sock.

Davis stood up and looked at the watch strapped on his wrist: “What about it, Skipper?” he asked.

Peel-Off zippered things and then hopped about looking for another sock. He unloaded most of the stuff from a bureau drawer and finally came up with a brown one. He put it on, grunting with the exertion, shoved his feet into a low shoe and pulled a heavy rubber flying boot over it.

“Get going!” he ordered, and waited until Davis had left the room. He started after him and caught sight of himself in the mirror. He rubbed his fingers down the side of his cheek. His eyes had dark rings under them and looked as though they were set in grey rubber. He ran his fingers through his crisp curly hair and wondered whether a guy could get a decent haircut in a German prison camp.

“Peel-Off Johnson,” he muttered. “Funny how a guy gets a name like that. Just because I go down fast, like I’m in a hurry to get in. Well, they haven’t seen anything yet. One flick of flak and I’ll show ’em what peeling off is really like. They’re not frying Johnson!”

He winced at the thought of fire in the air but felt down his leg pocket for a cigarette. His fingers trembled as he lit it and thought of Abernethy. He took another squint at himself in the glass and recalled that all the pictures he had seen of prisoners of war reminded him of Navy wallahs who had just done a long tour of submarine duty. Turtle necks and whiskers. Crumby-looking lot, most of them. Still it

was better than burning out. Anything was better.

He looked about the room again to make sure things weren’t packed up too neat and then went back and picked up his safety razor—the one he had used that morning. He dropped it in his thigh pocket.

He stepped outside and coiled his phone cable over one arm. There was a rumble somewhere down the corridor and he wanted to hurry on, but somehow his legs wouldn’t take him through the double doors that led outside. Instead, he held one door open and let Biggleswade, the block batman, push the little handcar through.

“Thank you, sir,” old Biggleswade said, with a guilty glance. “I didn’t mean to ...”

“That’s all right, Biggo.”

“This is the sort of thing I don’t like to do, sir.”

“On your way, Biggo!” said Peel-Off, trying not to look at the baggage, but his eyes twisted down as though there were strong springs behind them and he saw the name: “J. H. Abernethy, Royal Canadian

Air Force,” painted on the bedroll in white script letters.

“I hope I never have to do this for you, sir,” the batman said, stuffing his cap on tight dead centre. “This ain’t a job I like.”

“I’ll try not to bother you that way, Biggo,” he said. “Bad penny, you know.”

“Alius turns up, you mean, sir?” grinned Biggleswade as he shoved off toward the Administration Building.

Johnson swore under his breath, because he had seen Abernethy go down in flames three nights befere. Abernethy was a good kid, but they all seemed to get. it sooner or later. He wondered how Abernethy felt the day he went off. He wondered whether he had a premonition of what was going to happen.

“I don’t need a premonition,” Peel-Off Johnson muttered while he waited for Biggleswade to get a good start, “I know what’s going to happen.”

He wandered across to the Operations room for a last look over the gen. There were others just like him, sifting through the station from all quarters. There were Squadron Leaders and Flight Lieutenants. Flight Sergeants and Sergeant Observers, but in flying kit they all looked alike. They probably all fought and screamed alike once Jerry torched them, Johnson reflected.

Cassidy, his copilot-bombardier, caught up with him as he rounded the building and yelled, “Hey Skipper! Hear the news? We’re getting Halifaxes

"Peel-Off" Johnson didn't want to be a hero, thought he'd play it smart . . . but that fateful Berlin raid taught him a lot about living

next week. This is our last operational show with Wimpeys. At least two weeks on conversion flying. We ought to manage some leave, eh?”

Johnson tried to ignore that. They’d been turning in their old Wellingtons ever since he’d joined the squadron. It was the favorite rumor in No. 286. They were always going to turn in the Wimpeys. Still it could happen this time—only they had to do another Berlin show. Berlin—and old Biggleswade.

“It’s straight gen this time, Skipper,” Cassidy insisted. “Making room in our block for the Halifax instructors who will grub in here. It’ll be at least two weeks before we do another skimmer!”

Johnson wanted to say there’d be several beds available after tonight but he continued his act and said: “I always wanted to get one of those flying

THERE was nothing doing in the Ops room so Johnson wandered off, leaving Cassidy devouring the details of the Halifax bomber. The rest of them were standing under the wing of R-9025, which had a large letter “P” daubed on the side. P for Percy, of all things! He wondered what letter he’d draw when they got Halifaxes— and then he remembered . . .

Davis was telling the flight sergeant the joke about the little Cockney sailor and the Italian prisoners. Young Claproth and Jerry Marshall, the two sergeant gunners, were fondling a puppy with a face like Biggleswade’s. Sergeant Bull, the wireless air gunner, who actually loved to go on bombing missions, was reading a letter with a Canadian stamp on the envelope.

Peel-Off walked up and down while the flight sergeant went aboard and started the engines. He glanced at the rest of them who stood about the gangway, their eyes asking questions. He wondered about old Biggleswade again and tried to picture him packing up the bedroll with “G. A. Johnson” stencilled on it. B for Beer thundered away down the runway and became a toy plane silhouetted against the dull silver sky.

Johnson turned back and glared at the Wellington as the port engine chugged over and flashed the prop blades. He even winced at thoughts of perhaps having to kick off the switches when Cassidy wasn’t looking—if they didn’t get a piece of flak. He tried to figure out whether he was going this time because he was afraid to admit windup or whether he felt that it would soon be over. It would be easy for him. The pilot wears his chute all the time. The other poor devils usually unshackle the pack and stow it away in a nearby rack. They could muff it if it got too hot.

He dropped the butt of his cigarette with decision and heeled it savagely into the packed earth.

Cassidy was inside when he finally went aboard. Talking to Bull who was trying to contact the Watch Officer with: “Hello, Custard. Hello, Custard. P for

Percy calling. P for Percy calling. Are you receiving me? Are you receiving me? Over to you. Over.”

Custard was the code name tonight for the station and Bull was making certain his set was in order. He got a reply informing him that the signal was coming in strong. Cassidy was saying: “Can you imagine us aboard a Halifax, Bull, old boy? Hot and cold running water. Proper piece of cake !”

Bull grabbed for Johnson’s arm as he passed to shove up front.

“Hey, Skipper !” he called. “Wadderyerknow? I’m a father! I got a nipper — nearly nine pounds. Wadderyerknow?”

He waved the letter and grinned like a gargoyle. Johnson swallowed hard and glanced back. He had no idea what a newborn baby weighed and wondered how Bull knew that much. He sensed he was expected to say something but, instead, he felt sorry for Bull, considering everything.

“That’s swell! Very nice. You should be very proud,” he said, and Bull looked at him puzzled. He had expected some sort of kidding, but the Skipper was taking it seriously and trying to be nice. That wasn’t like Peel-Off. Bull wanted to ask him something but he let it go because he couldn’t quite get the Skipper in this mood.

Another Wimpey went away as Johnson slipped into his seat and made himself comfortable on his parachute pack. He went through the motions of checking his crew on the intercom and settled back. He saw another bomber nudge its shark nose out of the dispersal bay and then got his green flash from the Watch Officer.

Young Claproth, the front gunner, came up from his turret and sat on the step beside him, which he always did until they were safely air-borne. Claproth reminded Johnson of the boy blowing bubbles in the soap advertisement.

The kid did something to drab issue flying kit but he also did things to Flight Lieutenant Johnson.

Peel-Off looked down and winked at the kid sergeant, and the big brown eyes lit up and took all the harshness out of the metal structure that pinned them in. It was the way Claproth studied him while he took the big bomber out that made Johnson handle his job better than he knew how. He was always putting on an act for the kid but in a few minutes they would be air-borne and the young gunner would have to take his station in the nose turret. After that he could be on his own again, just listening to Davis’ course corrections. Then he could be Peel-Off Johnson again. He felt for the D ring under his left arm and hoped he’d have nerve enough to pull it.

He was clear-eyed and wholesome; but it was the way he sat and worshipped the Skipper while they were taking off that got under Peel-Off’s skin.

PFOR PERCY hoicked her tail when Johnson clamped on the brakes and rammed the throttles up. Young Claproth moved his head back and forth, watching Peel-Off’s hands and heels like a kid at a tennis match. The big Wimpey lunged ahead, swallowing up the strip of runway, and gradually absorbed the snuffles that came up from her undercarriage and tucked the wheels away like complaining babies.

“P for Percy, air-borne!” he reported. “P for Percy to Custard . . air-borne!”

The kid watched the needles on the instrument board with the consuming interest of a schoolkid. They were all like that, these young gunners, Peel-Off reflected, with some effort to snub out his conscience. What the devil they saw in this he had no idea. What was it the RAF chaps said? Oh yes, there’s no future in it.

Well, they ought to know.

They'd had a bellyful for more than four years now.

He nudged young Claproth in the ribs with the toe of his boot and pointed down the companionway. The kid’s grin tightened a rawhide thong across Peel-Off’s chest as he went down to his station.

Davis called: “All right, Skipper. The course is

172—one-seven-two. Check !”

The smudge of Bury St. Edmunds lay below as Johnson depressed his right rudder pedal and brought P for Percy on course. “Hullo, navigator. On course,” he answered, just as though he fully intended to go through with this thing. He hoped they’d cop it long before they got to Berlin. There was a chance once they crossed the North Sea that a flak shell might provide enough of a spark to torch them a bit.

He held her on course and climbed for their operating altitude. Cassidy was mucking about as busy as a sandboy, arming the bombs and doing things to the Wimperis sight. Behind, Davis and Bull would be at their posts, checking and cross checking, little realizing that they’d probably never have to go through all this again.

It was all funny now, considering that the Wing Commander had told him his Squadron Leader’s boost was coming through any day now. He had said something about wishing he could get him a bar to his D.F.C. too. But Jock Abernethy had a D.F.C. and bar and look what it got him! He pondered on the business of old Biggleswade again and wondered whether the batman had seen to it that Abernethy’s medal had been properly packed up and sent home.

“What about it, Skipper?” the voice of Bill Davis came over the intercom. “You’re well off, you know. I asked for a course of 172 —one-seven-two. I’d like to

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A Name for the Baby

Continued from page 17

pin point the mouth of the Maas, once we hit the other side.”

Johnson frowned and corrected with a dab at the rudder. Ahead the searchlights were putting up a picket fence of silver blades. It reminded him of something at the Toronto Exhibition Grounds. Glory! That seemed ages ago.

The flak opened at once and he made no attempt to take evasive action, not even when they were coned by half a dozen searchlights. He ran the Wimpey straight through and then spotted the pulsating streaks of tracer pecking out from the front turret. Young Claproth was having a smack at something. Maybe this was it!

But they plunged out of the glare as soon as they hit it and a Messerschmitt went bott-over-teacup across their path, wrapping a flaming scarf about itself as though it had suddenly tripped over the crossbar of a goal post.

“That’s one for us, Skipper!” the voice of young Claproth came over the intercom. “I don’t know how I saw Turn, but I took a chance. Scorched him nicely, eh?”

“Good work, nipper!” answered Johnson, because he was expected to say something like that. “Bloodthirsty little devil, aren’t you?”

He tried to make it sound facetious but somehow it didn’t click and Cassidy looked around at him from the bomb-sight chamber as much as to say: “What’s the matter? He was supposed to do that, wasn’t he?”

Johnson couldn’t look at Cassidy because he felt his eyes would give him away. He slipped his gloves off and rubbed the perspiration from the palms of his hands. The flak barked again and the Wellington did a skip:the-gutter act through the stumbling blocks of concussion, but nothing happened. He checked with Marshall in the tail turret and got a pleasant reply.

“Okey doke here, Skipper!” reported Marshall. “Tell Claproth to shoo some of that soft stuff around here. I’d like to warm my guns up on something.”

That was the worst of talking to these kids. They actually loved it. Now Marshall was wishing a couple of night fighters would rumble in and give him something to do. Couldn’t they understand that this was war and that it was dangerous; that a lot of swell guys get konked and torched? Couldn’t they see beyond their ring sights and realize they couldn’t win? Didn’t they know there was a law of averages and the figures are up there in front of you, proving you’d eventually come unstuck? It was like sticking money in a slot machine and pulling the lever. The cogs were meshed and there were weights and springs set against you. Sure, you came home sometimes and they gave you a D.F.C. Sometimes you came home and they stitched another ring of braid on your sleeve. But there had to be a time when you wouldn’t come back and blokes back there on the station just put you down in the flaming five per cent and wondered what it was you did wrong.

Cassidy came up with that sniffing beagle look on his dial and Peel-Off knew he wanted to take a stretch behind the w'heel. That was Cassidy all over. Never knew when he’d had enough.

Peel-Off nodded and slipped out, yelling the course figures into Cassidy’s ear flap. The copilot grinned and nodded as he took over with all the enthusiasm of a kid being allowed to steer a soapbox derby entrant.

On the catwalk Peel-Off flexed his legs and adjusted the straps of his parachute harness for comfort and

Maclean’s Magazine, April 15, 1944

moved along until he was behind Davis. The navigator was drawing a line on his chart from Rotterdam to Berlin. He turned and looked surprised when he saw the Skipper there. Then he motioned with his finger and spread out the rice paper flimsy which had their target instructions typed on it. Johnson wondered if Bill would eat that, as they were supposed to do, when he ordered them to bail out.

“Look, Skipper!” Davis shouted at him over the compressed roar of the engines. “I think we ought to go in from the north side. We can use the railroad as a guide for the runup. The factory has those slanting glass roofs and with the light the way it is tonight Cassidy will have a grand target. What do you say?”

“Sounds good!” Peel-Off agreed, looking at the flimsy under Davis’ flashlight. “Good idea, if we get through,” he added.

“Get through?” the navigator questioned. “Why can’t we get through? Piece of cake, tonight. Jam on it, too!”

“Sure! A push over tonight,” Johnson agreed, avoiding Davis’ eyes by turning toward Bull’s panel.

Sergeant Bull had twisted around to stare out of the window. On his narrow table gleamed a small writing pad on which he had been scribbling a letter. It was simple to read the first half dozen lines under the panel light. The words were so clear and bold there in Bull’s squarish hand. Peel-Off caught himself reading on and finally turned away with a guilty feeling that wound a few strands of barbed wire around the framework of his chest.

Fancy a chap like Bull being able to put words like that together! Not only the words but the manner in which they were written; like something engraved on old parchment and put up in a frame where you could read it on the walls of a quiet church. He felt he was trespassing and yet he couldn’t take his eyes off the lines. No fifty-cent words, but somehow they lilted and danced across the page and they were so easy to read.

Bull turned around but he didn’t get flustered and snatch at the letter pad. He just left it there and smiled up at the Skipper. He could have been young Claproth’s older brother, and Johnson wondered whether being a father did things to men’s faces.

“Is everything all right?” Johnson asked.

“All in order so far, Skipper. Squadron Leader Jamison is over the target already.”

He shoved a message form along the table. The weather was good all the way through. The flak and searchlights were hot and the night fighters were dropping those parachute flares again. Still it helped the gunners if it annoyed the bomb aimers.

Peel-Off read it and shoved it back: “I meant at home. Is your wife all right?”

Bull looked at Johnson a minute as if he didn’t understand. Then he caught on and warm appreciation welled up inside him and he caught his breath. He nodded and said: “Yes, thanks,

Skipper. She’s doing well. I was a bit worried, of course, but she tells me she’s grand. I never knew it would be a thrill like this.”

Johnson was stumped so he blundered about with: “I suppose he’ll

be a Junior . . . William Junior?”

The radioman smiled and looked down at his letter for a suggestion: “Well, no, Skipper,” he said solemnly, running his finger tip through the dust at the base of his panel. “I suppose I should have asked you, but I never thought at the time. We’ve decided to name him after you.”

The barbed wire tightened as though

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Continued from page 30

someone had twisted a cold metal

handle. A river of fright washed through Peel-Off and drained the strength out of his knees.

“You see, Skipper,” Bull went on. “I never liked the idea of him being junior to anyone. I just want him to stand for something on his own feet. Then I thought about you and how you always —well, I mean, you seem like someone Pd like my kid to be like.”

The flak outside was touched off again by the sword blades of light plating the great shoulders of P for Percy. The glare intensified the blackness outside the fretted windows. Johnson wanted to clear out but his legs wouldn’t budge.

“I’m sure I don’t know what to say,” Peel-Cff tried again. His throat was dry and his tongue seemed to have been cut from sole leather.

“You see, sir,” Bull went on, a portwine glow in his eyes. “I told her . . . Amy, my wife, so much about you. Then I realized how much we all meant to each other ... I mean, as members of a crew; and how it was possible that one of these nights we might . . er, cop it. Not that I was worried, mind you, with you up front, because I knew that if we came unstuck it wouldn’t be your fault. I knew you’d do your level best, and I told Amy so, many times.”

Johnson found himself leaning down so that Bull could tell him all this under his ear flap. He didn’t remember bending over that way but there he was.

“Anyway, like a flash it came to both of us at the same time. Our letters crossed, saying that if it was a boy we’d name him after you. So it’s Alan Gregory Bull, sir. Do you mind?”

“Mind? Of course I don’t mind! I think it’s ... I think it’s better . . . better than a bar to the D.F.C. But you shouldn’t have done it, you know.”

“But we both wanted it that way, sir.”

The tension went off the barbed wire and Flight Lieutenant Johnson pushed himself to an upright position and asked: “What am I supposed to

do now? Does that make me a godfather or something?”

“You just get us back tonight,

Skipper. I’ve got to write and tell her that it’s all right. Amy will be pleased!”

“I’ll get you back,” Peel-Off

promised, striding away up the catwalk. That’s all there was to say; but he was terrified now.

THE war outside was winding itself into a grand old frenzy. Splotches of festering light held aloft on the spraddle-legged tripods of searchlight beams marked the passage of the Wellingtons as they skimmed around

Hanover and w'rithed north of Magdeburg. The flak hammered at the

apexes of the betraying searchlights, and the bombers bounced through the explosions and bored on again seeking the sanctuary of the cloak of night.

Johnson stood over the lower emergency exit, halfway down the fuselage. He tried to measure his courage now his plans had been so deranged. He had started out with the full intention of chucking it once and for all. It had all gone on too long and there was no future in it. You struggled back, night after night, only to go again. You can’t always beat the racket, but you can mesh the cogs so that the wheels go round your way. He looked down at the escape hatch and tested the latch with the toe of his boot. He tried to analyze his findings but it all added up to a lot of words, not figures. They were the words in that fine squarish hand of Bull’s he had read there on the wireless table. That, and a kid weigh-

Madean's Magazine, April 15, 1944

ing less than nine pounds somewhere back home.

He went farther along in the metallic darkness and his fingers touched the door leading into the tail turret. He listened a minute. Sergeant Marshall was in there singing. Johnson sniffed and went back to the amidships gun station and plugged in his intercom jack.

They were all singing. Every blasted one of them! Singing at the tops of their voices, putting a chorus over the intercommunication line and having a gay old time together.

But that was because Cassidy was up front.

Johnson wished he knew the words but somehow he’d never taken up that sort of thing. He listened and felt completely out of it. He yanked the phone cord and decided to go up front and see it through somehow. Maybe after they got Halifaxes he’d feel better about all this.

There was a sudden burst of fire outside and the Wellington hunched her great shoulders and stumbled like a wounded buffalo. Peel-Off went sprawling up the catwalk. He hit his head on the edge of the oval opening through the main former. There was a great blast of flame and a bash of concussion that seemed to draw a razor blade across his eyes. The silver dural turned to scarlet as the flame billowed up and brought out the blackened silhouettes of Davis and Bull. They were plunging about like figures on wires, jerking and crouching as they tried to get the extinguishers into action.

He saw Davis flounder toward the control pit and Bull rolled back against his panel. Johnson crawled along as the fire blanked out as quickly as it had started and he found the radioman huddled up between the two swivel seats.

This could be it, Johnson figured, and looked back toward the escape hatch. Bull moved and groaned, pawing, like a puppy, at his face with blackened hands. Johnson knew Bull was burned. He could smell it.

“Oxygen, Skipper,” Bull blubbered. “One of the bottles went off . . . just like that. Am I all right, sir?”

“Take it easy! It’s not too bad now. I’ll get Davis to daub you up. Take it easy!” Peel-Off yelled.

He charged past Davis who was yelling up at Cassidy. Outside a banner of flame was streaming back from the starboard engine.

“That’s the gravity fuel tank going up, Skipper!” Davis yelled at him. “That main spar won’t last long unless we can extinguish it.”

Johnson pulled Cassidy out of the seat and bellowed something about an alternate target. Davis twisted fast and went aft. Cassidy pulled handles that were supposed to spew a blanket of Foamite into that engine nacelle, but nothing happened. Peel-Off tried another but nothing worked.

“This is it, Skipper,” said Cassidy staring out at the fire. “Got any ideas?”

“Yeh! I got a beaut!” grated PeelOff. “You get back here. I’m going out there and plug that mess.”

Cassidy slid behind the wheel and tried to figure that out. Johnson couldn’t get out there! There was no way out, except through the hatch over the pilot’s seat; but that was miles away from the wing. He couldn’t make it!

“We’d better go out, Skipper. That wing can fold back and block the emergency exit completely.”

“I’m captain of this kite! Nobody’s jumping out, see? We’ve got to get BuLl back. He’s properly scorched . . . oxygen.”

He found Davis bending over Bull

who was squirming about on the catwalk.

“This is a flamer, eh, Skipper?” Davis asked. “Are we going out?”

“Bull couldn’t pull a ring with those hands, could he?” Peel-Off roared. “We’ve got to get him back. Give him a tannic touch-up, will you?”

“This kite won’t hold together if that spar goes.”

But Johnson was cutting the rope from the folding dinghy and knotting if into his parachute harness. He looked up at the round astrodome hinged into the roof and then unsnapped his parachute pack from the harness.

“What’s the idea, Skipper?” Davis asked.

“I can’t get through there with all this gear,” the pilot said, grabbing a blanket from the rest bunk. “You play out this rope—in case I slip,” he added with another glance at Bull.

“You’re nuts! You can’t stay on that wing.”

But Peel-Off was climbing the metal ladder and shoving the astrodome over. He yelled down: “Tell Cassidy to slow her up as much as he dare. I can make it then.”

“Look, Skipper,” pleaded Davis. “When you get out there let me hand you your pack. You can’t tell. This rope isn’t too rugged.”

“No! I might get ideas if it got too bad,” Johnson decided, after a second’s reflection. “This way, I’ve got to do it.”

The slip stream almost took his head off his shoulders when he first climbed up but he twisted and crawled up into the glare of the flame that brought out the crisscrossed details of the blackened wing skeleton. He got his legs around and forced them down toward the wing root and hung there until Davis fed the rolled blanket after him. Peel-Off took it, kicked a hole in the side, reached down and clutched at the metal framework, huddling there until he felt the ridge of the main spar beneath his flying boots.

He was glad the wing was fabriccovered. He stretched forward a few inches and heeled another hole just behind the main spar and reached down for that. The engine nacelle was still about three feet away but he had to get there somehow and blot out that fire.

Davis and Cassidy watched him as the searchlights bathed them in silver again. The flak screeched and spat chunks of metal at them. They saw him claw another hole farther along and drag himself toward the great pennon of flame. He progressed slowly, gouge by gouge until he was dead behind the great propeller, which tried its mightiest to blast him off’. The rolled blanket was inched from under him and Peel-Off made a pass at the flaming nostril. The slip stream forked under the blanket end and tossed it away. Peel-Off huddled there, his head in his elbow, remustering his strength.

“There never was a guy like that Peel-Off,” said Davis.

Johnson made another pass at it and this time the end of the blanket caught and he fought savagely to get it farther down.

Cassidy said: “That thing will

explode and blow him from here to Pippin Hill . . . maybe.”

But the figure out there on the wing hammered and pounded again to get another length of the blanket in. Gradually the flame spluttered and died away. Peel-Off was a huddled black bundle out there now and they couldn’t know whether he was staying ! there on the weight of his bulk or ! whether he was unable to move. Davis darted back to the ladder and tugged on the dinghy rope but Johnson just : lay there, spraddle-legged, marshalling I his energy to return.

Finally the black bundle began to

kick its legs and crab back to the side of the fuselage.

NOBODY said anything to him when he dropped down the ladder. He stayed there holding on to the cold metal and then twisted and grinned at Bull stretched out on the bunk.

“What do you want, kid? Berlin or an alternate?” Peel-Off asked.

“I’m all right, Skipper. We ; make Berlin, can’t we?”

“Might as well get used to it. We’ll be doing it regularly—when we get Halifaxes, eh?”

“I can be ready again in two weeks, sir,” Bull pleaded.

“Yeh,” Peel-Off muttered as he went up front. “You’ll be ready for a trip back to Canada in two weeks. Give me a course, Davis. We’re going to Berlin,” he said to the navigator.

“We could take an alternate,” Davis suggested.

“No such thing. We’re going to Berlin, for Master Alan Gregory Bull!”