"Seriously, have you any idea why so many are being shot down? You've flown more than a dozen missions. What's your hunch?"
Bart looked thoughtful. "I wasn't just sounding off about spies. When we get to Germany, they're ready for us. They know we're coming."
"What makes you say that?"
"Their fighters are in the air, waiting for us. You know how difficult it is for defensive forces to time that right. The fighter squadron has to be scrambled at just the right moment; they must navigate from their airfield to the area where they think we might be, then they have to climb above our ceiling, and when they've done all that they have to find us in the moonlight. The whole process takes so much time that we should be able to drop our ordnance and get clear before they catch us. But it isn't happening that way."
Digby nodded. Bart's experience matched that of other pilots he had questioned. He was about to say so when Bart looked up and smiled over Digby's shoulder. Digby turned to see a Negro in the uniform of a squadron leader. Like Bart, he was young for his rank, and Digby guessed he had received the automatic promotions that came with combat experience--flight lieutenant after twelve sorties, squadron leader after fifteen.
Bart said, "Hello, Charles."
"You had us all worried, Bartlett. How are you?" The newcomer's accent was Caribbean overlaid with an Oxbridge drawl.
"I may live, they say."
With a fingertip, Charles touched the back of Bart's hand where it emerged from his sling. It was a curiously affectionate gesture, Digby thought. "I'm jolly glad to hear it," Charles said.
"Charles, meet my brother Digby. Digby, this is Charles Ford. We were together at Trinity until we left to join the air force."
"It was the only way to avoid taking our exams," Charles said, shaking Digby's hand.
Bart said, "How are the Africans treating you?"
Charles smiled and explained to Digby, "There's a squadron of Rhodesians at our airfield. First class flyers, but they find it difficult to deal with an officer of my color. We call them the Africans, which seems to irritate them slightly. I can't think why."
Digby said, "Obviously you're not letting it get you down."
"I believe that with patience and improved education we may eventually be able to civilize such people, primitive though they seem now." Charles looked away, and Digby caught a glimpse of the anger beneath his good humor.
"I was just asking Bart why he thinks we're losing so many bombers," Digby said. "What's your opinion?"
"I wasn't on this raid," Charles said. "By all accounts, I was lucky to miss it. But other recent operations have been pretty bad. I get the feeling the Luftwaffe can follow us through cloud. Might they have some kind of equipment on board that enables them to locate us even when we're not visible?"
Digby shook his head. "Every crashed enemy aircraft is minutely examined, and we've never seen anything like what you're talking about. We're working hard to invent that kind of device, and I'm sure the enemy are, too, but we're a long way from success, and we're pretty sure they're well behind us. I don't think that's it."
"Well, that's what it feels like."
"I still think there are spies," Bart said.
"Interesting." Digby stood up. "I have to get back to Whitehall. Thanks for your opinions. It helps to talk to the men at the sharp end." He shook hands with Charles and squeezed Bart's uninjured shoulder. "Sit still and get well."
"They say I'll be flying again in a few weeks."
"I can't say I'm glad."
Reprinted from Hornet's Flight by Ken Follett by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Ken Follett. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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