Tanner's Tiger Page 28

I said something about drinking and flying. “Don’t give it a second thought,” he said, and hiccuped. “Any bloody fool can fly this crate with his eyes closed. Want to try your hand at it?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh, come give it a try. I’ll show you what to do.”

“I’d better keep an eye down below.”

“How about you boys, then?” They came forward, and he had Seth sit at the controls while he and Randy watched over his shoulders. “A good skill for any man to know. Especially for you boys. Americans, are you? Now when you get over to Vietnam, you can be helicopter pilots. It’s the key weapon of the war, do you know. One lad at the controls like so, and another on the side potting away at the wogs with a tommy gun, and one more man to send the naphtha on its way. Pay attention while I teach you, now, and they’ll make officers of you.”

While the fair itself didn’t close until the small hours of the morning, most of the national pavilions began shutting down a few hours earlier. At 11:15 the doors of the Cuban Pavilion were closed. Not long afterward the lights went out – one by one, though, not all at once, as they must have when Arlette hit the switches.

“Won’t be long now,” I said. “There goes the building across the street from them. As soon as a few more shut down, it will be safe for them to start moving prisoners.”

“Good thing, too. We’re running a shade low.”

“We’re running out of fuel?”

“No, not that. Or yes, in a manner of speaking.” He held up the bottle of McNaughton’s. It was not the original bottle – that had plummeted into the canal after we’d emptied it. This was the second bottle, and not too much whiskey remained in it.

There had been a great deal of whiskey swallowed, and not all of it by our nameless captain. Not by any means. We all of us had achieved a precarious balance somewhere between happiness and sobriety, and with the alcohol working in our bloodstreams we had turned into rather a cheery little group. The four of us careened drunkenly through the summer skies, Seth and Randy leading us in such traditional pacifist anthems as “Halls of Montezuma” and “Those Caissons Go Rolling Along.” The pilot contributed “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary,” and I sang “If You Don’t Like Your Uncle Sammy Go Back To Your Home ’Cross The Sea.”

By this time we had all had a turn at piloting the copter. Of the four of us, I guess I was the worst at it. He was right, though; it was an extremely easy machine to manage, and it certainly did seem as though one could handle it better drunk than sober.

Randy was warbling “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier, I Don’t Want To Go To War,” and doing so in a lamentably inadequate Cockney accent, when I saw something through the glasses and motioned at him to shut up. Several dark cars had drawn up at the rear entrance of the Cuban building. I shouted to the pilot to take us in for a closer look. There were four cars, identical black sedans with what looked like some sort of crest painted on the front doors.

“That’s how they move them,” I said. “Consulate cars. They even have diplomatic immunity going for them.”

We flew in a straight line, moving as far off from the building as possible while still keeping the cars in sight. I saw the doors open and told the pilot to move in closer again. A dozen people emerged from the building and entered the cars. Two men seemed to be carrying something heavy, something that looked as though it might be Arlette.

The car doors slammed shut and the cars moved out from the curb.

“Now we follow ’em, Mr. Tanner?”


“And no problem, that. Easier at night than in the daytime. With their headlights glowing, they look like a pack of fireflies now, don’t they?”

“What do we look like?”

“Could you let me have that again, sir?”

“We’ve lights of our own,” I said. “And with all due respects, this thing does make a hell of a racket. It’s one thing to fly back and forth over the fairgrounds. There are always helicopters doing that, and one looks like the next. But in downtown Montreal-”

“Then, you think they’ll” – burp – “head for the city, eh?”

“The city or the open road. Either way we’ll be pretty obvious in our pursuit, won’t we?”

He swung around to grin at me, showing more teeth than most families have under one roof. I still hadn’t entirely gotten accustomed to the idea that he could fly the thing without seeing where he was going. “I could turn our lights off,” he said.

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

“’Tisn’t, but I could. Still, the noise is worse than the lights, wouldn’t you say? But there are tricks to every trade, don’t you know, and I can keep on a course with them and not let them know about it. Used to fly highway patrol out in Ontario” – burp – “bouncing radar at the bleeders. It was a rare one saw me quick enough to slow down. I’ll follow these Cuban rascals as sure as my name is – now what in the devil!”

So I didn’t find out his name then, either. “Something’s wrong?”

“Lost ’em for a minute,” he said. I winced; we hadn’t even left the fairgrounds yet. “But there they are, four little glowworms on parade. Can’t let that happen again, can we, now?”

A little while later I had to admit that he knew what he was doing. His trailing method amounted to guessing where the cars were going next, dropping back out of sight, then circling on ahead and getting there ahead of them. It wasn’t even necessary to keep them constantly in sight, just so long as we were able to guess where they would go next.

In built-up areas this still amounted to fairly close pursuit, since the motorcade might turn off onto another route at any time. We were still out of their sight almost all the time, and the generally high noise level in those sections, plus the screening effect of buildings, kept us concealed. The cars worked their way around the city and struck out northeastward. Once they hit open country, they were easier to follow than a juggler on the Orpheum Circuit. There was one main road and they stayed on it for miles. We would lay doggo behind them, make a wide sweep to the left or the right, hover until they came into view, then cut off to the side again. There was always the chance that they would pick up a side road, but our fearless leader assured us he could locate them easily enough if they did. The branch routes were few and far between, and the Cuban convoy, four identical cars doing a steady sixty-plus miles per hour and spaced five car lengths apart, would be virtually impossible to miss on a lightly traveled minor highway. Especially at night, with their lights visible miles away.

As it turned out, we didn’t even have to play hide-and-seek. We were in full view of them when they made their turn onto a narrow dirt road curving off to the northwest.

“And now we’d best play ’em a trifle tighter,” said our hero. “Pass the bloody bottle, eh?” Glug, glug; burp. “’K you. Don’t want to let ’em out of sight. That’s not a road they’d take to get to another road. They’ll be stopping somewhere along it, and once their lights are out on a road like that, we’d have not a chance of finding ’em. I’ll keep us about this far to the rear of ’em and… there, we’ll fly without lights. Been giving me a touch of a headache anyway. I shouldn’t think they’ll hear us at this distance. Keep the glasses on them, why don’t you? Once they cut their lights, it’ll be as though the earth swallowed them alive, and you’ll want to have the spot pinpointed.”

I nodded, watching the last car’s taillights through the binoculars. I wondered where the hell they were going. Before they skirted the city, I would have guessed they’d head straight for the Cuban consulate. Instead they were off in the woods, out in the middle of nowhere.

“I say, Tanner? What do you do when they go to ground?”

“Rescue Arlette and Minna, that’s the little girl, and get out of the country in a hurry. This thing’ll hold two more passengers, won’t it? The girl’s very tiny, she can ride in my lap.”

“The other can ride in mine,” he said, chortling. “How do you mean, rescue them?”

“When you go fishing, what do you use for bait?”

“Depends what’s in the water.”

“Uh-huh. What we do depends on what kind of setup they’ve got. I can’t tell until I see it.”

“Got a bit of firepower, have you?”

“Two pistols.” I had two seven-shot clips for the Marley. Claude’s revolver was a snub-barreled.38 with five shells in it. The chamber under the hammer was empty. We had nineteen shots, which didn’t constitute much under the heading of firepower.

“Handguns,” he said. “Look in the gearbox there and you’ll find a third one. About as accurate as spitting on a windy day, but hit a chap in the finger with it, and it’ll take his whole arm off.” I believed that when I saw the gun, a.44 Magnum with a muzzle hole big enough to walk through. “And take the shooter’s arm off with the recoil,” he went on. “Won it off a trapper up near Keewatin playing high, low, jack, and the game. Then, wouldn’t you know he’d have to insist on another game, staking this little Eskimo girl of his against the gun. Lost her to me and hadn’t a thing left to wager for her, and don’t you know he tried to welsh on the bet. No offense, by the way, I’m a fourth Welsh myself on my mother’s side.” Glug, glug. “So here I was with a gun I’d not owned for more than half an hour, and what could I do but blow his brains out with it? Never shot the ruddy thing since. That Eskimo girl” – burp – “the smell of her was enough to curdle reindeer milk, but warm as a fire on a cold night.” He smiled fondly at the memory. “But that’s three guns instead of two, for what small good it does. You’d do well to have a tommy gun.”

“I know.” If only there had been a way to bring along the Bertons’ machine gun.

“Still, when they don’t know you’re coming, they won’t have the table set, will they now? The old element of surprise. Sneak in fast and spirit out the woman and Devil take the hindmost. Then you’ll want me to put you over the border, eh? Would it do to set you down just over the Vermont line?”

“I think so. Will you have enough fuel?”

“Might or might not. Could be close, but if it runs tight, we’ll just set her down somewhere and fill up with gasoline. Silly thing doesn’t fuss about fuel. Would run on rock salt if you could get it to burn. Whoa, now, where have they gone to? Did you spot it?”

“Yes.” I pointed. “They swung left just past those trees and cut the lights.”

“Got it. Got the spot fixed firm enough and won’t forget it. Off we go.”

He took us around to the right, explaining that he would give them time to leave their cars and go wherever they were going before coming in tight for an aerial survey. We sailed off to the right, spun lazily around, and headed back. I had already lost my bearings, but he seemed to remember the spot I’d pointed to. He brought us down low and let the copter skim over the tops of the trees. For a while we saw nothing but trees. Then the trees came to an abrupt halt and we were out over a long, flat clearing. I made out the four cars, a truck, a long low building of concrete block with a flat roof.

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