Tanner's Tiger Page 30

I whirled around. I said, “The plane.”

They stared at me, the three of them. I swung my head around again. The clean-shaven guards were walking toward their cars. The barbudas had thinned out, most of them returning to the building.

I said, “They do it themselves all the time. They get on a plane going from El Paso to Kansas City and make the pilot fly to Havana. It’s about time somebody turned the tables on them.”

“You mean-”

“Right. We steal the plane.”


“All we have to do is get on it. The place is crawling with guards, but they’re all staying on the ground. The airplane’s got a pilot and a cargo of Negroes and that’s all.”

“And that hatchet-faced bitch.”

“But no guards.”

“One or two may have stayed aboard-”

“I don’t think so, but so what? One or two we can handle. Once we’re inside, what can the yoyos on the ground do? Shoot us down?”

I looked at them, Randy and Seth and Baron von Richthofen. They were nodding in agreement. For my part, I wasn’t sure it would work out the way I told it.

Nor did I care. All we had to do was get on that plane. That was the only thing that mattered. Once we were aboard, I didn’t care if we got jumped by eight guards and an orangutan. Because all they could do was take us along to Havana, and if Minna and Arlette were going there, I wanted to go with them. As long as we were all together, we had a chance.

I kept this to myself, by no means convinced that the others would see it my way. I watched the plane and I watched the guards, waiting for the right moment. We had to time things so that we made our move at the last possible moment, just before they closed up the belly of the aircraft.

“Get ready to jump the minute I do,” I said. “I’ll lead, then Seth, then Randy, and you bring up the rear. Shoot anything that gets in the way. Any questions?”

There weren’t any, thank God. I kept waiting for the magic moment when all the guards would be gone. It looked as though that moment would occur a few minutes after takeoff. I braced my feet under me and got a good grip on the pistol.

I said, “Now!”

I could paint a more vivid picture of our charge across the field and up the steps and into the plane if I had been watching it from the sidelines instead of leading it. As it was, I had no real way of knowing what happened. There was some shouting. There were some gunshots – mostly ours, I think, and as far as I know, none of them hit anything. I fired the Marley three times and wasn’t even aiming at anything in particular. That’s what there was, shouting and shooting and running and climbing, all stuffed into a very brief segment of time.

And it worked.

They could not have been less prepared for us. I think a flash flood would have come as less of a surprise to them. There we were, blitzing their pretty plane, and there they were, standing around like morons with their rifles hanging around their necks. By the time they knew what was happening, it had already happened.

There were two guards on the plane, bearded ones, but they were even less prepared than the ones on the ground. They had holstered revolvers, and the flaps of the holsters were buttoned down, and they couldn’t un-button them because they had their seat belts fastened. I didn’t even bother with them. While they struggled with their belts I hurried forward to the pilot’s cabin. Seth and Randy took care of the guards, bopping them upon the head, Seth with a pistol butt, Randy with his stick. I slowed down long enough to knock the nurse’s head against the side of the cabin.

Captain Courageous was kneeling in the entrance-way, using the big Magnum to discourage guards from climbing in after us. I burst in upon the little pilot. I knew I couldn’t hit him. He was so profoundly insulated he never would have felt it.

“Qué pasa?” he demanded.

In rapid-fire Spanish I said, “Comrade, the imperialist police are upon us. For God’s sake close up the door! Throw the switch!”

He leaned forward, grabbed a lever, and tugged it. It stuck. He looked up at me and said, “But who are you? You are not-”

At least he had found the switch for me. I tugged it hard and it moved. I heard the steps draw up behind me, heard the flap slam shut. He was still babbling away and he didn’t shut up until I stuck the muzzle of the gun in his face, at which point he became very very quiet.

I said, “You are to fly to Havana?” He nodded. “No,” I continued, “I believe there will be a change in plans. You will not fly to Havana. You will fly to…”

To where? The States? We could have crossed the border in the helicopter, but if we landed this silver bird at a jetport, crowds would gather. And that wasn’t good. Seth and Randy would spend five years in Leavenworth and I would go on trial for kidnaping. And possession of an awful lot of heroin.

Where, then? Some other part of Canada? Hardly that. If the Canadians ever got their hands on me, there wouldn’t be enough left of me to bury. They would have to fill up the coffin with Arlette, who would certainly be sought in connection with the MNQ assault.

I turned to see the helicopter pilot enter the cabin, smiling like Ironjaw in the old comic strip. The plane was surrounded, he told me, and the guards were all pointing their rifles at us, but no one was shooting yet. The hatch was locked up tight and nobody could get in, the guards were out colder than Kelsey’s cojones, and the nurse had fainted.

I nodded, barely paying attention. Mexico? South America? There were countries down there on sufficiently bad terms with Cuba to welcome us, but I had a feeling they were also on sufficiently good terms with the U.S.A. to extradite us in nothing flat.

Europe, then. But could the plane get us that far? Maybe. And where in Europe? The nearest point, obviously. Iceland? They had one of the few European languages I didn’t trust myself in, and-

Of course.

“You will fly us directly to Shannon Airport,” I told the bug-eyed pilot. “That’s in Ireland, the west coast of Ireland.”

“But I know only to fly to Havana!”

“So you’ll learn something new. You’ll fly across the ocean-”

“It is impossible!”

I let him have another long look at the gun and told him a second time what I expected of him. He opened his mouth to say something, and a strange expression flashed briefly over his face, and then he nodded. “Sí, Señor,” he said. “Irlandia. Sí.”

A hand fastened on my arm. “I couldn’t make out all of that,” said our Eddie Rickenbacker, “but I saw the look on his face. The bloody greaseball’s going to shop us.”

I translated quickly, and he nodded. “He won’t fly to Ireland. He’ll head out over the water and put us on course for Havana and we won’t even know the difference. We’ll be in some Spic airport before the bleeding sun comes up.”

“We can watch him-”

“There’s a hundred ways he could put it to us. And I wouldn’t be quick to believe he could find Ireland if he tried. Tell him to take off his helmet.”

I translated the command. The pilot, puzzled, removed his crash helmet and set it upon his knee. He asked if I wanted him to remove the goggles as well, and I passed the question on.

“Just the helmet will do,” said the Flying Tiger. And he hefted his Magnum and dented the pilot’s skull with it. “That’s the ticket,” he said, hauling the little man out of his seat. “Direct methods are best, Mr. Tanner. Now I’ll fly the effing plane, and we’ll be in Shannon in eight hours flat.”

“You don’t know how,” I said.

“Ah, they’re all the same. Fly one and you’ve flown ’em all.”

“This is a jet. A large jet.”

“It goes up in the air like any other.”

“And comes down like snow. It’s not a helicopter.

“I’ve flown crates besides helicopters. A Piper Cub once, a Cessna-”

“This is different.”

“Bigger and faster, that’s the only distinction.”

“Can you, uh, find Ireland?”

“It’s east of here, isn’t it? We’ll go east until the ocean stops and then we’ll buzz down and look for it. It’s not such a small island we’d be likely to miss it.”

I started to say something else, but he seemed to be ignoring me. He was fiddling with different levers, playing with the control panel. I glanced at the pilot, who was in deep slumber in the aisle. It seemed we had little choice.

I said, “Look, Mr… dammit, what is your name, anyway?”

He hesitated. “James.”

“Well, Mr. James, or I guess it should be Captain James-”

“It’s my first name.”

“What’s the rest of it?”

A sigh. “James F. X. Corrigan.”

“Francis Xavier?”

“None other. Fifty percent Irish on my Dad’s side. County Cavan.”

“Well, then, you ought to… oh.” He wasn’t looking at me. “I get it,” I said. “That’s why you keep it a secret, huh? Corrigan. I bet you got tired of the jokes, didn’t you? I bet an awful lot of clowns called you Wrong-Way Corrigan-”

“No relation at all,” he said doggedly.

“Wrong-Way Corrigan,” I said, as the waves of hysteria began to build. “What else? Wrong-way Corrigan. And… and we’re heading for Ireland… and… oh, Christ, I bet we wind up in Los Angeles!”

Chapter 19

But I was wrong. We didn’t wind up in Los Angeles. The flight took ten hours instead of eight, and we very nearly did overfly Ireland, but at 7 o’clock Irish time he bounced us down on the runway at Shannon Airport.

It was undoubtedly the worst flight in the history of aviation. We hit every air pocket and crosscurrent between Montreal and Shannon, and we knew at once when each of our passengers shook off his drug-induced stupor. As soon as they straightened out, they promptly vomited. Everybody on the plane threw up at least once, and one poor woman had dry heaves for an hour running. Every last one of us was sick.

Everyone, that is, except Corrigan. Corrigan! There was no whiskey, but one of the captive guards had a pint of Cuban rum and the nurse’s bag contained a bottle of grain alcohol, and between the two he kept himself fried all the way across the ocean. Corrigan! It wasn’t enough that he flew the plane himself. He insisted on giving Seth and Randy a turn, and would have put Minna at the controls if I’d let him.

Corrigan! He put us through a ten-hour wringer, and when the plane landed, we gave him a standing ovation. We sang a song to him – C-O-Double R-I-, G-A-N Spells Corrigan, Corrigan. We christened him Right-Way Corrigan and gifted him with quarts of Jameson Redbreast. We told each other that his name would live as long as birds held the monopoly on wings. We nominated him for Aviation’s Hall of Fame – the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, Earhart, and Right-Way Corrigan.

Never in the course of human events has any man earned so much acclaim for making so many people vomit.

During all of the backslapping and cheering, all the joyous excitement of being alive and on the ground and out of that hideous plane, through it all I tried to figure out what the Irish authorities would do with us. It would be no picnic, I was sure. Lengthy interrogation, some form of confinement, telegrams back and forth between Dublin Castle and Washington, Ottawa, Havana, and London.

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