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Cover art and design, illustrations and graphics
© 2014 Richard Marman
by Richard Marman ©
Copyright © 2014 Richard Marman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any
manner in any media, or transmitted by any means whatsoever,
electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, or mechanical (including
photocopy, file or video recording, internet web sites, blogs, wikis,
or any other information storage and retrieval system) without
the prior written permission of the publisher or author.
Published in England
Sandhurst, Berkshire, England
ISBN 13: 978-1-909302-47-1
First Edition, 2014
Books by Richard Marman
Available from Abela Publishing
Escape from Fort McCain
The McAlister Line
(In historical order)
Web and Wave Illustrated Adventures
(For children of all ages)
A Tale of Two Turtles
A Whale’s Tale
I’d like to especially thank my wife Judy and my daughter Sally for their help in following the progress of this manuscript. Thanks to Sheila Yong and Wendy Kleine for their feedback and initial proof reading and Judy Bandidt for the final, goal-keeping edit. Thank you to Wing Commander John ‘Trackless’ Millsom for DC-3 aircraft technical support. Finally cheers to John Halsted for being so enthusiastic about this series.
This book is dedicated
to my wife Judy
and my daughters
Sally and Elizabeth
Air force base – refers to USAF establishments
As soon as possible
Air traffic control
Landing a helicopter after an engine failure
All up weight – a plane’s weight including fuel and payload
Aviation gasoline – high octane petrol for piston-engine aircraft
Absent without leave
Six-engined heavy bomber jet, the fore-runner of the ubiquitous B-52 that led to the development of modern civilian jet airliners
Viet Minh soldier singularly or as a unit
Bottom rung of the triad hierarchy
Short for bog-rat a term for RAAF pilot officers
Casualty evacuation (medivac – medical evacuation is the term used today)
China Air Transport – Air Charter Company operating in the Far East founded by General Claire Chennault – one of CAT’s major clients was the CIA
Clear air turbulence
Curtiss Commando twin engine cargo plane
Douglas Dakota twin-engine workhorse cargo plane also known as a DC-3, Gooney-Bird or Skytrain – ten thousand were built
Central Intelligence Agency – US spy guys
Commander in Chief
Centre of gravity
Fairchild twin-engine, twin-tail boom transport plane also called the ‘Flying Boxcar’
CIA operatives who flew on CAT flights
Abbreviation for theDouglas DC-3 Dakota
Department of Civil Aviation (today’s CASA)Australia’s aviation regulatory body
Dead Stick Landing
Landing with no engine power
German V-1 rocket launched from sites in Northern Europe targeting British cities, especially London
Leasing a plane, but supplying your own crew
Drop zone (pronounced dee-zed) – landing area for parachutes
Executive officer – American military unit second in command
Federal Aviation Authority – the US aviation regulating organisation
Forward air controller
Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki
Foreign object damage – an aviation term referring to debris that interferes with aircraft engines or flight controls.
Imperial linear measurement equivalent to 30 centimetres – Danny told his story using imperial measurements that were the Australian standard until decimalisation on 14th February 1966. Zach didn’t convert any units from the imperial system
Present day Taiwan
Second tier of triad hierarchy
Imperial liquid volume measurement equal to approximately four litres
British built twin-engine jet fighter
Groupement Opérationnel Nord-Ouest -- Group ofOperational Forces North-West i.e. the French Union Force at Dien Bien Phu
High frequency radio used for long-distance communications
Indicated airspeed – the reading on the ASI, but only the plane’s actual speed at sea-level
International Civil Aviation Authority, established in 1947 with headquarters based at Montreal
Imperial Japanese Army
Instrument landing system – a lateral and vertical radio signal displayed on a plane’s instrument panel allowing pilots to approach a runway in bad weather
Weight measurement equalling 2240 pounds
Obsolete pre-WWII three-engine transport plane still in service with the French Air Force in the 1950s
Nautical mile per hour – approximately two kilometres an hour
Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima
Landing zone – pronounced ‘ell-zee’
Military flotation jacket
Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
Radio transmissions prefix pilots use when declaring an emergency
Advanced Soviet single-engine Jet fighter in North Korean service
Non-commissioned officers – corporals, sergeants, warrant-officers
Non directional radio beacon – used to guide pilots to a station in cloudy weather
North Korean interrogation centre run by the infamous Colonel Pak
Radioprefix used by pilots when they are declaring serious situation aboard
Lowest commissioned officer rank in the RAAF and RAF equivalent to a second lieutenant
Imperial weight unit – approximately 450 grams
Prisoner of War
Pierced steel planking – interlocking metal plates that can be laid quickly to construct runways and roads. Also known as Marsden Matting
One pound – Australian currency unit until decimalisation on 14th February 1966
Royal Air Force
Royal Australian Regiment
Red Pole Enforcer
Triad middle-management heavy
Rapid eye movement – the last part of your sleep pattern which regenerates your brain
Region Express – Australian airline serving country centres
Royal Navy – its air branch is the Fleet Air Arm
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Regular Public Transport – a term used for scheduled airline services
The start of the runway
A cleared area before the threshold that is not Under-run suitable for aircraft use
Search and Rescue
US Navy Construction Battalion
Standard operating procedures
Weight equalling2000 pounds
Short take-off and landing – refers to planes that operate from small areas
Air routes over the Himalayas from India to China used to resupply troops and partisans fighting the Japanese during WWII
‘Talk Pidgin’ – patois used universally in New Guinea
United States Air Force – formed as a separate military branch in 1947
Victoria Bitter – Popular Australian lager style beer
Wine dehydrated to a third of its volume drinkable when rehydrated
Very High Frequency radio used for short range ‘line of sight’ communications
The maximum speed a plane can reject its take-off and stop in the runway distance remaining
Leasing a plane including its crew
Imperial linear measurement slightly less than a metre
ICAO established this system in the 1950s to clarify airborne radio conversations. There were still discrepancies for a while, i.e. A for Able, B for Baker and G for George sprang to Danny’s mind, but although he had a vivid memory of most events, he couldn’t remember them all so Zach has cited modern usage to avoid confusion.
PrologueMerimbula, New South Wales
Part 1 China
Chapter 1The Flying Whale
Chapter 2 A Step Towards the Orient
Chapter 3Getaway Trail
Chapter 4The First Leg
Chapter 5Flight Plan North
Chapter 6Chequerboard Approach
Chapter 8 Freedom Trail
Chapter 9A Little Bit of Piracy
Part 2 Korea
Chapter 10 The Proposal
Chapter 11Danny’s Bride
Chapter 12Danny Goes to War
Chapter 13 Casevac
Chapter 14 Forward Air Controller
Chapter 15Aviation of the Future
Chapter 16Search and Rescue
Chapter 17 The Customer is Always Right
Chapter 18Covert Ops
Part 3 French Indochina (Vietnam)
Chapter 19Cease Fire
Chapter 20Paris of the Orient
Chapter 25Para Patrol
Chapter 26Rats and Angels
Chapter 27Earthquake’s Last Ride
Epilogue Merimbula Airport
o you have a passport, Zach?’ Grandpa Danny asked me once when I was staying with him during school holidays.
My name is Zach McAlister and I’d started visiting my grandpa back in 2010 when my mum was sick. She’s fine now, but I’d really come to like the old dude and kept travelling down from Sydney to see him. Merimbula is a seaside town on the southern NSW coast. Grandpa lives on a property about half-an-hour out of town. He said he enjoys my visits especially since my Nan died in 2008.
We get along great and he’s taught me a load of neat stuff like surfing, horse riding, how to cook and run the farm. He also plays a mean guitar and we jam together whenever we get the chance. One of the times I like best is before dinner when the chores are done. We sit on Grandpa’s verandah and play Scrabble. Grandpa has a couple of cans of VB and I have a coke. Like my dad I don’t drink, but while I think it’s a moral issue for him, I just don’t like the taste.
One of the reasons I like hanging out with Grandpa isn’t just that I’m starting to beat him at Scrabble, but it is the time when he tells me about his life as a teenager and young man. He has a neat three-bay shed where he keeps his guitars, amps and a whole bunch of other cool junk he’s collected during his travels. He keeps a lot of it, including photo albums, in a metal chest. He calls his stuff ‘artefacts’. Among other things, he showed me a Chinese dragon statuette that he claimed to be solid gold. If that was right, it must be worth a fortune.
Grandpa often tells me about some specific item from the chest and the adventures associated with it. I used to write his stories down in notebooks, but I’d fill them so quickly, I use my laptop now to record everything Grandpa tells me. He used a lot of jargon and abbreviations so I’ve written a glossary for you. If I’ve missed any you’ll have to Google them for yourselves.
‘No, I don’t have a passport,’ I replied, laying out all seven of my tiles, squeezing between the ‘s’ and a ‘d’ of two other words. ‘That’s “shredhead” and I get a triple letter score on the “h” and a double word score and a fifty point bonus ...’
‘”Shredhead” isn’t a word,’ he protested, flipping through his Macquarie.
‘Wanna bet?’ I said punching the spelling app on my iPhone.
‘Well ... dammit ...’ he said shaking his head.
I told you I was getting good at this game. I’ve learnt a bucket-load of new words and don’t say ‘like’ all the time any more. It used to drive Grandpa crazy.
‘Why do I need a passport?’ I asked as I totted up my mega-score.
‘It might come in handy. You should get one.’
‘I’m on Dad’s I think, but I haven’t had any need to use it. We never go anywhere. Not like you when you were a kid.’
‘Yeah, your dad is a bit of a stay-at-home. He was always a serious kind of bloke, even when he was a kid. We probably shouldn’t have called him Julian. I reckon that is bound to affect a fella. All he ever wanted to do was settle down in a steady job and marry a nice girl. I guess he achieved his goals. Nevertheless I should have put my foot down about calling him Julian, but your Nan was dead set on the name. She was a big John Lennon fan, you know.’
I must admit, I hadn’t thought about a passport and certainly not about overseas travel until I finished school.
‘You never know when you might travel. I was like you and hadn’t given it much thought until Mad Monty mentioned it.’
‘Mad Monty’ was an eccentric Afro-American pilot who’d taught Grandpa to fly way back in 1951. Grandpa had run away from boarding school to look for his dad who’d gone missing in New Guinea during WWII. With Monty’s help Grandpa finally found his dad who was living on an island in the Bismarck Sea. Grandpa also met a mega-babe called Angela and they had an on-off relationship for a while, but it didn’t seem to work out. Surprisingly, one of Grandpa’s most treasured artefacts was a 1953 Queen Elizabeth II coronation mug.
‘Angela sent that to me from England. It sat proudly on the shelf of my dad’s pub for years,’ Grandpa said with a smile. He was really sentimental when it came to Angela who’d made such a big impact on his teenage life.
I got in contact with Angela who is now a hot-shot doctor in London. I told her about Grandpa and where he was living and she decided to fly out for a visit. She was due to arrive at Sydney the following day. Mum and Dad would see she transferred to the regional flight and we’d meet her at Merimbula Airport. Grandpa was pretty excited about seeing her again. He and Nan were happily married for ages, but I think he’s always secretly held a bit of a torch for Ange.
‘New Guinea was still an Australian administered territory back then,’ Grandpa said. ’So I thought a passport didn’t matter much either, but Monty had other ideas. As it turned out it was a good thing he did, although there were a couple of hoops we had to jump through.’
‘It was a matter of identity and legal status. My dad was still officially AWOL from the army and still married to my mum although she’d shacked up with a bloke called Stanley Hallet. Luckily I was in thick with Andrew Tynan who was Bishop of Rockhampton at the time. He pulled a few strings and had the marriage annulled on grounds of desertion, which was a pretty big stretch back in those days when Catholics took a very dim view of divorce and separation.’
‘That didn’t reflect very well on your dad either,’ I ventured.
‘He didn’t care. He never planned on returning to Australia and of course he’d set up house with Mayu by then.’
Mayu was an ex-comfort woman who’d been abandoned by the Imperial Japanese Army when its troops were beaten out of New Guinea. She’d stayed on Kago Ailan where Grandpa’s dad, George, ran a pub. Mayu retired from life as a working girl and settled down with George. However, George’s AWOL position (some might even have said he was a deserter) was also unresolved. Fortunately Grandpa had met two senior Australian Army officers, Lieutenant Colonel Ted Serong and Brigadier Charles Spry who’d helped him in a tussle with a gang of Filipino pirates led by a psychopath called Frenchy Duval.
Brigadier Spry became head of ASIO, while Ted Serong was not without influence. Dr Holyman, Angela’s dad, had also sent a medical assessment to the Australian Department of Defence, stating that George was not in a mental state to be responsible for his actions. That seemed to finally satisfy the Army to let George go without feeling it’d lost any face. Between them ‘Silent Charles’ Spry, Ted Serong, Dr Holyman and the Defence Department smoothed over George’s past misdemeanours and had his honourable discharge formally ratified. Six years after the war, nobody was particularly interested anyway, but it meant George could drink at an RSL club if he felt like it.
‘I was supposed to fly co-pilot for Monty in the Dak when we took Frenchy Duval back to the Legion, but I only got as far as Singapore because I didn’t have a passport.’
Frenchy Duval was a quintessential bad-arse who’d deserted from the French Foreign Legion and caused Danny and Angela all sorts of grief for several months. They’d bested him in the end and Ted Serong had agreed to take him back to French Indochina to face whatever justice the Legion meted out. Unfortunately Danny and Monty had to return to New Guinea, but Ted Serong was as good as his word and organised a French Air Force Junkers-52 tri-motor to fly Frenchy to Hanoi.
So with that lesson learned, Danny applied for his own passport. With references from two war heroes and the Bishop of Rockhampton, other than ‘jumping through a couple of hoops’, Danny had no difficulty obtaining one. As he said, it came at a very appropriate time...
ictor-Hotel-Alpha-Bravo-Delta, clear to land runway one-one,’ the controller’s voice rattled through the headset into Danny’s ears. He banked the Noorduyn Norseman high-winged, single-engine plane over the Huon Gulf onto final approach. He was returning from a milk-run to Goroka, Mt Hagen and Madang so the plane’s floats had been removed and refitted with a conventional undercarriage.
He was seventeen now and Angela had been gone for nearly a year. He missed her and had written some soppy letters over the months. At first she’d replied, affirming that she loved him, but her letters grew less frequent and certainly less intimate. She was busy studying medicine at Guy’s Hospital in London and her interests appeared to be moving on from a teenage romance in a tropical paradise.
Danny may not have been over Angela, but he was too busy to dwell on heartache. Through Monty’s astute tuition, Danny now held his commercial pilot’s licence and command instrument rating. He’d also passed all his theory subjects for his senior commercial subjects, which would qualify him for an airline transport pilot’s licence when he’d accrued sufficient flying hours. They were building up rapidly as Monty kept Danny airborne most of the time.
Danny had spent the night with Jim Taylor who had been a great adventurer in the past. Now he ran a burgeoning coffee plantation at Goroka where he and his wife Yerima had started their family. Along with his regular freight and mail, Danny carried a twenty-five pound sack of coffee beans for Monty who loved the beverage. Danny was developing a taste for it too.
Danny loved flying in the morning when the weather was fine and conditions calm. He never tired of the majestic scenery that reared on either side of his flight path. It was almost noon when the Norseman approached Lae. Danny had landed at Mt Hagen and Madang to pick up and off-load routine cargo on schedule. In fact Danny was so enjoying the flight he forgot all about Angela and turned his mind to a spot of spear-fishing later that day, but that changed in an instant.
As Danny lined up the Norseman on the runway, five hundred feet below a seemingly harmless incident was unfolding on the Huon Gulf.
A lone pelican, while shovelling its beak through the surface, had struck it lucky. It scooped up a shoal of bait fish and was ready to gulp the lot when a flock of scavenging gulls swooped in. Normally they wouldn’t bother a pelican. It was quite capable of seeing them off and even swallowing one, but a full bill-bladder pulsating with tasty tit-bits was overwhelmingly tempting.
The pelican’s best option was to get airborne. It could fly higher and faster than the idle gulls. So it lumbered into the air with the flapping rabble in hot pursuit. The pelican was weighed down by its load of fish, but it wasn’t giving up lunch to a pack of indolent, delinquent gulls that should have been quite capable of fishing for themselves.
Danny spotted the pelican just as it climbed into his approach path. Hitting such a large bird could spell disaster, especially in a small plane like the Norseman. Danny wrenched the control column to the right. Instinctively he knew to bank sharply and turn the plane behind the pelican. Trying to get ahead of it would simply mean he’d fly into the bird due to its forward speed.
He dodged the pelican by inches and ran smack into the flock of gulls. They splattered into the Norseman’s wings and several were shredded to bloody feather-clouds. The noise was deafening above the engine’s roar. Danny wrestled with the controls as the plane rocked and buffeted with each sickening impact. Those birds that survived peeled away, diving for the safety of the gulf in a cacophony of squawks and screeches.
The prop vibration increased to a bone-jarring shudder. Every time Danny advanced the throttle the shaking grew more severe until the plane rattled so alarmingly, Danny wondered if it would rip apart.
He could either risk keeping the power on and hope the Norseman held together, or cut the engine and pray he had enough altitude to glide to the airfield. The idea of ditching a high winged plane didn’t appeal to him – pity the floats weren’t still attached.
Bugger it! I’ll try for the strip.
‘Romeo-Alpha-Papa, confirm operations normal,’ the tower control’s voice crackled uncertainly in Danny’s headphones.
No, they’re not bloody well normal!
‘Pan! Pan! Pan! I’ve just experienced multiple bird-strikes,’ Danny replied as calmly as he could. ‘I’ll try to make the field. Require emergency services standing by.’
Danny could almost hear the Claxton wailing as the controller phoned Lae hospital and the fire station for support. The airfield was due to be equipped with its dedicated fire truck, but red-tape and lack of resources had delayed its arrival.
Maybe the five-hundred foot descent to the runway wasn’t far, but it was the longest two minutes in Danny’s life. The ground seemed to be rushing up to him with appalling speed. He used the engine in short bursts – just as long as his nerves could stand the engine vibration – to reduce his descent-rate.
As soon as he was certain he would at least make the grass under-run, he cut the motor and glided for the last few feet. The vibrations stopped immediately and the instant hush was reassuring. With no power the rate of descent increased, but Danny had practised dead-stick landings so often he easily adjusted.
At the last minute he flared the plane. It bounced slightly before settling onto the grass and coasting onto the sealed runway. Danny switched off the fuel supply and battery and engaged the park-brake.He clambered from the pilot’s seat, opened the side door and scrambled down the entry steps.
The plane looked a wreck. Red gouts of gull-mush covered the engine cowl and wing leading edges. Gross smelling plumage and bird-gore stuck to the airframe. Danny wrinkled his nose and gagged, but he was down safely – alive.
He heard the fire-truck and ambulance sirens as Monty raced across the strip from the Alabama Aviation hangar. He was followed by Dave Bradley, their mechanic and a tall stranger wearing what looked like an airline uniform including a peaked cap. The ambulance overtook the running men before screeching to a halt only inches from the propeller. The fire-truck had correctly assessed there was no danger of combustion and approached more cautiously.
Dr Stephen Graham leapt from the ambulance tail gate and strode towards the Norseman.
‘Are you okay, Danny?’ Dr Graham asked. He knew Danny well after he’d operated on Angela’s father who’d been accidently wounded by feuding tribesmen. Danny and Angela had both helped Dr Graham save Dr Holyman by donating blood during the procedure.
‘Yeah I’m fine, thanks doctor. Just shaken up. I hit a bloody great flock of seagulls.’
‘Can’t say the same for the plane,’ Dr Graham observed.
‘Jeeze, Danny,’ Monty gasped as he fought for breath after racing half way across the airport. ‘I don’t know why I let you near my planes – you’re jinxed.’
But Danny saw the relief in Monty’s eyes while Dave made a cursory inspection around the plane.
‘Looks worse than it is,’ the engineer surmised. ‘I’ll clean up the wings and machine out that dent in the prop. It’ll need a full inspection and engine run, but I’ll have her up and running in no time. Come on, let’s push her back to the hangar.’
‘Just a moment,’ Dr Graham said. He gave Danny a quick, on-the-spot examination to check for concussion and whiplash. Danny assured him the landing had been smooth and quite unremarkable so there was nothing to worry about.
The good doctor appeared satisfied, but admonished Danny to call into his surgery if he felt dizzy or experienced any other side-effects. Danny thanked him, the ambulance team and the firemen who seemed a little disappointed they didn’t have an actual blaze to conquer. When the ambulance and fire engine raced away Danny released the Norseman’s parking brake then he, Dave, Monty and the mysterious stranger pushed the plane back to Monty’s Alabama Aviation hangar.
‘Hey Danny, this is Felix Smith,’ Monty said as they approached the hangar.
‘Pleased to meet you, Danny,’ Felix greeted cordially.
Thirty-four year old Felix Smith was a cheerful, handsome fellow in a square-jawed, all-American boy sort of way.
‘G’day, Captain Smith,’ Danny replied cheerfully.
‘Call me Felix. We’re kinda on a first name basis in CAT. You did a good job getting your crate down, Danny. You kept a cool head,’ Felix said. ‘You seem very young, if you don’t mind me saying so.’
‘Not at all, you’re only stating a fact. I’m seventeen.’
‘I remember I wasn’t much older than Danny when I was chasing Kraut fighters all over Northern Italy during the war. Same goes for you flying Goonies over the Hump, eh Felix?’ Monty said and both men chuckled.
‘It was a matter of ditching and losing the whole plane or just risking a bit of engine damage, I guess,’ Danny said.
‘Not to mention my coffee,’ Monty said. ‘I don’t reckon sea water would do it any good at all.’
‘It’s safe in the back,’ Danny reassured him.
Everyone nodded sagely as they pushed the Norseman into Alabama Aviation’s hangar. An aircraft was parked beside Monty’s DC-3 and it was huge. The fuselage and wingspan dwarfed the Gooney-Bird by at least ten feet in every dimension. The plane was unpainted raw metal bearing no markings other than its registration. The fuselage looked like a bloated cucumber with a cockpit dome that may have been streamlined, but gave the plane the appearance of a metallic blimp.
‘Holy smoke, that has to be the ugliest plane I’ve ever seen. It looks like a ruddy great whale,’ Danny declared.
Monty glared at him while Felix looked just a little pained.
‘I dunno ...’ the stranger drawled.
Danny looked at Monty uncomfortably.
‘It’s his plane, isn’t it?’ Danny whispered.
‘Sorry, Felix,’ Danny mumbled. ‘I wasn’t thinking.’
That was true. Pilots were generally fiercely defensive about the planes they flew, even if they were right horrors to manage. It was a matter of pride that they could master the beast, which made them protective of their machines. Felix Smith was no exception.
‘It may be slow and clunky-lookin’,’ he observed, ‘but it’ll go twice as far as your Dak and carry twice the payload.’
While Dave fussed over the Norseman, Felix joined Danny and Monty in the hangar office for coffee. It turned out that Felix Smith was a senior pilot for China Air Transport who’d flown for Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists against Mao’s Communists during the Chinese Civil War that broke out right after WWII. The Communists won in 1949, so CAT withdrew its operations just in time to make itself useful in the Korean conflict that erupted a year later. Many of their aircraft were based in Tachikawa airfield near Tokyo.
‘You’re a long way off course, Captain,’ Danny observed as he pulled some forms from Monty’s filing cabinet. He’d have to fill out an air incident report for the bird-strike. He made a note to phone the tower for the exact time and their account of the incident.
‘I’m ferryin’ a bunch of military heavies down to Australia and New Zealand. Your Mr Bob Menzies and Sid Holland want the lowdown on how the war’s going. I guess they get plenty of wires and diplomatic reports, but General Van Fleet’s sendin’ down a couple of generals to sweet-talk ‘em anyway.’
‘A lot of plane for a couple of guys,’ Danny said.
‘Generals like it that way, but they don’t travel alone,’ Felix replied with a shrug.
About then a truck rolled up and parked next to the C-46. Felix’s co-pilot, engineer and crew-chief jumped down and started loading the supplies for the trip. The passengers piled out of the truck after the aircrew. It appeared the generals travelled in style, but they saw that their entourage, including several senior officers, pitched in to help pack the rations aboard the plane.
‘Time to go,’ Felix said with a grin. ‘Can’t keep the brass waiting, can I? We’re fuelled up for Sydney. It was nice meeting you, Danny.’
He shook hands all round.
‘Remember to think about my offer, Monty,’ Felix said with a wink as he left the office.
Danny and Monty followed Felix. He waved a cheerful farewell to Dave and quickly checked his plane. His crew were ready for start-up and all the passengers were aboard. Felix climbed the ladder and took his place in the captain’s seat. He unlatched the flight-deck side window that looked enormous compared with the Gooney-Bird’s tiny portal.
Felix’s crew-chief, or loadmaster as they were becoming known, stood twenty yards in front of the plane’s nose. Any closer and Felix would have been unable to see him. A portable fire extinguisher cradled in a dolly stood beside the loadmaster. The loadmaster held up two fingers to indicate the starboard propeller was clear. After a great deal of growling and belching blue smoke, the starboard Pratt-&-Whitney R-2800 radial engine rattled into life. The chief held up one finger and the port engine clattered alive. There seemed to be a massive amount of noise and smoke to Danny, but everyone else looked unconcerned. The loadmaster gathered the wheel chocks then pushed the fire extinguisher to the fuselage door where the generals’ aides helped him load the gear before he too clambered aboard and closed the door.
Felix waved from the cockpit as the plane rolled away. Danny watched the great, lumbering aircraft line up, take-off and climb along the Markham Valley before gaining enough altitude for Felix to bank left and pick his way through the mountain passes to the south.
‘He seemed like a nice guy,’ Monty commented as they returned to the office.
‘Yeah, I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings about his plane,’ Danny sighed, ‘but it is soooo ugly.’
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I know what you mean though I’ve heard the poor old Commando described as the Curtiss Calamity and, as you so astutely observed, The Whale, which is a bit harsh. It’s hard to think that the same company built the P-40. Now that plane was a right looker.’
‘Hang on,’ Danny said, ‘what was all that about an offer?’
‘Well, I was gonna talk to you about that.’
‘Right now is good.’
‘Okay. I’m thinking of selling Alabama Aviation.’
thought you loved flying here?’ Danny said, staring at Monty in amazement.
‘Yeah, but ...’
‘Ain’t we kinda gettin’ in a rut?’
‘I’d hardly call flying in New Guinea routine,’ Danny reminded him. ‘Just look what happened this morning.’
‘Sure, but you can have a bird-strike anywhere – except maybe Antarctica. Penguins can’t fly.’
‘I’m sure they have other flying birds like albatrosses and stuff, but don’t get off the subject. Why do you want to sell up? The business is going well.’
‘Well, enough, but we ain’t gonna become millionaires.’
‘Money isn’t everything and that cash we got from that gold bullion really put Alabama Aviation on an even keel.’
‘Yeah, only there’s always something ... another bill ... another DCA check ... more air-route charges and airport fees goin’ up all the time. Not to mention we work seven days a week. We can’t afford to knock back any charters. When did you last have a day off?’
Monty seemed a bit edgy to Danny who couldn’t determine why.
‘We hang out down at the shack all the time,’ Danny insisted. ‘I really like it here.’
Monty owned a two-bedroom beach hut fronting onto a coral lagoon and Danny had moved in after he started working for Alabama Aviation. Shack was a pretty inadequate and unflattering description of Monty’s place. It was very comfortable, even boasting electric power to run Monty’s fridge and electric guitar amplifier. They spent what little spare time they had jamming with the guitars, spear-fishing on the reef or lounging in hammocks under the palms. Monty had two casual girlfriends called Koina and Jara who, among other benefits, tidied up after him on an equally casual basis. Once during an overnight stay Jara had become friendly with Danny to try and ease the pain of Angela. Although Danny was appreciative, his response was lukewarm at best, so she didn’t bother with him after that.
‘Yeah we hang out for an afternoon, or a couple of hours. Otherwise we’re just eating and sleeping ... well mostly,’ Monty added slyly. ‘When was the last time you saw your dad at Kagotaun?’
Kagotaun was a rough-and-tumble island settlement situated on the eastern side of the Vitu Archipelago in the Bismarck Sea. It could be best described as a Wild-West frontier town populated by the human flotsam washed up after WWII. Danny’s father, George McAlister not only ran the pub, but also had built a beach-house on the northeast tip of Kago Ailan where he and Danny went snorkelling and long-board surfing.
‘I see Dad whenever we fly over to Kago Ailan,’ Danny said defensively.
‘Yeah, but when have you really spent time with him? When was the last time you went surfing? Remember, he was the reason you came to New Guinea in the first place.’
That was true. Danny had endured some hair-raising adventures to find his father who’d been reported missing while fighting the IJA along the Kokoda Track.
‘Okay, what’s the deal?’ Danny sighed.
‘CAT wants to wet-lease the Gooney-Bird. The company is flat out resupplying UN units all over Korea. I’ll need a co-pilot.’
‘It sounds dangerous.’
‘What we need is a bit of excitement.’
‘You keep forgetting flying in New Guinea is exciting.’
‘You can always come back here if you don’t like it. The pay’s six-hundred a month.’
Danny’s jaw dropped.
‘Six hundred American dollars?’
‘Sure thing kid, you’ll be rich in no time. You’d be lucky to make that much in a year hanging around here. And it’ll stop you moping over Angela.’
Whether Danny was convinced or not didn’t seem to bother Monty. He assumed Danny would go along with it after he’d mentioned the pay-cheque. Monty rambled on about what a great opportunity it would be for Danny to gain some operational experience in the big bad world outside New Guinea. Danny had to agree it did sound exciting.
‘Also it’s not quite as simple as that,’ Monty said enigmatically.
‘Sounds pretty simple to me.’
‘Yeah ... well ... I kinda owe someone a bit of cash ...’
‘Oh?’ Danny eyed Monty with a frown. ‘And who might that “someone” be?’
‘Crazy Al Chong. Last week I got into a game of Armstrong’s hold‘em in his down-town bar.’
‘You played poker with Crazy Al Chong? You’ve gotta be stark raving bonkers!’
‘I’d had a coupla drinks.’
‘I’d need to drink a pub dry before I’d gamble with Crazy Al.’
Those were wise word from the teenager. Crazy Al Chong was an ethnic Chinese Indonesian bad boy who’d skipped Jakarta in 1946 one step ahead of the Dutch authorities for double-dealing with the Japanese. He saw no reason to return home after independence in 1948 so now he was a local Lae identity with fingers in every money-making pie around town. You want a girl ... you go to Al. You want cash ... you go to Al, although you’ll pay usury rates. You want someone to disappear ... you go to Al, although it’ll cost you. He owned a sleazy, smoke-filled bar in town where the liquor and girls were cheap although of dubious provenance. Al retained a gang of street heavies to keep order and ensure you fulfilled your obligations.
‘How much do you owe him?’ Danny asked.
‘Five hundred quid,’ Monty mumbled under his breath.
‘Five hundred quid,’ Monty finally admitted.
‘Jeez Monty, what were you thinking ... no don’t answer ... you weren’t thinking. Do you have that kind of cash?’
‘Well no, we used the last of the gold bullion to buy the Gooney-Bird outright, remember.’
Blimey I sound like Angela.
He had no reservations about helping Monty out, but his bank account had dwindled when he became a partner in Alabama Aviation and had invested the bulk of his savings in the company. Right now he was asset-rich although cash-challenged.
‘I’ve probably got a hundred quid left,’ Danny said. ‘Will that help?’
‘No, Al wants payment in full. Anyway it’s Friday, the bank won’t open until Monday and Al wants his dough tomorrow.’
‘So you’re saying we need to get out of town before Al’s boys come around.’
‘You’ve got the picture in one,’ Monty beamed. ‘I knew you were a bright boy. We won’t need much cash anyway. CAT will foot the fuel bills and maintenance costs from now on.’
‘You’d already agreed to take the job?’
‘Captain Smith only asked you to think about his offer.’
‘He was just messing with me. He knew I had to smooth it over with you first.’
‘The sneaky bugger. “Call me Felix”, yeah, right.’
‘So you’re in?’ Monty said.
‘I don’t really have any choice, do I? You certainly can’t hang around and it looks like my job has just been pulled out from under me.’
‘One door closes – another opens. Come on let’s get our gear from the shack. I’m not leaving my guitars behind.’
‘What about a loadmaster?’ Danny asked. That was an important crew member on a cargo plane. You needed someone to supervise loading, unloading and calculating the plane’s weight and balance. The pilots could do the job, but it would seriously slow down their turn-around time. A dedicated specialist was a far better option.
‘We might have to find someone from the CAT outfit,’ Monty said. He’d already asked around, but got no takers.
‘What about the shack?’ Danny asked.
‘Jara and Koina will take care of it,’ Monty assured him glibly.
‘They’re hardly going to wait indefinitely for you to come back.’
‘No, I don’t suppose they will. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’
This was pretty much Monty’s life philosophy anyway.
They jumped into his Morgan three-wheeler and roared away to the beach hut.
‘What about Alabama Aviation?’ Danny asked.
‘Dave said he’ll hold the fort until we decide what to do with it. A couple of charter companies have been sniffing around with an eye to buy the competition. We’ll see what offers they come up with.’
Monty pulled up beside the shack and they piled out. They quickly packed a grip each and stashed them onto the front seat. They secured Monty’s Fender Broadcaster and tweed-amp along with the Gibson ES-150 acoustic guitar to the luggage rack bolted to the car’s rear. Danny was used to travelling light, but made sure he stuffed his passport into his shirt breast pocket. He also packed his Kodak 135mm Pony camera, several rolls of film, his sketch pad and drawing material. Drawing and photography were his hobbies, both of which he’d become quite good at.
‘I’ll miss the place,’ Danny admitted as he gazed across the lagoon to the Huon Gulf.
‘You’ll be back with your pockets bulging with money in no time,’ Monty assured him. ‘You wanna last beer before we go?’
‘Shouldn’t we file a flight plan?’
‘Okay. I figure we’ll go via Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. We won’t have trouble finding the place, I’ve been there plenty of times before ...’
‘You’re considering leaving town, are you, Monty?’ a voice hissed behind them.
Danny and Monty spun around to see Crazy Al Chong standing on the veranda framed by a couple of gargantuan, head-shaven minders. Al was a short, stocky fellow who liked to wear Hawaiian floral shirts and cargo shorts and smoke Filipino cigars. To Danny’s relief, none of the trio appeared to be armed. They didn’t need to be.
‘Well howdy there, Al. Now what gave you that idea?’
‘Let’s just say a little bird told me,’ Al replied evenly. ‘I keep an eye on my business interests – which includes you, Monty. Nothing happens in this town that I don’t know about. So I thought I’d better follow you down here and protect my investment, so to speak.’
‘Al ... Al ... old buddy, you know I’m good for the cash. I just need a little more time. Why me and Danny here are just working on pulling it all together.’
‘In the Philippines?’
‘Oh you heard that bit?’
‘Fortunately for me, yes, but unfortunately for you.’
‘Now Al let’s not do anything we’ll regret. We don’t want your boys there to do anything dumb.’
‘There’s no “we” about it, Monty. I have a position to maintain in town, you see. I’ll have to make an example or I’ll have bad-debts up to my eyeballs.’
Crazy Al nodded almost imperceptibly, but it was all that was needed to unleash his thugs.
‘Where’s your ruddy gun?’ Danny hissed.‘This would be a good time to use it.’
‘It’s in my bag.’
And that was lying in the Morgan three-wheeler.
There was no more time for discussion. Al’s heavies, who were appropriately named ‘Ramrod’ and ‘Crowbar’, now moved to either side to tackle Danny and Monty individually. The henchmen were great lumbering brutes who used one tactic only – bludgeoning muscle-power. Their sheer mass was enough to roll over any opposition, but Danny and Monty had both seen their share of bar fights and had their own brand of street cunning.
Monty grabbed a cane chair and smashed it across Crowbar’s face. Cane splinters sprayed across the veranda, but made little impression on the oncoming attacker. Danny darted backwards through the open doorway and shoved one of Monty’s lounge chairs across the breach. Ramrod grunted as he barged through, slinging the furniture aside.
Mad Al’s goons were slow and lumbering while Danny and Monty, although boxing well above their weight, had agility on their side. Danny dodged Ramrod’s flaying fists, but he was confined inside the hut. Ramrod caught him, nearly shaking him into oblivion. Meanwhile outside Monty tripped on one of the veranda boards that had never been particularly even. Crowbar seized his chance and grabbed Monty, heaving him head-high before hurling him through the window into the hut.
Monty smashed through the window frame. Luckily there was no glass pane or he’d have been shredded. Monty slammed into Ramrod who grunted and dropped Danny who thumped to the floor.
Al hadn’t moved. He retrieved a Filipino cigar from his shirt pocket and a matchbox from his pants. He lit the cigar, dragging down a couple of puffs before casually reaching through the window and lighting one of the curtains with the flaming match. The cotton fabric blazed alight in seconds. The flames instantly spread to the coconut fibre walls that were ideal fuel for a fireball.
Totally disregarding the flames, Crowbar stormed through the door. Amid the choking smoke Monty was pummelling Ramrod’s head while Danny recovered and landed a couple of solid kicks to the giant’s midriff. Crowbar had difficulty making out anything much. Flames now erupted with alarming speed and smoke swirled everywhere within seconds.
Ramrod recovered after a thrashing that would have put a normal person down for hours. Monty and Danny beat a hasty retreat into the kitchen, but Al’s gorillas were right on their heels. Crowbar wrenched Monty’s prized fridge from its spot, ripping the plug from its socket. More sparks flew, igniting another fireball right in the centre of the shack. Effortlessly, Crowbar flung the fridge at Danny and Monty who dived either side as it smashed to the floor. The fridge door burst open cascading beer cans and bottles across the floorboards.
Danny and Monty grabbed the cans and bottles, hurling them at Crowbar and Ramrod. Glass smashed and amber liquid sprayed across the room leaving a fizzing residue of froth. Both Danny and Monty scored plenty of direct hits. A can slammed into Crowbar’s face, breaking his nose – not for the first time either. That may have slowed him up, but didn’t stop him. He merely advanced more cautiously as blood streamed from his nostrils.
Once all the cans and bottles within reach were exhausted, Danny and Monty chucked whatever else was close at hand – fruit from the bowl, bric-a-brac, a flour sack, Monty’s precious coffee and tea canisters, anything – but the missiles either bounced off Al’s heavies or were merely brushed aside.
By then the smoke filled everyone’s eyes which streamed with tears. Even Ramrod and Crowbar’s strength was nullified by visibility that was now close to zero. Smoke was not the only danger. Flames crackled on all sides and now flared into the roof which was made of tinder-dry palm thatch. The ceiling exploded raining down fiery chunks of timber and dried fronds. A beam crashed down between Danny and Monty and their assailants, driving both sides apart.
‘Time to go,’ Monty yelled, grabbing Danny’s arm.
Danny was becoming disorientated at this stage and smoke inhalation was taking effect. Choking and dizzy, he let Monty lead him to the bedroom. They dived through the back window, taking the frame with them. Just at that moment the shack roof gave way and crashed down, destroying anything below.
Danny and Monty somersaulted as they hit the sand. They picked themselves up and dashed for the Morgan three-wheeler. Monty leapt into the driver’s seat – never mind the door – while Danny scrambled on top of their travel bags. Monty gunned the accelerator and they sped away.
t least the bastards didn’t get my guitars. Those two goons are probably toast by now,’ Monty yelled over the Morgan’s engine that he revved well beyond its specifications. He seemed far too cheerful in Danny’s view, but they’d made it clear away ... or had they?
Crazy Al had shown scant concern for his henchmen when he set Monty’s shack alight. In fact he’d probably made matters worse. Ramrod and Crowbar were more than capable of dealing with Danny and Monty even if they took their own sweet time about it. The smoke and flames had only hampered them, enabling their victims to escape. But Crazy Al wasn’t called Crazy for nothing.
As the roof crashed down, Al’s two heavies raced from the shed, beating out the flames that flared on their clothing. They both dashed down the beach and dived into the lagoon. Fortunately the flames hadn’t taken hold and neither man was badly burnt. Al employed tough guys anyway and a spot of minor singeing shouldn’t slow them down in his opinion. Al considered his goons were simply ‘human resources’, not people.
Smoke screened Monty and Danny as they bolted for their car. At first Al wasn’t sure whether they’d been consumed in the fire and neither Crowbar nor Ramrod could confirm that important detail one way or the other. Al ranted for his men to stop being sissies and get out of the water.
He chivvied them back to his car parked a hundred yards from the hut. He’d ordered Ramrod, who was his driver, to stop far enough away from the hut so Danny and Monty wouldn’t hear them arrive. As they lumbered towards their vehicle, Al noticed Monty’s three-wheeler was gone. He put two-and-two together in no time.
Although he’d never learnt to drive, Al owned an open-top 1938 French Delage Tourer. He loved his car and kept it in pristine condition, which was not an easy task in New Guinea’s humid tropical climate.
‘Get after them!’ Al screamed.
‘Where, boss?’ Ramrod asked.
‘The airport, you fool. They’ll make for their plane.’
Ramrod swung the driver’s door open and leapt behind the wheel. Crowbar dashed around to the passenger side and he too piled in. The engine roared into life and Ramrod drove away until he realised they’d left Crazy Al behind.
Ramrod dough-nutted the car in a screech of tortured brakes and burning rubber, before returning to where Crazy Al stood in a fury.