WWII - Black Sheep Squadron Universe
Vin had only meant to take a short nap, but when he woke up, he figured a good two, maybe three hours had passed. The shade from the palm was long gone and the sun was beating down on them. Vin glanced at JD and winced. He had noticed that the young lieutenant had very fair skin, but Vin hadn't even considered how easily he would burn lying out on the beach. He was used to the sun growing up in Texas. JD's exposed skin was a fiery red.
Vin nudged him to wake him up. JD winced as soon as he moved and looked down to discover the sunburn.
"Aw shit," he groaned.
"Damn, JD I'm sorry," Vin said.
"Not your fault," JD said.
"Yeah but that sunburn's gonna start hurting," Vin said.
"It's happened to me before," JD sighed.
"Yeah with skin like that I ain't surprised."
Vin just shook his head. JD's arms and face were a painful just to look at. Luckily he was wearing pants or he wouldn't be able to walk.
"Don't worry," Vin assured him. "Nathan has a home remedy for sunburn."
"Ezra burned pretty bad his first few days here, too," Vin smiled.
"Good to know I wasn't the only dumb one," JD sighed.
As they came out of the jungle they could hear an argument over by the officers club. The Seabees were lined up facing Chris and Ezra. Vin quickly made his way over to stand with them. JD followed not exactly sure what to do.
"I am not required to come up with proof," Ezra said, looking at his watch. It is now 16:05, and your men are still working.
"Yeah, because we made a bet that you," the Seabee Chief poked Ezra in the chest, "couldn't have made good on."
"You will never know that one way or another, Chief." Ezra looked down at the offending finger. "And might I remind you that assaulting an officer is an punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
"You want to see an assault? Me an' my men can show you and these candy-ass throwaways what the word means."
Vin and Ezra both winced at the word 'throwaways.'
"Enough," Chris bellowed as he grabbed the Chief's arm. "I won't have my men fighting yours."
"Afraid you'll lose?" one of the Seabees asked.
"No," Chris said giving him the eye and he backed off. "I don't feel like explaining to General Moore why the lot of you landed in the hospital. Then I'd have to explain it to Admiral Travis and I really don't want to have to do that."
"We ain't paying the bet," the sergeant growled.
"Fine," Chris said.
"Major, I must protest," Ezra declared.
"Bet's off, Lieutenant," Chris said, glaring at Ezra.
Ezra sighed and nodded. The Seabees were happy and went to their tents. The runway still wasn't finished but Chris would make sure it got done tomorrow. Buck, Josiah and Nathan had been standing behind the Seabees just in case. When Buck saw JD he laughed.
"What the hell happened to you?" he asked.
"What does it look like?" JD said defensively.
"My fault," Vin said. "Took him down to the lagoon. Fell asleep on the sand."
"I'll go get the stuff my aunt sent me," Nathan said.
"Come on, JD, let's get you some water," Buck said as he led JD inside the Saloon.
"The sand feel good?" Chris asked as he followed.
"Yeah," Vin sighed. He loved being outside, even here.
"Come on, let's go rescue JD from Buck," Chris said as they went into the officers club.
Buck had wet some rags with cool water and lay them on JD's burned skin. The young lieutenant sighed in relief. Nathan arrived a short time later with a salve his aunt had mailed to him, explaining it was an old family recipe for soothing scrapes, burns and bug bites. He gently spread it on JD's skin and JD couldn't believe how good it felt, or how well it worked. The sunburn was no longer painful. "What's in that stuff?"
Nathan explained his aunt used aloe and other ingredients.
"Perhaps there is a market for such a remedy..." Ezra remarked.
"Ezra, is that all you think about is makin' money?" Nathan said.
Ezra appeared to think for a moment, then grinned and said, "Well, yes, I believe it is."
The others laughed, including Nathan, and Ezra asked if they wanted to play a game of cards. They sat down to a friendly game and JD asked questions.
"OK I know how Vin, Josiah and Nathan learned to fly but what about the rest of you?" JD asked Buck.
"Oh, Chris and me, we go way back. We were mail pilots. Beat each other over the head tryin' to outbid each other for a government contract, until we decided maybe it might be better if we teamed up instead of buttin' horns."
JD was impressed. The pilots hired to fly mail across the country did so at tremendous risk, flying in any and all types of weather conditions and pushing their machines to the max. There were only two kinds of mail pilots: the good ones and the dead ones.
"My uncle was always talking about some of the crazy things mail fliers did. Going up in all sorts of storms including blizzards."
"Talk to Chris about going up in a blizzard," Buck laughed.
"Did you really, major?" JD asked.
"Yup," Chris answered.
"Why?" Vin asked. "That's only askin' for trouble with those old planes."
"Because some guy said I couldn't," Chris smiled and they all laughed.
"What about you, Ezra?" JD asked.
"Well let me see," Ezra said as he moved one card to another spot in the cards he held. "I believe it was my mother's third husband or was it the fourth? No he was the old Baron. Makes no never mind. One of my mother's many husbands taught me to fly."
"How many has she had?" Josiah asked.
"I believe she is on number five," Ezra said with a smile. "Cards gentleman?"
"What about you JD?" Buck asked as he took the two cards Ezra handed him.
"My mama and her brother had a stunt show," JD said as he looked at his hand. "Learned to do some stunts when I was young. Was wing walking when I was twelve."
"Wing walking?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah," JD said. "I would stand on the wings of the plane as my Uncle would fly around. He'd do barrel rolls and loops."
"Sure kid," Buck laughed.
JD looked puzzled when he realized no one believed him.
"It's the truth," JD said indignantly.
"So when did you learn to fly?" Chris asked.
"I don't remember," JD shrugged. "I was in the second seat almost from the time I could walk. I just sorta learned. I didn't start doing the aerial acrobatics until I was about 13, though."
"Acrobatics?" Vin asked.
"Well, just the simple stuff at first," JD said. "Flips and rolls, that sort of thing."
"Oh, yeah... the usual stuff," Ezra winked at Buck.
JD was irked by that. "We also did a flying crutch maneuver. I bet none of you have ever even seen that," he said irritably.
"What is it?" asked Vin, who seemed to be the only one taking him seriously.
"It's when three planes fly in a formation with one in the center..."
"Three planes? I thought it was you and your uncle?" Buck said.
"No, mama flew with us."
"You tellin' us your ma was a pilot? C'mon, son..." Josiah began patiently.
"Ain't you guys ever heard of Poncho Barnes?"
"Yeah, I heard of him," Vin said. "Does all them movie stunts..."
"Her. Poncho Barnes is she."
"That true?" Vin asked Ezra, who only shrugged.
"So is Amelia Earhardt, if you ever heard of her," JD scoffed. "My mama could fly as good as anybody."
JD looked at them, daring him to challenge this. The others, knowing the boy's mother was dead, let it go.
JD continued, although with a bit less enthusiasm than before. "Anyway, the two outside planes would balance the center plane on their inner wingtips. In our show, mama and Uncle John would hold my plane up while I got out and walked on the wing," JD explained.
"That's not possible," Chris said, wondering if he had been wrong about Dunne, and the kid wasn't just plain crazy.
"Yes it is," JD protested. "I've done it."
"Come on, kid," Buck smiled. "The walking I can believe but this?"
"Lieutenant Wilmington is right," Ezra said. "This exceeds the boundaries of credibility."
"Doesn't matter," JD said hurt. "You don't have to believe me."
"Now don't sulk, Kid," Buck teased. "It's a dang good story, true or not."
Vin watched JD and could tell the kid wasn't lying. He wasn't sure how he knew but he just did. When Buck realized JD was ignoring his teasing he went back to his cards. JD looked up and saw Vin watching at him. Vin stared into his eyes and nodded. JD smiled at him. At least one of them believed him.
The next morning Vin was moving a little easier. JD's sunburn wasn't bothering him, thanks to the remedy from Nathan's aunt, and the Seabees were almost done with the runway. Chris knew his good luck couldn't last. They were all in the mess tent eating breakfast when the radio operator came looking for Chris.
"General Moore is on the radio," he said.
"Thanks," Chris said downing his coffee and following the radio operator out.
Chris sighed as he stepped out into the sun's heat. He'd never get used to the humidity. He walked into the radio shack and picked up the mic and held down the knob.
"This is Major Larabee," he said letting go of the knob.
"Chris, how's the runway?" General Moore asked.
"They're almost finished," Chris answered.
"As soon as they're done fly to Espiritos," General Moore said. "You have a briefing for a mission."
"Yes sir," Chris said. "Corina out."
Chris left the shack and headed for the airstrip. The Seabees had all the holes filled and were now smoothing the runway.
"What's the General want?"
"Jesus, Vin, quit sneaking up on me!" Chris exclaimed startled.
"Can I help it if none of you pay attention to what's around you?" Vin declared. "So what'd he want?"
"I have to go to Espiritos for a briefing," Chris answered. "We have a mission."
"Need some company?" Vin asked hopefully.
"No," Chris said. "I want you to take it easy."
"I'm fine," Vin protested.
"Oh yeah?" Chris challenged and went to jab Vin in the ribs.
"Aw hell," Vin cursed as he dodged and grimaced from the slight pain.
"Thought so," Chris smiled.
"If you think you're gonna ground me..." Vin began.
"Did I say anything about grounding you?" Chris asked.
"No," Vin admitted.
"So quit your belly aching and take it easy," Chris said.
"Alright," Vin agreed. "But I don't have to like it."
"Suit yourself," Chris laughed. "Where'd everyone go?"
"Buck took JD over to his Corsair. He wanted to see if JD really knew anything about planes."
"He wouldn't be here if he didn't," Chris said as he walked to the Saloon.
"Yeah, well, you know Buck," Vin smiled.
"Unfortunately," Chris sighed. "And the others."
"Ezra went to listen to a new opera his mother sent him," Vin replied. "Josiah's off meditatin' and Nathan has his nose in a medical book."
"He still planning to go back to medical school?" Chris asked. He supposed that would be Nathan's best option as a civilian. The man was a crackerjack pilot, but the commercial airlines didn't hire Negroes.
"Guess so," Vin said.
"So what are you going to do to stay out of trouble?"
"I'll find something."
"Why does that worry me?" Chris sighed as he walked into the officers club.
"I don't know," Vin shrugged as he followed Chris inside.
Vin went behind the bar and pulled out two Cokes. Ezra won two cases of the soft drink at one of his many poker games. Chris took the Coke as Vin walked over to the dartboard. He pulled out the darts and walked back over to Chris. Vin handed the blue ones to him and let Chris go first. They played a few rounds and Chris was ahead. Vin's aim was usually pretty accurate but his sore ribs were throwing off his game. Vin was throwing his last dart when Yosemite walked in.
"Major, the Seabees are done," he said. "Their ship is off the island and they are loading the equipment now."
"Thanks sergeant," Chris said and Yosemite left. "Guess I'm off for Espiritos. Stay out of trouble while I'm gone."
"Can't guarantee nothin'," Vin smiled.
Chris just rolled his eyes as he left. He walked to the runway and over to his plane. Chris had eight small Japanese flags painted on his plane. Two more and he'd be a double Ace. Chris opened the cockpit and pulled out his parachute. He strapped it on and climbed into the plane, then pulled on his headgear and clipped the radio around his throat. He checked in with the tower to log where he was going and started the plane. One of the mechanics pulled the chocks from the wheels then gave Chris a thumbs up when he was out of the way. Chris nodded and taxied down the runway, and was on his way to Espiritos.
Vin watched Chris take off. He wished he could have gone with him. Vin hated having nothing to do.
"Hey, Junior, Chris off for Espiritos?" Buck asked as he walked over.
"Yup," Vin said.
"So that mean we go on a mission tomorrow?" JD asked.
"Nervous?" Buck teased.
"A little," JD admitted and Buck was impressed with his honesty.
"Don't worry Kid," Buck said draping his arm across JD's shoulders. "Stick close to me and I'll teach you everything I know. An maybe some things you're too young to know."
"You're full of crap, Buck," JD smiled.
Vin laughed as Buck tightened his arm around JD's neck. JD struggled against him but Buck's size made it tough for JD to get loose. Vin came to his rescue by flicking Buck's ear. The mustached captain let go of JD and tried to grab Vin. JD jumped on Buck's back and Buck started to spin him.
"Children," Ezra called. "It's much too hot for your antics."
"Hey, Ezra," Vin said. "How was your opera?"
"Very enjoyable," Ezra answered. "Thank you for asking."
"So what are we going to do all day?" JD asked.
"Let's play ball," Vin suggested.
"Alright!" JD exclaimed.
"In this heat?" Ezra asked. "Are you crazy?"
"Come on, Ez, you can ump," Vin said grabbing the southerner's arm and pulling him along.
"You round up Nathan and Josiah," Buck said. "I'll get some of the mechanics."
"Sounds good," Vin agreed. "Meet you over in the field."
Twenty minutes later and the game was in full swing. It was the officers against the enlisted men. Since they were short-handed without Chris, Ezra was forced to play. When it was his turn to bat the outfield moved in. The pitch was made and everyone watched in shock as the ball sailed over the marker for a home run.
Ezra turned to his stunned team and smiled. "Surely you didn't expect me to run did you?" he asked as he leisurely strolled around the bases.
+ + + + + + +
Chris's briefing lasted four hours. The General was usually very thorough in his plans. As Chris approached Corina he radioed the tower. He made his descent onto the runway and noticed the ball game. Chris just shook his head as his wheels touched down and he taxied his plane up next to Vin's and cut the engine. He climbed out, pulling off his headgear and radio. Chris threw them in the cockpit before jumping down from the wing. He put the chocks under the wheels and walked over towards the game. Buck was on first, JD second and Nathan third. Josiah was catcher while Ezra sat in the shade of a palm tree that was more or less in right field. The rest of the 'officer's' team was made up of enlisted men who had been given promotions just for the game. There were runners on first and second, and when Vin faked a pitch, the runner on second tried to steal third. Vin threw the ball to Nathan and tagged the runner out.
"Woohoo! We win!" Buck cried.
"It's about time," Ezra complained.
"Quit you're bitching," Vin said. "You had fun and you know it."
"Well I'm glad someone did," Chris growled.
"Howdy, Chris," Vin said.
"How are the ribs?" Chris asked.
"There fine," Lieutenant Fowler, the medical officer, said. "I even took off the bandages he was complaining so loud."
"I told you," Vin gloated.
"Since you're all in one spot there will be a briefing at the Saloon in half an hour," Chris said. "Yosemite I need bombs loaded on all the planes."
"Yes, sir," Yosemite said. "Let's go boys."
They watched as the mechanics moved towards the planes congratulating each other on a good game. Chris walked away and the others followed.
"So where we off too?" Vin asked.
"Go get cleaned up and meet at the Saloon," Chris smiled.
They did as he said and headed for their tents. Chris continued to the Saloon with a portfolio tucked under his arm, which he opened once he'd entered the club. Chris pulled out aerial photographs and dropped them on the table then went behind the bar and got a beer. He took a seat and relaxed for a few minutes with his head back to wait for the others. He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he jerked awake to find Vin looking at the pictures.
"Nice nap?" Vin teased and Chris scowled at him. "So we're off to Conga."
"Yeah," Chris said as he rummaged through the pile and pulled out a picture. "To sink that."
"Damn look at that," Vin said.
"Look at what?" Buck asked as he came in with JD.
"We're going after a big mamasan supply ship," Vin said handing the photo to Buck.
Buck took the photo and whistled. "Would you look at the size of that."
"Looking at pinups again Lieutenant Wilmington?" Ezra asked as he came in followed by Josiah and Nathan.
"I wish," Buck said. "Look at this."
"Wow," Josiah exclaimed looking over Ezra's shoulder. "We're supposed to sink her?"
"If we can," Chris said. "Or damage her enough to put in for repairs at Rubaul. Then the bombers will finish her."
"What type of fire power we looking at?" Nathan asked.
"Lots," Chris said.
"Figures," Ezra commented.
"Not only that, she's carrying ammunition and ordnance, so if we do get her, it should be like the 4th of July. We go in before dawn," Chris explained. "Hopefully her fighters on Conga will be busy eating breakfast. We make one pass and we're out."
"Hit and run," Buck smiled. "I like it."
"How many is 'lots'?" JD finally asked.
"Don't worry, son, you won't have time to count," Josiah said.
"Don't think that's the answer he was looking for, Josiah," Vin smiled.
"No worries Kid, just stick with me," Buck said.
"Josiah, Nathan and Ezra you stick together," Chris said.
"I'm finally free of Lieutenant Wilmington as a wing man," Ezra exclaimed. "I'm eternally gratefully Lieutenant Dunne."
"Keep it up Mr. High Society," Buck snarled.
"Alright let's go through everything," Chris said picking up some pictures.
"They spent the next two hours going over the plan. When Chris was satisfied they had it they left and went to the mess tent for something to eat. When dinner was over Chris wanted them to head for bed early, in the hopes they might get some sleep before being rousted out at 0330. He knew that wouldn't be easy. It never was before a mission. Vin and Chris headed for their tent and Josiah, Nathan and Ezra went to theirs. Buck and JD walked in silence to their tent.
"Are you...what I mean is... Did you see the size of that ship?"
"Yeah JD I'm scared too," Buck said putting his arm around JD's shoulder. "You'd be stupid not to be and I know you're not stupid."
"Does it ever go away?" JD asked.
"Afraid not," Buck said. "You'll learn to live with it and use it to your advantage."
"Thanks, Buck," JD said.
"What are big brothers for," Buck smiled. "We offer advice and do this."
Buck rubbed his knuckles hard into JD's head then let go. JD chased Buck to their tent. Chris had been listening to the exchange from his tent.
"He'll do," Vin said as he pulled off his shirt and his shorts.
"Yup," Chris said as he got undressed.
"That is if he can stand Buck's mother henning him to death," Vin laughed as he pulled the mosquito netting closed.
"Hell, I think JD likes it," Chris commented as he climbed into his cot and pulled his mosquito net closed.
"I'm glad he's here," Vin said. "Gets Buck off my back. Now if I can only get a certain major to do the same."
"In you dreams, Tanner," Chris said as he turned out the light
The group met for a final briefing early the next morning. Ezra didn't look happy being awake at 0400. Vin teased him about his aversion to seeing the sunrise. Chris cleared his throat to get their attention and Vin quickly shut up, turning to Chris and giving him a lopsided grin.
"Alright, me and Vin will make the first run," Chris explained. "JD and Buck you're next. Josiah, Nathan and Ezra you'll provide top cover then make your run last. Any questions?"
"Nope, Cowboy, sounds good," Vin smiled.
"You know he hates that," Buck said smiling.
"I know," Vin said with a smile of his own.
"That's Major Cowboy, to you, and when are you going to cut your hair?" Chris asked as he watched Vin stuff his shoulder length hair under his headgear.
"When you stop the famous Larabee glare," Vin countered.
"That would be some time around... never," Ezra observed.
"I reckon," Vin laughed.
"Out! All of you!" Chris ordered.
JD was surprised at the banter before the mission. His stomach was doing flips and they were making jokes. JD tried to relax as they all piled into a jeep to ride out to the planes.
"You'll be okay after we take off," Vin assured JD.
"I hope so," JD sighed.
"You will," Vin said. "Trust me."
"Vin's talking from experience," Buck laughed. "He was the color of this here jeep before his first mission."
"Ah yes I remember that," Ezra added. "Chris almost grounded him."
"But he changed his mind when Vin threatened to shoot him," Josiah laughed.
"You threatened to shoot the major?" JD asked surprised.
"He sure did," Buck laughed heartily. "You should have seen Chris's face."
Everyone laughed including JD. Vin endured the others teasing knowing it would help JD loosen up. They pulled up to the airstrip and Buck walked JD to his plane as Josiah, Nathan and Ezra went to theirs. Vin glanced at Chris and knew the major was glad Vin had tried to ease JD's nerves, even if it meant admitting that he'd been scared himself his first time out. Vin gave Chris a two fingered salute and jogged over to his plane.
Chris got a cold shiver as he watched Vin leave. He didn't know why, but watching the wiry young lieutenant climb into his plane filled him with a sense of dread. He shook it off and climbed onto the wing of his own Corsair.
They were in the air for an hour before the sun started to come up. Chris was lead plane with Vin off to his right. Buck and JD were slightly behind them with Josiah, Nathan and Ezra behind them and above. Vin's prediction was right. As soon as JD was in the air he relaxed. Chris saw that he was right to have picked Dunne for his unit. The kid handled a Corsair like he was born in it. If it wasn't for his youth, you would think he was a combat veteran.
As they flew JD tentatively asked Buck a question over the radio. Buck said he could ask anything he wanted but to remember the Japanese could monitor their transmissions. JD kept his questions to what was worrying him. What do I do get separated from everyone? If I get shot down are there sharks in the water? Buck finally laughed and told JD to forget about all the what-ifs. He told JD not to worry, that he was there so nothing was going to happen to him.
"Your full of crap, Buck," JD said.
"Yeah but you all love me anyway," Buck said amiably.
"Hate to tell ya, big guy, but you ain't my type," Vin teased.
"Why, Vin, darling you wound me," Buck said in a falsetto voice and everyone laughed.
"There she is," Vin said seriously.
"Where?" Chris asked knowing Vin's sharp eyes would spot the supply ship first.
"At two o'clock," Vin answered.
"Alright, this is it," Chris said. "Vin you're with me, Buck..."
"We know, Chris, don't worry," Buck said cutting him off.
"Let's go," Chris said.
Vin and Chris banked right and began their run. Buck followed slowing his plane to wait for Chris to drop his bombs and peel off. JD watched his speed and perfectly matched it to Buck's like they'd been partners forever. As soon as Chris and Vin got close enough to drop their bombs Buck started his run.
"Let's go JD."
"Right behind you."
Buck watched as Vin and Chris's bombs exploded along the deck of the supply ship. He came in for his run and dropped his load dead center. Buck pulled his plane up to gain altitude as JD made his run. Buck smiled as the kid was right on target.
"Way to go JD," Buck whooped.
"Major, we've got company," Nathan called. "Zekes one o'clock high. Two of them"
"I see them," Chris said. "Make your run. Buck, JD get up here."
"On our way," Buck called.
Chris engaged the leading zeke as Buck and JD gained altitude to help. Vin stuck to Chris's tail as he went after the Zero. The tracer bullets from Chris's Corsair led in a direct line to the enemy plane. Seconds later, the Zero's engine blew and the plane plummeted from the sky. Chris looked around searching for another target. He saw Buck chasing a Zero. JD stayed with Buck like he had been told to do, but failed to notice the Zero on his tail.
"JD! Zeke on your six!" Vin yelled.
"Buck!" Chris called. "Break off and scissors."
Buck immediately broke off the pursuit. JD angled his nose almost straight up, as Chris looked on in disbelief.
"JD! No! You're gonna stall her out!"
"No I won't," JD said and then proceeded to arch into a backward loop that put him behind the Zero.
The maneuver disoriented the Japanese pilot, who frantically pulled out of the climb before his engine stalled and banked to the left, putting him right in Vin's sites.
"I got you, rice ball," Vin said.
JD turned to see Vin's bullets rip through the Zero. A parachute appeared as the plane disintegrated.
JD had a clear shot at the pilot, "I'll finish him!"
"No, JD," Chris said calmly. "That ain't the way we do it."
"Rules of Armed Engagement, kiddo," Buck explained. "Ya' don't shoot the pilot after you've shot his plane all to hell."
JD thought that was dumb. He was sure the Jap pilot would let one of them have it if the situation were reversed, but he quickly had other things to think about...
"Vin!" Buck yelled. "One coming straight for you out of the sun."
JD watched as Vin shielded his eyes with his hand to find the third Zero. The Jap was right in front of him, a sitting duck, but Vin was blinded and the Jap pilot knew it.
The other six watched in horror as bullets ripped through Vin's canopy. They heard Vin's strangled cry over their headsets as his Corsair jerked to the left and started to plummet downward.
"Vin!" Chris shouted and followed him. "Get that guy!" he yelled to the others.
Nathan, Josiah and Ezra had already pinned the Zero in intersecting lines of fire. He was a dead man.
JD saw this and made the decision to follow Chris.
When Buck saw what he was doing, he shouted, "Break off, JD! Head for home!"
But he was cut off by Chris's frantic pleas to Vin. "Tanner! Level off! Vin! Can you hear me?"
There was no reply from Vin, but with agonizing slowness, his Corsair righted itself. It was bobbing up and down in an erratic flight path, though, and they could see Vin was struggling with the controls.
"Are there any more Japs?" Chris said, his voice tense.
"I think we got 'em all," Josiah replied.
Well, that was something.
"Close formation," Chris ordered. The six planes converged on the crippled one protecting it from all sides. "Vin, how bad is it?"
"I'm alright," Vin lied. "I can make it home."
Chris didn't buy it. He could hear the pain in Vin's voice and edged his plane closer to Tanner's Corsair. He could see Vin was slumped against the canopy but couldn't make out much else.
"Shit!" Buck cursed.
Chris looked across Vin's plane to see Buck moving in from Vin's right side. "Switch with me."
"I'll go top," Buck said and went over Vin's plane.
Chris went under the plane then came up to Vin's level. When he did he knew why Buck had cursed. There was row of bullet holes through Vin's canopy. Chris saw the blood smeared on the spider web of shattered plexiglas.
"Damn it Tanner!" Chris yelled. "How bad!"
"My shoulder and my leg... don't know what else" Vin answered weakly. "Hurts... like... a... sonofabitch..." His voice trailed off.
"VIN!! Stay awake, damn it!" Chris barked. He saw Vin try to lift his head.
"Chris, he ain't gonna make it," Buck declared.
Chris knew Buck was right. Vin's plane was bobbing more and more as Vin tried to keep it steady. Chris knew Vin should parachute out but with a bleeding wound he'd attract every shark in the South Pacific. He vaguely heard Buck ask if he should call air-sea rescue.
"I can....make it," Vin protested, even though he doubted it. The injuries to his limbs were making it difficult - to say nothing of excruciatingly painful - to manipulate the controls of the Corsair. He hadn't lost too much blood, yet, but with no way to staunch the flow, that could change over time.
"You can't even keep the plane steady," Buck said. "Parachute out and they'll pick you up."
"He could spend hours in the water before they find him," Ezra said angrily.
"Well what the hell do you suggest, Standish?" Buck yelled frantically. "We can't fly the goddam plane for him!"
"Maybe we can," JD said tentatively.
"Shut up, JD!" Chris commanded. He had no time for useless ideas.
"Let 'im talk," Vin's voice was barely audible. "What... you... thinkin'... J.... D..."
"VIN! Don't you pass out. I'll kick your ass!" Chris shouted, desperate to keep Tanner conscious.
"The crutch maneuver," JD said.
"Lieutenant this ain't no fuckin' stunt show," Chris growled.
"I know that!" JD said indignantly. "But we can do it!... At least I can..."
"No," Chris said.
"Shut up, Larabee," Vin groaned. "I trust him."
Chris still didn't think the maneuver was even possible, but Vin was not going to make it home on his own, and there was no other option. He knew it would require two planes... and he couldn't ask the others to take that risk. Hell, he didn't want them to - this was something he had to do himself. If Vin trusted the kid, so would he.
"Okay kid. You're the boss," Chris said. "What do I do?"
"Okay stay on his starboard side," JD instructed. "Buck you're going to have to move so I can get in there."
"This is a bad idea," Buck said, but moved his plane out of the way so that JD could slip into position next to Vin.
"Vin, do you think you can keep your airspeed steady?" JD asked.
"Think... so," Vin gasped. "Damn... Hurts..."
"Stay with us Vin," Chris said.
"Okay, major," JD instructed, "Match his speed and then dip under his wing ... What you want to do is come up nice and slow until you make contact, but wait for my command. If we don't synchronize our move, you could tip his plane into mine..."
Despite the situation, Chris had to marvel at JD's confidence.... The kid wasn't even considering that he might make a mistake. He did as he was told.
"Vin?" JD said. "Try to hold steady for just a few seconds. Can you do that?"
"Think ... so..." Vin said through clenched teeth. The pain in his shoulder was white-hot agony, and his leg throbbed unmercifully with each movement, but with tremendous effort, he was able to steady his plane.
"Be ready to compensate for the added weight on that wing," JD advised Chris. "You will feel your plane wanting to pull down on that side at first, until you get stabilized - after that, you will be holding his plane up yours."
Chris followed JD's instructions, even though his hands were so slick with sweat that he feared them slipping off the controls. This was nothing more than a choreographed mid-air collision. It was insane.
"Vin, your gonna feel a jolt when we make contact," JD said. "Keep hold of the stick for as long as you can."
"Alright, Major, come up.... now! Slow and easy...."
There was a soft thump as the three Corsairs became one.
"Okay, Vin.... you can relax now. Just watch your airspeed."
Even though JD had warned him, Chris wasn't prepared for the sudden shift in weight on his portside wing, but the cold knot of fear in his stomach dissipated as JD patiently explained how to compensate and they leveled out.
The two outside Corsairs were holding up the one in the center.
"You did it!" Buck exclaimed.
"Way to go JD!" Nathan declared.
"My compliments," Ezra added.
"You did good son," Josiah said.
"Buck, get on the radio to Espiritos," Chris said. "It's closer."
"Right," Buck said.
Chris looked across to JD and saw the lieutenant checking his gauges. He looked up to see Chris staring at him. JD smiled and gave Chris a thumbs up. Chris nodded, afraid to let go of his controls and return the gesture. He still didn't believe this was possible, even though they were doing it.