Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 4

His fighter jolted and swung on its hook as it came to rest in the aircraft park. Below him were the big bombers and transports, four altogether, which hadn’t been launched. The rest of the fighters, along with the single-engine torpedo bombers, would fill in around him on the second level. He slid his canopy back until it clicked in placed, and as he stood, the deck crew leaned a twenty-five-foot ladder against his cockpit sill. Joe’s fighter pulled into place beside his.

Cannon ignored the ladder and waved his arms at Joe until he pushed his cockpit open. Over the growl of aero engines and the whine of the skyhook hoists, he shouted, “Get six Kestrels turned around and ready to take off! I want them in the air as soon as we clear the storms!”

Joe showed him a thumbs-up. Cannon went down the ladder two rungs at a time, gave his ground crew a wave, and headed forward. Once he’d closed the hangar hatch, the noise became less deafening, and he tucked his leather flying helmet under his arm. The ventral catwalk had few interesting sights—the ladders up to the engines and broadside guns couldn’t be called interesting in their own right, and enormous fabric gas cells overhead blocked the view of the crew quarters, common spaces, and supporting framing in the nose.

Before he reached the hatch into the forward living space, Cannon took the ladder down into the control gondola. It descended into the map room, dominated by the chart table at its center. Shelves full of map cases were strapped to the bulkheads, and armored shutters had been rolled over the windows. Forward was the bridge, where Churchill stood. He had taken the helm personally, and Cannon didn’t bother him. He had an instinct for aerial navigation, and nobody aboard could guide the zep through a storm better.

Instead, Cannon turned aft to the radio room and air wing command center. The wraparound windows there were shuttered, too, and the lookout at the aftermost point in the compartment pointed her binoculars through a narrow vision slit. A traffic controller stood beside her, a microphone in hand, directing planes onto the skyhooks. A few men and women sat at the radio sets lining both sides of the compartment.

“You might want to hear this, Captain,” one said.

Cannon took the headphones she offered him and put them on.

“—calling Inconstant. HMS Sparrow, calling Inconstant. Are you there, pirate scum?” The voice was impeccably British.

Cannon waved for the microphone, and a radioman put it in his hand. “Captain Cannon here. What’s the word, Leftenant Limey?”

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