Joe worried less about an attack from that direction—he could win a stern chase until nightfall. Nearly due south, about fifty miles distant, a lone Kestrel carrying the wing tanks flew race tracks. Another did the same thing fifty miles ahead.
With no British zeppelins in the area, any attack would have to come from Alexandria, and sixty miles away—just over two hundred miles from the airfield at Alexandria—an Albatross kept a vigil for scouts or attack planes. Inconstant carried no better scout: the glazed nose and aft turret gave the Albatross an unrivaled field of view, and it could loiter for almost eight hours on full fuel. Nor was it a precious combat aircraft wasted on patrol, guzzling even more precious fuel. That was Inconstant’s biggest flaw. With full avgas bunkers, she could only launch her air wing three times, or six if they risked filling her cargo holds with fuel drums. Every hour her scouts flew, she ate into her combat reserves.
Joe had a look up at the wall clock: about four in the afternoon. One more scout rotation would see them to nightfall. “Get the replacements up,” he said. “Hope our luck holds.”
Cannon slipped his chronometer from his pocket: about four in the afternoon. Mainly, it was something to look at besides the remains of van der Hoek and two of his men. Long-dead, they sat back-to-back. The years had seen them decay to little more than scraps of flesh and dark-stained bones. Great gaping holes had been slashed into their shirts. Two held revolvers. One—van der Hoek—held a gold cross on a chain in one hand. Tucked under his arm was a notebook.
“Cap’n,” Iseabail said. “Ye dinna think tha’s a whopping lot of footprints for three men, do ye?”
Cannon frowned. “You’re right. I see at least five sets here. Mr. Masaracchia, how many men did van der Hoek have with him?”
“Five in all, I believe.”
“The other two might have died on the way out,” Burr put in.
“Either way, if we were stopping for bad omens, we wouldn’t have made it this far.” Cannon looked to di Giacomo. “Light a torch off of mine and stay here with your cousin and Isea. Pass me that sack. Burr and I will round up some valuables. If you see anything off, give a shout and head for the dais. We’ll catch up.”