Double-timing it, Joe reached the hangar before the deck crew had finished moving Lecocq’s Albatross along the overhead rails to the aircraft park. Joe saw a few jagged holes punched through the aluminum skin of the right wing, perilously close to the fuel tanks.
The deck crew brought the Albatross to a stop in a temporary parking space behind one of the Gorcrows—Inconstant‘s twin-engine medium bombers—and propped a ladder up against the boarding door on the left side of the left fuselage. Lecocq tumbled out.
Joe headed that way. Choufeng came down a ladder from the second level of the aircraft park and joined him. “What happened?” said Joe.
“Flak,” Choufeng replied.
“That would be putting it lightly,” added Lecocq. “They had searchlights—the whole nine yards, as you say.” His hands shook as he extracted a cigarette from the packet in his pocket. “As we flew over, they turned the lights on us, and there were tracers everywhere.” He fumbled with a match, dropped it, and tried another. It caught, and he held it to the end of his cigarette. Waving it back and forth until it went out, he continued. “At such a low altitude, I was fortunate I did not take more hits.”
“I’ll say.” Joe looked between Choufeng and Lecocq. “Do you think the boss is still there?”
“I would think the captain is smarter than that,” Lecocq said. Choufeng nodded.
Joe wrapped his hand around his chin and tapped his finger on his cheek. “Me too. Now, either he found a truck, or he’s on the lookout for one. How far from El Balyana to Alexandria? Four hundred miles?”
“Seven hundred kilometers,” said Lecocq.
Joe cocked his head, looking upward as he worked through the math. “Four hundred thirty miles, more like. A day by truck. We’ll run three hours north and wait for the boss to get a signal off.”