Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 73

Joe stepped delicately from the ladder into the cockpit of his Falcon. Even so, it swung beneath his weight. Already, the other pilots were coaxing their machines to life, and the sputters as the engines turned over quickly built to a deep-throated roar.

Joe went through his own startup checklist, flipping fuel and magneto switches, then holding the starter. The propeller in front of him turned slowly, once and twice, then blurred to a uniform disc. He watched his gauges for a moment. They read normally, so he slid his canopy forward and locked it in place. He settled his leather flying helmet onto his head and plugged in his headset, and chatter instantly filled his ears.

“Keep the mission frequency clear,” he said into the mic. “Flight leaders, check in when you’re ready.”

The Falcon next to Joe’s swung on its hook. He looked over and waved at Emma as she strapped in. She gave him an insouciant salute, fumbled with her ponytail and her helmet, and spoke into her mic. “Looks like I’m on your wing today, eh?”

Joe checked his radio and spun a tuning dial. “Looks like. You missed the briefing.”

Emma shrugged and pulled her canopy closed. Smoke belched from her engine’s exhausts as her propeller spun into motion. “Shoot the Brits, stay on your wing? Anyway, it’s not hardly a fight without a shot of liquid courage, is it?”

Joe rolled his eyes. Emma must have seen the gesture from her cockpit, adding, “We’re pirates, Joe. That makes you the oddball.”

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