Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 74

Shaking his head, Joe stowed his start-up checklist. Down on the deck, a young woman caught his eye. Tomlin, he thought, one of the latest batch. She kept out of the way as best she could, heading aft with a purposeful step. For a moment, Joe watched her weave around the deck crew, then he switched his microphone to the radio tuned to the mission frequency. “You know the game. The Tommies aren’t your common guns for hire. You beat them the same way, though: fly better, shoot straighter, stick with your wingman. Neither Albatross is flying today, so if they bring you down, you’re on your own. Get out of British territory before you send word. We’ll launch by pairs, fighters first. Good luck.”

That covered everything he hadn’t had the time for during the briefing. He patted his flying jacket and felt the reassuring packet of bank notes tucked into an inner pocket—a few hundred pounds, more than enough to get him somewhere safe if he ended up shot down.

Two Kestrels dropped from the forward and center skyhooks, while a third waited on the aft hook until the deck crew spotted his wingman to the center hook. Launching by pairs took a little longer, but it kept the air wing better organized. Joe wanted his wing pairs together as soon as they left the hangar. They were good, as pirates went, but not many of them could handle a British pair solo.

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