Lining up on the runway, Cannon pulled the throttles back. The Albatross settled slowly, descending beneath the jungle canopy, then touching down on the grass runway. Cannon left the engines at about half power, allowing the Albatross to roll nearly to the end of the runway before braking to a stop and cutting the power.
He ran the left throttle up halfway, turning the Albatross to the right. The cargo door slid open partway through the turn, and the pirates in the cargo fuselage disembarked, masked from view by the bulk of the aircraft. Cannon glanced to his left as the pirates dashed for the cover of the treeline, then turned the Albatross around and taxied up to the collection of huts at the edge of the landing strip.
He, Emma, and Choufeng disembarked through the crew hatch behind the pilot’s seat. A local, emerging from the nearest hut, met them. Cannon arranged to have the Albatross refueled and negotiated a more or less reasonable price to borrow the man’s truck. A few minutes later, the truck rattled away along the dirt road toward Topside.
A half-dozen pairs of eyes, white spots in grease-blackened faces, watched it bounce along the north road. They belonged to black-clad bodies, laid flat on a ridge ten yards back from the road. Each had a machine pistol and a rucksack. The truck passed. A minute or two passed before the sound of its engine was lost to the sound of the jungle.
“All right,” said one of the figures, a young woman. “Let’s go.”
The figures stood and marched off in single file, all but invisible from the road.
Emma leaned against the door of the truck and put her feet up on the dashboard.
“Cut that out,” Cannon said.
With bad grace, Emma sat up straight. Seated between her and Cannon, Choufeng didn’t say a word. That wasn’t unusual, though. If she didn’t count the tips he dispensed while throwing her around the sparring mat, he’d said maybe one hundred words in her presence total. The skipper said he didn’t get any more talkative.
The truck rounded Malinta Hill, revealing a ruined village to the left. Before the Americans left the Rock and the Brotherhood moved in, it had been home to servants, cooks, and other non-combatant members of the island’s garrison. Now, the buildings lay empty, whitewashed walls with only an occasional tile roof still intact. The jungle encroached on it from all sides but the south, where waves crashed at a sandy beach.