I could sleep for a week...
Rain trickled down the back of Loyle's neck, snapping him out of his slumber with a start. "What the?"
Loyle wiped the rain from his face, wondering how long he'd been out.
He was lying on the top of a fifty-foot, overgrown hill overlooking the ruined hangars. His vantage point gave him an almost unobstructed view over the whole airstrip, but the darkness and the rain made it difficult to see much down next to the runway. Loyle could only vaguely see the shapes of the aircraft parked down below. Another pair of Devastators had landed while he was asleep.
The pirates had pitched a circle of tents on the other side of the runway and a sputtering fire in the center fought against the drizzling rain. Through the open front of one of the tents, Loyle watched four men playing poker by the light of an oil lantern. A group of dogs ran around the fire, chasing each other and barking loudly.
Loyle stiffened as he watched the animals.
"Dogs," he growled. "Of course they've got dogs."
Ever since he was a kid, he'd hated dogs. He refused to bring a dog along on a flight, despite the testimony of fellow pilots, who swore that their canine partners had helped them detect and avoid incoming beeper-seeker rockets.
There was no way he'd let a mangy mutt aboard his plane.
The clatter of metal on metal echoed up the hill from the ruins below. Clamping down on his fear, Loyle squinted, hoping for a better look. He could see the pool of light spilling from the twisted remains of the buildings. Occasionally, a figure emerged from the one of the hangars and threw something onto a junk pile close to the edge of the forest. In the dim light, some of the junk looked to Loyle like personal effects from the base's previous tenants.
Well, thought Loyle, that pile is as good a place to start as any. He ducked behind a tree as he brushed the dirt and leaves from his prison overalls.
Crawling along the top of the cliff, Loyle headed towards the easier climb down near the pirate's tents. I wish I could see something. It's as black as the Ace of Spades up here.
He moved cautiously from tree to tree, moving down the hill towards the back of the hangars. Ten minutes later, Loyle leant back against a tree twelve feet from the rubbish pile, rubbing his aching legs and shoulders. Now I know why someone invented airlimos.
Loyle's introspection was interrupted by footsteps behind him. Peering around the tree, he saw two of the pirates walking towards the junk pile. One was carrying an armful of charred rubbish, including what looked like an old leather bag. The other one was carrying a flashlight in one hand, and Thompson sub-machinegun in the other.
"Hey, Hendricks!" said the one with the gun. "What have you got there?"
"Oh, just a load of junk the last lot left behind."
"Don't really know. I didn't bother to go through it all. We're trying to find some space in there, and this stuff is just in the way." Hendricks dumped the armful onto the trash pile, and dusted himself off.
"Did you even check for anything useful in the bag?"
Hendricks shook his head. "No. It's just old clothes. You can go through it if you want. I've got to get back to work." He turned and walked quickly back to the hangar.
The other pirate put the sub-machinegun on the ground next to him and opened the bag, his face lit by the glow of the flashlight.
"Shirt," said the pirate. "Stained trousers." The pirate let out a low whistle. "Who's this doll?" he said with a lecherous grin, as he pulled a framed picture from the bag. "'Come back to Chicago soon!' eh? I think I might just have to look this little darlin' up next time I'm in the Windy City."
Maybe my luck is finally changing for the better, Loyle thought. The picture was precisely what he had hoped to find: a possible lead on the base's former inhabitants.
He drew the prison guard's pistol from his pocket and eased the hammer back quietly.
He slid out from behind the tree and crawled over to the other side of the rubbish pile. Loyle couldn't see the other pirate behind the five-foot high mound, but he could hear him searching through the rubbish.
Loyle slithered around the edge of the junk pile until he could barely make out the top of the pirate's hat. He took a few deep breaths to steady his pounding heart, then jumped up and pointed the pistol at the pirate's head.
"Don't move or I'll blow your brains all over the ground," hissed Loyle.
"What the?" stammered the pirate, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Back away from that gun," Loyle commanded, moving closer. "Put your hands on your head."
"Where the hell did you come from?" asked the pirate, taking a step back.
"Just shut up," snapped Loyle, as he bent down to pick up the Tommy gun.
Covering the pirate with the sub-machinegun, Loyle decocked his pistol and slid it back into his pocket. "Now give me that picture!"
The pirate's mouth dropped open. "You want the picture? What kind of an idiot are you?"
"Just give me the damned picture!" hissed Loyle. "I don't have all night!"
The pirate pulled the small wooden frame from inside his jacket and handed it over with a sneer. "I hope she's worth it, mac," he said. "'Cause you're a dead man."
Loyle shot him a steely glare. "Really? I have the gun, pirate."
Loyle glanced at the photo; it showed a stunningly beautiful blonde singing in front of a small band. She was indeed worth dying for, Crawford mused. Just not tonight.
"You may have the gun, pal," smirked the pirate, "but all I need to do is START SHOUTING AND EVERYONE'S GOING TO COME RUNNING!"
Loyle's face dropped. Oh hell! He looked around for somewhere to hide. Men were already running out of the ruined hangar to see what all the noise was about.
Loyle felt the sweat bead on his forehead. He launched a vicious left hook at the yelling pirate, and was gratified as the man slammed into the ground with a yelp of pain and surprise.
Crawford turned and sprinted straight into the darkness in the forest, moving deeper into the woods for roughly fifty feet before turning right, moving away from the hangars. Once he had gone about a hundred yards, he paused to catch his breath and looked back out across the airfield.
Seven flashlights were bobbing their way quickly across from the tents on the far side of the runway, accompanied by a chorus of barking and howling. Loyle's heart started pounding as though it was going to burst. The dogs were after him. He tightened his grip on the Tommy Gun.
As they moved into the light spilling from the hangar, Loyle saw that the men carrying them were all armed as well. As they came up to the junk pile, the dogs sniffed around, barking and yelping with excitement. The group of pirates clustered around the man Loyle had accosted, then split up and headed into the forest at the point where Loyle had vanished.
He quietly threaded his way around the edge of the airfield, careful to stay within the forest. Think man, think!
Behind him, the yelping of the dogs was getting closer. Glancing over his shoulder, Loyle caught flashes of light through the trees about sixty yards behind him.
He glanced over his shoulder again. The flashlights were still getting closer. As he turned back, he spotted the fighters parked beyond the circle of tents. Of course!
Loyle made for the clearing. At the edge of the forest, he paused to catch his breath and looked around. It was probably two hundred feet to the tents and then another few hundred feet across the strip to the planes. Other than the camp, there was no cover. This has better work, or I'm a dead man!
He made sure that the picture of the singer was secure inside his overalls. I wouldn't want to lose you, doll. Tightening his grip on the Tommy gun, he took four deep breaths and focused on the circle of tents across the open field.
"Now!" Loyle sprinted clear of the tree line and ran as fast as he could for the cover of the tents. The wind whistled past his ears and he could only just make out the barking of the dogs behind him.
He slid to a halt behind the closest tent and caught his breath. He glanced around the tent, only to see the pirate's flashlights breaking clear of the edge of the forest. In the dim light, he could make out the lithe forms of the hounds as they raced across the field after him.
Loyle froze in terror. All he could think about were the dogs tearing his throat out. The image was too much; he could already feel their teeth closing around his neck. He leapt to his feet and opened fire at them. He screamed with rage and fear, spraying bullets back and forth. There were yelps in the darkness and the flash of a pistol as one of the pirates fired back.
He took another deep breath before launching himself across the open ground towards the planes.
Loyle glanced over his shoulderwincing as he saw the shapes of dogs running away. He probably hadn't hit a single one of them, but the pirates were still hot on his heels. He had lead of about hundred yards and he wasn't about to give that up.
The dirt to Loyle's right erupted in a series of small clouds as a line of bullets traced their way along the ground. A fraction of a second later, Loyle heard the staccato barking of a Tommy Gun.
Loyle bolted across the runway and closed on the parked aircraft. Lines of bullets stitched their way along the ground beside him as he ran. " He took cover behind the nearest Devastator, cursing as the pirates' gunfire ricocheted madly off the warplane's tough armor.
After kicking the chocks clear of the main gear, Loyle leapt onto the trailing edge of the plane's lower starboard wing. He quickly pulled himself up onto the upper wing and threw open the fighter's canopy. A bullet zinged off the metal of the engine cover close to him, forcing Loyle to duck.
Loyle swung his legs around and slid feet first into the gaping cockpit. He stood on the seat and looked back to the pirates who were still racing across the airstrip. "Now its my turn,!" he said, as he swung his Tommy Gun toward his pursuers.
The gun jumped in his hand as he opened fire on the pirates, the muzzle flash leaping over a foot from the end of the barrel. The pirates scattered like cockroaches as he raked the fire back and forth across their path.
Loyle kept his finger clamped down on the trigger until the gun clicked empty. Time to go, he thought.
He threw the Tommy gun onto the ground and slid down into the cockpit. The control layout of the older fighter was unfamiliar, and it took Loyle a few seconds to find the engine starter button.
He sighed with relief when the big Tornado engine behind him rumbled into life. Loyle pushed the throttle open slightly, and depressed the right pedal as the plane started moving forward. The plane's nose came around slowly, until it was facing the edge of the runway. Loyle grinned maniacally as the pirates slid to a halt only fifty feet away as the Devastator's four forty caliber machineguns swung around to face them. They dove for cover as he fired off a brief burst.
Loyle taxied onto the runway and opened the throttle all the way. The old fighter responded rapidly and within seconds, the Devastator leapt from the ground with surprising grace. She handles almost as well as the Maddy, he thought.
He swung the nose around and pointed it back towards the parked pirate squadron. Several of them already had their props spinning as Loyle lined them up in his gunsights. "Showtime," he muttered before jamming his thumb down on the firing stud.
The guns barked as Loyle did a low, strafing pass over the pirate base. One of the Devastators erupted in a ball of fire, sending the prop spinning across the runway.
Loyle laughed triumphantly, elated to be back in the air. He snapped the Devastator into a victory roll, briefly drawing ineffectual small arms fire from the pirates. He swung the nose of the plane round to the west-southwest. "Next stop: Chicago. I have a show to catch."