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your unit flies Mosquitoes to take pressure and temperature readings at altitude, right?” “Wrong,” he said. “We used to use Mosquitoes. They went out of service three months ago. We now use Canberras.” I sat holding the telephone, staring at it in disbelief. Then an idea came to me. “What happened to them?” I asked. He must have been an elderly boffin of great courtesy and patience to tolerate darn-fool questions at that hour. “They were scrapped, I think, or sent off to museums, more likely.
standing alone on the mantel above the crackling fire. I stopped with my cigarette half-raised to my lips, feeling the room go suddenly cold. The photo was old and stained, but behind its glass it was still clear enough. It showed a young man of about my own years, in his early twenties, dressed in flying gear. But not the gray suits and gleaming plastic crash helmet of today. He wore thick sheepskin-lined boots, rough serge trousers and a heavy sheepskin zip-up jacket. From his left hand
of endless space. The night sky, its stratospheric temperature fixed, night and day alike, at an unchanging fifty-six degrees below zero, became in my mind a limitless prison creaking with the cold. Below me lay the worst of them all, the heavy brutality of the North Sea, waiting to swallow up me and my plane and bury us for endless eternity in a liquid black crypt where nothing moved nor would ever move again. And no one would ever know. At 15,000 feet and still diving, I began to realize that
Joe was the mess steward. “That will do fine. While I’m waiting, do you mind if I use your phone?” “Certainly, certainly, of course, you’ll have to check in.” He ushered me into the mess secretary’s office, through a door beside the entrance to the bar. It was small and cold, but it had a chair, an empty desk and a telephone. I dialed 100 for the local operator and while I was waiting, Marks returned with a tumbler of whisky. Normally, I hardly touch spirits, but it was warming, so I thanked
I asked the next and last question slowly and carefully. “Do you know, sir, where is the nearest RAF station that will be manning one-twenty-one-point-five-megacycle band throughout the night, the nearest station to here that maintains twenty-four-hour emergency listening?” The international aircraft-emergency frequency is 121.5 megacycles. “Yes,” he said equally slowly. “To the west, RAF Marham. To the south, RAF Lakenheath. Good night to you. Happy Christmas.” I put the phone down and sat