A sleek silhouette above the moon, the Airspeed A.6 flashed over the English channel, heading southeast. Sheet lightning revealed a large bank of cauliflower-shaped thunderheads in its path.
The rickety, pressurized cabin was hellish. Howling wind made conversation impossible.
Fleming remained seated in the freezing cabin, shivering from the cold. He wrapped his hand around a dangling support rope as the plane shuddered and rolled through choppy turbulence. Harry Jones caught his eye, waved a languid hand and resumed a bored scanning of the skies ahead.
Nichols was huddled in a corner, knocking his knees together and practically reverberating from the rollicking vibration. He almost heaved as the plane dipped and then leveled out and steadied.
Fleming tried to move his lifeless fingers enough to open the dossier on the French reception committee. The folder held files on four personnel: Gilbert Renault (’Colonel Remy’), Denise Astier, Edward Watteau (’Eddie’) and Rouben Melik. He went straight for the woman’s file.
Even in black and white, her features were striking. She had her hair cut in a sharp bob like Louise Brooks and she was wearing a kepi slanted gangsterishly. She had black, feline eyes and a small, slightly upturned nose with lush, full lips. Biographical details were scant — born in a small coastal community in Normandy, orphaned at five, worked for her uncle who sold fishing supplies.
Colonel Remy was the group leader. A former street assassin who had fled to the Resistance when his wife and two daughters were murdered and he had taken revenge on their killers, the people who hired their killers and anyone vaguely related to them. The Colonel, who had never been a soldier but was nicknamed this on the streets because of his rumored discipline, was a hunted man, by the police and by various criminal elements.
Fleming skimmed the remaining two files. Edward Watteau was the forger, and the fourth member, Rouben Melik, appeared to be the wireless man, Fleming reasoned, given his technical expertise.
The radio squawked in the cockpit. “Foxtrot 1,” said the tech’s voice, “this is Hotel Charlie. Storm coming in fast. Over.”
McGhee made the necessary course adjustment. His whole being was concentrated exclusively on three things: the compass, the altimeter, and the man directly behind him, Harry “Hurricane” Jones, the Flight Officer.
Nichols’ teeth were chattering in the cold and his suit was iced to the metal framed canvas seat bolted to the floor. The noise level was intolerable. He had to shout to Fleming to be heard.
“I have a confession,” he blurted. “I've never been in a plane before.”
Fleming looked him over curiously. “You may want to consider removing your radio pack.”
“Why?” Nichols yelled.
“You're going to hit the ground with a terminal velocity of a hundred and eighty miles an hour. You may experience some difficulty in opening your chute.”
“You mean I put this on after we land?”
Fleming nodded and returned to his reading.
“How many jumps you done, sir?”
Irked, Fleming looked up. “Four. In training.” He saw the worry in the young man’s eyes and let up a little. “They were easy drops into Lake Ontario on calm, sunny days from five thousand feet. I’m almost in the same boat or plane rather as you, Private.”
Nichols peeked at the headshots in Fleming’s file. “Know anything about the woman?”
Fleming hesitated. “Passport stuff. 27. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Five eight. Single.”
Nichols managed a smile. “Some good news at last.”
Fleming didn’t feel like bantering. “Try to get some shut eye, Private. You’re going to need your strength.”
Nichols did as he was told and left Fleming alone with his files. The secret agent peered down and out and felt a sudden unease. Then he closed his eyes and thought about Denise Astier.
But rather than dream of her, a montage from his childhood unspooled. He was back in his first home Joyce Grove with its long, gloomy passageways and locked doors. His mother, young and beautiful, was in the living room crying to a military man with a letter in her hands. Abruptly, he was moving through a forest, wind blasting his face. He was skiing in his summer running clothes alongside Nichols who laughed and said “Piece o’ cake!” Nichols was in a silver SS uniform and had a Totenkopf tattooed on his
The plane flopped starboard and Ian Fleming’s head came up with a jerk. He looked quickly, guiltily, at his watch. Nichols was asleep. Fleming wound his clock forward an hour to the new time zone.