Drago loomed out of the shadows. “You were expecting brand-new B-29?”
“No — it’s just — can this thing make it to Casablanca?”
“No,” Drago replied.
“The fuel will take us as far as airstrip I know near Valencia, Spain. From there Olga can reach Casablanca.”
Grace regarded the aircraft. “It doesn’t look like Olga can get off the ground.”
Drago was insulted. “My Olga won the first Zurich-Mombasa air race. She dropped supplies to partisans in Seville. She landed in cyclone in Istanbul when it was still called Constantinople.”
She sighed. “I guess we’d better get going, then.” She reached into the briefcase and pulled out a fat bundle of bills. “Ten thousand. And another ten when we get there.”
He snatched up the money and stuffed it into the depths of his voluminous coat. “I am not greedy. Ten thousand is plenty if it means I don’t have to go to Casablanca and get killed. Farewell, foolish girl.”
Grace was outraged. “We had a deal!”
“Here is advice to pass to your grandchildren someday: Trust no one.”
In a rage, Grace brought the heel of one of her new boots down on his soft shoe. He howled in pain and reached for her, but she was already vaulting into the cockpit of his plane, pulling down the canopy as she dropped to the seat. In a flash, she had the engine running and was beginning to taxi out of the hangar.
He tried to block her way until the whirling propeller drove him back. He watched in astonishment as his beloved Olga rolled out onto the tarmac and headed for the runway. In a horrified instant, he realized that the plane was not stopping.
Drago sprinted headlong across the airfield and hurled himself onto the lower wing of the biplane. Undeterred, Grace began to taxi in a serpentine motion in an effort to shake him off. Hanging on for dear life, he crawled between the struts to the fuselage, reached up, and managed to flip open the canopy. “Stop!”
In answer, Grace opened the throttle, sped down the runway, and pulled back on the yoke. With a mighty roar, the biplane left the ground.
Watching the airfield fall away from him lent strength to Drago’s panic. He hoisted himself up and over, and tumbled into the passenger seat. “All right,” he wheezed. “I will take you to Casablanca.”
“Why should I believe you?” she shouted over the roar of the engine.
He was wide-eyed. “Because you have proven yourself worthy of my fear!”
When the aircraft crossed the border into occupied France, Drago was at the controls and Grace was in the passenger seat, hugging the briefcase to her chest.
Her journey to Casablanca had begun.
Their flight path followed the coastline, not that Grace could tell. Occupied France was under strict blackout orders, so there were no lights beyond the occasional wisp of illumination sneaking out from behind dark curtains.
Drago navigated by starlight and the dim glow cast by a crescent moon. Occasionally, he consulted a torn and ratty map that lay open on his lap.
Grace squinted out the window into the gloom. “How do you see where you’re going? I can’t even make out where the water meets the land.”
“Don’t have to see,” the pilot grunted. “Olga knows the way.”
“Funny name for an aircraft,” Grace commented. “Is it after your wife?”
Grace stared at him. “You named your plane after a gun?”
“It was very good gun.”
She scanned his shaggy, inscrutable features, trying to determine if he was serious. One thing was certain: He could not be trusted. He had already tried to double-cross her once and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
For the present, though, the pilot seemed content to be piloting, and the biplane jounced above the coastline, plodding southwest. Grace did not remember sleeping, but she awoke with a start, instantly aware that something was different. There was no longer unbroken darkness below them. Lights shone from farmhouses and the occasional village.
“We’re off course!” she cried. “You’re taking me to the wrong place!”
He shook his head. “We have crossed over Spanish border. No war here.”
“Sorry.” She was chastened but relieved. Fascist Spain sympathized with Germany but was technically neutral. Where there was no fear of bombing, there were no blackout restrictions.
“You have father?” Drago asked her suddenly.
“Why should you need to know?” Grace demanded.
He shrugged. “I am father. My daughter, I hope, will never go on purpose to a place of battle.”
“Well, my father is out of the picture,” Grace said bitterly, “so I can’t know his opinion on this or anything else.”
“He is dead?”
Grace shook her head. “Just — gone. He left us.” As much as she resented James Cahill for that, she would have given anything to see his face right then. Mother, too — her fair features, pale skin, and auburn hair. The gentle way she spoke your name, even when she was angry. The kindness that radiated from her …
No, don’t think about that! Father might come back, but Mother never will….
“I, too, did this thing. Left my family.” Drago’s gravelly voice betrayed no emotion. “I hope one day my daughter will understand.”
“What’s to understand about your own father deserting you?”
“Some things you must do,” he informed her. “To make money. To survive. If this was not true, I would not be taking you to Casablanca.”
In the reflected light of the instrument panel, Grace peered at her pilot. Every wrinkle and pockmark, she imagined, had probably been etched by some cruel happenstance or experience.
Life is hard for everybody, not just the Cahills….
Drago’s voice interrupted her reverie. “In one hour we stop to refuel. If there is fuel.”
“If?” she echoed in alarm. “You mean there might not be?”
“Wartime,” he said grimly. “Even neutral countries have rationing.”
“But what if we can’t take off again?”
He shrugged. “General Franco’s men are not known for their trust. I will be arrested as spy. Your youth might save you. Maybe.”
Valencia appeared in the distance, glittering against the dark coastline. There was an otherworldly quality to being suspended in midair, in the cold and gloom of Olga‘s cabin, passing over Europe’s storied cities. Despite the tension of the moment, Grace felt strangely free. It was almost as if the crippling fact of her mother’s death, her father’s disappearance, even the responsibility of caring for Fiske couldn’t find her up here.
Drago veered inland, skirting the city to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Half an hour later, a double row of lights appeared amid the inky fields.
“Is that it?” Grace asked anxiously. For the past ten minutes, she had been watching the dropping fuel gauge. Pretty soon they were going to have to land, whether it was in the right place or not.
Drago nodded. “I told you. Olga knows the way.”
Whether credit was due to Olga‘s knowledge or Drago’s skill, they were soon down on a concrete runway, taxiing toward a stack of fuel drums.
Drago pulled the biplane to a halt and killed the motor. When the propeller sputtered to a stop, Grace realized how much Olga‘s vibration had become a part of her. It had been four hours since they’d left Monaco. Her guts were shaken; her lungs were full of gas fumes. And here they were — nowhere.
Drago popped the canopy and heaved his bulk out of the cockpit. “I will refuel.” He pointed to a small shack. “In there you will find toilet.”
Grace glared at him. “If you think I’m going to give you the chance to fly away and strand me, you’re crazy.”
He shrugged. “It is long way to Casablanca.”
“I’m fine, thank you very much.”
“As you wish.” He jumped to the tarmac.
A few minutes later, she heard the clanging of the metal drums and the gurgling of liquid filling the biplane’s tank.
She tried to stretch out her stiff legs, but in the cramped cockpit, there simply wasn’t room. She forced herself to ignore the discomfort. This was, after all, the easy part. They were about to fly into a war in search of an invading general. She should appreciate this calm while it lasted.
And then something cold and hard prodded her arm. She looked down at the barrel of a machine gun.
A black-clad Spanish officer stood on the bottom rung of the boarding ladder. “Your papers, señorita!”
Frightened, Grace fumbled in her coat pocket and came up with her passport.
The Spaniard’s eyebrows rose. “American. You will come with me.”
“Why?” she demanded in outrage, summoning an imperious dignity she did not feel. “You have no right to arrest me. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Your country is at war, and therefore so are you. You are to be detained for questioning by the government of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. You will step out of the aircraft.”
“I — can’t.” How could she ever explain it to a man with a machine gun — that if she left the plane, Drago might fly off and abandon her?
Speaking of Drago, where was he? The refueling sound had ceased. Was the tank full and the pilot in hiding, waiting for the officer to drag her away?
The gun nudged her again. “Out of the plane, señorita. Ahora!”
Grabbing the briefcase, she climbed down and submitted to being marched across the tarmac toward a small hut marked POLICíA.
Grace’s mind was awhirl. Could she bribe the man? What if he thought she was some kind of spy? If she got sent to a prison camp, no one would ever find out what had become of her! Even if they interrogated her and let her go, she’d be marooned in the middle of Spain.
Either way, she would never make it to Casablanca.
There was a loud thud, followed by the clatter of the machine gun falling to the tarmac. A split second later, the Spanish officer hit the ground beside his weapon.
Grace wheeled. There stood her pilot, brandishing a large wrench.
He took her hand and began to rush her back to the plane. “Hurry! He may be light sleeper!”
Weak with relief, Grace allowed herself to be stuffed back into the cockpit. Minutes later, they were in the air once again, crossing the Spanish mainland.
Grace gaped at her strange, shaggy pilot. “You could have left me! You could have flown away!”
Drago indicated the briefcase, which was once again in her lap. “Where my money goes, I follow.”
“You already have ten thousand dollars,” Grace reminded him. “In Monaco you said you weren’t greedy.”
He refused to look at her. “Do I resemble smart man to you?”
“You resemble a wonderful man!” she breathed.
“Bah!” he scoffed. “Where we journey is no place for sentiment.”
“I’ll pay you more money,” she promised.
He nodded. “I deserve it.”