HELEN’S nerves were twanging like violin strings in the doorway of the “Tribune”.
“Wait for me there,” Andrew had told her, having gone down to London to see his bosses in MI5, and decide on the way forward. A newspaper never sleeps and although it was long past normal business hours, journalists were still dotting out and in to their office, glancing curiously at her. Reporters aren’t paid to stand and wait.
“Give me at least a clue,” Jake had pleaded.
“Can’t,” she told him. “National security could be involved.”
“All the more reason!”
“And have you tell our readers, and steal my scoop?” she demanded.
“Do I look like someone who would do that?” he protested huffily.
“Yes,” she replied.
Jake had laughed outright.
“This had better be good. Or you’re fired.”
It was already 20 minutes after Andrew had told her he would be there or the clock above the office door was 20 minutes fast. That trick was tried each New Year, until the grim-faced Jyler climbed up his ladder to set the hands back to the proper time on January the second. Controlling reporters was a bit like herding cats. Only harder.
She was conscious of the growl of a powerful engine and a new Alvis two-seater sports car came sliding to a stop in front of her. Andrew waved her in.
“Traffic,” he said. “It’s as busy as London out on the edge of town.”
The car took off at a speed which pinned her to her seat.
Helen grabbed at and barely rescued her hat, and tucked it behind her legs.
“Is this your car?” she asked.
“A friend’s,” Andrew said, nipping round a couple of trundling tramcars.
Once out of the town centre, he settled down to driving as hard as the traffic would let him. The little sports car was flying by the time they were heading down the late evening Clyde estuary.
“Where are we going?” Helen asked breathlessly.
Andrew glanced over.
“Sorry,” he said. “A private flying club. My pal’s the president and he has opened it up for us.”
“Opened up, for us?” Helen demanded. “But it’s growing dark.”
Andrew drove a fast flattened arc round a bend in the road.
“Exactly. Your pilot chap and his dour Russian buddy switched over to Dumbarton this morning. It’s a nice, still night. If things follow their normal pattern, we are going to see these lightning flashes again somewhere over the Clyde.”
“But the dockyards are miles behind
us . . . and Dumbarton is on the other side of the estuary.”
“I know,” he said. “Almost there. Just this side of Langbank. Here we are.”
The sports car swung into a private drive up through a band of trees and out into what was little more than a couple of open fields, where tethered biplanes were neatly lined up beyond some hangars. One small dark biplane was sitting in front of the hangars, an overall-clad figure closing down its engine cowl. Andrew drew up sharply alongside this.
“Everything check out, Bertie?” he asked.
“Tickety-boo. I topped up the oil, as well as putting in fuel for you.”
“Send us the bill,” Andrew said.
“Don’t worry, I will.” The oil-smeared face smiled. “And this is . . .?”
“Helen. She’s spoken for, so take that oily smirk off your face.”
Helen felt her cheek kissed lightly, then Bertie brushed it with his hand.
“Sorry,” he said. “Made it worse. Oil is a way of life, with planes. Are your plans still the same, Andy?”
“Absolutely. We’ll wait here until it’s almost dark, at midnight, then take off and stooge around for a bit. Stay around four thousand feet, because he’ll be flying at two thousand feet or a little below. We’ll try to pick him up, then follow him in.”
“We?” Helen asked indignantly. “As in you and Bertie?”
“As in you and me.”
“But I thought Bertie was flying us!”
“His flying is even worse than his golf. Trust me, my hands are safer.”
“I thought you were Army, not RFC.”
“Army and private licence. In my work, we need a wide range of skills.”
Not for the first time, Helen thought that what she didn’t know about Andrew’s work would fill a collection of encyclopaedias, while what she did know would barely write the preface. Part Army, part police, in the strange grey world of the MI5.
“Is there any chance of a cup of tea?” she asked plaintively.