HIGH in the dark sky, where the street lights down below were little more than spider web patterns of pinpricks, there was not an ounce of fear. Yes, she had been terrified when they rushed along the ground between sparse lines of oil lamps to take off. Yet, hanging in the sky with the rush of wind and noise about her, she felt completely and utterly safe. But cold.
In the smaller and nimbler Bristol fighter MI5 had given Andrew for the job, he could reach forward from the pilot’s cockpit and tap her shoulder. She looked back, strands of hair escaping from the helmet and streaming across her face. He was simply a darker shade against a deep grey sky it is never completely dark in summer in Scotland and she saw his silhouetted arm and hand point down.
Helen looked over the cockpit edge. Nothing. Then a shadow covered some street lights below them, and as their own plane turned, she saw it clearly against the dull silver of the river. No lights, just as they had no flying lights. Stealth and secrecy were the name of the game for both of them, the stalker and the stalked.
Once she had spotted the Sopwith, it was easier to trace its path up the River Clyde. Andrew held their own plane well above the other, banking and zig-zagging behind to stay out of sight. Reynolds’s plane seemed to be flying unbelievably slowly across the ground. Helen remembered him telling her that with its wide wingspan and big engine throttled back, it could travel far slower than any other reconnaissance plane, ideal for taking photographs. And staying quiet.
The lights to the west could be Paisley: the lights ahead were certainly Glasgow, and they would soon be hitting the western edges of the city. Down below, the dull silver gleam of the river led directly towards these lights. Unbelievably narrow, when you thought of all the great ships which were launched here, from Port Glasgow right up through Clydebank into the city’s heart.
Black wind rushed past, her face already numb. By now she was used to the gentle banking and side-slipping that Andrew made as he kept crossing back and forward behind the other plane. He flew the Bristol far more gently than he’d driven his friend’s sports car. She suspected that Andrew was pretty good at anything he set his mind to do, and felt as safe as if Bob Reynolds was piloting her. That brought a pang of regret. She had liked the man, and couldn’t understand why he was up to something as underhand as this.
The proof came when, below and in front of them, the sky suddenly grew vividly white with reflected light. Silhouetted clearly against it was Reynolds’s plane. Beyond the dazzle of the flare, she could see mile after mile of shipyards.
Then against that white, she saw someone lean far out of the front cockpit of the Sopwith, holding something bulky to his face. The camera. For several minutes, until the flare burned out, that figure was clearly snapping away, taking a series of photographs which would cover both sides of the River Clyde. Mapping out the yards which had built the ships that had kept Britain alive and fighting in the war.
“Oh, Bob,” she whispered against the rush of wind. “How could you?”