Ship of Force
sixpounder, waved a hand at the torpedo-gunner and his party who were securing the depth-charges in the stern, and then dropped down the hatch, sliding down the ladder to the wardroom flat. He stood again at the foot of the ladder in the narrow empty space between the captain’s cabin and the wardroom, slumped there for a minute with his folded arms on the ladder, eyes closed. But he could still see the gun flashes and the burning drifter, could still hear the crackling and smell the smoke of her that mixed with the cordite’s tang. He could see again the twelvepounder recoiling, the holes punched in the skin of the U-boat and how she had gone down with most of her crew trapped inside her. He could imagine that, the sea falling in and filling the compartments.
    He stood with his eyes closed until he heard harsh shouting in the wardroom, the German captain’s raving that Smith could not understand. He thrust away from the ladder and pushed through the curtain.
    The wardroom was fifteen feet wide and twelve feet long. The couches down each side made beds for four. There were five of the drifter’s crew, the airman, and the two Germans. Four of
crew sat on the deck but the fifth, the one with the broken leg, and the two Germans and the airman, lay on beds. Brodie and the cook were at work on the man with the broken leg, Sanders crouched by the gasping, raving U-boat commander and a sentry armed with a Lee-Enfield rifle stood with his back to the bulkhead. The deadlights were tight-closed over the scuttles so what little light there was wouldn’t escape. The depth charges’ kick or the guns’ firing had put the circuits out of action and only a dim emergency lighting functioned. The atmosphere was thick with the smell of sweat and oil, smoke and salt, vomit and antiseptic. Smith gagged as he picked his way across the crowded deck to the airman who was wrapped in blankets and sitting up now with his legs stretched out. He was roundfaced, pale. He, or someone, had rubbed at his wet-black hair with a towel so it stuck up in spikes. Smith thought he was probably twenty. He looked about fifteen.
    “I am Commander Smith. How are you?” He sat on the edge of the couch.
    The young man shoved himself up so he sat straighter. “Lieutenant Morris, sir. Royal Naval Air Service. An’ I’m not too bad, sir, thank you. Starting to warm up a bit. Your Steward chappie gave me some cocoa. Said he’d put ‘a dram o’ the skipper’s malt in it’.”
    Smith smiled faintly. The boy was a good mimic. That was Brodie to the life.
    Morris said innocently, “Can’t tell in this cocoa but I suppose that would be Scotch.” He peered into the mug he clasped in both hands, and sniffed.
    Smith said, “I think it would.” In this ship it certainly would. He asked, “What happened?”
    Morris glanced across the wardroom as the German officer bellowed with an edge of panic and clawed up in the bunk with Sanders holding on to him. He subsided into muttering, let Sanders push him gently down.
    The man with the broken leg yelped and swore and Brodie said, “A’ right! Ye’ll dae fine! Easy now!”
    Morris looked back at Smith. “Happened? Oh —” He hesitated, looking into the mug again, then asked, “No sign of Bill — my observer, sir?”
    “No. I’m sorry.”
    Morris nodded. Briefly he looked a very old fifteen. He blinked up at Smith, his gaze empty. “Never saw him after we hit. I paddled around for a long time and shouted, but it was very dark. I never saw him.”
    Smith saw his mouth twitch. This wouldn’t do. If the boy broke down before the others he would be ashamed of himself afterwards. Though he should not. Smith knew something of that. He asked quickly, “What were you doing?”
    The boy blinked again but this time focusing on Smith, trying to think, remembering…“Fairly routine, run-of-the-mill stuff. Reconnaissance over Ostende and the coast north of it. Only thing is, we’ve been getting a bit of a

Similar Books

Perfect Timing

Laura Spinella

DeVante's Coven

SM Johnson

Desperation and Decision

Sophronia Belle Lyon

Beyond the Hell Cliffs

Case C. Capehart

Lights Out

Ruthie Robinson