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On His Majesty's Secret Service (16)
Bond and Susan huddled under a tarp they hastily pulled over themselves in the weapons compartment of the plane. A second after they had hidden themselves, they heard footsteps and muffled conversation. The voices didn’t sound like they were speaking English or German. Bond suspected he was hearing Slovak, but he couldn’t be certain.

The airplane engines revved up, fell back off again, and then settled in to a moderate drone. Rattles and thumps shook the plane – signs that it was being prepped for takeoff. “We’ve got to get out now,” Susan said urgently.

“Why?” asked Bond. “You’d like to have this plane. I’d like to know where it’s going.” Susan reluctantly subsided.

Somebody secured the hatch with a metallic scrape, and then the plane lurched into motion. It taxied briefly and then took off. Bond peeked out from the tarp and saw nobody. He quietly crept to the door to the adjoining compartment and looked into the cabin. He saw two pilots; they were concentrating on flying the plane while consulting a folded chart. Bond returned to Susan and pulled the tarp over their heads again.

“Give it twenty minutes,” he advised. “Once we’re well underway, we’ll jump the pilots and make them tell us where we’re going. Then we can divert to wherever you like.”

“Okay,” said Susan. She leaned into Bond as they huddled under the tarp. Bond was suddenly very aware of her female-ness. Not her femininity; Bond wasn’t sure he had ever met a less feminine woman in his life. Or rather, feminine as he had always defined it. Nevertheless, Susan B. Anthony was all woman. Bond found himself confused on the subject of females, an area in which previously he had felt himself on very firm ground.

Bond’s ears popped, and the ambient noise in the compartment doubled. Bond and Susan looked at each other and frowned. They pulled the tarp off, and Bond pulled his revolver out as they tiptoed to the cabin.

The cabin was empty and the door to the outside was open. The pilot’s stick jogged about as the plane cruised on its own. The wind was ferocious. Bond gripped the frame of the door, leaned out, and coolly closed the hatch. Susan jumped into the pilot’s seat and took the controls.

“They just bailed out for no reason!” shouted Susan.

Ahead and to the left, a blossom of fire and smoke appeared, hovering in the late afternoon sky. Bond had seen it before; it was anti-aircraft fire.

“I wouldn’t say *no* reason,” he said.

“Lend me your binoculars,” said Bond. “I need to test a theory.”

“A fine time for that,” groused Susan, handing her glasses over her shoulder. “I’d say they have our range now.” The tracer fire was streaking quite close to the plane by now.

Bond returned to the machine guns and opened the latch that dropped one of the concealed doors open. He studied the ground carefully with the glasses. Then he stuck his head through the door of the cabin.

“Several things of interest,” he said.

“Shoot,” said Susan.

“One, our brave pilots’ parachutes didn’t open. They landed badly. This is consistent with Herr Zoeller’s hiring and firing practices.”

“I suppose these are useless then,” said Susan, jerking a thumb at the two remaining parachutes racked along the bulkhead.

“Most likely,” said Bond. “Two, we’re being fired upon by only one battery; all the flashes are coming from up ahead and a few points north. I recommend you drop as low as possible and proceed in that direction.”

“Why don’t we just head south?” Susan asked. “I’d like my plane in one piece!”

“Because I think we’ll discover something important if we can get close to that battery,” said Bond.

“Yeah?” sneered Susan. “Like what?”

“Like who’s trying to start World War Three,” said Bond.

Susan rolled her eyes, but she sticked down and took the C-47 low. The anti-aircraft fire shook the plane from above, and then not at all, as the plane skimmed above the trees. Bond opened the chambers on the machine guns and satisfied himself that they were in working order. Of course they were; that part of the charade would have to be utterly legitimate. He dropped both machine guns down through the doors.

Susan angled the plane over and headed for a ditch that ran alongside a road. On the far side of the ditch was a gun emplacement, buttressed with a sandbag wall. “There’s the Soviets,” Susan called.

“Those aren’t Soviets,” said Bond. He looked over Susan’s shoulder with the glasses. Somebody was abandoning his post, jumping into a UAZ and throwing up dust as he tore onto the road. Bond couldn’t be sure at this range, but with his bald head, he looked a lot like Doctor Stemmer.

Bond ran back to the hidden machine guns, lay on his belly to sight them on the anti-aircraft gun, and opened fire. The sandbags tattered and disappeared, and then the ammunition exploded.

“Come back around,” Bond ordered.

“What the hell are we doing?” asked Susan.

“Stemmer has infiltrated this Soviet gun emplacement,” said Bond. “This plane’s pilots were given orders to deviate from the flight path and fly over this position. Stemmer’s people were going to shoot it down. The wreckage would reveal that this plane had armaments that cargo planes shouldn’t have. The Americans would scream that the Soviets shot down a cargo plane. The Soviets would scream back that the Americans are just using the airlift as a cover for military operations. Given the current tensions, it’s a reasonable bet that war would break out.”

“Why?” asked Susan.

“Because a substantial amount of gold and art was supposed to disappear from Berlin today,” said Bond. “What better way to erase your trail than to have war break out? Especially since the plane that Zoeller boarded has the same serial number as this one. Come around!”

Susan heeled over at a steep angle. The Soviet UAZ was racing down the road at a high rate of speed; Susan came up behind it. Bond returned to the guns and laid down a line of walking fire that crept up on the jeep-analog. The car swerved off the road just as the bullets caught up, and it exploded as it plowed into the ditch. Bond peered through the hole in the bottom of the plane with the binoculars.

“Did you kill him?” Susan called.

“Not sure,” Bond said. “Regardless, we need to clear out of here quickly, because I’m sure actual Soviets will be scrambling their planes at this point. In fact, war just might break out anyway. We need to get back onto the airlift cordon and act innocent or we’ll be shot down. How’s our fuel?”

“Full tank,” said Susan.

“That makes sense,” Bond said. “They’d want the plane to burn hot when hit. Wouldn’t want too much evidence to survive. Good, let’s see if we can figure out where to go now.” He tucked the guns away, closed their doors, and returned to the cabin to rummage for a map.

“That’s easy,” said Susan. “We’ll land in Hamburg. I’ve got my plane; our business is done.”

“Susan,” said Bond earnestly, “I need your help for a little longer.”

“Oh, no,” protested Susan, shaking her head.

“Zoeller’s a madman,” pressed Bond. “He was willing to start a war. Who knows what else he’s up to? We have a chance to catch up to him now. All I’m asking for is a ride. Drop me off at Zoeller’s rendezvous point, and then you can go wherever you want.”

“You have no idea where Zoeller’s going,” objected Susan.

“Not true,” Bond replied. He found a map and pored over it.

“In the hothouse,” Bond mused, “Zoeller mentioned a place. Schwangau, he said. And he told Stemmer something about a castle.” Bond ran his finger over the map, then tapped it.

“There it is,” he said. “Can we reach the southwestern corner of Bavaria with our fuel?”

“Probably,” said Susan. “Where are we going, exactly?”

“It’s called Neuschwanstein,” said Bond.