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The sight of Victor fighting to unhitch the heavy tow-cable brought him round. Mechanic-
ally he shoved himself upright, the pain he had forgotten boiling up from his legs and broken
ribs. Two of the ASaC crew, soaked and shivering in their flight suits, were reaching out, the
others moving automatically to balance the raft s far side. Tom went to join Vic, and between
them they rolled out enough of the wire that the survivors could grab it, locking it tight to the
RIB s rail. There was more to be done. Tom took it on himself, a last buffer between now and
the moment when he would have to speak, to ask. Hitching the two boats together on one
wire would soon damage both as the waves slammed them together, and he struggled
against the Shellshock s pitch to secure the stern too, lashing both craft to one movement on
the swell.
 Tom Penrose? Is that you?
He jerked his head up. A third ASaC man had made his way to the back of the raft and
was helping him, pulling the tow through his numb hands. Tom s cognitive process came
slowly, but at last he recognised him Charlie Mitchell, who regularly brought one or another
of his increasing brood of kids to the surgery. He opened his mouth to answer him, but the
cold seemed to have entered his throat and lungs, and he could only nod.  What are you do-
ing out here, Doc? Is that Vic Travers? God& What s happened to the RNLI lads?
Tom tried to put the question together with his reason for asking it, but Victor came to his
rescue.  We re not the lifeboat, mate. A poor substitute, but at least we ve got you. Or most of
you, anyway. Where s& 
 Flynn, Tom broke in, finding his voice at last. He could not let Vic ask it.  Flynn Sum-
mers. Is he ?
 They re gone. Him and Rob Tremaine. Dunno what the hell s been going on all night.
We& Christ almighty!
Tom reached to grab him. He held him fast as a huge wave smashed across both boats. It
swamped the smaller life raft, knocking one of the surviving crewmen casually overboard.
Tom waited till the water s fury was spent, and he had seen the others begin to haul their
comrade back to safety, then he rasped,  Victor, help me get them on board here. Quick.
The transfer took less than a minute. Tom saw blood, black in the Shellshock s lights, and
knelt instinctively beside the rescued crewman, beginning to examine his head wound. He
was on autopilot. Behind him he could hear Charlie Mitchell continuing his story, in a shout
over the wind, but he could not care.  We don t even know what Flynn was doing flying her.
He hasn t logged a flight hour in two years. But our skipper Tremaine said there was
nobody else. And he flew like a fucking angel, give him that. Got us out here so fast& 
 You were after the gun runners? That was Victor, pulling poor shocked Mitchell back on
track. Still Tom could not listen. He had nothing to treat this head wound with, but digging in
one pocket, found a handkerchief clean, of course, and scrupulously folded and shook it
 No such thing as covert ops in bloody Cornwall, is there? Briggs laughed unsteadily.
 Yeah. Massive shipment. We were right above the coordinates, and suddenly Flynn tells us
to bail. That he s dropping the raft for us, and not to ask questions. I tried to see through into
the cockpit, and& it was chaos. Rob Tremaine was out of his seat. I thought he had a gun in
his hand, for God s sake. I shouted through to him, to try to check the bail-out order, but it was
like he didn t hear. So I& I took my men, like Flynn had told me, and we bailed. I was last out.
Christ. Last second before we jumped, I think I heard a shot.
Tom turned around. He said to his patient,  Hold that in place until it stops bleeding. He
lurched to his feet and turned to face Mitchell. A shot. His world was darkening, closing to a
tight black tunnel around Briggs s last word.  Charlie. What happened to the helicopter?
 She went down. I didn t see too busy swimming for the boat but Jim said she didn t
just drop. Flynn can t have bailed. Someone took her into the water like a real pro.
 She didn t crash?
 No. But there s no way she could ve stayed afloat. And even if Flynn and Rob got out 
Screw Rob. Tom was grateful for the seizure in his throat that kept that thought silent from
Tremaine s ASaC crew. He swung round to find Victor who was one step ahead of him,
already beginning to unlash the RIB from the lifeboat.  You lads keep this, Victor yelled over
his shoulder.  We ll take the raft. Start making for shore before the storm gets any worse. You
can radio for help, but it s gonna be a while getting to you.
 What? Mitchell took a step towards Victor, but Tom intercepted him, putting him quietly
out of his path to the other cable.  We re not leaving you.
 We ll be okay. She s manoeuvrable, and she s got a good outboard. This one s more
likely to stay afloat with the six of you aboard. Victor put out a hand, and Tom grabbed it,
making what he knew was a poor leap for the raft and landing awkwardly, dragging himself
immediately upright.  Get home! Vic shouted, casting off.  Tell Hawke Lake we re looking for
your pilots. Go on!
The RIB was matchwood on the swell, more fragile even than the lifeboat, but Tom was
almost past feeling her lurches and leaps. He was almost past feeling. He knew that Victor
was making the best of a bad job at the rudder, revving stolidly from crest to crest. He knew
that they were systematically quartering the area in which the chopper must have gone down.
He was clinging to the life raft s searchlight rack, directing its solitary beam into the night with
numb hands. Beyond the borders of these thoughts, there was nothing. Flynn, his mind said
to him sporadically, each time bringing a flash of memory. A presence at his bedside in the
hospital. Hitting the turf by the Lanyon road, the air leaving his lungs at the impact of another
body on his. Of flesh that would immolate itself to shield him.
Flynn, in the rain, holding him out of the wreckage as his petrol tank caught fire.  Flynn,
he said aloud, unable to tell if the bitter salt taste in his mouth was seawater or tears. Once
more, like a prayer, swiping his eyes clear with his sleeve.  Flynn& 
Another flash this one in the world with him, here and now. Orange on indigo black one
glimpse, in a trough between two heaving waves. For a nightmare second Tom could not get [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]