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The Last Mission

by Martin Roy Hill

About the Author: Martin Roy Hill is a former newspaper and magazine journalist, now working as a novelist and freelance editor. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, ALT HIST: The Journal of Historical Fiction and Alternative History, Nebula Rift, Crimson Streets, Mystery Weekly, and others. He is the author of eight books, including the national and international award-winning thriller, The Butcher’s Bill.


“You think much about the war, Bob?” I asked.

We were flying at about 12,000 feet, carrying a cargo of farm equipment from San Diego to a rural airfield in Montana. Bob Nelson was a few years older than me, with gray-flecked black hair and Clark Gable good looks, right down to the Boston Blackie moustache. I envied him his looks, which were the opposite of my plain face and thinning, sandy hair. We both flew heavy bombers during the war. He piloted a B-24 and I co-piloted a B-17. Both aircraft were large, four-engine, long-range strategic bombers, and we both flew missions against many of the same targets in the fatherland of the Third Reich. The war had been over four years, and now we were flying a war-surplus C-47 filled with agricultural implements instead of bombs.

“Only in my nightmares,” Bob answered flatly. “You?”

“Try not to,” I said. “Sometimes it’s hard not to.”

Bob nodded but said nothing. His eyes scanned the instruments and he frowned, reached out, and tapped the glass face of each fuel gauge.

“Problem?” I asked.

Bob grunted. “We’re using fuel faster than I expected with this load.”

Weight played a key role in how fast an aircraft consumed fuel. Even a few extra pounds could throw off how much your ship would burn per hour. We were flying heavy, and we left the flight engineer behind to save weight and fuel. I checked my own calculations. They confirmed we were burning fuel faster than we should. 

“Head wind?” I said.

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