Joel N. Ross White Flag Down

ISBN 13: 9781400133802

White Flag Down

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9781400133802: White Flag Down
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September 1942

Without Swiss help, the Reichsbank will fail within six months.

An American airman is shot down over neutral Switzerland, with knowledge crucial to the Allied war effort.

A Russian major escapes the hell that is the Siege of Stalingrad, ordered to Bern to facilitate a Nazi-Soviet truce.

A Swiss journalist seeks evidence of her country's economic support of Nazi Germany, but ruthless men are determined to stop her.

All three will form an unlikely alliance that could alter the outcome of the negotiations between Germany and Russia.

In this rich, complex novel, based on newly declassified documents, Joel Ross takes you on a breathtaking chase through World War II Europe, where everyone's motives are suspect-and nobody is neutral.

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About the Author:

Joel N. Ross studied history at Hampshire College and taught English abroad for a short time before writing Double Cross Blind, his first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

LATE SEPTEMBER 1942

Despite the chill of the brisk English morning, heat prickled Lieutenant Grant's neck and a trickle of sweat ran down his spine. He shrugged off the discomfort: in thirty minutes, flying photo recon over Nazi–occupied France, he’d be grateful for the warmth of his Irvin flight jacket and trousers.

He stepped from the mission briefing with his navigator, Sergeant “Racket” McNeil, who whistled in disbelief. “This one’s a doozy, Lieut.”

“Easy enough,” Grant said, heading across the airfield.

“I dunno—any closer to Germany, we’d smell the sauerkraut.”

“They want recon, we’ll give ’em recon.”

Racket was a rangy kid with an easy grin, but this smile looked forced. “And be back by dinner.”

At the dispersal pen, Grant pulled himself through the nose hatch into the cockpit of the Mosquito, settled into the pilot’s seat, and saw the camera in Racket's hand. “Bringing your handheld?”

“For souvenirs,” Racket said. “Something to show my grandkids.”

“At the rate you’re going, you already have some.”

“The English girls like me, what can I say?” They were stationed near an Oxfordshire village—half–timber houses and a high street pub that sold warm bitter beer—and Racket had wasted no time meeting the local fauna. “But if what I hear about Frenchwomen is true...brother, you can drop me over Paris.”

Grant laughed and completed his preflight checks, then twirled a finger at the RAF flight sergeant, who gave the thumbs–up. Grant hit the starter button and the propeller revolved lazily before catching with a puff of smoke and a bark from the exhausts. As the port engine settled into the rough idle of a cold Merlin, he started the starboard motor, watching the temps rise to ground levels. He ran through his after–start check, turned from the dispersal pen, and rolled to the eastern end of the runway.

“Clear blue skies,” Racket said.

Grant examined the heavy gray clouds. “Should’ve requested a navigator with eyes.”

“Who needs eyes? You’ve got Pinpoint McNeil.”

“The met officer says it’s clear over France.” Grant swung the Mossie into line and trimmed the rudder. “Hope he’s not as drunk as you.”

He flicked the magneto switches, advanced the throttles, and the Mossie rolled down the runway, heavy with fuel. The western hedge rushed toward them, and a light tug on the stick pulled the undercarriage from the ground and into the sky.

Racket told Grant about his new girl and her mother, like some radio drama, then there was nothing but engine noise and clouds, and heat seeping into the cabin from the radiators. When Grant had arrived in England, sent by the Eighth U.S. Air Force to fly photo–reconnaissance flights with the RAF, he’d laughed at the British. The photo–reconnaissance unit flew PR.I and PR.IV versions of the Mosquito—wooden aircraft, plywood and balsa and glue. Then he’d flown one, and stopped laughing: wood or not, Mossies could fly.

Racket broke the silence. “You know why they sent us spitting distance from Germany, Lieut?”

“For photo recon?”

“On account of General Eaker’s new intruder force—using bad weather as a cloak for blind–bombing operations. I figure we’re prepping for them."

“Where do you hear this shit?”

Racket fiddled with the nav system. “I also heard you saw combat in China, flying with some civilian outfit.”

“Yeah. CNAC.”

“What’s that?”

“Chinese National Aviation Corporation.”

“You flew into war zones—why didn’t you join a fighter group?”

Because he’d lost his edge in Nanking, in 1937. “I fly what they tell me.”

“Speak fluent German, too, don’t you?”"

“What’s that got to do with anything? Check we’re on course to find the IP, Racket.”

Because they were beyond GEE range, pinpointing the initial point for the photo–recon run took all of Racket's attention. He managed, though, then edged into the glazed nose of the Mosquito to trigger the cameras and said, “Looks like the met officer was drunk after all.”

The world below was a featureless white, cloudy as a cataract. “We'll take another run,” Grant said. “Under the clouds.”

They took two more—then a Focke Wulf 190 dropped from nowhere, running at them from the front.

Racket swore. “The hell did he come from?”

Grant flew into the attack, turned the nose down, and opened the throttle.

“Another Focker,” Racket said tightly. “Behind and—”

“I see”

“Watch the—” Machine–gun fire pocked the side of the Mossie, the noise drowned by the explosion of 20 millimeter cannon shells. “Damnit!

Grant screamed downhill, into a bank of clouds. “Racket?”

“Starboard side’s smoking.”

“Where are they?”

“Can’t see beans—”A short intake of breath. “We’re leaking glycol, Lieut.”

Grant checked his instrument panel.“Starboard's in the red. Temp’s rising, and we’re losing fuel. We’re not getting back to England, find us a—”

One of the Fockers broke cover a hundred yards away. “Shit.”

Grant cut the starboard engine and boosted the port, torquing the Mossie into a thick gray mass, holding his breath and staying inside the cloud. “Gimme a hint, Racket, we’re almost outta time—”

“Head southeast.”

“Germany's east.”

Southeast. Switzerland.”

The fuel gauge edged lower and the starboard temp rose—they wouldn’t be back by dinner. The cloud cover finally thinned, the needle touched red, and Grant said, “I want you ready to bail, Racket.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Because after the navigator bailed and the pilot released the stick to follow, the damaged Mossie could spin and trap him inside. “That’s an order, Sergeant.”

“Climb back here then, and we’ll arm wrestle for—” Racket’s voice turned tight. “There! Another Focker, at ten thirty.”

“Where? I don’t—” Grant saw the bogie and felt his heart catch. “That’s not a Focker, too damn fast.”

“That’s a—” Racket raised his handheld camera. “What is that?”

“I never saw anything like it. Nobody has.”

“Look at her go—” A constant click–whir, Racket snapping photo after photo. “There’s nothing keeping her in the air."

“There’s nothing keeping us in the air, Racket.”

“She’s got no propellers, how the hell is she flying?” Click–whir, click–whir. “She saw us, she’s veering off.”

“And radioing for help.”

“Swastika on the fuselage, she’s German and too fast to—damn. Gone already.”

“You got pictures?”

“Sure, but what was that?”

“Some kind of prototype.” Grant swung them into the clouds. “With a fighter patrol for cover. Are we in Switzerland?”

“A prototype? That thing is Flash Gordon, we gotta tell ’em back home, show ’em the pictures.”

“First we have to get home. We in Switzerland yet?”

“Maybe. Yeah. Almost.”

“Check your maps, find a—” Grant cocked his head. “Do you hear that?”

“What?”

“The engine.” A high hollow whine, a bad omen. Too low to bail out, and he couldn’t get any altitude. “We’re gonna land soon and we’re gonna land rough.”

And the next time they broke the clouds, they were flying into a mountain.

Grant corkscrewed blindly, and instead of exploding against rock, they were trapped in a craggy snow–dusted valley, the mountainsides blurring past. No way out, rats in a maze, and the only direction they were headed was down, the port engine roaring and starboard coughing—

“Lieut!” Racket shouted. “There! There!”

The alpine meadow shimmered into sight like an oasis in the desert, but this was no mirage. His face slick with sweat, Grant relaxed his shoulders and exhaled, his hand gentle on the stick. The valley walls squeezed the Mossie, the meadow grew larger, and a stillness rose inside the speed and the noise. He felt nothing but the slow beat of his heart, heard nothing but his own breathing—yet saw every outcropping of rock, every windswept tree, every pretty shrub that could send them cartwheeling.

Speed steady at 210 knots, lower, steady, lower—

And the starboard engine seized in a deafening clatter.

Grant fought to keep the nose up, slamming the throttles shut as the port propeller shattered on impact and the Plexiglas nose broke and turned the Mossie into a giant shovel, scooping rocky earth into the cockpit.
Black smoke coiled under the gray sky.

Grant’s ears rang and his mouth was full of blood; he sat stunned and staring. Then he heard the sizzle of fuel dripping onto hot exhausts, saw the smoke rising from the sha...

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