Flight of the Tiger by John D. MacDonald
Flight of the Tiger – Ben Morrow went to visit Helen MacLane, widow of his best friend, only to find that she was on the run from killers…. Ben tried to find Helen but he was being stalked by the killers, and they knew he would lead them straight to her.
After Ben Morrow was shot down in the last week of Korean fighting, his self-confidence was shaken; he felt he could never fly again. Months later, after recovering in the hospital, Ben was sent back to the States on a thirty-day leave. He went to visit Helen MacLane, widow of his best friend, only to find that she was on the run from killers…. Ben tried to find Helen but he was being stalked by the killers, and they knew he would lead them straight to her.
Part 1 – Ben Morrow had come a long way to see this model, this Helen MacLane. Now she’d vanished and Ben was caught between the cops and a mob of tough gangsters in a red-hot woman hunt
Part 2 – Ben had located some people who might know where Helen MacLane was hiding, but if he went to them he might lead the killers straight to her. It was a chance he had to take
Part 3 – Ben had found Helen MacLane’s hide-out, but the men who wanted to kill her had followed him. Now he and Helen had to run—run for their lives
Flight of the Tiger by John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) was serialized in Collier’s Magazine in 1954 and is published as one book here for the first time.
Flight of the Tiger has 10 illustrations.
Excerpt: Flight of the Tiger
BEN MORROW knew that when his thirty-day leave was up, he was not going to report to his new station. In a kind of daydream he had tried unsuccessfully to visualize himself reporting, checking in with the adjutant, getting a BOQ assignment, walking out on the line and looking at the shining and deadly plane they would want him to fly. He couldn’t imagine any of that, but neither could he visualize not reporting. He tried to think of how it would be to run, to keep on running forever, and always hiding.
Then he thought of a story he had read in one of MacLane’s tattered science-fiction magazines. In it, everyone had known that on such and such a day the sun was going to blow up and destroy the world. Everyone had known, but nobody could quite believe it; because they couldn’t visualize nothingness.
Morrow had twenty-eight days left. Now it was eight thirty on a Friday night and he sat with a drink in the club car of the Commodore Vanderbilt. The train was ten minutes east of Toledo, rushing toward New York. He had come a long way, all the way across the Pacific; as a courier officer, he had started his leave in San Francisco.
He sat with the lounge chair half turned toward the windows, watching the distant lights. Now and then he could hear a meaningless word or two from the conversation of three men talking and drinking near him.
They don’t know yet, he told himself. No one knows yet. So far, I am still First Lieutenant Benjamin Morrow, Sabre pilot, clobberer of three MIGs, grounded ever since I was shot down in the last week of the Korean action. Now I’m returning for a tour of duty at a training station with papers all in order, with all arrangements made. They think they’re going to put me back in the air. Let them think it; I won’t report.
Maybe MacLane would have understood why he felt this way. MacLane had been thirty, a man who seemed constantly wryly amused at the twists of fate that had landed him in the Korean war. “Benny,” he had said, “you’re a tiger. The Air Force needs you young tigers. You’re also a recruiting poster. Do you know what it is about you that disconcerts me. Benny? You’re too plausible. You’re the epitome of a jet pilot. In a sack suit on a city street you would still be unmistakably exactly what you are.”
“Is that good, Dick?”
“I don’t know. This is, I suppose, the age of specialization. The winged knight has his proper place. But as your roommate, Benny, I’m distressed that you perform your function without thought, without conjecture about man and fate and personal destiny.”
“I just fly the airplane.”
“A sound adjustment. I wish I could think that way too, instead of always wondering: What am I doing here? It’s the fashion these days, lad, to proclaim one’s own fear. But your proclamations ring false. I think to you this is all a big, hot, exciting game—with a box score.”
“People can get killed doing this.”
“You’re aware of that objectively, yes, but not subjectively. Others can get killed. You haven’t applied that concept to yourself, personally. I have. And that makes me jealous of you, Benny. I lack faith in my own invulnerability.”
And then a week after that conversation, one of the allegedly Chinese volunteer gun crews near the Yalu had tracked MacLane with electronic neatness, and had computed the long high-altitude curve of evasive action, and had electronically and magically changed MacLane and his craft into a somewhat greasy ball of smoke out of which bits of the craft arced and fluttered and fell.
And Ben Morrow had found that it wasn’t like losing the others, like losing Foss and Thurman and Varalli and Smith—not like losing the young tigers. MacLane had been different. With the others you could remember, for a time, how they had looked, and the dates and the bars and the laughs: like Thurman with the hot-water bottle full of bourbon and the long glass straw, or like Smith rapping his brush-cut head with his knuckles and pounding out a tune by changing the shape of his open mouth. But with MacLane you kept remembering what he had said, and remembering the screwy views he had had.
Ben remembered the time MacLane had said, “We’re the last ones, kid. In War One they flew at a fat eighty knots with a stick and a couple of push bars and a trigger. But look at the size of our check list. If they add a couple more gadgets, the ship will be too complicated for us to get it off the ground. Next they’ll take some wire and tubes and relays and make themselves a pilot. We’re the last humans who are going to fly in a war. This business of people flying airplanes is just a fad. Next year we’re obsolete.”
It was odd how he hadn’t thought about that very much until after Dick MacLane had caught his package, and then he thought about it every time he buttoned and hooked and latched and fastened himself into his ship. He thought about how this last fallible device, this warm flesh, could be replaced by something as precision-clicking as the rest of the instruments and devices. It made the ship a little bit alien to him to think about it that way, and he lost a little of that fine, high, fat feeling of unity, of that blending of purpose and response between him and the plane.
And there had been that talk about education. “Benny,” MacLane had said, “they didn’t educate you. They conditioned you. There’s a hell of a difference. You went through your comic books and looked at television and the movies. You developed a taste for convertibles and leggy young women. Then they filled you with bits of technical knowledge and half-baked truisms—and you came out a hero, an airplane driver, a fly boy. You’re conditioned to your environment, and you’re very good at your trade, so that makes the conditioning process a success. But don’t tell me you’re an educated man, Benny. Any kind of subjective discussion makes you shy and ashamed. You fiddle and stammer. It’s so much easier to talk about what Joe did last night and what Al said to Pete. You start thinking too much, kid, and your conditioning goes to pot.”
Excerpt From: John D. MacDonald. “Flight of the Tiger.”
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