The Fourth Tablet of Croesus
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by George W. J. Laidlaw
Category: Suspense/Thriller/Historical Fiction
Description: In the skies over war-torn Europe, a Lancaster bomber with its crew is fighting for its life. Myers Stone had exchanged his books on Archaeology to help fight this war. His role as a mid-upper gunner lets him shoot at the enemy. Unknown to him, the gunner in the forward turret holds a secret so important that he and his country will do anything to find it. Karl Wurt is new to the crew, an American of German birth who has come to help fight the war, but he holds a secret and is now following a plan that will force the Lancaster down into the hands of Hitler's forces. His secret is held inside a spy pencil. The microdots of three tablets from the era of the King of the Lydians, the famous and wealthy Croesus will give the German historians and archaeologists the location of the lost fortune of Croesus and his treasure house of gold. This is a story covering two generations. Geoffrey Stone follows his father's profession of archaeology and begins working at the restoration of Sardis, the capital of the Lydians. There he meets Chris Worthington and together they start to put the clues of the ancient civilization together. It is Chris that confirms that Croesus actually had a method to purify gold and all the myths of his wealth were probably true. Discover the history of King Croesus, his gold smiths and his defeat at the hands of the Persian king. This is a story with many facets, many lives and many loves. It uncovers both ancient mysteries, family secrets and exhumes the keys to one of the greatest treasures of the ancient world.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing, 2002 DDP
eBookwise Release Date: February 2003
24 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [309 KB]
Reading time: 211-295 min.
Over Germany -- 1944
"Hold tight and pray!" the pilot shouted over the intercom. No one needed to be told. Each man fought his own battle every time he flew.
Fear was the first of three players controlling life up here in the sky. It stretched you like a fine wire. As the tension increased, the wire started to hum before it ripped apart. That was how Myers Stone felt.
Death was the second player, impatient for a turn, stalking the night sky. While over the coast, the flak was like a salutation, or a prelude to the next round as the enemy below prepared their rebuttal.
The macabre chess game began yet again, revealing the third and most powerful player. This was not you, or the flak crews, or night fighters that screamed up to shoot down your bomber. Fate was the third player. She dictated who lived or died. You had to control your bowels, hold your heart from jumping out of your chest and wait.
Myers Stone was on his ninth mission of his second tour. Each time, fear ate into him. He had seen men become blithering idiots, or show the yellow feather, or become zombies more dead than alive. Each night, a crew or more failed to return. In some country field they had bought their piece of occupied Europe -- buying the farm had become too common these days. You didn't expect to live forever. You just drank as much as you could hold when you returned to base. Alcohol was a way to combat reality.
He was a mid-upper gunner and each night he manned the guns hoping that an ME-109 wouldn't select his plane, his beloved Daisy, as its next victim. He had already shot down one fighter and scared off several more. He and the other gunners had only a second or two to throw out their barrage of lead, praying that it would find a home in an engine, or in the body of the Nazi bastard who was trying to kill them. Each night was the same, as they blanketed the cities of Germany with incendiary bombs. Each night, he died a hundred times.
The Lancaster was the workhorse of the British bombers. Its four Rolls-Royce Merlin XXIV 12-cylinder engines generated 1,620 horsepower and could move the heavily armored aircraft over the ground at 286 mph with a ceiling of 24,000 feet and a range of 2,500 miles. The Lancaster was a tough old lady and her crew of seven had survived the punishment of German flak and German fighters.
He had learned to cope, and found that superstition held a religious fervor: The crew believed that anything that changed the patterns of success could mean losing out to capricious fate. There was a newcomer on the flight. He had arrived two days ago, when the front gunner came down with appendicitis. If it had been up to the captain, he and the rest of the crew would have flown with one less passenger rather than have a newcomer arrive and change the working atmosphere that had allowed them to survive over fifty flights.
The newcomer was an American, Karl Wurt. He seemed to know his business, but it wasn't the same. Why was an American assigned to flight with his British Allies? Why couldn't he wait until the American Air Force was here in force? They had survived his inaugural flight, and he had settled in. He was in his thirties -- older than most of the crew. He had wanted to experience the war, and to get out of the mining town where his experience as a hard rock miner had taught him to survive. Maybe it was his name that made the others question whether this newcomer was something other than his uniform indicated. Wurt sounded German and with his fair blonde hair and blue eyes he looked German. Karl was an American citizen.
Myers liked the older man. He was interested in the books that the younger man carried with him on each flight. Archaeology for Myers was an escape, and the two textbooks were from a second-year university course he had taken, before the war had changed his profession. He might have been allowed to stay at the university, but how could he when the world was being destroyed? His city of Manchester was left smoldering after a German bombing raid. He put his treatises on early civilizations down, and exchanged them for two Browning 0.303 caliber machine guns.
It was hard to know a man in just under three hours, but it was long enough to know that Karl was a smart man. He told the story of how he had graduated from the University of Munich and immediately immigrated to America in 1928, under the sponsorship of an uncle who was a mining tycoon. He gave no indication about his life in Germany. He kept his political thoughts to himself. Fighting against the Germans, his people, must have been hard, but he handled it well. If they survived five or six more missions with him in the forward gun turret, the feeling of tempting Fate might disappear.
The plane to their right and several hundred feet above suddenly lost its wing and turned like a lame duck, falling out of formation. The puffs of flak intensified, and an angry shudder confirmed that Daisy too had been hit. Yet she seemed to shake off the blow and continued toward the target. Beyond the cones of light that were arching into the sky, a marshalling yard was being visited again. In the intersection of two or more spotlights and at the apex of a cone, a helpless plane was soon a target. The shells from the ground came floating up like a millipede with lights on every second foot and inserted death into their flight plans.
"Jesus, there goes another poor bastard!" Myers cried out loud. But the warning of another threat was piped into his intercom.
"Bandits at three o'clock high and above!"
The other threat was closer and even more deadly. The rear gunner's four machine guns started to chatter and Myers too added to the discord. It seemed there were dozens of enemy fighters twisting and turning and spitting out fire. The bombers flew in a box pattern and two dozen guns screamed defiance against the ME-109s. But once again, another poor sod had his fuselage punctured with cannon fire.
"Damn, if we only had cannons! These 303s are next to useless," Myers cried out in the din of battle. He was right. Only a few cannons were making their way onto the bombers' armaments. Cannons were hard to get, and the Spitfire and Hurricane had first choice.
Shattering sounds of gunfire filled his ears and the scream of fighters all around made it hard to concentrate. He tried to lead a 109 as it came into view. He had always been a good shot, but this was different. The 109s were small and fast, and in comparison to the lumbering Lancs they seemed impossible to hit. He squeezed the triggers and the two machine guns barked and spat their conical projectiles. They were less effective than cannons, but with luck the dozen or more bullets could disable an engine or shatter the windscreen of the cockpit and puncture the killer before he could finish his challenge.
He felt rather than heard the blows around him. The old Lanc was being hit and hit again. It was only a matter of time before something vital received a mortal wound. Then he and six other men would spiral like a corkscrew into the ground.
Dust and debris were floating everywhere like a cloud. The side of their kite was pocketed, and he could see the battle through the perforated skin. He saw his bullets hit one of his adversaries. One moment it was screaming toward him with the gun blazing and the next it had exploded into a ball of flames. He had no time to gloat over its destruction because others continued attacking.
The captain came on the intercom. "Sorry, fellows. We have lost three engines and the fourth isn't doing well. Get out! I'll try to hold her level to give you a chance to hit the silk."
Myers realized that the tail gunner had been silent. Had he been hit? The life of a tail gunner in combat was supposed to be just over eleven minutes. He looked around. Flames crept from the tail of the plane. Poor Brooks Tajor was trapped.
Myers made for the bomb bay. The pilot had already signaled the bombardier to release the bombs. Maybe some German would suddenly find himself in a hailstorm of bombs. Another explosion blew the bombardier back against the fuselage, and most of his chest was opened as a cannon shot went right through him. Myers saw the copilot push through from the cockpit; then he saw Karl. He too had abandoned the forward turret, but he came sluggishly, as if in slow motion. He turned and recognition came into his eyes. Myers saw the blood in the flames. Karl Wurt's chest was running red with it.
He grabbed his new friend. "Here, we can jump together!"
Karl steadied himself. "No...too late...my countrymen have finished me....tell Heidi...take this!" Karl thrust something into Myers's flight jacket pocket and sighed as his eyes closed. He was about to say something else, but that last effort had finished what the German bullets had started. The plane turned on its back and Myers found himself dropping into the darkness.
Copyright © 2003 by George Laidlaw