Adrian did not report to the debriefing room, nor did he join the others getting their meal of bacon and eggs. He was not in the anteroom drinking either and he had not gone to bed. Increasingly alarmed, Kit started to fear he’d walked off the station AWOL. It was with relief that he found Adrian in the toilets, sitting on the floor with his face in his hands. Kit went down on his heels beside him. Adrian smelled of urine.
“I’m ropey. Washed out. Done. LMF.”
“You’re none of those things. But you do need a bath. Come on. I’ll find you a clean pair of trousers, while yours go to the laundry. Then we’ll go and have a drink together.”
Adrian looked up at him with fathomless eyes, but he let Kit pull him to his feet and lead him to the bathroom. Kit found a batman and asked him to sort out the trouser issue. The man readily agreed noting, “Not the first time this has happened, sir. Not to worry.”
By the time they reached the anteroom, most of the others had already turned in, but Fauquier appeared to have been waiting for them. When he saw them, he nodded once to Kit in acknowledgement and then withdrew.
“What’s going to happen to me, Kit?” Adrian asked miserably as he sank down into one of the deep, leather chairs at a corner table.
“First, you fly back in the CO’s Lancaster with me. Then we get 48 hours leave, and you come with me to Kirkby to meet Georgina. After that, we’ll be operational and you’re my navigator.”
“Why did you want me to fly with Forrester?” Adrian asked, looking at him with large, uncomprehending eyes like a dog that has been beaten and doesn’t know why.
“I didn’t!” Kit protested. “I told Forrester it was your decision, but he said you were keen to go — only wanted my permission.”
“The bastard! I said I didn’t want to fly but he told me you wanted me to — that it was your suggestion!”
“That’s not true, Adrian. I swear.”
“I believe you.” Adrian took a deep breath. “It’s just — you can’t imagine what it was like on Forrester’s kite. The crew talks the whole time using the foulest language I’ve ever heard in my life. They compete with one another for the raunchiest jokes and the crudest insults. They even talk back to Forrester — albeit only in jest; they jump when he gives them an order. But after six hours of that constant chatter, my nerves were frayed. And then the flak hit us. One burst went off so near I thought I was already dead.” Kit suspected it had been one of the 15-inch guns rather than flak, but he said nothing, letting Adrian continue. “It left me deaf for half a minute and — I snapped. I just snapped.” He dropped his head in his hands, his long fingers with their signet ring combed through his blond hair. Kit noticed they were shaking.
Adrian lifted his head and looked straight at Kit. “You can’t imagine what happened next: Forrester’s wireless operator hit me. He slapped me across the face twice and shouted at me to ‘snap out of it.’ It made me feel — I don’t know — like a child. I just folded up into a ball with my arms over my head and waited for it to be over.”
In Kit’s mind he heard Fauquier saying: “command failure.” To Adrian he said, “You’re never going to have to fly with Forrester again. That’s a promise. Now, what are you drinking?”
Adrian shook his head. “What difference does it make? I’m washed out.”
“Not yet, you aren’t,” Kit answered firmly. Then he went in search of an orderly and asked for two hot toddies.
Kit wanted to give Adrian another chance. Yet in the pit of his stomach, he knew Adrian’s behaviour had been qualitatively different from his pig-headed refusal to fly because he was pissed off with his CO, Group and Butch Harris. Kit knew that he could have flown but chose to protest instead. Adrian, on the other hand, appeared to have been unable to operate effectively under fire. If that was the case, he endangered all of them. Kit knew that his responsibility to the rest of the crew might have to take precedence over his loyalty to Adrian — and that made him inwardly sick.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish