Page 46

The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:09

The DC-3 raced down the dirt strip, past the pumping station, and clawed its way into the air. The plane struggled to gain altitude in the hot afternoon, even with its two Curtiss-Wright Cyclone engines straining at maximum rpm’s. New off the assembly line, they’d been rated at a thousand horsepower each, but no amount of maintenance work could ensure that that was the case seventy years later. Still, the aircraft picked up speed and began to climb, heading due south, until it reached ten thousand feet, where the air was cool and dry. After leveling off, it turned back toward the airfield.

Inside, Reza’s pilot handled the controls while Paul and Gamay stood in the center of the cabin, manning the two sides of a rolling cart.

The metal cart had four wheels, a flat, dented deck and a handle attached to one side. It was supporting a block of concrete that weighed nearly four hundred pounds. Paul and Gamay were doing their best to make sure neither the concrete nor the cart that held it would move around prematurely.

As she untied a strap, Gamay looked Paul’s way. “You got it on that end, right?”

Paul was crouched down, holding the cart firmly to prevent it from sliding toward the tail of the plane before they were ready.

“We’re two minutes from the drop zone,” the pilot shouted.

“Time to see if this works,” Paul said. “Slowly, now.”

With Gamay holding the handle and Paul pulling the cart from his side, they began to make their way to the back of the cabin. The seats had been removed, as had the cargo door. Air currents streamed through the yawning gap. A gap Paul and Gamay planned on pushing the cart through, hopefully without falling out themselves.

It all went well until they were five feet from the open door. Not surprisingly, as they neared the back of the plane, its nose began to rise. Balancing the concrete slab on the cart, Paul and Gamay now moved seven hundred and fifty pounds from the front of the plane to almost the very back. It changed the weight and balance, making the plane tail-heavy. As a result, the nose pitched upward.

“Push forward,” Gamay shouted.

“I think he knows that,” Paul replied, bracing himself to prevent the cart from rolling farther.

“Then why isn’t he doing it?” she replied.

Actually, the pilot was pushing forward, but the controls were responding very sluggishly. He pushed harder and used the trim tab to assist. In response, the nose came down appreciably—too much, in fact—as the plane pitched down. Suddenly, the cart wanted to roll toward the cockpit, trying to steamroll Gamay in the process.

There was little Paul could do except hold on and try to arrest the runaway cart. He managed to stop the progress just as Gamay found herself wedged against the remaining seats.

Gamay felt like she was being crushed. She pushed the cart back with all her strength. “This is the worst idea ever!” she shouted. “Right up there with all of Kurt’s bad ones.”

Paul was pulling the cart with all the leverage he could muster, trying to take the pressure off of Gamay. At this point, he couldn’t disagree with her.

“Pull back,” he shouted to the pilot, giving instructions now. “Pull back!”

“What are they doing?” one of the men asked Reza.

“The Americans are crazy,” another said.

Back up in the plane, Paul was thinking the same thing. As the nose came up, the cart became maneuverable again and they’d forced it back toward the tail. The pilot was ready this time and he controlled the pitch much better.

That left Paul near the open door, holding the cart and its concrete payload and trying

to figure out how to shove it through without falling out.

He could push it hard, but how would he stop himself?

“We’re almost at the drop zone!” the pilot shouted.

Paul looked at Gamay. “This seemed much easier when I thought it up.”