Twelve Seconds to Live (2002)

Twelve Seconds to Live (2002) by Douglas Reeman Read Free Book Online

Book: Twelve Seconds to Live (2002) by Douglas Reeman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas Reeman
Tags: Historical/Fiction
months after Sicily.
The way back.
    He thought of all the faces he had seen today, the hands he had shaken. Some he had known since the earliest days, when he had taken his first instruction,almost cold-bloodedly, it seemed now. Officers drawn to the risk or the danger by the obscure call from the Admiralty, for a secret mission with the Land Incident Section. Some volunteered because they were bored with their appointments, others because they were too young and untrained to know any better. There were a few who had nothing more to live for.
    Was I one of those?
    Magnetic mines, growing more sophisticated and treacherous with every passing month, ruled their lives. The training done, there was always the first incident, the beast.
    A driving force, obsessive; Masters could feel it now, and wondered how he had survived, let alone found himself guiding others on the same dangerous course.
    It had become personal. His mind, his ears, his fingers not only against the weapon but a human being, somewhere, who had designed and set the beast into motion. A living
thing
, an entity.
    It was behind him now. It must be. For others, if not merely for himself.
    There were faces he did not know, yet. Ones who asked,
The new boss, what’s he like?
A man you could trust your life to? Or just another stranger? He touched the scar. No wonder the girl had been watching him in the driving mirror. Her eyes might have been saying,
Why him, and not you?
    He strode to the window and dragged the screen aside. It was still dark, but he could discern the curve of the hill and, he thought, the ragged line of trees.
    And there were a lot of faces missing. Too many . . .Inexperienced, over-eager, careless. In most cases you could never know, unless by some last desperate call over the intercom. And even then . . .
    He thought of Critchley again, the abandoned uniform. Like a reproach. He had scanned a brief report, the discovery of the mine, a petty officer’s statement, how he had been surprised that such a senior officer had been sent to deal with the incident. The driver, who had described how he was told to take cover at the very beginning. Rear-Admiral Fawcett had pencilled in an aside to explain that Critchley had been at a meeting when he had been informed of the mine. An officer of the nearest Render Mines Safe group had been delayed in a car accident. Critchley must have acted on impulse. To
showthem . . .
Masters could hear him saying it.
    He leaned forward and felt the cold air through the glass. From this height he could see beyond the hill to a harder, darker line beyond. The sea.
    He heard someone moving about downstairs. Coker, the P.O. steward.
Long service. Three badges.
As mixed a collection of people as you could discover anywhere, to be welded together, to use all their experience in protecting and saving others, part of the ultimate weapon for victory.
    It’s up to you.
    He heard footsteps on the stairs, and the clink of crockery, and looked at the sea again.
    Me, and a few thousand others.
    He smiled, surprised that it came so easily, after so long.
    He was back.

3
Survival
    David Masters had been about to leave for Portland when the call had come through. At dawn that day there had been an air raid alert, common enough even when some of them proved to be false. Masters had heard the staccato bark of gunfire while he had been sitting on the edge of the bed in the room with its damp wallpaper. Not close, and it had not lasted for long.
    Captain Hubert Chavasse, who commanded the establishment at Chaldon St Mary, had been wary about it.
    ‘You were going to Portland anyway. Rear-Admiral Fawcett will be on the phone before another hour passes, I’ve no doubt about that, so perhaps you could let
me
know what’s going on!’
    Chavasse was a precise, if impatient, officer of the old school, abrasive when he considered it necessary. The inlet was littered with hoists and machinery, and surrounded by makeshift huts for the ratings,

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