It took a while, and some negotiations over the radio with diplomats and government men, but the Blackhawk planes finally crossed the border of Norway. Their final destination, Blackhawk felt sure.
“This has to be it, guys,” he said, over his open mike. “He told us to remember ‘from whence he came’, and emphasized not both me and him, but only him. That means the fiord which we bombed back in the Big One. The place where he was frozen in suspended animation for decades. That’s where we’ll find Black Mask.”
They heard Andre say, “Sacre.”
“Say again?”, asked Blackhawk.
“Blackhawk, we never seem free from the war,” said Andre. “Like a ghost, it haunts us. The men we fought in it continue to fight us. Killer Shark, the Steel Skull, Iron Hammer–he was frozen just like Black Mask–so many others. Why? Why does the War still follow us?”
Stanislaus spoke up. “Perhaps, my friend, because we are still here for the War to follow.”
“Well, let’s just hope there are enough of us left after this thing for it to keep following,” said Blackhawk, a tad acerbically. “Anything from you, Zinda?”
“Just that I’m praying both of us come back for Bart’s and Linda’s sake,” said Lady Blackhawk. “Or at least one of us, if we can’t get that.”
“We’ll make it back, Zinda,” said Blackhawk, softly. “We’ll both make it back.” Then after a pause, he began to sing, just as softly:
“Over land, over sea,
We fight to make men free...”
Andre joined in for the next verse. “And to every nation liberty will bring!”
Zinda wondered, fleetingly, if he visualized the liberation of France when he sang that, and decided it would be impossible for him not to. Stanislaus’s voice was heard in the next part:
“Hawkaaa–follow the Blackhawks.
Hawkaaa–shatter your chains.
Seven fearless men are we...”
She felt a twinge of pain and sadness at that line. But she found herself joining in for the next verse:
“Give us death or liberty!
We are the Blackhawks–
Remember our names!”
Sometime after that, she heard Bart say, “Now. Let’s get him.”
To be specific, the part of it which, in the last days of World War II, Blackhawk had bombed in a raid. The part containing an icy area in which the Black Mask had been frozen. The part from which he had emerged, decades later.
The womb from which his brother had been reborn.
Now, the mountain which had been the site of a Nazi stronghold looked down upon a peaceful village, and Blackhawk hoped said village would be spared most of the carnage to come. He had radioed ahead to the authorities to try to get them to evacuate the town. He hoped they’d had sense enough to do it.
Blackhawk opened his mike, and spoke.
“All right, crew,” he said. “Every instinct I have tells me this is it. If I’m right, we’re getting within striking distance by now. His, and ours. Whether its weapons or planes, Black Mask will be opening up on us before long. Be careful. I want every one of us who goes into this fight to come out of it.”
“Yes, Blackhawk,” agreed Stan. “And we want the one on the other side not to come out of it.”
All of the other Blackhawks noted their leader’s pause.
“Whatever the case, this is the one mission we have to pull off,” said Blackhawk. “After this, we can go back to the island and drink beer for the rest of our lives. But for today...we have to be Blackhawks.”
“We are always Blackhawks, mon ami,” said Andre. “Always Blackhawks.”
About that time, Zinda said, “Blackhawk! The mountainside. Look!”
Bart Hawk had already caught sight of it.
A portion of the mountainside swung wide, moving on mechanized hinges.
Planes were jetting out of it.
“This is it, men,” said Blackhawk. “HAWK-AAAAAA!”
The Blackhawks echoed his cry, and flew into the fray.
No less than 15 planes streaked out at the Blackhawk band, all of them emblazoned with the visage of the Black Mask on their fuselages. All four of the Blackhawks could recall times when they’d faced greater odds, and won. But that was in their salad days. This time, with more than three planes apiece to fight, they sensed it might be their most perilous fight indeed.
The Hawks scattered in the sky, drawing their opponents apart with them. Zinda saw two of the enemy coming at her in a pincer movement, one of them coming up from below. All of them were chugging bullets.
She deliberately put the plane into a stall and dropped like a downed bird, out of their range. Their machine-gun fire went harmlessly overhead. Then, fighting the controls, Lady Blackhawk reactivated the engines and pulled up in time, taking enough G’s to make herself swallow vomit.
Her own guns shot streamers of explosive bullets at the enemy planes and tagged two of them. They went up in great blasts of crimson, orange, and yellow, engulfed quickly in plumes of black smoke. The remnants of the two craft were difficult to dodge. So was the smoke.
Out of its cloud she saw the third fighter coming at her. She could hear the sound of a few shots penetrating the skin of her craft. Zinda pulled up, took a few more bullets, Immelman-turned, saw the foe was compensating for that maneuver, and triggered her guns while she was at a diagonal to it.
It was desperation, but it worked. The blasted thing facing her came apart in the air, exploded into segments that whizzed by her on several sides, barely missing her. She had to plow through the smoke cloud and come out on the other side.
Another Black Mask plane was facing her, in the distance.
“Come on, you bastard,” she said, hardly realizing she was saying it. “Come on, and let’s see who dies.”
Andre was smart enough not to make too much of a comparison between aerial combat and fencing. Identify enough with one style, you become dangerously oblivious to the differences between it and others. But it was true that, in the cockpit, he fancied himself as an ancient swordsman in the service of the King.
Now, he recalled the legends of the Crusaders, who were said to be forbidden to flee before less than three foes. The Blackhawks had no such oaths, no such directives. They were left to their own discretion, mostly, about how many foes to attack and from how many to run away.
But the general rule was, “Attack, and let them worry about you.”
So he did. He blazed ahead at one foe, ducking instinctively as a bullet cracked his windshield, and did not stop until he made the enemy eat his fire and explode from the diet.
He barely allowed himself time to smile. Bullets were coming through his left wing.
Andre pivoted the plane, trusting in his hunter’s eye before he sent another stream of bullets at the foe. The enemy plane burst into flame, but was still aloft. The radar screen in his cockpit indicated two foes coming up from behind. He tried an Immelman, but one of the foes followed. The other stayed below.
An idea came to him, conflicted with one which told him he was too damnably old for that sort of nonsense, and prevailed. If it worked, it would be another one to laugh over with the others on Blackhawk Island after the fight. If not, well...his life had been full and good. And he prayed his wife would understand.
With the foe behind him trying to strafe him with bullets, Andre looped the loop, bringing the enemy with him. He turned his plane upside down, the forces of gravity and motion yanking the flesh back on his face and trying to make him black out.
“To hell with you,” he snapped to the forces of the universe.
He managed to bring his craft into a flat, upside-down trajectory that carried him just above the plane which was flying below both of them.
His pursuer wasn’t quite as fortunate. He crashed into his fellow and destroyed them both.
“Ma foi,” breathed Andre. “Such a lucky, lucky old cochon you are.”
Then something came to him. Perhaps, he thought, the others had observed it too. But perhaps he was first.
From all the planes he had downed, not a single pilot had bailed out or parachuted. Indeed, nobody was even visible in the cockpits.
“Robots,” he said. Then he opened his mike and spoke again. “Blackhawks. We are fighting robot planes!”
Stanislaus swore softly and hoped his mike was not on when he did it. He did not care to use such language around ladies, even though Zinda had heard all the words many times before.
Robots. That was all they needed at this point... His mind worked as his hands worked on the yoke and its firing buttons. At this point he had only downed one foe. Three more remained, and, great Lord, more were swarming to him by the moment. His reflexes were not what they had been even five years ago.
There. Another one in his sights. Got the man, no, the machine, even before he thought of it. Just reaction. Trained instinct, the way he’d operated in hundreds of battles. On the periphery of his senses, he noted the smell of fluids and concluded that his plane had been punctured somewhere by enemy fire. But no smell of smoke, no crackling of flames. So far, perhaps so good.
Blast! Bullets stitching his tail. Stanislaus twisted the control yoke, spun away, saw the plumes of smoke coming from the back section of his Hawkjet. He was out of it, he was downed, he’d have to try and bring this damned thing down and hope he didn’t get riddled doing it.
On the way, he took out one more attacker.
On his radar, he saw two more coming to take him.
Blackhawk saw Stanislaus’s distress and broke off his own dogfight to take out one of the pursuers. No use shooting for the cockpit, unless control equipment was housed there. He blasted for its fuel tank, was gratified to see it explode into pieces, and avoided the debris while seeking out another foe.
“All right, people, let’s help out Stan,” said Blackhawk. “Keep the bogies off his tail. That’s an order. Over.”
“Received, Blackhawk,” said Zinda.. “Over.”
“Certainment, Blackhawk. Over,” affirmed Andre, and bent to the task.
It was Stan’s voice they heard next. “Blackhawk! Blackhawk! The mountain–“
Blackhawk was in position to crane his neck and see what Stanislaus was speaking of.
Another ten planes were emerging from the hangar.
“My God,” he said. “Pull back, crew, pull back! The odds are getting too heavy–“
“Bart,” Zinda said, over the intercom. “Haven’t you noticed something? Nobody’s attacking you!”
He hesitated, all of a half-second.
It was true. None of the Black Mask’s planes had specifically targeted him. They only fired back after he had fired first. The targets had been Andre, Stan, and Zinda.
“Pull back, all of you,” he said. “I’m going in alone. He wants me.”
“Mon Dieu, Blackhawk, we know he wants you!” snapped Andre. “But he also wishes the rest of us, as well. Chuck and Olaf call upon us for vengeance! We must–“
“You must pull back, Andre, or disobey a direct order,” said Blackhawk. “This is final. I’m going in.”
“Bart,” said Zinda.
“That is all, crew. Out.”
He did not reply.
Instead, he sent his Hawkjet straight into the hangar-space from whence the robot fighters had come, and met no resistance as he braked his plane to a halt with fired retros. There were no more planes within the hangar.
Blackhawk checked his piece one more time, then threw the bolts that unlatched the cockpit top and swung out. His booted soles touched the concrete of the Black Mask’s lair.
Gunshots outside, and the sound of falling planes.
Despite himself, he rushed to the entrance to see what could be seen. If pulling back hadn’t saved his partners...well, that was one more thing for which his brother would pay.
But he saw that Fate was capable of delivering another surprise. The downed planes were on the Black Mask’s side, and the ones helping the Blackhawk trio destroy them were of another unit. Five planes he had seen not many hours ago.
The squadron of Duchess Ramona Fatale.
He swore in gratitude and wonder, and then noticed that the opening was being blocked by closing metal doors. Blackhawk did not deign to go near them. Instead, he turned and walked back the way he had come.
“You and me, Jack,” he said, softly, holding his gun in his right hand. “We started this thing. We’ll end it. Today.”
Along the way, Blackhawk saw a few mementos of his career. On the walls of the hall down which he walked, he saw large framed photographs of himself and the Blackhawks at various stages of their career. The raid they led on a Nazi death camp, the shot of them with Kraut prisoners after a battle on the Russian Front, the Blackhawks with a captured Japanese flag in the Pacific, the lot of them fighting their way into Berlin after D-Day.
There were more photos. The late-Forties and early-Fifties battles they’d made against Stalin and his successors, the petty dictatorships they’d helped break up, then the fight against crime they’d undertaken in the late Fifties, the Sixties, and the Seventies. Not only King Condor and Killer Shark were represented in the photos, but some real winners like Mr. Quick-Change, the Shaft, and the Human Butterfly. Some of those were best forgotten.
Another voice rang out, from hidden speakers. “I wanted you to know,” said Black Mask, “I have followed your career.”
He stood still, took a breath, looked upward. “Glad to know it, Jack. Ready to talk things over? Or at least to face me?”
“My name is not Jack!” The Mask’s voice held anger. “I forfeited that name long ago, Blackhawk. It was lost to me the day the Fuhrer had this helmet placed on my head, and gave me the only name I have now...the Black Mask.”
“So show yourself,” said Blackhawk. “We’ve got a lot of things to catch up on.”
“Only one thing, Blackhawk,” the Mask said. “Only one.”
Blackhawk paused, and then continued walking down the hall. “Tell me something, Jack,” he said.
“MY NAME IS NOT JACK!”
“And you can call me Bart,” said Blackhawk. “Is this the way you’d honor the people, our people, who died in the Nazi bombardment? By taking up the cause of the Nazis? Is that the way to honor Mom, and Dad, and Connie?”
“Don’t presume to taunt me,” rasped the Mask, from his electronic perch.
“Why not? What difference is it going to make? You’re going to kill me, or I’m going to kill you. Or neither one will happen. Maybe there’s a lot more of Jack hidden behind that mask than you think. Maybe there’s a lot more of your humanity than you think.”
“Blackhawk,” he said. “You left me. Left me to pain. Left me with a face that was lost, with an arm that was shredded. The Nazis picked me up, stitched me up, saved my life. I gave them my gratitude, and your side my contempt.”
“Does that make a hell of a lot of sense?” said Bart Hawk, stepping around a bend in the hall and walking on. More Blackhawk photos on the walls. “The scum of the earth save your life, and you think you owe them gratitude? They’re long gone, brother. But you and me, we’re here.”
Blackhawk heard the voice now, not through a speaker. It seemed to come from just around a bend in the wall. “We are, Blackhawk. But we shall not be for long.”
“Well?” said the Black Mask, from around the bend. “What are you waiting for?”
Blackhawk went around the bend.
There was an open doorway, through which he went. Herded, he thought, as if through a rat’s maze. But there was nothing left to do but run it.
And then there was a much larger chamber, with a huge curved metallic U, looking not unlike a horseshoe magnet, embedded in a housing of machinery around its curve, pointed at a section of ceiling which was closed now but which, he saw, could be retracted back.
There were other sorts of photos on the walls of the great room. Pictures of Nazi tanks roaring into defeated countries, of German soldiers establishing preeminence over conquered peoples, of Adolf Hitler standing stiff at attention and giving the Nazi salute, Hermann Goering behind him.
There were other photos besides those, taken from some of those death camps. Blackhawk did not like to look at them.
There were other things in the room, but they did not matter.
Except for one of them, which was his brother.
“Greetings, Blackhawk,” said the Black Mask, sitting in a control chair on a dais below the giant tuning fork. “How many years has it been?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Bart Hawk, softly.
The Black Mask. His head was covered, all but for the nose and mouth, by a black-painted helmet all too reminescent of a Nazi soldier’s headgear. His uniform, save that it lacked insignia, was that of a warrior in Hitler’s army. He wore jackboots, and his one hand was gloved in white.
His other arm, from the elbow down, was a sharpened saber which glinted in the overhead light.
“Oh, I think it does,” said the Black Mask, shifting in his seat. “We have only met once, since 1939. Hardly a chance to get caught up on old times. Tell me, how are your children?”
“They’re fine, Jack,” said Blackhawk. “Surrender and I’ll let you see them. Through the bars of a cell, of course.”
“Oh, no, I think not,” said the Mask. “You see, Blackhawk...and I detest you calling me ‘Jack’, so please don’t do it anymore...I don’t intend for either one of us to leave this chamber alive.”
“Not even yourself?”
“Blackhawk...” The Mask sighed, as if trying to teach something to a backward pupil. “I have cancer. It began in the liver and spread, since then. Inoperable. No chance for me.”
Bart Hawk surveyed the room, to make sure nothing was coming from the walls or ceiling to trip him up while the Mask spoke to him. “Then why, Jack? Why do you–“
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME JACK!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” Blackhawk stood defiant. “That’s who you are to me. That’s why I didn’t kill you when I had a chance. That’s why I never really tried to follow you. Because you are my brother.”
The Mask’s breath came faster and harder, and he stood up. “Only in the sense of Cain and Abel, Blackhawk. Let us go into the field.”
“Not before I say what I have to,” Blackhawk said. “And you’ll notice, I’ve got the gun.”
“And I have this.” The Mask whirled and touched a button on his control panel. Blackhawk fired. The shot struck the Mask’s helmet, knocked him down on the dais. But, above them, a panel opened in the mountainside, directly in line with the forks of his great weapon.
Blackhawk started up the steps of the dais. The Mask lurched to his feet, pulled a gun from his pocket, and pointed it at Blackhawk. He pointed his sword-arm at him, too, and its tip was perilously close to Blackhawk’s eyes. “You should have known better, Blackhawk,” he said. “You should have aimed for a non-armored part.”
“I didn’t want to kill you, Jack,” said Blackhawk. “I want to bring you in. If there’s any treatment that can help you, ease your pain, I want to use it. I have money, Jack.”
“As do I, Blackhawk. My disease is beyond money, now. No. My weapon is set to activate itself within fifteen minutes. Its discharge will create a reverberation that will crumble the fjords in this area, destroying all within a hundred-mile radius. But that’s not all.”
“What else can there be?” said Blackhawk, grimly.
“Part of the sonic blast will be relayed electronically to an orbiting reflector. It will transmit the signal to other receptors around Europe. Within a day, the Continent will be in shambles. The conquest will be complete, by destruction. But it will not be in the name of the Fuhrer. It will be in the name of the Black Mask.”
Blackhawk stepped forward.
“No further,” growled the Mask, and brought his saber nearer Blackhawk’s eyes.
Blackhawk batted the sword away with his hand to the flat of it, and stepped past the Mask. “Make me laugh, Jack. Get out of the way.”
He whirled in time to slam the side of his gun hard into the Mask’s gun arm. The Mask cried out and dropped his weapon.
At the same time he brought his saber down into the back of Blackhawk’s forearm, and the black knight of the air dropped his own gun. Blackhawk’s teeth clenched, hard, but he did not cry out.
With a couple of quick kicks, the Mask knocked the two guns off the dais and onto the floor twelve feet below. “Now, just you and me, Blackhawk,” rasped the Mask. “Unto death.”
Blackhawk, dripping blood from his right arm, circled the Black Mask on the dais, or tried to. The Mask thrust out with his blade, with a “HAH!” when Blackhawk tried to get near the controls. In anger, Blackhawk kicked up with his left boot, hard. He slammed the Mask’s sword-arm up and gave himself enough time to pivot and grab a bayonet from his own boot. Blackhawk held it before the Mask, and his eyes now held a new note. One quite familiar to those who had faced him.
It was the Blackhawk Stare, the gaze that gave no mercy.
Even the Mask was daunted before it, for a moment.
Then he brought the blade down, and Blackhawk was hard-pressed to avoid it. “Kill me if you can, Blackhawk,” said the Mask. “Kill me, and avenge your stupid GEORGE and the other hundred I killed and your two associates. Kill me, and let me kill you.”
“I may just have to do that,” said Blackhawk, as he thrust forward with the bayonet. The Mask grabbed his arm with surprising strength, but he wasn’t able to avoid the point going into his sleeve and flesh and muscle and tearing a gash in his arm that cut almost down to the bone. He shrieked in pain, and kicked Blackhawk backward. The blood streamed to the floor and began making a puddle.
“All the gods damn you,” swore the Mask.
“It’s not too late, Jack,” said Blackhawk, evenly. “But if you make one more thrust with that sword, it will be.”
“So be it!” The Black Mask’s saber-arm whirled and Blackhawk wasn’t able to back away in time. The whickering blade tore a furrow along his right cheek. It stung like hell. He was only glad that the wound wasn’t in the forehead, where blood would be dripping into his eyes.
The Mask pressed his advantage, backing Blackhawk to a railing, and, changing tactics, kicked him hard with a jackboot to the chest. Bart wheezed, feeling what most probably was a fracture in his breastbone. But he managed to lash out at the Mask’s leg, grabbing it in one arm and stabbing his bayonet deep into the enemy’s calf. The Mask shrieked again, but kicked himself free and pulled himself up on the opposite railing.
“I may be wounded, Jack, but you’ve got the worst of it so far,” Blackhawk observed. “You could bleed to death from what I’ve given you. Give it up. I’ll get you medical attention. I’ll see you get a fair trial. You’ll probably end your days in an asylum, or a hospital. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“Damn you, brother,” said the Mask. “Damn you for leaving me behind. Damn you for losing me a face. Damn you for making me have to wear THIS!” He slapped the metal helmet covering his face. “And damn you for making me have to kill you!”
“Nobody’s making you try to kill me except you, Jack,” said Blackhawk, holding his bayonet ready. “Hitler and the Nazis are all gone. They were even killing Poles in some of the camps before the end of the war, can you believe that? Those are the people you gave your loyalty to. The rottenest scum Earth ever excreted. You owe them nothing.”
“Perhaps,” said the Mask, beginning to circle again. “But I owe you death.”
There was a scraping noise from above them. Blackhawk instinctively backed away to give more space between him and the Mask before he looked up.
A grappling hook was caught on the lip of the opening in the mountain wall through which the tuning fork would fire. “Go back!” yelled Blackhawk. “This is between the Mask and me!”
“I can’t,” said the voice of Zinda. “Whoever fights you, fights me.”
The Black Mask smiled. “So. The wife of Blackhawk throws her flying cap into the ring. We’ll have to finish this quickly, so that I can kill her too.”
If anything, Blackhawk’s gaze became grimmer. “I think you just said the wrong thing,” he said, and launched himself forward with the bayonet. His eye was on the Mask’s deadly sword-arm.
Regrettably, it wasn’t on the Mask’s other arm, which, though wounded, was strong enough to deal Blackhawk a sweeping blow to the side of the neck. Bart Hawk was knocked aside, his bayonet slashing at the Mask’s chest but only ripping his tunic. In a trice, the Mask had Blackhawk on his back, standing on his arms. Bart was kicking his legs up, out to hook his feet behind the Mask’s shoulders and flip him over.
But there wasn’t time to do that before the Mask’s saber pierced Blackhawk’s own shoulder through and through.
Blackhawk’s scream united with that of Zinda, who had climbed to the opening just in time to see the skewering.
The Mask twisted the blade in Blackhawk’s flesh and bone. “It is finally done, my brother. We die together, true. But I will see you die first. And Lady Blackhawk will follow you quickly. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that.”
The dark knight’s face was very white, and sweating, and he looked every one of his years. But his stare was still the same as it had been. And he spoke.
Blackhawk forced himself up, sending the blade through his arm, pushing himself against it, trying to shunt aside the unimaginable pain, until he smashed a chop with the side of his free hand against the throat of his brother, just under the mask. Had he been at full strength, it would have been enough to kill the Black Mask.
As it was, it knocked him backward, slammed him flat on the dais, dragging Blackhawk with him. Pain was all Blackhawk’s world. But he’d been there before. Not this far into it, no...but he knew the territory.
The bayonet. Had to find the god-cursed bayonet.
Blackhawk set his bloodied hand against the Mask’s arm and pushed himself back up, dragging the saber through his flesh again, until, with another cry of agony, he was free. He sprawled on his back, and, even though he could feel the very life gushing through his shoulder, was thankful that he felt the flat of his bayonet under him. He rolled away like a tortoise on its back, scrabbling for the weapon, wrapping his fingers around it, bringing it to him.
He looked up at death.
The Black Mask, staggering, holding his sword arm with his good hand, was about to bring his sword down on Blackhawk’s head. “Now. It is done, brother.”
Two shots rang out and ended their bullets’ journey in the back of Black Mask. From his place on the floor, Blackhawk was able to see Zinda in the opening, holding a smoking gun.
But the Mask would not fall. He was struck, he was dying, but the power of hate held him there like a berserker.
“I’ll hold onto you, Jack,” gasped Blackhawk. “That way—maybe—you’ll get to see—Connie.”
The sword came down at the same time the bayonet went up.
Both hit their marks. There was no time for either of them to scream. The roaring in Blackhawk’s ears would have drowned it out, anyway.
But he was able to see the light die in the Black Mask’s eyes. And, for a brief instant, he thought he might have been able to see a bit of Jack there, before it faded.
It was not yet done. He still had a duty to do. The duty of a Blackhawk.
Any doctor would have said it was impossible to rise, given the wound that he had taken to the chest. Any physician would have counted the ability of a man pierced through and through by a saber to get up from a dais floor, drag himself over to a control panel some feet distant, pick out a control button he had seen the Black Mask press, and press it once more, deactivating the pulsing tuning fork weapon, as an impossible fantasy. Something out of a bad comic book.
But that would have been because they knew nothing of Blackhawk.
Bart Hawk saw the great weapon shut itself off. He saw his wife, sliding down a rope at a rate that certainly would burn holes in her leather gloves, reaching the floor. He said the word, “Zinda,” and hoped he was strong enough to make himself heard.
Then he crumpled to the ground, and the darkness came and brought blessed relief from pain.
He heard his wife’s voice calling “Bart! Bart!”, and that was his last experience on Earth.
He wasn’t able to hear her scream.
The Justice League made the funeral, even though none of the Blackhawks asked them. So did the Challengers of the Unknown, who felt themselves more akin to the Blackhawks than to a modern super-team. So did more military brass than anyone had seen since the last war, and President Reagan, and Britain’s Prime Minister, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
So, too, did Ramona Fatale and her squadron, and Stanislaus, and Andre, and Chop-Chop, and Bart, Jr., and Linda, and Zinda. Especially Zinda.
There were speeches. Too many speeches. They expected all of the Hawks to make speeches themselves, and they did. Zinda said something she had written the night before. It had to do with how she had determined, many years ago, to become a woman Blackhawk, to follow the lead of the men who had helped defeat Hitler and had not stopped fighting afterward. How she had succeeded, how she had fallen in love with and married Blackhawk himself, how he had fathered her two children, and some of what he had meant to her. Only some, because the whole of it was beyond expression.
Even with the trouble they had endured, even with the distances between, there was all of that, and more.
The military band played “Taps”. They played it for Olaf, and even for Chuck.
But they especially played it for Blackhawk.
And after the flags had been taken from the two coffins, and after they had lowered Blackhawk and Olaf to their graves in Arlington Cemetary, and after the dirt began to be placed on them, Zinda and her two children turned away, and got into a black limousine, responding to the mournful offers of help from Andre, Chops, and Stan with words of thanks, and then shut the door on them.
Because some hurts are too great to be shared, even with the men who were his comrades.
Zinda broke down crying, between her two children. One part of her mind knew that things would have to be done with Blackhawk Island, because they would live there no more. It told her that they would have to find a residence in the United States again, that such would be simple given the estate that Bart left to them, that there could be a life made beyond even this.
But it was overridden by the impulse to simply cry.
“Mom, I’m here,” said Bart, trying to keep his own tears from giving way. “So’s Linda. We’re both here for you. We’ll get you through it.”
“We...oh, God, Mom, Daddy’s not coming back. He’s not coming back at all!” Linda held her mother, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Mom, I want you to know something,” said Bart, deciding that he had to go ahead and tell her. “I’m doing something in Dad’s memory. When I grow up...if I can wait that long...I’m going to be the second Blackhawk. Just like him.”
Bart had never seen the look of horror that his mother’s face bore as she turned it to him.
She shook him by the shoulders and yelled at him. “No, Bart! No! No! Never! You must never become a Blackhawk! Promise me that! Promise me you will never become a Blackhawk! Say it!”
“All right, all right, Mom, I won’t become a Blackhawk. I promise, okay? I promise.”
“Thank you. Thank you, Bart, thank you. That’s the only good thing to come out of this day. The only good thing.”
Zinda lay back against the seat, closed her eyes, and tried to will herself to sleep. Linda looked at her, and then looked into her brother’s eyes.
He wondered if she could sense what he had been thinking. Because when he promised, he had made a King’s X with his fingers, behind his back.
He might have to wait till his mother was gone. But whether she liked it or not, he was his father’s son.
Someday, someway, the world would have another Blackhawk.
This one’s for Bill Woolfolk.