Exit Wound



November 1988

The twin props of the Dornier Do 28 Skyservant went into hyper-scream as we lifted from Tempelhof’s rain-lashed runway and climbed steeply through the West Berlin gloom. There was normally room for a dozen or so bodies in these things, but not in this one. The seats had been stripped out and the four of us had to sprawl on the cold steel floor.

The aircraft pitched and yawed like a dinghy in a gale. Gripping a rib of the bare fuselage, I pulled myself up to a window. Either Dex was trying to keep us below the cloud cover or failing to get above it. The West glowed and twinkled like a giant Christmas tree down there. A neon Mercedes sign seemed to throb on every other rooftop. The nightclub district was virtually a firework display. If we got back from this job in one piece, perhaps we’d go there and let off a few of our own.

The Luftwaffe had Do 28s coming out of their ears, and most of their flights out of Tempelhof, the Americans’ main military airfield here, were milk runs. They took off from the island of West Berlin several times a day and followed one of the three air corridors across the Soviet-occupied East to reach West Germany proper. Nobody gave them a first glance, let alone a second, and that was the way Dexter Khattri and his seven-month-old ponytail liked it. His aircraft was going to be making a slight detour.

I felt like I was being spirited into occupied France to help out the Resistance. Going by the creaks and rattles and the rush of cold air into the cabin from all the leaks in the airframe, SOE could have used this very plane – the noise was so loud I thought the door had slammed open. I’d noticed rain leaking round the jamb after it was closed, so it was obviously loose. Maybe it had finally blown off.

I folded another turn into the bottom of my beanie to give the back of my head some padding. Then I pulled up the zip of my black Puffa jacket the final centimetre and braced my back and feet against the floor, knees up, hands in pockets. If they’d made matching Puffa trousers, I’d have opted for three pairs.

The Dornier lurched again and my head rolled on the protective woolly band. Dex was swinging us left and right. This time I didn’t want to look out of the window in case I saw why.

It could be that we were weaving between the tower blocks. I pictured the local kids’ faces pressed against their bedroom windows, wondering what the fuck was going on. Red Ken said that was what had happened last time. Dex had stuck a torch under his chin, Hallowe’en style, and given them a wave. They were probably still having nightmares.

The Berlin Wall was intact, but only just. It still boasted mines, dogs, electric fences, machine-guns on fixed arcs, everything the Communist regime needed to stop its citizens leaking West, but nowadays even the guards wanted to jump ship. Everybody knew it would be over very soon, one way or another. Only a year ago, Ronnie Reagan had stood at the Brandenburg Gate and delivered his ‘If you seek peace, Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Tear down this wall!’ speech. But for now they were still the bad guys – and Dex and the three of us under Red Ken’s command were about to cross into their airspace.

My headphones crackled as Dex quipped: ‘Not far now, chaps – home for tea and wads