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Death Flight

Surging Thousands Saw the Great Pilot as He
Completed His Non-Stop Flight. And Then
They Saw Him—Murdered
!

A Complete Novelette

By Robert Wallace
Author of "Written in Blood," "The Price of Murder," etc.

CHAPTER I.
Murder of a Hero

THE glaring white floodlights mounted on top of the great hangar building lit up the airport like day. They illuminated brilliantly the long main runways of the landing field, the low rope barriers that had been stretched on posts around the field, and the solid sea of humanity surging against those ropes.

Scores of policemen struggled to keep the excited crowd from bursting through the ropes.

From a myriad throats came a deafening buzz and hum of voices, and in them one name was repeated over and over.

"Lucky James!"

A policeman turned toward a cool-eyed, craggy-faced man of wiry build who was passing along the line inside the ropes.

"Captain McCord, we'll never hold this crowd back when Lucky James' plane gets in!" the policeman panted.

Detective-Captain Thomas McCord told the officer crisply:

"You'll have to hold them somehow. If this mob is on the field when James' plane lands, some of them will be hurt." McCord went rapidly down the field, his wiry form striding toward the floodlighted hangar building. A group of about twenty-five or thirty men were gathered in front of the hangar, including airport officials, pilots, and newspaper men who had been allowed inside the ropes.

One of the group saw McCord and gripped the detective-captain's arm. He was a blond, good-looking young man whom McCord recognized as Blair James, pilot of a passenger airliner and cousin of Lucky James, the flier they were all awaiting.

Blair James cried to McCord: "Lucky's plane was sighted over Bayshore ten minutes ago! He'll be here any moment! I guess this proves Lucky is the best flier of them all. A non-stop solo flight from Cairo to New York—and a fifty-thousand-dollar cash prize!"

"I've done a little flying," McCord said dryly, "and I wouldn't try a flight like that for fifty million."

He added, "I've got to see Stangland a moment."

He pushed past the excited Blair James toward Robert Stangland, the superintendent of Gotham Airport.

"Don't you have any way of putting up more barriers?" McCord asked me superintendent. "That crowd is going to?"

McCord stopped speaking. He and the superintendent and the others became suddenly rigid, staring up into the northeastern sky, from out of which, now, was coming a distant, deep- toned droning.

The crowd was staring too, and a hush had fallen over it. A dead silence in which the only sound was that humming drone that grew louder each moment, waxing into a roar.

Down into the glare of the airport lights came a big silver monoplane that roared low across the field, and then banked around and came back, dipping toward the runway.

McCord heard over the thundering motor, the frantic yelling of the crowd, and felt his own pulse hammer with emotion. Tow-headed, reckless young Lucky James had spanned a hemisphere and was dropping out of the stars to fortune and fame and a crowd gone mad.

The great monoplane's wheels touched the runway in a perfect landing and it rolled down: the field, coming to a stop a few hundred yards from the floodlighted hangar.

McCord found himself running with Stangland and Blair James and the others toward the silver ship. They reached the monoplane as its motor was cut off, and a reporter pounded on its side.

McCord saw the door of the little enclosed cockpit open. And there in the opening stooped a rangy youngster with a grinning, tired white face, his blue eyes blinking at the flare of the photographers' popping flashlights. He raised his oil-smeared leather-clothed arm in greeting.

"Well, fellows, it looks like I've made me fifty thousand bucks."

Thuck! That brief, sinister sound cut through the din of popping flashlights and yelling voices around the monoplane.

Then McCord and the others, abruptly frozen in rigid, horrified silence, stared at the flier in the open cockpit door. Lucky James' grin had taken on a sudden surprised quality. His hand went uncertainly to a little hole that had appeared in the left breast of his leather jacket. Then he crumpled stiffly forward.

McCord and the men around him stared incredulously at Lucky James' body lying sprawled half out of the cockpit. Then Blair James, his face white and frantic, darted to the stricken flier.

McCord was close after him and helped him lift the limp body to the ground. Lucky James' wide blue eyes stared up at them unwinkingly, unseeingly.

"Lucky!" cried Blair frenziedly. "For God's sake?"

"It's no use, Blair!" rasped McCord. "He's dead—murdered."

McCord's eyes gleamed like crumbs of ice in his craggy face, sweeping dangerously over the staring, horrified group.

"Someone in this group around the plane shot Lucky James with a silenced pistol!" the detective-captain exclaimed.

A reporter turned to push his way out of the group, a wild yell coming from the other newspapermen as they, too, suddenly realized that they had witnessed the scene of a century. But McCord, his pistol flashing into his hand, sprang before them and halted them.

"Not one of you leaves here!" he grated. "Someone in this group is the killer and he's not going to escape."

"But you've got to let us break this story!" cried a reporter.

"Get back there, everyone of you," McCord menaced them. "You're going to be searched right here and now for the gun."

Frenziedly protesting, the newspapermen fell back toward the monoplane. As they did so, Stangland, the airport superintendent, cried out and pointed to the ground near the ship.

"There's a pistol, McCord!" he exclaimed. McCord leaped and picked it ...

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