Death Over Hollywood can be found in






MERNA KAY stood beside me, staring up into the sky. Her hands twisted and tore at a handkerchief which she held just under her pretty chin. She pointed a slim finger at a biplane spiraling for altitude.

"Joe is going to marry me tomorrow," she said in a dry parchment like voice. "Yet for some unknown reason, I have a feeling something terrible will happen—I always get that feeling when Joe does a spin for a cheap little blood-and-thunder movie."

Merna gave the handkerchief a vicious twist as she bit her lip. I was proud that my brother, Joe Varden, had picked such a beautiful girl for a wife. And I would be lucky to have her for a sister-in-law. Joe's letter telling me to come to Tyson Airport and help him with stunt work for the movies said he was planning to get married. But tomorrow! That was rather sudden!

I looked at the dust-shrouded, weed-infested backlot known as Tyson Airport. It was not far from Los Angeles and in the San Fernando valley; so movie producers found it ideal for stunt filming. In one corner of the field stood a large sound truck, its generator humming a business like sound.

Technicians dressed in white coveralls hustled about dragging wires and mikes to strategic locations. In the center of the field stood a slim well built fellow clad in tan whipcord riding breeches and a green shirt. He held a large, white flag—the flag which would signal to the camera men to start grinding.

I looked at Merna. She had tawny hair, blowing in the light wind—tan burnt into her perfect features by a real sun—teeth white against that tan, the biggest blue eyes you ever saw, and a way of carrying herself—well, she looked like a racing job, that's all.

Merna turned to me and said, "Joe's talked of nothing but you for the last three months. You boys went to town together, didn't you? He's told me everything—"

"Everything?" I asked, sort of embarrassed. She nodded.

"This is his first real job," she said. "Look! The white flag! He's starting his wind-up!"

I've seen a lot of spins, so I looked at her instead of ]oe's ship as it made its first few turns. A slim hand ripped the handkerchief to bits. Then I saw a spasm of fear tighten her features, and I got a load of Joe's biplane.

"Say—" I began, "he's sure going to come out tree high if—"

If you've ever seen those things happen, as I have, you know that he was in before I could finish my sentence. I felt my throat choke up and my heart jump a couple of beats as I started forward, just as a cloud of dust sprayed out and the sickening crush of metal, wood and wire hit my ears. He'd been a little ?at toward the end. Maybe—

Merna screamed. I pushed an extra onto his ear. He was astride a military motorcycle. I hopped the thing, kicked the starter—and ripped through the gears. I looked around quick. Merna was bouncing along in the side car, her hands biting into the rim of the little tub.

"Guts!" I mumbled to myself, the wind whipping the words off my lips.

We got there first. Joe was pitched forward in the buckled fuselage. I got him under the chin and moved his head back. He didn't look so bad until I glanced down at his lower half. The motor had come back. I almost retched. Merna came around on the other side of the cockpit. I hoped she wouldn't look down.

Joe was still breathing. His eyes opened.

"Hello, Bud," he said. His voice was weak with pain. "Knew you'd come." He sort of gasped and his face twisted with agony. "Played a dirty trick on you. I was in a jam."

The wind whistled from his lungs.

"Why don't you do something?" There was anger in Merna's voice. I couldn't tell her that if I moved him an inch he was washed up. And I could see he was trying to tell me something.

"He got me—" I held his head up. "Wire—"

His head lolled to one side. I watched the life going out of him, cursing myself silently. Mad because I hadn't had more time with him. Mad because he couldn't stay with me. Mad because if the ship had spun just a little flatter, maybe—

The rest of the people on the field came up. The director, his assistant, a couple of business managers, some actors and camera men. They started trying to get Joe out.

On their heels came an ambulance.

"I'll handle this," I said. "First of all, get Miss Kay out of here."

THAT night I held a kind of wake with myself, playing Joe was with me, not on a slab at the undertaker's. I had quite a talk with him. I was trying to figure out what he meant by "wire." Who in hell was I supposed to send a wire to? We didn't have any relatives. Pretty soon dawn came into the window of the small room I'd taken in a cheap Hollywood hotel. I went out, threw a couple of slugs of java into me, got Joe's car and streaked out to Tyson Airport. To the hangar.

I let myself in with a key Merna'd given me. It was a pretty shabby place. There was an office, its windows dusty and grimy, to one side. Joe had a camera ship, a biplane, with a swivel ring for a mount just behind the pilot's cockpit. I looked it over. It was hour-worn. Not much better than a clunk.

Over on the other side of the hangar was what was left of the crate that had spun Joe in. I got to looking at it and thinking. Joe had ?ve thousand hours, mostly flying circus hours, which meant continual stunting. The ship looked like it must've been a fair job, although now the lowers were all broken up, the struts were buckled, the motor was driven back into the fuselage, and the fuselage itself had broken in half under the linen back of the pilot's cockpit.

I kept thinking about that word, "wire."

Then it hit me. Joe hadn't been talking about a telegram. He'd been referring to control wires. Or some kind of wires on the ship.

I went to work. I dragged the fuselage out straight. I began checking the wires. I worked for about an hour, I guess. Then I had it.

After I'd straightened the fuselage I discovered that the control wires from stick and rudder bar to the horns on the tail were at least a foot too long. That meant that Joe had had no controls coming down—that he was murdered—that somebody had put in overlong wires. But how had he taken off and climbed to three thousand? The wires gave me the answer to that, too. They showed signs of being looped and twisted. Then I found a couple of pieces of fine, soft wire wedged between the linen and longeron tubes. Joe ha...

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