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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 had taken off without putting any great pressure on the controls. But going into the spin, or trying to get out of it, he had. The soft, fine wire had snapped.

Sure, it was clever. Diabolically clever.

I pledged to Joe, then and there, that I'd get the man who killed him if I got bumped doing it. I'd see the murderer give a life for a life. I was thinking of Joe and fighting back the emotion that was getting me when the small hangar door swung open. I stood quiet, waiting.

Joe's mechanic came in—a lanky, hatchet-faced man with his eyes too close to his nose. I'd gotten sore at him the night before when he tried to insist that the fuselage and motor should be sold for junk immediately—not carted into the hangar.

"Oh!" he said, startled when he saw me. "What're you doing?"

His eyes pried as he came forward. "Looking over the wreck," I said, burned that he thought it was any of his business. "You were right, Schaffer. She's junk."

"Told you so."

I didn't like his know-it-all sneer. Something inside me told me not to mention the control wires. I wanted to ask him what Joe had meant when he'd said he was in a jam and somebody'd gotten him. Who "somebody" was. Schaffer logically could have fixed the wires.

So I asked: "How long did you work for Joe?"

"About a week."

"Okay. As soon as Miss Kay comes in, turn in your time."

Schaffer shrugged his shoulders, turned, shifted a cud in his cheek and spat deliberately on the cement floor.

"That's oke with me, too," he said. "You don't need a mechanic no more, anyhow."

He went out. I heard sounds beyond the hangar. Cars driving up. Bustle. I followed him. A couple of bus loads of extras had already arrived. The extras were in Army uniforms. They lounged around. I saw the director and his assistant. I went up to them.

"Mr. Hillman," I said.

THE director turned around and grunted. He looked like he was eyeing a perfect stranger.

"I'm Tim Varden," I said. "Joe's brother. You got away before I could talk to you last night. I did some phoning and lined up a biplane like Joe crashed. How's about me flying over and picking it up? I'll finish your job—

His smile was sour.

"I've had enough of one-lung outfits, he snapped. He pointed up. I looked off the end of his finger. I saw a biplane coming in. "Here's John now. He'll do it right."

I watched the biplane come in. The pilot, John, handled it cockily. Behind it came a camera ship. The assistant nudged me.

"Better scram," he said. "Mr. Hillman's busy, lining up his next shot."

Burning, I started toward Joe's hangar. One lung outfit? Hillman was right. The only thing that wasn't shabby was the sign, "Associated Flying Service—Joseph Varden, Manager." But I wasn't licked yet—

I felt a hand on my arm. I looked up. A round-eyed, grizzled fellow was saying:

"I'm Osborne—business manager. Your brother had some money coming—"

"Thanks. Just turn it over to Miss Kay, will you?"

"I have some forms—"

I looked toward the biplane. It was on the line and the cockpit was empty. Osborne handed me a lot of papers. I took them.

"Have Miss Kay fill these out. There'll be insurance, too."

"Sure. Say, Osborne, who's this John fellow?"

He looked at me as if I wasn't quite bright.

"Are you kidding?"

"Let me have it."

"John Carlyle. He's got most of the money around here. Not directly connected, but he does Hillman a lot of good. Sort of interested in making money on the movie lot, even though he don't need it. Owns a couple ships."

"How did Joe get the job with Hillman?"

Osborne shrugged. "This is a cheap picture. Hillman was trying to save a couple of dimes."

"I get it. Thanks."

I hurried away, barged into the hangar. Through the glass partition I could see Merna Kay. She wasn't all I saw. There was a big, broad back toward me. It belonged to a guy who was sitting on the side of Merna's desk, leaning very close toward her. His voice was low and his whole attitude smacked of a guy who had the inside track—and knew it. I ploughed right into the tete-a-tete.

"Hello, Miss Kay," I said. "Osborne wants us to fill out these papers—"

The broad back swung. I found myself looking at—and measuring—a hefty number. He was about six feet and an inch tall. My height. He had about ten pounds on me. His face was long and narrow, and he had a jutting jaw, but somehow it didn't seem to have any strength. His nose was a bit hooked, as if he'd. once broken it. His eyes were black and unfriendly. He had a mop of blond hair, but the impression I got was the mop effect was put on.

"What the—" the lug growled.

"Business," I snapped. "Private business in a private office—"

Merna cut into my sentence.

"This is Mr. Carlyle," she said. "John Carlyle—helping Mr. Hillman with this picture—"

She looked from me to him.

"That's Tim Varden. Joe's brother."

Merna hadn't beaten down the hate that flashed between us. He just wasn't my kind of guy. And vice versa.

"Too bad about Joe," he said. There wasn't any sorrow in his voice. "It was Hillman's fault. Never should have sent a boy to do a man's job—"

I swear my fist was halfway to that jutting jaw before I knew what it was doing. It cracked. About a six-inch blow. Car1yle's features froze in a surprised sort of expression. Then his eyes went glassy. As he doubled up, I caught him. I got my shoulder in his middle, heaved up and carried him out of the hangar like a sack. I heard Hillman screaming:

"Carlyle! Where's Carlyle?"

'Hillman was standing by a canvas chair his stooges had placed for him. I eased Carlyle into it.

"Here he is," I said.

I walked back into the hangar.

MERNA was waiting for me. Her face was stiff with anger, disapproval, whatever it was. Even when she glared at me she seemed beautiful.

"That was a silly thing to do," she said.

"Couldn't help it. Why was it silly?"

"He's got a lot of money invested in this picture."

"He's slow with his dukes. Listen, Merna"—her first name just slipped out—"who did Joe mean when he said, 'He got me.'?"

"I don't know."

"Merna," I said, "I don't know who to trust—but I've to talk to somebody who can help me. I found out for sure this morning that Joe was murdered. I'm going to get the rat who did it if it takes forever."

I took her over to the wreck and explained it all to her.

"You got rid of Schaffer, the mechanic," she said.

"I fired him."

"You were smart. I paid him off."

We walked back into the office. She looked down at a yellow envelope on the desk.

"You've been so busy detecting, punching people and firing them I forgot this," she said, as she picked it up and handed it to me. It was a telegram. I ripped it open. "

It contained two words—a query. It asked:


It was signed:


I passed it over to Merna. I was disappointed to note her face had no particular expression as she handed it back.

"Who is he? How can he answer?" she asked.

"Ralph Huston," I began. I was hoping to see relief on her features at finding out Angelface was a man. I didn't.

"Ralph Huston," I repeated, "United States Aircraft, San Francisco, California. Just answer: 'Yes.' "

"You have nine more words."

"Just 'yes' will be enough for Ralph Huston." Then, in answer to her inquisitive look about this mysterious friend, I continued: "Angelface is redheaded and freckled, and has a grin like a Cheshire cat. He barnstormed with Joe and me for five years and never missed a blonde or a turnbuckle. We call him Angelface because one time he tried to dig a hole in an instrument board with his face and the board won."

ANGELFACE came in by plane that afternoon. The first thing we did was go over the camera ship. That was, after I'd spilled everything I knew. Merna helped us to figure out the swivel ring mount. Joe had it ?xed up pretty tricky. You could swing a camera around quite a bit of an arc by using a lever in the front cockpit.

"That's Joe's secret invention," Merna said. "Rear fuselage cameras are either locked in set position or operated by a cameraman. This lets the pilot swing it at will."

I played with it for a while. Then I put Angelface to work fixing a lot of things and seeing that the ship hadn't been tampered with. When I was sure she was all right, I hopped her. She was a real surprise. She had four hundred in the nose and stepped up to one-eighty wide open. She cruised at one-sixty.

After that, Angelface and I went into Hollywood, trying to dope a few angles.

"Schaffer ought to be on the list of suspects," Joe said.

"He is," I told him. "Merna says Joe was nosing around at something outside his job, which was getting contracts with motion picture studios and flying thrills into their pictures. Somebody got wise to what he was doing. But Schaffer—I can't find a motive."

During the next few days I did plenty of prowling around. I had plenty of time. I began to think my telephone was disconnected. But I learned things —and got one big surprise. Angelface told me:

"Schaffer's joined John Carlyle's mechanical crew on the Hillman picture."

It seems there was a Motion Picture Pilots' Guild. I had to get into it because I found there wasn't the slightest chance of getting work in pictures unless I belonged. I got in, although it cost me plenty. The boys, who were having slim pickings, didn't feel they were adding another hungry mouth when they took me in, but that I was just taking my brother's place. But being a member of the Guild and getting a job flying for fifty bucks a day—a hundred if you stunted—were two different things.

I got to know a couple of swell boys, "Ace Gorman," who had owned a few ships before he'd crashed them stunting, and Link Andrews, another veteran. They both hated Carlyle's guts, and told me how he'd run hooch during prohibition, had double-crossed a couple of partners and had frozen them out, and how he'd gotten plenty from movie business. It seemed he wasn't above cutting a few corners to get it.

"Your brother," Andrews told me, "was the first operator who ever got to first base."

"Carlyle was sore," Gorman added. "He needs all the business he can get. I don't give a damn if he has a couple valuable planes he can use to chisel the movie business—he's still living beyond the dough he makes. I've been in the game for fifteen years here, and I can get his income to dimes. He's way out beyond it, and riding to a fall."

I MADE the studios, talking to business managers; about air pictures I heard were coming up.

"Sorry," was the usual answer. "We've already signed with Carlyle."

Yes, he was a pilot, technical advisor, supplier of equipment and everything else. Finally, one afternoon when I went back to Tyson Airport, I got a surprise.

"Carlyle just called," Merna said. "He wants to see you."

I guess if I hadn't wanted to see his layout I'd have told her to tell him to come and see me. I went over to Municipal Airport, where he was based. He had a hangar as big as a house, full of everything from Fleet trainers to big single-motored transports, and a lot of wartime stuff. He kept me waiting in his outer office. Finally his secretary told me I could go in.

He didn't get up. He just sat there, chewing on it cigar. He said:

"I don't like you, Varden."

"You didn't by any chance call me over here to this great pile of cement, steel, and glass to tell me that, did you?" I burned.

"Your brother chiseled around the studios, and it didn't do him any good," he replied, ignoring my anger. "You've been chiseling, too, and the score's still zero for your side. You haven't worked."

He leaned across his big, glass-topped mahogany desk.

"And you won't work," he added. "Now, you've got one ship. I can use it. It's worth, tops, about fifteen hundred. I'll add five hundred nuisance value to that. Two thousand cash for your ship and the promise that you'll get the hell out of Southern California and stay out."

I headed for the door.

"I'm not getting out of any place," I said. "If anybody's doing any moving, you know where you can go."

I slammed the door so hard the glass rattled.

I hurried back to Tyson, but Merna and Angelface had gone. I tinkered around for a while with a camera I'd rented, studying it. I'd mounted it a couple of times, learning how to operate it and swing it in the air. Then I locked up, went to the hotel. Angelface wasn't there. I got to thinking that we were low on cash, and about Carlyle's offer, and decided I wanted to talk to Merna.

I called her. Her mother answered.

"This is Tim Varden," I told her. "Is Merna at home?"

"'No," she replied.

"Where can I reach her?" I asked. "I wouldn't know. I think she went out with John Carlyle."

The next day I heard about Born to Fly. Inspiration Pictures was going to put a million into it. Big names. Big production. Lots of pilots. Lots of planes. I cooled my heels most of the day trying to get in to see the studio's production manager.

I got in just before six o'clock. "If you want any kind of work or want to rent equipment for the picture," the manager told me, "you'll have to contact John Carlyle."

NEXT morning, Angelface and I got out to the field about nine o'clock. I was figuring on mounting the camera and getting in some more time learning how to fly it. We'd no sooner unlocked the door to the hangar and gone inside than a mob moved in on us. It didn't occur to me at the moment that they'd been waiting.

There were four big fellows, with flat feet.

"What's this?" I asked, as they moved toward me. I didn't like the way they held their hands ready, as if about to reach for something.

"A pinch," said one. "You're Tim Varden?"

I nodded, a chill running through me. He pointed to the camera ship.

"Yours?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"What were you running across the border last night?"

I tried to laugh. It cracked on my lips.

"What's the rib?" I demanded.

The leader flashed a badge.

"I'm United States Marshal Conroy," he said. He pointed to the others. "Marshal Foult, Customs Inspectors Hayden and Boyd."

He told them:

"Work over the ship."

He frisked Angelface and me.

"I still don't get it," I said.

"This ship flew over the border east of Calexico-Mexicali twice last night, outdistancing a patrol, Varden."

"How do you know it's this ship?" I demanded. "It hasn't been out of the hangar for two days."

"That's funny," said Foultz, touching a cylinder. "She's hot."

The fellow called Hayden, who had been digging down into the fuselage behind the camera mount, came up with a small can. He opened it, sniffed it, passed it around. I got a whiff of the acrid black stuff.

"Gum opium," he said.

Conroy asked me:

"Didn't that tramp steamer you came on stop a couple of days at Ensenada?"

That one jerked me up. I'd told only Merna about the engine breaking down, how I came to Los Angeles on a tramp steamer, and about how I'd rented a car to see the inland country.

"No answer? Well, you'll talk downtown," Conroy told me.

"This," I snapped, "is a lousy frame-up—"

My eyes caught a figure back in the shadows. It was Merna.

"I tell you, it's a frame-up. I suppose you think I—"

Conroy snapped cuffs on me. He nodded to Foultz.

"Bring along the mechanic, too," he ordered.

I looked for Merna. She was gone.

THEY didn't have anything on Angelface, so they had to let him go. But they worked me over and worked me over, asked me where I'd gone in the car from Ensenada, who I'd seen. They didn't learn anything because I didn't know anything. I kept thinking of Merna. I felt all gone in the middle, like somebody'd kicked me in the stomach. But the whole thing was beginning to shape up a little bit. And it was shaping more and more like Carlyle. It began to look "as if Joe had started a one-man war against Carlyle—bucking him in the flying business. Then, maybe, he'd gotten something on Carlyle. Carlyle fixed the control wires, or had the horse-faced Schaffer fix it. Joe was killed.

Then I moved in. I bucked Carlyle. Maybe Schaffer had told him I was working on the wrecked fuselage trying to get an answer. So he tried to buy me out, get rid of me. I wouldn't listen. So I'd been framed.

I didn't doubt for a minute that my ship had been over Mexicali. Schaffer still probably had a key to the lock on the hangar door. But how could I prove all this? That was a tough job if a guy was free. And here I was, in the hands of the Feds, with plenty of evidence pinned on me. Alibi? Not a chance. I'd been out driving alone in Joe's car—trying to figure things out.

The charge was suspicion of smuggling. The commissioner set bail at $10,000. I went through the identification routine and the tank, and was tossed into a cell. There, I got to thinking what Gorman had told me. "Carlyle spends more than he makes." Where did he get it? And if my brother had had something on him, what was it?

I WAS surprised when they came to me and told me I was free on bail. I was still more surprised to find Angelface and Merna waiting for me when I came out.

"How did you do it?" I asked Angel-face.

He thumbed at Merna.

"She did it," he said.

She made me a mock curtsey.

"I have an aunt," she said, "who owns some property. I got her to pledge her property as security to a bondsman."

So she'd helped me! That made me feel better. But not too good.

"That was white of you," I said. But there was no gratitude in my voice. I couldn't put it there.

"I thought you'd appreciate—"

She was pretty with that color in her cheeks.

"It was swell of you—but you might as well have it, Merna. You do this—but why did you tip Carlyle that I'd laid over in Ensenada? You did, didn't you?"

The color drained from her face.

"Why—I might have mentioned it— I guess I did—he was pumping me—"

"You didn't deliberately tell?"

"Of course not. I've had a feeling from the first about him. I've been leading him on, hoping I could learn something—wait!"

We were walking toward Merna's car. We stopped.

"I went out with him night before last—the night you tried to get me at home. Before he pumped me, he had a date with me for last night—but later he broke it! "

"To fly my ship to Mexicali!" I exploded. "Listen—now we're getting somewhere. And you're a peach, Merna. I'm sorry I thought—"

Her hand closed over mine. "Forget it, Tim."

That touch of her hand changed everything for me. We got into the car. I was filled with a lot of fresh ambition as Merna turned away from the curb-mg.

"It must be Carlyle," I said. I turned to Angelface.

"If you were going to frame somebody," I asked, "would you dream up a frame—or use one you knew all about?"

"A smart guy would pick one he knew how to work." Angelface replied. "If I was running hop, I'd know just how to pin it on somebody. I'd plant the opium, use the plane, tip the law—"

"That would be where he's getting the extra dough he spends," I said.

"He wouldn't deliberately make away with a man who was taking some of his business," Merna cut in. "But he might kill if, for instance, Joe had known enough to send him up for a few years."

I thought for a couple of minutes. I remembered stories in the' papers about Carlyle hopping movie stars to Yuma and to Tia Juana for elopements. Under the cover of legitimate business—

"Ever been a night watchman?" I asked Angelface.

"No," he said.

"Well, you're one now. From now on, every night, you keep an eye on Carlyle's hangar from dusk to dawn. If you can find anything out from his men, from the newspapers or any place else, I want to know. I'll stay right in the hangar waiting for your call."

The fields—Tyson Airport and Municipal Airport—were only five miles apart. While Carlyle was circling for altitude I could take off straight and ride his tail wherever he was going, I figured.

"You're taking chances," Merna said, as if the thought frightened her.

"Carlyle is going to pay," I said, "if he killed my brother."

I WAS dozing off at midnight when the telephone rang. I was dog tired. I'd still been trying to get myself a job on Born to Fly, scheduled to start in the next day or so. And I hadn't gotten to first base. I jumped off my cot, lifted the receiver, answered thickly.

"This is Angelface," I heard. "Carlyle is going to take off in a couple of minutes with Ronald Nirdlinger, the director, and Paula Dale, his star. Tia Juana."

"Okay," I said.

I banged up the receiver, started the motor right in the hangar to kill as much sound as I could. Then I opened the doors, taxied out. While the motor was warming I closed the doors. Then I took off, flew straight for Muncipal Airport. By the time I got there, there was no sign of Carlyle's ship under the lights. His hangar was dark. And I couldn't spot his navigation lights.

But I didn't let that worry me. I had it all planned. I cut straight down the coast for Chula Vista, where there was a small airport near the border. I landed, called a taxi, and raced across the border. Finding a wedding party consisting of a motion picture star and her director wasn't hard in the dingy, poorly-lighted one-main-street town of Tia Juana. They were in the Foreign Club, drinking champagne—but John Carlyle wasn't with them.

I hopped back into the taxi.

"To the field, over by Agua Caliente," I told the driver.

When the car got near there I saw the sheen of the ship's wings. There were no lights, no cars parked nearby.

"'Here's some dough," I said to the driver, peeling off a bill. "Beat it. Start cruising the road at five-minute intervals. Keep your mouth shut. Don't let a fare pick you up. And I'll flag you when I need you."

The ship was parked near some tall grass. It wasn't locked. I went through it from prop hub to tail surfaces. There wasn't any dope cached. I was a little disappointed. But something might happen yet.

It did.

A car started rolling off the highway onto the field. Before its lights picked me up I dived for the grass and lay there on my stomach. The car was an old Model T. A couple of Mexicans clambered out. They looked around and started jabbering. I knew Spanish from Brenagua.

I picked up enough of what they said to know they were waiting for Carlyle and they had something for him.

"Smart guy," I admitted to myself. "He lets them run the hop out, and take the risk."

A couple of minutes later a taxi rolled onto the field—one of those rattling Tia Juana jalopies. By this time I had figured enough out about the Mexicans so I could identify them anywhere. The tones of their voices. The clothes they wore. One was tall and thin for a Mexican, the other stocky. There was enough light to memorize their faces.

Carlyle got out of the taxi.

He asked for the stuff. The Mexicans got a loosely wrapped bundle from the car, gave it to him, and he sent them away. I watched him go to the ship with the bundle, stow it—I guessed he was putting it under the seat—then go back to the cab. When he was gone I found the package. It took quite a while to get it open without damaging the wrapper. It was gum opium all right. The smell and the feel of it told me that. I spent more time wrapping the bundle just the way it was and putting it back.

The car rolling onto the field gave me a start—and sent me scurrying. For a second I was sure the lights had picked me up. I dropped flat on my face. But the laughter in the car continued as if nobody had sighted anything. I lay on my stomach until Carlyle started his motor, taxied down the field and took off. I didn't want to risk being picked up by his landing lights.

Then I went back to the highway and hailed my driver.

"Back to Chula Vista," I said.

We rolled toward Tia Juana. On the American side, I could phone the customs and tip them. Carlyle would be caught red-handed. But that wouldn't be paying him off for killing my brother. Maybe a smart lawyer could spring him. Even if he got the full rap—four-teen years—that wouldn't be satisfying me. I was going to see that he got the full penalty. A life for a life. It might take time. This was the first skein in the web I was going to weave.

I'd found Carlyle's motive in killing my brother. I'd put myself in a position to charge "frame" in my case when I went on trial for smuggling. I'd accomplished a lot. But there was plenty more to be done—

The cab bumped through Tia Juana. A green light turned red. The driver came to a stop next to the curb.

I stiffened and ducked. Schaffer was standing there—looking into the cab!

I got my gun ready—in case he had spotted me and was coming for me. But the light went green and the cab jerked ahead. Maybe he hadn't seen me after all!

WE were all working, Merna, Angelface, and I. Merna was playing Carlyle, trying to ferret out some kind of a clue about Joe's death. Angelface was covering Schaffer, watching every move he made. I was digging around through Carlyle's past, looking for some light on him. Things were that way, and we weren't getting anywhere when Merna told me:

"Carlyle says he's sorry he's ridden you. He's going to use you on Born to Fly."

"What the devil—" I snorted.

"That's what I want to know," Merna agreed. "The picture starts tomorrow morning."

I got a call to report for work that night. They were going to use Tyson Airport for most of the picture because there wasn't much traffic to interfere with shooting.

"You got to watch yourself," Angel-face said. "I'll check every plane you fly."

The next morning I reported for work and saw one possible reason for Carlyle putting his okay on me. Every member of the Guild was working. And a couple who weren't members had been given temporary working permits. There was a real pilot shortage.

Two hours later I found out another reason. Carlyle needed my ship and had contracted it to Osborne, the business manager. At fifty dollars an hour. Carlyle called me over.

"I'm paying you twenty-five an hour for the use of your ship," he said.

"You mean," I answered, "that you're making twenty-five blood money while I risk my neck."

"Take it," he snapped, "or get out."

Hillman, the director, was standing nearby. S0 I didn't argue further. Hillman called me over.

"On the first shot this morning," he said, "we've got to make closeups of a ship filled with bullet holes. Carlyle says to use your plane."

"You mean you're going to drill the covers? Not for twenty-five an hour."

Carlyle stepped up.

"Don't be a sap," he said. "You're guaranteed a complete recovering job when the picture's over—and a hundred bucks bonus."

"Okay," I agreed.

Angelface, Merna, and I stood watching them jab "bullet holes" in the wings and fuselage of the camera crate.

They fiddled around, making shots of my ship with the star, Ronald Jason, in the cockpit. They shot from a low angle on the ground, into the sky, so it looked like Jason was racing along at a great rate. They called lunch.

Hillman and Carlyle came to me.

"This afternoon," Hillman said, "we're pulling a dog fight. I want you to go up with a camera locked on behind you, pointing straight ahead. Carlyle and the others will dive at you, 'strafe' you, and the camera will get them coming at you. It'll be a real kick. The back of your head will look like Jason's. You'll wear his helmet."

"In my ship?" I asked. "It's full of holes."

"It'll hang together," Hillman said. "Carlyle's camera ships'll be working on distant shots of the fight."

RIGHT after lunch we went to work. Nine ships went off the ground. Six fighting ships, two other camera ships and my job. We climbed to about five thousand feet to get clouds and then the action really began. One after the other, ships began diving at me. I recognized "Ace" Gorman and Link Andrews among the others. Carlyle was last to come down at me. As we had planned, he came head-on. I pressed the trigger on my stick to set the camera turning—and then hell broke loose!

Carlyle was pouring real lead!

Bullets spanged off my motor, and I saw a couple rip into the cover—along with the other holes. Then I got the whole diabolical plan-realized that everything had been carefully worked out to get me. Carlyle or Schaffer must've spotted me. But they hadn't brought it up. They were too clever for that.

Barn to Fly was coming up. Carlyle was in charge of the shooting schedule on the flying sequences. So he'd drilled my plane full of holes so that real bullet holes wouldn't be noticed after I'd crashed! He'd told Hillman, the director, what he wanted me to do—worked on Hillman and used him as a stooge —and now I was playing into his hands for the kill. Without anything but dummy machine guns I was a mile in the air, target for Carlyle, who'd shoot at me until I crashed, and hoped I'd burn. But if I didn't—the phoney bullet holes would act as a complete cover for the real ones!

Another mysterious death—with me the corpse!

Of course, I could go down. I could duck him that way—

So I dived.

But Carlyle was under me, shooting up. Then he came at me again, head-on. His two guns blasted fire. The other pilots, not knowing what was going on were following ground directions, staging mock fights in front of the other cameras. I kept my finger on the trigger as he piled in on me, wondering how long I'd last if I didn't get down.

Then I got smart.

Twice he'd dived at me, and twice he'd banked right. That gave me an idea. It was better than trying to get down. He made a tight bank, nosed at me again. I wondered if a bullet would get me this time. I couldn't take this kind of punishment much longer. Bullet holes dotted my wings, made a neat little path. Lead spanged off my motor. Then he was almost on top of me, a few yards from a crash. He banked away. My hand, as I held the stick, was covered with sweat. Sweat was rolling down my face, dropping onto my jumper. I felt weak as a drowning man —but I did it. As he banked, his wing surfaces flashed in front oi me for the smallest fraction of a second. And I swung my ship into them.

I felt my teeth grinding and my leg muscles tremble as I inched rudder and stick. I groaned aloud as my propeller bit into his wing surfaces. I felt a sickening jar. I saw the whirling, jagged stumps of my prop. A plume of smoke whipped from the motor mount, even as I cut the switch. A red shaft of flame shot out, licked at the fuselage.

Carlyle's ship, mangled, fell off into a spin. Carlyle went over the side. His parachute flared. I saw that from the corners of my eyes. I was watching the flame lash from my dead motor. I'd had that happen once before. I was cold, suddenly, and calm. The shake went out of my legs. There was one possible way to save the ship—

I slipped. I came down sidewise, blowing the flames off the fuselage. Right down to the ground. But I had to straighten out to land. And the fire, whipped straight back, billowed through the fuselage. The ship hit, bounced. Heat seared my face. My goggles and helmet saved my eyes and hair. I went over the side before she stopped rolling. I grabbed the fuselage, fumbled with the screw fittings on the camera. I was running, staggering, and my lungs were bellowing when the gas tanks went—

Carlyle had reached the ground he-fore I'd dead-sticked in. I'd seen his ship crash, too, and a solitary figure racing for it.

Carlyle and Hillman were waiting for me, feet wide apart, fists balled. So were a couple of motor cops assigned to patrol the field, too. They came at me, the cops went for their guns.

"Get him!" Carlyle screamed at them, pointing at me. "He's a maniac! He rammed me in mid-air!"

"Wh-a-a-t—" I fumbled. "Say—Carlyle tried to shoot me down—look at his guns—on the ship—"

"See! I told you he was crazy!" Carlyle stormed.

Osborne, the business manager, elbowed his way into the jam.

"I tell you he was blasting me down—" I repeated, and saw the suspicion and disbelief in the cops' eyes. I put down the camera.

"Easy, buddy!" said one.

He and the other fellow moved in. They lunged, grabbed me. I swung wildly.

"Look out, Joe!" yelled the other as he snaked an arm around my waist. I looked into two gun muzzles. Then I felt the snap of cold steel on my wrists. Osborne picked up the camera.

"Wait a minute!" he snapped. "Give him a chance. Let's look at Carlyle's wrecked ship."

Hillman grumbled.

"You're wasting time," Carlyle growled.

But we went to the wreck. Not only were there no shells, either loaded or fired, but there were blocks in the barrels of the guns. I got it right away. Schaffer had been the man I'd seen racing to the wreck. But I couldn't prove anything, now. Sweat oozed out all over me, and I tried to keep from shaking.

"It looks like attempted murder, all right," said one of the cops.

"Throw him in the can!" Hillman ordered.

Angelface and Merna came up then.

"Guard Osborne," I told them. "Get that film developed fast. Keep your mouths shut. Be sure it's shown with the other rushes at the studio—and have a couple of cops there."

OSBORNE, Merna and Angelface told me about the rushes later. Osborne had the stage nicely set. While I was at detective headquarters getting hell from the cops, who thought they could make me talk, the rushes went on the screen. Osborne saw to it that Carlyle was there with Hillman.

Carlyle, I knew, was still under the illusion that the camera in my ship was fixed. He didn't know about the swivel my brother had invented, which allowed the camera to be shifted by the lever in the cockpit. He thought it had been shooting straight ahead, catching only the "attacking" ships in its frame.

When the film went on he was sitting there with Hillman, boosting his own stock. But he shut up when my stuff came on. Angelface saw him grip the arms of his seat when the camera started shifting, focused on the left lower wing of my ship. He made a hoarse, gutteral sound as a string of bullet holes appeared, one by one.

Angelface signaled to the cops outside the projection room. Carlyle darted wildly for the door. Angelface braced himself.

"Not so fast, killer!" he snapped, and stuck out his foot.

Carlyle went down. Angelface, Osborne and two dicks landed on his back.

"Schaffer—Schaffer did it—" Carlyle kept saying. "I didn't know those guns were loaded—"

So they picked up Schaffer. They told him Carlyle had confessed. He came along quietly, sullenly. Until they put him face to face with Carlyle. Then his hands started working convulsively, and his face twisted with a hate that chilled you.

"You lying rat!" he spat, and lunged at Carlyle. His hungry fingers closed over Carlyle's throat. It took three cops to pry his hands loose.

"You dirty killer!" the mechanic screamed. "You made me the fall guy! When Joe Varden started cutting in on you, and got wise to your smuggling racket, you fixed his control wires so he'd crash. Then Tim Varden got wise—and you figured out—how to get him-"

"He lies!" the cowering Carlyle snarled through pale lips. "He lies—"

"He gave me five hundred for helping him fix the wires!" Schaffer shouted. His long finger accused Carlyle. "Then, after he'd got rid of Joe Varden, along come his brother, Tim. He tried to buy Tim out. But Tim was too smart. He wouldn't sell.

"He figured Carlyle for the 'killing. Carlyle stole his ship, ?ew it over the border, tipped the Feds, planted the junk. Carlyle nearly went crazy when Tim was sprung. I spotted Tim in that cab at Tia Juana and told Carlyle.

"Mantell knew he had to get Tim, then. So he figured out how to shoot him down, and shifted the production schedule to do it. He told me he'd frame me if I didn't rig the real guns and load 'em. When I saw Tim come in for a landing, I knew I had to duck the shells and plug the guns. I did—"

"All lies—all lies—" Carlyle snarled.

"Shut up, Carlyle!" snapped Fulkes, in charge of the dicks. "I've heard enough to send you both to the gas chamber."

They let me out a few minutes later.

"It's swell," I said to Angelface, "that Joe avenged his own death with that swivel invention."

Yes, business is good, now. Everybody's getting a fair break, and all the pilots are working again, sharing equally. And Merna and I are doing okay, too. The ?rm is Tim Varden and Company. Merna's working right along with Angelface and me—until she has to retire temporarily.

Mrs. Varden, you see, is infanticipating.