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MARCAS REDONDA, peppery little Dictator of Chiliana, rubbed his hands complacently at the European governments' rivalry over development and mining rights in his strategic little country. The treasury was well-padded with taxes from them.

"Now, we must have a real Army, a Navy, and what is more, an Air Force," he snapped at the pudgy old General. "We must be prepared!"

General Manuel Moriera, figurehead President of Chiliana since the Izaura revolution, peered suspiciously at Redonda and readjusted his great bulk in the chair. "Prepared for what, Senor Dictadar," he puffed over the four-inch stockade of his military collar. "The bandit, Miguel Villegas, could be our only worry, and he is hiding in the Chico hills. If he puts in an appearance—you have only to shoot him."

Redonda bounced impatiently on his toes. "An Army and a Navy to protect our shores. An Air Force to protect our boundaries along the north and west. Europe is at war. We must be prepared. Fashions have changed. No longer do smart governments put their capital into schools, public buildings, and highways."

"Ah, yes," breathed the President, beginning to get the point. "The boundaries, of course. The unsettled ones could be very firmly established to our satisfaction. With an Army, a Navy, and a squadron of airplanes, we might even extend them, eh?"

"A squadron!" gagged the little Dictator. "Senor Presidente, please be rational. A Wing, a Group, an Air Force that will dominate the whole of South America."

The word was soon flashed to all the aeronautical centers of the world. Chiliana needed airplanes, and lots of them. Men and machines from all over the world began to gather at Rolario, military capital of Chiliana. The test airport hummed with the activity of bombers, fighters, and ships of all types trying to prove their worth to the government officials. It was a glorious heyday for every adventurer and super salesman in the flying world.

This was the day for testing dive bombers. And Punch Woodward, ace salesman for Vulcan Aircraft of California was determined to come off first best. But competition was keen, and Punch was very much afraid that some of his competitors had done some palm-greasing on the side.

Old man Vulcan would never stand for any bribery. They tried it once in China but lost out to the Italian Bredna, reportedly because they were outbid. Punch Woodward had good reason to believe that here in Chiliana a little palm-greasing would do a lot more towards getting the order than the famed Vulcan Slotted wings and supercharged engines.

The Bredna was in the thick of this, too, and looked like copping the 300- plane order. Little Franz Werfel, the German racing pilot, was in there pitching for the German Starck. The 1,000 h.p., stub-winged job streaked through its required paces like a thoroughbred. Young Werfel was a happy-go-lucky soul, blonde and bubbling with life. Inherent discipline made him stay within certain bounds, but at times he acted more like a school boy out on a lark, rather than 3 high-pressure salesman trying to peddle twelve million dollars' worth of flying equipment.

"That guy is either a prep-school nut, or else he's the smoothest article on this field," Punch Woodward argued with himself as he watched Werfel bring the Starck in over two standards in an exhibition of picking up messages, stimulating certain conditions in the field of active service.

Boppo Blaine, the friendly Britisher who was representing Hamilton of Hen-don with a Hamilton "Harrier" tried to comfort Punch.

"Look here, Woodward," he muttered, peering past the bowl of a massive briar pipe, "you and I are only down here for the trip. Bloody Cook's tour, if you ask me. We haven't a chance."

"You've got a neat job," argued Punch, his square jaw firm, but willing to concede a point. "I'd sooner fly your bus than the Bredna." She doesn't have enough fin surface for my money."

"Granted," nodded Blaine, "but unfortunately, that isn't the point. We can't beat this set-up."

"What do you mean?" demanded Woodward, drawing up his long slim legs. "We're both offering them a job that fills all their requirements."

"Correct," agreed Blaine. "But if you get the order, what's the most important clause in the contract?"

"You mean the dough? These guys have got plenty. They cleaned up their national debt last year on oil alone."

"Granted!" said the hawk-faced Englishman again. "But you know what the German Starck firm will take, don't you?"

Woodward's jaw clamped tight.

"I was wondering about that," he said finally. "I tried to get it out of that little guy with the high heels—er, Redonda. He wouldn't answer straight-forward."

"If Starck gets the contract they'll take payment in petroleum," said Blaine. "Hitler is begging for high octane fuel. We can't beat this barter game, Punch, my boy!"

Without turning his head Woodward asked, "What are we going to do, Blaine?"

"You'll do something, but I'm damned if I know what I'll do," Blaine said.

"I wish you'd tell me," Woodward got up suddenly.

"You next?"

"Yeh! Dummy—bomb dive with a straight pullout below 200. Be at least a'7-G. Hope my belly stays in."

"S'truth! I'd forgotten that," the Britisher gasped. "Oh my hat . . . 7- Gs . . . and no chance to sell, if you win."

"Be seein' you," Woodward growled over his shoulder and strode off toward the Vulcan "Vortex."

BOB PLUM (sometimes known as Plum-Bob to his associates, because of his deliberate and exacting demands where fitting, rigging, and mechanical adjustments were concerned) was vetting the port wing.1 He closed one eye and screwed his hopeless horse face into an atrocious mask of dissatisfaction.

1: Vetting the wing means to bring both wings into perfect alignment. This is done when the plane is on a perfectly level floor and the fuselage is equidistant from the floor at all corresponding points. Perfect alignment demands that the plane be mounted on blocks. However, if blocks are not available, it is important that both tires are evenly inflated.

"Yer can't vet a wing if yer ain't got an air pressure gauge to check the wind in the tires," he argued as Punch came up. "How do I know whether they's 29 or 30 pounds in them wheels?"

"Where's yours? You had one when we came down here."

"I had a lot of things. If we stay here another week we'll walk home in our shorts. Someone's swiping everything we got."

"Go over and borrow that Limey's. He's okay. He'll let you have one." "They got his, too. I was just talking to his greaseball."

"They all bin swiped?" asked Punch.

"Seem to. Yer can't vet a wing right unless. . . . "

"I know . . . I know. Let it go. I'm doing the dummy dive in five minutes. Just check the elevators."

Punch wandered into the shed that had been reserved for the foreign manufacturers. Boppo Blaine was going over his job with a dismal mug, while his mech, a veteran from the old Brooklands track, worked with the calm, emotionless effort that is the mark of all Britishers.

Punch took a wide roll of adhesive tape from his valise. He let down his breeches, pulled up his outer shirt, and began binding his stomach over his undershirt. Roll after roll he wound on and then, drawing a deep breath, he tucked in his shirt and adjusted his clothing again.

"I hope that keeps my gizzard in," he said with a knowing glance at the Englishman.

"Mine is forcing its way out at the very thought," Blaine muttered. "We keep losing things, Punch. How are they treating you?"

"We lost a tire gauge, as far as I can make out. Anything else?"

"A special sparking-plug socket wrench and another bit we use to adjust the blower fan. Mucky work going on eh?"

"It wouldn't be young Werfel, would it?"

"I don't think so. He seems all right."

"Capello. . . . The Bredna guy?" asked Punch snapping the thigh straps of his 'chute harness.

The Englishman said nothing, and in saying nothing he suggested a wealth of suspicion.

"Oh, well. If you need anything, you know where our stuff is," Punch said striding off with that strange stiff stride of a man who is wrapped in dive-bomber test bindings.

"Thanks. Best of luck!"

THE Vulcan Vortex was run out to the checking stand set up by the aviation officials of the Chilianan government. They were doing the thing right, even Punch Woodward had to admit that. They had every known device for examining and testing military planes. Mechanics went over the plane measuring the oil, fuel, and position of the 400 kilogram bomb. Nothing was overlooked and for the tenth time the details of the plane and its equipment were jotted down on test-check charts.

"You will wait a few minutes, Mr. Woodward," a gaunt man with a heavy moustache said. "Adjutant Capello is about to make his test dive."

"Yeh. I see him. He ought to hit it straight in the middle with that mid-wing job. She's built for that particular stunt."

The Chilianan official ignored the statement and went back to the desk and listened in on the reports coming down from the fast Bredna plane, poised for the dive from about 10,000 feet. A loud speaker on the long table was barking a series of reports.

It was in Spanish, but Punch knew enough to catch the general idea. The Italian pilot was putting on a show. He was an actor and his lines had been well rehearsed beforehand.

"I am simulating an actual attack on an enemy ...

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