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DON WINSLOW of the NAVY . . . and the "Invincible" Disaster


"WHAT'S that, Red?" Lieutenant Don Winslow walked over to the window of the hotel room where his friend, Lieutenant Red Pennington sat with his nose in a book. "What's that?" Don repeated again, this time looking out the window and straining his ears to catch the cry of a newsboy.

It was an extra and the two men caught the words "Disaster" and "Naval."

"Holy mackerel!" exclaimed Don and reached for his coat. "Now what?"

He raced down and to the curb.

"Here y'are, mister," the newsboy handed over the paper. "Big naval disaster. Th' Invincible—"

"The Invincible!" Don barked unbelievingly as he drew out a coin and took the paper in return. "It can't be!"

But it was. Upon reaching the room, Don and Red scanned the headlines, read the tragic story.

"It exploded!" Red's tone was explosive. "Exploded, Don—get that?"

"With Admiral Christenson, Commander James and crew—"

Don was interrupted in his reading when the telephone sounded sharply.

"I'll get it, Red," he said and lifted the receiver.

The conversation was not lengthy.

"The Captain wants to see us," he told Red shortly. "We'll read the details on the way. Hop along, Red."

As they taxied to the naval office, they poured over the frightful story.

Naval officials were tmable to offer any explanation for the disaster, other than that it had been caused by the unknown device with which Admiral Christenson was experimenting.

"That's rot!" Don snapped and crumpled the paper in disgust. "What's more—I have a hunch this call has something to do with the disaster."

Don's surmise was correct.

"You have been selected," the Captain told him, "to undertake a perilous mission. We have reason—good reason to believe that the device with which the Admiral was experimenting did not cause the explosion. In fact, we had word from him that the device had proved a success beyond his dreams. He was elated, confident over and above any of his previous experiments. Then—there came the explosion."

Don stood statue stiff, waiting for what was to follow.

"You have worked in Mexico," the Captain said abruptly. "That is now your destination." He placed a map on his desk and pointed. "There, we have cause to believe, is a hidden nest of that international criminal—the Cobra. This is his work! Pennington is assigned as your aide. You leave at once!"

Red was called in and detailed instructions were given the two. Then they returned to their hotel to pack.

Orders were to go by plane and in less than an hour, Don and Red were zooming above the clouds.

It was that evening when they arrived at the Mexican town. Here, at the appointed place, they were supplied with garments of humble fishermen, and their faces were stained.

Their fishing boat was ready and Juan, and his poor deaf-mute brother, waited for the man who was to conduct them to the town several miles down the coast.

"Remember, amigo," Don told Red in their last conference, "you hear nothing, and you can say nothing!" he grinned suddenly. "When we get back to the States you can tell me all you've stored up!"

"Ugh!" said Red.

Not long after that their man came.

"All is ready, senores," he announced. "I will take you in my fishing boat. You are my cousins come to visit me. There will be no suspicion."

"Yes, yes—" Don was impatient. "But this man you rescued from the sea. Where is he now?"

"At my home. So still he lies in his bed—never moving so much as the eye. But come—I will show you."

The Mexican wrapped his striped robe about him closely and led the way to the shore. Here a number of boats lay in readiness for the dawn when their owners would set out to visit their nets.

"That is my boat," their guide pointed. "Come."

Shortly after the three were sailing over the waters.

"Yes," the Mexican said suddenly, "it was a strange fish that was brought from that morning sail strapped by his belt to the log. In the dress of a pilot, he was. No mark, no name on his clothing—only that strange picture on his arm. An ugly picture to carry always—a cobra, coiled and spitting."

Don and Red exchanged a quick look.

"A cobra, you say," Don repeated thoughtfully. "And exactly what day did you find him?"

The man named the day and the hour.

"But he had drifted for several days," he added. "He was almost dead with exposure and thirst."

Don figured rapidly in his mind. Several days—say three days the flier had drifted, that would make it tally with the explosion of the Invincible.

"I am eager," said Don, "very eager to see this fish of yours, my friend."

Red, who was preparing for his role of deaf mute, said nothing. Except for the look he had given Don at the mention of the cobra tattooed on the flier's arm, his face had been absolutely without expression.

Looking ahead at the town, nestling at the foot of the high mountains, Don felt a glow of satisfaction that his friend was in on this with him.

Upon landing they went to the home of the Mexican, and directly to the bedroom which had been given the rescued man. That he had suffered greatly showed on the drawn face.

"So he lies," said the Mexican, "never opening his eyes."

Don was grateful that this was so. It was his hope that the man would remain in his half-unconscious state until a matter of extreme importance might be cared for. This was to copy the tattoo on his own and Red's right arm.

"You go with the Mexican," he told Red. "Get the needle and stain. I'll make a drawing of the thing and be ready when you get back. Hurry! "

Red went with all possible speed, returning within four hours. The flier had not stirred, so, after the cobra design had been marked indelibly on their upper arms, they had the opportunity to compare the results with that of the flier. They were identical.

"But I hate to carry this thing around with me all the rest of my life," Don grumbled.

Red shot him a quizzical look, forgetting for the moment that he was deaf as well as dumb.

The look said plainly: "How long will the rest of your life be, old pal?"

Both knew well the perils that awaited them. Now they must enter the Cobra's lair.

There was one consolation however, well founded. The Cobra's activities did not center themselves in one spot. They embraced the four corners of the globe. Planes had been seen in this vicinity, and Don felt reasonably certain that this was only one of the Cobra's many hide-outs. If this was the case, the men in charge might not recognize him and Red. They might well believe the tale he was prepared to tell.

Don called the Mexican to an inner room for a final conference.

"Above all," he said earnestly, "do not let this man out of your hands. A doctor will come and attend him. When he is well, he will he taken away. Keep in communication with this man." Don handed him a paper on which was written a name. "Now," he said, "we will get into our duds. They certainly are exact duplicates of this fellow's outfit. Come on, Red."

Hastily they dressed.

"When it is dark we sail," Don told the Mexican. "You will take us as we planned in the general direction of the spot where the planes have been seen. Then—we'll have to swim for it to look like the real thing."

Accordingly, as the darkness settled, the three set out. Several miles from shore Don and Red dived in and swam toward the land.

"We're on the right track," Don called out softly. "I hear planes."

When, at dawn, they reached the far shore, Don and Red had the look of two fliers who had narrowly escaped with their lives. They crawled to the sand and sprawled there, exhausted.

On a rise of the rocky ground they were sighted by two men in fliers' uniforms.

"What is this?" said the Adder, a dark man who wore a mustache. "Can it be—?"

"We shall soon see," the Rattler answered, and they walked down to where Don and Red were rising to a sitting position.

There Don told his story.

"We bombed the Invincible, but we got ours in turn. You've heard of us—this is Silent," he pointed to Red. "I'm the Shark. I suppose the Cobra is, shall I say—angry?"

The Adder was taken in completely. Pie had heard of no man in the Cobra's ranks who was called "Silent," but when Don said "Shark" he believed the story. The Cobra invented fantastic names for his underlings.

The Rattler was not so sure. Both he and the Adder assisted Don and Red to the log-house high up on the mountain side, but, at his first opportunity, the Rattler spoke his mind to the Adder.

"Listen, Adder," he growled, "this looks strange to me. Somehow, well—I don't like it!"

The Rattler poured another glass of whiskey.

"Quit worrying," he advised easily. "They both have the mark of the Cobra, haven't they? We know the bomber plane was lost. Who else could they be?"

So saying he called out to the Chinese servant to bring another bottle.

The Ratder said little in the presence of Don, but he was less careful before Red who played his part of "Silent" to perfection. Thus it was that Red heard the message from the Cobra that evening.

"Have you not searched for your missing comrades?" came a hissing voice from the loudspeaker. "I am certain they live. Their work is not done. Assist them to die nearest port—at once!"

Red could scarcely believe his ears. Nevertheless he allowed the Cobra's men to enlighten Don.

They were conducted with all courtesy to the city, where Don communicated at once with the Captain. The answer was totally unexpected.

"Return at once."

"What does it mean anyhow?" Don growled to Red. "I thought—"

But upon their return Don and Red found out what it meant. The Captain showed them a letter.

"Fools!" It opened in a scrawling hand. "Dolts! As though I did not know my man lay almost lifeless. He has been returned to my ranks again—where he belongs. But you—I do not want you. I war upon your Yankee nation. I take your ships, your inventions. You, I toss aside. I show you my absolute indifference, by sending you home empty handed to face the laughter of your leaders. The stronghold in the mountains is no more. And me—you will never find. The Cobra."

It was when they were back again in the hotel room and putting on their uniforms that Don paused to look out the window, and growl his sentiments.

"You I toss aside!" he snapped. "I send you home empty handed! You will never find me!" He smashed his fists together. "Oh—won't I!" he roared.

"Quiet," Red suggested. "They could have cut us to ribbons—and then I'd never have a chance to talk again. We heard the Cobra's voice anyway—and met a few of his little pals. Our turn will come, Don."

"You bet it will!" Don said firmly. "Our turn will come!"