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Releasing the pressure on the gun lever, Lt. Jim Holzer watched the point Messerschmitt flutter into a flaming dive that'nearly disrupted the entire Nazi formation.

Tightening his stomach muscles against the high-speed belt, he ripped around in a 180-turn that temporarily blacked out the vivid blue sky. As the haze cleared from his eyes, Jim Holzer suddenly saw something which caused him to sit up very straight in the cockpit. Across from him, flying No. 7 position, a British plane was slanting off, cutting back toward the Maginot Line. He took the hand mike off the prong and spoke into it.

"What's wrong, Brown?" he asked.

"Looks like I'd better start carrying a rifle," came Brown's disgusted voice. "Firing gear gone dead on me, again, just when I need it."

The C. O. cut in. "Right-o, Brown. Back to the drome."

The nine Messerschmitts were circling some distance away, preparing for another dive-thrust. Holzer looked around the sky, suddenly let out an oath. Flashing down out of the sun, like a bullet, was a lone Nazi plane! And it was headed straight for Brown's plane!

"Look out, Brown! Above you!"

But the warning came too late. The Nazi struck with the speed of light. The Messerschmitt, with the full outline of the British plane as a target, opened up with its hub cannon. A shell caught the doomed Brown, exploding the tail to bits.

Holzer saw Brown slide back his hatch enclosure and fling himself out of the plane. The white blob of his pilot-chute blossomed out, dragging the big chute from its pack.. But in the split second that Jim Holzer had to see the desperate leap of the Britisher, he caught one horrible fact. Brown's body was being riddled by bullets! Bullets from somewhere in that swirlmg hell of Messerschmitts and Spitfires. Whose bullets? Nazi or British; purposeful or accidental? Holzer knew suddenly they weren't accidental.

Jim Holzer ground his teeth. A rat flew for the Nazi squadron. A rat whom even his mates avoided. Was this Nazi plane that of Von Stapp?

The attacking formation of Nazis were back upon them now, but Jim Holzer was not conscious of it. He had but one thought! Get that cowardly murderer, whoever he was, who picked on cripples. The German was circling some distance belong, and Holzer cut down to intercept him.

His lips were pressed back against his teeth in a snarl of hate. Suddenly his eyes narrowed in blazing slits. The crossed-sword insignia ©n the fuselage of the other plane was plainly visible now. It was Von Stapp! The bloody butcher who revolted even his own command. He rarely fought in the open but always hung back, waiting for cripples, for cold meat. No wonder the carrion had run up a string of victories. That kind of a fiend would shoot his own mother in the back for a couple of medals.

Apparently Von Stapp had not seen the avenging Holzer slicing down on him. The Messerchmitt bloomed in Holzer's sights. Steady fingers tripped the guns. A blast of leaden slugs crashed almost into the leather-coated Nazi. But though the tracer showed fiery streaks licking straight into the cockpit, somehow the German escaped their lethal sting, as the diving Spitfire zoomed past.

The Messerschmitt's nose swung around as if going into a. vertical, and then shot upward in a prop-clawing climb. Eyes narrowed, tensed, Jim Holzer matched the maneuver, waiting for the flashing target to settle down in his rings.

His fingers tightened. The Spitfire bucked with the rattle and recoil of eight Brownings. Out from the wings came eight streams of converged death.

He held the stick in his stomach. His fingers loosened. The Nazi was going up like an express elevator. He pressed down again. The guns took up their deadly chatter for a moment, and then abruptly the pounding weapons went silent. His electrical firing gear had gone wacky too. He was in the same spot as Brown!

HE, edged back the throttle, allowing the Nazi to pull away. But apparently the wily von Stapp had hgd too much experience at spotting ships in difficulty. The bright-colored Messerschmitt dime-turned, came roaring back for Holzer.

But instead of allowing himself to be drawn into one of these dangerous, head on contests, the Nazi came in a wide circle, sniffing at the Spitfire suspiciously, making sure of its plight.

Giving up all pretense of fight, Holzer watched the approaching Nazi warily, waiting until his enemy was in an awkward position before making his play. His hand tightened on the stick. Then suddenly, instead of slapping it over, the fingers around the stick clenched, froze. Jim Holzer's blue eyes widened behind his goggles, then narrowed into two needlepoints of icy flame.

Never before had he engaged the despised von Stapp in personal combat, never before had he seen him at such close range. Even across the air space he saw it. The scar! A livid, disfiguring scar that shone like an evil star. And now Lt. Jim Holzer came out of his trance, went into action. The Spitfire's wing went up, it came around sharply. But instead of diving toward safety, it was heading straight for the Nazi crate!

Hauptmann von Stapp seemed paralyzed for a moment by the crazy, raving maneuver of the mad pilot of the Spitfire. Perhaps he feared the Brownings weren't dead after all, that it was a ruse. Or perhaps he guessed the truth, that the Spitfire was attempting to ram him, ignoring personal consequence. At any rate, the Nazi suddenly yanked the Messerschmitt into a screaming zoom that finally ended in an Immelmann, reversing his direction, carrying him away from the vengeful Spitfire.

Holzer went through the same maneuver, but his action came seconds after those of the Nazi, and he found himself hopelessly left behind by the more powerful Messerschmitt. The Hun was even out of firing range now, much less "ramming" range. But Holzer wasn't giving up, even though it looked hopeless. Savagely he flung his crate after the fleeing von Stapp, his face working in rage.

Suddenly a shadow flitted across his nose, and from out of the sky above a plane slashed down in his path, blocking him off from the crossed-sword Messerschmitt. Holzer waved frantically, wildly. The plane bore the insignia of the 89th, and a pennant stripe was painted on the nose. The pilot of the newcomer was Major Fordney Barlow, C. 0. of the outfit.

"Back in formation, Holzer!" came the crisp order.

Wearily, dejectedly, he brought the nose of his Spitfire around, rejoined the formation. The scrap seemed over with von Stapp's abrupt departure.

The flight had lost one ship in the air battle. Young Brown. But Holzer's smoldering, hate-brimmed blue eyes were seeing something else. Those burning eyes were seeing something that had happened on a September Sunday three months ago. September 10th! He would never forget the date.

HE, and his twin brother, Sam, had been visiting their uncle in Berlin on the fateful day. They had crossed the Atlantic to test some American planes for the French General Staff, and upon conclusion of their tests had decided on a holiday with their kinsman, a brother of their father.

Jim and Sara Holzer had been born in the United States, were American citizens, but their father and mother had come from Germany only the year before their birth. As a result, German was often spoken in their home, and both youths used the tongue without accent. After their second week Berlin they might easily have been mis taken for Germans.

The last week of their stay had seen the German capital transformed into seething activity. Hitler's invasion of Poland had actually come.

"England won't fight," everyone said complacently. But then came September 3rd, that eventful Sunday, and the British declared war on Hitler!

The jammed exodus of passengers from Europe caused the Holzer boys to delay their sailing ten days past the date originally planned. They decided to remain in Germany rather than take refuge in Holland or Belgium. It was a great lark. Danger? They were Americans. America wasn't in the war.

But then on this day, exactly seven days after war had been declared, Jim and Sam Holzer had been passing by a biergarten when suddenly a Nazi air officer, resplendent in the new uniform of a hauptmann, had staggered out onto the sidewalk and accosted them. He had spoken in German, and they, quite naturally, responded in the same language.

Not many words had passed before the boys realized they were dealing with an arrogant, drunken man who might prove dangerous. He was insisting on them accompanying him to the nearest recruiting post and joining their class. Either he refused to accept their explanation, or else he was too drunk to hear their words.

Sam did most of the talking. "But you don't understand," he repeated for about the fourth time. "My brother and I aren't German citizens, we're Americans."

"Ja, the vaterland needs boys like you," went on the Nazi. "We must strike with every ounce of our strength, destroy the pigs of British and French."

Several bystanders had gathered and seemed sympathetic toward the two youths, however they dared not interfere. A soldier in Nazi Germany, especially a soldier of Hermann Goring's air force, was comparable to a sacred cow of India.1

1: Aviators in Germany today are a privileged class. They have been given a special social caste by Goring. They are gentlemen, much to the disgust of Prussian officers of the old school. Even the mechanics and workers in airplane plants get special consideration. The plant workers live in underground dormitories like college boys, and are given the best of food and clothing. These men make the highest wages of any skilled labor class in Nazi Germany.-Author.

The Nazi reached out suddenly, grabbing Sam's arm. "Come on with me," he growled. "I'm going to see that you report."

Sam Holzer jerked from the man's grip. "Keep your hands off me," he said evenly. "I'm an American citizen, not one of your vassels."

The Nazi reached for him again, catching his arm in a firm grip. Jim moved forward to help his brother, but Sam struck out savagely, cracked the drunken officer squarely on the chin and sending him reeling to the pavement.

Then he turned with his brother and the two started walking away.

They had not taken a dozen steps, however, when there was a sharp cry of warning followed by the report of a pistol. Jim Holzer started to turn around, but suddenly he was horrified to see his brother stumble and clutch wildly at thin air. He took several tottering steps, then pitched forward on his face. When Jim bent over, twisted his brother about, the eyes were staring straight into the sun, unblinkingly. Before Jim Holzer could force his way through the surging mass of people, the Nazi had been swallowed up, had disappeared. Frantically, wildly, he searched faces, but the German was gone.

THE authorities promised the American Consul that the Nazi officer would be severely punished—if caught. But he was never caught. Somehow no one seemed to remember the Nazi officer, what he looked like, his organization.

Ten days later, James Holzer, American citizen, temporarily renounced his citizenship, swore allegiance to the Crown for duration of the war, and was fitted with the trim, blue uniform of the Royal Air Force.

Prominent in his memory was the livid scar that stood out on the Nazi's face. A scar that ran down the cheek and cross the chin.

Von Stapp had been opposite the Moselle sector during all the weeks Jim Holzer had been up. But he hadn't known that "the butcher" and the man who had murdered his brother in cold blood were one and the same. Now that he knew, it was certainly not surprising. Von Stapp fought exactly like the cowardly air officer in Berlin, a stabber-in-the-back.

The look on Holzer's face as he sliced through the air toward the 89th's tarmac had frozen into ope of grim determination. The bitter regret of von Stapp's temporary escape was gone. After all, the real thing, the important thing, was the fact that the murderer of his brother was npw known to him by name, could never escape him. War or no war, the time would come. In fact, considering it calmly, Jim Holzer was actually glad the Nazi had escaped him today. He would inform the German of his identity, why he was to be killed. Then drop a challenge to a personal duel. And when his bullets struck down the cowardly assassin, von Stapp would know just why he was dying.

The 89th's tarmac was in a narrow valley, tricky by reason of bad down currents. For that reason the flights usually landed in single file, and on this occasion, Holzer was the last to hit the iron-matted runway.

He taxied up on the apron, legged down from the pit. Turning away from the crate, he found himself confronted by Major Barlow. The C. O. looked at him a moment, then brushed past and mounted the stirrup.

"I thought so," he announced, stepping down. "Dead."

"Why, yes," admitted Holzer, "my guns quit."

"And you were trying to ram von Stapp," accused Barlow. "What the hell's eating you, old chap? I know how you felt. We all felt the same way. No one likes to see a man go opt like Brown did, but—well, it's no reason to deliberately commit suicide."

"No," replied Holzer, "I realize that—now. That yellow rat's carcass isn't worth it. But I'm going to get him," he added evenly. "And live to hoist a drink to his death."

"What are you driving at?" probed Barlow.

"I mean as soon as my guns have been cleared, I'm going over and challenge von Stapp to a personal duel."

Barlow's eyes narrowed. "No you're not," he replied. "This is war, not a dueling ground for personal grudges. We fly in formation only!"

Jim Holzer did not reply, but something about the set of his square jaw spoke louder than words.

"You heard me," repeated Barlow, warningly; "you're not to challenge von Stapp."

Next morning Holzer was up before dawn and when Larry Elliott, the aircraftsman walked into the hangar, he halted in surprise, his jaw agape.

"What's going on?" he questioned, eyeing Holzer's ship in astonishment. "Why'd you paint the bloody thing red all over? Bless me if it doesn't look like an extra-alarm fire!"

Holzer grinned. "I want von Stapp to recognize me—after I deliver that challenge today."

"Challenge?" Elliott shook his head. "You can't do that," he protested.

"I can, and I will," announced Holzer calmly. "And now get those tanks filled and see that new ammo belts are fitted."

"But—the major—?"

"Never mind the major," growled Holzer. "You do as I said."

"Right, lieutenant," said the aircraftsman. "But you'd better watch your step. This isn't the Home Guard, you know. The major is a holy terrier when it comes to direct orders."

"You let me worry about that," replied Holzer gruffly. Then, his tone softening. "Sorry, Larry; I didn't mean to be nasty.2 But this is something personal and I've got to settle it my own way. Von Stapp shot my brother, killed him. Not in wartime, but back in Berlin. It was pure murder."

2: While the reader will probably understand the informal manner of an American with an enlisted man, it might be of interest to know that the British have rescinded certain stiff-backed restrictions of the last war. Officers and enlisted men are allowed to fraternize after hours, and officers are being promoted from the ranks, something not practiced in the last war.-Author.

Larry Elliott's eyes widened. "Oh! That sort of makes things different!"

Holzer nodded. "Yes, it makes things different. Getting von Stapp is more important to me than anything in the world. I'll gladly risk a courtmartial for that chance."

IN the air, Jim Holzer inserted the message he had penned into the metal container of the Message Streamer, replaced it in the socket. If there was one ounce of red blood in von Stapp he would respond to the taunting challenge expressed by the words in the note.

The altimeter fluttered on five thousand as he squirmed across the Westwall. He twisted methodically, throwing off Archie's aim. It would be too bad to die now.

He had never flown over the German drome, however he had located it carefully on the map and now he began orientating his position with the landmarks.3 According to the scale, it was very close now.

3: Hunting for an air field in France or Germany today is hardly the same as during the last war. Instead of the conventional military air field with its well-defined boundaries, easy-to-see runways and dearly exposed hangars, the Nazis have carefully built most of their dromes beside highways and the runways resemble feeder roads. Hangars are usually some distance from actual runways, nestled in clump of trees with a barnyard complex. Sidewalls of hangars are built inward to avoid revealing sun glint, the roof being domed.-Author.

Staring down, he located the two hills bordering the Nazi drome. He slapped the stick over, cut this throttle out for speed.4

4: The Supermarine Spitfire is so well streamlined that it will gain a greater speed without the motor,-Author.

He flung the Spitfire almost to the ground before the Nazis were fully aware of his presence and intentions. And certainly before the crews had time to man their guns.

Zooming for altitude, Holzer glanced back over his shoulder and saw men running across the ground below. They had seen his streamer! Von Stapp would get his challenge! And when they met, he'd recognize Holzer's red plane.

Streaks of tracer fire were now etching the air. He could see flashes of fire from spewing, upturned muzzles. But although the m.g. fire would carry past 2500 feet, none came close. He banked toward his own drome.

"This afternoon. I'll be waiting for you," he had written in the note.

Back at the drome, Holzer stared in astonishment. There on the tarmac were the ships of the 89th—and every one of them was painted a brilliant crimson!

Bewildered, he climbed from his plane, to be greeted by Larry Elliott.

"What's the idea, Larry?" he questioned, indicating the fiery ships.

Elliott grinned. "The rest of the flight decided you weren't alone on tins, and just so the major couldn't ground you, they painted the whole squadron. Now he'll just have to stew in his boots until the flight gets back from today's work."

Holzer tingled with a queer sensation of pride and emotion.

"What a bunch!" he breathed.

Major Barlow came striding up. "Get ready for a take-off," he said, his face rigid. "We're going up at noon—paint and all!"

Then he strode away, Holzer stared at his retreating back and grinned suddenly. There went a man who wasn't a bad sort either!

THE roar of his motor dinned in Holzer's ears, adding its song to the symphony of noise from the rest of the squadron. He scanned the blue anxiously. After hovering over the rendezvous for nearly thirty minutes, Jim Holzer felt misgivings. Was the Nazi coming? Or had he funked it? Shown the yellow streak in his back at the prospect of meeting the brother of the man he had murdered? But von Stapp could hardly ignore the challenge and keep face with his mates. He would come.

Suddenly, a thousand feet up, he saw them! The Messerschmitt squadron!

"Up after 'em boys," sang out Major Barlow's voice.

With furious joy in his heart, Holzer rifled up the blue with the rest of the squadron. Above them the Nazi's climbed like express elevators to remain above their enemies. Holzer frowned. This wasn't the usual technique of air battle. The man who had the height dove down, guns flaming, then came back up for another try. The Nazis weren't attacking. They were just maintaining height advantage. They couldn't be attacked this way. What was von Stapp's game?

"Von Stapp obeys formation orders better than you fellows," came Major Barlow's voice in his phones. Holzer detected an ironic note in the tones.

The Messerschmitts maintained their aloofness and Holzer stared down. Wasn't there some way to make those Nazis come down and fight? His eyes narrowed as far below he saw a column of Nazi tanks proceeding along a road.

Spitfires weren't ground strafers, but if they dove—and how could the Nazi planes ignore an attack on their ground forces? They'd have to defend them!

He snatched his phone from its prong and shouted into it.

"Down on those tanks, boys," he said swiftly. "Give 'em hell and the Nazis will come down alright!"

Suiting the action to the word, Holzer dropped his plane in a terrific dive. Three other red planes broke formation and lanced down after him.

Up rushed the ground, the tanks looming in his sights. He tripped the eight Brownings in the wings and hell broke loose on that German road. Marching columns of men beside the tanks broke and ran.

Off to the left there was a terrific crash. One of the red planes hadn't come out of its dive! Holzer felt sick inside. A brave lad had followed him down to death.

Bringing his Spitfire up again, Holzer threw it savagely into the sky. And his heart leaped in exultance. Von Stapp and his flight were flashing down to tie attack! Von Stapp, the butcher, the coward, was coming down too, unable this time to remain safely aloft. He had to keep face with his mates, even if he couldn't command their respect for his tactics.

Flinging the Spitfire into a roll, Holzer feinted a dive and zoomed. The treacherous Nazi slithered past, vainly top-ruddering in an attempt to hold his target. But he failed. Holzer had eluded that first attack, the battle was on even terms. Von Stapp had lost the advantage of his dive.

As the Nazi swept past, Holzer slammed after him, centering the murderer squarely in the rings. With throttle full out, he dived down. The Brownings poured out their molten streams of death. The wavering fingers of tracer showed the fire going into the wings below von Stapp. Holzer corrected stick, released the Brownings again.

But the Nazi was too quick. He came over in a flattened loop, and before Holzer quite realized what was happening, he was staring over his shoulder into the muzzles of von Stapp's guns. The nozzles dripped crimson, a neat little row of curlecues ran along the Spitfire wing, creeping ever-nearer the fuselage. For a moment Holzer just stared at the design of death, then with a quick motion he flung the crate up, prop-clawing for altitude.

But von Stapp rode with him, the lead coming doser and closer. The man could fly!5 Suddenly a torrent of the blazing slugs passed through the hatch, rattling and crashing through the instruments in the office. Throwing the Spitfire into a quick whipstall, Holzer tried to catch the wily Nazi napping, but before he could get the shuddering nose over, into position, the Nazi had dime-turned and was coming around in a short circle, and once more Holzer-was close to death.

5: The Messerschmitt, the fastest military plane in the world in the straightaway, has given definite indications of being mushy when it comes to the quick, lightning maneuvers so essential to aerial combat.—Author.

THE Yank, his face a grim mask of hate and determination, took the long chance of hanging himself on a peg, jerked the crate over in a lightning Immelmann, cut down and around in a steep bank. The two planes, one manned by an American, and one manned by a Nazi, found themselves hurtling headon, roaring straight at each other. But only for a moment.

The yellow von Stapp cut off suddenly. He didn't have the nerve to stay with the Yank.

But this apparently saving maneuver was the Nazi's actual undoing. Quick as a cat, Holzer twisted into position. Once more his finger tripped the guns, and this time the tracer stitched right through the hatch, right through the squirming, twisting figure crouched there. Once von Stapp looked back and the sight of Holzer's avenging presence, the fiery streams of vitrified death that leaped down from the wings of the Spitfire, were too much. His mouth seemed open as if he were shouting to Holzer to stop, to spare him. And then it was that the converged .303 pounded against its human target with the impact of a thousand sledgehammers.

The Messerschmitt continued along an even keel for a moment, then settled over slowly into a steep glide. Jim Holzer followed, his Brownings still chattering out their song of death. Down, down, went Holzer. And it was not until flame enveloped the doomed craft, transformed it into a fiery mass that he pulled off.

He continued to drop down in shallow circles, watching. But von Stapp never jumped, never came from the holocaust. The burning plane crashed against the ground and a rioting, fiery mass of embers geysered into the air. There was a livid wall of flame as the tanks let go in a deafening explosion.

Banking, zooming back up, his hand came up in a little gesture he and Sam always greeted each other with. "Okay, Sam," he said aloud.

AS Jim Holzer swooped in over the treetops, he was aware that his return was not exactly going unnoticed. The entire squadron, in fact, seemed grouped around below. The Spitfire hit the runway, and roared up to the line.

Holzer leaped from the pit. He was brimming with his glorious victory, his glorious triumph. But as he touched earth again, he felt a sharp regret over what he knew was coming. He saw Larry gripping the wing. The aircraftsman was making remarkably good effort at being sadly happy.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant! I knew you'd get him! An HQ observer radioed back." Then his face fell. "The major wants you to report at Operations," he said.

Others crowded up now, slapping Holzer on the back, offering their congratulations. The pilot shouldered his way through, gripping hands here and there.

Then all of a sudden he was standing before the battered desk inside the Operations office. Major Barlow, his countenance bleak arid cold, glared at him.

"I sent a report to Group by radio."

Lk Holzer licked his lips. "Yes, sir."

Barlow waited a moment, apparently expecting the young American to offer excuses. "I'll admit you had some reason for going" said the C. O. finally, "but it's time this squadron realized that orders must be obeyed."

He was holding a flimsy message in his hand. "This came straight down from Group," he said gruffly. "I'm—I'm sorry for you, Holzer; but someone had to be the example. You stuck your neck out."

"I understand, sir," said Holzer. He took the flimsy, started for the door. Suddeply he halted in his tracks. The order wasn't a summons for a courtmartial. It—It was a ten-day leave in Paris!

He spun around. "This—this is a leave," he said in a squeaky voice.

"A leave!" exploded Barlow. "Well, I'll be damned! Those bloody bunglers at Group have mixed tilings again! "

"But—but it says for downing von Stapp while on routine patrol!" blurted Holzer.

Major Fordney Barlow's granite features relaxed slightly. "Routine patrol?" he repeated, making rumbling noises in his throat. "Now how the blazes did I ever make that mistake?"

For an instant Holzer stared, then he strode back and gripped the Major's hand. "Thanks, Major," he said huskily. "You're a great guy!"

Major Barlow's face reddened. "Great guy, am I," he roared suddenly. "Well here's a song for you! Before you go on that leave, you're going to scrub every one of those planes clean—and if I see a single blot of red paint on any of 'em, you'll be grounded for the duration of the war! Now get the hell out of here!"

Holzer exited hastily, but he was grinning.

"I'd scrub paint off a hundred ships for this day," he whispered to himself.