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Spy Ships Over the Andes

By WILLIAM O'SULLIVAN

Hell began to pop over the Andes when Bick Nelson went into action in an effort to uncover the spy ring operating in the airlines

"BICK!" "Chubby" Qualters quavered. "For cripes' sake, man, take it easy!"

Only one man was calm in the uproar that had built up for twenty minutes on the Annapolis waterfront. Only one man sat almost unmoving as the giant Consolidated patrol boat laid a threnody of roaring cylinders peace had once been.

That man was "Bick" Nelson—Bickford Nelson, Lieutenant, J Grade, U, S. Navy, the records had it—and he sat at the controls of the twenty-five ton flying boat that been laying siege to the peaceful waters where the Severn flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Where the United States Naval Academy goes about its dignified business of sending men down to the sea in ships—in warships.

Bick restrained a grin with difficulty when his gray eyes touched on the stricken face of Ensign "Chubby'5 Quakers, co-pilot and Bick's junior in command of the great Navy boat. Quakers was sitting frozen in the seat at Bick's right, his brown eyes incredulous as Bick pulled out of a terrific dive and started a screaming ascent into the skies again.1

1: The patrol boat here mentioned is the new twin-motored (4,000-h.p.) Consolidated flying boat, Model 31. It is still in the experimental stages as to ordnance.-Author.

"Bick!" Quakers quavered, his eyes bulging. "Er—I mean, Lieutenant Nelson, sir! My God, you'll be bilged! Fired out of the Service, sir!"

Quakers swallowed hard when the great, winged boat screwed its twin three-bladed propellers in the arc of a wingover and nosed down for the sun-flecked, copper dome of the Chapel, inside the Naval Academy yard.

"Good God, sir—you're—you're diving at the tomb of John Paul Jones!"2

2: After his bitter service under Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, where he served as an Admiral of the Russian Navy following his starstudded days in the Colonial Navy, John Paul Jones dited in Paris and was buried in an unmarked grave, Many years later the body was identified beyond doubt, carried home on a warship, and in 1913 placed in the crypt of the beautiful chapel at Annapolis.-Author.

Bick could have said, "Sorry, kidorders. Orders from the Navy Intelligence Office!"

But instead he remembered the sallow, quiet man who waited for him in Carvel Hall, famed old hotel of Maryland's capital city. Commander Dawes. Ledbetter Dawes, the Navy's feared, little-known, almost legendary ace Intelligence operative.

So all Bick said was, "Pipe down, Chubby."

He eased the Deperdussin control wheel back slightly and felt the electric "booster" take hold and help him nose the boat up, scant yards from the Academy's—and the Navy's!—shrine.3 He hurled the 50,000pound load of metal and wood and men and torpedoes down along the Yard, skimmed the bandstand, roared along the canyon formed by high-walled Bancroft Hall and the opposite Mahan Hall, and tortured the air with a screaming climb up over Dewey Basin.

3: These electric "boosters" for the plane's elevators are electrically operated, ease the strain on the pilot. The booster gear takes hold and works with the pilot's movements of the elevators.-Author.

The roadstead of satiny-blue water was a mess for the gods to behold!

The Matapeake ferry stood heeled at a rakish angle on a sandbar. A halfscore of small shipping floated with hulls turned up to the mild November sunshine. Across the Severn, wires dangled brokenly from two of the tall masts of the Naval Experimental Station with its huge radio apparatus.

Spa Creek, where the bridge reaches across into Eastport, was a welter of drifting crab and oyster boats. And along the waterfront sea-wall was massed the entire population of Annapolis that could run, not walk, to the scene of carnage!

Bick blinked, impressed even at the extent of his own damage to Annapolis. He turned his eyes and stared down at the gray cruiser that rode at anchor, below. Two Navy scout planes were starting into the air from it, and a third plane was already taking its place in the catapult.

"They're after me!" Bick knew. He grinned slightly, to Chubby Quakers' horror. Then he twisted his head and stared back into the control cabin behind him.

"Sparks" Malone, the radio man, was clutching at his equipment and trying to make sense out of the crackling earphones. Gunner's Mate Oshinsky and 0'Kelley were where they had been for the past twenty minutes: hanging to the .37-millimeter cannon in the after-turret and trying to keep the three of them—Oshinsky, O'Kelley and the cannon—in their respective component parts.

"Stand by to land!" Bick sang out in his best quarter-deck voice.

"Aye, sir!" came the choked but obedient answers to his roaring-voiced order. O'Kelley turned his Irisb-blue eyes to Oshinsky's not-Irish-blue eyes and murmured:

"Th' Saints be praised this day! 'Tis the foinest words have ever been spoken—'Stand by to land!' "

OSHINSKY shrugged. "The guy's gone balmy. They'll get him for this!" Sparks Malone said, "Shut up!" and listened to his earphones intently.

He saluted Bick in the mirror and said, "Admiral Pillsbury orders you to land, sir." He licked his lips. "Er—he's been ordering you to land for twenty minutes, sir."

Bick yawned and thought of Ledbetter Dawes, down there in Carvel Hall. He cut the throttles of the four great motors and eyed tire air-speed indicator as he nosed down for a landing near the sea-wall. But there was misgiving in his heart when he said:

"Tell the admiral I'm ready to come in now, Sparks. Just that way, say it!" He slanted his gaze at Chubby Qualters and ordered, "Take over, Mister."

"Aye, sir," Qualters gulped. He reached for the big Dep wheel in front of him. That message was insult added to injury!

The sun was shining on Bick Nelson's red hair when the rangy pilot stepped out onto the patrol boat, with its squad of armed Marines. A Devil-dog captain saluted briefly, grudging curiosity in his eyes. But he didn't ask any questions. All he said was, "You're under arrest."

"Sure," Bick agreed pleasantly. "Why not?" The way he acted, it was an expected pleasure. He eyed his crew and grinned. "Happy landings, gang. I'll be seein'you!"

"He'll be seeing the brig!" Oshinsky told O'Kelley and Sparks.

"God!" Chubby Qualters whispered brokenly, his eyes tragic on Bick Nelson's retreating back. "The guy is washed up. And—a good guy he was, too! Now, what got into him to make him do that—?"

* * *

ADMIRAL PILLSBURY asked the same question, repeatedly.

"I can't say why I did it, sir," Bick answered as repeatedly. And with the utmost truth. He couldn't say, because he had given his oath to Ledbetter Dawes not to say!

"Beached," the old sea dog growled, his clear blue eyes boring at Bick from under shaggy, white brows. "Removed from the flying list, until further orders."

And then he grinned, suddenly.

Bick, incredulous, blinked—and then he heard the steady ah-whoo, ah-whoo, ah-whoo-o-o-o-o! of the Matapeake ferry's distress whistle. The ferry that shuttled from Annapolis to Matapeake, a distance of eight miles across the Chesapeake, had few friends at the Academy: the ferry's fates for passage were as notoriously high as the Naval officers' pay was notoriously low I There was, after all, a saving humor in the situation, with the ferry grounded on the sandbar.

"You're at liberty until further notice, Mr. Nelson," Pillsbury dismissed him gruffly.

Bick went along the Yard and headed for a gate. He grinned when one of the "Jimmy-legs" on watch there stared at him in wonder. He walked Maryland avenue for a block, then bent his steps toward the State House.4 He winced at the crowd that followed him; but those were orders, too—the orders of hard-eyed, thinlipped Ledbetter Dawes.

4: Annapolis, a beautiful old Southern town, besides being the seat of the Nayal Academy is also capital of the sovereign state of Maryland.-Ed.

"Let plenty of people see you come into Carvel Hall."

Bick bought some newspapers, among them the Baltimore Star. "I'll have plenty of time to read, waiting for dark!" he knew.

He went up the steps into Carvel, and made a flourish of registering. He tried to be nonchalant about it when he asked for a certain room—a room that would be directly under that of the Navy's ace espionage operative.

"Don't disturb me," he told the clerk. "I want quiet."

The man grinned. "I hope you'll have better luck getting it than the rest of Annapolis did, today!"

ABOVE stairs, Bick looked out the window at the fire-escape, and he mentally saw himself climbing up it to the room above, once dark had come. He sank down into a chair and picked up a paper. The Star had a screamer that read:

ANOTHER TRANS-CARIB
AIRLINER CRASHES

Bick grunted when he saw it was the American-owned Trans-Carib Line that was in trouble again. The Trans-Carib flew from New Orleans to South America.

"Hell, why don't they put some pilots on that line!" he murmured. "That makes five—or is it six?—crackups they've had in a couple of months! And all aboard it dead!"

He scanned the article and saw the crash had happened in the Andes, between Valparaiso, Chile, and Buenos Aires, the Argentine. A flying boat fooling around over the Andes mountains, with their treacherous winds and freezing temperatures!

"They musta been drunk!" Bick growled. "Six Trans-Carib Clippers down in two months!"

Then he started, his eyes riveted to the following news item:

Curiously enough the radio operator at the Valparaiso base, which the big boat had left only a short time before, swears to having established communication with the ship some ten minutes o/ter the fatal crash had been reported. He has been relieved of duty and confined to the Strangers' Hospital, at Valparaiso, for observation.

"Wacky," Bick judged. "The whole Trans-Carjb outfit is wacky." He turned a page and summed it up with: "Too much imagination."

* * *

AND 4,500 airmiles to the southeast, those same words were being repeated in a sound-proofed, secret room of a great European embassy.

"Too much imagination!" the Herr Undersecretary growled gutturally, as he paced the gloom of the thick-walled room. He stopped, his weight balanced evenly on his spatted, patent-leather shoes.

"That mock-radio trick of yours would have fooled nobody but the stupid Americans! Pah!"

A blob of black stirred in a corner of the room, and a hissing breath sounded—an apologetic, contrite hissing, it was supposed to be.

"So Ver-ry sorry," a weary voice purred. "So ver-ry sorry, Excellency."

The Herr Undersecretary relieved himself of a guttural curse.

"I have no confidence in you, anyway," he said brutally. "Your people are an inferior people!"

He came to the center of the room and a light clicked on. A table light that was carefully designed to throw no illuminating rays to the upper part of the room—or to faces that might be revealed in that upper part of the room!

"I am only just arrived here at Buenos Aires," resumed the official, "and it takes time. But before I am here another week, not a solitary one of you brown Johnnies—"

The Herr Undersecretary stopped at the new hissing breath that filled the small room. His manicured hand went rigid at the changed tone of that hiss—a hiss that was more menacing than apologetic. On his hand was a heavy gold ring of the "signet" type, only no initial or emblem was represented on the golden circlet. Instead, it was criss-crossed by geometric lines, and for its center had a solitary moon of plain gold.

"Dumkopf! Stop that insane hissing!"

The hissing stopped, and after a moment the Herr Undersecretary went on.

"I—er—do not know much about you—er—people, but I have no confidence in you," he said bitterly. "None! This is your last employment with my great government. Your last! Pah, that silly radio trick, to make the Americans think their flying boat was still in the air!"

"So sorry," the voice from the dark corner murmured again, but the weariness had gone out of it. The figure in that corner stirred imperceptibly and came closer to the table with the light.

"BUT it did fool the Americans, Excellency. For two hours, they thought they were hearing from their flying boat. For two hours, Excellency—while your compatriots were leading them to death—Valparaiso thought they were in communication with that boat. Then, the hidden warplanes from the secret field at—"

"Silence!" The Herr Undersecretary smashed the table with his fist, and the light jumped. "That you should dare to speak the name of that place!" He stood rigid a moment, his eyes peering into the gloom.

"Come into the light, my man! I have a feeling I have seen you before, some place. Come into the light, I say!"

The hissing started again. "First time my humble eyes have been honored by sight of Excellency," the voice said. "So sorry, so ver-ry, ver-ry sorry—"

"Come into the light!"

"—ver-ry sorry... for you!"

Flame spurted from hip level and stabbed swiftly and accurately for the immaculate left breast of the Herr Undersecretary's frock coat. The foreign diplomat fell with the roaring echo of the automatic—but an echo that the "ver-ry sorry" little man evidently knew would not be heard beyond those walls.

The dim figure came full into the light then, his flat, black almond, eyes expressionless as they studied the ring hand of the dead man—and the ring on that hand.

The brown face was impassive as brown hands darted to the other's hand and nimble brown fingers swiftly removed the circlet.

A small, soiled chamois bag was produced from the little brown man's pocket, and the ring tinkled when it fell into the open neck of the worn pouch.

"Seven!" the little brown man hissed. "Seven rings now, in all. There is but one more to get. So ver-ry sorry—only seven. So ver-ry sorry must get one more ring. Ver-ry, ver-ry difficult, that one other ring!"

At the door of the small room, the little brown man turned, "So ver-ry sorry," he murmured, his eyes impassive in their regard of the dead Herr Undersecretary. "But men like Excellency himself, men like Honorable Commander Dawes, men like—like me—Ito Katsiburo!—are bom to die. Man like 'Crash' Cassidy—born to die, too—born to die!"

The little brown man, Tto Katsiburo, faded into the quiet gloom and was one with the black walls.

* * *

LEDBETTER DAWES paced the room again and again, and that monotone that had been going on in the corner ceased. The top-flight Navy espionage agent stopped in his tracks.

"Damn it, you! Keep saying it! Say it until I'm convinced! Say it until you're convinced! Say it until you can go out into the world and convince everybody. Say it!"

Bick Nelson stood at attention in the corner and started saying it again.

"I'm Crash Cassidy, I'm Crash Cassidy, I'm Crash Cassidy—"

CHAPTER II
Strictly Solo

BICK started up, hours later, when Ledbetter Dawes came back into the room." The Navy pilot's forehead whs wrinkled in the concentration that it had taken him to master half a hundred photographs of pilots, mechanics, hostesses and radio operators. He'd shed his uniform for a suit of worn tweeds.

A score of maps, detail of transportplane personnel and regulations, a book of Spanish .idioms—all these were on the table that the Navy operative had set them out on. Bick started to say something but Dawes held up his hand. His eyes approved the fit of the strange tweeds.

"Hold it—Cassidy!" He reached a photograph from the table—a photo of a sloe-eyed, sensuous-lipped girl in trim uniform. "Who is this?"

Bick licked his lips. "That's Mercedes Voltar," he said. "One of the hostesses. But, look, Commander—"

"And who is this?" Dawes asked, breaking in on him with a photo of a grinning youngster with a mop of wavy, dark hair.

"'Skid' Harris, my co-pilot on the Gaucho Clipper. He's twenty-two, isn't married, both parents dead, he hails from Indiana, and drinks a bit when nobody is looking or minds!"

"And this?"

"Norton Phillips, one of the owners of Trans-Carib. That photo of a harbor is Valparaiso, Chile. That other is Cartagena, Colombia. That's the hangar at Lake Pontchartrain, outside New Orleans. That's 'Sparky' Seemon, my radio man. And listen, Commander, did I beach myself just to fly for a lousy outfit like Trans-Carib?"

Dawes lighted a cigarette and took a long drag on it.

"Maybe you'd like to know what Trans-Carib is, son—besides being what you term a lousy outfit. Maybe you don't know that Trans-Carib, in addition to being a transport airline, is a potential string of bases—of military bases—for American defense of the Americas. Or for foreign attack on the Americas, if those babies can get in! And get in they will, if this series of disasters keeps up!"

Bick gestured with his hands expressively. "Then why don't we fire that bunch of kiwis manning it now, and take it over ourselves? Why don't we—" He paused, his eyes widening on Dawes' tolerant smile.

"My God! Sabotage!" Bick blurted out.

Dawes nodded. "Sabotage on the ground and in the air. Hangars burned mysteriously; ships crashing without any plausible explanation; men vanishing; passengers attacked by thugs on the way to airports. And the personnel of Trans-Carib?" Dawes shrugged. "A honeycomb of unsung heroes and undetected spies!"

Bick was on his feet, fists clenched. "Why don't we smash them?"

Dawes blinked. "Smash who? Who has seen them—and lived to talk? Where do they operate from? How do they operate? What are they doing now, and what will they do next?"

Bick considered. "But wouldn't it be easier, cheaper for them to start a line of their own in South America? Why should the boys do all this?"

Dawes explained. "Trans-Carib's charter specifies that they shall have exclusive rights to certain key harbors for bases, so long as they carry their passengers safely, and without detriment to the peaceable relations of the various South American countries with one another. Get it?"

Bick nodded slowly. "So we are being muscled out! And we can't act officially?"

"FOR two reasons, we can't act officially, First, those South American republics are very itchy over Uncle Sam's acting as Big Brother to them. Let us make one move officially, and half of them will line up against us!"5

5: Latin American relations with Uncle Sam have been greatly improved in the past seven years, but before that considerable suspicion existed because of our so-called "dollar diplomacy." As for unfriendly foreign penetration in South America, Uncle Sam's answer to that has been the establishment of a separate military area of the Caribbean, with headquarters at San Juan...

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