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MURDER: VIA AIR MAIL

By ROBERT SIDNEY BOWEN

There was plenty of mystery about Jeff Randall's crashed plane. Both Jeff and $30,000 in registered mail were missing

IT was a swell morning for cloud hopping, and although yours truly was dog tired, the old heart was singing a song of joy. And should you ask me "why," I can give you the answer easy. I had just completed a three-weeks' inspection tour of the major airlines, it being a part of my job as an inspector of the Civil Aeronautics Authority, and I was on my way back to Washington, D. C., to hand in my report—and then take a ten-day leave.

So naturally I was happy. Just three more hours in the air to Washington, and then—

And then, as I swung a few points northeast toward St. Louis, I happened to glance down over the side—and saw it. No, not St. Louis. I saw a crashed ship in an emergency landing field. There was a crowd of people around it, and two or three planes that had obviously brought them to the crash. I could see the Union Airlines markings on that crashed ship, and I could also tell that it was one of their fast night mail jobs.

Even at that, I was tempted to go right along on my way. What a lousy break—with me three hours from a vacation! Anyway, I killed the throttle and slid down to have a look at what was what. Nobody seemed to notice that I had landed until I started pushing my way through the crowd. Then came a nasty voice from my left.

"Well, well!" it clipped. "The big shot, in person. Going to take charge, sonny boy?"

I jerked my head around and saw a chunky, mean-eyed pilot with a sneer this long stretched across his mug. I didn't recognize him for a second, and then it came to me with a jolt. This guy's name was Calvin Ryan, arid two years ago he had got the idea that he could do any damn thing with an airplane, and to hell with the rules. I'd got his license suspended for eighteen months.

Well, I just gave him a look and pushed on through the crowd to the wreck. There I bumped into Marcus Spaulding, the operations manager of Union Airlines. His eyes widened when he saw me.

"Just passing over," I grunted, and stared at the wrecked ship with no corpse or even a live pilot in the pit. "What happened?"

"Plenty!" Spaulding said bitterly. "It looks like I hired a rat. Last night Jeff Randall took off west on his usual run. When he was two hours overdue at Wichita, the boys went looking for him. Cal Ryan spotted this wreck from the air, came low enough to see that Randall wasn't in the pit, and highballed back to the field.

"I was off last night, but they phoned me at my place. We all got here about two hours ago. Randall isn't here—and neither is a mail sack with thirty thousand dollars' worth of registered mail. God, and to think—"

"Stop thinking!" I cracked at him. "It wouldn't be the first time that a mail pilot crashed and walked to the nearest town with the mail."

Spaulding gave me a funny look and snorted.

"That's right, you once flew with Randall, didn't you?" he grunted. "Well, Thurston is the nearest town, and it's only three miles away. This wreck has been here for a good six hours."

I GOT sore and started to say something when I was cut off.

"But Jeff was a good pilot!" I recognized the protesting man as Joe Harmon, one of Union's veteran pilots. "He could land on a dime in the dark. But this is an emergency field—and with lights!"

"They were on?" I asked him sharply.

"How the hell do I know?" he barked, as though I had accused him of something. "I never knew of them to be out. At least, not on any of my...

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