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Guns of the Griffon

THRILLING MODERN AIR NOVELETTE

By Arch Whitehouse

BEGINNING A NEW SERIES OF MODERN AIR STORIES!

THE chant of a brassy orchestra was cut off halfway through the triumphant finale. Amused faces around a million loud speakers turned inquiringly. Why had this program been so suddenly halted? There was the indescribable silence that seems to stiffen everything—a silence that presaged a startling announcement. Some frowned with disappointment. Others leaned forward anxiously. Another jail break? Another shipwreck? Another air disaster?

There was a faint click in the speaker now. A nationwide hook-up was going into action. No one could remember an announcement of an address from the Chief Executive. Could this mean .... Then it came, the anxious but clear voice of a noted station announcer who could handle important lines.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we take this opportunity to break into this program for an important announcement. This is particularly for the police in key cities in the eastern states. It is from the office of the Department of Justice in New York City. It reads as follows: 'Police, Coast Guard and other such agencies are advised that the man known only as the Griffon is at large again. This evening he shot and killed Richard Marsh, chief designer of the Gervais Aircraft Corporation at Farmingdale, Long Island. He also bombed and destroyed a section of the Gervais plant, destroying equipment and a number of fighting planes under construction for the U. S. Government, and then apparently escaped in a plane which is believed to have headed out to sea.

"'All airport operators are advised to warn their local police officials via teletype should any suspicious planes land on their fields, seeking fuel or service. No details of this ship are available."

"An addition to this message reads as follows: 'The Chief of Police of New York wishes Mr. Kerry Keen, the noted ballistics expert, to report to Police Headquarters as soon as possible.' That is all, ladies and gentlemen. For further details of this strange case, read your local newspapers."

EXACTLY one hour before this strange announcement went out over the three big networks, a trim-winged monoplane had slipped out of the eastern sky and nosed down for the Gervais field at Farming-dale, Long Island.

The ship had a deep-bellied bullet body, and a glass cowling that completely covered the two cockpits. Beneath the wings hung two single-step floats that housed amphibian wheels set in watertight boxes beneath the forward leg of the undercarriage leg. There were also small wheels set inside the water rudders, and a tail-wheel under the fin. In the nose, snug under clean streamline plates, hummed a 1,000-h. p., sixteen-cylinder, Avia W-44 water-cooled engine of Czechoslovakian manufacture. The cylinders were set "W" fashion in three banks of six, and conformed beautifully with the smart lines of the nose.

As the plane skimmed across the countryside, the man in the pilot's cockpit drew back his throttle and then eased in a long steel lever mounted on a steel plate below the throttle quadrant. Instantly the roar of the big motor was cut off. The exhaust had been directed through Skoda mufflers mounted in the thick wing roots. Nothing but the low wail of the slipstream knifed by the cantilever wing, and the slash of the steel prop blades could be heard. The silver and black monoplane nosed down into an easy glide, set its nose dead for the grayish runway and slipped into the private field like a ghost. With the mufflers still in, the pilot ran her gently up to the great hangar door, opened the coupe top and stepped out onto the wing.

The motor purred as smoothly as a Cadillac.

"Shut her off," the pilot said quietly. "Keep your foot on that Viet pressure starter and be ready to move fast."

The man in the back seat slipped up front to the pilot's pit. The pilot dropped off the wing, pivoted fast on his left foot and planted a fist with deadly accuracy on the stubby chin of a watchman. He reached forward and grabbed him before he fell, and within twenty seconds had him gagged and bound. He threw him across his shoulder and ran for the hangar door.

Quietly opening a small entrance cubby, he dropped the man under the wing of a ship and started for the hangar office in the opposite corner. He drew up his goggles, reached in his pocket and pulled out a small scarlet mask, which he carefully fitted across the upper part of his face. Then he crept silently along the wall and listened carefully. Someone inside was apparently talking into a phone.

"Yes," the voice complained. "Everything is clear.... Yes, it came okay. You can go ahead, but make it smart. I'm clearing out right away.... Yes, everything was all right. I just looked it over. I'm heading back for New York. See you in Washington, Thursday.... Right."

The man in the scarlet mask smiled grimly. Drawing a pistol out of his pocket, he flexed his fingers that were encased in thin rubber gloves, and shoved the door open. The man inside was talking into a radio microphone. The wave-length lever was set to 89—an unusual band, the man in the scarlet mask observed.

"Who the hell are you?" the man at the radio table growled. He stared into the black orifice of the gun, and gasped.

"That envelope in your pocket, Marsh," the man in the scarlet mask answered quietly. "Hand it over, quickly!"

MARSH jerked himself back from the desk as the intruder stepped forward and snapped the switch of the set, cutting it out. Then, with a quick movement, the man with the gun jammed his left hand inside the other man's coat and whipped out a long, brown manila envelope. He stuffed it inside the map pocket of his Byrd-cloth flying coat.

"Now, my friend, you have trapped yourself beautifully, eh?"

"Can't we get together on this?" Marsh asked faintly. "I'll go halves with you."

"Halves? Why should I?" the man in the mask taunted. "I have it all."

"Well, what are you going to do? Who are you, anyway?"

For answer, the man in the mask flipped a small white card out of his pocket and skimmed it across to Marsh. It fell face up. Marsh's eyes widened as he saw engraved thereon a strange animal—half-eagle, half-lion. That was all.

"The Griffon!" Marsh husked.

"The Griffon," smiled the man in the mask. And you want me to go halves with you. Rather a laugh, oh? No, the Griffon's on the prowl against you, and you're caught. Of course, there is a way out, a nice easy way. It does away with all that publicity and court-room business, the testimony over the radio, flaring headlines. Perhaps life. Perhaps—and most likely the firing squad. These papers in this envelope, you know."

"You can't do this," Marsh roared. "You're as big a crook, yourself."

"That's unkind, considering that I am going to give you a chance for an easy way out," the Griffon said. "Here's a nice automatic, with one shot in it. You take it in your left hand, and use it. They will never know what really happened."

The Griffon placed the heavy automatic pistol in Marsh's left hand. The aircraft designer stared at it, wild-eyed. The Griffon watched the man closely.

"Come, come," he chided, "you're not going to back down, are you?"

He let his gun drop carelessly. Marsh noticed, and stared again at the gun in his left hand.

"It will be simple," explained the Griffon. "All you have to do is blow out your brains. I'll leave my card, and they can blame it on me. No bother, no family disgrace. Just a gallant gentleman defending government property. They might even hold a special military service for you. Rather nice, when you come to think of it. Flags, generals in uniform, taps over your grave—and I'll be haunted from one place to another."

"I won't do it, you swine!" the man shrieked, jerking quickly. "I'll be damned if I will!"

Then, with a sudden move, he brought the automatic up from the table with his left hand and pointed it at the Griffon. A wild sneer streaked across his thin face as he sensed triumph. The Griffon had not raised his gun in time!

Marsh shoved the gun out toward the man in the scarlet mask and pulled the trigger. There was a crackling explosion and Marsh stiffened. The Griffon leaned carelessly against the radio panel and smiled. Marsh's hand dropped; his mouth opened and he stared at the man in the mask. A small hole appeared a few inches under the lip of his own breast pocket.

"I'm sorry you could not play the game," the Griffon explained to the dying man. "They all make that mistake. You see," he added, walking over and taking the weapon out of Marsh's trembling fingers, "this gun does not fire that way. It shoots backwards. I had it made. This upper section carries a short barrel. When you pulled the trigger, it released a firing pin at the front end of the mechanism cover. The bullet, in other words, comes out of the back. That's why I asked you to use your left hand. Through the heart, eh? Too bad."

And with that, the man in the mask pocketed the strange gun, glanced at the radio dial again and nodded. Then he fumbled under the bench. The body of Richard Marsh slumped to the floor.

AS the man known as the Griffon left the hangar, a new sound caught his ear. Somewhere high above the field he could hear the throb-throb-throb of an aircraft motor. He listened attentively, remembering the man under the wing, then he raced across the floor and carried him outside again. He placed him well clear of the sheds and cut the bonds that held his wrists.

"Now be sensible and clear off."

With that advice, he raced back to the silver and black monoplane and climbed aboard as the other man released the Viet starter.

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