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It took tragedy and the contempt of a woman to
show Scott Colvin that life without honor is
more difficult to face than danger in the sky


by Chester S. Geier

THE youngster gazed up at, the sign over the gate ASTRA AIRCRAFT CO., it announced in chrome letters bright in the afternoon sunshine. He straightened his trim AAF uniform, set his cap at a more rakish angle over his red-glinting brown hair, and strode briskly through the gate.

A man in a belted khaki uniform came out of a red and white striped guard shelter, folding a newspaper. His large red face broke into a wide smile at sight of Colvin.

“Well, now, if it ain’t Scott Colvin!” he exclaimed. “And what do you know, a first Lieutenant to boot! ”

Colvin shook the other’s great freckled hand. “Hello, Teague. Still on the job, eh?”

“And sure, what else would I be doing?” Teague countered.

Colvin’s tone became confiding. “Look, Teague, this is a surprise visit. Don’t announce me.”

A surprise it will be,” Teague chuckled. “Go right in, Mr. Scott.”

The gravel driveway led to a long single-storied stucco building bordered by box hedges. Gold lettering on the double glass entrance doors announced this as housing the offices. Beyond sprawled the numerous other buildings of the plant, the engineering laboratories, machine and assembly shops, warehouses, and storage hangers. A portion of a small flying field was visible with two parked planes, one of which seemed to be a military craft. The scene was permeated by a low clamor, the mingling of a hundred noises of industry.

Colvin pulled open one of the two glass entrance doors) and strode into the office. A receptionist at a switchboard behind a wheat-blonde veneer railing finished plugging in a number and flashed him a smile of inquiry.

“I'd like to see Mr. Colvin,” he told her.

“Who should I say is calling?”

“His son. But if you don’t mind, I’d rather tell him that myself.”

The receptionist smiled understandingly. “Go right in, then.”

Colvin pushed open a gate in the railing and followed a long door-lined hall which ran between the two halves of the building. A door at the end gave in to a pine-paneled reception room. The slim fingers of a girl with auburn hair were flashing over the keys of a typewriter. She looked up as Colvin entered. Her mouth shaped itself into a red 0 of surprise, and her eyes stretched wide. They were nice eyes, a velvety brown with golden lights deep inside them.

“Scott!” She flashed to her feet, darted around the desk, and all but fell in Colvin’s arms. He held her tight a long moment, his cheek pressed to the tumbled wealth of her hair. Then he held her at arm’s length, looking at her.

“Hello, Bea. Surprised?”

Bea Vincennes laughed breathlessly. “Surprised is hardly the word for it.” She sobered. “Scott, what ever have you been doing with yourself? I received your last letter almost five months ago. I sent you a perfect stream of mail—but you never answered. I was afraid something had happened.”

“Things did,” Colvin said. “Too fast for mail to keep up with me. I was transfered to the front in the Philippines, and cracked up just a few weeks later. I’ve been in so many different hospitals, I couldn’t begin counting them. Anyway, I’m out of the scrap now, Bea. Honorably discharged.”

Bea’s quick glance of alarm up and down his straight body spoke for itself.

Colvin’s face tightened. “I broke some bones, but the real reason is that I’d become a psychopathic case.

“Why, what do you mean, Scott?”

“I developed a fear of airplanes as a result of the crash in which I was hurt. Bea looked incredulous. “But you've been among airplanes all your life!”

“I know,” Colvin muttered. “I practically cut my first set of teeth on an old Spad control stick Dad kept as a souvenir of his days as a flyer in the first rumpus. Maj'be things would have turned out differently if I hadn’t had so much to do with flying. It was like being double-crossed by an old friend.”

A DOOR across the room opened. Two men appeared. One was short thick-set, with bristling black hair and steel-rimmed spectacles. The other was tall, husky, carefully groomed and expensively tailored, the veritable personification of a dynamic business executive. Colvin knew him. He was Wallace Rempert, the president of the Company. Colvin’s father was nominally the vice president, but he prefered to leave the details of management to Rempert while he busied himself with designing planes which would travel faster, higher, and further. The firm had originally been started on a partnership basis, with Rempert supplying the finances and business brains, and Colvin senior the necessary engineering knowledge.

At sight of Colvin, Rempert beamed delightedly and strode forward with outstretched hand.

“Scott, old man! This is a surprise.” He pumped Colvin’s arm, then turned to draw attention to his companion. “Scott, I want you to meet Chief Engineer Gus Doering. Gus, this is Scott Colvin, John Colvin’s son.”

The two men shook hands. Doering smiled politely, but his eyes were dark and inscrutable behind their gleaming lenses. Colvin had the impression that the other’s friendliness was only surface. He felt himself being appraised ,by a mind that was shrewd and cold.

Doering said, “Well, I hope you’ll excuse me, Mr. Rempert. And you, too, Mr. Colvin. I have to look over some plans for a proposed tail fairing change.” He turned and left the room.

Colvin asked, “Where’s my father keeping himself?”

“He’ll be at Hanger Two, I suppose, working on one of his latest experimental ships,” Rempert said. “Come on, I’ll take you there.”

“I’ll see you later,” Colvin told Bea Vincennes. He looked at her a moment, wistfully, then turned and hurried after Rempert.

WITHIN Hanger Two a spare gray-haired man in oil-stained dungarees stood on a wing of a trim speedylooking airplane, his hands working busily at something beneath the opened engine cowling. He looked down as Colvin and Rempert appeared beside the wing. His begrimed lean face stretched into a wide grin.

“Well, spin my prop, it’s Scott!” He jumped to the ground and grasped Colvin’s hand eagerly. “What’s this, boy? Furlough?”

Colvin shook his head, sobering. “No—permanent.”

John Colvin stared. “You were discharged?”

“Honorably. I made a forced landing in action and broke some bones. It sort of made me allergic to planes.”

“What! Am I hearing right?” John Colvin looked at once puzzled and dismayed. “Why, you learned to fly almost as soon as you were out of knee pants. Better explain yourself, boy.”

Colvin took a deep breath. This was the moment he had been dreading. He began, “I was escorting a flight of bombers home from a raid. We had just reached our own lines when the engine of my plane stalled. A short time before I’d been in the thick of things, helping to fight off a squadron of enemy interceptors, and a bullet from a Zero must have given the engine indigestion.” Colvin moved his lean shoulders in a shrug. “We were over a mountainous rocky region. There just wasn’t any place to land—and I had to land whether I wanted to or not. In those few minutes, I went from one end of Hell to the other. I crash landed and managed to come out alive—only broke a half dozen bones or so. I’d got off light, but I couldn’t touch a plane afterward. All I had to do was look at one, and my stomach would tie itself in knots.”

John Colvin gestured impatiently. “Stuff and nonsense, boy! You’ll get over it in time.”

Colvin looked away despairingly. How could he make his father understand? This thing that had happened to him couldn’t be dismissed so easily. Just standing near this plane now made him feel all tight and breathless.

Rempert said, “I suppose you’ll be coming back with us, Scott?”

“He certainly will!” John Colvin affirmed.

Colvin shook his head with slow doggedness. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that. I told you I was through with planes, and I meant it. I wouldn’t like even to work near them.”

“That’s crazy talk, boy!” John Colvin protested hotly. “Airplanes are all you know. If you gave up the flying business, what else would you do? You’d be throwing your life away— giving up thousands of opportunities in post-war aviation.”

“I know that, Dad. Don’t you think I’ve thought about it?”

“Then think about it some more.” John Colvin’s voice softened. He gripped his son’s arms. “Boy, you’ve got to come back to the plant—not because we need you or because I want you to, but for your own self-respect.

Just like fighting fire with fire, you’ll gradually get over your fear of airplanes if you spend all your time around them.”

“I don’t think it’ll work,” Colvin insisted.

“But you can’t give up without trying, Scott,” John Colvin pleaded. “You’ve got to give the idea a trial.”

Colvin nodded reluctantly. “Okay, I’ll try it, Dad. But...”

JOHN COLVIN seemed to regard the matter as settled. He gestured at the plane upon which he had been working. “How do you like her, boy? A beauty, isn’t she? That’s the P-32A an improved model of one of our ole numbers, the P-32. We’ve been selling the P-32 to some South American coun try, if I understand right. Which one is it, Wallace? I’m afraid I don’t paj much attention to business.”

“Chile,” Rempert said.

“Well, the P-32 is due to make a come-back,” John Colvin went on. “The army junked her as being obsolete, bu she had a lot of good points, and I’ve improved on them. She has a better wing design and a more powerful en gine, and now she’ll out-perform any thing in the air.”

Colvin studied the plane gingerly. Something about its lines struck him as being familiar, but he disregarded it for the moment as a question rose to his mind. He asked, “But, Dad, why are you improving the P-32?”

“Wallace can tell you about that better than I,” John Colvin said.

Rempert smiled. “Well, Scott, the war is far from being over yet. The army has issued a request for a fighter plane which would be the ultimate in speed, maneuverability, and firepower, with a fat contract to go to the aircraft concern producing one. A very fat contract, I might add. Your father believes he has the answer to what the army wants in the P-32 A. I differ with him, as I fear the army will recognize the P-32A as a revision of an older model, and will refuse to consider it.”

John Colvin snorted. “Not when they see what it will do. We’ve argued over this enough, Wallace. My mind is made up. It’s going to be the P-32A or nothing. As soon as I have the ship tested, I’m going to submit it to army officials for consideration.”

Colvin said suddenly, “You know, something about this ship bothers me. I’m sure I’ve seen others like it before—and recently.”

“You must be mistaken,” Rempert put in. “Chile is the. only country using this model.”

Colvin shrugged. “Perhaps. But I still think I’ve seen ships like this somewhere. It’ll probably come to me later."

“Forget it,” John Colvin advised. “Let’s get to more important matters, boy. When do you intend to return to the plant?”

“As soon as my terminal leave is up. That’ll be in a week.”

“Fine! The P-32 A will be ready for its test by then.”

Rempert glanced abruptly at his wristwatch. “Say, I’ve got to get back to the office. Hope you two will excuse me.”

Colvin turned to follow. There was a question he wanted to ask Bea Vincennes. But John Colvin gripped- his arm. He whispered urgently:

“Listen, boy, when you get back here, keep your eyes open. There s something mighty funny going on, and I want you to help me get to the bottom of it!”


COLVlN waved at Mike Teague, the guard, as he guided his coupe through the gate. The week had passed quickly for Colvin—much too quickly, when he considered returning to the plant. He had gotten his car out of storage and had overhauled his civilian wardrobe. And more important, he had managed to remove an annoying sense of restraint between himself and Bea Vincennes, a restraint brought about by his long absence overseas.

Colvin left his coupe in the parking lot and strode into the office building. He found his father angrily pacing the floor of the reception room, while Bea Vincennes, Wallace Rempert, and Gus Doering looked on silently.

"What’s up?” Colvin inquired. “Has one of our competitors put one over on us?”

“Worse than that,” John Colvin growded. “The army has suddenly announced a deadline on its request for a new fighter plane-and the plant test pilot just quit. By the time we find another, get the ship tested, and the bugs worked out, it’ll be too late.”

John Colvin resumed his pacing of the floor. Abruptly he stopped and swung to Colvin. “Look, boy, you’ve got to help us out. You’ve taken ships on test flights before, and you know what to do. Give the XP-32A a try-out so that we won’t lose our chance at that army contract.”

Colvin felt a quick surge of panic. He fought for control over his voice and expression, sharply aware that Bea, Rempert, and Doering were watching him closely. He shook his head. “Sorry, Dad. There’s nothing more I’d like to do than help, but a test flight right now would be more than my nerves could stand.”

“Nonsense, boy!” John Colvin snapped impatiently. “Forget that psychological pap the army doctors fed you. Face the facts. We need your help. You can’t let us down.”

“You’re making this hard for me, Dad,” Colvin said quietly. “I think I explained what happened to me dearly enough so that anyone would understand. My case isn’t something you can snap your fingers at, like a kid’s fear of the dark. If there’s any doubt about it, just remember that the army psychiatrists wouldn’t have recommended a discharge for me if they thought it was as simple as that.”

John Colvin gestured impatiently. “All right, all right, I’ll grant that your airplane phobia is absolutely genuine. But it can’t be hopeless, boy. Nothing ever is. It can be fought—and right here and now is the time to start fighting it. Are you going to take the ship up or aren’t you?”

COLVIN could feel the eyes of the others boring into him, waiting for his answer. He felt trapped. There was only one answer he could make, and abruptly he felt a burning resentment at having been forced into so awkward a position. He eyed his father bitterly.

“You seem to have your mind made up not to give me a decent chance, Dad. You practically forced me into agreeing to return to the plant. Now you ve arranged things so that I’ll look like a coward if I don’t take up the P-32A. In fact, this whole test flight matter has all the earmarks of a put-up job. If that’s your method for a quick cure, you’d better try something less drastic.”

“A put-up job, eh?” John Colvin exploded. “Well, I’ll show you if it’s a put-up job or not. I may be an old man—but I haven’t turned yellow. I’m going to test the ship myself!” He whirled and stamped from the room.

Colvin glanced helplessly at Bea Vincennes. She avoided his eyes. Turning back to her typewriter, she began to tap away busily. Colvin felt an icy wave roll through him. Bea’s disdaining attitude showed quite plainly that she, too, thought he had turned yellow.

Rempert dropped an arm about Colvin’s shoulders. “Don’t take it so hard, Scott. Your father just likes to have things done his way. But he’s always good sport enough to give in when he sees it can’t be done. Give him time— he’ll come around.”

“Thanks,” Colvin said dully.

Rempert went on, “I’ve had an adjoining office prepared for you. We have a lot of work here, and you can help out with tasks which would ordinarily be your father’s if he weren’t so busy working on airplanes.”

THE office which Rempert indicated was one of four opening on the reception room. Colvin went in and dropped leadenly into a chair. The sound of Bea’s typing came through the door. He listened to it, his face a mask of tired despair.

Colvin reached into his coat pocket and. removed a small white box. He gazed a long moment at the sparkling diamond inside. Things between Bea and himself had been progressing so nicely that he had been encouraged to fulfill an old dream and buy the ring. But he decided that after what had happened, Bea wouldn’t want to wear it now. He sighed, snapped the box shut, and tossed it into a drawer of the desk.

In a wire basket on the desk was a neat pile of reports. Colvin gathered them up and tried to force his unsettled mind to work. He didn’t have much success at it. He kept hearing the staccato clacking of the typewriter in the reception room.

Then the door of the reception room opened, and the sound of the typewriter stopped. A voice spoke. Colvin glanced up; he had recognized his father’s tone through the intervening door.

“Where’s Wallace?” John Colvin was asking.

“He went out several minutes ago,” Bea answered.

“I just got a call from him at the hangar,” John Colvin explained. “He said he wanted to see me, but didn’t explain where he was. I took it for granted he would be in his office.”

“Mr. Rempert left with Mr. Doering,” Bea said. “That probably means he’s at the engineering department.”

John Colvin grunted something unintelligible. The door of the reception room swung open again, then closed. The clacking of Bea’s typewriter resumed.

Colvin forced his attention back to the reports. He had finished half of them when the thunder of an airplane engine, breaking abruptly into the silence, made him start. The thunder rolled irregularly for a moment, then smoothed to a steady drone.

Colvin stiffened, remembering his father’s intention to take up the P-32A on a test flight. This was probably the ship now.

Colvin rose from the desk and went to the window. From here a major portion of the small flying field was visible. Out on the tarmac a sleek silver ship rested, its prop spinning over in a glittering blur. The canopy over the cockpit was pushed back to show a gray head, familiar even with distance. A mechanic stood on the visible wing, his head and one arm thrust into the opened engine cowling. A short distance away stood a small group of people. Colvin thought he recognized Rempert and Doering among them.

As Colvin watched, the mechanic closed and locked the engine cowling and jumped from the wing. In the cockpit, John Colvin waved a hand at the onlookers, tugged on a flying helmet, and pulled shut the canopy. The drone of the plane engine rose to a deep all pervading roar. The 6P-32A began to taxi with increasing speed down the single runway. Then its tail lifted and it breasted the air. swinging into the .wind and circling for altitude. With surprising speed, it climbed higher and higher, became a glinting speck against the blue of the sky. The drone of its engine became a sound imagined rather than heard.

COLVIN pictured himself up there, with the heavens wide and empty above him, and the cloud-shrouded earth far below. For a moment he had that old feeling of power and majesty— then in his mind he heard the ominous cough of his engine, felt the sudden beating of his heart in the stark silence which followed. He saw the tumbled ground leaping up to meet him, the rocks which studded it bared like savage teeth. Down, down, the wind whistling past his wings, fighting his speed all the way. Always down—and no place to land.

Colvin tore himself free from the bitter memory. He felt chilled and a little sick.

He returned his attention to the plane in the sky. Suddenly he found himself envying his father. Before the crash, he .had regarded flying as ordinary and commonplace, something which he did without thinking about, like breathing or walking. But now he realized it took courage—real courage. He wondered if his father hadn’t actually been right in calling him yellow.

John Colvin was putting the P-32A through the first of a series of maneuvers intended to check the craft’s every flying ability. Despite his age, he was still a skillful pilot. He took the ship through a number of dexterously executed inside loops and barrel rolls. He prop-clawed for altitude again, leveled off. Then he did a wing-over and slid the plane into a long hurtling dive earthward, the most crucial part of its test.

Down, the ship plummeted, ever down. Watching, Colvin found that his hands involuntarily had clenched, the nails biting deep into his palms.

Near critical distance from the ground. John Colvin started to pull out of the dive. He never completed the act. Something happened—something which distance and the speed of the plane made impossible to define. It continued its terrific dive, smashed with an almost perceptible jolt into the ground at the far end of the field.

Colvin stood frozen with horror, staring at the billowing dust which marked the site of the plane s crash. Then he was running from the room and toward the field, running as if everything depended on it, though reason told him that neither plane nor man could have survived the tremendous impact.


IT WAS a week after his father’s funeral before Colvin felt sufficiently self-possessed to return to the plant. He found the thought of going back distasteful, but a sense of duty compelled him to do so. The partnership between John Colvin and Wallace Rempert had been arranged so that Colvin would succeed info it upon his father’s death. Now a partner in the firm, an appearance by him was not only expected but obligatory.

Still another reason prompted his return. He had recalled the warning which his father had made, to the effect that something strange was taking place, and that Colvin’s help was needed to discover what it was. Linking the warning with the crash, Colvin had begun to wonder whether his father’s death weren’t the result of a deliberate plan rather than the accident it seemed. The possibility was one that he intended thoroughly to investigate.

Bea Vincennes looked up from her typewriter as he strode into the reception room. He muttered, “Good morning,” and started past her, avoiding the look of accusation in her eyes which he expected to see. Bea’s voice stopped him as he reached for the knob of his door.


Colvin turned defiantly. “Yes?”

“I... I’m sorry about your father,” Bea faltered.

“Thanks,” Colvin said. His voice sharpened with long pent-up bitterness, “While you’re at it, why don’t you go ahead and congratulate me on being a live coward instead of a dead hero? It’s all my fault, of course, that my father died in the crash instead of me. That seems to be the general opinion around here, I’ve noticed.”

Bea flinched but shook her head doggedly. “We won’t go into that, Scott. Listen, your father’s death may not be all that it seems.”

Colvin crossed to her in three swift strides. He leaned over her desk, demanded tensely, “What do you mean?”

“For some reason, certain people didn’t want your father to build the P-32A. Two attempts were made to destroy the plane while your father was working on it. Failing in that, these people may have sabotaged the ship so that it would crash.”

“But why?” Colvin asked. “What’s the reason behind it?”

“I’m not sure,” Bea answered. “My idea is that enemy agents are trying to block our efforts to produce a better army plane. But I’m sure know the person at the bottom of it—Gus Doering, the chief engineer.”

“Doering, eh?” Colvin mused.

Bea eyed him challengingly. “If you haven’t lost your courage completely, Scott, you’ll get to the bottom of it. You owe our father that much, at least.”

Colvin met the challenge in her gaze squarely. “That’s just what I’m going to do,” he assured grimly, straightening. Bea’s face softened. She started to say something further, but turned back instead to her typewriter.

Colvin felt a thrill of hope flash through him. He thought he knew what the girl had intended to say. If he had guts enough to investigate his father’s death, and bring the guilty person to justice in the event that it actually were murder, her old feelings for him would return.

THE door of Rempert’s office opened. A Rempert himself appeared, ushering out a dark slender man, dapper in a Chilean army uniform. Sighting Colvin, Rempert gestured.

“Scott, I want you to meet Colonel Pedro Cortera, head of the Chilean Army Aircraft Purchasing Commission. As you know, part of our production is in fighter planes for Chile. Colonel Cortera, this is Scott Colvin, who, upon the death of his father recently, has become my partner in the plant.”

Cortera flashed his teeth in a wide smile and shook hands. Then he pulled back the cuff of his uniform to glance at a large and ornate wristwatch. “I regret, but I mus’ make the excuse. I have much important business. Another time, yes?” Cortera smiled again, clicked his boot heels together in a short bow, and left.

“Glad to see you back, Scott.” Rempert dropped an arm about Colvin’s shoulders and led the way into his office. “I'd been worried about you.”

"I felt pretty bad,” Colvin explained. “The fact that Dad’s death seemed to be my fault didn’t help any.”

“Your fault?” Rempert looked surprised. “Don’t be silly, Scott. If you had taken up the ship, you’d have been the one to die. Nobody could have known that things would turn out the way they did.”

“I know,” Colvin muttered. His face blazed with sudden emotion. “I was merely afraid of airplanes before—but now... I hate them! They’re deadly, treacherous things.”

Rempert gazed thoughtfully at his hands a moment. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Scott. But, look, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you don’t want to be around airplanes any longer, I’ll buy outright your half of the partnership. That will leave you free to do as you choose about the future.”

Colvin slowly shook his head. “That’s decent of you, but I’d like to hang on a while. There’s something I’d like to look into. Listen, did the engineers examine the wreckage of Dad’s plane to determine why it crashed?”

“They did, but it was so badly damaged that it was impossible to learn anything. The favorite theory seems to be that the controls of the plane jammed as your father tried to pull out of the dive.”

“Is there a possibility that the ship was... tampered with?”

Rempert jerked erect in his chair. “Good Lord, Scott, what put such an idea into your head?”

“It’s just an idea,” Colvin said. “By the way, how long has Doering been working here?”

“About a year. He joined us shortly after you went overseas.”

“How did Dad and Doering get along?”

“There was no hostility between them, if that’s what you mean. But see here, Scott, you certainly can’t suspect Doering of anything underhanded. He’s thoroughly reliable, I assure you.”

“You can never tell about people,” Colvin said. He stood up. “Well, I might as well get some work done while I’m here.” He nodded at Rempert and left.

IN HIS own office, Colvin gazed thoughtfully through the window. Where to begin his investigation? Or more to the point was it worth beginning at all? There was so little evidence to support the theory of his father’s death being murder that the whole idea seemed doomed to failure at the very start.

Colvin’s eyes abruptly sharpened as he saw the figure of a mechanic in oil-stained dungarees cross the field on his way toward the hangars. He recalled the mechanic who had assisted his father at the test flight take off. Perhaps the man would know something which could be used as a starter.

Colvin left the office and hurried outside to the hangars. Inside Hangar Two he found the mechanic he had seen, crossing the field.

Colvin said, “Aren’t you the fellow who helped my Dad check over the P-32A before the test flight?”

The mechanic nodded. “That’s right. My name’s Jansen—Carl Jansen. I helped your father with a lot of the work he did on that ship.” Jansen was wiry and slender, with a thin brown leathery face and steady blue eyes.

Colvin lowered his voice confidingly. ‘I have an idea that a certain party wanted my Dad out of the way. There’s i good possibility that the accident was deliberately planned. I want to know if there’s a chance that someone might have sabotaged the P-32A. Do you remember seeing or hearing anything the last bit suspicious?”

Jansen nodded quickly. He walked to the hangar opening, looked around, then returned to Colvin, “I do remember something funny—two things, in fact. You see, your father and I checked over the plane here in the hangar before the flight. As we started to wheel it outside, your father got a phone call. He told me he would be back in a few minutes, and left. A few seconds later, I got a phone call, too. It was from someone in the engineering lab who wanted a special wrench I’d been using. I took the wrench over there. So for about ten minutes the ship was left unwatched.”

“But that doesn’t prove the plane was actually touched,” Colvin pointed out.

Jansen’s face became grimly earnest. “Wait—here’s the clincher. After your father and I finished checking the plane, I’d put back the tools we’d been using in. their proper places on the tool rack. When I returned to the hangar from the engineering lab, I noticed that several tools had been moved to wrong places on the rack, as if somebody had used them, but hadn’t bothered or hadn’t had time to put them back where ? they belonged. I noticed this because I wanted to take some tools out to the field with me in case the ship needed a few adjustments.”

Colvin gazed bleakly into space. He said slowly, “It connects. Those phone calls were a trick to get you and Dad out of the hangar. Then the person who called hurried over here and did something to the plane while you were gone. Look, Jansen, do you know who it was that spoke to you on the phone?”

“I’ve been trying to place the voice. The fellow didn’t give his name, just said to bring the wrench to the engineering lab.” Jansen abruptly threw back his head and laughed loudly. “That’s a hot one, Mr. Colvin!” he chuckled.

For a moment Colvin stared at the mechanic in bewilderment. Then, noticing that Jansen was looking toward the hangar opening, he fixed a grin on his face and turned with casual slowness.

DOERING was standing just beyond the opening, watching them expressionlessly. As he saw that he bad been noticed, nodded curtly and strode away.

Jansen whispered excitedly, now I know who called me up! Doering!”

“Wasn’t he in the engineering lab when you arrived there with the wrench?” Colvin asked.

Jansen shook his head. “He wasn’t anywhere around.”

“Don’t mention this talk to anyone,” Colvin advised. “There’s something mighty queer going on here—and it may be dangerous. I’m going to do some checking up. What we need is proof, and when I get that, things are going to pop.”

Colvin returned to his office. Closing the door tightly, he picked up the telephone and put in a long-distance call to Washington. He got in contact with an official in the Chilean Consulate. Identifying himself, he requested:

“Can you give me any information on a representative of your country by the name of Colonel Pedro Cortera?”

There was a pause. “Colonel Cortera is a member of the Chilean Army Aircraft Purchasing Commission,” the official answered.

Colvin felt a sharp wrench of disappointment. He had been hoping for a different answer. About to hang up the phone, he stopped as an idea flashed into his mind. He jerked the receiver back to his ear.

“Listen, I have reason to believe that Colonel Cortera is an imposter. Can you check upon this with the proper authorities in your country? It is a matter of the utmost importance.”

“I am sure you are wrong,” the official answered slowly. “However, I will do as you ask. It will take some time.”

“I must have the answer as soon as possible,” Colvin said. “I assure you, if Colonel Cortera is actually a representative of your country, there will most likely be serious international complications.”

The official gasped at the other end of the wire. “I will call back within a few hours.”

Colvin hung up slowly. He gazed at the phone and nibbled reflectively at his lower lip. If he were wrong, there would be serious complications—at his end.

Time crawled by leadenly. Colvin paced the floor of his office, smoking innumerable cigarettes. The sunlight grew a little tarnished. Bells clanged throughout the plant, and the dayshift workers began their daily homeward exodus. Colvin was experiencing the twinges of a growing despair when finally the telephone rang. It was the official in the Chilean Consulate, calling back, as he had promised to do earlier in the day.

“You are correct. The person known to you as Colonel Pedro Cortera is an impostor. The passports, credentials, and documents with which he established himself in this country are either stolen or forgeries. Any aid which you can give in his apprehension will be deeply appreciated.”

Smiling grimly, Colvin thanked the official and hung up. There was one more identification to make—and then he would be ready for action.

Colvin left the room. Bea had gone home. The door of Rempert’s office stood open, but Rempert himself was not in evidence. Colvin decided that he had gone home too.

STRIDING from the building Colvin made his way toward a group of storage hangars strung out in a long line at the far end of the plant. A deep quiet brooded over the scene. The end of the day shift had left this portion of the plant entirely deserted. The night-shift workers were only now arriving. In the sky, the clouds were reddening as the sun began the last leg of its drop below the horizon.

Colvin found the storage hangar he sought. It had been left open for use by the workers on the night shift. Inside was a row of P-32’s. He strode to the nearest and scrutinzed it closely. Then he moved back several feet and looked at it again. His face grew bleak and hard. He knew now where he had seen this type of plane before.

A foot scraped in the stillness. Colvin whirled, his senses flaring in sudden alarm.

Doering stood there, a heavy wrench in his upraised fist. For a moment they stared at each other. Then, with a growl, Doering charged.

Colvin ducked under the whistling descent of the wrench, taking the force of Doering’s leap on his shoulder. He fought for balance, swung out wildly with his fist. It caught Doering in die throat, and he staggered back, dropping the wrench. Colvin darted forward, kicked it beyond reach.

Doering’s face became a pale mask of hate. He closed in again with a furious barrage of fists. Colvin took a smashing blow on the cheek that made his head ring. For a moment a battering deluge of knuckles threatened to overwhelm him. He fought free and danced back. Sucking in a deep breath, he struggled for strength and clarity. This was a fight to the death, he knew. If he went down, Doering would see to it that he never got up again.

Teeth bared in a hard grin of confidence, Doering once more leaped to the attack. Colvin was ready. He slid past a rocketing haymaker, and his left wrist swung in a short piston-like jab to Doering’s stomach. With a grunt of anguish, Doering folded up. Colvin followed through with jolting right to the mouth. Shaking his head dazedly, Doering moved back. Colvin jumped forward relentlessly. A left, a right, and then a steaming uppercut that started at his hips and had all his weight behind it. There was a dull meatthwacking sound. Doering’s head snapped back, and he dropped bonelessly to the floor.

Colvin stood over the other, breathing heavily. A slow grin came to his bruised lips as he realized that he had won. Then a million light bulbs exploded inside his head. He dropped down, down into a thick velvety darkness.


THE blackness around him heaved in tumult. It broke up into great clinging masses, and a grayness appeared like patches of leaden sky seen behind scudding storm clouds. Then the black masses dissolved. There was only the grayness. Light came, formed into blobs of color that danced with impish perverseness, refusing to coalesce into images which he could recognize. Sensations of sound and feeling came to him as though from far away.

Colvin opened his eyes. It didn’t do any good. The blobs of color still danced before him. Quite suddenly, he realized that he was gazing at a fire. Almost at the same time he became aware that someone had him by the shoulders and was shaking him urgently. A voice came through the noisy confusion around him.

“Come on, snap out of it!”

A hard palm slapped Colvin’s face stingingly. It came again—and again. With the burn of tears in his eyes came a sharp writhing anger. He struggled to a sitting position.

“Get up!” the voice spoke again. “On your feet, guy.”

Hands slid under Colvin’s armpits and tugged insistently. He forced himself erect. Swaying, he stared at the puzzling fire, fighting to hone his mind to the keenness of understanding. Slowly, his surroundings became clearcut.

The storage hangar in which the P-32’s were kept was going up in smoke and flames. A crowd of night shift workers milled around, jabbering in noisy excitement. Against tire lurid backdrop of the flames, the scene with its noise, color, and movement had all the qualities of a nightmare.

Colvin felt a hand on his arm, gripping tightly. “All right, guy, lift your feet. We’re traveling.” He stared for a moment at a stern-faced stranger with ' a close-cropped grizzled mustache before he found himself pushed roughly into action.

“This, way,” another voice sounded. “You can talk to him in the office.”

Colvin recognized the voice. He searched among the figures moving with him until he found Rempert. Here was stability in a world of chaos. Rempert would explain this insane situation.

Colvin jerked against the hand holding his arm. “Let me go. I’m all right now.”

“You may be all right now,” the stern-faced man said, “but I’m not letting you go.”

“I want to talk to Rempert.”

“You’ll have plenty, of time to talk to him later.”

“Say, what’s this all about?” Colvin demanded.

“As if you didn’t know!” the stern-faced man sneered. “I suppose you’re going to tell me you didn’t bump this guy Doering or set fire to the planes back there.”

COLVIN’S mind reeled. He stumbled along in a daze. Doering had been murdered! And he, Colvin, was accused not only of having committed it, but also of having ignited the blaze in the storage hangar!

As in a dream, Colvin found himself walking up steps. He was pushed through a door. There was a hall, another door, and then he found himself sitting in a chair. He stared at the semicircle of grim faces which confronted him.

The stern-faced man looked at Rempert. He said, “All right, let’s start at the beginning.”

Rempert moistened his lips, looking uncertain. “I hardly know how, Lieutenant Archer. I think it all began the day Scott Colvin returned here, to the plant. You see, he had developed a strong fear of airplanes, the result of a crash, in fact, that it was only after repeated urging by his father, John Colvin, that he consented to return here at all.

“While on a test flight in an experimental ship—a test flight, incidently, which Scott refused to make—John Colvin crashed and was killed. Scott later confided to me that this tragedy had turned his fear of airplanes into a terrible hatred of them. In substance, he told me also that he suspected Gus Doering of having sabotaged the experimental ship so that it would crash.

“Obviously, the death of his father reacted with Scott’s fear of airplanes to form a serious mental unbalance. In his disordered state of mind, he decided not only to kill Doering for what he imagined was Doering’s guilt over John Colvin’s death, but also to satisfy in some way his bitter hatred of airplanes. Today, at the end of the day shift, he followed Doering out to the storage hangar, and after fighting with Doering, clubbed him to death with the wench you found in his hand. Then, his insane hatred aroused by the shedding of blood, Scott set fire to the planes in the storage hangar.

“I happened to be outside on the field, checking over my private plane for a business flight which I intended to make. I saw the fire start in the storage hangar, and ran over there. Having ' finished his work of starting the blaze, Scott was standing there, laughing like a maniac. He didn’t hear me approach. I saw Doering lying dead nearby, and realized what had happened. I decided not to take any chances with Scott, for fear that he would kill me, too. I slipped up behind him, knocked him unconscious with a rabbit punch, and called the police.” Rempert shrugged. “That s all.”

Archer nodded and gazed bleakly at Colvin. “Well, it looks like the booby hatch for you, guy. It ought to be the gas chamber, but I guess you'll get sent to the booby hatch.”

Colvin said quietly, “Before you jump to any more pre-cooked conclusions, I think you’d better hear my side of it.”

“What makes you think your side of it is worth listening to?” Archer demanded sarcastically.

“You’ll find it interesting,” Colvin returned. I’ll guarantee that.”

Rempert laughed. “The mere, ravings of a maniac, Lieutenant. Don’t pay any attention to what he says. Better take him away before he gets violent.”

Archer scrutinized Colvin frowningly. “He certainly doesn’t talk or look like a maniac to me.”

“That’s how they fool you,” Rempert insisted. “They look perfectly normal, but inside they are completely unhinged.”

COLVIN met Archer’s eyes squarely. “Suppose you take a chance and listen to what I have to say? You have nothing to lose, except a little time.”

“Lieutenant, I warn you that you are exposing yourself to danger,” Rempert snapped. “For your own safety, I demand that you take this man away at once.”

“Keep your shirt on,” Archer grunted. “He interests me strangely.” Archer returned his gaze to Colvin. “All right, you've got something to say. Go ahead and say it.”

Colvin followed his advantage swiftly. “The experimental ship my father was working on was called the P-32A. He was trying to develop this ship for the army, which was offering a large contract to the aircraft firm producing an improved fighter plane. For some reason, certain persons here at the plant didn’t want to take the chance that my father would be successful with the P32A. They made two attempts to destroy the plane. My father warned me that something funny was going on, and asked me to help him get to the bottom of it.

“When my father crashed in the P32A, I remembered this. I decided that his death had not been an accident, but deliberate murder. I asked a mechanic who had helped my father with the XP-32A if there was a chance that the plane had been sabotaged. He told me that he and my father had received telephone calls taking them from the hangar where they had finished checking the P-32A for the test flight. When the mechanic returned to the hangar, he found that a number of tools had been used and replaced in wrong positions on the tool rack.

“I did some further checking. My father had developed the XP-32A from an obsolete army model called the P-32. Rempert was still building this model, however, selling it, as he explained, to Chile, through a Colonel Pedro Cortera who was supposed to be head of the Chilean Army Aircraft Purchasing Commission.' Getting in contact with Chilean authorities, I learned that Cortera was an imposter—”

“Lies, all lies!” Rempert broke in. He swung furiously on Archer. “Lieutenant, how much longer are you going to listen to this madman’s distorted fabrications?”

“As long as he feels like talking,” Archer growled. “Sit down and cool off.” He gestured at Colvin. “Go on.’ Colvin resumed, “Learning that Cortera was an imposter, I wondered who he was buying P-32’s for. Then I remembered noticing that the XP-32A resembled a ship I’d seen somewhere before. After a while I recalled just where I’d seen that type of ship. I decided to have a look at the P-32’s in the storage hangar, to see if the resemblance was any closer. It was. Like the P-32A, the P-32’s not only resembled the typo of ship I’d seen somewhere before, but actually was the same type.” Colvin leaned closer, his voice quickening.

“Now here’s the payoff. With papers, partly stolen and partly forged, Cortera obtained a permit to buy in this country airplanes ostensibly for Chile. Actually, he was buying them for the Japanese, who wanted an obsolete but recent model aircraft which after certain alterations would not reveal its true origin. This so the source of supply would remain open. Obviously, the Japs were forced to this fantastic extreme in the desperate effort to keep up their air force in the face of our bombing of their aircraft factories.

“Cortera and Doering knew each other, probably through having been associated before in pro-Axis activities. Through Doering, Cortera got in touch with Rempert. He offered Rempert what must have been a large fortune for a supply of P-32’s. And clearly, Rempert accepted, because the place where I’d seen before the planes of which the XP-32A and the P-32 reminded me was over Guam. But then they had been changed a little and had the Rising Sun painted on them.”

REMPERT leaped to his feet and waved his hands wildly. “That’s too much!” he roared. “If you’re content to sit there and listen to that homicidal maniac spout nonsense, I suppose I can’t protest. But if he persists in implicating me in his babblings, I won’t stand for it.”

Archer said nothing. He gestured at two of his men. Large hard hands reached out and shoved Rempert gently but very firmly back into his chair.

Colvin went on, “My father’s work on the P-32 A threatened to spoil everything. If the P-32 A were accepted by the army and large numbers of them built for overseas combat duty, their similarity to the Jap ships would be noticed. An investigation would have been started which sooner or later would have led here to the plant. My father had to be got out of the way before he could complete his work on the P-32A. The test flight offered an ideal opportunity. Rempert and Doering made calls to the hangar within seconds of each other, luring away my father and the mechanic. Then they met there and together doctored the plane so it would crash.

“When Rempert and Doering found that I was asking questions about my father’s death, they decided that I had to be got out of the way, too. Doering followed me to the storage hangars when I went to look at the P-32’s. He tried to kill me with a wrench he had brought along, but I managed to knock him out. Then somebody knocked me out. It was Rempert. He either guessed or knew what Doering was up to, and had followed.

“Doering and I were unconscious. Rempert now had a choice to make. He could kill me, and face the suspicion which would result from my death following so close after my father’s. Or he could kill Doering and frame the murder on to me, at the same time using my phobia as an excellent excuse to burn up the P-32’s, thus covering up all his treasonable activities. So he killed Doering. He probably had some clever scheme to take care of Cortera, too. But in my case he was a little too clever—and tripped himself up.

With a sound that was a combination of snarl and sob, Rempert leaped from his chair. Before anyone could stop him, he reached the door and slammed it shut. A moment later came the clicking sound of a key turning in a lock.

When Archer belatedly tried the knob, the door refused to budge. Rempert’s incredibly fast move had caught them all in a temporary trap.

“Break the door down!” Archer shouted, his features red with chagrin and rage.

Two husky plainclothesmen hurled themselves against the panel. It was only after repeated lunges that they managed to batter it down. They burst Into the reception room, regained their respective balances, and plunged after Rempert. Colvin, Archer, and the rest followed.

They erupted outside to find themselves confronted by another impasse. Archer put it into bellowed words:

“All right now, you blockheads, which way did he go?”

The answer came from a totally unexpected source. It was the sound of an airplane engine starting up.

“Rempert’s reached his private plane!” Colvin gasped. “He’s going to try to make an escape by air!”


THEY reached the flying field in time to see Rempert’s plane taxi down the runway and take off. The sun was low behind clouds on the horizon, but it was not yet dark.

“We’ve got to stop him!” Archer raged. “He’ll head for the Mexican border and escape from us completely.”

One of the plainclothesmen pointed. “Say, there’s a ship over there! Looks like an army job.”

“It is an army job,” Colvin said.

Archer whirled and grasped Colvin’s arm. “Listen, you know how to fly. You’ve got to go after Rempert. We can’t let him get away like this.”

The breath jammed in Colvin’s throat at the mere thought of flight. He felt the old fear sweep through him sickeningly. Once more he saw those jagged rocks leaping up to meet him. And livid in his mind was the memory of the P-32A diving down, down with terrific speed, unable to pull out, carrying the brave old man to a horrible death inside it.

A refusal rose to his lips—but died unuttered as he clamped his teeth hard. He thought of the blood debt he owed, and he thought of the ring in its little white box back there in his desk. He straightened slowly.

“I’ll take the ship up after Rempert,” he told Archer.

The army plane was one which had been returned to the plant for minor repairs by a nearby advanced army airforce flight training school. It’s repairs had been completed, and it had been overhauled and serviced in anticipation of its return to the training field the next day.

An eager mechanic on the night shift brought Colvin a ’chute pack, helmet, and leather flying jacket. Colvin donned these quickly and climbed into the plane. He sat quietly a moment, familiarizing himself with the controls. Then he kicked the starter and adjusted the throttle. The prop spun over in a silvery blur. Releasing the brakes, he gunned the motor. The ship taxied down the runway, pulled itself atop a cushion of air, and took a little bounce into the sky.

Colvin climbed for altitude, then levelled off. He set a course for Mexico, in the approximate direction which Rempert had taken. Mexico was the only logical place for Rempert to head. He would not find sanctuary there, but he probably hoped to refuel at some airport, pretending that he had become lost. With his gas tanks full again, he intended to head most likely for some spot in Central America.

Colvin probed the darkening sky ahead as he hurtled along. Rempert had a head start of some fifteen minutes, but his private job had only little more than half the power of Colvin’s requisitioned army plane. He wouldn’t be able to get too far before he was overtaken, Colvin felt sure.

He wasn’t wrong. He caught up with Rempert shortly before the Mexican border was reached.

COLVIN sighted the other’s plane by the telltale flare of its exhaust. It was almost dark now, and distant objects were difficult to discern against the sky. Colvin climbed for altitude, Intending to come down on Rempert like a hawk on an unsuspecting victim. He wasn’t certain about what he hoped to accomplish. His plane was only a trainer and not equipped with weapons. Rempert’s plane, beyond the chance possession of a revolver or automatic, was most likely in a similar condition.

Colvin decided that the best solution was to attempt to force Rempert to land. It would be a dangerous task, since the other clearly was desperate enough to ram.

Colvin came down on Rempert in a long dive. As he neared the tail of the other plane, he did a wing-over and came around in a wide corkscrew turn. He caught a glimpse of Rempert’s staring face, pale in the dusk.

Colvin drew up alongside the fugitive plane. Making certain that Rempert saw him, he gestured fiercely at the ground. Rempert disappeared from sight a moment. Then his head came into view again. His hands released the lever which pulled back the cockpit canopy. Then Rempert brought a dully gleaming object into sight over the edge of the cockpit. There was a staccato roaring. Glass showered from Colvin’s windshield.

Colvin kicked his rudder sharply and slid under the belly of Rempert’s ship. His cheek muscles set grimly. Rempert had a machine-gun—unmounted, to be sure, but still deadly enough, considering the fact that Colvin was unarmed. The weapon presented a new problem. Colvin could not now hope to approach close enough to force Rempert to land. He could wait until the other’s fuel ran out; but Rempert, by virtue of the machine-gun, would still be in command of the situation.

There was only one thing left to do. It would have to be timed just right, or both planes would go spinning down in twisted, flaming wreckage.

Colvin dropped back until Rempert was far in the lead. For a long while he did nothing but follow, confining his tactics for a moment to a war of nerves. Rempert would either grow very nervous, or else decide that Colvin had been frightened away by the machine-gun.

Then climbing for altitude, Colvin once again sent his plane arrowing down in a dive on Rempert’s rear. In the darkness, Rempert was caught napping. Senses keyed to their highest pitch of alertness, Colvin waited until it seemed that his plane would smash squarely into the tail of Rempert’s. Then, at just the precise instant, Colvin pulled his ship up on its hind legs. The buzz saw that was his spinning propellor blades bit into Remper’s rudder and elevators, shearing them completely away.

Colvin’s prop was not left untouched. But he was prepared for what happened. Snapping his canopy back with the emergency release lever, he Clambered out, counted slowly, then pulled the rip cord of his ’chute. The harness jerked at him savagely as the ’chute popped open.

Colvin swiveled his head around. The two planes, were twisting crazily as they fell to earth. He waited for the blossoming of Rempert’s ’chute, but it didn’t come. He grinned in slow triumph. As he had expected, Rempert had been in too much of a hurry to don his ’chute at the plant. In the confines of the plane, he obviously hadn’t had enough time either.

There were twin flashes and roars as the two planes hit the ground within moments of each other. Then each became a blazing pyre.

The floor of the desert was coming up now. Off in the distance Colvin could see the headlights of an approaching automobile. The car would see the burning planes and stop.

Colvin’s grin broadened. It was going to be swell to get back. There would be Bea, and there would be airplanes—his entire world, all complete.

He looked up at the stars just coming out in the sky. Funny, how they looked —like a bunch of little white boxes just scattered around!