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Captains Venomous

Arthur J. Burks

Captains Croft and Zane each had his own way of fighting—but both were poison to the Japanese!

CAPTAIN ROGERS CROFT, and Captain Lumford Zane, of the United States Army Air Corps, were young to be captains. They were twenty-four. The War Department, however, had had to commission them in their rank. They were aces, and aces deserved recognition.

Their careers were curiously parallel. Both were out of West Point, though they had scarcely noticed each other there. Both had succeeded through sheer merit. Nobody had given either of them a lift. Nor would either have accepted help.

Any similarity after that, however, ended. Rogers Croft was a fiery, impulsive sort of fellow who hated his enemies so fervently that he had just one urge—to destroy them utterly. Then to kick the shards and remnants around, to get their blood on his otherwise stainless boots.

Every time he heard of a victory, large or small by the Germans or Japs, he took it as a personal affront, a deadly insult. And that's what made him a terror, working out of certain secret bases in Dutch New Guinea.

He went berserk, but he went berserk with precision. He had knocked down twenty-four Japanese planes in six days of fighting through the islands. He cursed himself daily because he had bagged so few.

He behaved as if he could knock down the whole Japanese air force, all by himself. Given the time and opportunity, he might have done just that.

Lumford Zane, on the other hand, was not a man anyone, even Croft, would call "Lum" without a vague feeling of uneasiness. It was hard to put your finger on the reason.

It would have been thought that Croft would be the man who wouldn't take anything from anybody, yet it was Croft who was called "Rog" by brother officers, even by juniors, and he was the man whom enlisted men, excited by his latest exploits, hammered on the back before they remembered that he was a superior officer.

That just was not done to Lumford Zane, for some reason, but nobody knew why. Zane had bagged seventeen Japanese planes. But his score was somewhat greater than that, for he had knocked off ten more while serving with the "Flying Tigers," who were not supposed to be officers at all.

Zane was one number senior to Croft, and Croft never forgot it, or overlooked the seniority. Though Zane never by word, look or deed indicated that it mattered to him in the least. Men slouched, but efficiently, around Croft. They jumped and did things for Zane, and none could have told why.

There was a kind of race between the two at the moment, though neither would have said so. Each was trying to get in all the flying time he could, each was trying, all-out, to win his share of the war.

AN ORDERLY approached Croft, who walked back and forth under the camouflage which hid the field from any chance Japanese reconnaissance planes. Croft walked as if he were about to explode.

Sitting calmly under a tree, in a chair from somewhere, which he leaned back against the bole, Lumford Zane watched Croft stride back and forth.

"An awful lot of energy to use up," he finally said. "You could down two Japs with it, Croft."

"I'll always have enough and to spare for the murdering Nips, Zane!" said Croft. "See what they did today? Shot down a passenger plane, filled with women and children, out of Australia. They knew it wasn't armed, must have seen who the passengers were!"

Croft's face was a thunder-cloud, and his eyes shot pencils of flame. A slow smile, a gentle smile, briefly touched the lips of Lumford Zane.

"Women and children, Croft," he said, "are in this war, too. We must expect them to get hurt!"

Croft whirled on his superior, his fist coming up, clenched, as if he would strike the other man. His teeth showed in a snarl.

"Are you excusing the Japs for killing women ...

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