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Charmed Crates

John Scott Douglas
Author of "Wings Aflame," "Hoodoo Hack," etc.

Jim Wells Buys a Luck Piece From a Buddyand
Then Strange Things Happen in
This Exciting Story of the Sky Lanes

A D. H. 5 limped in from the eastward, slicing down toward the drome of the 87th Reconnaissance Squadron. Everything seemed serene on the Western front—and then it wasn't!

Roaring suddenly out of the low, leaden skies of France came three Fokkers, bent on death and destruction. They flashed downward in full power dives, no warning burst of machine-gun fire acquainting the pilot of the D. H. of his danger.

It was not until he'd cut his gun to make a landing on the tarmac that he heard the crescendo bellow of the three raging motors. The pilot must have realized the futility of attempting a landing with three blackwings sweeping down on him. For suddenly the motor of the D. H. coughed, sputtered and beat rhythmically again.

The nose of the D. H. piqued just as three twin-lances of orange-red flame spewed from the noses of the strafing Fokkers. The DeHaviland seemed to shudder slightly as a neat line of holes were sewed across the tilted right wing. Then it seemed to stand almost on tail as it zoomed abruptly.

A TAUT red ribbon of fire connected it for an instant with the foremost Fokker. For a brace of seconds, the twin streamers of the two crates seemed to cross and crisscross unevenly. Then the Fokker's dive became a plunge. A plume of smoke lifted from the under-fuselage, to be quickly pierced with darting; writhing tongues of flame. The D. H.'s incendiary bullets had done their work.

Twisting and turning like a stricken bird in the throes of death, the variegated Fokker swept earthward, out of control. Its nose was buried in the tarmac with a sickening crunch, and a great sheet of flame was wrapped about it as it shuddered in the grip of the earth, its tail-fin raised like a cross over a flaming bier.

Three men stood in a silent huddle at the door of the barracks—three men in soiled flying uniforms indicative of constant service.

"It's Jim Wells, isn't it?" demanded Gil Bloom, the short, fat member of the group. His plump, habitually cheerful face was at the moment white and strained.

"Sure, it's Jim!" said "Blackie" Allen, his handsome dark face working strangely. "Geeze, it's going to be a wash-out for Jim!"

The last member of the trio, "Whitey" Cook, had opened his mouth as if to speak, but the words withered on his lips as the two Fokkers swung over to come down upon the hapless D. H. at a V-angle whose apex was the plane piloted by Jim Wells.

White-faced men stood at the archies, unable to do anything without the chance of hitting the D. H.

The plane bearing the red, white and blue cockade staggered under the devastating cross-fire. For a moment it knew respite as the pilot side-slipped out of those withering funnels of flame. But respite was brief. The two determined Fokkers corrected their courses, and the blue sky shone through the frayed fabric in dozens of places as the slashing, wrecking bursts of steel-jacketed lead probed for the pilot's cockpit.

SUDDENLY a wisp of smoke issued from the fuselage. Flames quickly licked over the heavily-doped fabric, and the smoke wrought them into weird shapes and figures. The D. H. hung in a momentary stall—then it plunged, spinning wings, making it resemble one of those fantastic Chinese tops.

The three comrades of the man in the stricken plane uttered choked sounds— sounds that in a woman would have been sobs. But suddenly the trio gasped.

For the nose of the plunging crate suddenly leveled out, jerked upward, barely a score of feet above the tarmac. The protesting screech and twang and creak of braces, rigging wires, strained fabric and struts could be heard even above the bellowing of the motors overhead and the throbbing beat of the distant heavies.

It was inevitable that the pilot could not bring his careening bus out at twenty feet. It did go down on a parallel plane, however, but the landing gear crunched under the battered fuselage, and the D. H. nosed up, catapulting the luckless pilo...

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