Treachery Over the Maginot Line can be found in






"LIEUTENANT LARRY WILSON, I believe."

Fingers stiffening around his glass as he recognized the voice, Larry Wilson turned slowly from the estaminet bar to face the mocking smile of the voice's owner.

"Captain Hammer!" he exclaimed.

"Welcome," said Captain James Hammer, "to the 89th Escadrille de Reconnaissance." The irony in his voice was detectable beneath his suavity.

Tensed, alert, Wilson stood staring. He was careful to keep a good arm's length from Captain James Hammer.

The last time he had seen Captain Hammer, in Paris, just two weeks after Hitler launched his startling invasion of Poland, that round, florid face hadn't been very pretty. In fact, it had been rather nastily cut up. The captain's nose had been spurting claret. One eye was closing. The captain had made several threatening statements at the time. Something about taking care of a "young squirt" later.

However, Hammer now bent in a mocking bow. "Welcome to the 89th Escadrille de Reconnaissance," he repeated. His lids dropped, veiling his oddly brilliant blue eyes.

Major Massoine, C. O. of the squadron, turned from the bar. "Well, well. My newest recruit seems to be already acquainted. Good thing I brought him in here before taking him over to quarters. You men old friends?"

"I—er, ran into the gentleman one night in Paris," Hammer explained. "While our friendship did not have an opportunity to ripen into any lasting bonds, he made—er, quite an impression on me at the time."

"Fine, fine," the Major boomed not catching the drift. "I've got a couple reports to turn in. Would you mind taking care of Lt. Wilson? Save a lot of sloshing around in this confounded rain. Show him around, and see that the Sergeant-major assigns him a billet."

Hammer's face was impassive. "I'll be delighted," he said, glancing meaningly at the replacement. "So your name's Wilson," he said. "I wondered what it was. No one in the Antoinette Club seemed to know."

"I suppose you expected me to come around and apologize?" prodded Wilson, gently.

"No, Lieutenant," Hammer rasped, -"I just wanted to see that a certain smart-aleck flying cadet was assigned to the 89th after he'd gotten his wings." There was a gleam of triumph in his eye. "But now—you are here."

"Yes," replied Wilson, slowly, "I'm here. And I want you to be sure and take good care of me."

LATER in his billet Larry Wilson inspected his new home. It was certainly not a room at the Ritz. He looked up at the roof of the Sibley tent, noted the wet smudges coming "No extra charge for bath," grinned to himself.

He unpacked part of his kit, hanging his helmet and goggles on one of the nails driven in the tent post. He placed a tiny alarm clock on the shelf over the cot. There was a desk, homemade out of an ammo case. On it he placed a large picture of Jean Mercier, General Mercier's daughter. Scrawled across the face of the picture in a bold, legible hand was the inscription, "To Larry—with all my love."

As Wilson pulled off his wet clothing, his eyes kept returning to the picture. He thought of Jean—and of Captain James Hammer—and of a night in Paris.

Wilson had been flying for a French airline when the war broke out in Poland, and with hostilities, his job had vanished. He'd decided to join the French Air Corps, and had been assigned to observation. After two weeks of training, at Salon, he'd been sent to the front. It had been like Jean not to let him know she was returning to France, and so it had been a complete surprise when she'd phoned him.

Every night that he could get a pass, Jean was waiting for him. They had painted the town red. Red beneath the nightly "blackout" against German air raids. Wartime Paris! The old girl was really putting on a show. No matter that the Nazi guns thundered at the Maginot Line, no matter that ambulance trains daily brought in their increasing toll. Men were back from the front, paroled from hell for a few glorious hours. Even giant bombers couldn't stop their fun.

And into the midst of this had plunged two youngsters wildly in love with each other.

The second night, the last night, they had gone to the Antoinette Club for a late supper. The places had been teeming with beautifully dressed women, with men in dashing uniforms. Larry Wilson had been awestruck when he recognized several of the leading French pilotes in a group at the next table. His fingers had unconsciously crept to the left breast of his tunic, touched where soon would be his own silver wings. . . .

One of the officers was drunk. His eyes glittered as he saw the beautiful form of Jean Mercier at the table. He noted the cadet uniform of her escort, made some remark to his friends which caused a wave of raucous laughter. He came over to the table, swayed in front of Jean, a smirk on his face.

"Come, cherie, let's dance," he invited, ignoring Wilson.

He reached out and seized Jean's arm. Larry rose in his chair. She forced him back with a look.

"Please," she said, "I don't want to dance. Perhaps later," she added, hoping to be rid of him.

Others in the man's party came over, pulled at his arm. "Come on, Hammer. She said she didn't want to dance!"

He shook them off. "I say she does want to dance—with me." A sudden thought struck him. "Know who I am?" He put a finger on the wings. "I'm Captain James Hammer, and I'm le pilote incomparable." He slipped his hand across Jean's shoulder.

Then it happened! Larry took one swing at the self-confessed ace, and while Hammer was still swaying, followed up with a right and left that put Hammer completely out on the floor, blood streaming from a cut lip and gory eye. Larry Wilson then grabbed jean and left the Club, with Capt. Hammer still unconscious, in the hands of his friends energetically trying to revive him.

And now Lieutenant Larry Wilson was a replacement in the same squadron with Hammer!

He winked at the picture on the desk, grinned, "Don't let it worry you any, Jean.

THERE was a rustle as a uniform rubbed wet canvas. Larry Wilson looked up to see a gloomy-faced officer standing in the entrance-way. A half-wing graced the left side of his tunic. He stood about five-six, looked even shorter because of his stocky build. His lips were pulled down, giving his freckled face a dour expression.

"Hello," he greeted mournfully, "you're Wilson, aren't you? I'm Pierre La Duc—your observer."

Larry Wilson stood up. He was almost an inch over six feet. He was lithe, bone and muscle. Now, clad only in a bath-robe, muscles rippling under the thin covering, he towered over the shorter man.

"Glad to know you," he said, extending his hand. "Why all the thick and heavy gloom?"

"Captain Hammer put through a special request, got us assigned to his flight—to "A" Flight. And I don't like any part of that cochon. He's led more men to their death by his stupidity than anybody at the Front."

"Oh . . ."

La Duc warmed up to his subject. "He can't see his hand in front of his face. He flew smack under a staffel of Messerschmitts last week and lost three of his flight. As a pilot he's a washout."

"But he's an ace, isn't he?"

"T hat's the way his card reads," growled La Duc. "But the only Nazis I ever heard of him getting were already disabled and he just bulled in and took credit."

A cough caused them to spin around. Captain Hammer's florid face confronted them. A cigarette dangled from his lips, sending tendrils of smoke curling up over his nose and forehead, giving him a peculiar, satanic expression.

"I hope I'm not intruding—La Duc," he said, silkily. Then he faced Wilson. "I just dropped by to say good night, and see that you were tucked under the covers. I want to take very good care of my ?edging flight member, you know."


CHAPTER II

Under Hammer's Wing

THE excitement and adventure of the first patrol slipped into the second, the third—and before Wilson realized it, two weeks were gone. He and Pierre La Duc got along famously. They downed two Nazis, and came through with an important set of pictures.

This morning their mission was spotting artillery. They had been out something over an hour, circling, hovering. They were flying low, just out of range of ground machine-gun fire. At two thousand, hovering over them like guardian angels, as indeed they were, was a flight of Morain Saulniers.1 Wilson glanced at them casually, suddenly sat up very straight.

1: The Morane-Saulnier is a single-seat fighter monoplane. It has a low-wing cantilever construction. The fuselage covering forward is metal and aft is fabric. It has a retractable undercarriage. The power plant is one Hispano-Suiza 12Ygrs twelve-cylinder Vee glycol-cooled geared and supercharged canon-engine rated at 860 h.p. at 4,000, (13,120 ft.). The screw is a three-bladed Ratier variable pitch. It has an enclosed cockpit with sliding top, with quick release for emergency exit. Air-conditioned ventilation. Its armament consists of one 20m/m. canon, incorporated in the engine, with two Chatellerault machine-guns in the wings. All gun-control is pneumatic. A Ciné-gun is mounted in the port wing. Equipment includes transmitting and receiving radio, full electrical and night-flying equipment, oxygen, etc. It has a span of 35 ft., length of 26 it. 3 in., and a height oi 8 ft. 10 in. Its maximum speed is 298-310 m.p.h.—Ed.

The lead plane had fired a Very light! A warning signal!

Then he saw the cause of the commotion. Back a couple of miles, at about 9500 feet, diving straight for them, was a squadron of Messerschmitts.2

2: The Messerschmitt B.F.W. Bf. 109 is a single-seat fighter monoplane, mounting three or four machine-guns. It is a low-wing cantilever type construction, all metal, flush-riveted, stressed-skin covering. Its fuselage is oval section monocoque. Retractable undercarriage, hydraulic brakes. It has either one 640 h. p. Junkers "Jumo 210" or one 950 h.p. Daimler-Benz 600, both twelve-cylinder inverted Vee liquid-cooled engines. It has V.D.M. controllable pitch metal airscrew. It has an enclosed cockpit over the wing. Its dimensions are unknown.—Ed.

Wilson glanced at Hammer. The flight leader seemed perfectly oblivious of their approach. Apparently he hadn't even seen the Very! And he was supposed to be Lookout!

Wilson gunned his ship, fell in alongside him, wagging his wings furiously, pointing.

Captain Hammer motioned toward their position, scowling darkly. The flight leader started around slowly-much too slowly. The Nazis would pounce before they closed the turn! The Morane-Saulniers were diving to intercept the Messerschmitts, but from present indications, with the blundering Potez 56-T-3's3 having flown head into the Germans for nearly a minute after the warning Very, the Messer-schmitts would reach them first!

3: The Potez S6-T.3 is specially adapted for day and night reconnaissance They are twin-engine observation monoplanes, used for general purposes. The fuselage is an oval section structure with pointed nose, and covered with plywood. It has retractable undercarriage. The power plant consists of two 240 h.p. Potez 9E nine-cylinder radial engines, air-cooled type, mounted at the extremities of the center-section. It has Ratier electrically-controlled variable-pitch screws. The pilot has an enclosed compartment in the nose. Aft of this compartment is a cabin equipped with radio, photographic equipment, etc. Below this is an external, transparent nacelle for observation duties. Aft of the cabin is a rotating gun-turret. Wingspread is 52 it. 6 in., length 39 ft. 4 in., height 10 ft. 2 in. Maximum speed, 173.8 m.p.h.—Ed.

Pierre's excited voice crackled behind Look up over the Morane Saulniers! Coming out of that cloud scud!"

Another squadron of Messerschmitts! Now they were really in for it! The Morane-Saulniers had their own necks to take care of. The Potez 56-T-3's would have to run for it! Take care of themselves!

Wilson looked over his shoulder at Pierre, working desperately to get his gun sights on the Messerschmitt roaring down on them.

"Think that damn blind bat Hammer has seen the second staffel?" he yelled into the speaking tube. "From the looks of the way we're retreating we're gonna wind up with lead in our bellies!"

"We oughta be scooting for home, instead of up here where we're easy meat for dive thrusts," Pierre shouted back through the tube. "We're hopelessly outnumbered."

Wicked, darting lashes of flame streaked from the Messerschmitts. Then they were past and below.

A POTEZ spun sickeningly out on the first slashing swoop of the Nazis. Wilson didn't have time to see who it was. The Messerschmitts were past them now. They slanted down, to zoom under their bellies.

A couple of Morane-Saulniers gallantly dove after the attacking Messer-schmitts. "Atta boy, Frenchy!" Wilson cheered. It took plenty of raw guts to carry out assignments under the present conditions.

A torrent of lead crashed through the floor of their ship. The slugs ripped and tore, searing his body they came so close. Then the crackling hiss ceased— and somehow he was unhit. He glanced back over his shoulder. His heart began pounding against his ribs.

La Duc was slumping down in his seat, a tortured expression twisting his features! He was hit! And badly! Blood spurted from his mouth, ?ecked blood. One of those slugs had punctured a lung!

Pierre looked at him piteously and fell over against the belt.

"Murder! That's what it is—murder!" Larry almost broke out crying. "If Pierre dies, Hammer'll answer for it, damn his dirty soul!"

Larry Wilson acted instantly. He whipped the Potez around, shoved the throttle to its limit. He was getting out of here, getting La Duc back to the drome and medical aid. No flight leader in his right senses would ever have held them at this altitude anyway.

The motors' tone took on a relieved whine for a moment, then blared in a metallic roar as the ground rushed madly up. The howl and shriek of the wind was suddenly drowned in the clatter of bullets. Wilson shot a look back over his shoulder, straight into the flaming muzzle cups of enemy machine-guns. He rode the rudder back and forth, squirming desperately. Abruptly the slugs ceased to crackle and whip through the Potez.

Still another formation of planes joined the melee! Dewoitines,4 this time! And the Nazis, evenly matched, were pulling out, hightailing for home!

4: The Dewoitine D-S00 is a single-seat, high-altitude fighter. It has a low-wing cantilever construction, in three pieces. The fuselage is oval monocoque covered with smooth duralumin sheets. The undercarriage consists of two oleo-pneumatic suspension legs, the top ends of which are hinged to the extremities of the center-section. The power plant is one 500 h.p. Hispano-Suiza 12 Xbrs twelve-cylinder Vee geared and supercharged engine. Pilot's cockpit over trailing-edge of wing. Adjustable seat, full oxygen equipment, shortwave radio, telephone, etc. It mounts two machine-guns on either side of the engine, firing forward through the airscrew. It has a top speed of 231 m.p.h.—Ed

Wilson leveled off at a thousand. ground fire was coming up. Machine-guns, antiaircraft. Zigzagging mechanically, he looked back to see how Pierre was faring. His observer hung limp 'in his belt, head lolling, lifeless. Wilson yelled into the speaking tube, but got no answer.

Then No Man's Land came up—and slipped back. And the fire was gone. Finally, it seemed hours, he was dropping down toward the 89th's tarmac. He hit in a tail-high, wheel-landing, rocketed the Potez across to the line. He leaped out, shouted at a couple of greaseballs:

"Get a sawbones! Quick!"

Then he returned to Pierre, held him while he loosened the belt. Others helped him now, and they stretched the unconscious observer on the grass.

The flight surgeon shooed them back, bent over Pierre. He undid the flying suit, disclosing a jagged, crimson wound in his chest. He took one look.

"Help me get him over to the shack!"

LARRY WILSON paced up and down the bar room, stopping every once in a while to down another cognac. The medico entered the room. Wilson whirled. "How is he, Doc? He'll be all right, won't he?"

"Take it easy," answered the medico. "Everything is going to be okay. He just needs to be quiet. Any disturbance may upset him. You'd better stay out here."

Only one other Potez had returned from the ill-fated reconnaisance. Captain James Hammer's ship. Wilson hadn't seen the flight leader yet. If—if anything should happen to Pierre—if Pierre went over—Larry Wilson's fists clenched.

And then, suddenly, Hammer's form was framed in the door. His eyes were darting like a snake's. His florid face was a little pinker than usual. He saw Wilson and spoke, his voice dripping:

"I've just made out a report on—"

Wilson interrupted. "You blind murderer!" he rasped. "If Pierre La dies it will be because you held us up; there, held us until the Messerschmitts were on top of us."

Hammer ignored the interruption, continued: "I've just made out a report on the fight," he said, silkily. "And turned you in for dogging it—for cowardice."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"You turned tail in the face of the enemy. Dived down—left your observer unprotected," came the astounding reply.

Wilson blinked in amazement. Of course he hadn't dived until after Pierre had been hit. But—so this was Hammer's way of "taking care" of him!

"You lying, yellow-bellied rat," he snapped evenly. "What do I care about your report?"

"You'll care after the court-martial acts on the testimony of a superior officer Concerning one of his flight members," purred Hammer.

"Hell, Pierre will testify as to what really happened. I—" be stopped abruptly. The flight surgeon had just come in. His face was grave.

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," he announced. "Pierre La Duc didn't— didn't make it."


CHAPTER III

Volunteer Show

THE returning court filed into the room solemnly. The president looked at Lieutenant Larry Wilson.

"The defendant will rise," he said.

Larry Wilson stood up. His mind was a raging turmoil. Another minute and he—would know. Captain Hammer's testimony had been damaging-and for some reason, Hammer's observer had lied too, upheld Hammer's charges. The flight leader of the Morane-Saulniers assigned to cover had them supported Wilson's contentions that Hammer had held the flight too long, had been guilty of bad judgment in his maneuvering. But—that was bad judgment. Lt. Wilson was on trial for running from the enemy for cowardice—for causing his observer's death. Regardless of the captain's judgment, the court had pointed out, Lt. Wilson's duty was to obey the orders of a superior officer.

Larry Wilson looked straight at the president now, struggled to keep his chin steady.

"The court finds the defendant officer guilty upon the charges and specifications. Under the Articles of War the penalty for a conviction under the article upon which the charges and spehonor after being deprived of commission, benefits and rank, or any other penalty a court-martial may inflict," he paused.

Wilson swallowed hard. Dismissal in dishonor! And for cowardice! Why, he stood convicted of La Duc's death! The president was speaking again:

"The court has been influenced by the plea of counsel for the defense and by the record of the defendant while a cadet, and while on active duty at the Front. It has also been influenced by a possible honest difference with his superior officer in matter of proper maneuvers under the circumstances. It therefore will recommend that as a disciplinary measure, Lieutenant Larry Wilson will be deprived of his wings and his rating as a military pilot. But that the value of his training and experience and abilities shall be retained by the French Army; and that because of his exceptional qualifications as an observer and a coordinator of artillery fire, that he be reassigned to another squadron as observer."

Grim, haggard, his heart torn by the verdict, Larry Wilson stalked from the room. Why, he might as well have gotten the whole works. They had been lenient. Lenient! There were no halfway measures in a case of this kind. You were either guilty or not guilty. And, for the record, Larry Wilson stood convicted of cowardice, of losing his nerve under fire!

"DARLING!"

He looked up dazedly. Jean! She was here! With him! Through thick or thin!

He folded her in his arms, and the pressure of her there against him eased the pain in his heart.

"I just got here," she sobbed. "I only heard this morning. I came right down. Why didn't you let me know? I could have testified about that—that beast's behavior in Paris—given them the background for his lies."

"I—I didn't want to drag your name in it," said Wilson, slowly. "I thought they would clear me. But—" he was struggling to control his emotions, "they've branded me a coward!"

Jean put her fingers against his mouth. "Don't talk like that, dear. Don't even think of it. I know and you know that you're not a coward. They can't make a coward! "

A sudden inspiration came to him. "Jean!"—he held her off at an arm's length—"I want you to do something for me."

"Anything," she promised. "I want you to see your father. He, being a General, can use his influence so that I can be reassigned to the 89th. It won't be easy—ordinarily I would be transferred to another squadron. But—you see him. Give him the whole story, tell him I've got to be sent back there, to be able to clear my name."

"Our name," she said, kissing him. "I'll manage it," she added, chin out and a fierce little light burning in her eyes. "We'll make that beast admit he lied. I—" suddenly she was crying.

LT. WILSON, observer, L'Aviation Militaire, stepped down from the car, tossed the driver a five-franc note. He squared his shoulders, walked across the tarmac of the 89th Escadrille de Reconnaissance. The sun was shining. Several planes were on the line warming up. The tableau presented a more cheerful aspect than on that day —was it ten years ago—when he had first set foot on the field?

But to Larry Wilson it did not appear that way. White-lipped, uncertain of his reception, he walked through the doorway into the bar.

There was a tense, jagged silence. Then André Ledeau roared: "Larry! Glad to see you!" He ran over, clapped his arm around the arrival's shoulders. "Come on, everybody! This calls for drinks!"

And the others were around him, pounding him on the back, asking questions. But no mention was made of the trial, of its outcome. Of the fact that Larry Wilson's left breast was decorated with only a half-wing. Of the fact that he had been convicted of cowardice.

The mess orderly had just set glasses out when Captain James Hammer strolled in. His pink face worked in mingled disappointment and elation.

"This place stinks," he announced, turned on his heel.

"You're damned right it stinks, you rotten, yellow rat!" Larry started forward, but Ledeau grabbed him.

"Easy does it, Larry," he cautioned in his ear. "Socking that rat won't help. We all know why you're back here. Don't ruin things by socking a superior officer."

The red haze faded from eyes. He clenched the glass in his hand» until his knuckles were white. "Okay, André," he said, hoarsely. "You're right. I didn't come back here just to take a sock at that rat."

"Let's sit down over at a table," suggested Ledeau. "Things have been happening since—since you were away.

"The trial hasn't been such a complete success for our friend Hammer," Ledeau continued. "The boys around here feel that you got a raw deal. And they think Hammer's judgment is pretty rotten. So rotten, in fact, that he has been removed from flying and is now the squadron adjutant."

Another thing Wilson learned. For the third time within a week, while ships of the 89th were spotting artillery fire, Allied troops had been caught in a vicious cross-fire when advancing. Artillery reported that Very signals from observing planes "caused them-to lower their zone-fire. And thereby dump a hail of death and. destruction down on the heads of their own comrades!

"I was on one of those patrols," said Ledeau, grimly. "I know every man on the flight. I didn't send any such signals, and I'll bet my last franc that none of them did."

"What's the answer?" asked Wilson.

"I—I don't know," replied Ledeau. "I wish I did. I've always been leery of your friend Hammer. He's led too many flights into traps—and come out without a scratch himself. But he isn't out on the patrols, has nothing to do with our Very signals—couldn't have when he's not in the air." He shrugged hopelessly. "It's got me," he admitted.

"Might try changing codes," suggested Wilson.

"We have," said Ledeau. "Twice this week."

A sudden thought occurred to Wilson. "What about Pirnand? That noncom who observed for Hammer?"

shook his head. "He's back on motors. No one would have him as an observer after—after the trial. By the way," he added, "I've asked the major to assign you to fly with me. Hope you don't mind."

Larry Wilson groped for his hand. "Thanks, André," he said, a tremor in his voice.

As usual, after evening mess, the personnel of the 89th gathered at the bar. In one corner a group played stud poker, in another corner two men huddled intently over a battered and worn checkerboard. Several merely stood around discussing the events of the day, and a few, the chronics, were at the bar, drinking.

Lt. Wilson and Lt. Ledeau engaged in a heated game of chess. Within the short week since Wil;son's return, they had already become the warmest of friends.

Several fellows clustered about a freckled-face red head playing a banjo. There came forth a series of hummings, moanings, and screeches— and finally Leon Desautels, who possessed a really good voice took up the lead.

A young aviator lay dying,
At the end of a bright summer's day.
His comrades had gathered around him,
To carry his fragments away.

The aeroplane was piled on his wishbone,
His Lewis was wrapped 'round his head.
He wore a sparkplug in each elbow,
'Twas plain he would shortly be dead.

He spat out a valve and a gasket.
As he

"Attention!"

THE men looked around to look at Captain Hammer, the adjutant, in the doorway. They didn't quite. get this stuff. No one made any attempt to assume an erect, attentive position.

"Attention! Fall in!"

Then they saw the C. O. coming through the door—and caught the drift. Major Massoine paused in the middle of the floor, cleared his throat.

"Gentlemen," he began. "I have just received orders from Wing to carry out an unusually difficult mission. Intelligence has word from one of its ace operatives that contact must be established with him tonight on a matter of supreme importance. That can be accomplished in only one way at this late hour. A man must be flown over the lines and dropped by parachute.

"The pilot can drop down from a high altitude, motor off, and manage it without detection; The pilot will then continue to glide for some distance before opening his motor, and in this way divert any possible attention from the parachute.

"The pilot will return to a prearranged spot in exactly two hours, pick up the man after he has established contact with the operative, obtained the information." He paused, coughed.

"In view of the hazardous nature of the assignment, I have decided to ask for volunteers." He paused again. "First, will a volunteer observer step forward?"

Every observer in the outfit moved forward one pace. Larry Wilson noted their action, took a second step forward. "I think I rate that job, Major," he said quietly.

Hammer was standing just back of the C. O., a sneer on his face. "I thought this was a man's job?" he said, in a low voice.

Major Massoine whirled upon him. "Hammer," he snapped, "when I want any assistant thinking, I'll let you know." He faced the assemblage again.

The line moved back in even formation with the pilots! Every man except Larry Wilson! The men of the 89th, to show exactly how they felt about the matter, were dropping out in Lt. Wilson's favor!

Major Massoine smiled quietly. "Well, it looks like I have no choice, Wilson. I accept your services. I was going to accept them anyway," he added in a voice that all could hear.

And then a volunteer from the pilots was requested. And again the entire personnel stepped forward.

The C. O. glanced at Wilson, back to in the line. "Ledeau," he announced.

AFTER the formation was dismissed, Major Massoine summoned Ledeau and Wilson to the Operations shack where they went over their plans in detail.

"You are to meet the operative at this deserted farmhouse at one o'clock this morning," said the major, glancing at his watch. "It's only 7:30 p. m. now, we've got plenty of time. I think around eleven-thirty would be okay for the takeoff. What do you think?"

The two men nodded agreement. Wilson looked down at a strip map he had been studying. "About four kilometers due east of this little village, I'd say. I hope there are some lights for a landmark."

"Oh, I'm sure there'll be lights in the village," said the C. O. "But you don't want to fly over it. And, of course, there won't be any lights at the little field where you're to land."

"Why can't I just land with Larry instead of having him make a jump?" interposed Ledeau.

The C. O. shook his head. "That's just the point I was making. There won't be any lights at this little field we've selected. We don't know whether its full of rocks and gullies or what. Wilson can make his contact, examine the terrain. And if it is necessary, just before you come in for a landing, he can light a flare for your guidance. You'll have a warm motor. You can touch long enough to pick up Wilson, then take right off again without delay."

"Yeah, that's right, Jim," added Wilson. "If you landed me, there would be a long wait. Your motor would get cold. We might draw down the whole Nazi Army before the motors started hitting on more than two cylinders."

"Provided you hadn't already washed out a landing gear getting down," echoed the major.

"Tres bien," said Ledeau, but shaking his head in disagreement.

They measured distances on maps, made calculations as to the height the ship would have to climb before it would be within gliding range of their destination.

"Five thousand meters should do it."

Wilson was frowning. "What puzzles me is why that operative didn't just send whatever message he had right on through. If his contacts were good enough to get through with word that he had information—"

Major Massoine shrugged. "Does sound funny," he admitted. "But there must be some reason why he didn't. Anyway, those are our orders and we've got to carry them out."

Wilson flushed. "Yes, sir," he said.

The C. O. cleared his throat. "I didn't mean it that way, Wilson," he said quickly.

A line of shielded lights had been placed down the field, giving them a path off the ground. Every man of the 89th was on hand to witness the nocturnal take-off.

Major Massoine huddled with the two men, going over instructions for a last time.

"You're sure you won't need oxygen?" he asked again.

They shook their heads negatively.

Ledeau glanced at his watch. It was eleven-twenty-five. "Well," he announced, "it's time to go bye-bye."

Wilson climbed into the rear observer's seat a little awkwardly. He still had to restrain himself from starting for the pilot seat.

Ledeau slapped the throttle down, and the Potez roared across the field. The lights flitted past faster and faster, and then dropped away from the ship. The pilot held the nose of the fast ship in a steep climbing spiral, directly over the field. They circled until the altimeter pointed to four thousand meters, and then slanted toward the lines, still climbing steadily.

The motors were humming like clocks. The needle hovered on 5000 meters. They moved along on an even keel for a moment or so, then Ledeau suddenly cut the motors, and put the nose over in a gentle' powerless glide.

The silence was awe-inspiring after the steady whining drone of the motor. The wind thrummed back gently, softly caressing the fuselage, plucking subdued little wails from the wings.


CHAPTER IV

Somewhere in Germany

IT seemed that the Potez floated down through space for hours. Had they made a mistake in their navigation problem? The ground was not getting any farther away. They couldn't afford to miss now. And then Ledeau's voice suddenly came through the earphones:

"Bien, Larry, get ready to jump! This looks like it!"

Wilson studied the faint, guarded lights carefully. It was the village, all right. The nose of the crate swung back to the left, eastward toward the farmhouse. Wilson was still cold from the high altitude. His teeth were chattering, and his hands were all thumbs. He unclasped the safety-belt, stood up in the pit, and suddenly jerked. The chute was hung on something. He leaned over in the darkness and gave the harness a yank.

Snap! A web strap parted! He pulled on another strap. It parted like wet tissue paper! He tried two more —and they broke! A savage curse ripped from him.

"André!" he yelled. "Somebody's been tampering with this chute. The harness straps are rotten or something. Must have put acid on them!"

Ledeau twisted around. "Some of that cochon Hammer's work, I'll bet you a thousand francs!" He tested his chute harness. "Mine seems all right but I'd be afraid to have you trust it now. I'll have to land and wait for you."

Larry Wilson nodded. It was the only thing they could do now.

The wind sang a gentle lullaby, the motors gave a throaty little gasp once or twice and Ledeau cut the switches. The dark field was rushing up at them. It was hard to judge its length in the blackness, just where to start the gliding turn.

They were settling fast. Wilson squirmed in the cockpit as he felt treetops brushing against their wings. Then there was a heavy crunching sound and the wheels were on the ground. Through the darkness the far edge of the field sprang at them. Ledeau slapped rudder and applied opposite stick, came around violently—just missing a ground loop.

"Well," sighed Wilson, "we're here!"

"Yep," replied Ledeau. "You toddle along over to the farmhouse. And don't spend the night," he added. "I don't like the climate around here." It was 12:15 a. ml 'and they' were scheduled to meet the operative exactly at 12:30.

LT. WILSON shifted his position uneasily on the front porch of a farmhouse some thirty kilos back of the Siegfried Line, peered anxiously out into the darkness. For about the tenth time in the last five minutes, he glanced at the luminous hands of a wrist-watch.

Three-thirty! Three hours later, and still no sign of the operative.

He made some rapid calculations. The waiting Potez was a good ten minutes across in the neighboring field. If the operative would only come, he still had time to make it. But just barely. Dawn was at 4:03 a. m.

What had happened? Had the operative been caught?

Suddenly he tensed. His eyes strained. Was that a shadowy form moving along on hands and knees? It— Yes! Some one was over on the opposite side of the farmhouse, moving toward him!

He snapped the safety-catch on his automatic, crouched a moment—watching. Then he crept to the side of the house. He gave a low whistle.

The figure stopped abruptly. Silence. Wilson whistled again, the first bar of the Marsellaise.

"French?" croaked a voice.

Wilson's heart leaped. At last!

"French!" he called. He came out into the open, went toward the figure. The man had fallen to a prone position, and as he approached him, Wilson had a bad moment. Perhaps it was a trap. But, no! He stood over him now. The man was wounded! He was panting for breath, apparently exhausted by the effort of getting this far.

"Hurry! Get me inside!" he gasped. "Thank God you waited!"

Carefully, Wilson picked him up in his arms, stumbled inside the farmhouse. He felt the warm dampness of blood oozing over him.

"Are you hit bad?"

"Pretty bad—I'm afraid I'm done for," replied the man weakly. "But never mind that. I haven't much breath—listen—don't interrupt."

Wilson lighted a cigarette for him.

"No!" the man cried "out. "No lights! They're looking for me every where." He struggled with something under his coat, pulling out an oilskin packet. "The Nazis have two spies planted in the 89th Escadrille de Reconnaissance. Hauptmann Hammer and Kurt Schmidt-"

"Hammer! Captain James Hammer?"

"Yes, here," he handed Wilson the packet. "Proof—all that is needed. Hammer is one of these Alsace-Lorraine Germans who has spent all his life in France and then turns traitor! But enough—I must go on. Hammer has been furnishing; the Very light codes used by the French planes to relay artillery observations." Wilson jumped. "The Nazis sent up planes. Whenever an Allied advance gets under way, they signal to lower the zone barrages, causing French shells to fall on French troops."

"Of course! Why didn't I think of that?"

The man went on weakly. "The Nazis have word of a big Push in the morning, is that correct?"

Wilson nodded.

"They plan to work the same trick, wipe out thousands of our troops in the cross-barrage. You must get back to stop that advance."

"I'll get back," promised Wilson, grimly.

THE operative suddenly grew much weaker. He had a bad coughing spasm. Blood gushed from his mouth and nostrils. Apparently only an iron will had forced him to drive his body on to deliver the vital information. He began speaking again, in a voice that was barely audible.

"They—were—watching me. I—knew it. I—was afraid—to trust my information through routine channels. It—might—have been intercepted. I—wouldn't know—until too—late. I—I had—to be sure. This—was—the only—possible way. If you—hadn't come— hadn't waited—I was going to get across—across the lines—somehow. I—" the words trailed off.

Wilson bent over him anxiously.

"What—time—is—the—advance?"

"The advance is set for 4:38 a. m.," he replied aloud.

Wilson started. The advance was scheduled for 4:38 a. m.! It was 3:46 a. m. now! Not only that, it would be dawn in a few minutes! He had to get back to the waiting plane! He could get word back by radio.

"Here, I'm going to carry you back with me. You can't stay here."

"No," protested the wounded man. "I—I'm—done for. Don't bother—thanks. You—go—on. Stop—Stop—" the words ceased, his head slumped.

Wilson felt his pulse. Uttering a little prayer, he stood erect, brought his hand up in salute. Then he ran from the house, back into the clump of woods that bordered the farmhouse.

He had hardly taken a step when a noise halted him. A sharp report, like a dead limb breaking. He stopped, holding his breath, listening tensely. For a moment there was a jagged silence, then came a cautious footstep—followed by more silence. Wilson had his automatic out, clutched tightly in his hand. The noise was coming toward him, he would just have to wait. If he moved he would expose himself.

He squatted. Glanced at his watch. Every second counted now. And yet he couldn't take a chance on moving.

There! The sound was much closer, coming steadily. He strained through the darkness, and finally caught sight of the skulking figure. Less than ten feet from him!

Another bough snapped.

"Sucre Bleu!"

Cripes! That was good old French cussing! Suddenly the truth dawned on Wilson. The figure was André! He could make him out now! He called:

"Holà, André! Where are you?"

The figure practically turned a somersault in surprise, then with much muttering and mumbling, rushed over.

"Larry!" he greeted, in a relieved tone. "I thought they'd got you, mon ami."

Wilson explained about the operative. "Come on, let's get back to the plane. It's almost dawn. We've got to radio the information."

They plunged through the thicket, more intent" on speed than anything else. If daybreak came and the Potez was still out in the field, they were goners.

Twice, as they half-walked, half-ran, Wilson saw the eastern sky growing pale. He glanced at his watch fearfully. Checked with André's. They were together.

As they ran, Wilson told Ledeau everything that had happened.

"Dieu! I will enjoy getting my hands on Hammer!"

"Will I," corrected Wilson. "Remember—Hammer is my meat."

"Bien," agreed Ledeau. "But remember—I want one blow at the espion after you've finished."


CHAPTER V

Flight to Glory

THEY came out on the field. Ledeau dashed across and got in the plane, switched on the starter. The motors caught on the first turn. It sounded a thousand times louder than it ever had before. Ledeau taxied to the end of the field, warming up the motors in bursts.

The eastern sky was actually growing light as they shot across the ground and into the air. At a thousand feet, the Potez was bathed in sunlight, though the earth below was still a black morass.

The takeoff had not been a minute too soon!

Larry switched on the radio. "Hocco, hocco, hocco," he chanted the code word for the 89th's drome into the mike. He listened intently. No answer. Again he tried. No reply. The transmitter was dead! A swift inspection confirmed his fears.

Wilson glanced at his watch. 4:02 a. m. They had exactly thirty-six minutes in which to fly back across the lines, land on the 89th's tarmac, and stop an Allied push! But if word could be gotten through to Wing just a few minutes ahead, they would manage. They were on "alert" for something of this nature.

But if they should encounter enemy aircraft, be forced to stop and fight to protect themselves, then it would he serious.

There had been nothing miraculous in their flight across the lines; their managing to land undetected. It was often accomplished. In the darkness, without noise. There was nothing to give them away. But now—in broad daylight, coming from the Nazi side at low altitude was a different story.

Wilson pictured the activity taking place on the ground. Outposts radioing guttural warnings ahead. Telephones ringing at half-a-dozen jagdstaffels between them and the lines. He imagined hordes of Nazi planes soaring up to intercept them.

And a couple of minutes later it no longer necessary to rely upon imagination! Through the grey vapor that shrouded the early morning sky, he saw Messerschmitts! Four—five—more! Everywhere but in front of them. The German dromes at this particular sector were situated far back of the lines. They were receiving the warnings, all right. But they had to give chase rather than block the fleeing French plane.

Ground-fire was peppering them. Rather than waste time climbing for altitude, Ledeau was holding the nose level on the horizon, speeding for the lines in the shortest possible course of flight.

And the Messerschmitts behind were gaining! But—by all the gods!—they were approaching the lines! And no enemy planes had managed to cross in front of their path to block or delay them. It was almost too good to be true! And yet, there it was down-in front of their nose: the gouged and scarred terrain of No Man's Land!

Nazi antiaircraft blossoms began flowering the sky. They seemed furious that this French plane was escaping. The angry coughs of the black, yellow-cored bursts seemed to confront them at every turn, to present a solid barrier through which there was no passing.

Ledeau rocked the plane, zigzagged. One, two, three, four, five, and six—and turn. Six—and dive. Six—and turn. Six—and zoom. The erratic course was the best and only, real insurance against the Nazi guns.

A burst suddenly exploded practically under their right wing. The loud cough sounded like a giant clap of thunder in Wilson's ears. A clap of thunder followed by a sharp click as shrapnel exploded and hissed its lethal path through the air. A jagged hole appeared in the surfaces of the wing.

Whew! No use ducking now, but that had been a close one!

He looked back over his tail, looked at the black splash which had almost been "it." The smoke was shaped like an inkspot.

Wilson checked on the pursuing Messerschmitts. The nearest was a good two miles behind! And, directly under them, was the Maginot Line! They had made it! They were back over the lines! Back in French territory!

Ledeau yelled back exultantly. The stick moved forward, and the nose of the Potez slanted down.

IT was fully light when the 89th's tarmac shot into sight. There was a slight morning mist, but not enough to hide the long row oi ships out on the line, warming up. Apparently the whole squadron was standing by.

Ledeau fish-tailed violently over the tree-tops, brought the twin-engined crate in almost on top of the hangar tents. The Potez hit in a stall landing and rolled to a stop within a hundred feet.

As the nose of the ship came around, Wilson saw Major Massoine running toward them from the Operations shack.

Ledeau yelled back: "You give the major the lowdown, and take care of Hammer! I'll run over to the repair hangar and have a little chat with Herr Schmidt, alias Pinnand.

Larry Wilson legged from the pit, ran to meet the C. O.

"Wilson! We'd given you up! Did you make contact?"

"Yes," cried Wilson, "come on! You've got to call and stop the advance! Hurry! I'll give you the details while you're phoning. Hammer's a Nazi spy," he added, unable to withhold this bit.

Lt. Wilson supplied him the missing facts as the Major put through his call to headquarters, calling off the push. "You don't need me any more," Wilson blurted as he dashed out toward Hammer's billet.

The noise of the warming planes was suddenly broken by a sharper, thinner sound as one of the Potez ships was rewed up.

"Any patrols scheduled to take off?"

"No," replied the major. "All flights have been cancelled."

With a leap, Wilson was through the door. Sure enough! A ship was darting from the line! He couldn't make out the men in the seats, but it wouldn't take any magician to guess who they were! Hammer must have gotten wise, gotten word to Schmidt, and they were escaping! The mere fact that Wilson had returned must have alarmed them.

Larry Wilson ran across the apron, jumped into the nearest Potez. He yanked the plane around in an instant, shot onto. the field. He had hoped to cut across the path of the plane taking off, but he was a moment too late. Missed by feet! They would get into the air!

Wilson did not hesitate. Without even waiting to come around, get into the wind, get the field in front of him, he fed throttle, prayed the Potez off the ground in a dangerous crosswind take-off.


CHAPTER VI

Award for Valor

THE zooming plane sagged, mushroomed through the air, finally built up flying speed. He rode rudder recklessly, pulled in behind Hammer. Less than five hundred yards from the fleeing Potez. Five hundred yards! Just outside of effective shooting range. He had to close that gap.

He glanced back under his tail. Other ships of the 89th were slanting upward, declaring themselves in on the fun! He looked through the gleaming prop arc. The Potez had moved back a little! Perhaps the added weight of an observer was making the difference. Or it might have been that the motor wasn't fully warmed. At any rate, he had narrowed the gap by almost a hundred yards!

He tripped the machine gun in a short warming burst.

The two planes were flying at almost the same altitude. Hammer's perhaps fifty or seventy-five feet higher. This was exactly the way Wilson wanted it. He could come in under their tail.

He could see Schmidt working furiously with his guns. The range was less than three hundred yards! He saw spurts of flame dropping from the gun's nozzle. He held the plane in his sights, thumb tensed against the trips. But he still held off his fire.

He took one last glance over his shoulder. Potez ships seemed spread all over the horizon! Apparently every 89th plane was in the air! But only two were anywhere close.

Wilson cursed them softly. Hammer was his meat.

Leaden slugs began striking their mark. Little dents and holes sprung up on the wing surfaces. He heard the snap and crackle of the pellets as they streaked past his ears. If one happened to hit the prop!

His thumb tightened on the trips, the guns raged, rivet-hammering their molten messages through the tail of the other. He had intended holding his fire a moment longer, but he had to worry Schmidt by distracting his aim or he might score a hit on the wide, sweeping arc of his prop.

He saw the line of tracer connecting the flaming muzzles of his guns with the traitor Potez ahead. And for every visible streaking slug, six other missiles hissed toward their mark.

He eased the Potez slightly, spoiling Schmidt's aim. The other plane suddenly veered off about twenty degrees. Apparently Hammer thought his gunner was handicapped, firing back over his tail, giving Wilson a free target.

THE slight change in course brought Wilson just that much nearer. He could see Schmidt's scarred, pockmarked countenance. Suddenly Hammer twisted his head around. Wilson jabbed the trips, sending vicious bursts toward that face at almost pointblank range.

He was ignoring maneuvers. Ignoring everything. just riding straight ahead, straight for his target. It was his best possible attack at that, but Wilson wasn't thinking of best possible attacks. Of the best aerial strategy. He was thinking of one thing, and one thing only. He was going to bring down that lying traitor ahead—bring him down if he had to keep riding straight ahead and ram him.

But as Hammer's face twisted back, Wilson caught him squarely, At less than a hundred yards! With the hissing of hell in his ears he held down the trips. The guns bucked, blasted. The flame and smoke cleared away.

Hammer still seemed to be looking back, but his once florid face was a dreadful, horrible blotch of crimson, shredded, bone and flesh! His features seemed to have slipped, like a melting mask, and drenched down over his chest! Wilson's fire had caught him full just as he looked back! Looking at the man he had falsely sworn to disgrace, he had received a burst of molten lead squarely through the eyes, the nose, the mouth!

The plane went over like a brickbat. Schmidt clawed wildly trying to engage the dual controls. But he never had a chance. The plane plummeted earthward, roaring straight down, motor full out, to crash from an altitude of a thousand feet. It exploded in a blinding geyser of rioting flame and embers that reached up almost a hundred feet.

BOOTS and Sam Brownes glistening, two officers of 1;he French Army Air Service moved into the courtyard. There was a company of French soldiers, under arms. Officers stood in the center of the courtyard—officers with gold leaves on their hats—officers in full dress uniform.

André Ledeau nudged Larry Wilson in the ribs. "Gee! Look at them, would you!"

Larry Wilson whispered from the side of his mouth. "Every blamed general in the whole war, look's like!"

"I don't see why they had to drag us all the way to Paris. They could have just mailed the medals."

"Company—Atten-shun!"

The soldiers snapped erect as the sounds of commands echoed over the courtyard.

"Lieutenants Wilson and Ledeau! Front and Center! March!"

The two warbirds stiffened. Shoulders back, they stalked toward the group of brass-hats. A band began playing.

As Larry Wilson marched, his eyes dropped down once, down to the left breast of his uniform. They rested a moment on the bright and shining full wings, then they lifted proudly. And with chin sticking out just a little farther, he marched on.

"Officers, Halt!"

Back of them a command rang out. "Present arms!"

Ledeau whispered. "I'd rather make that hop over as to go through with this show. I'm scared stiff! "

Wilson suppressed a desire to guffaw. "Yeah, me, too! I wonder if those French generals are going to kiss us!"

And then one of those French generals was standing in front of him.

"In the name of the Republic of France, as the Deputy of his Excellency the President of the Republic, I name you a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor—"

And a sword flashed and touched him on each shoulder, and a hairy hand affixed the Cross of the Legion on his tunic, and a mouth, a man's mouth, was kissing him on each cheek.

Someone else: "In the name of . . ."

The form moving into his vision. It—why! It wasn't a uniformed brass-hat! It was golden hair glinting in the sunshine, the light of devils in her rich brown eyes—Jean Mercier!

"In the name of the French people, I present . . ." And then the feel of her white hand on his tunic, attaching something with red, white, and blue ribbons on it. She raised on tip-toe, kissed him! Not on the cheeks, but squarely on the lips!

A voice, André's voice: "I'm next!"

General Mercier came up then. Prancing and snorting like an old warhorse. "Disgraceful! What an exhibition, young lady! You knew better than that! You didn't kiss me during rehearsal!"

She grinned at him like a little minx.

"Ought to court-martial you, that's what!" He was glaring at Larry Wilson now. "A lowly Lieutenant being made love to by my daughter! And on a public parade-ground! "

"Oh, mon père," interrupted Jean, sweetly, "I was just coming to that. Don't you think you ought to promote Larry"—her brow puckered prettily—"say, at least to a colonelship? It's so hard for a general's daughter to live on a lowly Lieutenant's salary!"