CROSSED WIRES

By the time Curt and Al got their bicycles and pedaled to the vicinity
of Rocky Lake, Bob’s flare was out and they had no means of ending their
suspense until they had looked around in the picnic grove and assured
themselves that there was no burning airplane in sight.

They rode along the highway.

“Isn’t that a flashlight, in the old field?”

“It looks like one, Al.”

“It is!”

They pedaled faster. Presently the pair reached the field; soon Bob,
using a small pocket flashlamp, was telling his brother and his best
friend how the electric spark had worried him.

“I knew the brown airplane was gone,” he continued his explanation, “the
only thing left for me to do was to head back to the plant. But I saw
that quick little flicker close to the gas line and cut off the ignition
switch.”

“What are you doing now?”

“Tracing the wiring,” Bob told his brother. “And here is a wire! It
ought not to be run so close to the gas line! And here is another, away
back under the dash instrument board. They cross!”

“Crossed wires!” gasped Curt. “That isn’t right!”

“Certainly not!” agreed Bob. “We’ve learned enough about airplane
construction at the Tredway plant to know they don’t do such careless
things as that!”

“Then somebody deliberately did it,” concluded Al. “It’s part of the
scheme to damage the crates.”

“It’s worse than that!” Bob climbed to the ground and faced his
companions. His face, hard to see in the dark, because he was saving his
electric battery, was very serious. “It’s worse than just tampering!
Fellows—this is Mr. Tredway’s own airplane!——”

“I see,” commented Curt soberly. “Some one wanted harm to come to the
owner of the plant.”

“And the ‘some one’ made sure it would. In daylight,” Bob stated, “that
spark wouldn’t be noticed. It was only by being out in the dark of
night, that I could see it.”

“But crossed wires ought not to rub enough to wear out the insulation in
a short time,” objected Al.

“Neither they did. Al—Curt—the insulation was scraped away!”

They were silent for a long moment. The full wickedness of that
deliberate act made each of the youths feel rather cold. They were
dealing with something more sinister than an attempt to make away with
small airplane supplies, to damage airplanes for the purpose of injuring
the reputation of the manufacturers, as they had decided the conditions
seemed to indicate.

“Well,” Curt became practical, “you can’t fly that ship home, not in
that condition.”

“If we had some adhesive tape,” Bob said, “I could tape the wires and
get back to the aircraft field.”

“I’ve got bicycle friction tape in my little toolcase.” Al ran to get
it.

“The place is hard to reach,” Bob told Curt.

“Maybe I could do it,” Curt responded. “My hands are thinner and my
fingers are longer than yours.”

As soon as Al brought the roll of pitched fabric, Curt, with the
flashlamp set for steady burning, located the damaged insulation and
began to work with strips of the tape, having some difficulty in winding
it without pulling the wires too much.

“This is going to be a slow job,” he called out. “Bob, somebody ought to
go and call up Griff, to see if he has any news.”

“I think so too,” Al agreed.

“Why don’t you both go!” Curt urged. “One could stay at The Windsock and
watch and the other could come back with news—or, Bob, you could ride
back on my wheel, to The Windsock with Al, and then come on back here
and we two could fly back to the hangars together.”

“Would you trust yourself with me, in the dark, flying this ship?” asked
Bob. “Something else may be wrong with it.”

“That’s so. I’ll look it over. I know how they inspect them,” Curt
suggested.

Al and Bob agreed, and went to the two bicycles. Off they rode.

“There’s that ‘plane again!” Al pointed to a tiny red flare high up over
the roadhouse ground. “He has come back.”

“I suppose I frightened him away,” Bob said. “He probably thinks whoever
chased him has given up, and he has come back.”

“One thing bothers me,” Al observed, forgetting his weary legs in the
fresh excitement. “Why would a crate that has a pilot who flies away
from pursuit come back to do stunts?”

“I can’t answer that,” Bob replied. “Let’s get there. See! He is
looping, and he has lighted some sort of rocket or bomb that makes a
trail of fire to show his stunt off in the dark.”

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

Bob agreed with his brother’s exclamation as the airplane, high above
them, with fireworks leaving a comet’s tail behind it, made a series of
loops, dived, zoomed, made a sort of “S” of fire by side-slipping first
one way and then the other.

When they got back to the roadhouse the display was over. Ground flares
were going and it was clear that the pilot meant to land.

“We’re going to see who it is, after all,” declared Bob, thrilled by the
possible revelation that was to come.

Curt saw the gyrating ship and its glowing trail of sparks. He watched
for a moment and then went doggedly back to his work. If Bob needed this
sport craft, Curt proposed to have it ready if careful, methodical work
could get it so.

Surprised, he heard himself addressed by a youth who came over from the
farmhouse whose builder owned the field.

“What’s goin’ on?” asked the farmer’s son.

“Some display for the opening of the roadhouse dance floor,” Curt
replied, tightening down the tape and clipping off the end with his
pocket knife.

“I don’t mean yonder. I mean here.”

“Oh! A little trouble. Crossed wires.”

The youth did not understand; but he accepted the explanation.

“Ain’t you awful young to be a aviation flyer?” he asked.

“I don’t—I’m not the pilot,” Curt stated. He explained. Then, his task
finished, he clambered down to see the glow of the distant, concealed
ground flares, and to guess that the sky rider was going to land.

“This is gettin’ to be a regular aviators’ place,” said the youth to
Curt. “Guess pa ought to put up signs, ‘Places to land for rent.’”

“Do many crates land here?” Curt was surprised.

“Well—look at them tracks!”

Thus having the spot indicated, even in the dim light Curt was able to
see that deep ruts had been made, not only in the soft, ploughed edge of
the field, but also on the turf.

“Hm-m-m!” he had no explanation to comment. It was unimportant.
Something of greater concern was on his mind.

“See here, buddy,” Curt said, “will you help me ‘warm up’ this ship?” He
was searching for two stones or blocks big enough to hold the airplane
still while the propeller revolved. “The pilot might want to take off
now that I’ve fixed the damage.” The boy agreed. Curt, locating several
rocks near where the brown ‘plane had once been hidden, set them under
the wheels, and then, realizing that the ship must take off facing into
the wind, he got the youth to help him drag the tail around, to pull the
whole ship as far up at the end of the turf as possible.

“First time I ever worked around a—er—‘grate’——”

“‘Crate,’” Curt corrected, smiling in the darkness. “That’s a slang way
of speaking of an airplane, and it means either a term of fondness, or
of disgust, according to how the user feels about his ‘ship.’”

“I see. Gee! Wisht I could be one of them aviator flyers.”

“You can, if you are willing to study enough,” Curt said. “It means hard
work. There’s a lot to learn. But a fellow who has ambition can get to
be anything he likes.”

“Not without being educated more than me.”

“You can pick up some education while you’re studying in ‘ground
school,’” Curt explained. “After you learn the parts of the airplane,
the way each one works, what it is for, and so on, and how they are put
together, you have to study about airplane engines—the principle of the
internal combustion engine and what all the parts are for and how they
work. There has to be study of—let’s see—oh, yes!—aerodynamics—how a
ship flies, and why, and what different air currents do, and how to know
their effects. There’s navigation, too—the beginnings of it, anyway.”

“All that? I thought you got in and pushed something and——”

“If there weren’t so many people who thought that,” Curt said soberly,
“we wouldn’t have so many accidents. Flying is a science; and there’s
more to it than getting into the air and going somewhere. It takes
ground school study to learn the foundation part, and instruction
flights to learn how things are handled, and solo flights and stunting
to show you how to handle a crate in an emergency—and navigation in its
practical applications, for long flights. But if you are in earnest, you
can get all that, and pick up practical arithmetic and grammar and so
on, in night school at the same time.”

“Not without money!”

“No—unless—you might come over to the Tredway aircraft plant and I’d
introduce you to Barney—Mr. Horton, the manager. He might give you a
chance to work as a ‘grease monkey’ in the field, for he is awfully
nice. He helped all of us.”

The youth agreed eagerly, and then, with the chocks set and the ignition
switch off, Curt told him how to work the propeller around, and got him
back to safety as the ignition switch followed the gas “on.”

The engine took up its roar, and Curt knew enough to shut down the
throttle to idling speed, allowing the slow revolutions to warm up the
power plant. He knew little about oil pressure and instrument readings,
but he knew that an engine, to function safely and steadily, in flight,
must be warm.

While he busied himself getting everything as nearly ready as his
ability allowed, Bob and Al reached the roadhouse.

The airplane had already “set down.”

“It’s the brown one, and no mistake!” Al was thrilled.

“Yes,” said Bob. “Now, Al, the pilot must have gone inside the
roadhouse. I don’t see him around the dance place. You could go in to
ask for his autograph. I see you still carry that little book. It ought
to be easy to get a look at him, have him pointed out to you. That’s
really all we need.”

Al agreed. He had no difficulty in getting a busy waiter to jerk a thumb
toward one of the private compartments.

Al went to its door, pushed aside the curtains—and stepped back.

What he saw stunned him!