FLIGHT!

When the sun peered through dispersing Summer storm clouds it saw three
alert, wide-awake youths, a little tired but very tense, in the testing
field of the Tredway aircraft plant.

With them were Mr. Tredway, the Chief of Police, Mr. Parsons and Griff.

“Is Tredway’s speed plane fueled up,” Mr. Wright came over from the
offices where he had deposited the company books in readiness for later
use: his question was addressed to Griff.

“Ready, sir,” the young son of Mr. Tredway’s partner responded.

“All plans arranged, Chief?”

“We’ve got a net spread that Barney Horton couldn’t escape if he was an
eel. One of my best detectives has been outside his house ever since he
went in from the taxi, at one ‘a.m.’ Those two men over by the offices,
getting ready to dig a trench, are two picked men of my headquarters
staff. Every motorcycle man, every traffic man, all our roundsmen and
policemen are on the alert.”

“I simply cannot believe it of Barney,” Mr. Tredway was as doleful as
though they were planning to arrest him, instead of his plant manager,
“I took him in and gave him every opportunity, taught him all he knows,
pushed him to the top. To think—”

“Hatred for a fancied wrong is a terrible force for evil,” said Mr.
Wright.

“But he doesn’t look a bit like the man who was trying to win the woman
who became my wife.”

“By the way,” interrupted the Chief of Police, “she hasn’t appeared at
all in this—have you separated? Isn’t she——”

“Oh, yes,” quickly, “she is alive. My wife is away in Europe. That is
the reason I decided to—disappear. I knew that news of it would not
reach her before I ‘came to life.’”

“But if Barney is the guilty man,” Curt was still dazed, “why did he
turn suspicion on that ex-pilot at The Windsock?”

“He tried to turn suspicion on everybody,” retorted Mr. Wright. “It is a
favorite trick of a guilty person. He has practically accused the
bookkeeper, the supply clerk, Sandy Jim, the rigger and the man you
mentioned.”

“But he’s free,” Al spoke. “Why didn’t you arrest him while you had him
at the house showing him the books?”

“You must remember one fact, my young ‘Sky Squadder,’” the Chief of
Police commented. “Circumstantial evidence, and suspicion are one thing.
Proof of guilt that will stand in court against a clever lawyer is
something quite different.”

“In other words,” Mr. Wright explained, “we feel, with absolute
conviction, that Barney is our man. We haven’t any actual proof. We must
wait until he makes some open move. Bob, cleverly discovering Barney’s
supposed guilt because he saw Barney make that excuse to get out to the
airplane when he said he wanted to dismiss his taxi, did all he could to
keep the man close to his Sky Squad; but Barney was clever.”

“I thought he would make a try for the books during the night if I got
him to stay with us,” Bob admitted modestly. “Then, when he refused to
spend the night with us I hoped he’d discover that we had substituted
other books for the ledgers, and would try to get in our place to get
all the incriminating evidence. But,” dejectedly, “he was too clever for
that, even.”

“How do you expect him to make an open move, if he’s all that wise?”
asked Griff.

“Well,” Mr. Wright spoke up, “some one has been quietly exchanging
company stock, turning some into gold, here and there. I think it was
Barney’s work under assumed names, to get his money into shape for
escape. We have made him see that we know how the cheap, shoddy supplies
are coming in, and other things: he will try to get away.”

“The paying tellers of the town banks are on the watch. The first minute
he comes to close his accounts, as he will do before he takes a train,
we will be informed. Before he goes he may try to destroy the false
account books, and leave only conviction of his guilt, but no real,
legal proof.”

“But—” Al was still somewhat puzzled. “Bob, how did you come to suspect
Barney at all?”

“Do you remember me telling what was said when I flew with Lang to see
Father?” As Al and Curt nodded, Bob added, “Barney used a phrase about
‘crossed wires.’ Then I found crossed wires in Mr. Tredway’s ship last
night, and later Mr. Tredway found wires chafed, and led across each
other, by his brown ‘plane carburetor. It was the quickest way to
endanger a ship—the spark could set fire to free gas, and might not be
noticed in daylight. Barney had time to do it.”

“When he went out? I see,” Curt said. “But, Bob, you thought some one
was listening, watching—you told Barney so.”

“I still think some one was spying over our dinner—but it may have been
the manager, Jenks, who may be ‘in’ with Barney.”

“Speak of the—” Mr. Tredway gave a warning glance as he began the old
adage, “speak of the devil, he’s sure to appear.”

To their amazement, Barney came through the gates. He was calm, quiet,
not at all furtive or frightened.

“What was the idea of that trick you played with the books?” He patted
the package he carried. Bob was confused.

The arrival of the rigger, Sandy Jim, coming early to complete work on
the new airplane for which the owner was in such a hurry, enabled Bob to
hide his confusion as his father answered, quietly, “I’ll tell you that,
Barney.”

“All right. Tell me.”

Bob, who turned his head to hide his crimson face, and who went to greet
Sandy Jim, with Al, as an excuse to avoid an explanation that might
upset their plans, was surprised at the look on Sandy Jim’s face.

The man was staring at Mr. Tredway as though he saw a ghost.

“I—I—thought that man was——”

“Hello, Sandy!” Al greeted, taking the amazement as natural, since
everyone around the plant supposed the owner to have gone under the mud
in the Silver Flash, “ready for work early.”

“Ye—yeah! How’d he get here?” He jerked a thumb toward Mr. Tredway.

“In a taxi.”

Bob took over the explanation, giving Sandy enough of the former
happenings to enable the rigger to recover from his surprise.

“I’m right glad,” the man stated, finally. “Now—Al, you get some of your
crowd together and fuel up this new crate—soon as a pilot shows up we
want it tested. I may have to make some changes in the wire tension and
balance—get busy, me lads!”

Al eagerly agreed, seeing that their carefully planned “coup” had fallen
through. Barney, listening to Mr. Wright, to Mr. Tredway, to the
latter’s partner and the Chief of Police, trying, all together, to give
him a “third degree,” began to laugh.

“That’s a good one!” He threw back his head, roaring his mirth. “So I’m
the culprit, eh? Ho-ho! Oh, my, that’s rich. Clever Sky Squad you have,
Wright! Ha-ha-ha-ho-ho! Here I am doing all I can to help my partner,
trying to solve the puzzles he couldn’t untangle—and I’m to be
arrested!”

“No one spoke of arrest!” the Police Chief hedged. “Are you sending some
one else to get your banked gold?”

“Banked gold?” Barney dropped his jaw as the question was shot at him.

“Converting stock!” snapped Mr. Parsons.

Barney stared and then smiled. “All the stock I ever had is in my safe
deposit box—come on! I’ll show you, at the bank.”

They were puzzled. Arthur Tredway was eager to claim that his friend and
protege was innocent.

The others were compelled to admit as Bob mentally decided, that
Barney’s face, manner and actions were open and honest.

“That’s enough gas,” said the rigger. “Now, Al, fill her up with oil—I
want to see Mr. Tredway.” He descended from the aircraft, went to his
employer and with many protestations of delight gripped his hand.

“See here,” he urged, “Mr. Tredway, this crate they’re fueling is in a
big rush. I have to make adjustments for balance before she is
delivered. Can’t you take her up?”

“Why not?” Mr. Tredway was anxious to get into action since he had
agreed to “return to life.”

“Hey—Bob—got her filled? Warm her up for Mr. Tredway.”

Bob nodded, consulted the brand new instruments and noted that the fuel
and oil registered at “full.”

“Gas on—switch off,” he told Al. “Whirl that prop, Al.”

His brother did his bidding. It took several trials to start the new
engine but Bob got it going and then drew back the throttle to idling
speed and went over to rejoin the group.

“I don’t think Arthur ought to take that crate up,” Barney was half
laughing. “Of course I know that the only wires I ever crossed was when
I flew my crates over telegraph lines—but he might think I had ’em
crossed in this ship!”

“Oh, no!” Tredway laid a hand on his protege’s shoulder.

But Bob was not watching Barney.

His eyes were fixed on Sandy Jim, and he beckoned to his father.

Hurriedly, rapidly, Bob spoke to his father. The detective nodded.

“I’ll get the speedster of Mr. Tredway’s warmed up, too,” Bob said
softly, “in case——”

To Al’s amazement and Curt’s astonishment the head of the Sky Squad
beckoned furiously. They followed.

“See if there’s gas and oil in this,” he urged as he led them to the
ship he had flown the night before, returned to its field by Mr.
Parsons. “Listen, fellows——”

As he busied himself making ready to start the motor, getting the nose
of the sport ‘plane into the wind, Bob explained.

What he said startled his comrades.

“While Mr. Tredway was joking Barney about the crossed wires, did you
see Jim’s face?”

“The rigger?” Al exclaimed, “you mean—when he got white?”

“Yes! Listen—gas off, switch on. Give her a spin, Curt.”

As the engine took up its roar, he clambered in again, leaned far over
the edge to Curt, while Al climbed into the after seat.

“Sandy Jim turned white,” he said above the engine hum. “I think we’ve
found the real—watch, fellows! Father is going to tell Barney in front
of Sandy Jim about the crossed wires.”

“Jim is acting nervous,” added Curt. “He’s turning—the chief has grabbed
his arm. Now Dad is going to say to Barney that he’s guilty, that he
hates his benefactor because of the other man winning Barney’s girl—of
course we know it’s Jim, now—watch him! Jim’s being accused now—look!”

Baffled, his face displaying his guilt, Sandy Jim fled to the new
airplane.

Without an instant of delay Bob widened the throttle opening!