THE SKY SQUAD GOES INTO ACTION

Three men faced one another in the small compartment, made to look like
a passenger ‘plane cabin.

As Al, at the curtained entrance, recognized the one facing him, all
three turned to look.

With a mumbled apology Al backed out.

More than anything else, he wanted to get away, to see Bob!

The man who had faced him was Mr. Parsons, partner in the aircraft
plant.

The man to his right was the mysterious stranger whom Al had seen in the
supply room!

The third man——

Before Al could form his mental picture of a face that seemed familiar,
a bus-boy, with a heavy tray of soiled dishes, bumped against him.

“Get out o’ the way,” the youth grunted, to Al, and gave him an angry
push with his free hand. Al, his balance disturbed, stumbled
forward—into the arms of Mr. Parsons at the door.

Struggling, squirming to get out of the powerful grip on his arm and
shoulder, Al found himself held as if in a vise.

Suddenly his whole body went limp. His head dropped, his eyes closed. He
sagged down, and surprised and disconcerted, imagining that the youth he
held might have fainted in his fright, the man released him, lowered him
to the floor while he looked up, intending to call for aid.

Behind him another face looked out, the bearded face of the man Al had
seen previously in the supply room.

“What’s up?” asked the latter.

“I am!” cried Al, shrilly, as he tensed his muscles, swung free of Mr.
Parsons as the latter bent over him. Like the leashed spring of a
panther Al’s squirming, swift move took him out of danger.

To cries, to shouts of surprise and of inquiry, Al eluded the grasping
hands of a waiter, dodged a diner’s gripping fingers, evaded the move of
a man to block him at the door, and was free!

Quick thinking and a ruse had prevailed where strength was not enough to
accomplish his wish.

Speeding along, outside, after vaulting the veranda railing, Al quickly
located Bob. With a wave of his hand Al signaled. His progress was swift
as he scampered across the parking space, between standing automobiles,
toward an old barnlike structure backed into the grove. Bob, seeing the
wave and Al’s progress, dodged, on his own part, among the cars until he
rejoined Al in the open door of the old, dilapidated barn.

“What happened?”

Al, pulling his brother back out of sight, recovered his breath.

“I bumped into Mr. Parsons——”

“No!”

“Yes—and the man we saw in the supply room——”

“Well! What happened then?”

“There was somebody else with them. And—I didn’t recognize him, because
I was so surprised and excited—but his face ‘rang a bell’ and I’ll think
who he was when I get quieted down.”

“What made you run?”

Al explained.

“Yes, and there comes Mr. Parsons! He’s looking for me,” he ended.

“He has something in his hand—a package——”

“Listen!” Al drew Bob further into the dark interior. “Bob—when I
blundered in on them, those men had—what do you suppose?—the company
books!” Al clutched Bob’s arm tighter. “You remember, we hid when Mr.
Parsons was in the offices—he took those books!”

“Yes,” Bob’s whisper agreed. “Now he’s been showing them to that man we
saw, and to somebody else.”

“Mr. Parsons isn’t as honest as Griff wanted us to believe.”

Bob shook Al’s arm reassuringly. “No,” he admitted, “I thought Griff’s
story was part of—what did they say in the war?—oh, yes! It was
‘camouflage.’ Fancy paint to conceal something.”

“If we could only get the books away from them—and tell Barney!”

“They may be coming to look for you. Mr. Parsons must have recognized
you, Al. I wonder if there’s a haymow over this old floor?”

“You go along one wall and I’ll take the other. We’ll see!”

They hurried away from one another. Presently Bob called out softly and,
following the wall, with one hand touching to hold his place, the other
extended ahead to avoid bumping into any obstruction, the youngest of
the Sky Squad found his way to Bob.

There was a ladder against the wall. Bob whispered instructions and
started up the dark, uncertain ladder. Bob had hardly reached the top
and called down a low reassurance when Al almost scrambled in his
eagerness to get up quickly.

Voices were growing louder. Some one was coming! It must be Mr. Parsons.

At the top of the ladder, Al fell softly onto the upper floor boards,
and he, with his brother, bent attentive, strained ears to catch the low
murmur from below.

“He’s from the plant,” a voice called, and Bob recognized the quick,
sharp tones of Mr. Parsons. “He was a boy from the plant.”

“You got those books wrapped in record time!” someone else chuckled.
Then, as the youths drew their heads back, turtle fashion, to avoid the
glare, a match was struck.

“Nobody here—but yonder’s a ladder.”

“Better go up and have a look,” said a third, deeper voice. “We can’t
afford to have those kids snooping. I think Barney brought them into the
thing. They’re only kids—but they have eyes!”

Bob, with a twist of his neck, looked around in the dim upper room. Its
end window, dirty and cobwebby, allowed the moonlight to stream in. The
shaft of dull light streamed across, slantwise. Bob, following its path
with his eyes, touched Al’s arm. Gently he directed his brother’s gaze
toward a corner.

Sacks, used for packing corn or other cereals, were piled up there.

By common consent the two began a slow, cautious movement toward the
sacks; but Bob, quick in an emergency, drew the whole pile, very
cautiously, partly lifting the lower ones, to a darker place.

Al, close beside him, divined his idea. They could hide under the large
cluster of heavy burlap bags.

By the time that a match was struck in the upper floor they were lying,
crouched, under a number of the burlap bags.

“Not here! Guess the kid was scared and ran away.”

“Wait, though.” Bob’s breath almost stopped. Had the other man who came
up discovered the sacking?

“Wait, though,” the man repeated. “We meant to compare the books
tonight; that’s why I took all the trouble with those stunts, to have a
logical excuse for landing here. We can’t, now! Those kids may have
telephoned somebody—whoever they’re working for. Suppose we hide the
books, and get together tomorrow night. I’ll take the crate back and
come over by train.”

“Good way.”

In their stuffy concealment the brothers heard steps, low muttered
suggestions. Evidently a place to sequester the company records was
selected. The youths quivered and Al nearly screamed aloud as a sack was
dragged from the top of the pile. But the sack did not pull off the ones
they clung to over their perspiring heads.

“That’s the stuff! On that shelf, and cover ’em up. Nobody would think
of that place.”

“Won’t Barney miss them?”

“Let him worry a little. It will do him good!”

The voices receded. The heavy tread ceased. Scuffling sounds told the
brothers that the men had descended the ladder.

“Well,” whispered Al, “we’re safe——”

“And we can take the books back——”

“Can we find them?”

“They said ‘on the shelf.’ Feel around, as soon as they are out—wait!
Al, I’ll slip over and spy out through the window——”

Al sat on the floor, among the sacks, mopping his brow which was wet
with hot perspiration that had, a moment before, been ice cold. Bob
waved across the bar of moonlight. The trio of seeming conspirators was
safely away, he indicated.

Again using their hands, they felt along the walls.

With his head, though jarred only slightly, Bob found the shelf. A quick
exploration defined the books, in a compact roll of tape-tied cloth,
hidden under the sack. It was a second’s work to remove them and to
rejoin Al.

“Now—how can we get them away? Won’t they be watching?”

“Let’s go down and see.”

Alertly, and with caution, Bob protruded his head over the edge of the
opening by the ladder. He was fortunate! In the doorway stood the
unrecognized member of the party, smoking. Evidently he had returned.

Bob watched, holding Al in check by his grip on the younger one’s arm.
The man did not propose to leave, it appeared.

The sound of an airplane motor starting conveyed the truth. He was
waiting until his ship was ready before going into the open.

Bob waited, Al at his side. Neither moved more than was absolutely
essential.

But Al, try as he would, could not suppress the horrible inclination to
sneeze, induced by the dust in his nostrils from the dirty burlap.

“Huh—sh—huh—sh!” he tried to hold back, but Nature got the better of his
will.

“Huh—shoosh!”

“Now you’ve done it!”

“Couldn’t help it—look—the window will open. You could drop!”

The sound of the man ascending the ladder came clearly.

Like two swift gazelles the youths dashed across to the window, wide and
old. It was part of the door through which hay was drawn up, they
discovered. They tugged at it. On rollers, but stiff from disuse, it
stuck. Panting they struggled. Closer came the ascending steps, a call
to know who was “up there!”

The window slid open a foot—another foot.

“I’ll have to drop,” said Bob. “You get back and hide again.”

“Too late! I’ll drop the books to you! Go on—quick!”

Bob hung by his hands, gave a swift glance down, let go! No sooner did
he land, with loosened muscles to avoid the shock as much as he could,
than the package of heavy books landed beside him.

Swiftly he grasped the package, and ran.

Al, almost caught, doubled with a swift, bending squirm, as the angry
man reached to grapple with him in the moonlit doorway. By his quickness
Al was able to get away for an instant.

He tried the same ruse he had used so well before, but in another form.
Every ounce of weight he could put into it he gave to a run away from
the ladder. Then, doubling on himself, but tiptoeing and bending as low
as he could, avoiding the moon ray, Al crept softly along. The man,
following the direction of the footfalls, and thus trying to locate his
quarry in the dark, did not see the silent, gloom-hidden form slip along
the wall. Al was down the ladder before his ruse was detected.

But the man ran to the doorway, shouting through its opening.

Bob, racing toward the bicycles, realized that the other two men,
catching the warning shout, were bearing down on him. Like a rabbit he
reversed his route, slipping in among the trees behind the barn. But Mr.
Parsons and the other mysterious stranger were determined men. Bob could
not run and be silent. He dared not creep. They were too close behind
him.

Al, seeing that this pursuit was close, tried to divert attention by
shouting as he ran, openly, across toward the bicycles.

But this did not draw the others away; they felt that Bob had a parcel
for which they meant to catch him. On and on, through the grove,
dodging, squirming past trees, through briers, Bob went.

Curt, at the field, with the engine idling on the airplane, did not hear
the pursuit until Bob, almost worn out, nearly done, came racing along.
Then, seeing him, Curt ran to meet him. From the grove behind came the
crash and shout of pursuers.

“The books—hide!—” Bob could say no more.

Curt caught the package as Bob hurled it. Then, with an instinct that
amounted to genius, Bob noted a flattish stone, and as he ran he bent,
pausing an instant, and came up tugging along the small, flattish
boulder that, in the dark could be mistaken for the package of books.
Unconcernedly, as though watching in the role of a spectator, standing
on the parcel of books, Curt remained quiet, and the men raced past him.

From the road, where he flung his bicycle, knowing well where Bob would
head for, Al arrived. He raced toward the airplane just as Bob ran in
the same direction with his boulder.

Al, not unnerved by his excitement, realized that if the propeller was
turning, some chocks or other means of holding back the ship were in
place. He bent under the wheels as Bob arrived.

“Get in!” he cried. Bob, pretending to drop the books in, let the
boulder fall beside the turf. While he was climbing in, the men paused
for an instant by Curt who said, sharply, “There he goes!”

They turned, saw Bob was making for the airplane, and ran toward him.

Al tumbled into the rear cockpit, determined not to be caught after the
enmity he had awakened.

“Take me!” he cried, but the roar of the engine drowned his voice as
Bob, risking everything, in the dark, opened the throttle.

Up went the elevators enough to lift the tail as the propeller stream
swept against them.

Along the turf the ship began to move. The men, aware of the sinister
menace of the whirling blades, fell aside. Bob, sensing the near
approach of the end of his runway, lifted the elevators again, felt the
ship going light, gave her the gun, holding her just long enough on the
level after the take-off to get his speed—then up he roared.

And a boulder beside the turf remained, while Curt, with the books under
his arm, among the trees, went to Al’s bicycle—and delivered the books
to his uncle’s study.

But he didn’t stay at home. Mr. Wright was not there. Bob and Al would
fly to the plant. Thence, on tired feet, Curt pedaled.