Entering Mr. Wright’s library, which the detective used as a reception
room for clients, Bob, Curtis and Al could hardly repress their
excitement. To share in the possible solution of a real mystery of the
airlanes was more than they had really dared to hope for.
Seated opposite Mr. Wright, smiling pleasantly, was the man who had
given no other name than Barney.
“Good morning, Mr. Wright.” Curtis Brown greeted the quiet, but cordial
father of his two chums. Al added a salute to his father.
“Sit down,” suggested the detective. Bob, Curt and Al ranged themselves
along the leather upholstered davenport at the side, where the light was
on their faces. Mr. Wright had his room so arranged that only his own
place beside the desk enabled him to keep his face in the shadow;
clients and other visitors had to show every expression in the light
from the two sunny windows.
While Mr. Wright seemed to be deciding how to disclose his plans, Curt
compared the two men.
They were of very distinct types. Fred Wright would make anybody think
of an ordinary, everyday business man, fairly prosperous, quiet in his
manner, affable and cordial in his speech. His calm, serious face was
neither severe nor too soft; and while its steel-gray eyes were kindly,
they could look through a person, it seemed, and find out, almost, what
that one was thinking, or, perhaps, trying to conceal.
Barney, on the other hand, made one think of a working man who had risen
to a position of prosperity and influence without being able entirely to
shake off his servile, unpolished manner. Although his clothes were
expertly tailored, he seemed a little ill at ease in them. What was
more, he gave the impression that he knew it!
He was a trifle blustery to cover his feeling of inferiority, Curt
decided; and he had a habit of interrupting when another person was
speaking. However, this might be due to excitement, Curt thought
Glancing sidewise, he sensed that much the same comparisons were passing
through Bob’s mind. Al gave no thought to character. His whole attention
was bent on the possibility of “action!”
Curt, who liked to look for good points more than for the other sort,
checked up Barney’s dark eyes, almost black, and decided that they were
only serious because of the gravity of the situation. They could twinkle
with fun, he guessed; also, the mouth was so shaped that Bob admitted to
himself that Barney smiled oftener than he scowled.
“I have told Mr. Horton about you three young aviation enthusiasts,”
Fred Wright began. “Also I have explained that you used to be very fond
of ‘detecting’ in a decidedly amateurish way, of course.” He smiled
across the desk toward Barney, whose face broke into a broad, pleased
grin, immediately suppressed because of the seriousness of his errand.
“I’ll say we were amateurish,” chuckled Bob. “Why, Mr. Horton——”
“Call me Barney—just Barney,” the visitor interrupted.
“If you say so, sir. Well, Barney, then! We were crazy to be great
detectives, because father is one,” he paid the compliment
whole-heartedly and only his father smiled and shook his head
deprecatingly, “but we let our enthusiasm take the place of brains,” Bob
added. “I was not much help because I let vanity get the best of cool,
“I was a failure because I am too impulsive,” contributed Al.
“I was so short-sighted, in my mind, that I forgot to look at the whole
of a case and pinned my nose down onto every little clew,” Curt grinned
sheepishly, “so I kept going around in circles.”
“All the same,” Mr. Wright looked over at Barney, “in such work as boys
could do—they were a few years younger then—these three helped me a
great deal in handling two quite important cases.”
The trio lowered their heads modestly.
“However,” the detective continued, “they turned from being Master
Sleuths, as they termed themselves, to aviation——”
“Airboys!” chuckled Barney.
“Why, yes. That is an apt expression.”
“But we didn’t give up wanting to be detectives, really!” exclaimed Al,
earnestly. “We were looking for a way to mix the aviation with the
detecting—only we haven’t gotten into either one.”
“Then here’s your chance.” Barney said it very seriously.
“Barney has brought me a very baffling case,” Mr. Wright explained.
“Unfortunately, I am so deeply involved in another matter that I cannot
“But you can give some time to this, you said.” Barney was earnest.
“Not personally. That is, I shan’t be able to investigate in person,”
the detective replied. “That is where our three assistants will
“And be Airboys and Master Sleuths, both at the one time,” Barney
“Hooray!” Al clapped his hand to his knee, unable to restrain his
enthusiasm. Mr. Wright, although with a tolerant, if brief smile, shook
his head at his younger son.
“This will be a serious affair,” he stated, forcefully.
Al immediately became sobered.
“How can we combine aviation and detective work?” asked Curt, the most
practical of the chums.
“By going to the aircraft plant to work as mechanics’ helpers, or
whatever positions Barney sees fit to put you in,” Mr. Wright told them.
“That takes care of the detective work because you will have to keep
eyes and ears open and without appearing to do so.”
“We can do that easily,” said Bob.
“That takes no effort at all,” agreed Al. His father, knowing Al’s
expressive face to be easily read, made no comment.
“While you are at the aircraft plant,” Barney took up the explanation,
“you will be working in and around the crates we are building, and you
will learn a whole lot about how an airplane is put together, what the
parts are for, and how they are assembled. That’s the aviation part.” He
emphasized the first syllable, making it “av-iation.” “What do you say?”
“Hooray!” Al was irrepressible.
“Just show us the jobs!” added Bob.
“Of course we will be glad to learn.” Curt was more sober. “That ought
to be one of the first things for anybody to do who means to be a
pilot.” Mr. Wright nodded and Curt proceeded. “A good grounding in
airplane construction will be fine. But—for the detective part—I think
we ought to be very serious and consider it carefully.”
“Indeed you should,” agreed Mr. Wright. “There is a deeper mystery to be
solved than appears on the surface.”
“I see that,” agreed Curt. “And we must be sure that we will be a help
and not a hindrance to you——”
“Fine lad!” broke in Barney.
“Oh, we won’t be a hindrance!” Al was almost bouncing on the divan
springs in his eagerness. “We’ll watch, and catch whoever you want
caught—maybe learn to fly a ‘crate’ and hop off and fly after him and
ride him down and force him to land—and there you are!”
All the party laughed. Al, realizing his childish lapse into silly
chatter, laughed, finally, himself, a little ruefully.
“I see what Curt meant, now,” he said, more quietly; but his excitement
was hard to hold. “But, anyhow, Mr.——”
“Anyhow, Barney, we will try to help. We can learn about airplane
construction, and that will be fine; but we will give all our minds to
watching and listening and doing whatever is wanted of us—we ought to
form some kind of club or order, so we would have a head to get orders
from father—especially if he is too busy to take part himself.”
“That’s sensible, even if it does seem boy-like to want to have a secret
association,” said the older detective.
“Then let’s call ourselves what Barney called us—the Airboys.”
“I don’t like that very much,” objected Bob.
“Well, then, you pick a name.”
“I think the game is more important than the name,” observed the older
“Oh—but with a good name for our band, and a chief, we can know where we
are,” urged Al.
“All right,” said Curt. “Let’s humor the youngster!” Al grimaced at him,
but subsided as Curt went on. “We are detectives as well as airplane
enthusiasts. Why not combine the two in the name of the order we are to
form—something about the sky, and something about a police—detective
“You’ve hit it!” Barney interrupted.
“Hit it? How?”
“Crickety Christmas!” Curt was as enthusiastic as Bob and Al became on
hearing the words. “That’s it!”
“Very well,” Mr. Wright was patient, but a little annoyed. “That being
settled, we can take up the important matter of—the case!”