4:30 PM—Sunday—October 13, 1940

As our little Cessna T-50 twin-engined transport bounced from cloud to cloud over Los Angeles, most of what I could see through the windshield was gray—lots and lots of gray. Some of the gray was darker than other parts, and the darkest parts were sporadically lit by intense lightning flashes. If I concentrated and applied a fair amount of imagination, though, I could make out our destination on the ground . . . more or less.

We—my three passengers and I—were coming home from a day-trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where they consumed a considerable quantity of tequila, much of which was now sloshing back and forth on the passenger compartment floor along with remnants of their lunches. I could tell by the groans back there, Mister Ozzie Bernard and his two female companions were not enjoying the trip home. Home, at least for me, is Glendale's Grand Central Air Terminal.

I did not envy Jenny the job of mopping up the mess in passenger compartment. Jenny, by the way, is my kid sister and twenty-percent of Glen-Air Airlines. We are a family operation. In addition to Jenny, who keeps the books and generally runs the business, our employee roster includes Gramps, who is my dad's father and started flying back when the Wright Brothers were still riding bicycles; and Ronny, my little brother who is 16 and still in school. Dad, by the way, lost his life flying a Handley-Paige bomber over Belgium during the Great War. He always dreamed of running his own airline, so we are building one and running it for him.

Helping Gramps keep our T-50 flying is Stan Cooper. He is also our ramp service guy. Oh, and I'm Tommy. I do the flying and a little bit of anything else that needs doing, which meant I'd get in on helping Jenny mop up the puke.

Despite the storm conditions, I did a pretty fair job of landing the ship and taxiing to our hanger, where our three passengers beat a hasty retreat to their automobile. As I climbed down from the T-50, Jenny greeted me. "Hi, Tommy. How was the trip back in this storm?"

"Bumpy and messy."

"Oh, oh. I guess I need to get the bucket and mop out."

"I'm afraid so, but I'll help. We've got a big job on our hands back there."

10:00 AM—Thursday—October 17, 1940

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were all good days because we had light freight to fly—pharmaceuticals to San Francisco. Actually, any day we had paying customers was a good day. We were building up a clientele who liked Glen-Air because we were reliable and kept our prices competitive.

We were also booked on Thursday, but it was my least favorite kind of job: A passenger hop to Las Vegas. Our passenger was none other than Maxine DuValle, a rising star in the recording business. She needed to be in Las Vegas starting Thursday for four nights performing at the Golden Nugget Casino. From my point of view, flying freight is far less objectionable that flying the likes of Maxine DuValle. That's because I have yet to meet a piece of snooty freight.

On the other hand, unlike our passengers last Sunday, Miss DuValle, her manager, and her assistant were paying for first-class service, which meant I had to wear my official Glen-Air pilot uniform, consisting of black slacks and a pale blue shirt with "Glen-Air" embroidered over the pocket. I even applied a spit shine to my black brogans. Classy!

Jenny also got in on our "first class" act as our flight attendant in a tailored suit that matched my blue shirt. Thus attired, she passed out little bags of Planter's Salted Peanuts and either soda pop, beer or wine from a tiny refrigerator behind the back seats.

The first of our passengers to arrive was Sarah Thomas, Miss DuValle's assistant. She arrived in her own little Ford Coupé. I don't know why Sarah didn't ride in the limo with the big kids, but she didn't seem to mind trailing along behind and even helping carry a bag or two. Miss DuValle does not travel light.

When Miss DuValle and her "manager" showed up about 20 minutes after our scheduled take-off time, we hustled them into the T-50 and off we went. We set down at Anderson Field in Vegas around one-thirty, where Miss Thomas and I carryied luggage to a dark green Cadillac limousine with gold letters on the front doors spelling out, "Golden Nugget Gambling Hall." That was before the town got all sophisticated and started calling every business, including the corner drugstore, "Resorts."

With the luggage stowed in the Caddy's gigantic trunk, Miss Thomas climbed back into the T-50. She did that because she was returning to Glendale with us. I guessed that might be because Miss Thomas's services would not be required while Miss DuValle was in Las Vegas. It looked to me as if Miss DuValle's manager would be providing all the services she required during their stay in Vegas.

I watched Miss Thomas board the T-50 and noticed that, as bookish as Miss Thomas appeared when viewed from the front, she had a definitely unbookish wiggle when viewed from the rear. Of course Jenny observed me making this observation.

With a big grin on her face and in her voice, Jenny said, "My goodness, Captain. You're certainly being thorough this trip. I never noticed you including passengers in your pre-flight inspection before."

I grinned back. "Safety first, I always say."

"Sure you do. In case you're curious, Miss Thomas is single, twenty-one and a very intelligent young woman."

"Now who's being thorough?"

"I'm just looking out for your interests, Tommy. Would you like me to invite her to sit in the co-pilot's seat on the trip home?"

"If you think she would enjoy the view . . . ."

"Oh my, yes, Captain. She was practically falling out of her seat trying to sneak a better view of the cockpit on the way over here, and I don't think it was the bank and turn indicator that was attracting her interest."

While Jenny climbed into the ship, I went about the actual pre-flight inspection. When I deemed the T-50 ready for flight, I climbed in and shut the hatch. Jenny gave me an evil grin as I climbed forward. Of course, I found Miss Thomas sitting in the co-pilot's seat. She was staring at the instrument panel in front of her with great interest.

I said, "Why, hello, Miss Thomas. Welcome to my office."

The lenses in her glasses made her eyes look bigger. She had soft brown eyes.

"Oh, I hope you don't mind me being here. Miss Gibson said you . . . ."

"I don't mind at all, and since you're in the co-pilot's seat, I can take a nap on the way back to . . . ."

Sarah's eyes got even wider. "Oh, no! I don't know anything about flying airplanes."

Grinning, I said, "You will by the time we set down in Glendale. Feel free to ask any questions you may have."

Sarah's smile was even softer than her eyes. "You may regret that offer, Captain. I already have a million questions and I've only been here a few minutes!"

"That's fine with me. Answering questions is a good cure for boredom. Oh, and we pilots always operate on a first-name basis. That makes me Tommy."

With her soft smile threatening to rip my heart out by its roots, she said, "And I'm Sarah."

"All right, now that the introductions are out of the way, let's see if we can get this bucket of bolts into the air, and then you can ask your questions."

I saw a very brief frown pass over Sarah's face before she realized I was kidding about the bucket of bolts. Climbing out over Las Vegas, I pointed to three groups of levers arranged below the center of the instrument panel. "These two levers are the throttles. The levers above the throttles control the mixture of gas and air going into the engines, and the last set of knobs adjust the pitch angle of the propeller blades. You with me so far?"

Sarah said nothing, but nodded her head enthusiastically. That's how our trip went for the next two hours. At one point I let her make a couple of gentle coordinated S-turns with the yoke and rudder. Most folks in that situation get a death grip on the yoke as if they were holding the airplane in the air. Not, Sarah. She had a firm but gentle touch on the yoke. We continued Sarah's flight lesson over dinner at the Tam O'Shanter on Los Feliz Boulevard in Glendale.

8:30 AM—Friday—October 18, 1940

Jenny looked up from her desk as I walked in about 30 minutes later than usual. "Did you oversleep, or have you even been to bed . . . I mean for sleeping purposes?"

"If I haven't been to bed—and mind you, I'm not saying I haven't—whose fault would that be?"

Jenny was having a wonderful time teasing me. "Don't look at me! I wasn't the one admiring the lady's derrière as she climbed aboard in Las Vegas."

"Yeah, but you're the one who sat her in the co-pilot's seat so she drive me crazy with all those erotic aeronautical questions."

"Erotic aeronautical questions? Oh, brother!"

With no flights scheduled, I made it an easy Friday. Of course, Jenny had paperwork for me, but she always has paperwork for me. The only hard part of Friday was getting my mind off of Sarah long enough to remember how to sign my name on all the lines Jenny kept pointing to.

Sarah was a new experience for me. I have never fallen for anyone the way I was falling for her. I had just managed to chase her out of my thoughts long enough to file the sectional charts spread all over my desk when Jenny said, "Line one is for you . . . a dame you picked up in some gin joint."

I looked up at Jenny and her grin told me who was on line one. Ostensibly, Sarah was calling to confirm our flight to Las Vegas Monday morning for the purpose of bringing Miss DuValle and her gigolo back to Glendale. Of course Jenny had already taken care of that for her, so we had a pleasant conversation about everything and nothing in particular. I would gladly have offered to buy her lunch in half an hour, but Jenny explained proper dating etiquette required at least one day off in between dates to begin with.

The only problem with following the rules of dating etiquette was my schedule. I had Friday free, but the schedule showed another pharmaceutical flight on Saturday, this time to Portland. The roundtrip flying time between Glendale and Portland is around eleven-and-a-half hours. Add in loading and unloading the cargo, and Saturday's trip was going to take up at least twelve-and-a-half hours of my day. This work stuff was taking up entirely too much of my Sarah time.

When I whined about this to Jenny, she made the obvious suggestion. "Why not ask her if she wants to make the trip to Portland with you?"

Nodding, I said, "She might do that, but aren't there federal regulations about who can be aboard a plane transporting narcotics?"

"Yes, indeed, there are. We cannot have passengers aboard, but we could hire Sarah for a day, making her an employee. There are no restrictions about employees on the pharmaceutical flights and she and I are about the same size, so if you want to follow the letter of the law, Sarah could wear one of my Glen-Air shirts."

Grinning, I said, "That might work, but one of your shirts would be a little snug on her, won't it?"

"Don't you wish!"

When I suggested Jenny's employee idea to Sarah, she said YES in capital letters. We had a date for Saturday.

9:00 A.M.—Saturday—October 19, 1940

I was pretty sure I was on the right track with Sarah when she made no complaint about being at Grand Central Terminal by 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning. In fact, she seemed quite pleased to be there.

While I made sure the pharmaceutical freight was aboard and safely stowed, Jenny did some paperwork with Sarah to make her presence on the flight legitimate. It was to be a "training" flight for our new flight attendant. I guess that meant she could practice serving Planters' Peanuts and sodas to cases of pills.

When Sarah and Jenny came out of the office, Sarah was officially an employee of Glen-Air Airways. She also looked pretty darn good in one of Jenny's uniform shirts and she was even getting paid a buck an hour for the flight. Of course, Sarah wouldn't accept a salary check, so we gave her the shirt in lieu of wages. Jenny is really good at this sneaky stuff and Sarah thought the shirt would make a swell souvenir of the day's adventure.

By 10:00 a.m. my trainee and I were rapidly gaining momentum in a northerly direction on Grand Central's 4,200-foot runway. When I felt the weight of the T-50 transfer from the tires to the wings, I said, "Look at the instrument panel. Do you remember where the main landing gear switches are?"

Sarah was pointing the two toggle switches labeled UP and DOWN before I finished asking the question. I said, "Good! Hold the UP switch in the "ON" position for a few seconds. You should see the red light between the switches go on a few seconds or so after you engage the switch. At that point, you say, 'Gear up, Captain."

She looked back at me and I nodded. She cautiously pushed the top toggle switche to the ON position. We immediately heard the main gear hydraulic motors go to work lifting the tires out of the airstream and into the wing. Sarah looked at me again with a grin on her face.

"Gear up, Captain."

I grinned back at her. "Very good. Are you sure your name isn't Amelia?"

Sarah shook her head. "I hope not. If it was I would be missing."

"And I would be missing you."

I thought Sarah blushed a little when she heard that. I said, "Now, before we get caught off guard here, we need to do a little navigation. It's usually a good idea to point the ship toward your destination. If you look ahead and slightly west of north, you should see a notch in those big mountains up there."

"Got it!"

"Below us there is a four-lane highway. That's US-99. If you follow the highway with your eyes, it goes straight through that notch."

"It does!"

"Beyond that notch Highway 99 becomes what everyone in these parts calls the Ridge Route. For our purposes it is also the route to a fuel stop in Sacramento. In navigation terms, what we're doing is called 'dead reckoning.' We're basing our course on landmarks and compass headings. If we were flying over clouds and couldn't see those landmarks, we could use a radio navigation system connected to that dial there. If we tune it to a radio station located where we want to go, the arrow will point the way."

Sarah's cheeks must have been aching for all the smiling she was doing. She said, "So there's really no excuse for getting lost in an airplane."

"Oh, that can still happen, but our navigation aids make it a lot harder to do."

That's more or less how the trip went—half flying lesson and half getting to know each other. We made our fuel stop in Sacramento and eventually landed in Portland about four in the afternoon. After I turned our cargo over to a representative of the drug company, Sarah and I walked over to the flight office in the small terminal building. The flight office is where arriving and departing pilots file flight plans, check route weather to their destination, and sometimes receive messages.

When I gave the young man behind the counter our return flight plan, he noticed my name and said, "Oh, I almost forgot. Captain Gibson, I have a telephone message for you."

I knew at a glance the number on the slip of paper he gave me would ring our office telephone in Glendale. Jenny needed to talk with me. I left Sarah getting a lesson on filing flight plans, and went off in search of a public telephone. I found one in the terminal lobby and a helpful operator connected my collect long distance call to the office.

From the tone of her voice I knew Jenny was worried about something. In our world, that means she encountered a problem she didn't know how to fix, and that was a rare occurrence. "Tommy, something is going on I think you need to know about. We just had a visit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

"Oh? Did we break Uncle Sam's rules?"

"We haven't, but apparently Maxine DuValle and her manager have. They're the ones the FBI men were asking about. They wanted to know all about Thursday's charter, like when the reservation was made, who our passengers were, and if there were any plans for a return trip to bring Miss DuValle and that guy back. They were very persistent with their questions."

"That's interesting. Did the FBI guys say why they wanted to know all that stuff?"

Jenny said, "That's the really interesting part. The best I can tell from their questions and other things they said, the FBI thinks Maxine DuValle and that manager guy are secret agents working for the German Nazis."

"No foolin'?"

"No fooling. He also made a mysterious comment about a big dam."

"Big dam? Like Hoover Dam? That's down there somewhere south of Las Vegas."

I guess so, but the main thing that worries me is they asked if we have heard from Sarah Thomas since Thursday. The FBI men went to her apartment this morning and, of course, she wasn't there."

"I assume you told them the truth?"

Jenny sounded almost apologetic. "I had to, Tommy. It was like they knew we'd seen her."

"They DO know we've seen her. Sarah's car is parked right inside our dang hangar. You did the right thing, Sis. We have too much to lose by lying to the FBI."

I heard Jenny take a deep breath that might have been a sigh of relief. "That's what I thought, too. What are you going to do?"

"Unless you have a better idea, I'm going to confront Sarah with all this and see what she says. I'll call you back in a while. And thanks for letting me know what's going on."

"I don't have a better idea, but I sure don't want to think Sarah could be involved in anything illegal. Good luck."

I hung the receiver on its hook and turned to leave the telephone booth. Sarah was standing right outside the booth, and as I opened the booth, she said, "Tommy what's going on? I can tell something is wrong. Was that telephone call bad news?"

Well, she knew something was up, but that didn't necessarily mean she was a Nazi spy. I put my arm around her waist and steered Sarah to a bench next to the telephone booth and said, "Let's sit down for a minute."

As she lowered herself onto the bench, Sarah said, "Something IS wrong. What is it, Tommy? Tell me."

"Sarah, can you think of any reason why the FBI would be looking for you?"

Behind the magnification of her glasses, Sarah's eyes looked as big as dinner plates. "Heavens no! What makes you ask such a thing?"

"Because they are."

"What? Why? What on earth makes you think the FBI is looking for me?"

"That telephone message was from Jenny. It seems the FBI was out at Grand Central Terminal this morning asking a lot of questions about the flight to Vegas Thursday and if we knew where you were. They have the idea your boss and her boyfriend are spies for the German Nazis."

Slowly shaking her head back and forth, Sarah said, "I knew it, I knew it! The job they gave me is just too good to be true. They are paying me almost twice what the job is worth."

"Sarah, I don't for a minute think you are part of a Nazi spy ring, but I have to ask you; did you have any idea something like this was going on?"

Her eyes went even wider. "God, no! I knew Maxine and Eddie did some strange things, but I thought all that was just for show, and I never would have gotten you and Jenny into anything dangerous! You and Jenny have become practically my only friends in the whole world!"

I sat there watching and wondering. Sarah looked genuinely upset, but was all that emotion for real or for show? I couldn't tell, and to make matters even worse, I wanted more than anything to believe what she was telling me.

Putting my arm around her, I said, "It looks like we have a decision to make. It's a few minutes past five. The ship is fueled and ready to go. All we need is a destination. Where do you want to go?"

"Don't we have to go back to Glendale?"

"At the moment there is nobody pointing a gun at us and insisting we go anyplace in particular. I'm giving you a vote in that decision, so where do you want to go?"

Sarah stared out through the big plate glass windows in the back wall of the terminal lobby. Our T-50 was sitting out there in the transiant parking area about fifty feet from the terminal building. I wondered what was going through Sarah's mind.

Finally, she shook her head. "We have to go back to Glendale. If we don't, you and Jenny will get pulled into this mess even deeper. I don't want that. Please take me back and I'll turn myself in, or whatever they call it to the FBI."

"Whoa, hold on there. Nobody said the FBI wants to arrest you. I think we need to find out a little more about exactly what the FBI DOES want before you get fitted for steel bracelets."

Sarah leaned into me. "Tommy, all day I've been thinking about how to tell you something I want very much for you to know. This situation is nothing like what I had in mind, but now is when I most need to say it. Tommy?"

"Yes, Sarah?"

She looked into my eyes and said, "Tommy, I think I'm falling in love with you." Sarah said the words quickly, as if she was afraid she would lose her nerve before she got them said. After that, she turned beet red.

Smiling, I said, "Those words are music to my ears, Sarah, but I am not going to hold you to them until we've slain the dragon and all is well again in the kingdom. If you still feel that way then, get packed for a flying honeymoon."

It was good to see a small smile back on her lips. Sarah put her hand on my shoulder. "Thank you, Tommy."

"Sarah, I need to call Jenny back and get our engines spinning. While I do that, would you please go into the coffee shop over there and get us a few take-out sandwiches, a large cup of coffee for me, and whatever you want to drink?" Handing her a five from my wallet, I added, "This ought to cover it. Oh, and if you need to visit the powder room, now would be a convenient time to do it."

As I watched Sarah walk toward the coffee shop and waited for the long distance operator, I couldn't help noticing the subtle sway to Sarah's hips that helped me get into my current situation in the first place. I was pretty sure that sway was almost worth all the fuss by itself.

Jenny picked up the office phone in Glendale as if she was sitting next to it waiting impatiently for it ring. "Glen-Air Airways."

"It's me, Sis."

"How did the 'confrontation' go?"

"Very emotionally. If Sarah isn't on the level, she should change her last name to Bernhardt because she's a hell of an actress."

"I was hoping you were going to say something like that, but are you certain you aren't letting that cute little wiggle of hers influence you?"

"As certain as I can be based on her responses to my questions."

"That's good enough for me. What do you want to do?"

"I've been thinking about that. Sarah is ready to walk into FBI headquarters, and as she put it, turn herself in, but I think we might give her an advantage by picking the time and place for her meeting with the FBI guys."

"How do we do that?"

"First, you send everybody home and lock up down there. It's about quitting time, anyway."

"Okay. What then?"

"If the FBI is watching the place, they might want to know why you aren't waiting for me to get back. Tell them there is some weather near Bakersfield that could delay us. There really is a small storm front down there. It won't slow us down, but the FBI doesn't know that. Tell the FBI the storm is likely to delay us."

"All right."

"Then hop in your car and take a roundabout route to The Swamp and watch for us there. We should arrive by midnight. We can figure out the best way to deal with the FBI from there. Okay?"


"The Swamp" is my name for Mines Field, the Los Angeles Municipal Airport. I doubted that the FBI was listening in on our conversation, but a little caution didn't hurt. I added, "I'm just not willing to turn Sarah over to a bunch of federal cops without knowing what we're getting her into."

"I agree completely. See you at The Swamp."

Sarah arrived with a white paper bag and a cardboard cup of coffee just as I finished preflighting the T-50. As we taxied out to the active runway, I explained the new plan to meet Jenny at Mines Field. The glowing hands on my Swiss Helbros pilot's watch—a gift from Gramps on my twenty-first birthday—were pointing at six p.m. as Sarah pushed the toggle switch and the main gear position light blinked red.

After spending 30 minutes on the ground refueling, we left Sacramento about nine p.m. At that point, we were about two-and-a-half hours from The Swamp. The trip and the emotional stress had worn Sarah out to the point where she fell asleep. Since rest seemed like the best thing for her, I let her sleep.

Mines Field, the little airfield the City of Los Angeles adopted as its Municipal Airport, sits practically on the beach between Playa del Rey on the north and El Segundo to the south, so I set a course that would take us west over the coastal mountain range and bring us out over the ocean near Santa Barbara. We encountered a little turbulence over the mountains north of Santa Barbara, and one particularly strong air bump startled Sarah and woke her.

"Oh! I'm sorry. I fell asleep."

"Why are you sorry? You needed the rest."

"I know, but it was time when we were alone together and now I feel like I wasted it. You know what is upsetting me most right now?"

"Tell me."

"I was dreaming we were riding through space where nothing and no one could ever bother us. It was a beautiful safe place where we could just be together. Now, we are close to Los Angeles and that dream is over."

"That's no reason to be upset. Put that dream on our list and we'll make that trip just as soon we get this other nonsense over."

"Oh, I hope we can. I really do."

Sarah was right about one thing for sure. We were close to LA. From Santa Barbara, we rounded Point Mugu, and after that, familiar landmarks popped up one right after another. We passed Malibu and a mile or two west of Santa Monica I turned south over the ocean and followed the coastline. From there we could see the lights of Los Angeles stretching far to the east.

This was where flying into a busy airport like Mines Field required a pilot's full attention. I explained the situation to Sarah. "That mess of streets off to our left is downtown Los Angeles."

"I'm sure glad you know where we are. The world looks a lot different from up here after dark."

"It does, but our biggest concern now isn't getting lost, it is sharing the sky with other traffic. We need to watch for moving white lights as we descend toward the airport because moving white lights usually have airplanes attached to them."

While descending to the Mines Field pattern altitude—one thousand feet—I talked to the airport tower on the radio. "Mines tower, twin Cessna Niner-Zero-Zero-Golf-Alpha is about five miles west and inbound for landing."

After a few seconds, Mines tower answered. "Golf Alpha, Mines tower. Barometer is two-niner-point-niner-four. Wind is four knots from the east. Turn left for final approach to Runway-Seven-Right. You are number two to land behind a United 247."

"Roger, Mines tower. Cessna Golf-Alpha is turning left for a straight-in approach to Seven-Right behind a United 247."

I pulled the throttle levers back to reduce our airspeed for the descent and gave Sarah something to do that would help keep her mind off the FBI. "Can you do the gear for us in a minute?"

"Yes. Just say when."

My eyes flicked back and forth between the United Boeing twin in front of us and our airspeed indicator. When the airspeed needle touched 80 miles per hour, I said, "Gear down." I immediately heard the main gear hydraulics kick in.

A moment later I had to smile when I heard Sarah say, "Gear down, Darling."

I watched the United flight settle onto the runway and concentrated on maintaining a smooth descent. It was a landing I could be proud of—smooth as silk. Switching to the second radio, which I had preset to Mines Field's ground frequency, I keyed the microphone and said, "Mines Ground, twin Cessna Niner-Zero-Zero-Golf-Alpha. We would like taxi instructions to a transient parking spot near Hangar One."

"Roger Golf-Alpha. Continue to Taxiway Alpha and turn right. Park in any available spot marked 'TRANSIENT' behind Hangar One. Do not park in an assigned terminal spot marled 'TENANT.' Good evening."

"Roger, Mines Field Ground. Thank you and good evening to you, sir."

OnThere is a large aircraft parking area behind Hangar One. I rolled up to a big white T painted on the concrete and parked directly over it. As I shut down the engines, lights and other stuff. Sarah said, "These control tower folks certainly are a cordial bunch, wishing you good evening and all."

"I think it's a way of showing  mutual respect between two groups of professionals. Traditionally, pilots and flight controllers are sworn enemies, but that had to change and it is."

"I take it all the Golf-Alpha stuff is some kind of phonetic alphabet?"

"Yes. Remind me when we get back to the office. I'll give you a little card the FAA printed with their phonetic alphabet on it. It seems like a lot of stuff to remember, but once you start using the words, they become automatic."

After I followed Sarah down the T-50's boarding steps and locked the hatch, I steered her toward Hangar One. "Jenny is going to meet us at the gate."

"And she isn't the only one."

I looked up toward the waist-high chain-link fence between the aircraft parking area and Hangar One. Sarah was right. Jenny had company--two men in dark business suits. The expression on her face told me the whole story. Somehow, the FBI had followed her to Mines Field. Oh well, you can't get 'em right all the time.

"Sarah, how you handle this is up to you. My suggestion is for you to cooperate, but say as little as possible. I'll see if I can get them to back off from their G-Man act a little."

"Thank you, Tommy, and don’t blame Jenny for leading them here. She may not have had any choice in the matter."

"I'm certain she didn't. Come on, let's get this done."

Both guys in suits next to Jenny pulled badge cases out of their inside coat pockets as we approached, doing so in such a way that we could clearly see the revolvers in their shoulder holsters. We ended up facing each other over the fence about ten feet from the passenger gate. The bigger of the two suit guys said, "Good evening, Miss Thomas, Mister Gibson. I'm Special Agent Conover and this is Agent Larson. We’re with the FBI."

I looked him in the eye and said, "Your tie is crooked, Special Agent Conover. J. Edgar would not approve."

Of course, he looked down at his tie. Then he grinned. "It's not THAT crooked, Mister Gibson. Now, how about we take a ride downtown and talk some?"

I sensed both Sarah and Jenny looking at me. "All right. We can do that as soon as you show me a warrant for our arrest."

Still smiling, Conover said, "Who said anything about arresting anyone? We just need to ask some questions of Miss Thomas."

"I'm sure Miss Thomas will be happy to answer your questions right here."

Sarah said softly, "Yes. I will answer your questions here."

Conover sighed. "All right, let's at least go inside where we can sit down."

That's when I realized he was beating me at my own game. He never intended to take Sarah "downtown." That was just an insignificant point he could concede without really giving up anything. Feeling a little foolish, I nodded at Sarah and we all trooped into Hangar One's waiting room, where Special Agent Conover led us to a quiet corner and suggested we sit and be comfortable.

Agent Larson removed a little leather notebook from his shirt pocket and took notes with the stub of a yellow pencil. Conover looked at Sarah. "Relax, Miss Thomas. We aren't here to arrest you or anything like that. We just need you to answer some questions that may help us locate Miss Maxine DuValle and this fellow Russo, who claims to be her manager. Is that alright with you?"

Warily, Sarah nodded, and Conover immediately threw out his first question. "You work for Miss DuValle, is that correct?"

"I am, or was, her personal business manager, at least that's what Miss DuValle called me. I've got a bad feeling, though, I am no longer in Miss DuValle's employ."

While Agent Larson noted Sarah's answer in his notebook, Conover said, "As her personal business manager, you must know quite a lot about her personal life."

"Not really. I paid her bills, ran errands and accompanied her to some of her appearances. None of that is very personal."

I was sure Sarah was telling the truth, at least as much of the truth as she know. I could also tell from Conover's expression, he was disappointed in Sarah's answers. He kept trying, though. "Miss Thomas, did miss DuValle tell you about any special plans she had for Las Vegas? I mean, like sightseeing trips . . . maybe to Hoover Dam?"

Sarah's answer was short and to the point. "No."

Conover tried several different approaches and every question he could think of, but it was becoming clear Maxine DuValle kept her personal life to herself. What surprised me was Agent Conover's willingness to accept Sarah's responses at face value. I saw no sign of "the third degree" the cops always give Jimmy Cagney in gangster movies.

About the time I sensed he was giving up on Sarah, he accidentally hit on a subject she actually knew something about. He asked, "Miss Thomas, do you know of any private places Miss DuValle and this Russo guy go to . . . sort of get away from it all?"

We were all surprised when she nodded in the affirmative. "Well, maybe. I think I might know of a place they sometimes go, but it's not in Las Vegas."

Suddenly Sarah had Conover's complete attention. "Where, then?"

Sarah looked a little puzzled. "That's the problem. It might be at Big Bear Lake because Miss DuValle and Mister Russo often talked about spending time at a cabin up at the lake. The address I saw was in a note she asked me to deliver, but all I remember is a street number and name."

"What is the address?"

"Four-zero-zero-zero-seven North Shore Drive."

Agent Larson finally joined in the conversation. "We can verify the address with a San Bernardino County directory when we get back to headquarters."

Conover shrugged. "Well, it's a place to start. Miss Thomas, thank you for your time. I'm sorry you were so fearful of our questions you took a fifteen-hundred mile flight to avoid them."

Sarah stood up abruptly. Angrily, she said, "I did not take that trip to avoid you, Mister Conover. I took it because . . . because I wanted to. I hope to get a new job with Glen-Air Airlines because it looks like my former employer has disappeared into thin air and my former job went with her."

She looked at Jenny, and then at me. "Are we ready to leave now?"

As the three of us walked away, I looked over my shoulder and gave Conover a grin. He didn't grin back. I guess he'd lost his sense of humor somewhere along the way.

Since Sarah was obviously tired, Jenny suggested she take her home while I flew thee T-50 back to Grand Central Terminal. We agreed I would pick Sarah up later in the morning to retrieve her car from our hangar.

At least Jenny had the courtesy to look the other way while Sarah and I kissed goodnight. I said, "Go get some sleep. I'll come by around ten so we can get you back to your car."

Sarah looked up at me with her eyes open wide. "You're going to think I'm a loose woman for saying this, but I honestly wish you were coming home with me to spend the rest of the night."

"Well, if wanting that makes you a floozy, I hate to think what wanting the same thing makes me. Sleep well, Darling."

I was so tired by the time I got the ship in our hangar, I didn't have the energy to  drive home. Instead, I kicked off my shoes, rolled up my jacket for a pillow, and stretched out on the office couch. The last thing I remember was the faint scent of orchids Sarah wears. I'd been smelling those orchids all day and I missed them.

10:00 A.M.—Sunday—October 20, 1940

The next thing I knew I heard Gramps or Stan drop a wrench out in the hangar. Hitting the concrete floor, it made as much racket as any alarm clock. They were doing Civil Aeronautics Board required maintenance on the T-50 so it would be ready to go Monday morning, although with Miss DuValle and her fellow missing, I didn’t think we would be making our scheduled flight to Las Vegas.

Then I heard another sound that was accompanied by the pleasant aroma of fresh coffee and Jenny sat on the sofa arm at the head of my makeshift bed. "Are you waking up, or are you going to sleep all day?"

I slowly sat up and took a swallow of coffee from the mug she brought me. The mug had a picture of a British Hawker pursuit ship on it and the words "JACOBS RADIALS . . . Power To Spare!"

Jenny said, "I'm going to tell you something, brother, and you would be wise to listen carefully."

"You expect me to be wise on only one swallow of coffee?"

She gave me a stern look. "I mean this, Tommy. In case you haven't noticed, Sarah is one very special gal, and if you don't grab her and put a ring on her finger, you aren't bright enough to be my brother."

I looked up at Jenny. "I just hope she'll have me."

Jenny grinned. "Oh, she’ll have you, all right, and I'll bet she will even throw in her special wiggle as a bonus. Speaking of which, you better get your own wiggle on. I bet she's dressed and waiting for you to pick her up already."

She was. We stopped at Grand Central's restaurant in the terminal building for breakfast before going to the GlenAir hangar.

After ordering a short stack with link sausages, I looked across the table at Sarah. "You sure look swell this morning."

"Thank you, Tommy. I almost put my GlenAir shirt back on. I really liked wearing it yesterday."

"I really liked you wearing it, too, but I warned Jenny one of her shirts was going to be snugger on you than her. She gave me a dirty look, but I was right."

Sarah blushed, but still managed to say, "Tommy! Shame on you! You be nice to your sister!"

With a big smile, I said, "Oh, oh. Having another female in the family might be a problem."

She looked into my eyes for several seconds, and then softly said, "Family?"

"Ha! Don't go getting coy with me now. You know darn well what's coming as soon as I can get to a jewelry store."

With a smile that matched mine, Sarah said, "Oh, my. It looks like I might have to make a major decision in the near future. I will have to give that a lot of thought."

"Don't think about it too much. You might decide being a pilot's wife isn't as thrilling as it sounds."

"Well, the 'wife' part certainly appeals to me. I always wanted to be one of those."

Back at the Glen-Air hangar Sarah joined Jenny in the office, where they seemed to be having a discussion that made them both smile and hug from time to time. I would have loved to be a fly on the office wall for that conversation, but I had other responsibilities.

Stan and Gramps had a report for me on the condition of the T-50, over which they'd been laboring all morning. Stan said, "I've never seen radials with as many hours as these have on them in better condition. We haven't found any scoring or a scrap of  carbon."

With pride in his voice, Gramps said, "That's what good maintenance will do for an engine."

I laughed. "Some of that might be due to good piloting."

Gramps muttered "Horsefeathers! Come on, Stan, let's get these engines buttoned up." That was Jenny's cue to stick her head out of the office. "Tommy, you have a telephone call."

Walking into the office, I wondered who would be calling me on a Sunday. "Who is it, Sis?"

"One of your favorite people."

I picked up the telephone receiver and the voice that answered my "hello" was familiar to me, all right.

In a suspicious tone I imagine Jack Conover hears often, I said, "Hello, Agent Conover. What's on your mind?"

"I was wondering what you would charge Uncle Sam for a little flying we need done."

In an even more suspicious tone, I asked, "What kind of flying?"

"First to Las Vegas just in case Maxine DuValle and her boyfriend show up for their scheduled return flight home tomorrow, and assuming they do not, from Las Vegas to Big Bear Lake."

"I take it that address Miss Thomas gave you paid off."

"There is such an address at the Lake, but the owner is a corperation and we can't follow up on that until tomorrow. So how much for the flight?"

Agent Conover was talking about a flight I definitely wanted to make so we could say goodbye to the FBI once and for all. "How about a hundred for gas and I'll throw in the plane and crew time for free?"

"That' s more than fair. Can we count on Miss Thomas being there, too?"

"That would be up to her. I will tell Sarah you asked for her."

"Be convincing. We may need her with us. What time is take off tomorrow morning?"

"Be here at the Glen-Air hangar by eight."

"See you then."

When I told Sarah and Jenny what was up, both of them were curious why Conover specifically asked for Sarah. I looked at Jenny. "Sis, is Sarah still an employee of Glen-Air?"

Jenny nodded. "Technically, yes."

I turned to Sarah. "This is strictly voluntary. Whether or not you go on this flight is entirely up to you."

"I think I should go."

Jenny said, "Then I should give you a crash course in the care and feeding of airline passengers. There are some safety regulations and emergency procedures you should know or we could get into Dutch with the C. A. B."

"Okay. I'll do my best to be a fast learner."

I said, "You couldn't have a better teacher. Sis wrote the book on how to be an airline steward or stewardess. American Airlines even uses some of her ideas when they train cabin personnel."

It was around six-thirty when Sarah and I met at Algermac's Coffee Shop on San Fernando Road in Glendale. She ordered chicken noodle soup and I asked for a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich. When we finished dinner, I walked Sarah to her Ford Coupé to say goodnight. I kissed her forehead and she looked up into my eyes.

"Tommy, how soon can we do it?"

"Do what?"

Sarah gave me a look that said the answer to that question should have been obvious. "How soon can we get married?"

"Well, I'm not sure. We have to have blood tests to get the marriage license, and I think there's a short waiting period for the license—three days or something like that. Why, are you afraid I'll change my mind . . . or you will?"

Her eyes glistened in the light from a street lamp. "It's nothing like that, Tommy. I'm just tired of going home alone. If we could, I would gladly go home with you right now, but that would be wrong. What we have found is too special to take shortcuts."

"I know how you feel, Sarah. I feel the same way, but don't you have friends and family you want to invite to our wedding?"

Sarah sighed. "That's one of the few things we haven't talked about yet. Tommy, I have no family. My parents both died in 1919 during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. I was only two years old then and I was raised by my mother's older sister and her husband. Aunt Alice and Uncle Chauncey were the only family I knew and they are both gone now. That's why I love Jenny and Gramps so much. I'm starting to think of them as the family I don't have, but please don't tell them. I don't want them to feel any obligation . . . ."

I couldn't help smiling. "That's almost funny."

Sarah looked kind of hurt. "What's funny?"

"I shouldn't have said 'funny.' What I meant is ironic. I know for a fact Jenny thinks of you as the sister she always wanted, instead of the brothers she's stuck with. As for Gramps, he's a little gruff on the outside, but you couldn't find anyone with a kinder heart. He would be honored if he knew you think of him that way."

Another thought occurred to me. "You know, Gramps is kind of an orphan, too. My father died flying in the Great War, and mom died of consumption soon after Ronny was born. What you need to do to win Gramps over is give him a little of his own medicine. Kid him a little and give him a hug when the opportunity is right."

Sarah was watching me closely and I could see the glisten in her eyes turning to tears on her cheeks. "Tommy, I don't know what to say. When I fell in love with you I never expected to get a built-in family too."

Pulling her into my arms, I said, "Well that's what you've got, so put it to work. I suggest you tell Jenny I popped the question and ask her to help plan our wedding. She would love that, and it will give you the opportunity to tell her about yourself. Okay?"

She nodded. "Tommy, that's more 'okay' than anything has ever been in my life. What's more, I'm falling in love with you all over again."

8:00 A.M.—Monday—October 21, 1940

Sarah and Jenny looked a little like twins in their matching shirts and black skirts. They were running around making sure the T-50's tiny galley was fully stocked.

Gramps was in `his Glen-Air coveralls walking around the ship looking at various and sundry parts. It is the pilot's job to do what is called a preflight inspection to be sure an aircraft is ready to fly, but Gramps leaves nothing to chance or one pair of eyeballs.

I said, "Think she'll make it off the ground?"

"Oh, I expect so. Say, Tommy, you'd better keep a closer eye on that new little gal of yours."

"Why is that?"

"She come in the hangar this mornin' and gave me a what she said was a 'good morning hug.' Dang near squeezed the stuffin' out of me. I think she might have a yen for older fellows."

"Or maybe she just fell for that twinkle in your eye, Gramps."

"I don't have no twinkle!"

I continued what in pilot lingo is called "a walkaround" to be sure all was well with the T-50, and I was just finishing up when a black Buick sedan pulled up alongside our hangar. I met Agents Conover and Larson as they walked into the hangar. After shaking hands with our guests, I gestured toward the T-50 and said, "We're ready to board."

Conover gave the little twin what might have been a wary look and said, "All right, let's go." Those were his words, but his tone sounded more like, "All right, let's get this over with."

Technically, the T-50 is a four passenger airplane with a crew of two for passenger use. The cabin is set up with two seats on each side of a narrow aisle. Passengers enter through a cabin door in the left side of the airplane.

After Sarah latched and double checked the passenger hatch, she gave Conway and Larson a little speech about putting on seatbelts and remaining in their seats while in the air. Then she leaned into the cockpit and said, "All is secure in the cabin, Captain."

I gave her a wink and said, "All right, let's get up where the birds are."

Looking out the port cockpit window, I saw Stan, who was on the ground near the port engine with a fire extinguisher bottle. I yelled, "Clear on the left."

Stan replied, "Clear to start number one."

I gave the engine a couple of spins without fuel to splash some oil in the cylinders, and then gave the starboard throttle a nudge. The Jacobs radial crackled to life and I let it run for a few seconds until the idle smoothed out. We repeated the process for the starboard engine and I cautiously rolled us out of the hanger and followed the taxiway to the south end of the Grand Central's north-south runway.

After doing my engine run-ups and magneto checks, I asked the tower for permission to take off. Grand Central was quiet at that hour of a weekday morning and the tower cleared me for an immediate takeoff. I advanced the throttles and the engines responded immediately. We were off the ground and wheels up within a few hundred feet. My watch hands were pointing at ten-thirty.

Watching the gear position indicator light go on, I imagined Sarah sitting at the back of the passenger cabin following my every move, even though she couldn't actually see much of the cockpit from back there.

I kept the T-50's nose on the runway heading until we climbed through a thousand feet. At that point I made a gradual turn of about 45 degrees to the right and put us on course for Las Vegas. Adjusting the elevator trim with the little crank on the ceiling, I kept the ship in a gradual climb until the altimeter read 3,100 feet. Rockwell Field in Vegas sits at an elevation of 2,100 feet, so an altitude of 3,100 feet would put us right at a good pattern altitude for Rockwell when we got there.

At a cruise speed of 150 miles-per-hour, I figured we would be over Las Vegas about noon. I learned early in my flying career that a little planning can take a lot of the effort out of getting from Point A to Point B in an airplane.

From that point until I saw Vegas out the windshield, though, my job was pretty much just keeping us straight and level and watching out for traffic. That being the case, I turned the headset selector button on the radio to PA and said, "Okay, gentlemen, we're on course to Las Vegas and the winds are calm, so we should have a smooth flight, arriving around noon. Our route takes us over Barstow and Fort Irwin. Miss Thomas, please come forward to the cockpit."

A moment later, I detected the faint scent of orchids. Since there wasn't headroom enough for Sarah to stand, she was leaning on the back of my seat, which was giving the two FBI guys in the back a view of her they didn't deserve. I gestured to the co-pilot seat, and then to the second headset. I made sure both headset switches were set to their "INTERCOM" positions and said, "How's it going back there?"

"All right, but I missed being up here with you."

"I knew that, which is why I called you up here."

Even though I didn't see it, I heard a grin in her voice. "I knew that, too. What took you so long?"

"I didn't want the FBI to think there was fraternization among members of the Glen-Air flight crew."

"I hope there isn't some federal law against fraternization because I am feeling the need to fraternize the heck out of you, Captain."

"Speaking of such things, Gramps had a word with me this morning. He said I should keep an eye on you because you made him think you might like older men—something about a good morning hug and squeezing the stuffing out of him?"

"Oh, oh. I will be more cautious in the future. By the way, would it be okay with you if I asked him to walk me down the aisle at our wedding?"

"It's fine with me. I don't know what he'll think about the idea, though. He's not real big on playing dress-up and going to tea parties."

"I will ask Jenny about some of these things before I do anything rash."

"That's what I always do."

After a long pause, Sarah said, "Tommy, did you ask her what she thought about us getting married?"

"I didn’t have to. She came right out and told me I'd better do it."

Glancing toward the co-pilot's seat, I saw just the smallest hint of a smile on Sarah's lips."

Noon—Monday—October 21, 1940

My landing at Rockwell Field was rougher than I would have liked, but the only person who witnessed my little bounce was the guy in the gas shack. There were no signs of Maxine DuValle and her boyfriend.

Our passengers climbed out of the ship to stretch while I negotiated a fuel fill-up. We could easily make it to Big Bear on the fuel we had left, but there was some doubt in my mind about being able to refuel there. A saying that always comes to mind when fuel questions arise is something Gramps once told me: "The three most useless things to a pilot in an emergency are the altitude above him, the runway behind him, and the fuel in an empty tank.

Agent Conover appeared beside me. "I didn't really expect those two to keep their schedule with you. Especially since they now know we're on to them."

"They know that?"

Looking a little sheepish, Conover said, "Our agents here attempted to apprehend DuValle and Russo, but moved a little too slowly and let them get away. Now the only lead we have to catch them before they get out of the country is that address your lady friend gave us."

"And that address is up at Big Bear Lake?"

"It has to be. That's the only 40007 North Shore Drive we could find in San Bernardino County. I'm hoping DuValle and Russo might be laying low there until they arrange transportation out of the country."

"And I'm guessing you want to find the address from the air and look for signs of life before you raid the place."

"Unless you've got a better idea, that's the plan, and if you don't mind, I would like to ride up front with you when we get to Big Bear so I can get a better lay of the land. That all right with you?"

"You're the boss."

He looked at me from under the brim of his fedora. "That doesn't necessarily mean I know what the hell I'm doing."

12:30 P.M.—Monday—October 21, 1940

According to a thermometer on the shady side of the gas shack at Rockwell, the outside temperature was already between ninety and one hundred. This was important information for me to have. High temperatures have unpleasant effect on airplanes. It has to do with how heat and cold effect the density of air. Hot air doesn't give wings as much lift as cool air. Since we were starting out at a runway altitude of 2,100 feet, and the heat raised our density altitude well above that, our little T-50 was going to behave a little sluggishly when I pulled the yoke back during takeoff.

She did drag her heels a little, but she got us up in the air enough to clear the busy street at the end of the runway. I knew she would, but Agent Conover, who now occupied the co-pilot's seat looked a little nervous about it all. I smiled at that thought.

As I turned south to a heading of about 200 degrees, I glanced at my watch and mentally logged our departure time as 12:35 p.m. That gave us an arrival time at Big Bear of about 2:20 p.m. According to the sectional chart, Big Bear Lake was about 6,800 feet and I wanted to be about a thousand feet above that when we got there. I kept the T-50's nose a little above the horizon for a gradual climb to 7,800 feet, which would also keep us above any high terrain between Vegas and Big Bear.

2:00 P.M.—Monday—October 21, 1940

Anyone who flies in southern California knows about the haze. During the hottest parts of the day, visibility diminishes because of sunlight reflecting off particles of airborne debris. We encounter the worst of the haze when looking down at an angle, which is exacly what I was doing, trying to orient myself to a big dark spot on the ground that was growing larger the lower we descended. Eventually the dark shape became Big Bear Lake.

Pointing at the lake, I said, "That body of water you see directly ahead of us is Big Bear Lake. I assume North Shore Drive is on the north side of the lake, but you need to narrow that down for me while we burn off a little altitude to start looking for your address."

"Yeah, I'm comparing the map in the travel brochure to what I can see down there." After a few moments of looking back and forth between his map and the ground, Conover said, "You see that notch in the shoreline at the northwest corner of the lake?"

"I do."

"Head for that notch and I'll try to give you directions from the map as we get closer. That okay?"

Pulling back on the throttles to slow us down, I let the nose drop and pointed it in the general direction of Conover's notch. "It should work. Tell me something, Agent Conover, are these folks likely to be armed, and if so, what kind of firepower do they have?"

"They'll be armed, all right. I'm guessing, but I would expect them to have a medium caliber hunting rifle at the very least. That what you wanted to know?"

"What I want to know is how likely we are to get shot at if they hear us overhead."

"Very likely. These people are going to get desperate when they know we've found them, assuming we HAVE found them."

"Funny, I don't recall you mentioning being shot at when you made the reservation for this charter."

"Must have slipped my mind. I think we need to turn a little to the left."

I banked left and added some power so I could pull our nose up and stop descending. The altimeter needles said we were down to 7,500 feet, which meant we were less than 800 feet above the ground. That was as close as I wanted to get to anyone on the ground with a rifle.

Conover said, "There! That has to be the place."

Looking where he pointed, I saw a large two-story house surrounded by trees. I could also see a white car parked alongside the house. "Do you know what kind of car they would have?"

"Our agents in Vegas said they were driving a white Dodge sedan."

"Looks like you've found them, then. There is a white sedan parked next to that house."

"There sure is. You have a good eye, Mister Gibson. Can you see any movement down there?"

"Nope. Nothing moving."

"All right. Take us to that airfield at the other end of the lake. Two agents came up from San Bernardino this morning and are waiting for us there. We need to figure out how to approach the suspects."

"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?"

"I saw no reason to tell you that until now."

"No reason except that airfield at the other end of the lake isn't completed yet and my not be useable."

"It's useable."

"We'll see."

Turning east, I switched my headset selector to PA and said, "Buckle up back there. We'll be landing in a few minutes."

Conover was right about the airfield at the east end of Big Bear Lake being useable, but just barely. At least the east/west oriented landing strip had a windsock to give pilots a clue about which way the wind was blowing. I overflew the field to take a look at that windsock. It was telling me what little breeze we had was out the west, so I lined up for a landing toward the lake.

Unfortunately, the operators of the field thought a terminal building with a restaurant was a higher priority than a paved airstrip. As a result, we raised a hell of a lot of dust landing on their dirt strip. I rolled to a stop not far from two black Buick sedans like the one Conover left behind at our Grand Central hangar. I wondered why Chevrolets couldn't provide transportation for the agents at a much lower cost.

I was still shutting things down in the cockpit when I looked out my side window and saw Sarah looking up at me. Her expression was not one of joy and exuberance. When I climbed down I found out why in no uncertain terms.

"That man, Larson, is a horrible person!"

"Okay, let's see what we can do about that problem. First, tell me what he did that is horrible."

"He's a sex maniac, that's what! All he talked about the whole way here was about his 'gun' and how big it is. He even tried to kiss me! I ducked away from him and slapped his face. After that, he was a little less amorous."

I stared at Lawson. He was standing with Agent Conover and two other guys in suits. He looked back and saw me staring at him. He grinned at me. He knew exactly what Sarah was telling me.

"Sarah, please hop back in the plane and wait for me there."

"Tommy, you don't have to do anything about what I just told you. Remember, he caries a gun."

"Don't worry. They still need us to finish this thing. Conover isn't going to let him shoot me."

I headed for Conover. He saw me coming and said, "All right, Gibson, here's the plan."

"To hell with your plan, Conover. We have other business to discuss."

Conover was surprised. "Huh? What the hell are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Agent Larson."

Conover looked at Larson, who was heading in our direction. "What about him?"

"He practically raped Sarah in the back of the ship on the way up here. You tell that jerk if he so much as looks at Miss Thomas again, I will shove his 'big gun' right up his ass."

Larson heard my threat. Of course, he had a typical tough guy response. "Back off, kid. It ain't a good idea to be making threats you can't back up."

"Oh, I plan to follow through on this with your boss, Hoover. They say he runs a tight ship, so I doubt he's going to like seeing news stories about one of his junior G-men being arrested on a charge of attempted rape."

Larson grinned at  me. "Attempted rape? That's a good one, kid. Let's see you prove it."

Conover had enough sense to see his assignment was falling apart, and that was all that mattered to him. He stepped between us and said, "Larson, shut up. I'll deal with you later." Turning to me, Conover said, "I apologize for Agent Larson's behavior. I will also apologize to Miss Thomas later. Right now though, we have a mission to complete, and you're being paid to help us complete it."

"No, I'm being paid to fly you and this big ape from Las Vegas to here, and on to Glendale. There was nothing in our deal about helping you capture Nazi spies."

"Look, Gibson, we've got a couple the country's enemies within our reach. We're counting on your help to put those people in prison, so don't go turning yellow on me now."

I had no intention of standing out there on that dusty airfield arguing with him all day. He knew darn well I was going to give in and help him catch his Nazi spies, so I said, "We'll talk about who is yellow later. What is it you want me to do?"

He gave my shoulder an enthusiastic smack and said, "That's the spirit! What we need you to do is keep an eye out from the air when we raid the house, and if they get away from us, your job is to track them and tell us where they are."

"How am I going to tell you anything?"

"I have a battery operated Handie-Talkie. You can talk to us from the air with one of it. You ready to fly?"

"Give me the damned radio."

"Now, don’t get ahead of us. If Maxine and her pal hear you overhead, they might get suspicious and run. Let us start the raid before you move in. All right?"

"I'll take off when you drive away from the field. We can try the radios on the way over there."

I took the radio he offered me, gave Agent Larson a final glare, and walked to the ship.

Sarah saw me coming and opened the hatch. I jumped up without using the little foldout stairs and secured the hatch behind myself. When I got to the cockpit, Sarah looked up at me from the copilot's seat and said, "Is this where you want me?"

I smiled at her. "Always and forever. I yelled at Larson, but I don't think it did any good. Guys like him have no respect for women. Conover didn't look very happy with Larson, but that was only because he was mad at him taking a chance on messing up his mission;"

"It's okay, Tommy. You gave him the message. If he's too dumb to understand it, there's nothing more we can do about it."

"Oh, I'm not through dealing with him, but for now, we have a mission to fly." I handed her the two-way radio. Think you can figure out how to make this thing work?"

"Maybe. I take it we're going to talk to those guys in the cars?"

"If that thing works we are, but we're just observers in case Maxine and her pal give the FBI the slip, so if that handie-talkie works, fine. If not, tough luck."

The windsock still indicated a very light wind out of the west, so I taxied to the east end of the dirt strip and turned our nose into the breeze. At least we were taking off over the lake, so there were no tall trees to dodge at the end of the runway.

A moment later the two black Buick sedans roared by and I took a good look around the sky to be sure there was nobody in the landing pattern. At an uncontrolled airport you never know how in-coming pilots are going to interpret a no-wind condition.

As I gradually opened the throttles to full power, I said, "It will seem like we're stretching this takeoff to the limit, but don’t worry, I'm doing what's called a soft field takeoff and it takes up a lot of runway. We'll get off the ground just fine. You want to operate the landing gear?"

"If you think I can handle it."

"I know you can. Just pull 'em up when I give you the word."

I looked back over my shoulder as we gathered speed. We were raising a spectacular cloud of dust in our wake. Then, when the airspeed needle swung above our stall speed on the airspeed indicator, I gave the yoke a quick little pull and we hopped into the air. I immediately lowered the nose again. The result of that maneuver was we were roaring along about three feet above the runway.

We weren't really flying at that point, just riding on a cushion of air between our wings and the ground, which allowed us to accelerate much faster than we could dragging our wheels through the soft dirt. That meant we were running out of runway fast, and what we faced at the end of the runway was a sheer drop of a hundred feet and a big wet lake.  I calmly said, "Gear up."

Sarah hesitated, but for only for a second before pushing the main gear UP switch into the "on"position. There was a little quiver to her voice when she said, "Gear up, Captain."

I had to give her credit for still having confidence in me, even though the airplane was doing things she wasn't used to. By the time we reached the end of the runway, we had plenty of flying speed, so I gently pulled back on the yoke as we passed over the drop off and we soared skyward like a homesick angel.

"I hope you'll explain what that takeoff was all about someday."

"I'll explain it right now. All that loose dirt on the runway creates drag for the main gear wheels just like walking on a sandy beach slows you down. By sort of popping up like we did, we created a cushion of air between us and the runway. That cushion of air allowed us to raise the gear and accelerate faster without all that drag from the tires in the loose dirt."

I sensed Sarah looking at me. She said, "Isn't that kind of dangerous?"

"Not really. It just takes some practice under safe conditions before trying it for real."

"And a lot of faith in your airplane and its pilot, which I now have even more of."

Monday—October 21, 1940—3:00 p.m.

Leveling off at about 400 feet above the ground, or by that time, above the surface of the lake, I pointed our nose mostly north to intercept the FBI guys on the north shore road. Sarah asked, "Should I try this radio thing now?"

I was about to say okay when the radio thing said it for me. "FBI Air Unit from FBI Mobile One. Radio check. FBI Air Unit from FBI Mobile One. Radio check."

Sarah gave me a questioning look. I said, "I guess we're 'FBI Air Unit.' Go ahead and tell 'em we hear them louder and clearer than we want to."

"FBI Mobile One from Air Unit. We hear you loud and clear."

"Roger, FBI Air Unit. Remember do not fly over the target until we begin our part of this."

I said, "Don't give him a verbal answer. Just click the talk button twice, like click-click."

Sarah nodded and gave Conover the old double-click. I said, "Very professional!"

After that I leveled us out and began watching the altimeter more closely. From just a few hundred feet above the lake, a slight descent could put us in the water before we knew what was happening.

At low speeds, the T-50 is a heavy airplane. She feels kind of sluggish and clumsy. Also, the wind currents that close to the water can be a little bumpy and unpredictable, so I had my hands full working the yoke in small increments to make sure we didn't end up turning into a Cessna submarine. I make no excuses for the ship or my handling of her, though. We were both getting our jobs done.

At the same time, I was watching for the north shore road. Just as I spotted the road, two black sedans came into view. Good timing! Now all we had to do is stay behind Conover until his men stormed Maxine's hideout.

At one point North Shore Drive turns inland, looping around a lodge and a trailer park at Big Bear Springs. Traffic in the area slowed the FBI guys down a little, so I had to circle and wait for them where the road returned to the lake shore.

From that point, we were no more than a half-mile from Maxine's hideout. I turned out toward the middle of the lake and climbed to about 800 feet. By the time I turned back toward shore and got close enough to see what was going on, the FBI guys had arrived and the party had started without us.

We could hear the gunshots over the engines' noise even at our altitude. We could also see muzzle flashes from the FBI guys in the shade of the trees. I was glad we were above it all. There was a lot of ammo flying around down there.

Sarah wasn't missing any of the excitement. She said, "Holy cow! This is like watching a Gene Autry show at the movies, except the bullets are real."

"They sure are. Oh, oh. What's that? Is the Dodge moving?"

"Yes! Its headed for the beach behind the house."

The area of dirt beach between the lake and the trees was apparently dry enough to drive on. The Dodge turned left to run along the shore in an easterly direction. The FBI guys appeared along the tree line behind the car, but they were shooting at a target that was getting smaller every second. Worse, their cars were still back up on the road.

We were flying parallel to the Dodge, but out over the water. I said, "Looks like we get a chance to help out after all. Duck down behind the instrument panel, Sarah. I'm gonna try something."

From a point well ahead of the Dodge, I made a U-turn toward the shore so we were flying directly head-on at the Dodge. I opened both throttles to their stops. None of that was lost on whoever was driving the sedan. Suddenly we became the focus of their attention—a target that was getting larger for them every second.

I couldn't tell if we were taking any hits or not. I was totally focused on that white Dodge. The driver figured the situation right and stepped down hard on the gas pedal. The faster they went, the sooner we would be behind them. Of course, we didn't have anything with which to return their fire, but they didn't know that.

Then they were under us and all I could see through the windshield was a hell of a dust cloud in the Dodge's wake. Since the last thing I wanted to do was fly through all that debris, and the only direction I could turn from where we were was left toward the lake. I stomped hard on the left rudder pedal and turned the yoke hard left.

Sarah swears we dragged the left wing tip on the beach making that turn away from the dust cloud. I knew we didn't because dragging a wing at that point would have sent us cartwheeling along the beach.

When I turned back the T-50 toward the beach and got a look at the Dodge, it surprised me. The big sedan was laying on its side like a beached whale. "What the hell happened to them?"

Totally ignoring my instructions to get down behind the instrument panel, Sarah saw the whole thing. "Their tires on the left side got into a ditch or something and the car tipped over and slid along on its side a long ways."

The radio in her hand hadn't missed the excitement either. In a voice that was clearly Conover's said, "Good work, Gibson! We've got 'em now."

While I put some vertical distance between us and the beach, I scanned the instrument panel to see if anything there was indicating a problem caused by stray bullet or flying debris. Since the instrument needles were all where they should be, I turned my attention back to the beach below us.

My count of the suits running around down there came up one short. "Somebody's missing. Did someone get hit in all that shooting?"

Sarah said, "I don't see the missing man. Should I ask on the radio?"

Changing the subject to something infinitely more imporatant to me, I said, "Young lady, the next time I tell you to duck, you darn well better do it! You could have been killed back there."

Sarah looked me in the eye. "Don't yell at me! You could have been killed, too, you know."

"Oh, that's interesting logic. I could have been killed so you didn't duck? If we weren't in this airplane I'd paddle your butt so hard you couldn't set down for a week."

"You just try it, Mister. I'll . . . ."

The radio got in on the conversation, too. "FBI Air Unit from FBI Mobile Unit One."

Giving me another glare, Sarah pressed the talk button on the walkie-talkie and said angrily, "We hear you Mobile Unit One. What the hell do you want?"

The radio was quiet for a moment and I grinned. I pictured Conover staring in disbelief at the only portable radio that ever cussed at him.

"Ah . . . Air Unit, you guys can head home. We have to get the prisoners locked up and Larson was hit. He'll live, but we have to get him some medical attention."

Into the radio, Sarah said, "Oh, that’s a real shame! Don't forget to have the doctors stick Agent Larson's big gun up his . . . rectum, where it belongs. Air Unit over and OUT!"

I had to laugh. "Did you mean it's a real shame Larson was shot or that he'll live?"

Sarah had tears in her eyes. "Tommy, I'm sorry . . . I got mad. I was just so worried about you, I . . . You've never yelled at me before. I . . . ."

Pointing us more or less west toward Glendale, I reached over and took her hand. "I'm sorry, too. I was upset for the same reason. I don’t know how I could live without you."

She squeezed my hand. "Please take us home, Darling. And if you think I'm ever sleeping alone again . . . well, you can just forget that idea."


Design Steve Eitzen
Story, header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Character images © 123RF--Used by license
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.