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The Thunder Bird
by B. M. Bower
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"O-h-h, no! Captain Riley can't fool me! Wouldn't tell me to get Schwab over here—didn't dare tell me. But he makes it worth a whole lot to me to get him, just the same. He knows darn well if I don't I'll never dare to go back, and he'll be over seven thousand dollars better off." Johnny, you will observe, had quite forgotten that receipt in his pocket, which Captain Riley might find it hard to explain if he attempted to withhold the money.

His doubt of the Captain increased when, looking back, he spied two swift scouting planes scudding along a mile or two behind him. That they might be considered a guard of honor rather than spies sent out to see that he did not play false never occurred to him.

"Aw, you think maybe I won't do it!" he snorted angrily, his young vanity hurt. "All right, tag along and be darned. I'll have Schwab and be flying back again before you can bank around to fly hack and tattle where I went. That's what I mean. I ain't going to be done outa no seven thousand dollars; I'll tell the world I ain't."

Getting Schwab was absurdly simple, just as Johnny had felt sure it would be. He flew to where he would be expected to cross the line had he come from Los Angeles. Schwab would be impatient, anxious to get in his fingers the money Cliff was supposed to bring. He did not wait at the house, but came out to meet the Thunder Bird. Johnny had been sure that he would do that very thing.

To keep the nose of the Thunder Bird toward Schwab so that he could not see that only one man returned with her was simple. Until he was close Schwab did not suspect that Cliff was not along. Even then he was not suspicious, but came hurrying up to know why Johnny came alone. Schwab wanted that money—they always do.

"Where's my man?" he demanded of Johnny, who had brought the landing gear against an old fence post used to block the wheels, and shut the motor off as much as he could and keep it running.

"Your man is sick." Which was true enough; Cliff was a very sick man that morning. "You'll have to come to him. Get in—it won't take long."

Schwab hung back a little, not from fear of Johnny but because he had no stomach for flying. "Well, but didn't he send—"

"He didn't send a darned thing but me. He wouldn't trust me to bring anything else. Get in. I'm in a hurry."

"What's the matter with him? He was all right last night." Still Schwab hung back. "I'll wait until he can come. I—I can't leave."

Then he found himself looking up into the barrel of Johnny's six-shooter. "I was told to bring you back with me. Get in, I said."

"This is some trick! I—"

"You get—in!"

So Schwab climbed in awkwardly, his face mottled and flabby with fear of the Thunder Bird.

"Fasten that strap around you—be sure it's fast. And put on this cap and goggles if you like. And sit still." Then he called to the languid Mexican who was idly watching him from afar. "Hey! Come and pull the block away from the wheels."

The Mexican came trotting, the silver of the night before clinking in his overalls pocket. Grinning hopefully, he picked up the post and carried it to one side. But Johnny was not thinking then of tips. He let in the motor until the Thunder Bird went teetering around in a wide half circle and scudded down the level stretch, taking the air easily.

"This is an outrage!" Schwab shouted.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Oh, up in the air a ways," Johnny told him, but the roar of the motor so filled Schwab's unaccustomed ears that he could hear nothing else. And presently his mind became engrossed with something more immediately vital than was his destination.

They were getting too high up, he shouted. Johnny must come down at once—or if he would not do that, at least he must fly lower. Did Johnny mean to commit suicide?

For answer Johnny grinned and went higher, and the face of Schwab became not mottled but a sickly white. He sat gripping the edges of the cockpit and gazing fearfully downward, save when he turned to implore, threaten, and command. He would report Johnny to his employers. He could make him sorry for this. He would make it worth his while to land. He would do great things for Johnny—he would make him rich.

From five thousand feet Johnny volplaned steeply to four thousand, and Schwab's sentences became disconnected phrases that ended mostly in exclamation points. So pleased was Johnny with the effect that he flew in scallops from there on—not unmindful of the two scouting planes that picked him up when he recrossed the line and dogged him from there on.

"I suppose," snorted Johnny to the Thunder Bird, "they think they're about the only real flyers in the air this morning. What? Can't you show 'em an Arizona sample of flying? What you loafing for? Think you're heading a funeral? Well, now, this is just about the proudest moment you've spent for quite some time. This man Schwab—-he craves excitement. Can't you hear him holler for thrills? And don't you reckon that Captain Riley will be cocking an eye up at the sky about now, looking to see you come back. Come, come—shake a wing, here, and show 'em what you're good for!"

Whether the Thunder Bird heard and actually did shake a wing does not matter. Johnny remembered that he had yet some miles to fly, and proceeded to put those miles behind him in as straight a line as possible. Schwab's voice came back to him in snatches, though the words were mostly foreign to Johnny's ears. Schwab seemed to be indulging in expletives of some sort.

"Don't worry, sauerkraut, we'll show you a good time soon as we get along a few miles. There's some birds behind us I'm leading home first."

"My God, don't go straight down again! It makes me sick," wailed Schwab.

"Does? Oh, glory! That ain't nothing when you get used to it, man. Be a regular guy and like it. I'll make you like it, by golly. Come on, now—here's San Diego—let's give 'em a treat, sauerkraut. You never knew you'd turn out to be a stunt flyer, hey? Well, now, how's this?"

"Whee-ee! See the town right down there? Head for it and keep a-goin', old girl! Whee-ee! Now, here it goes, sliding right up over our heads! Loop 'er, Thunder Bird, loop 'er! You're the little old plane from Arizona that's rode the thunder and made it growl it had enough! In Mexico I got yuh, and to Mexico you went and got me a regular jailbird that Uncle Sammy wants. You're takin' him to camp—whoo-ee! Give your tail a flop and over yuh go like a doggone tumbleweed in the wind!

"Come on, you little ole cop planes that thinks you're campin' on my trail! You'll have to ride and whip 'em, now I'm tellin' yuh, if you want to keep in sight of our dust! Sunfish for 'em, you doggone Thunder Bird! You're the flyin' bronk from Arizona, and it's your day to fly!"

With the first loop Schwab went sick, and after that he had no wish except to die. Whether the Thunder Bird rode head down or tail down he neither knew nor cared. Nor did Johnny. As he yelled he looped and he dived, he did tail spins and every other spin that occurred to him. For the time being he was "riding straight up and fanning her ears," and his aerial bronk was pulling off stunts he would never have attempted in cold blood.

He thought it a shame to have to stop, but North Island was there beneath him, a flock of planes were keeping out of his way and forgetting their own acrobatics while they watched him, and Johnny, with an eye on his gas gauge and his mind recurring to his parting words with Captain Riley, straightened out reluctantly and got his bearings. There was room enough for one more nose dive, and he took it exuberantly, trying to see how many turns he could make before he must quit or smash into a building or something.

There was the field, just ahead of him. He flattened, banked, and came down circumspectly enough, considering how his head was whirling when he finally came to a stand. He crawled out, looking first at Schwab to see what he was doing.

What Schwab was doing has no bearing whatever on this story. Schwab was not feeling well, wherefore he was not showing any interest whatever in his surroundings and probable future. John Ivan Jewel laughed unfeelingly while he beckoned a guard who was coming up at a trot and needed no beckoning.

"Here's another man for your boss to take charge of," Johnny announced. "And lead me to him right now. I've got a date with him."

This guard was a new guard and looked dubious. But presently the captain's orderly appeared and took charge of the situation, so Johnny straight-way found himself standing before Captain Riley "Well, I'm back," he announced cheerfully. "And I've got Schwab out there."

Captain Riley dismissed the orderly before he unbent enough to reply. But then he shook hands with John Ivan Jewel just as though he had not seen him a couple of hours before. He was a very pleased Captain Riley, as he showed by the broad grin he wore on his freckled Irish face.

"Schwab," he said, "will be taken care of. He's a deserter from the army, you know. Held a captaincy and disgraced the uniform in various ways, the crowning infamy being the sale of some important information, a year or so ago when things were at the touchiest point with Mexico. We nearly had him, but he deserted and got across the line, and since then he has been raising all kinds of cain in government affairs. Of course, his capture is a little out of my line, but I don't mind telling you that it's a big thing for me to have both these men turned over to me. I can't go into details, of course—you would not be especially interested in them if I could. But it's a big thing, and I want you to know—"

The telephone interrupted him, and he turned to answer it.

"Yes, yes, this is Captain Riley speaking. Yes, who is this, please? Who? Oh, yes! Yes, indeed, no trouble at all, I assure you. Yes, I will give the message—yes, certainly. I shall send him right over. At your command, believe me. Not at all—I am delighted, yes; just one moment. Would you like to talk with him yourself? Just hold the line, please."

One should not accuse a man like Captain Riley of smirking, but his smile might have been mistaken for a smirk when he turned from the telephone. He straightened it out at once, however, so that he spoke with a mere twinkle to Johnny.

"Some one in San Diego," he said, "would like to speak with you. I judge it's important."



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

OVER THE TELEPHONE

"Hello?" cried Johnny, wondering vaguely who could be calling him from San Diego. "Oh—who? Mary V! Why, good golly, where did you come from? . . . Oh, you did? . . . Say, that was some bronk-riding I did up there among the clouds—what? . . . Oh, yes, I just happened to feel that way."

In the U.S. Grant hotel Mary V was talking excitedly into the 'phone. "I don't know why I happened to drive down here, but I did, and I just got here in time to see you come flying over and then you did all those flip-flops—Johnny Jewel, do you mean to tell me that's the way you have been acting all the time?"

"Oh, no—I happened to have a fellow along that I wanted to give him a treat!"

"A treat! Do you call that a treat, for gracious sake? What are you doing over there? I want you to come over here just as quick as ever you can, Johnny. Bland is here; I brought him down with me because he's a very good mechanic and besides, he was very much worried and trying to find you, so I thought he could help, and he did. He saw the Thunder Bird come sailing overhead before I noticed it, for I was driving, and a street car was hogging the crossing and trying to head me off, so I didn't happen to look up just then. And when I did—why, Johnny, I thought sure you were coming right down on top of us! Did you do that deliberately just to scare me, you bad boy? Now you come right over here just as quick as ever you can! I am sure I have been kept waiting long enough—"

"You have," Johnny agreed promptly. "I'm coming, Mary V, and when I get there you're going to marry me or I'll turn the town bottom side up. You get that, do you? Your dad ain't going to head us off this time, I've made good, and doggone him, I can pay that note and have enough left over to buy me an airplane, or you an automobile or both, by golly! And tell Bland I'll make it all right with him, too. I kinda left him in the lurch for awhile, but I couldn't help that. I've been thinking, Mary V, what I'll do. I'm going to give Bland the Thunder Bird. Doggone it, he's done a whole lot for me, and I guess he's got it coming. There's planes here that can fly circles around the old Thunder Bird, and I'm going to have one or break a leg. I'll . . . What's that? . . . Oh, all right, I'll come on and do my talking later. Being a government line, I guess maybe I'd better not hold this telephone all day. Sure, I'm crazy to see you! All right, all right, I'm coming right now!"

"With apologies for overhearing a private conversation," said Captain Riley, "speaking of getting a new plane, why don't you enlist as an aviator? I can use you very nicely and would like to have you here. How would a second lieutenancy strike you, Jewel? I can arrange it for you very easily—and let me tell you something: Before many months roll by it will be a matter of patriotism to serve your country. We shall be at war before long, unless I miss my guess. Better come in now. You—your being married will not interfere, I should think—seeing you intend to continue flying, anyway. I wonder, by the way, why I am not invited to be present at that wedding?"

"Well, good golly! You're invited right now, if you mean you'll go. Mary V will be one proud little girl, all right. And say, Captain, of course I'll have to talk it over with Mary V first, but that offer you just made me sure listens good. I tried to enlist—that's what I wanted all along—but I was turned down. But if you'll say a word for me—"

"Your Mary V is wanting," Captain Riley grinned. "And if I may judge from the brief conversation I had with her over the 'phone just now, we had better be on our way!"

THE END

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